Spirit (noun) \ˈspir-ət\ : 1) the force within a person that is believed to give the body life, energy, and power, 2) the inner quality or nature of a person, 3) soul, spiritual self.
Does modern Western science provide support for the idea that there’s a spiritual energy field in our bodies? Eastern cultures have believed in the existence of this “force” for thousands of years, it’s called prana (प्राण) in Hinduism, qi or chi (氣) in Chinese. In Eastern cultures a variety of spiritual practices and healing approaches – such as yoga, tai chi, acupuncture and chakra meditation – were developed to help people get their bodies, hearts and minds in tune with this “spiritual” dimension of our being.
I believe that modern science provides support for the idea that we have a spirit or “life force” – an energy field that is real, not just metaphysical speculation. Some years ago I helped teach a middle school science class and drew this cartoon (below) for the students, based on what we had studied together about biological and ecological systems.
The textbook presented all this information in a compartmentalized way, describing the function of various systems in isolation, but did not provide the “big picture” of how ecological, biological and cellular systems functioned interdependently as a whole. Once we connected the systems together visually the students and I were amazed.
From the perspective of science we are solar beings, our body’s life animated directly by energy that comes to us from the sun. It’s a magical collaborative dance of sorts, made possible by the evolutionary “technology” of chloroplasts in plants (that capture the sun’s energy) and the mitochondria in our cells (that release it).
As many tribal peoples have taught in their mythologies, we are literally the children of “Mother Earth” and “Father Sky.” Actually, our fundamental identity goes even deeper, as scientists such as Albert Einstein and Neil deGrasse Tyson have said, at the level of our atoms we are the Universe itself, taking human form.
“When I look up at the night sky I know that we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe. But perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us… my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity… You want to feel that you are a participant in the goings on of activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive…” ~Neil deGrasse Tyson
I think most Western scientists will agree with this description, but will hesitate when people talk about science providing evidence for an energy field or spiritual dimension to life. Indeed, most ideas about human spirituality (such as the existence of God, the soul or an after life) are metaphysical in nature, beyond the ability of science to prove or disprove at the moment. Still, it’s interesting to consider what we may find evidence for, if we choose to carefully observe and investigate the stellar energy that animates our lives.
From the perspective of science, we are the Cosmos manifesting as people, as waves are actually expressions of the ocean. We are born of atoms forged in the heart of long gone stars, energized now by the photons of our local sun. Our physical bodies kept alive by the nutrients and air of our mother world. There is a field of energy within each of us, a “spiritual” dimension, which modern science does not understand, but cannot deny.
“In traditional Chinese culture, Qi (氣, also chi, ch’i or ki) is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as “natural energy”, “life force”, or “energy flow”. Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts. The literal translation of “qi” is “breath”, “air”, or “gas”.
Concepts similar to qi can be found in many cultures, for example, prana in the Hindu religion, pneuma in ancient Greece, mana in Hawaiian culture, lüng in Tibetan Buddhism, ruah in Hebrew culture, and vital energy in Western philosophy.
Some elements of qi can be understood in the term energy when used by writers and practitioners of various esoteric forms of spirituality and alternative medicine. Elements of the qi concept can also be found in Western popular culture, for example “The Force” in Star Wars.
References to concepts analogous to the qi taken to be the life-process or flow of energy that sustains living beings are found in many belief systems, especially in Asia. Philosophical conceptions of qi from the earliest records of Chinese philosophy (5th century BCE) correspond to Western notions of humours and the ancient Hindu yogic concept of prana (“life force” in Sanskrit).
The earliest description of “force” in the current sense of vital energy is found in the Vedas of ancient India (circa 1500–1000 BCE), and from the writings of the Chinese philosopher Mencius (4th century BCE). Historically, the Huangdi Neijing/”The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine” (circa 2nd century BCE) is credited with first establishing the pathways through which qi circulates in the human body.
The ancient Chinese described it as “life force”. They believed qi permeated everything and linked their surroundings together. They likened it to the flow of energy around and through the body, forming a cohesive and functioning unit. By understanding its rhythm and flow they believed they could guide exercises and treatments to provide stability and longevity.
Although the concept of qi has been important within many Chinese philosophies, over the centuries the descriptions of qi have varied and have sometimes been in conflict. Until China came into contact with Western scientific and philosophical ideas, they had not categorized all things in terms of matter and energy. Rather, qi and li (理: “pattern”) were ‘fundamental’ categories similar to matter and energy.”
Quote Source: Wikipedia’s entry on Qi (氣)
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.” ~Albert Einstein
“We are stardust, we are golden.” ~Joni Mitchell
“Every creature in the Universe prays to that principle which he considers his God or whatever, but all this can only happen from the time the life force has awakened until the time the life force is no longer working.
In the practice of meditation, this life force gets purified, and then the light of the atma shines forth. However, the working principle is still the life force. When this purified life force and the light of the Self merge into each other, then the concept, imagination, or mind, everything, is held at abeyance.
When anyone tells you to do some sadhana, with what can you do sadhana of any kind? It can only be this life force. This life force, instead of viewing it merely as an instrument, has to be treated – mentally accepted – as the highest principle in the world: that is, God, Paramatman, Ishwara, or whatever you want to call it…
By practicing meditation, diligently and continuously, this life force gets purified to such an extent that it attains divinity. Do you understand that this life force is God, and God is the life force, and be one with it.
Now when this life force and the highest principle become one in your meditation, then whatever is reached by this merger, signifies the moksha or awakening, liberation, call it whatever you like. So what is moksha? Subjection to the gunas and all the other upadhis (the conditioning, obstruction) connected with the individual, all that disappears. That is liberation. This life force is the acting principle; and that which gives sentience to the person is the consciousness.
The working principle is the life force, the shakti. People go by various names that have been thrown up and forget the basic principle. The principle is that within the body, consciousness and the prana or life force together are atman. I call it antahkarana, “psyche.” It is said that somebody is dead. So what has happened? The life force has gone and the principle behind the life force – that is, this consciousness – has also disappeared. That is all that has happened.”
~Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj