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Experimental Spirituality

by Keith Hill

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Book One of the Channelled Spirituality Series

We live in an era when traditional religious approaches to spirituality are increasingly losing relevance. Equally, the sciences, which have very successfully helped us understand physical reality, are not equipped to fathom the subtleties of deep inner experience. Each approach offers useful insights, but neither is sufficient. We urgently need new forms of spirituality appropriate to life in the twenty-first century.

Experimental Spirituality
is the first in a series of five channelled books that offer an approach to spirituality designed for today’s seekers. Grounding spirituality in personal experience, the book proposes that each human being is not merely a combination of body and spirit, but is a complex identity incorporating five layers. The implications are explored in detail here and throughout the series.

Experimental Spirituality introduces a psychospiritual approach to inner development, offering practical ways seekers may gain new insights into their life situation and deep identity. Topics include:

  • Where your life is headed is the result of an experiment you set in motion
  • Why maturing spiritually involves a journey from belief to understanding
  • How testing assumptions leads to new inner knowledge
  • What you think God is cannot be the same as what God actually is
  • Who you are involves a complex interplay of multiple layers of reality
  • How finding useful answers depends on asking the right questions
170 pages, 6 x 9 inches / 129 x 152 mm
ISBN Paperback: 9780473256678
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Keith Hill’s work explores the intersection of mysticism, history, science, religion and psychology. His books include The God Revolution, Striving To Be Human and Practical Spirituality, each of which won the Ashton Wylie Award, New Zealand’s premiere prize for spiritual writing.
FROM THE CHANNELLED NON-EMBODIED IDENTITIES:

We here announce the start of a series of five books that deal with aspects of spirituality for contemporary seekers. By “we” is meant a non-embodied spiritual entity that has lived a cycle of lives on this planet and is now intent on sharing, from the spiritual domain, what it has learnt. Thus this book, and those that follow, are channelled literature.

The reason we are undertaking this series is that there is an urgent need today to promote spirituality and spiritual exploration outside the restrictions of religion and scientistic thinking. This book is not for those who wish to remain behind their shutters and hold tight to their cherished assumed truths about the world and themselves. This book is for the adventurous who wish to learn how to step out of their everyday selves in order to experience and understand what they have not yet experienced and have not previously known or understood.

Experimental Spirituality aims to show spiritual enquirers how they may profitably question what they know of reality and of themselves, how they may uncover the unknown, and even the inconceivable, and how they may use their newly acquired knowledge and understanding to travel even further into the unknown.

This is a new century. It promises new knowledge and new possibilities.
Experimental Spirituality offers fourteen propositions in order to contribute to the development of an experimental approach to spiritual exploration relevant to those living in the twenty-first century.
CHAPTER ONE: UNQUESTIONED ASSUMPTIONS ARE LIMITING

Human existence is built on many assumptions, yet few people examine the assumptions that are most fundamental to their lives. This is because their assumptions are so integrated into daily perceptions that people either remain unaware of their existence or, if they are aware, the thought of examining their fundamental assumptions is so frightening that they choose to ignore that possibility altogether.

Where do these assumptions come from? Most are conditioned by peers, family and community. A significant part of growing up involves trying out selected assumptions for size. During their teenage years everyone tests ideas and attitudes through debating and reading, through hanging out with like-minded and unlike-minded friends, by joining clubs or religious, political, ecological, or artistic groups, or by adopting outlooks and behaviours that directly challenge the views of parents and the authority of the immediate community.

However, by their twenties most people have settled into the outlook that they then maintain for the rest of their lives. Over subsequent years the ways they express their outlook may change, resulting in a decision to swap causes, religions, political outlook or allegiances. But the underlying premises, the foundational values that they consider to be most important to them, largely remain unchanged. As a result, following their formative teenage years very few individuals examine the assumptions they live by. And whenever their assumptions are challenged by others they tend to be at a loss as to how to justify what they accept and believe. So they fall back on bluster, make emotional assertions, or refer to an authoritative person or a revered book (be it religious, political, economic or scientific) to justify what they assume to be the case about themselves and the world.

But if they stood back from all this bluster and were honest with themselves, they would see that really they have great difficulty proving the truthfulness and validity of most, if not all, of their fundamental assumptions. Instead, those assumptions are just there. So they sit in the great armchair of their outlook, which is firmly bolted to their assumptions, surveying others and making unquestioned pronouncements about the world’s rights and wrongs from its cushioned comfort. Yet, and this is one of life’s great ironies, the fact is that while on the one hand unexamined assumptions greatly limit one’s perception of the world, on the other hand everyone certainly does need to make assumptions in order to live together in the world. How so?

