Rupert Sheldrake 2018 Science & Spiritual Practices:Temenos Academy

Rupert Sheldrake 2018 Science & Spiritual Practices:Temenos Academy

hmm Thank You Nik it’s great to be here
again. I love the Temenos Academy and I think
it’s one of the most important although one of the smallest educational institutions in our country. I’m talking this evening on science and spiritual
practices, and this may seem an odd combination, but we’re in an extreme
extremely new situation at the moment where this becomes unusually relevant.
Recent surveys have shown that more than half the population of Britain described
themselves as having no religion, and until recently there’s probably no
society where most people would have had no religion, no unifying theme to
their existence. And yet this doesn’t mean that most people are atheists.
Atheists in recent surveys are about 13% of the population. The majority of people
who say they have no religion still have an interest in spiritual matters and
often have spiritual practices. A lot of people call themselves spiritual but not
religious. There has now been a lot of scientific studies of the effect of
religious and spiritual practices. In 2012 the monumental Handbook of Religion
and Health came out summarizing lot of 2,800 papers published on this subject.
Since the year 2001 there have been many peer-reviewed scientific studies. Now 4%
of them showed harmful effects of religion. Those were mostly for people
who were in states of great religious conflict, who felt exceptionally guilty
and belonged to religions that made them feel even guiltier, but the vast majority
of these studies showed very beneficial effects. People who had religious and
spiritual practices in brief were happier healthier and lived longer.
And there’s now been a lot of studies of specific spiritual practices. In my book
I discuss seven different practices and the scientific research on them. I also
summarize simple ways in which anyone can try them for themselves. They are
meditation, gratitude, connecting with the more than human world, relating to plants,
singing, chanting and music rituals, and pilgrimage. These are all spiritual
practices which are part of every religion, but they can also be practiced
by people who are not part of religion. We’re in a new situation as I said. I can’t
talk about all of them this evening but I’m going to talk a start first with
gratitude which is always a good place to begin. There have now been many
studies by positive psychologists on what makes people happy. In the last 20
or 30 years there’s been a rise of a new branch of psychology called positive
psychology, and why it’s called that is because it’s looking on the positive
side of things. Until then almost all psychology had been negative psychology,
in the sense it was about what makes people miserable. And this is of course
what psychotherapists deal with all the time, so it’s not surprising this was the
main focus for people like Freud. But positive psychologists asked what makes
people happy and one of the things they found, one of their most convincing
results, is that people who are grateful are much happier than those who aren’t.
The opposite of being grateful is to take things for granted or feel a sense
of entitlement, and complain. People who are grateful on the other hand give
thanks for what they’ve got and they’re measurably happier. Critics of this work said, well of course
they’re happier, you know, of course they’re grateful, they’re happier
but they’re grateful because they’re happy and, but they tried to find out
whether they’re happy because they’re grateful. So they’ve done a whole series
of experiments which are part of the literature of positive psychology. I’ll
just summarize one of them. There are lots of them but in one of them they
took groups of people and divided them into three groups at random. One group
were asked to write down all the things that had upset them in the previous week
the hassles. A second wrote down a story about something that happened in the
previous week, and the third group wrote down the things for which they were
grateful in the previous week. They tested them at various periods
afterwards. The people who’d done the gratefulness exercise were measurably
happier than those that had done the other exercises. And the gratefulness
exercise that had the greatest effect was writing a letter of thanks to
somebody who had helped you in your life that you’d never properly acknowledged
and going to that person and reading the letter to them. People who did that were
measurably happier for two months afterwards. So this shows something that
in a sense proves the obvious. I mean my mother and my grandmother both said to
me “count your blessings”. It turns out they
were right, that this is a practice which has been part of every culture. All
religions have thanks and gratitude as part of their regular practice. Many of
the Psalms for example in the Jewish and Christian tradition, songs of praise and
thanks. Many hymns are songs of thanks. So this has been known to many
people for a very very long time but now it’s got the scientific imprimatur
of showing that it has statistically significant effects. Now meditation is
probably the most widespread spiritual practice that’s emerged in the last 30
or 40 years. Meditation has always been part of religious traditions. In Hinduism
in in Christianity in contemplative prayer
in monasteries and convents and in Sufism and in other religious traditions
as well. It became fashionable in the 1970s and that’s when the scientific
investigation of meditation began. In 1974 Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard
Medical School started looking at the effects of meditation because a lot of
his students were doing it – mainly Transcendental Meditation following the
Maharishi – and he wanted to find out what was going on. He tried it himself. He
found it was really helpful he did a lot of physiological tests. People who
meditated tended to have lower levels of stress. Their blood pressure dropped and
it involved what he called the relaxation response. We have two sides to our
autonomic or unconscious nervous system: the sympathetic nervous system and the
parasympathetic nervous system. Now the sympathetic nervous system isn’t really
to do with sympathy, it’s to do with fight or flight reactions, to do with the
heart beating faster so you can run away or fight, but many people who suffer from
chronic anxiety are in a state of fear all the time and have an activation of
the sympathetic nervous system. And Benson showed that during meditation
this was greatly reduced and the parasympathetic nervous system became
predominant, and that’s much more to do with relaxation. That’s why he called it
the relaxation response. He studied many other physiological
aspects of meditation and looked at the effects on it: people who meditate tend
to sleep better, have less stress in their lives; they’re less depressed;
there’s now many studies that show meditation relieves depression or
protects against it, which is why you can now get prescriptions for meditation on
the NHS, because it’s been clinically proven to help people with mild or
moderate depression; it’s as effective or more effective than
a course of Prozac or other antidepressants; and more importantly,
from the point of view of the NHS, it’s cheaper. So meditation is now widely
available. The other kind that was developed in the 1970s by John
Kabat-Zinn – also in Massachusetts, also a medical man
– was mindfulness meditation, based on the Buddhist techniques of vipassana.
Well Bentsen worked with mantra based
meditation, Kabat-Zinn with meditation based on observing the breathing or
feelings in the body, sensations in the body, without a mantra. And these are the
two kinds which are now so widely practiced today. More than eighteen
million people in America practice meditation now. It’s taught all over Britain
too. More than a hundred members of parliament meditate regularly at
Westminster, and so this is a very very widespread practice. How many people here
as a matter of interest meditate or have meditated? Well that’s almost everybody:
must be at least 95 percent, so I don’t need to tell you about meditation
because you know about it from your own experience, but there have now been
studies on the brains of people who meditate. Regular meditators have
different nervous connections from those that don’t. Certain bits of the brain get
bigger or stronger; not surprising really if you lift weights biceps get bigger
and if you meditate regularly connections between different areas of
the brain get bigger. There are anatomical as well as
physiological differences, so here’s a spiritual practice very widespread, most
people do it without really thinking about what it means. But in all the
traditions from which it came, the reason people did meditation was not so they
could succeed better in love and business
the reason or deal with the stresses of modern urban life.
They were doing it because they believed that by contacting or becoming aware of
the ground of consciousness, the ground of consciousness in their own
mind, they were coming into contact with the ground of consciousness of the whole
universe, of everything. In the Hindu formulation Atman is Brahman the
ultimate consciousness is reflected in the minds of everyone, every conscious
being. One common metaphor is it’s like the the moon reflected in buckets of
water. Every bucket of water reflects the moon differently. They look as if they’ve
got lots of different moons but they’re all reflections of the same one and
that’s how they think of consciousness. And so Buddhists and Hindus think that
meditation connects you to the ground of consciousness itself out; so do Sufis and
so to Christians, but many modern atheists also meditate. Sam Harris for
example one of the new atheists, author of The End of Faith.
He’s a very militant atheist has now become an ardent meditator and is now
giving online meditation courses. Susan Blackmore one of our prominent public
atheists is also a keen meditator and advocates it as a spiritual practice. The
interesting thing is that these both of them call themselves secular Buddhists. They reject the religion of Buddhism they think the Dalai Lama’s not as good
as secular Buddhists because he’s still too superstitious, believes in
reincarnation and things like that. They think the meditation is just happening
inside their head and is like a mental gym inside the brain and it’s all inside
the head. Now you can do meditation and believe that but the real reason for it
in all these traditions is much greater than that and I myself suspect
that people who start off as atheist meditators through their own experience
may find themselves challenging their Atheist worldview, they may find that it
really doesn’t work so well for them after a while because their inexperience
may lead them beyond it. In all religions there’s a practice
of rituals and this is another spiritual practice. Every religion and indeed
almost all cultures have rituals and one category of rituals are about the nature
of the social group and the story that holds it together and these rituals
reenact the stories of origins or the myths of origin. One example is the
Jewish Passover ritual. When the 10th curse was visited on Egypt by God
destroying the firstborn of the Egyptians and of their cattle the Jewish
people were passed over because Moses told them to kill a lamb and smear the
blood on the doorway of their house and said they were passed over and they
escaped. The next day they began their historic journey through the wilderness
to the promised land. And this crucial event in Jewish history is reenacted
every year in the Passover festival with lamb and is a crucial ritual for Jewish
people. It identifies them as Jewish, by doing it you become Jewish, you become
part of that tradition and through doing it connect back through all those who’ve
done it over the generations to the original Passover. The Christian Holy
Communion itself a Passover dinner in the same way connects its present
participants with each other with all who’ve done it before right back to the
first holy communion the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples. The American
Thanksgiving dinner a national ritual re-enacts the Thanksgiving dinner of the
original settlers in New England who gave thanks for their surviving their
first year in the new world and being American it has turkey as a key
ingredient, an American bird unknown in Europe until people settled in America. By taking part in it people affirm their identity as Americans and connect with
all those who’ve gone before right back to the first Thanksgiving
dinner. Now in many rituals it’s believed that for the ritual to work or to be
effective it must be done in the right way, the same way it’s been done before
or very similar way and for that reason many rituals involve liturgical
languages, ancient languages that are no longer spoken, like Brahminic rituals in
India involves Sanskrit. The liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church involves old
Slavonic. The liturgy of the Coptic Church ancient Egyptian the only form in
which it survives today. People think that they have to be done the same way
in order to work. Why should that be? Well, the relevant science here is the idea of
morphic resonance. This is my own hypothesis and for those who are not
familiar with it I’ll give a very brief morphic resonance in a nutshell summary.
Morphic resonance is the idea there’s a kind of memory in nature. This is an
unfamiliar idea in the West but it’s completely familiar in Hinduism and
Buddhism both of which take memory and nature for granted. So in that sense it’s
more in accordance with Oriental philosophies than Western philosophy. In
its wider sense this hypothesis suggests that the so-called laws of
nature are more like habits. Things happened the way they do because they
happened that way before. The universe is not governed by eternal laws that were
all laid down at the moment of the Big Bang and have stayed the same ever since
but rather by evolving habits or regularities. There’s a kind of memory in
each kind of thing: each kind of thing has a collective memory; each kind of
crystal has a collective memory of all similar crystals in the past; each rat
has a collective memory, tunes into a collective memory of all rats in the
past; each spider of a particular species as it begins spinning its orb web tunes
into the experience and the web design of all its predecessors. Much of
inheritance from this point-of-view is not carried in the
genes is transmitted by morphic resonance on the basis of similarity. Morphic resonance applies to all self-organizing systems. It doesn’t apply
to non self-organizing systems like tables, chairs, computers and cars. Those
are put together in factories, but crystals, cells, molecules, plants and
animals, flocks of birds, ecosystems, planets, galaxies – all organize themselves
and I think all have a kind of collective memory. So the key thing here is the similarity. I think the most radical aspect of morphic
