Go here for Part 1, covering my participation in this weekend’s conference at the Althea Center for Engaged Spirituality, “From Self-Care to Earth-Care.”
Greetings from a palatial log cabin, high in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado. The altitude and view take my breath away.
Kurt and I are the guests of Karuna Ashley, one of Kurt’s friends and Interspiritual associates. Karuna is a practitioner and instructor of Kundalini yoga and meditation, as taught by Yogi Bhajan. The name Karuna is a Sanskrit name that roughly means “compassion,” and Karuna Ashley’s name was given to her by a Vadic Priest in Varanassi, one of the oldest and holiest cities in India. She is also an actress and was a top fashion model as a young woman. I recognize some of the iconic fashion photographs of her displayed on the walls of the cabin, including an eerie one of her sitting with a ventriloquist’s dummy on her knee. She is elegantly dressed, with her head framed in curly hair and he is in a tuxedo, as if they are going to a ball. His tiny size compared to her and the fact that he is a dummy says a lot about the power of feminine beauty.
It’s easy to mock new expressions of religion and spirituality, especially if you’re accustomed to mocking older forms. I myself have a distaste for the phrase “New Age,” which I associate with bad art, bad music, and indulgent beliefs that frequently depart from factual reality. But the Interspiritual movement should not be confused with New Age, and it is not confined to the wealthy elite.
Another participant in tomorrow’s event, who is staying nearby and spent the day with us, is the Reverend Mac Legerton, who heads the Center for Community Action, located in North Carolina’s poorest county. My first question to Mac after meeting him was whether he knew Miles Horton (1905-1990), a legendary social activist and hero of mine who created the Highlander Folk School in nearby Tennessee. To my delight, I discovered that they were longtime associates and that Mac had a hand in persuading Miles to write his autobiography, The Long Haul, which is how I first learned about him. Soon Mac and I were talking about how his Center for Community Action and my Evolution Institute could collaborate on social action projects.
Other participants at tomorrow’s event represent national environmental organizations, such as the Nature Conservancy, and international organizations, such as the United Nations. Something is afoot with this event that needs to be taken seriously. A common language is needed in a world that has become thoroughly multicultural and needs to pull together as a global community. Interspiritualists think that the common language needs a spiritual component.
Why does global cooperation need a spiritual component? One reason is because many cultures are already steeped in religion and spirituality, so if there is a “silken thread that unites the world’s great wisdom traditions,” as Ken Wilber puts it in an essay titled “An Integral Spirituality,” we want to know about it. Another reason is that spirituality can be defined without reference to religion as a set of practices based on values that are highly inclusive, oriented toward the benefit of all over the long term, as I discuss in a chapter of my book The Neighborhood Project titled “Body and Soul.” Science by itself does not qualify as a wisdom tradition because it only provides the facts. Facts must be combined with values to inform action. Scientists need to examine their values along with everyone else.
What excites me about the interspiritual movement, or integral spirituality as Ken Wilber puts it, is that the “silken thread” that unites the world’s great wisdom traditions can be fully consistent with scientific knowledge. Kurt Johnson described it this way during an interview that I conducted with him after our Binghamton event (see pt 1): All wisdom traditions arrive at the fact that everything is interconnected. Once a person truly absorbs this fact, certain ethical conclusions follow. The folly of defending one part of the system against other parts becomes apparent. The wisdom traditions merge with complexity science, which can be understood without reference to religion.
A silken thread that unites science with the world’s great wisdom traditions needs to be taken very seriously indeed.
To be continued.