Evolution of the Spirit

Human kind’s basic awareness through the five senses has historically been the basis for our survival down through the ages. But now we see that humanity has evolved a higher level of consciousness over time. As human beings, we are not content to merely survive. We now are engaged in a quest for truth, happiness and self-realization.

Most often when we hear the word “evolution”, we think of Charles Darwin and then go on to associate that name with the expression “survival of the fittest”.

Survival of the Fittest

The term "survival of the fittest" actually means that the most evolved form of life in any particular environment has fought its way to the top of the food chain within that environment. It seems to suggest that life exists by sheer brute strength and through that strength it ensures its self-preservation and is thus the most highly evolved.

By “fittest”, the term’s creator Herbert Spencer didn't have in mind the commonly used meaning of the term. The “fittest” he actually referred to, are those life forms which are the most suited to their environment; “those which are best fitted to survive.” The word “fit” here does not mean strength but suitability; life and future life dependant on capability and competence rather than sheer strength of force.

Darwin took this concept a step further by developing his understanding of the evolution of life around the concept of "natural selection”. A process that is much more complex and sophisticated than the mere struggle to survive.

Natural Selection

Natural selection is part of Darwin's original theory of evolution, implying that a species that doesn't adapt well to their environment will gradually die off or self-destruct while those that are capable of change through adaptability will continue to grow and multiply on for future generations.

Darwin posited that all life adapts to its ecological niche over time by adjusting and recreating itself in an infinite variety of forms, suggesting a much more sophisticated level of adaptability of all life over eons of time. Several thousand years of recorded historical time are the blinking of an eye in geologic time.

Darwin tells us that life is constantly in transition creating and recreating itself. He tells us that although life may seem brutal and random at times, there are creative and scientific criterion involved.

There is also a powerful force or energy source that underlies all life. We experienced the reality of this force with the first splitting of the atom. Darwin’s original thesis for the evolution of life intimated that there is a natural process in place that we humans are only beginning to understand.

Darwin’s theories have been proven to be fact within our lifetime, primarily through the knowledge of DNA and now on a more subtle level through quantum physics. Modern science has proven Darwin to be correct and at the same time has proven the ancient mystics true. The notion of a divide between science and religion is truly illusionary and obsolete.

All life is made of the same stuff, inter-connected and ever-changing. Creating and recreating itself through a systematic process and with a source of energy that is infinitely vast and compelling. The basic structure of all life may be multi-dimensional and thus far beyond our limited comprehension. Intuition may be sense you have that is far more pervasive than you realize.

Darwin's basic message in the late 1800’s was that life is much more complex than human beings had ever imagined before his time, and that science and religion were barley scratching the surface of true understanding. You see that message as still holding true today.

Expressions of Emotion in Man and Animals

What most people aren’t aware of is that a year after Darwin published “Descent of Man”, he went on to publish another critical work entitled “Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals”.

In this paper, Charles Darwin describes human emotions such as reverence, love, tenderness, compassion, gratitude, laughter and even embarrassment as the conceptual tools you need to adapt to your environment.

In this text, he discuses the physiological expression of these deeper human emotions as the source of our capacity for virtue and cooperation. Darwin wanted to show that not everything can or should be explained in terms of its adaptive value. He shows us that these are traits that go beyond cultural and ethnic boundaries and are a part of the universal human experience.

A smile is a simple example of this. A smile can be understood as a gesture of warmth, kindness and love cross-culturally without explanation.

What I believe Darwin is describing for us is the beginning of self-awareness; a human being’s ability to know and explore their inner emotional life. It’s what I like to describe as “the evolution of the spirit”, which I would define as the evolution of our psychological ability to move beyond our basic sense (awareness and survival instincts) and realize greater self-realization that goes beyond the physical world of our five senses.

Evolution of the Spirit

Our instinctual desire to live has developed into a will to not only survive but to experience happiness, fulfillment and the desire to find meaning in our lives. This evolutionary process has led us to question our existence and search for the source and meaning of life. You see this happening in both the scientific as well as the spiritual community. This desire for truth and meaning goes way beyond the quest for mere survival and this is not theory.

There is much research being done today that has come to this same understanding. In my research, I discovered a wonderful book that deals directly with this subject, entitled “Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life” by Dacher Keltner the director of the Berkley Social Interaction Laboratory. Also “The Seat of the Soul” by Gary Zukav details this very same concept. Deepak Chopra’s book “How To Know God” discussed this very subject long before these other studies were done. Then we have the book “Cosmic Consciousness” by Richard Maurice Bucke, written in 1901 re-published in 1969. See our Book List for more detail.

Our current definition of evolution is lacking. It only defines the evolutionary process from the physical perspective; the development of your relationship to your world from the limitations of our five senses.

Modern evolution is now developing a much more expansive definition. One that will make room for a more heightened awareness. One that goes beyond mere sense-awareness and includes your spiritual or intuitive sense of being. One that will encompass a deeper sense of the human experience.

Today you can see this spiritual transition.You see that some individuals think on a purely sense based materialistic view of the world while others have found a much deeper perspective that enables them to achieve a higher purpose for living. This isn't simple idealism; his is a profound reality. Each one of us are capable of a higher calling of a more highly evolved way of thinking and living. You can incorporate it into your everyday life.

A Life Infused with Reverence

As human beings, we are moving beyond the need for pure survival. That’s why we are here and that’s why we practice meditation. A life infused with reverence, respect and compassion is a highly evolved life. Meditation practice engages our own spiritual evolution. It’s the difference between choosing joy over fear, liberation over control. It is the difference between grasping and letting go. Meditation is the practice of liberation and letting go. Reverence for all life is a natural bi-product of a regular meditation practice.

As human beings, our ability to adapt to this brave new world we live in will call on us and our children to evolve to a higher state of being. Our ability to adapt and survive are dependant on our willingness to accept change and transform our lives. We are now witnesses to the gradual destruction of our planet and the inability of our human family to adapt to an ever-changing environment with limited resources and ever growing need. We have the means within to readapt to our environment and recreate our life to a more highly evolved, compassionate state of being.

As human beings, we must be determined to leave behind a world where selfish brutality reigns and enter into a world where love and respect for all life is the rule rather than the ideal. We can only accomplish this one person at a time, one community at a time and so on and so on. The decisions you make now and the actions you take every day of your life upon this earth are the means by which you evolve. This is your opportunity to spiritually evolve.

Social and political movements have come and gone for centuries with little real success and much failure. The next revolution we need to experience comes from within each one of us. We do not need to occupy Wall Street, we need to occupy ourselves. This means that as an individual, you need to become the change you seek in the world. This will be the source, strength and spirit of your spiritual evolution.

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Sangha Without Borders is currently physically located in London, UK