For many years, about thirty-five, I believed in pursuing a supernatural sort of oneness. Even wrote a book about how a Neoplatonist Greek philosopher, Plotinus, taught it was possible to Return to the One.
That One was viewed as the ultimate source of this physical world, through creative intermediaries. Yet returning to what could loosely be called "God" required transcending materiality and leaving behind sensory awarenesses.
I still consider that such might be possible. Heck, anything is possible. But not everything is probable.
These days I'm much more focused on becoming one with nature. Or more accurately, realizing that I'm already one with nature. Because what isn't part and parcel of nature, this physical universe?
Here's some passages I liked from a book by theoretical physicist and novelist Alan Lightman, "The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew."
In the end, it is easier to explain why bees construct honeycombs shaped like perfect hexagons than why human beings place identical towers on the sides of the Taj Mahal or the two grandmothers on equal sides of the mother.
The first is the result of economy and mathematics, the second of psychology and aesthetics. Perhaps in asking why the pervasive symmetries in nature are found appealing to the human mind and imitated in our human-made constructions, we are making an erroneous distinction between our minds and the remainder of nature.
Perhaps we are all the same stuff.
After all, our minds are made of the same atoms and molecules as everything else in nature. The neurons in our brains obey the same physical laws as planets and snowflakes.
Most important, our brains developed out of nature, out of hundreds of millions of years of sensory response to sunlight and sound and tactile connection to the world around our bodies. And the architecture of our brains was born from the same trial and error, the same energy principles, the same pure mathematics that happen in flowers and jellyfish and Higgs particles.
Viewed in this way, our human aesthetic is necessarily the aesthetic of nature. Viewed in this way, it isn nonsensical to ask why we find nature beautiful.
Beauty and symmetry and minimum principles are not qualities we ascribe to the cosmos and then marvel at in their perfection. They are simply what is, just like the particular arrangement of atoms that make up our minds.
We are not observers on the outside looking in. We are on the inside too.
Another perspective on this is Donald Crosby's "Religious Naturalism and It's Place in the Family of Religions." Thanks to Alex Szeto from Unitarian Universalists Hong Kong, UUHK, for letting me know about this essay.
After quickly reading the piece, I emailed Alex, "Great essay. I agree with almost everything in it. The word 'religious' usually turns me off, but I think Crosby is using the word as a substitute for 'what gives life meaning,' or something like that. The sense of awe at simply being alive and part of a marvelous, vast, mysterious universe."
Here's how Crosby's essay starts off:
Religious naturalism deserves recognition as an important form of religious faith among the various religious stances and outlooks of the world. It does so especially today, when its significance is coming to be increasingly acknowledged, vigorously developed, and actively propounded.
What is religious naturalism? Simply put, it is the recognition that to be is to be natural and the conviction that nature in all of its forms and manifestations is a proper focus of religious commitment.
When I say that to be is to be natural, I am exempting from reality anything other than nature, meaning that, for religious naturalism, there is no such thing as a supposed supernatural being, beings, regions, revelations, origins, purposes, destinies, and the like.
All of reality is natural, or, to state the matter negatively, nothing beyond, beneath, or above nature and its multifarious forms exists.
This does not mean that there can be no deeply fulfilling and saving religious faith, outlook, or devotion. It means that the appropriate source and object of such faith, outlook, and devotion can rightly be regarded as nature itself.