Wisdom Nourishes the Human Spirit

For decades now, many in the West have suffered from a peculiar kind of spiritual anorexia. This disease of the spirit, extremely widespread, stems from our anti-introspection and anti-intellectual attitude. We favour extraversion over introversion and regard the pursuit of knowledge (as opposed to mere information) as the work of boring nerds and eccentric geeks. However, such wilful myopia comes at a cost. When we turn our backs on genuine understanding, we turn our backs on wisdom. But wisdom is the nourishing food of the spirit. Therefore, on the spiritual plane we are like anorexic girls — we refuse to “eat.”

Emblem depicting wisdom standing on the world.

Hard-won personal wisdom is the only cure for spiritual hunger. (Image: public domain.)

Caught up in a period of rapid social and technological change, Westerners have lost sight of who they are. The near total dominance of the left has saddled us with a cultural bias that sneers at anything not considered strictly secular. The bias erroneously relegates the spirit to the realm of religion. With this bias in place, many “progressive” Westerners see no need to concern themselves with matters of the spirit. Yet they hunger in a way they cannot comprehend. Others redefine the spiritual in bizarre ways and plunge into foolish admiration of primitive cultures, simplistic pop-psychology, or the assumption of New Age beliefs that amount to indiscriminately believing everything – so long as it is not called religion – no matter how stupid or irrational it may be. The somewhat more sophisticated adopt Eastern philosophical practices such as Buddhism even though they are utterly at odds with the Western traditions of progress and knowledge that made the West great.

That felt-but-not-understood spiritual hunger prompts many to gobble up one of these beliefs then, realizing its worthlessness, regurgitate it in a bulimic purge. Their hunger intact, they then move on to another. They will consider virtually anything, in fact, so long as it does not require them to think and learn. Reason is strictly taboo since it spoils this smorgasbord of junk food belief systems by quickly exposing their many deficiencies and shortcomings. Blind belief is so much easier than insightful thinking.

Acquiring genuine wisdom is the only way to assuage spiritual hunger. As with all worthwhile things, doing so requires sustained effort. Useful wisdom is always personal and demands that we walk the long path of self-discovery and self-realization. (Interestingly, pursuing self-realization in a shallow pop-psych form can be a way of avoiding authentic self-discovery.) The passionate pursuit of some creative endeavour, which can lead to profound personal transformation, calls for commitment and hard work. Unable to see the long-term benefits, most shun such difficult paths and passively endure their spiritual hunger or gobble up what cannot possibly sustain them. Westerners, spiritually, are like hungry cave dwellers who, lacking the courage of the hunt, sit and starve by the fire making do with grimy roots and dried-up berries.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

10 thoughts on “Wisdom Nourishes the Human Spirit”

  1. A very concise and excellent argument, Thomas, with many parts of which I totally agree, though as you know, I am one of the irrationalists; I have always found much of the New Age spiritual posturing ludicrous; some of it, which claims that people create their own health problems through ‘negativity’ encourages a lack of empathy. There is also the question of the pernicious influence and greed of the cults, towards whom these days too many people adopt a ‘tolerant’ attitude…

  2. It’s a relief to find someone else who shares my dislike of both pop psychology and the New Age, though I can sympathise with the spiritual hunger that makes people turn to these things. I agree that the pursuit of wisdom is the only thing that can satisfy us in the long term – not that I think of myself as being particularly wise!

    It will be interesting to see what comes next for Western civilisation. Personally, I’m not optimistic, but I’d be delighted to be proved wrong…

  3. Thank you for the compliment, Lucinda. Those who think ‘negativity’ causes ill health have never suffered a serious illness. ‘Positive thinking’ is a primitive belief system deployed by those who lack the courage to face life’s very real risks. Most of these people superstitiously believe that if they can just stay ‘positive’ nothing bad will ever happen to them. It takes only the sudden appearance of one sickness or injury to cure them of this sad delusion. Until that happens, though, they can be – as you say – unsympathetic to the plight of others. And yes, we are far too tolerant of the growing numbers of cults. They are not all peopled by harmless cranks.

  4. What comes next for Western civilization is the changing of the guard. Unless there is a sudden explosion of births, Caucasians aren’t having enough children to survive beyond a few more generations. It’s the same with the Japanese, who are now considered by many to be part of the West. You can’t shrink each new generation by one third or more and expect to have a future. Europe, America, Canada, and Japan belong to India, Africa, China, and the Middle East. They just haven’t finished moving in yet. As the current Pope has said, Europeans have decided to step out of history. Whether the newcomers will choose to carry on Western traditions remains to be seen. The Muslims certainly won’t, the Africans and Indians might. China has its own birthrate problems, but with such a huge current population, they will export people anyway. Once present in very large numbers, I doubt they will choose to embrace the West’s entire heritage, but they may selectively adopt what they find useful.

  5. Thomas,

    Great post as always. I agree with you on almost all points. One thing you mention here stands out at me, and I’d like to add my two cents to the discussion…

    “The near total dominance of the left has saddled us with a cultural bias that sneers at anything not considered strictly secular.”

