If you are interested in inner-peace and personal growth, a deeper understanding of why spirituality is important, and what might be the underlying science, then read on….
A personal story and adventure—a Native American (Plains Indian) four-day vision quest on the Chihuahuan Desert near Big Bend National Park—combining insights from other intense spiritual retreats, mainly Zen Buddhist sesshins, and science. Such experiences push you out of your comfort zone and stimulate neurogenesis (brain growth). It is there that real and rapid spiritual growth can occur.
Defining spirituality as a combination of inner-peace and personal growth, suffering is what drives our spiritual seeking, just as natural selection is what drives the evolutionary process. What we are seeking is higher spiritual fitness, analogous to Darwinian fitness , that enables us to sit on higher equanimity mountain top, the domain of great spiritual teachers. Enters, Charles, the guru on the mountain and one of my personal archetypes. From my lowly place in the desert, I looked across the desert plain below me to Charles sitting high up on his mountain top, a metaphor for our different levels of spiritual evolution.
Defining inner peace in a Buddhist sense in terms of suffering. Buddha taught about what causes our suffering and how to end our suffering. As for personal growth, a vast and probably endless process, here I am focusing on understanding and using our archetypes as an aspect of our Jungian individuation process. Our archetypes are real but operate primarily at the subconscious level. They are creatures of our species’ genes and the evolutionary process. They were the spirit guides or allies of indigenous shamans and peoples. Through my story, I invite you to meet and make use of your own archetypes, as they are metaphors and symbols with emotional content and meaning that can help you problem solve and deal more effectively with your life challenges.
With my background as a professor of science (zoology, with specialty in evolutionary genetics) and later in my life, as a mental health therapist, I have a unique perspective on how the sciences in general, and particularly evolutionary biology, can give us deeper insights into the spiritual growth process. These insights are more like hypotheses, but hypotheses that you can test for yourself in your own spiritual journey. Some of the science I will discuss is pretty heavy. There is no way around this if you are to understand what I am saying and why. At the same time, I did not want the science to get too much in the way of the story itself. Finding this balance was more than challenging, sort of like the vision quest itself.
Likewise, there is a little math. Now don’t be a Garrison Keillor English major (on his old Prairie Home Companionradio show) and run away screaming. Believe me, even if you are a math-a-phobic, a little math won’t kill you. I have tried to keep the math to a minimum. But the truth is, the great power of science lies in its math and testable hypotheses. Charles Darwin, for example, would not have been able to formulate his theory of evolution by natural selection if it had not been for a critical math book by Thomas Malthus, entitled An Essay on Principles of Populations. Like Darwin, Malthus was a cleric and scholar, and his book showed that the population of any species should quickly overwhelm the world with its growth. Darwin reasoned that why they did not was natural selection: that is, a lot of those offspring did not survive. That took math to figure out.
Let me be right up front and say that, although I have framed my vision quest around the Native American medicine wheel’s four directions, the science I introduce in my story was a later addition, wrapped around the actual desert experience itself. It was all I could do to get through those four days of intense heat, isolation, lack of food, very limited water, and the mosquitoes. I knew a lot of the science, but that was definitely not what I was out there thinking about. The science was woven into this story years later as I reflected back on my experience. The last two key pieces that pulled it together for me were the underlying neurobiology of archetypes (and gods) and dissipation-driven adaptation from physics. I had not read about these until they were published years after my quest.
All this being said, enjoy your read and the journey….