Embracing a New Spirituality: The Foundation of Paradigm Shift
by Desmond Berghofer


Last year, from January 1 to December 31, I was preoccupied with writing a journal for the millennium year of 2001. This is published on our website at www.creative-learning.ca/diary. During the course of this rather monumental task, I synthesized some of the best ideas I know from people who are giving voice to what is often called "The New Paradigm." My conclusion at the end of the Millennium Diary was that the shift required in our thinking by the concept of a new paradigm is more spiritual than intellectual. As if to confirm my conclusion, the universe has thrust upon me over the past few weeks a plethora of ideas from various sources about the possibilities for spiritual transformation. My challenge now is how to process and communicate what amounts to nothing less than a dramatic shift in worldview.

In this article I will attempt to synthesize several strands of thinking about transformational change. I will not interrupt the flow of the article with references, but will acknowledge the chief of my sources at the end.

Scientific Support for Spirituality

Let's begin with the origin of the universe. Most educated people are at least somewhat familiar with the Big Bang theory, namely that the universe emerged with incredible heat and light energy some 12 to 15 billion years ago and has been expanding and solidifying ever since into galaxies, stars and planets under the operation of fixed natural laws built into the process. This 20th century scientific theory replaced, at least for some people, the spiritual belief of an Almighty God somehow creating everything that is.
Did that mean spirituality was dead? Some tried to argue that it was, but the claim of faith is not so easily dislodged from the human mind. In fact, it was the existence of the human mind itself that gave the scientific explanation of reality the most trouble. While scientific laws and mathematical formulae can explain the formation of a material universe, they cannot account for the existence of immaterial mind or consciousness. The "popular" scientific view is that consciousness emerges from the brain, but there is no scientific way to explain how it is possible for the immaterial to emerge from the material.

On the other hand, science has demonstrated precisely the opposite. It has to do with the physics of a vacuum. Quantum mechanics has shown that virtual particles and antiparticles spontaneously emerge from a vacuum and become "real" if energy is added. This gives rise to scientific speculation that the origin of the universe was a quantum fluctuation within a vacuum, which initiated not only the "stuff" of our world, but also space-time itself.

What I am leading up to is an argument that by the end of the 20th century scientific research rather than dislodging the notion of spirituality has in fact strengthened it. Again we turn to quantum mechanics, which has shown that a particle exists both in its particle form and also as a wave. The quantum wave is smeared throughout the whole of space, and it only collapses as a particle into our physical space-time when a conscious observer makes a measurement.
Was it such a super-ordinate Consciousness (called God) that collapsed the wave function in a primordial vacuum and created the universe? This gives us an explanation in scientific terms that confirms the essence of the intuition from spiritual traditions of an omnipotent, omniscient Consciousness (or Spirit) behind what we know as reality.

The argument for a spiritual dimension to being becomes stronger when we consider what 2500 years of mental research by Buddhists (and others), as contrasted with 300 years of empirical research by scientists, has revealed about consciousness. The collective result is that at its deepest level consciousness is a state of luminous emptiness. In Buddhist terminology this absolute ground of consciousness is called the Great Perfection. In other words, there is a ground state of primordial awareness from which everything we call reality came and into which everything dissolves. This gives us the foundation for a 21st century spirituality in which human faith is anchored in a revelation of eternal wholeness and oneness from which we as human beings along with the material universe come for a period of physical existence and to which we return.

Implications of the New Spirituality

Let us now explore further the implications of this spirituality for how we might live together on the planet. A fundamental spiritual principle emerges from the above understanding of the origin and continuing unfoldment of the universe and the living portion of it that we know as the biosphere of planet Earth. This is the principle of oneness, not only within the human realm, but also of humanity with all life on Earth. This is a point that cannot be overstated, for it stands in marked contrast to the history of human spiritual experience over tens of thousands of generations.

Wherever human tribes or communities grew up on the continents and islands of our world, they embraced some form of spiritual belief. This strongly suggests that the propensity for spiritual thought, like the facility for language, is built into the human genetic makeup. However, because humanity evolved in isolated and separate enclaves, divided along ethnic lines, this innate spirituality expressed itself in personal deities, who were usually seen as the protector and sustainer of the ethnic group.

