It’s finally here! After three years of research, writing and editing, I’m proud to announce that my second book, Restorative Beauty is now available for purchase on Amazon (available in soft cover, hard cover and e-book!). What is Restorative Beauty? To find out, watch the trailer above and keep reading below! Restorative Beauty seeks to answer a fundamental question that I’ve been contemplating for years: What exactly is happening when humans claim to have a spiritual experience?
I know this might sound like a Sisyphean task. Isn’t defining a spiritual experience akin to asking what the color blue feels like? There’s no right answer and the nature of the response is going to vary from person to person. On the one hand, yes, absolutely! Spirituality is very much a subjective experience—a feeling that is unique to the individual. On the other hand, I argue that each of those individual, unique experiences can be traced back to a specific origin—consciousness.
You might be scratching your head and wondering: What does spirituality have to do with consciousness? Here is where my book differs from just about every other book you’ve ever read about spirituality. Although these two subjects might seem an odd pairing, they are integrally connected. Thanks to new approaches by some of the top scientific and philosophical minds around the world, the foundations of consciousness are being completely reimagined.
To appreciate how radical this transformation has been, consider how during the 20th century most scientists and philosophers assumed that consciousness was relegated to the brain. Through experimentation, neuroscientists identified regions of the brain responsible for every human ability. Those same neuroscientists simply assumed that, with more research, they would eventually discover the part(s) of the brain responsible for consciousness.
Unfortunately, no matter how much they searched, discovering the seat of consciousness in the brain proved elusive. Below is an excerpt from the chapter where I discuss some of the research that called into question the prior assumptions that consciousness is only a result of brain function.
Location, Location, Location
The consensus now among neuroscientists is that consciousness cannot be isolated to one or even a few areas of the brain. Unlike the research of the latter half of the 20th century, which revealed how different areas of the brain are responsible for various abilities like speech, body movement, sense of touch, visual perception, hearing, writing, planning, problem solving, and so forth, there is no part of the brain specifically responsible for consciousness. Indeed, consciousness seems to be the result of the entire brain working together.
This reality has forced neuroscientists to expand the definition of consciousness to encompass so much more than simply reacting to the stimuli of the world around us. For example, a huge aspect of human consciousness is the experience of the internal world within your mind—your thoughts, memories and feelings. You can be walking somewhere, navigating your path and taking in environmental information, but, at the same time, be planning what you want to make for dinner that evening. Sometimes you are engaged in reflective introspection, contemplating new ideas or mulling over past events and conversations.
The conscious experience of human beings is extraordinarily complex. What makes consciousness so hard to nail down is that it’s subjective. Everyone has consciousness, but your conscious experience is unique to you. No one can understand what it’s like to walk a mile in your shoes. The best we can do is imagine what it’s like to live inside of your consciousness. Since I only know what it is like to experience consciousness through my eyes, I can only assume that your experience of consciousness is similar to my own.
Here we have stumbled upon the fundamental problem with consciousness. Like gravity, we can see the effects of consciousness everywhere on our planet. However, unlike gravity, consciousness cannot be measured or quantified. Humans seem to possess a higher state of consciousness than, say, a dog or cat. The truth is that we don’t know this for a fact. We assume this to be true because dogs and cats are not capable of abstract thought. A dog or a cat could not formulate the thoughts to write this book. Indeed, they do not possess the tactile ability to produce written communication at all.
But this distinction raises an important question: Is the capacity of our brain function the same as consciousness? These two things get intertwined because our ability to create and manipulate our environment is connected with our ability to introspect, which would seem to be a function of consciousness. However, perhaps we need to view consciousness as being completely separate from our brain function?
For example, consider the life of red oak trees. There is a phenomenon among red oaks within a forest that, every couple of years, they will not drop their acorns. What confused arborists is that this withholding was not predictably cyclical. It would happen at random intervals. Arborists finally discerned that this was an intentional reproduction strategy being implemented by the red oaks. Acorns are the seeds that allow for new oak trees to sprout. The problem is that, once an acorn falls on the ground, around 60 percent are stored for winter consumption by squirrels in their burrows, resulting in a minority of seeds having the opportunity to be implanted in soil.
To ensure their survival, the red oaks will communicate with each other using chemicals in their roots, sending the message to hold back and not drop their acorns for a season. Withholding the acorns has the effect of starving out the creatures that were utilizing their acorns as food. The following year, the red oak will then drop an excessive amount of acorns. Known as a mast year, with more acorns and less creatures stowing them, the acorns have more possibility of sprouting new seedlings.
In other words, the oak trees are somehow aware that their nuts are a valuable food source for the creatures that live in the forest. When they sense that their reproduction is being threatened, they employ this strategy to increase their chances of propagating seedlings. We would normally associate such a strategy with consciousness. The problem is that trees do not have a brain, and yet, they are engaged in complex behavioral and communication patterns that we associate with conscious choice.