resonance is the implications for our own memories. What I’m suggesting is that
all memory works on the basis of morphic resonance except for mechanical kinds
like computers with hard drives and so on, and I think our own memory depends on
morphic resonance. I think we resonate with ourselves in the past when we
remember something. In other words, I don’t think our memories are stored
inside our brains – that’s the conventional materialist view. They must
be in the brain; where else could they be? For most people it’s just common sense,
they must be in the brain. But more than a century of research trying to find
memories in brains has been extraordinarily unsuccessful. What people
have found is that certain patterns of activity occur in brains when memories
are laid down, when they’re being formed, and similar patterns occur when they’re
being retrieved but in between they vanish and I think the reason they
vanish is they’re not there. I think they’re not there anymore than the
traces of what you watched on television last night are inside your television
set. I think our brains are more like TV
sets than video recorders. Now this in itself has a lot of implications for
spiritual practices because if your memories are stored in your brain then
when you die they’re all wiped out at one stroke. That’s the end; that’s why
materialists like this argument: it refutes all religious beliefs about a
survival of bodily death at one stroke. Memory is in the brain, they’re wiped out
at death, therefore there’s no memory surviving death, no possibility of
survival of bodily death either through reincarnation, which must involve a
transfer of memory or habit, or in purgatory which must involve some kind
of memory. Or to take an extreme Protestant view of the last judgment, where you go to
sleep and you wake up again to and appear before your maker on the last day.
Well if you’ve forgotten who you are and what you’ve done it would not be a very
meaningful experience. All these theories presuppose the survival of
memory. I’m suggesting that the memories are not wiped out by the death
of the brain because that’s not where they’re stored. Now the question of
whether they can be retrieved in some other way is another question, it’s an
open question, but from the materialist point of view it’s not an
open question, it’s a closed question. Now coming back to rituals, the point about
rituals is that people do them as similarly as possible because they think
that’s the right way to connect across time with those who’ve done them before
and from the point of view of morphic resonance that’s exactly what’s
happening. The more similarly they’re done to the way they’ve done before – the
right words, chants, phrases, gestures, smells, food etc – the more they’ll
tune in to those who’ve done them in the past. There’ll be literally a presence of
the past through the performance of the ritual which is exactly what people
think is happening when they do these rituals. So they make great sense from
the point of view of morphic resonance. Now this of course is a controversial
theory. Most of my scientific colleagues still believe in eternal laws of nature
but they do so not because they’ve thought long and hard about it, usually
because they haven’t, and it’s just a habit of thought. There’s another kind of
ritual I want to talk about which has to do with rites of passage.
Many cultures have rites of passage, particularly for adolescents as they
pass from childhood to adulthood, and many rights of passage involve trials by
ordeal. People going to the edge of death and then coming back again. Many of them
involved the imagery of death and rebirth. In some cultures these rites of
passage, particularly ones for boys, are ones that involve extreme physical
suffering and challenge. Native Americans have vision quests where people fast and
go into the wilderness for days in great danger and some die. The Mithraic rituals
in the Roman period involved rites of passage which brought people close
to death. The Roman Emperor Commodus was a kind of Mithraic priest and he
insisted on doing some of these initiations himself officiating at them
and he went too far he actually killed one aspirant, Mithraic person who was
being initiated, they went they go to the edge. Well we know now a lot more than we
did before about near-death experiences. As actual experiences these have been
widely studied in medicine because nowadays so many people who would have
died in the past no longer die, thanks to coronary resuscitation techniques and
modern medicine. So near-death experiences are now far more common than
they ever were before and they’ve been documented and studied in great
scientific detail. When people nearly died in a near-death experience they
often find themselves floating out of their body, often looking down on their
body, and see nurses and doctors working on their body, and then they often find
themselves going through a long dark tunnel and emerging into the light where
they find themselves in a state of love and bliss and often meet loved
ones, departed loved ones, or spiritual beings, or beings of light.
These are very well documented and many people have rather similar experiences.
It’s not just the experience which is so important and interesting for those who
have them but the effect it has on their life thereafter. Most people who’ve had
near-death experiences say that it’s changed their life, that they’ve died and
they’ve been reborn and that they’ve lost the fear of death and many of them
change the way they live: they start doing more to help other people and they
take on a more spiritual, their life takes on a more spiritual tone. Now in
the light of this knowledge we now have about near-death experiences, looking
back a lot of these initiation rituals make much better sense. The one that I
think is thrown into sharp relief by this is the central initiation ritual in
the Christian tradition, namely baptism. John the Baptist was extremely popular
at the time when in in in Palestine and he baptized people in the Jordan on
quite a large scale this was a mass movement. People showed up at the Jordan,
John initiated them through baptism, he held them under the water and they then
later said they died and they’d been born again. Well what was going on? Was
this just symbolic of death by drowning or was it something rather more. I
personally think it was rather more. Why have something just symbolic when you
can have the real thing, only takes a couple of minutes longer, and it’s
far far more effective. So I think he was a drowner
and and I imagine that people would queue
up on the banks of the Jordan and he probably had a team of helpers to
help the resuscitation process, and one after another would be held under and
then they’d go off and I suppose he’d say next please.
He did it on a large scale. Jesus himself was baptized by John and it was a moment
of spiritual illumination for Jesus, the very beginning of his public
ministry. Straight after it he went into the wilderness for forty days of
fasting, a kind of Vision Quest, so this was a fundamental right of passage. But
by the second or third century in the early church people had
more or less given up baptism by total immersion because people were no longer
being converted themselves. It was their children who were born into Christian
families and they wanted their babies protected so infant baptism through the
sprinkling of water began. Then it was just symbolic. Interestingly in the
ferment of the Reformation in the 16th century one of the most radical
Protestant groups were the anabaptists “Ana” means again: the anabaptists were
