An opening preamble:
• If the world were purely materialistic, then all of its processes would follow the cause-and-effect mechanics of forces acting on matter, and its final truth would be found in the interactions of its smallest material bits. Science has devoted much of its attention to identifying and explaining these bits, a pursuit that has led its inquiries to the quantum level.
• At the quantum level, almost nothing turns out to be simply mechanical. In trying to pin down the mechanical essence of the world, then, we have actually discovered qualities that defy material, cause-and-effect models of explanation. Whatever the world might be, it is something other than a machine.
And a reflection:
As a culture we have strayed so far into our dream of controlling the world that we have lost sight of our partnership with it. To dream of controlling the world is necessarily to imagine its nature to be comprehensible and material, and so conducively subject to manipulation. This view has led us into a paradoxical relationship with phenomena we call ‘miracles’.
On the one hand, we are modern enough to dismiss them as anomalous events that have entirely rational explanations. On the other, we often secretly believe in miracles and yearn for them to be real – a trait that marketing companies take advantage of when they offer us “miracle” diets, health supplements, or even, of all things, technologies. They use this language because it works on us; and it works because certain experiences tell us there is more to the world than its sub-atomic interactions; that its expressiveness, its life, is supported by a foundational awareness; and even that we are more deeply connected to the way the world unfolds than we dare imagine.
In my book New Self, New World I look at a variety of events that might be considered ‘miracles’. I write about controlled, double-blind experiments with prayer that show it to have a statistically significant effect on health and healing. I write about my friend Jack, who as a child ran out of his classroom in the middle of a lesson and all the way home to find his mother bleeding to death on the kitchen floor – his arrival saving her life. I write about Kukrit and Mati-i, shamans in the Amazon jungle who were asked by the government to bring rain, because massive forest fires were raging and satellite imagery put the nearest rain, “at least two weeks away.” The shamans performed their ceremony and then went to bed saying, “The rain will come.” Hours later it was pouring.
I also write about The Global Consciousness Project – a curious experiment involving over sixty devices around the world that are designed to generate a sequence of random numbers. These numbers are averaged by a computer in Princeton, which represents them in a graph. Normally the numbers balance one another, and the graph appears as a more or less straight line. On 9/11, though, there was a massive deviation from that straight line, which showed up on the graph as a spike. Other spikes have appeared in subsequent years to coincide with globally felt tragedies such as the mass shooting of 89 people in Norway, or train derailments. So it seems that when human consciousness achieves coherence on a global scale, it can affect material events at a quantum level.
The Kogi tribe lives high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Columbia. They deliberately restrict contact with Westernized ways. In fact, they call us their “younger brothers,” in compassionate recognition of the wanton immaturity with which we act in the world, and on it. Their shamans, called Mamos, are the guardians of the earth, offering prayers and sacrifices at sacred sites to uphold the balance of nature’s order. In past years they have issued dire warnings to the West that the scale of our impact on the health of the planet has made the work of the Mamos impossible. As they pray, trying to hold the world together, we go shopping and catch up on Facebook.
Taken together, these events raise many questions. If we are to ask “What is a miracle?”, though, we would be well advised to remember that miracles belong to the realm of mystery – by definition they defy explanation; if an event is amenable to explanation, it’s not a miracle. Even so, I believe we can say something about the nature of miracles – not as a means of understanding them, but as a means of better understanding ourselves. It seems, for instance, that the occurrence of a miracle arises from, or in any event is facilitated by, a kind of partnership with the world’s unity, one that our culture has largely lost sight of. And indeed, how could we heed such a partnership? The world, our mythology tells us, is no more than atoms obeying the laws of physics. You don’t enter a partnership with such a world, you dominate it. And how could you begin to feel the world’s unity without first undertaking a deep and unending surrender to your own wholeness? In our culture we don’t concern ourselves too much with that – we aim at success, which we define in ways that stand independent of considerations of wholeness. If our wholeness has to take a hit on the way to success, it’s just collateral damage.
It seems to me that we begin to come into partnership with the world in the presence of either a widespread or a profound coherence in consciousness. Such coherence is never a stand-alone phenomenon, independent of the world; it is more likely birthed in us by the world. So a widespread coherence can occur in a group of people who share an event of sufficient charge; a profound coherence can occur in an individual who has accomplished the soul work of a cellular surrender to What Is – a surrender that allows them to be present to What Is with their entire being. When such a coherence comes face-to-face with a deep necessity, the world will answer, occasionally with a miracle. The results will frustrate anyone looking for rational explanations.
It also seems to me that the imbalances we witness in the world around us are expressions of imbalances we carry within us. What does the nature of a miracle tell us about ourselves, then? That the fullest expression of our humanity lies not in our independence from the world, but in our partnership with it; and that our partnership with the world can flourish only when we begin the soul work of coming to rest so deeply within our sense of being that we begin to feel its harmony nurtured and sustained by the living world around us. The aim is not to create miracles, but to live in our fullest reality. By doing that, though, perhaps we can, like the Kogi, help to restore the balance of the world. And we may even discover that the greatest miracle any of us could experience is the impossible richness of being alive in this universe right now.