The Spiritual Approach
Written by Dr. Nash Popovic
There are diverse views on the meaning of spirituality. In this context, ‘spiritual approach’ is used as an umbrella term for those perspectives that do not adhere to strictly materialist or reductionist views. In other words, it includes attempts to reach beyond immediate sensory perception and makes cognitive claims about what transcends ordinary experience.
The spiritual approach starts from the sound premise that the physical world may be only a sub-set or one plane of reality. After all, it is imprudent to believe that everything is accessible and explicable from data obtained through our five senses (even with the help of instruments that may substantially enlarge this). There is nothing unreasonable in considering the possibility that there is more to it than meets the eye. The spiritual approach pushes these boundaries and explores the realm beyond that with which we are familiar. It is characterised by a sense of ‘otherness’, ‘something more’ a sense that what we normally perceive is limited in its scope. From that perspective the natural world is seen as part of a greater whole, and can be properly understood only with reference to this whole. It would be a mistake to exclude such a possibility outright, as long as the beginning, end and cause of the world we live in cannot be fully accounted for otherwise.
An attempt to expand beyond ordinary sense experience is not in itself something unique to spirituality. Science does the same (by using microscopes or telescopes, for example). What is specific to this approach is its method, which transcends normal perception by means of personal transformation. Gaining such knowledge and understanding requires altering the level of awareness, which, in turn, necessitates at least a temporary personal transformation. So, whereas for scientific method the quality of an experiment matters (while the experimenter should be neutral, in the background), for these kinds of insights the quality of the experimenter matters (while the ‘experiment’ is only a vehicle). Although they are not necessary, various techniques are traditionally used to assist this process: psychotropic substances, lucid dreaming, meditation, breath-control, repetitive sound or movement, trance, fasting, sleep deprivation and so on. They all have the same aim, to reach beyond our mental constructs and provide ‘knowledge by presence’, a direct, unmediated mode of cognition. Therefore, although spirituality is empirical in the sense that it is based on experience, it differs from conventional scientific empiricism in the focus of its enquiry and in its method.
It should be clarified though that we distinguish spirituality from mysticism or religion (with full recognition that there are grey areas and overlaps between them). Mysticism and religion may have huge personal and social value and can be truly inspirational, but their contribution to our overall knowledge of the realm they are preoccupied with is somewhat limited albeit for different reasons. Mysticism generally takes the stand that the riddle of reality is a mystery and will always