people who reinstated adult baptism by total immersion. And these were people
who were extremely radical. They were a terrible problem for the authorities in
both Catholic and Protestant countries. They were persecuted, they were dismissed
as enthusiasts which was a terrible term of abuse – enthusiasm means filled
with God – and they went round being filled with God saying they died and
they’d been born again and they’d seen the light and this was an awful nuisance
to the Anglican Church and the Roman Church and they were persecuted and many
of them went to America as a result. Well there are a great many of them still.
They gave rise to Mennonite and Baptist churches which still exist today and
which still alone among most, well a few other Christian denominations have
baptism by total immersion, but they’re the ones that preserved it. I think that
they rediscovered the power of this initiation through death and rebirth. And
of course both they and John the Baptist were doing this before the days of
health and safety legislation and also before the days of liability
litigation and they may have lost a few. But it was an incredibly powerful
rite of passage, and still today it’s the Baptist’s of all Christian groups who
are the ones who go around talking about being born again and seeing the light and
dying and being born again. I think for many in that tradition it’s a real
experience, for many of the people probably today they’re much more careful
about how long they hold them under and but there again is a ritual a rite of
passage where I think modern science has some light to shed on it through studies
of near-death experiences. Now singing and chanting are a spiritual practice found
in all traditions and they have powerful effects on the mind and body.
My wife Jill Purce has been teaching singing and chanting in group contexts
for decades now and has shown I think totally convincingly how people from many
religious traditions or from none can learn and benefit from doing these
practices. Chanting together brings people into resonance with each other
and if they chant mantras then they come into resonance with all those who’ve
chanted them before. Mantras are a way of tuning in by morphic resonance to all
those who chanted their phrase before this is something Jill explores in her
workshops and and gives a direct experience of. When people sing together
in choirs they often come into physiological synchrony and this is
something that Dr. Guy Hayward, who’s here this evening, who works with me
as my postdoctoral research fellow, who did for his PhD thesis at Cambridge on
the physiological and other effects of singing in choirs. Many people find that
singing together is extremely beneficial and that’s why so many people join
choirs and there’s a resurgence of community choirs in Britain at the
moment, and again this is something that can be done in a religious context as in
church choirs or in a secular context as in community choirs, but in both cases
people are singing and chanting together and coming into resonance with each
other. the practice of pilgrimage is common to
all religious traditions Muslims go to Mecca or Medina or Jerusalem or to the
shrines of Sufi Saints Hindus go to Mount Kailash or to the many temples in
India or to sacred groves or holy rivers like the Ganges the they and Christians
in the early Middle Ages when primary to Jerusalem but then a great many other
places of Christian pilgrimage grew up some of them were ancient sacred sites
which were Christianized and became part of the Christian tradition others were
places where saints were buried or who’d received visions or where their relics
were kept and so by the Middle Ages the whole of Europe was criss crossed with
pilgrimage routes England was as as were all other countries and these were
enormous Liem portent they were many people didn’t have holidays in our
present sense but if they wanted to travel they went on pilgrimages and this
is something that still happens in India I lived in India for seven years and one
of the things that impressed me very much in India was how many pilgrims were
and how important as practice was for those who went on them and these
journeys were in India some went by train and bus but many of the
traditional pilgrims go foot and these journeys are kind of
transformative journeys it’s not just like going for a walk there’s a goal a
destination to the pilgrimage I went on quite a few pilgrimages in India myself
and one of the things that I learned is that when you arrive at the sacred place
like a temple you don’t just go straight in you walk around it first in India
clockwise the direction of the Sun to make at the center before you go in well
here in England there were pilgrimages to Canterbury Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales
is a series of stories told by pilgrims on their way to Canterbury from London
around 1380 there was a shrine of our lady of Walsingham the Black Madonna in
Norfolk Glastonbury Abbey was a major place at pilgrimage Hales Abbey in in
Gloucestershire and many others but this all came to a halt at the Reformation
the Reformers disapproved of pilgrimage they were scholars and they looked in
the Bible to see if there was anything about Canterbury or Walsingham and of
course there wasn’t so they thought these must just be pagan accretions at
which in a way they were so they abolished pilgrimage Thomas Cromwell in
1538 issued an injunction against pilgrimage and pilgrims were barred from
going to Canterbury the shrines were desecrated the Shrine of Our Lady of
Walsingham was desecrated the jewels were confiscated by the King and the
image of the Black Madonna was dragged from it the shrine and burned in a
public bonfire this was deeply traumatic for many people in England and
pilgrimage was also suppressed in other process in countries like North Germany
and Scandinavia this I think left a great void in the minds of the English
and because the urge to travel is very deep in our nature we’re all descended
from hunter gatherers and hunter-gatherers have to
travel around the countryside to follow the animals they’re hunting and to find
the fruits and other things they’re gathering you don’t get all this just
arriving all around you if you stay in one place so all hunter-gatherers are no
magic as the Sami people are today who follow the herds of reindeer in in in
the Arctic and as the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies still are the
Australian Aborigines as they went on their annual rounds
sang the songs of the places they visited the song lines and this was just
the way they lived so it’s very deep in human nature when settled agriculture
began ten thousand years ago or so and in Britain only about five thousand
years ago people settled and with cultivating animals and plants but these
urges to go to holy places remained and our great megalithic sites in Britain
like Stonehenge and at Avebury were places were not temples at the centre of
cities they were places where people would have gone for festivals at the
summer solstice and at other times so they weren’t vast settlements like they
were in Sumeria and so on whether the Templar was at the center of the city
they were ceremonial centers to which people went for festivals and those
migrations the festivals were a kind of pilgrimage the same happened in Athens
where there was a pilgrimage every seven years for the pan Athena Festival on the
Acropolis where colonists from all the Athenian colonists came back to Athens