This type of communication doesn’t just happen within a singular tree species. It also occurs across tree species. Utilizing a mutual fungus, trees within a forest will communicate with each other about the health of other trees. If a tree is sick and dying, that tree will forego nourishment and shunt its nutrients through the root system to grow saplings, so they have a higher likelihood of survival. These choices are consistent with altruism, a behavior we normally associate with human consciousness.
The point being, consciousness should not be relegated only to organisms with brain stems. Some scientists have argued that all living organisms on Earth exhibit some degree of consciousness. Clearly, consciousness differs based on the complexity of the organism. For instance, bacteria and viruses react to their environment based on their genetic programming and, therefore, possess a much lower level of conscious function than insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds or mammals. However, bacteria and viruses can evolve quickly over generations to adapt to almost any environment. Long after other “intelligent” species on this planet are extinct, bacteria and viruses will continue to thrive.
As the definition of consciousness has expanded to include organisms that were previously discounted, solving the problem of consciousness has spilled over into other scientific disciplines beyond that of neuroscience, psychology and biology. A group of physicists have begun thinking about the problem of consciousness from a completely different perspective.
Consider the following thought experiment: Imagine you are sitting at your breakfast table holding a spoon. If you zoom in on that spoon, you will find that it is made up of a conglomeration of atoms. Those atoms are inert. By themselves, they are the building blocks for matter, but they are not “alive.” Fundamentally, these are some of the same atoms that create you, the person holding the spoon. This leads to a fascinating question: Why is it that your conglomeration of inert, lifeless atoms works together in such a way as to form a living, breathing conscious human, whereas the spoon’s conglomeration of inert, lifeless atoms do not? The building blocks are the same, but the outcome is vastly different.
Spirituality in Unlikely Places
I know it might seem strange, but the answer to this thought experiment in this excerpt is the key to understanding the connection between consciousness and spirituality. However, just in case you think that this book is all about science with a little bit of spirituality sprinkled in, quite the opposite is true.
Restorative Beauty is broken into three sections. The first section (Chapters 1-2) deals with some basic theological principles that I covered in Restorative Faith as they provide the appropriate intellectual framework for how we are going to approach God and spirituality throughout the rest of the book. The second section (Chapters 3-5), from which you just read an excerpt, is designed to explore the science of how our universe is constructed and the origins of consciousness. The final section (Chapters 6-10) provides the methods and practices by which you can facilitate spiritual experiences in your life.
What’s critical to understand is that I’m not promoting spirituality from one specific religious tradition. In fact, the main thesis of my book is that once you understand the scientific origins of consciousness, then you can draw from the spiritual practices of most any religious tradition to facilitate spiritual experiences in your life. All this brings me to the reason why I wrote this book in the first place.
As I have spoken about at length on my website, there are a growing number of people in the 21st century who reject religion. They view religion as a remnant of an age when humans lacked scientific knowledge of the universe. And yet, many of those same people feel a spiritual connection to the world around them. They know exploring that connection is the key to a more meaningful and fulfilling existence. There’s just one problem: If you’re not going to adhere to a specific religion, where does one start their spiritual journey?
I wrote Restorative Beauty to provide a starting point. Similar to Restorative Faith where I cast a new vision for modern Christianity, Restorative Beauty casts a renewed vision for modern spirituality. Not only do I want to provide practical steps to enhance your feeling of connection with the world around you, my hope is to guide you towards the ultimate spiritual experience—the oneness of all things; a moment of transcendence where there is no division between you and the rest of the universe.
Thanks for the Support!
To close out this post, I want to thank all of the readers of the Restorative Faith book and my blog over the last four years. Before my article on leaving the church went viral, I only had a handful of readers. They were kind enough to read my thoughts and interact with me when my work was little known. Today, my reach has expanded and I’m excited to have a broader audience. I hope that, just as Restorative Faith helped people navigate a new way to approach the Christian faith, Restorative Beauty will provide a new way to navigate spirituality, inspiring our community to grow.
If you buy Restorative Beauty (and if you like it!), perhaps you would be so kind as to leave a review on Amazon. Those reviews matter in how the algorithms present readers with possible book choices. Although you might think otherwise, I’ve never actually made a profit on my website, podcast or books. Each book costs about $3500 to produce. Every season of the podcast costs about $1000 (there’s been three seasons and I'm currently producing the fourth) and maintaining the website is about $400/year. All told, I’ve invested more than $12k into Restorative Faith over the last four years.
My only profit generating products are my books and, even with my post going viral, I’ve yet to sell enough copies to even come close to covering the cost of creating my first book, Restorative Faith. All this to say, I’m not doing this for the money. I do it because I care about sharing these ideas and enhancing people’s lives. Again, thank you for your support and I hope Restorative Beauty provides you with a new perspective on how spirituality can be an important and integral part of your life.