That Thou Art

As part of a continuing effort to find my way, I’ve enrolled in a Yoga Therapy training program. I see this education as a natural next step in the development of MindfulBiology, which was born of my teaching biology to aspiring yoga teachers. Since MindfulBiology began in a yoga context, it makes sense to further it there.

As part of our training, we discuss ancient Hindu scriptures (quite possibly the oldest extant spiritual texts). One of their famous sayings is: “That Thou Art”, which—the story goes—a father once told his son by way of explaining the individual’s relationship to the ground of all being. Assigned to write about the topic, I came up with what follows below. That my exploration ties in so tightly with my prior life is not surprising; after all, what happened to my younger self shaped my current one and ultimately led to this latest path of study.

“That Thou Art”

Though I didn’t hear this particular phrasing until six or seven years ago, I’ve been grappling with concepts like it since 1987. That’s when 12-step programs encouraged me to seek a ‘higher power’. As the son of a convinced (and convincing) atheist, I felt uncomfortable with language about God. On the other hand, I was determined to recover from my addictions. That same year I moved to New York and settled—serendipitously—just four blocks from the Quaker Meeting House in lower Manhattan. Since many of my ancestors had been Quakers, I decided to give their worship a try. What I encountered was more meditative than religious: meetings were almost entirely silent, and rarely did anyone mention the ‘G’ word. I had found a spiritual home.

During Quaker meetings I pondered science and spirituality, looking for ways to combine them. After undergraduate, graduate, and medical study of biology, I wasn’t about to abandon my scientific world view, but I yearned for a deeper sense of meaning. I sometimes obsessed to the point of exhaustion, but the effort slowly paid off. I accumulated a measure of clarity.

It began to seem obvious that from a scientific perspective there’s no controversy in saying: ‘All Is One’ ( my equivalent—at the time—to ‘That Thou Art’). Our bodies evolved out of the material of this planet, which itself was the product of billions of years of cosmic unfolding. In other words, we grew out of the earth, which grew out of the Big Bang. Without doubt, whatever the universe is, we are also.

Likewise, our thoughts and concepts are rooted in languages and cultures. What we think depends on what we’ve heard, read, and experienced. Every discovery, philosophy or invention spools out of from this seamless and evolving skein of ideas. All is one.

After more than a decade spent working things out on my own, I began reading what others had written about science and spirituality. I soon discovered that nearly all my insights had been expressed previously, sometimes millennia earlier. I felt a little chagrined, but it reassured me to know that similar answers have occurred to many people in different times and places.

My explorations convinced me that everything in the cosmos is profoundly interwoven, but I still felt alone. That changed in 2000, when I lost my surgical career due to neck problems and plunged into psychic chaos. Leaden depressions alternated with winged ecstasies, until everything culminated in a series of shattering religious visions. During one of these it seemed as if I was reliving cosmic history: the burst of something from nothing, the precipitation of matter out of plasma, the coalescence of galaxies, the formation of our solar system, and the emergence of life. It wasn’t as if I watched all this happened. No, creation wasn’t an event I observed; it was one I experienced.

Being one with the cosmos matured from idea to actuality. At first, feelings of unity came and went (and when they went, they stayed away for months). But after years of meditation and worship in a half-dozen different traditions, my mind settled into a fairly persistent experience of connectedness, of oneness with all that is. Granted, directly felt oneness isn’t something others can see or touch; it’s mystical rather than scientific. Even so, it feels persuasive, not least because it’s a state that’s been reported by countless people through the ages—including the founders of most religions.

For me, ‘That Thou Art’ moved beyond idea to become a fact of life, palpable and unarguable. My faith (what else to call it?) rests upon science and direct realization, so the fact of oneness stands solidly in my psyche: affectionate, creative, and potent. That We Art.