Because of another innate propensity in our species, namely to perceive others outside the ethnic or tribal grouping as enemies, the natural inclination was to bond fiercely under the protection of the tribal god or gods, and to wage war against the enemy in his/her name. Even when we come to relatively recent times from an evolutionary perspective, namely the last 3000 years, when great spiritual traditions emerged and spread across large geographical areas encompassing many nations, the same propensity for separation persisted. Indeed, the 20th century experienced two world wars and other international clashes when nations expressing the same faith tradition fought against each other in the most brutal ways ever conceived.

At the beginning of the 21st century the world now finds itself teetering on the brink of what some would call holy war or a clash of civilizations divided along spiritual lines. Of course, international politics and policies of economic globalization make everything much more complicated than that, but the fundamental human predisposition for conflict and separation remains firmly established. That is why a spirituality of oneness would be such an extraordinary leap forward in human thinking.

Indications for Growth

So how is it to be accomplished? Two hopeful signs from the perspective of the world's spiritual traditions is the expression of a value for unity coming through the Parliament of World Religions and the United Religions Initiative. The former has supported the declaration of a common global ethic and the latter has had an enormous growth of branches all over the world encompassing tens of millions of people. These movements have great capacity to do good to promote unity, though we need to understand that this activity does not represent the embracing of a new spirituality, but rather a determination by existing religions to get along better and reverse the atrocious record of killing and hatred done in their name.

A more encouraging sign from the point of breaking new ground is the effort to bridge the gap between spirituality and science, which has been given a great stimulus during the past decade through the John Templeton Foundation. The Foundation has established the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, which is financially larger than any other award, including the Nobel Prize, and is awarded annually to any individual who advances humanity's understanding of religion and spirituality. As some of this dialogue moves from the halls of academe and theology into general consciousness, we are seeing people groping for answers outside the authority of established religions. This may be our best hope for the future that a new spirituality of oneness will blossom in this century and lead us away from the cataclysm that awaits the current world of separation and conflict.

Cosmological Creativity

One of the most hopeful signs that something is breaking loose from the mechanistic worldview of "old" science and the external authority of "old" religion, is the body of literature coming from reputable, if nontraditional, sources that celebrates the ongoing creativity of the universe. In this view our spirituality is not expressed merely by trying to conform to a model like Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed, but rather in our active participation in the evolutionary process.

We are now faced with the need to cooperate as an entire planet because we understand that each one of us is a cell in the living universe. Among all the species on Earth we are the one with sufficient consciousness and imagination to understand this living world of interdependent relationships, so now we are being called to recognize that we have become the guiding principle of the planet. In other words, evolution will now continue through conscious awareness. This is the essence of the new spirituality. The danger we face is that our creativity will continue to exert itself through new forms of manipulation in the old paradigm of control without being enlightened by the new spirituality of our interdependent oneness with all there is. That is the creative tension of our age-the vision of sustainability and well-being against the current reality of growing destructiveness.

In the metaphor of creative tension the resolution comes in one of two ways: either being pulled forward by a vision that is more powerful than current reality, or being pulled back by our inability to break free from the old concepts. In the midst of this creative tension come the ideas that will be nourished by the irrepressible human drive for survival. That is why we can be optimistic that a new reality will emerge, perhaps not in our lifetime, but in the course of time. Our task is to feed the vision.

Another metaphor often used to characterize our current condition and the challenges we face is the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the butterfly. We are currently living in the caterpillar world of grasping, chomping consumption of everything around us. But perhaps the energy has changed and we are entering the chrysalis stage when the body of the butterfly builds until it has the wings to fly. Our task is to build the butterfly, which is the vision of a cooperative, sustainable world fueled with the energy of a new spirituality.

Three Pillars of Transformation

The big difference between our age and any previous times when new spiritual ideas surfaced, is that we are now experiencing a symbiotic effect of spirituality with ecology and technology. Most people who give serious thought to our existential predicament know that we face a big turn around in how we live together on the planet. That big turning will not be inspired by spirituality alone, but by its integration with ecology and technology-comprising three pillars of transformation.

The spiritual component, as described above, is coming from an understanding that consciousness rather than matter is primary. The fundamental difference that this makes to the question of human meaning is that it places human consciousness as the driving force and gives us a new self-image of responsibility and a deeper linkage to nature as a whole.

That brings us to ecology. The essential understanding of the ecology movement of recent times is that both human life and non-human life have intrinsic value and that humans have the responsibility to preserve the richness and diversity of this life. Such an understanding has profound implications for how humans will live on the planet in the future. We need to decrease rather than increase human population. We need to change current aspirations for an increasingly higher standard of living to an appreciation that what counts is the quality of all life on the whole of the planet, not just in our own backyard.

