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Science as a Spiritual Practice | STAGES International

Terri O’Fallon

I am the a seed of consciousness that sprouts and blossoms as a universal pool of life giving essence which holds all things. Life is perfect in its universal boundlessness, which is grace itself—is a gift of One enduring sacred pulse that permeates all insides and outsides, with ever present love. Perfection has formed us into the imperfect—our mistakes, our virtues our agony, our doubts all nested within and healed through omnipresent, timeless splendor. (unknown)

Beautiful words are inspiring and can catapult us, at times into states of momentary understanding before they slip into the ether. We grasp for a splinter of understanding to remain within us—the longing for that piercing knowledge that makes us, for just an instant, someone greater than the self we inhabit. The question this often brings us to, is “Who are we anyway?”.

Well, it depends on the eyes we are looking from and the eyes we are looking through. That question is the essential research question. Who am I?

If you are a qualitative scientist, you might gather pebbledashes of inspiration from particular groups of people and find the inspirational essences of the collection that might point to spiritual insights. The qualitative research approach is merely a research structure. You can pour any topic through it and what comes out on the other side are local generalizations formed by responses from a particular group of research subjects. This research tool can be very helpful in capturing melodies of understanding sacred texts and utterances by looking for essences and themes in people’s expressions of their soulful experiences.

Hundreds of sweethearts! I am the lover and the one lovers long for. Blue and a cure for blues. Sky in a small cage, badly hurt but flying. Everybody’s scandalous flaw is mine. (Rumi).

However, you might also take a quantitative approach to these kinds of expressions. Simplistically, researchers can, using hundreds of these spiritual expressions graded by numerous raters, number of them from 1 onward in the order of complexity (or feeling or belief, or…). Then they can average the ratings and develop a universal scale for ordering whatever they are measuring. Later, you can use the universal scale to rate any other inspirational comment that comes up and see where it falls on the numerical scale that has been created. When people express themselves in these beautiful ways, can we determine whether spiritual expressions and insights grow up and mature through time? Statistics can support the development of such scales for those who have a curiosity about this.

There are times in our lives when one kind of research, either qualitative or quantitative, is our favorite. Our human tendency is to think that what we believe now is better than any other belief (especially the ones we can’t yet see). However, our beliefs create certain kind of research structures. Sometimes we have horizontal beliefs and tend to push away hierarchical beliefs. If we believe , horizontally, that it is better to believe that everything is equal, and push away hierarchy, that in and of itself is hierarchical (for isn’t anything “better” a hierarchical notion?). If your tendency leans towards hierarchical beliefs you may tend to select statistical and numerically measured sciences and think also that they are “better”.

However, we can use both the qualitative and quantitative processes in a unification approach, rocking back and forth between them in a way that allows a gradual evolution of spiritual meaning making as it emerges in our collective human multitude. We save beautiful expressions unlike the ones we have ever seen or experienced, even ones we don’t understand, and gather others like them. We check to see if they fit on the quantitative trajectory and if they don’t we simply save them until we can see if they are new expressions that are emerging in our collective understanding. We create qualitative themes, and eventually may take the period off from the present quantitative scale and add another, later spiritual insight into our human understanding of awakening. Over a period of years the scale may eventually be experienced more like a timeless, boundless sky that can hold everything.

When we drop our “better” notions and integrate these two research structures, my experience is that a kind of alchemy can occur for the researcher. Recognizing that qualitative and quantitative methods are complimentary tools for searching for the fundamental questions such as, “Who am I”, the research process begins to take on a mirror-like flow. Look through the hierarchical methods and we see the horizontal universal essences of everything. Looking through the horizontal methods we see a multiplicity of unique expressions that defy replication, yet continually grow and change through time. Each approach mirrors and expands the other until the research structures we used to ask the question “Who am I? unifies, transforms into the timeless, boundless and is itself an answer.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
(Leonard Cohen)

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