    Cultural beliefs swing like a pendulum. Currently, the west is swinging away from its traditional/conservative beliefs. It seems only natural for pop-religion to be the first stop on the pendulum ride in the other direction. Although some may never evolve beyond that stage, for now, its only the natural progression of things. It seems like people are starting to comfortably shed their old beliefs… (“let the kids have some fun”)

    I agree though — spirituality — discovering the self — is a challenging process. Its not a journey for someone with a weak-stomach. Unfortunately, most people — regardless of how clearly its presented — will never be willing to truly explore the spirit. Higher thinking = it’s lonely at the top

  6. As a conservative living in a world swarming with leftist hordes, I have always liked the idea of societal and cultural pendulum swings. They give me hope. I lie awake at night (after sharpening my battle-axe) imagining the coming of a new conservative dawn. Your suggestion that pop-religion is the first stop on a return swing is a beauty and worthy of careful consideration. Looking at it from your perspective, it does seem natural that someone might start with a simplistic approach to spiritual matters and then progress to better things.

    I agree that higher thinking is not for everyone. I have posted on this topic in “Only the Strong Can Be Solitary Thinkers” and “The Lonely Thinker’s Path.” However, spirituality is another matter. While it is true that not all will be willing to make the effort, I believe that everyone is capable of completing the spiritual journey. The key to this is the realization that wisdom is subjective and personal. A less sophisticated person may have a simpler form of wisdom, but it will be their own and entirely satisfying to them for that very reason.

  7. Very true, Thomas. Here in Italy the population effectively halves with each new generation. Strangely enough, the one-child families are often the very same people who get upset by the large number of illegal immigrants in the country. Immigration is necessary in a nation where there are no longer enough Italians to do all the jobs.

  8. Brilliant article once again Thomas, and particularly relevant to my life right now… considering my current status as a spiritually hungry progressive who has recently started exploring buddhism! Don’t worry though, I’m not about to start reading tarot cards or filling my house with Himalayan salt lamps.

    But really, are you going to make leftists carry the can for all of society’s ills? What about the ravages of neoliberal consumerism? The hypocrisy of the church? Surely these things played just as much if not more of a part in turning people away from authentic spiritual contemplation.

  9. When I was about your age, Max, I studied Taoism and Buddhism deeply. If you go to my Goodreads page and examine the spirituality shelf, you will see some of the books I read back then, along with a few more-recent ones. If you are a member, ‘friend’ me. Being bipolar, I have spent a great deal of time examining spiritual and psychological themes.

    What concerns me about Buddhism is its anti-knowledge, pro-stagnation outlook. A good Buddhist can be described (they are proud of this) as a “know-nothing,” a term once considered an insult in the West, but apparently quite in keeping with the neo-aboriginal thinking now so prevalent here. Modern Buddhism has deteriorated and has a lot in common with being a Boy Scout. Scouts get badges for mastering certain skills. Buddhists get spiritual points for visiting various temples and walking around them x many times. Read Claude Saxs’ book, Inescapable Journey.

    The central idea of true Buddhism is the removal of the false self. This is fine. However, they then replace the original false self with what I call the “false persona du jour.” That is, if you are among fishermen, you can be a fisherman, if you are among merchants you can be a merchant, and so on. In what way is being a flexible phoney better than being a fixed phoney? I guess it improves your social skills. They walk this path because they erroneously believe there is no real self, no real you. Therefore, you can be anything you want. Read Alan Watts (an ex-Anglican minister) for an excellent presentation of these ideas.

    The true road to enlightenment lies in finding out who you really are and what you want to do with your life. There is a real self. You do have things you prefer to do. This stuff is already on board. You can find and mobilize both of these things and this difficult process is what spirituality is really all about. Read the works of Carl Jung. I recommend The Portable Jung. It is the best and most useful book I ever read.

    You ask if I’m I going to make the leftists carry the can for everything. In a word, no. Nevertheless, the sins of the traditional churches lie mostly in the past. My parent’s generation (born 1920s) were the ones who started walking away from all that, mostly during and just after WWII. Another huge wave deserted in the late-fifties and sixties. These people are all (like me) old. The left took over Europe after the war; they conquered North America during the sixties. They have been pretty much in charge ever since, so I do lay much of the blame for our spiritual impoverishment at their feet. I don’t know what it’s like in Australia, Max, but in North America and Europe the left wages incessant war on anything that looks like traditional spirituality. They fiercely defend what they call a “secular society,” and regard this atheistic entity as the pinnacle of human enlightenment. Yet, as I have pointed out in my post, every FLAKEY belief system known to man is A-Okay.

    I’m in favour of what you call neo-liberalism and consumerism. These powerful forces are in the process of lifting the entire world from poverty. (Our current economic difficulties stem from US government interference in the mortgage lending market. A vast amount of money was lent, with the best intentions, to people who had no business taking on a mortgage. These days we seem to have forgotten the “sub-prime mortgage meltdown.”) It is entirely possible to carry on a spiritual life in a consumer society. I do. You are about to start.

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