“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.” Rachel Carson
The scientific community has provided all sorts of cures for our ills – pills to help addicts overcome addiction, antidepressants for the depressed, sleeping tablets for the sleepless, stimulants for the tired – and so on. Until recently it was not able to offer a great deal of help to understand our emotional and inner life. In fact, professors of psychiatry have been known to tell their students, “If you want to understand the interior world of a human being you’re better off reading Shakespeare rather than Freud.”
The scientific enterprise that began in the period of the Enlightenment was founded on a particular approach to knowledge that could not be applied to emotions. It was positively cynical about the idea that anything called spiritual, could be included in the discussion.
The heart went missing.
Everything had to be linear and predictable – cause was followed by effect, stimulus by response. There were orderly laws that governed the universe, and the task of scientific discovery was to reveal those eternal and predictable laws. It was believed emotion would only muddy the waters because it was not seen to be a source of wisdom or to be predictable or measurable. Emotion seemed to have little or nothing to do with the technical advances believed to be necessary to significant scientific inquiry.
Understandably, this left hemisphere super rational approach seemed to be the perfect antidote for the superstitious medieval worldview that had held sway since before medieval times.
The rise of reason and the advent of modern science – a new era
The Spanish inquisition and constant religious battles were almost always about power and control rather than truth. Tragically, they all led the shaping of what we now call the Enlightenment. Because the 17th century was dominated by the drive to find a practical way out of hunger, discomfort and early death, it then became rightly focused on the need to improve the material conditions of life. Science and technology came up with inventions that were remarkably successful to this end, but fell prey to their own myth of invincibility.
The scientific method will never give us the most important answers.
The problem with the scientific method is that it can show us how to feed the hungry of the world, and it has done that so effectively we can currently feed 15 times the world’s population. But we still don’t do it! African countries currently spent four times as much on paying back their debts to the West as they do on healthcare for their people. Science can show us how to build a bigger and better bomb, but not whether we should.
After two World Wars, a Cold War, a global financial crisis – not to mention a man made global warming crisis – the greatest human discovery is that science can show us how, but not why.
Science cannot give us values that cause us to commit ourselves.
Science alone cannot shape values, because values require a deep heart commitment, not just intellectual understanding and acknowledgment. The question most often on the lips of a young child is “Why?” How many people can help the young person answer the most fundamental question of all, “Does my life have a meaning?” It was Victor Frankl who asserted that this is the most important question of all. Of course life either does have meaning or it doesn’t. We are now confronted with the question that neither materialistic science nor philosophy can answer: If life does have meaning, who or what designed the meaning?
The human existential questions
Meaning and the quest for meaning, are the profound human existential questions. The philosopher Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.” He was actually saying, I know I’m thinking and I know it is me who is thinking; there is a me, I therefore know I have a personal existence. He then became convinced he had used reason to grasp his existential dilemma but had he? He did not go further and ask, what drives this existence and where does the me come from. Why is it here?”
What is the real me and where does it come from, and where does love come from?
It is fascinating to see how a healthy sense of self emerges in small children. They come into this world with only two instincts sucking and grasping.
Have you seen toddlers in the terrible twos and threes – the mine and me do it – phase? This is when the ego, the sense of me, is going through an important self-shaping process. Paradoxically the more unhealthy this process, the more ego-centred a person will grow up to be. In fact, it is now believed that the narcissist is produced by a mother who needs the child’s love and attention. Inevitably her attention will swing from being too focused on, and too indulgent with the child, to becoming preoccupied with other things and emotionally distant from the child.
Unconditional love that respects individuality is the secret.
Consistent values and the kind of unconditional love that respects the child’s individuality has its roots beyond reason. It is this love and respect that lays the best foundation for a healthy person to grow.
The great secret of all productive relationships is centred in our need to learn how to be free of our ego needs. We all have to be secure enough in ourselves to loosen our ego’s grip, and move from an immature grasping orientation to a self-giving and sharing orientation. Being free of the distortions of one’s ego is a spiritual activity and skill, not an intellectual one.
Paradoxically, as we learn the spiritual discipline of emotional detachment from the ego’s inclinations, we have the chance to re-encounter the place where heart and mind connect, and make connection with the spirit. This is the source of our innate capacity for spontaneity, intimacy, awareness and wisdom.
There can be danger in having a person with a clever mind and a dark heart.
It is why the great sages and spiritual teachers say we have to learn detachment from our inclination to grasp, and develop our capacity for compassion – as does every socially developing young child. Trust rather than control then becomes the dominant and dynamic driving motivation within the human soul.
Small wonder we have been told that we have to “become as little children” if we are to develop true wisdom and spiritual intelligence.