When I go into other people's homes or offices, if I can do it without seeming to pry, I love to browse their bookshelves. In 1985, three weeks after my daughter was born in Auckland, New Zealand, we moved into the far north of the North Island, to women's land where there were several houses on around 11 acres of paddock, gardens, an orchard, and a stream. There we joined in group projects, ate the occasional communal meal, and participated in game nights and saunas. In the main house's dining room there was a wall lined with bookshelves, and on one shelf I saw The Tao of Physics by physicist Fritjof Capra. I was drawn to the book, maybe because I'd already heard of it and planned to read it one day.
There was an overarching reason for my interest. In fact, it would've been more accurate to refer to that interest as "yearning" or "searching." If you've read my book, To Drink from the Silver Cup, or know me in other contexts, you know that I left the evangelical church of my youth as a young adult because there was no place for me when I came out as a lesbian. Absent the church, the impulse toward a spiritual life remained, although I didn't know how to give it form, so I entered a period of on-and-off exploration. I tried different spiritual practices, most deeply and consistently yoga and meditation.
I also wanted to know if there was a scientific basis for spirituality. The Tao of Physics seemed ready made to answer this question, as it explored the parallels between the Eastern spiritual tradition of Taoism and quantum physics. I read it eagerly, and would continue to be drawn to books and articles that described brain and body research on why individuals and peoples in cultures around the world are drawn to spiritual practice. Later, when I worked in a Native publishing house, I realized that Diné shamans had understood concepts of quantum physics for centuries, approaching the details through a spiritual lens.
Spirituality has been defined as the desire or practice of connecting with something larger than oneself. Having been deeply hurt by organized religion through the church, where I should have felt the safest and most supported, despite my continued deep attraction to things spiritual, I felt pretty cautious about turning my life over to something called "Higher Power" when I joined a Twelve Step program. I listened to how other people talked about the first three steps, which some call the "God Steps." One woman, who identified as an agnostic, said she initially made the group her Higher Power, because the group was bigger than her. I saw that people who came to the program in pain went to great lengths to engage their spirituality, in order to make the program work for them.
This simple definition of spirituality––the desire, the need, the practice, of connecting with something larger than oneself––is powerful in its simplicity. And the more I've read about the intersection of science and spirituality (just Google it, if it interests you––there's a ton of research out there), the more I accept it as something that's universal to the human experience, though it takes many diverse forms and is certainly not limited to religion. Much of the scientific research centers on the benefits of engaging in spiritual practice––reducing depression and anxiety, greater productivity, increased physical and mental health. In yoga practice it's referred to as "sadhana," anything that supports our wellbeing. What are seemingly unquantifiable are the benefits that can only be called spiritual––the ineffableness of the experience of connection––whether with other people, nature, the Whole that's been described as a virtually limitless organism, or what we call by many names, including "God."
The Christianity I grew up with and which is still very visible in our world today, holds to an exclusive claim on God; some are even skeptical of the word "spiritual." There's a great deal of evidence in the scientific research that God, that spirituality, is much larger than any one religion or practice. My yoga and meditation teacher in Sweden, Swami Janakananda, drew a diagram on the board one night, after a day of actual practice. In the center of a circle, he wrote the word "Rome." Then he drew spokes leading to the circle. He said, "Yes, all roads lead to Rome, but if you want to get to Rome, you must choose a road."