These changes represent deep shifts in value, which will be inspired by the shift to the new spirituality of consciousness already described. In some sense it may mean a return to what might be called a pre-literate consciousness in which we understand that all of nature is alive; in which we see spirits inhabiting trees, rivers and rocks; in which we invest nature with consciousness and weave sequences of natural events into anthropomorphic stories; in which we invite nature to reveal herself to us through our own consciousness.

And what of technology, the third pillar of the big turning? The old paradigm technology has given us incredible power to assert ourselves against nature. If our spirituality and acceptance of ecology give us new values for turning away from such abuse, how might new technology complement the turning?

This is perhaps the most critical element in the transformation, for our self-image, at least in the industrialized world, comes from our ability to live in physical comfort, through the concentration and use of energy from many sources. However, the way we use energy is working against our appreciation for ecology by pouring pollution and toxins into our air, water and soil to the point that we are now triggering environmental collapse and climate change all around the planet. Will our addiction to "dirty' technology be our Achilles' heel in our efforts to achieve the big turning?

While we can hope for some limited relief from the dismal energy scenario through the increased use of "greener" sources of energy (solar, wind, tides, etc.) and through the shift to a hydrogen economy, the best hope for our future is that technology can release the energy from the great vacuum field that science now understands (at least partially) to be a sea of electromagnetic radiation that fills the universe. This zero-point field has the potential to provide humanity with limitless energy that would be almost free to everyone on Earth. Imagine the changes that would trigger to global economics as the geo-politics of the oil age are rendered obsolete. Will it happen? Reliable sources suggest that it will, and in this century-not a moment too soon.

Another unpredictable trajectory of technology during this century is in the field of artificial intelligence. Already, reputable sources are speculating on the merging of biological and non-carbon based intelligence and the creation of super-humans or perhaps non-human entities with superior intelligence. How this particular transformation will impact the spirituality and ethics of the future lies beyond the reach of this writer's imagination, but we can be sure that the question will have to be addressed.


This article began with the premise that if there is to be a shift from an old way of being to a new way of being, it will be primarily a shift in spiritual consciousness. The new spirituality will see humanity not as a derivative of either a supreme being who gives us the rules to live by, or an uncaring evolutionary process in which we are here because of some cosmic accident, but rather as a co-creative intelligence in full participation with a living universe.

The new spirituality will be informed by as well as inform new technology, both being mediated by a deeper appreciation of ecology. All three forces acting together have the potential to produce a transformation of life on the planet greater than any so far recorded in human history and coming faster than anything humanity has previously experienced.

As we move into the second year of the new century and new millennium, all this change is still potential. It is building like bubbles below the surface in an ocean of current reality. The momentum of the old paradigm is enormous and is resisting the change at every point. What we are waiting to see is whether the energy of the new spiritual-ecological-technological paradigm is strong enough to churn and boil the ocean of current reality so that the bubbles of potential burst through to the surface.

In the midst of this turbulence all of us are being challenged to take our place in the scheme of things. Are we supporting the change or holding onto the old? Almost certainly we feel caught between two worldviews. It is a time of enormous creative tension. How do we use our imagination to help resolve the tension in the direction of a vision of hope? A good question to ask ourselves each morning.


The conceptual framework for this article was informed by three main sources:

1. The December 2001 issue of Network: The Scientific and Medical Network Review, in particular articles by Emilios Bouratinos ("The Reality Inbetween: Towards an Epistemology of the Paranormal"), Andrew Powell ("Inspiration and Persecution-Messages from the Self and Beyond"), and Alan Wallace ("The Potential of Emptiness: Vacuum States in Physics and Consciousness")
2. The EarthTIES On-line Conference (January 16- February 12, 2002), in particular contributions by Elisabet Sahtouris, Brian Swimme and Arne Naess.
3. Gail Holland, A Call for Connection. (Novato, California: New World Library, 1998).

Desmond Berghofer, Ph.D.

Dr Desmond Berghofer (International Advisory Board Member)
Desmond Berghofer Ph.D is an educator, author and consultant on leadership and the creative management of change. From 1977-88 he was Assistant Deputy Minister of Advanced Education with the Government of Alberta. He is the author of the Millenium Manifesto. He has represented Canada internationally through the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada and (UNESCO). He is Chairman of the International Foundation of Learning and Co-founder of the Institute for Ethical Leadership and President of Creative Learning International.