and the procession at the end was a kind of formalized migration up to the
Acropolis so these these go very very deep these patterns in our nature and
when the English were deprived of pilgrimages it left a void which was
replaced or partially replaced a few generations later when the
invented tourism and I think tourism is best seen as a form of secularized
pilgrimage tourists still go to the great temples and cathedrals and sacred
places of the world when they go to Egypt they visit the temples and they go
to Paris they go to Natura Dom when they come to London they go to Westminster
Abbey tourists are still going to the great sacred places but when they get
there they can’t kneel down and say a prayer or light a candle because they’re
supposed to be modern educated people who have risen above all that kind of
superstition so they have to pretend they’re interested in art history so
guides spring up to tell them facts which go in one ear and come out the
other and which isn’t really why they’re there at all so I think actually even
better than secular pilgrimage I like the phrase of will Parsons who with guy
Hayward is a co-founder of the British pilgrimage trust he calls it frustrated
pilgrimage and I think one of the big paradigm shifts in the modern world is
back from tourism to pilgrimage there are already various groups leading
pilgrimages rather than tours and I think all of us can can do something in
this way when we visit ancient sacred places and try and make it a pilgrimage
so you at least give thanks for being there and pray when you’re there it’s
easier in cathedrals now because they will have candles that you can light and
candle racks where you can light them so it’s particularly easy here in Europe to
do that so I think this is a very big shift that any one of us can make we can
also make our journeys into pilgrimages I myself when I visit a new city or town
or wherever I am in India in Britain wherever I try to go at first as soon
after I arrived as I can to the sacred place at the
in India to the main temple in an English city to the Cathedral or
European city in a village to the parish church and then light a candle or say a
prayer connect with the sacred place first making even ordinary journeys into
pilgrimages it makes a huge difference I find if by connecting with the sacred
heart of a place and it makes a completely different feeling of the
relationship to being there here in London many people are not aware of the
great power spot at the very center of City at the very center of the English
state which is in Westminster Abbey the shrine of st. Edward the Confessor who
was for a while the patron saint of England before st. George took over st.
Edward the Confessor died in 1066 he was succeeded by Harold and then was the
Norman Conquest the Westminster Abbey was built around his shrine by King
Henry the 3rd and the shrine is the centre of the Abbey it’s behind the high
altar where the monarchs are crowned it’s the doors from how to enter into
the shrine the central focus of the whole Abbey where the tomb of Edward the
Confessor is still there it was the one tomb which survived the Reformation the
bones are still in it and you can pray about that those niches you can big
enough to get into an eel you sort of burrow into this medieval tomb and the
place we burrow in has hollowed out we’re knees have gone for centuries it’s
extraordinarily powerful place and every year the there is a pilgrimage to
Westminster Abbey the Saints Day $0.04 Edwards around October the 14th on the
nearest Saturday there’s a National pilgrimage the Abbey’s closed to
tourists and at groups of pilgrims gave from all over this year our vicar in
Hampstead a new vicar announced that he was going to go on
this pilgrimage on Saturday October the 13th last year and just asked if any
would like with him and about 30 of us did I hadn’t
heard of this pilgrimage before that and it was an amazing experience arriving
there were groups of people on foot converging from all over London some had
come from further afield than just walk the last bit must have been about 2,000
people in the Abbey that morning and it went on all day and there was a son
Eucharist with astonishing music and a really powerful occasion and then anyone
could file past the tomb and pray at the tomb have had with the Confessor there’s
an amazing experience and just getting to Westminster Abbey is an amazing
experience another of the projects I do with dr. guy Hayward is we have a
website called choral evensong org where you can find the time of this wonderful
service that happens every day in our cathedrals throughout the land in most
Cambridge colleges where every day there’s 45 minutes of exquisitely
beautiful singing and chanting different music every day absolutely free 5:00
p.m. Westminster Abbey or st. Paul’s or
southern Cathedral well there’s been a remarkable revival of pilgrimage in
Europe in the last few decades I think it one reason for this is because so
many people feel a kind of spiritual void and they’re on a spiritual quest
and pilgrimage is an extraordinary way extraordinary direct way of expressing a
spiritual quest you’re literally on a journey with a sacred destination and
when you go with the intention when you reach the holy place of giving thanks or
asking for some benefit or a blessing go with an intention it makes it different
from just going for a walk the most famous pilgrimage in Europe is Santiago
de Compostela in Spain and that was the biggest pilgrimage in Europe in the
Middle Ages but it more or less fizzled out in the 17th 18th 19th
trees partly because the number of pilgrims from Northern Europe dried up
as a result of the Protestant Reformation then at the French
Revolution pilgrimage was banned in France the in 1793 during the reign of
terror they proclaimed reason the state religion and abolished Christianity not
Redang became a temple of Reason and monasteries was suppressed and se was
pilgrimage as in the Russian Revolution following the Bolshevik Revolution there
was an attempt to abolish Christianity entirely and execute priests or send
them to Siberia and suppress all pilgrimage well although there were all
these attacks on pilgrimage in the 1980’s a number of activists in Spain
tried to restore the pilgrimage and they started by building up the
infrastructure in the Middle Ages the monasteries provided the infrastructure
where people could sleep and have meals on their on their journey so they
established a series of places where pilgrim could sleep and eat on the way
to Santiago in 1987 when these wendice infrastructure was in place and they had
already been talking about it for several years about a thousand people
walked to Santiago last year it was about 300 thousand lots of people go
from all over Europe all over the world many of them are atheists or agnostics
it’s not just devout Catholics who do that do that pilgrimage and it’s helped
to trigger off this revival of pilgrimage which is going on all over
Europe ten years ago the great pilgrimage in Norway from Oslo to
Trondheim Cathedral whereas the shrine of st. Olaf the patron saint in Norway
that great route over the mountains was reopened by the Crown Prince of Norway
and it’s now become a major focus of pilgrimage for all Scandinavia there’s a
revival of pilgrimage going on in many different countries in Europe and here
in Britain the British pilgrimage trust is is the main body which is organizing
this revival one of the things that’s happening is to re-establish a flagship
root and iconic route from Winchester or Southampton to Canterbury about 18 days
