Since the mid-1980s we've become familiar with the term New Age to describe the increasing phenomenon of those seeking the spiritual in their lives. I'm often asked, "Is the New Age just a cyclical wave of spiritual craving or is it really the dawn of a completely new mode of life?" I believe it is the latter--that we are entering a huge spiritual renaissance. Apart from the more erratic aspects of this New Age, like the dangerous play of the occult and the psychic, there is a more serious element that combines revolutionary thought, radical religious beliefs and a far-reaching psychological philosophy.
There is much evidence to show that it is not all "dancing in the light" as we undergo the changes necessary to undo the old models of being. The late Christian/Buddhist teacher and writer, Alan Watts, described the age in which we live as the "Age of Anxiety." This anxiety, which encompasses the stress of managing change and growing concern for the environment and world population, seems to be appeased only in the search for a meaningful life, a life with perspective and clarity. This search invariably leads to a renewed interest in divinity where seeking God and Truth becomes a more vital concern. People's chosen professions, relationships, pastimes and ways of devotion and worship all show evidence of this growing interest. A lot of spiritual practice is being pursued independent of institutions and the old churches.
In compiling my recent anthology of contemporary spiritual writing, God in All Worlds, I had the opportunity to look back over the last fifty years and discover the preparatory signs of this spiritual renaissance. Since 1945 we have become increasingly interested in eastern religions, and have witnessed the movement of teachers from Asia to North America and Europe and the popularization of yoga, tai chi and meditation. We have radically changed the balance--or imbalance--between the sexes through the women's movement, from which came the acceptance of nonsexist vernacular and a clear feminist as well as ecological theology.
The brilliance of Freud and Jung is at the base of the groundbreaking work achieved in the understanding of the human mind, the psyche and archetypal references. Another way of understanding our powers as human beings has emerged through the works of Wilhelm Reich, who discovered orgone energy and therapeutic touch. We have explored the use of drugs and other therapeutic and nontherapeutic means to expand our consciousness and further our discourse on the mystical experience. Through scientific discoveries and technological advance, we communicate at speed and with consistency, and have unprecedented understanding of the universe. And we have grown together in promoting peace in a still violent and unhappy world.
One way of seeing the process to which all these developments are contributing was offered by Bede Griffiths, the late Catholic monk who explored Christian principles through the philosophy of the Vedanta. Griffiths believed that the New Age is offering an alternative model in our world. In his book A New Vision of Reality, he suggested that we are moving from the old basic principles of materialistic philosophy, where reductionism to the material along with logic and practicality governed our attitudes and behaviour, to an organic model where the principle is oneness in mind, body and spirit, in nature, and among all peoples and religions. He suggested that people will return to the perennial philosophy--"the ancient wisdom under which lies all religion from the earliest times." This includes the wisdom evident in the continued interest in shamanism, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Buddhism. …