HUMANITY’S NEED FOR ASSUMPTIONS

A community of people living together needs social and behavioural parameters that everyone signs up to in order to live together in an orderly fashion. Broadly speaking, these assumptions consist of traditional customs, social norms and legally established laws. However arbitrary or even wrong-headed these customs, norms and laws might be, they hold communities together.

Eventually, however, the question is asked: How fair, right or common sense are these? This question is initially asked by enquiring individuals who are uncomfortable with certain aspects of their community’s social assumptions. It is only when injustices become glaring, because attention has been focused on them by those individuals, that communities as a whole start questioning the assumptions that underpin their interactions.

Given sufficient time human beings come to address and change assumptions that exploit, suppress or injure one class of people to the benefit of another class, replacing them with more equitable and nurturing laws, norms and customs. This is the way human communities and nations progress.

Exactly the same process occurs on the individual level. Each person has a number of ingrained assumptions about the world and about themselves that cause them to behave unfairly or harshly towards others. These behaviours, which are reinforced by negative attitudes, prejudices and biased thinking, not only cause them to impinge on others but, and this is arguably more significant, limit their ability to learn, develop and progress.

On the other hand, each individual does need to adopt a number of such assumptions, however right or wrong. Why? Because just as traditions, norms and laws hold a community or nation together, giving it social cohesion and identity, so the assumptions individuals make about themselves and others – however right or wrong, valid or invalid, nurturing or limiting they might be – hold together their personal identity. The fact is, without these basic assumptions individuals are lost, not knowing how they should think or act. Or, indeed, who they are.

We will have more to say about identity as an auto-construction shortly. For now it is sufficient to make the point that the assumptions people make about themselves, and equally about the world they live in, also underpin their identity. This is why, when people’s assumptions are questioned or pricked, tempers flare and equanimity unravels – because they feel it is not just their assumptions that are being questioned, but their personal identity.

Accordingly, if you wish to explore your spiritual identity and achieve new knowledge and understanding, maintaining unquestioned assumptions and allowing them to tint your outlook is a huge limitation. In order to grow everyone needs, first, to acknowledge and confront the ingrained assumptions that rule their lives, second, sift the valid assumptions from the invalid, and third, replace invalid and limiting assumptions with assumptions that testing has transformed into useful knowledge.

Acknowledging, questioning and replacing assumptions with knowledge is a key challenge that everyone engaged in a spiritual quest needs to take up in order to progress in their journey of growth.

ASSUMPTIONS IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION

In the sciences, fundamental assumptions are called axioms. An example of a scientific axiom is that only empirical data provides valid information about the world. Another scientific axiom is that matter in the physical world has no inherent purpose, so whatever happens in the world occurs according to natural processes that are innate in it, and that interact according to biological drives or physical and sub-physical interactions. Chance also impacts on the way events are initiated, develop and play out in the world.

In religions, fundamental assumptions are grouped together to form a credo. Each religion has its own credo, which provides believers with the conceptual foundations for their beliefs. A belief fundamental to Christianity is that worthy believers will go to heaven after their body dies. The Dharmic religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism) have an equally fundamental belief in reincarnation. Most religions share the fundamental belief that supernatural beings, whether in the form of God, angels or saints, will answer prayers and help worshippers get through difficult times.

Of course, while religions and the sciences have collective credos and axioms, in practice many individual members of religious groups or scientific disciplines don’t accept all that others in their groups or professions assume. They individualize their credos. Accordingly, some Christians assume the literal reality of angels and heaven and hell, while others do not. Similarly, some scientists assume that nothing other than the material universe exists, and that the universe has no purpose, while others do not. However, there is a significant difference between the attitude towards assumptions made by scientists and the religious.

For the religious, credos are not to be challenged or altered, because they provide the religion with its identity. Change the basic beliefs that underpin the credo and the religion is no longer itself. Psychologically, there is also an enormous push by believers to keep things as they were rather than develop them into what could be. This is why, in the West, efforts to bring Christian churches into line with currently accepted social norms and the wider culturally accepted outlook is proving so difficult. Many members of individual churches are certainly attempting to reshape their beliefs and practices. But once a religion establishes its credo, and uses that credo as a stake that it drives into the cultural ground, it is very difficult for that religion to shift its stake. This inability to shift ground is the reason so many of those brought up religiously no longer attend their church, synagogue or temple. Their church’s credo has lost relevance to them as they live their daily lives. As a result, tying their outlook to that particular stake no longer makes sense.

On the other hand, for scientists, challenging assumptions about the world plays a key role in scientific discoveries. Old assumptions are continually examined from new perspectives as new data suggests fresh ways of viewing the world. This leads to new theories. For questioning scientists, even the assumptions of their disciple will eventually be questioned.

On the other hand, many scientists have assumed the scientistic outlook. This limits their investigations to the material sub-domain of reality. For these scientists their assumptions have become a credo, and they have certainly driven that credo as a stake into the ground, to which they have tethered their minds. Such is the limitation they have placed on themselves. But, as noted earlier, in doing so these scientists depart from the scientific method, which is agnostic (that is, is not committed to any assumptions, including the materialist assumptions of scientistic atheism), and so is open to questioning everything, including what is assumed, what is discovered, and what is currently known.

How, then, do assumptions impact on the activity of exploring one’s spiritual possibilities?

ASSUMPTIONS IN SPIRITUALITY

As with sciences and religions, spirituality has to make assumptions in order to build a coherent conceptual framework. Spirituality, at least as it is being conceived in these pages, is predicated on the assumption that individuals grow and evolve.

Spirituality is not about finding a handful of concepts that are a good fit with one’s current outlook and lifestyle and then using them to justify what one already feels, thinks and does. Rather, spirituality involves questioning one’s current lifestyle, attitudes and behaviour, coming to an understanding of what underpins them, and adjusting them so whatever enhances growth is retained and what hinders growth is either corrected or eliminated.

There are many different kinds of practices by which spiritual growth may be facilitated. This is because human beings possess different types of psychological make-up, various forms of cultural conditioning, and as human and spiritual beings have different requirements and needs. The fact is also that different people are at different stages of their spiritual growth and accordingly some individuals need to experience and address one specific set of issues, while others need to experience and address quite different issues.

This is why there have traditionally been so many different religions, and so many sects within each religion. Human psychology, individual life intent, personal requirements for growth, and human and spiritual needs, differ remarkably from one human being to another. One hat, one outlook, one approach, one credo, one stake in the ground, definitely does not suit all.

Nonetheless, in order to progress one needs to make assumptions about what spirituality itself means, what concepts are fundamental to its practice, and what one is required to do in order to grow. For example, the idea that human beings contain a spiritual dimension is an assumption. Clearly, it is not an assumption everyone shares. The just offered suggestion that human beings evolve as spiritual individuals is also an assumption. If the first assumption is not agreed to, then the second assumption becomes meaningless.

This is the way with assumptions. What one person wholeheartedly assumes another dismisses outright. However, neither attitude leads to growth. This is because wholehearted acceptance of what one assumes, and outright dismissal of anything that doesn’t accord with one’s assumptions, equally keep one in the same place, tied to the same stake one has driven into the ground of one’s psycho-spiritual make-up, keeping one thinking, feeling, saying and doing the same things over and over. And inner growth is retarded.

Instead, and this is assuming one wishes to grow, one needs to be open to possibilities that exist outside one’s hand-me-down or willingly adopted assumptions. The way to be open is to treat assumptions as propositions.

TREATING ASSUMPTIONS AS PROPOSITIONS

The point repetitiously being made here is that, in order to stimulate one’s inner growth, one’s assumptions need to be sifted to discover whether they are valid or invalid. Valid assumptions reflect reality and may become the basis for consciously acquiring further knowledge. And invalid assumptions, which diverge from reality, may be adjusted or thrown out.

The process is facilitated by treating one’s assumptions not as truths but as propositions. This concept is so fundamental to the outlook offered here that it deserves repeating: To facilitate inner growth you need to transform your key assumptions into propositions. How does this help?

Assumptions are givens. They bolt the armchair of an individual’s outlook to a rigidly maintained perspective. As a result everyone observes and interacts with the world from a narrow perspective, through an inflexible framework, ignoring whatever doesn’t mesh with that framework. When a human awareness looks at the world “through” a rigid set of assumptions it quite literally does not see much that is before it.

In contrast to assumptions, propositions are not givens. Propositions are provisional statements about the world. Propositions suggest directions to explore. But they don’t lock you into anything. They don’t bolt you into an outlook from which you cannot shift. Propositions indicate an opening which invites further exploration. Propositions don’t present definite answers. Propositions don’t close down discussion or enquiry. Propositions leave room for other perspectives. Even for other propositions. Because propositions are provisional and open-ended rather than definitive and closed they are not treated as sacrosanct truths. No one needs to commit their life to them.

