The unfathomable diversity evident in the material universe is due to the creative factors of attraction, organization and complexification. As expressions of this universe, humans too have creative forces at work that are capable of directing us towards a level of social cohesion far above what is currently manifest among us. They are displayed on the right side of the illustration below, attraction, social bonds and altruism.
Evolution has actually hardwired our attractive forces into the limbic region of our brain. In his book, Spiritual Evolution, Dr. George E. Vaillant shares the results of decades of clinical research that demonstrate that the characteristics we associate with spirituality are of a genetic origin. These include; love, joy, faith, hope, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude and a sense of awe.
If we take time to contemplate the implications of this reality, it becomes evident that the universe has designed us with a natural spiritual nature. Vaillant points out that just as we differ from one another in stature, these spiritual characteristics also appear in individuals in varying degrees. Nonetheless, taking time to cultivate these qualities can actually influence the development of certain regions of the brain and increase the prevalence of each of these positive emotions. This is certainly the role religion, education and the humanities have played in human development over the millennia.
These characteristics lie at the heart of all constructive social relationships. As we associate with one another, emotional and psychological bonds are formed that contribute to effective cultural development. Of course, these bonds vary in degree from mere associations such as school and work to lifelong commitments of family and devoted friendships.
The ultimate expression of our social unions is seen in acts of altruism. Caring for the concerns of others generally takes to forms. There is an attitude of kindness that manifests in lifelong acts of service to others. Whether it is a parent tending to the needs of their family, a nurse providing comfort to a patient, a teacher enabling his students to be lifelong learners, or someone holding a door open for an elderly couple, these all demonstrate a concern that reaches beyond our personal interests.
There is also an altruistic response that occurs in the midst of crisis. Amazingly, it does not require any prior association but frequently takes place among complete strangers. How often do we hear of people being pulled from burning buildings, mangled cars, or raging flood waters by those they have never met before? What prompts individuals to leave a place of safety and risk their lives for others?
I believe that all forms of altruism are attributable to an intuitive awareness that we are an integral part of a greater whole. The natural spirituality that evolution has programmed into our genes is merely an extension of the ongoing complexification occurring in the universe. Ideally, we are intended to unify in an interconnection that is mutually supportive.
If this is true, why are we experiencing such extreme global turmoil? Evolution is a slow process of trial and error as it blindly sorts through increasingly effectual configurations. We must keep in mind that humanity is a very new species on our planet. We are gradually stumbling towards a more unified global relationship and are currently engaged in a transitional period between outdated world views and a more rational understanding of who and what we are.
Arguably religion has been responsible for some of the most horrific human atrocities ever committed. Nevertheless, the core message of every major religious teaching has expressed our natural spirituality, sought to establish social norms, encourage personal character development and provide a sense of community. As yet, no comparable social institution has emerged to articulate contemporary universal knowledge, values and solidarity. Consequently, we are witnessing widespread individualism, materialism, and militant religious factions vying for world domination.
Thankfully, in the midst of this stormy global climate, we see tremendous acts of kindness and courage. The internet is full of websites promoting peace, positive values, respect and mutual support. Many within the humanities are generating creative artistic images ideally suited for a collaborative and nurturing future. Clearly our collective cosmic nature is alive and well working diligently to bring about necessary changes for a favorable human destiny.
Our individual challenge is to find ways to contribute to this effort. It is essential that we cultivate our natural spirituality through meditation, contemplation, communing with nature, seeking inspirational reading material, movies and music, or whatever may be personally uplifting. Then, actively seek opportunities to engage in random acts of kindness. Always remember, even the smallest candle can dispel the darkness that surrounds it.