much we’re going over the South Downs through extraordinary beautiful
countryside and establishing places where people can stay and and get food
and so on so that it’s possible for us to have a kind of Camino here in England
right now anyone who wants to do a long pilgrimage usually says oh I’m ascared
to Spain but there’s no need to go to Spain you can do it here and on the
British pilgrimage Trust website there is now a directory of more than 30
different pilgrimage routes throughout Britain which anyone can do it’s
surprising how many of there are last year somebody told me about one that I
actually went on myself which was too little getting in Huntingdon shareware
TS Eliot is the title of one of the Four Quartets
named after a community they are founded in the 17th century by Nicholas Ferrara
and this was a local pilgrimage led by a priest from Peterborough Cathedral about
70 or 80 people on it went started at the village church where George Herbert
used to be vicar the great 17th century poet through the through the lanes and
villagers to little getting itself as a wonderful pilgrimage and wonderful to be
able to go on it and I myself have recently been doing a series of
pilgrimages with my godson I have a godson who’s now aged 17 when he was 14
I tried to think what can I do with this young man for his birthday and his
birthday’s in June and I didn’t want to give him stuff because everyone’s got
too much stuff and I try to avoid giving stuff now I give experiences and so at
that stage guy and girl were just starting up this new pilgrimage the
exploring the routes to Canterbury so I said to him well what I offer you
for your birthday is a pilgrimage to Canterbury I said we walk the last eight
miles or so we take a train to a small village called Chatham and we walk
through the fields and meadows and orchards and woods to Canterbury
Cathedral I said then we walk round the Cathedral circumambulated we go in and
like candles and say our prayers for our intentions then we have a cream tea then
we go to choral evensong and then we come home on the high speed train would
you like to do it and I didn’t know what he’d say but without hesitation he said
yes and we had a most blissful day and then it worked so well that the next
year we went to Ely Cathedral we went to water beach on the train and walked the
last eight or nine miles along the towpath of the cam similar formula
shrine of st. Harold reader cream tea choral evensong last the next year we
did Lincoln walking along the Lincoln Ridge and the most recent one last June
was Wells Cathedral walking through the fields to that wonderful Cathedral of
Wells since there’s at least 50 cathedrals in britainís could run and
run as a as a project and I mentioned this I did a talk with the comedian
Russell Brand recently for his podcast which is on YouTube and on his podcast
site he asked me to do this because Russell Brand is now on a kind of
spiritual mission he recovered from heroin addiction and alcohol addiction
and sex addiction and several other addictions with the help of the 12-step
program and he’s recently written a book called recovery freedom from our
addictions and is now going around saying with the whole of our society has
got stuck in and in this kind of materialist way and there has to be a
way out from rediscovering the spirit so he’s become a kind of evangelist for a
spiritual path at the end of our one-hour discussion
I mentioned the pilgrimage and going to Canterbury and he was loved the idea
going to country and having a cream tea and said engaged choral evensong it said
ended up with me and choral work Russell Brand decided to go to choral evensong
together at Canterbury following a pilgrimage
since then emails pour into my inbox I get several a week from people say just
heard your thing with Russell Brand can I come too so if we do do it it could
turn into quite a big event anyway this is a spiritual practice again which is
open to everybody and in fact that’s one of the key things of the British
pilgrimage trusted open to all as one of their slogans and there are other big
slogan is bring your own beliefs because the key thing here is that these
spiritual practices are about experienced they’re not about doctrines
or about dogmas I myself think doctrines and a theology are both interesting and
important but they’re not where you want to start I think that all religions
start from experience Buddhism started from the enlightenment
of the Buddha sitting under a tree it didn’t start from people studying texts
in a library Christianity started from the the the great sense of spiritual
opening at his baptism by Jesus and his subsequent life death and resurrection
Islam started with Muhammad hearing the voice of God in dictating the Quran he
was illiterate and the Hindu Rishi’s the great seers arrived at their insights
through meditating in caves in the Himalayas and elsewhere not through
studying books so I think all the great religious traditions start from direct
experience and for all of us the things that are most important really are
direct experiences and that’s why these practices are so important because they
enable us to connect or reconnect through direct experience
for those who don’t have a religious path then I think they provide a way
into the spiritual dimension for those who do regular churchgoers who regularly
worship synagogues or mosques or wherever then I think looking at them
these practices in a new way in the light of what science has to share about
them can enable us to appreciate them more and they can become more effective
in our lives so as I said at the beginning I think we’re in an
unprecedented situation we have access now to all the spiritual practices of
the entire world has never before been that that situation we also have the
situation where probably more people than ever before are on spiritual quests
before people who had a spiritual dimension to their life could easily fit
it into the established religion in which they were brought up and in which
they participated but so many people have now have lost their ancestral
religious roots they have to search afresh and these practices provide a way
of doing that this is only a selection of seven spiritual practices there are
many more so I wouldn’t like to pretend this as all there is I’m writing a
sequel to this book at the moment which deals with another seven spiritual
practice and even then there’s more in the next volume I’m talking about prayer
psychedelics because for many people they’re a kind of rite of passage today
for many young people and can play a spiritual role in their lives sports
which i think is the most common way in which most people today reach spiritual
states though it’s not normally seen as a spiritual practice at all but as a
friend of mine who was a rock climber said to me said when I was really busy I
couldn’t get any peace in my life I tried meditating my mind was just too
busy but by the time I was 50 feet of a rock face I was completely in the
present so and prayer fasting and then I’m
planning to end the book with you know lead just leading better life because
it’s one thing to have spiritual practices or unless it actually shines
forth in your life is leading a better life then it’s really a kind of
self-indulgence anyway that’s all I have time to summarize this evening and I as
I say I think that we live in an extremely exciting time there’s never
been a time like this in which we can look at spiritual practices in this kind
of way and I think this is going to play an increasing role in our society in the
years to come thank you

