Spirituality For The Twenty-first Century

One can never be certain of the ultimate effect of current events on civilization’s evolution, but I find it tempting to “read the tealeaves” of current events to discover  patterns that may be forming. Every era has its own way of interpreting events and exercising choice. This process could be named spirituality in action or in my preferred vernacular, “creating the story.”


What are a few characteristics of the twenty-first century? For the first time in human history, it is now possible for every person on Earth to be in direct communication with every other person. Call this technology enhanced communication.


A second shift that has been building for several decades and now it can no longer be denied, is the awareness that everything and everyone is interconnected and interdependent. Some of our most respected spiritual traditions have been promoting this for millennia, but now that science—the belief system of modern Western society—has come to this awareness, it’s rapidly being included as a basic condition of our twenty-first century “story.”


These two developments—one technical, one a matter of consciousness—have set in motion a number of other possibilities for a new story, among them honoring diversity. While we’re still deeply enmeshed in the established systems of governance, education, religion, and culture that civilization has developed over the last two millennia, I submit that these new conditions are subtly but surely influencing our consciousness. Western society still operates primarily on the theory of control through “power over” which  employs hierarchy as its principal process.


With the unfolding new story of interconnectedness and interdependence, fresh options arise. Long ago, when humans came to accept that Earth wasnot the center of the universe, but a small orb circling a medium-sized star in one of hundreds of galaxies, it meant we had to develop a very different story of what constitutes life, as well as refigure  our human role in that new story. We are engaged in a similar process today. All life being interconnected and interdependent calls into question the long-held assumption that life is based solely on competition—survival of the fittest—ruled by dualism. So much of how humans have practiced spirituality in past centuries has been predicated on that worldview. We need a new worldview that can embrace a new spirituality.


One indication of how we’re searching for a new worldview is the current widespread and growing grassroots interest in “Death Cafes.” These are informal conversations hosted in private homes, public cafés, or cultural or religious institutions. I’ve been hosting one since last April and have attended Death Cafés hosted by others. The invitation I send out each month states in part.


Join us for an informal gathering where you can safely share with others your questions, concerns and/or experiences regarding any of the many aspects of death. We provide an accessible, respectful and confidential space, free of discrimination, where people can express their views safely.


There’s no intention of leading participants towards any particular conclusion, product or course of action. All are welcome. The objective of a Death Café is "To increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their precious and finite lives".


During these Cafés, the energy in the room is vigorous, indicating important ideas and feelings are being shared. Often people state, “I’ve never been able to talk about any of this before!” The vitality these gatherings generate indicates a newly-found freedom to explore a subject that for centuries has been taboo. The broadly-held belief that death is a “mistake,” a “crime,: “the worst thing that can happen to you,” is clearly being brought into question and the stories are being  changed.


Death Cafés are not being promoted by one individual or organization, no one is making any money on this movement, and the only guidelines are respectful, non-judgmental listening and sharing. Participants range in age from their twenties through eighties, and come from many cultures, races and walks of life. There seems to be a subconscious shared agreement that death is an important topic, and as such now needs to be openly and freely discussed.


The media have picked up this trend. Last Spring NPR’s “All Things Considered” did a Death Cafe story; thenThe New York Times followed suit. It was on a number of CBS TV evening news stations andThe Huffington Post held a live chat, both in August. Doubtless there are many more local and regional Death Café stories.


In this commence-driven society, I find it significant that Death Cafés have no stake in the world of business. Jon Underwood, in England, who sponsorswww.deathcafe.com isn’t promoting the discussions so much as providing a free service for Death Café hosts—wherever they are in the world—to let people know meeting details.


My guess is that spirituality in the twenty-first century may continue to develop in this manner—ordinary people questioning limitations, exploring fresh territory and accepting diversity. A very different story from previous centuries.