If you wish to ascertain whether or not a proposition is valid, you do so by testing it in the appropriate context. Because what is being enquired into here are the fundamental assumptions you make about your life and world, the appropriate place to test them is in the context of your personal life.

For the religious or scientistic who are locked into a credo, such testing is a difficult process, very likely impossible. Why? Because a credo is designed to provide answers. It isn’t designed to encourage the questioning of everything, including of the credo itself. But for those who are adventurous, the process advocated here involves transforming beliefs into propositions about the world, then testing those propositions during the course of daily living.

Transforming beliefs into propositions has nothing to do with changing the belief itself. Rather, it requires setting aside attachment to that belief in order to examine it from a variety of perspectives. The aim is to ascertain what that assumption actually involves, including where it came from, how it was formed, what shape it takes within your psychological make-up, and how it impacts on you personally in your life.

This process of enquiry may be likened to the way you examine food you eat. Without inspecting the list of ingredients on the packaging, knowing what country those ingredients came from, what rules governed their growing conditions, and what additives were used when the ingredients were blended, there is no way to know what you are actually eating. In a similar way, investigation is required in order to understand where your beliefs have come from.

The art of examining assumptions is that you need not, indeed must not, have a static relationship with what you believe is true. In the case of anyone pledging themselves to a religious credo of any kind, believers are expected to retain the same fundamental beliefs about themselves and the world throughout their lives. But in the sciences this is not the case. (We are here setting aside the gate-keeping and game-playing individual scientists engage in to compete with, and gain ascendency over, their peers).

The whole point of the scientific method is to continually test one’s axioms, to put them at risk of being falsified, in order to gain fuller, more exact, more valid knowledge about the world. As a result of questioning established axioms a scientist may, over the course of a career, end up understanding a particular aspect of reality in quite a different way, and more broadly and deeply, than when he or she began that investigation. Indeed, it could be argued that if, over twenty years of serious investigation, a scientist does not arrive at deeper knowledge, has not adjusted old axioms or proposed new axioms, then he or she has failed at the occupation of being a scientist.

The very same process may be applied to spiritual enquiry. In order to grow as a spiritual identity it is extremely helpful to treat whatever you learn not as a belief or truth into which you may relax feeling that you now know and that’s the end of it, but instead maintain the attitude that whatever is discovered is a provisional truth. And when the time comes that provisional truth will itself be examined from various angles, tested to ascertain its ongoing validity, and either adjusted to better fit your new understanding of reality or discarded as outmoded.

In simple terms, this is the basis of the experimental approach to spirituality that is being advanced in this book.

APPROACHING SPIRITUALITY EXPERIMENTALLY

The opportunity exists for anyone to become a spiritual enquirer and, over the course of a lifetime, to go on a journey that begins in a psycho-spiritual state of greater or lesser ignorance and limitation, and that ends, at the body’s death, in a state of evolved knowledge and understanding.

It is even possible, indeed it is a commendable aim, that individuals engage so diligently and intently in their chosen field of enquiry or practice that they develop mastery in it. Naturally, this outcome equally applies to all branches of human endeavour, not just the spiritual. And the way to achieve mastery is as a result of testing oneself in the field – the field being the full range of human endeavour.

To summarise what has been stated in this chapter:

  • Inner growth as a human being results from enquiring into the bases of your existence and pushing yourself to experience new ways of feeling, thinking and doing. For inner growth to occur, seekers need to appreciate that this is not only possible, it is required.
  • Enquiring involves seekers in a process of questioning what they assume, including what they think they know, challenging themselves to enter what they do not know and very likely fear.
  • Those tied to a credo don’t grow as individuals because they don’t challenge their underlying assumptions and so do not open themselves up to new ways of doing, feeling and thinking. Instead, they spend time and effort defending what “they know”. Unfortunately, what “they know” has not been arrived at through questioning, but has merely been accepted as being so.
  • The scientific method approaches the world experimentally, offering propositions about the world and testing them for validity. This method facilitates the growth of knowledge and of the self that knows, compared to the closed outlook that results from remaining tied to a credo and not challenging one’s assumptions.
  • The experimental approach to spirituality advocated here asserts that all assumptions, beliefs and axioms should be treated as propositions, and that these propositions need to be tested and either falsified or shown to be valid. Additionally, the context of validity needs to be clarified, for all valid propositions are valid within certain limitations, which are defined by the question asked and by the activity of testing.

In the following chapters this experimental approach to spirituality will be discussed in much more detail. For now, having completed the discussion about assumptions, we will now present our own first assumption regarding humanity’s spiritual nature.