33 Replies to “Rupert Sheldrake 2018 Science & Spiritual Practices:Temenos Academy”

  1. Rupert, The value you find in any given subject to express possible alternate paths of understanding is inspiring to say the least. Your work on the Morphogenetic field and resonance, most of all in the trialogue format, has impressed me with many curious ideas that i find absolutely stimulating to the point of dedicating time to create a series of art works exploring these properties. I would like to extend a massive thank you for sticking by your guns and words and allowing us/me to have something seemingly more truthful to base my interpretations of the world and life i inhabit. Please feel free to contact me through this profile so if at all possible i could send you some abstracts of the work to give me any form of opinion on. It would actually be really very interesting to see what you feel from them as they are inspired by many of your observations. Thanks again and really exiting to see you posting more lectures! Am just sitting down to let this one wash over me!. Be well always. Benjamin Silver

  2. Thank goodness we not living in the dark ages Rupert Sheldrake would have been burnt at the stake!!! It's thanks to scientists like this that mankind makes any kind of progress…. Thank you so much!!!

  3. Dear Mr. Sheldrake. Thank you so much for such a simple explanation of a deep subject. Wish you long and healthy life to keep sharing your studies with us. Gratitude!

  4. Thank you Rupert. You are one of the very few researchers whose books are written with so much beauty and clarity and read with as much ease and pleasure as one experiences when listening to your lectures.
    I admire us humans and wonder how long it will take us to see that this precious life is silence and form and that we are the silence and the form and that whatever is happening is happening simply because it does, not because we somehow make it happen. It is such a honour to be born into this body of flesh and it is such a grace to know that you are neither this nor that, but the love in action ❤️

  5. this reminds me of a book I read long ago, The Medium, The Mystic and the Physicist. The author shows that all
    three of these describe the underlying reality as all fields.. That led to my work in a unified field theory which led to my PhD dissertation The geometry of elementary particles, UC Santa Cruz, advisor Ralph Abraham. The Consciousness of the Atom by Alice Bailey is also relevant.

