April 1, 2011

Science vs. Spirituality: Opposites or Soulmates?

via Yoga Modern

Until my first year of college, I had never given much thought to the relationship between science and spirituality. I, like many of you I would guess, had accepted the paradigm I had been given by my foremothers and forefathers without much skepticism—science and spirituality existed on opposite ends of a continuum, and if there was any relationship between them it was one of discord and disagreement. Science, I had been told, was devoted to logic and empiricism; while spirituality was rooted fundamentally in that esoteric thing we call faith.

This model—of science and spirituality as two distinct, opposing forces—reminds me of the yogic idea that we possess within our individual selves a microcosm of the universe’s dynamically opposing energies. The word Hatha in Sanskrit is often translated to mean sun and moon, and it is through the practice of Hatha Yoga that ancient sages believed one could cultivate union and balance between the two. The recognition of the need to maintain equilibrium between light and dark, masculine and feminine, activity and receptivity is certainly not unique to the discipline of yoga. It is a theme that we find in nearly all wisdom traditions; in the yin-yang symbol of Taoism, the anima and animus archetypes of Jungian psychology, and even the theory of matter and antimatter in modern cosmology.

Despite what seems so apparent to me now, I was not always comfortable with the coexistence of opposites— not in my body, nor in my intellectual outlook of the world. I actually dreaded the “hard” science courses I knew were required for my Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. I feared their emphasis on concrete answers and empiricism might cause me to lose touch with what little spiritual sentiment remained from the faith traditions I’d been raised with as a child. To my surprise, what I found was that my scientific courses actually inspired me to grow into the spiritual identity I’d been feeling so out of touch with in my life.

Surrounded by an intimidating group of pre-med majors in my first Biology course, I began the process of integrating facts about electrons, cellular organelles, and plant reproduction (Can you say, green porn?) into my pre-existing conception of the world.  As I studied the miraculous ways in which cells, bacteria, plants, and even sub-atomic molecules interact with one another, I was somewhat astonished to find etched within my science textbooks vivid descriptions of an underlying force that connects each and every sentient entity on this planet.

The word “force” seems almost an insult to the magnificence of the concept I wish to describe, but unfortunately I have not yet come across a word in the English language that conveys its essence. It  is the bond between friends, the passion between lovers, the curiosity of a young child, and I’ve come to believe that it may very well be the very substance of life itself. It is ever present in the mechanisms that govern the biological world, driving the miraculous interactions between the molecules of our DNA and the mutualistic relationship between plant roots and mycorrhizae. It is the delicate balance I become so vividly aware of as I inhale (Ha) and exhale (Tha) during my yoga practice. This force, I believe, is what many religions have personified with the names “God” or “Allah” or “Buddha”.  In yoga, we know it as Hatha.

It seems to me that discord only arises when we attempt to isolate and define this force, bestow a name to an inherently ephemeral concept. What religion calls God, science calls the universe; what yoga calls Hatha, science describes as the laws of physics. The realization I have finally come to after dabbling for several years now in rigorous world of scientific academia is that the entities we’re attempting to describe are often so dynamic that they elude concrete definition entirely.  Life is not something that can be fully expressed in words; in the end Hatha, God, quantum mechanics—whatever you choose to name it—must be experienced.

I’m now at ease dwelling in the worlds of both science and spirituality. To be honest, I’m not sure I even see the two as separate anymore. I’ve come to appreciate my body (and my mind for that matter) as a stage for the dance between life’s opposites, and on my yoga mat I am afforded an opportunity to marvel and bow to life’s exquisite contradictions. The spiritual identity that’s emerged is one of awe, wonder, and gratitude for this force we call Hatha… and by extension for all of Life.

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