It all began at the local coffee bar – two girlfriends pondering the origin of the cosmos over coffee. As introverts, we dispensed with the pleasantries and dive into the deep end of the pool, discussing – parallel universes, aliens, religion versus spirituality and the nature of our suffering. I asked her what she knew of atheism and wondered how atheists deal with suffering and loss. My friend asked if I’d read Sam Harris. I had not.
And so began my journey into the ethos of atheism and to my surprise, a deep respect, and admiration for my new friend, Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and a self-proclaimed atheist. I know Sam is controversial. I’ve watched many of his debates, listened to his podcasts and read his essays, but as I read his most recent best seller, Waking Up, A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, I discovered we were kindred spirits.
Sam is actually a spiritual atheist and in Waking Up, his spiritual memoir, he details his journey, including several years studying the Indian tradition of Advaita Vedanta, various schools of Buddhism and a year of meditation in silent retreat. As I read his story realized our views on spirituality were closely aligned. I’ve always believed that science is man’s way of discovering the magic and mystical realm of our existence.
“But there is a connection between scientific fact and spiritual wisdom and it is more direct than most people suppose…our conventional self is an illusion…and the way we think directly influences our experiences of the world.” ~ Sam Harris,Waking Up
Honestly, I was amazed that an atheist would attempt to dabble in the spiritual realm, and further, to bring reason, logic and a scientific perspective along for the ride!
I enjoyed the chapter, The Riddle of the Self as Sam persuades the reader that the self is indeed an illusion. And in his chapter on Meditation, we are given practical instruction on transcending the self, only to find there is no self to transcend (ah, the riddles of the spiritual realm!)
The reader is in for a ride in chapter five with Gurus, Death, Drugs, and Other Puzzles. Here we learn the good, bad and the ugly of spiritual charlatans, near death experiences and the literal highs and lows of tripping on drugs.
In conclusion, Sam says, “We need not await any data from the lab to say that self-transcendence is possible….Open your eyes and see.” With that I say, thank you, Sam, for bringing logic, reason and a persuasive argument in support of the mystical experience many of us have encountered on our own spiritual journey.
Although this is not a book review, I would highly recommend, Waking Up, to anyone wanting a different perspective on atheism.
As for me, I don’t consider myself a spiritual atheist – a spiritual mystic would be a more accurate description. I believe we’re part of a higher collective source or consciousness. Or as the great Sufi Mystic, Rumi says,
“You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in a drop.”
Back at the coffee bar, my friend said the term, spiritual agnostic, might be the most accurate label for what she believes. As our coffee chat ended, I realized the only label that truly mattered was that of “friend”.
I wish all the world could sit around a coffee bar and chat, without judgment, about their beliefs with the intent to understand, not needing to agree, simply to listen and learn of, and from, one another – and upon leaving, refer to each other as “friend”.
I’m tossing that wish out into the Universe in hopes that one day we will all “wake up” and see our common humanity.
Wishing you all a magical Monday! ~ Namaste