  6. L👀K
    🐛 The Butterfly Effect…
    On 16111906 Henri Charrière was born. 🦋 Papillon inception.
    On 16111957 Terence was celebrating his 11th birthday. 🦋 Young Butterfly Collector…
    On 16111957 I was experiencing day 1. 🦋 My Journey begins…
    On 16111973 Alan Watts passed on.🦋 Moth extinguished in Flame…
    🙏 Synchronistic
    Thankyou !

  7. I devalue Educated People referring to the Jewish religion without acknowledging the hereditary influence of the Mystical Kabalah Teachings, That Jewish Passover ritual is an allegory the true meaning hidden from the morally profane.

  8. Probably the most obnoxious and hateful trait of the shrinking Atheist minority is their pretensions to being the superior rational intellects, and their obnoxious distortion of science through their whacky Scientific Naturalist/Methodological Naturalist religion.

  9. Thanks for this lecture Mr.Sheldrake, I have recently finished your book "The Rebirth of Nature" and have recently gotten " Science Set Free" and I can't wait to read it. Again, I can't seem to say this enough, THANK YOU, keep doing what your doing this is great work!

  10. My English is not so good, but, as usual, a really interesting and informative talk. Apropo theory of the consciousness: what is with the theory of the physicist late in 1998 Jean Emile Charon?, or the ideas of Burkhard Heim? In Germany there was Michael König who has also worked on both theories

  11. You're a courageous scientist to go against the norm and challenge long held beliefs. And what a memorable gift to give your Godson: a pilgrimage!

  12. you speak alot about christ and the other wel known religions but what do you know about the belgian and Netherlands religians before christ and the jodism moslims ant so on ? so wat do you know about the celtic way's or the druids of belgian and the Netherlands ?

  13. “It’s one thing to have spiritual practices. Unless it actually shines forth in your life as leading a better life, then it’s really a kind of Self Indulgence.” This… I have realized and felt selfishly in bliss when being detached from my mind, from the stressors of the world, being present with content and self love, being present and in appreciation with the Earth and all of its motions and breaths. But I felt desperate when this peace was disturbed or faded. (sigh) Yet, even though my meditations nowadays are misted with substance use, entering on that meditative journey of emotional and spiritual healing was necessary to stop and reverse the destructive tendency engrained within my mind and body. Each change was a step closer to who I knew I wanted to/could be in my own stationary pilgrimage. No matter the old challenges arising from a stirring up of old patterns, with a selfish spiritual practice, at least there is a rest from the madness. Even if just for a moment, at least the mind gets to reset clear and the heart realign true, which is far better than an undisturbed streaming of unconscious and destructively aimless existence until death. Thank you so much, Rupert!!! Lots of Love and Gratitude!! ✨🙏🏻🌸❤️

  14. Thank you and bless you, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake❤️🍷:) I’ve been a listener of your talks and reader of your book (Presence of the Past) over the recent years, improving all aspects of my life because of the experience:) please do continue to openly explore and discuss the organic and spiritual life of consciousness with the public. People, I know, are and will always be deeply interested however peer-pressured to feel otherwise:) More power❤️🍷

  15. Most enjoyable, thank you. It is my understanding that advanced research into the nature of consciousness now demonstrates conclusively that there is no division between science and spirituality. In fact, they merely represent different frequency ranges of their common substrate.

  16. Pleiadians news… In California they just do received one killed Ukrainian soldier.. It is a girl ("Olesia" name, it seems). The first our kind Ukrainian human there…

  17. If I focus in a meditative manner on a time in my past that I was free of pain can I resonate with that time and experience a reduction in pain?

  18. To bad greed and those who wish to control the masses wish to control religion for gain. The way to eternal life and freedom from this physical world comes from love and how to become one again. Seek till the end. Thank father often.

  19. I love Dr Rupert Sheldrake so much 😍 . But I'm not sure John the Baptist could get everyone resuscitated, and we have no mention of mistakes (permanent, not temporary death NDE). I think that mistakes would have been mentioned, if he were literally drowning them for achieving NDEs.

  20. Will you consider 🙂 a) doing a talk on dark matter (your thoughts are spread across the videos); b) going onto Dr Jeffrey Mishlove's wonderful series, New Thinking Allowed?

    FYI, I think you are just awesomely insightful. And I would say that Christian meditations on layers of shapes and meanings in the "carpet pages" of early Mediaeval manuscripts and poetry of the period are basically meditations on biomorphic/morphogenetic fields: layers and layers of embedded psychic (soul-physical) reality. Every level of the shapes works in a new pattern. For example, the Chi-Rho page of the Book of Kells and protection poems of the period. Those poems repeat and expand on the lines. I did a university paper on the similarity of the pages and the poems. I believe no one else has noticed that correlation. … And the Celtic culture of Ireland also "sang" their geographic locations and migratory directions.

  21. Why not choose gratitude, the opposite brings misery and resentment. some of my friends say it's 'awful' that I have to still work at 72 yrs old. I enjoy working, I work with good people, I have more money. I'm grateful for my work. When I had breast cancer a friend enquired whether I thought 'why me" it never occurred to me to have that thought…..why not me, I'm grateful for the free and excellent treatment I received and survived. I did go through a very dark period of feeling sorry for myself, for various reasons, I asked internally for 'help. to get me out of that mindset, I immediately was overcome with a feeling of complete peace, my mind stopped racing, my obsessive thoughts of self pity and anger, stopped completely – something I had been unable to stop on my own. I learned my lesson, self pity and such thoughts do not help my peace of mind.

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