Ken Wilber, Saniel Bonder, and Linda Groves-Bonder discuss the trend of experimentation within the past several decades of American spirituality, finding new ways to translate ancient wisdom and practices for the 21st century
Summary: For several generations now, American spirituality has been experimenting with new forms, techniques, and interpretations of timeless spiritual truths, translating and updating the innermost teachings of the world's religious traditions for today's world.* These experiments have helped to preserve these crucial spiritual insights in the modern and post-modern world, at a time when whole blocs of civilization have moved beyond the rituals, myths, and dogma that have traditionally sustained these teachings, and have become highly critical to these interpretations of spirituality—and, in many cases, to spirituality itself.
We have begun to move beyond magic and myth, and new worlds of human experience have since emerged—worlds of science and reason, worlds of pluralism and postmodernism, worlds of integration and unification, and even faint whispers from worlds beyond—all of which have made this sort of spiritual reflection, re-contextualization, and integration one of the most crucial ongoing experiments of our time.
As Ken, Saniel, and Linda make clear, any conception of spiritual reality must acknowledge the evolutionary nature of spirituality if it hopes to survive the intellectual rigors of the modern and postmodern worlds. Our philosophies of Spirit must take into account the mysterious unfolding of the physical and intra-physical universe, from the Big Bang to this present moment, understanding the full complexity of the manifest world and its inherent drive toward more novelty, more freedom, and more fullness. Furthermore, spirituality must also be seen to be itself forever evolving, as timeless and ever-present states of consciousness find new forms of expression within a succession of ever-emerging structures of consciousness—each more complex and more complete than the last; each containing more possibility than the last.
The simple fact of the matter is, none of these considerations could have been fully appreciated until now. We simply did not have the comprehension, the language, or the methodologies to take the full range of human experience into account—which is precisely what makes this such an exciting time to be alive.
We currently have unprecedented access to all the world's accumulated knowledge. An immeasurable wealth of collective scholarship, skill, and mastery can be found just a few keystrokes away, culled from an almost inexhaustible reservoir of perspectives, experiences, and worldviews. The world is rapidly becoming more integrated—moment by moment, piece by piece, byte by byte—and today's most cutting edge spiritual teachers have already begun to notice.
The ongoing synthesis of knowledge and experience is beginning to reveal the deepest patterns of the human condition, fertilizing the soil for an entirely new wave of spiritual practice and philosophy. These integrated approaches to spirituality potentially marking a second "Axial Age" of history—a term coined by Karl Jaspers, referring to the 600-year period just before the birth of Christ when, all across the world, "the spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and independently... foundations upon which humanity still subsists today." They are the same foundations upon which this new vision of Integral spirituality is built, transcending and including the very best of premodern, modern, and postmodern worlds—consciously adapting to the relentless emergence of newer and newer forms, while finding new words to wrap around the timeless and ever-present Mystery.
It's not so much that a single universal religion will be created, replacing the great spiritual traditions of history, but that these traditions will themselves become more integrated, taking a more comprehensive view of physical and spiritual reality than ever before possible. Once separated by immense chasms of language, custom, and distance, the ancient religious foundations of the world become isolated no longer. Slowly we recognize these solitary pillars for what they are—Rosetta stones to help previously secluded cultures decipher their own human and spiritual experiences, as well as mighty columns of human potential, working in tandem to support a single heaven, while bringing us ever closer to it.
*In referring to America as a sort of psycho-spiritual laboratory for these "experiments in awakening," we are not at all suggesting any kind of cultural or spiritual superiority of one country over another—far from it! Nor is it to say that this sort of spiritual integration is not occurring anywhere else in the world—it most certainly is. Rather, it is a simple recapitulation of the great American cliche—which, for a variety of historical reasons, has typically acted as a "melting pot" of ideas, beliefs, and identities; a crucible of human experience in which all the world's knowledge, wisdom, and compassion is allowed to mix, interact, and eventually catalyze new forms of spiritual expression for the future. In this sense, Ken Wilber can be seen to be a distinctly American philosopher, one of today's finest embodiments of a rich American legacy toward integration—transcending and including pioneers like William James, James Mark Baldwin, Clare Graves, and Abraham Maslow.