Metamodern Spirituality, Existence and Aesthetics

In modern life, spiritual, existential and aesthetic aspects of life have all taken a backseat. Of course there’s lots of these things going on, but there’s still a sense of woo-woo, pretentiousness, silliness, embarrassment, light-headedness, fake, fraud, self-aggrandizement and so forth. Physics, economics and possibly sexual drives and desires are viewed as “most real” – and the rest as epiphenomena, as fluff. Already Kant observed that we’re embarrassed to be found on our knees praying, as the modern worldview has an inherent difficulty reconciling the spiritual sides of life and its own necessarily religious foundations. The metamodern path is not to let in the spiritual woo-woo and artsy pretension, but to struggle to reconnect to the fundamental religious core of reality.

Let us approach the topic in our own not-so-artsy manner, a bullet point list. To adopt a metamodern stance to spirituality, existence and aesthetics is…

  • To take existential and spiritual matters very seriously; to view human­ity, intelligence and consciousness as expressions of high­er principles inherent to the universe.
  • To recognize that the esoteric, spiritual disciplines and wisdom tradit­ions East and West relate to real insights of great signifi­cance – a recog­nition of the importance of mysticism.
  • To have a careful, unknowing and explorative mindset in matters of spirit­ual­ity and existence.
  • To understand that elevated, expanded subjective states relate to higher exist­ential and spiritual truths than do most of the exper­ien­ces of everyday life.
  • To see that inner experience – and the direct development of the sub­ject­­ivity of organisms – is crucial to all things, and is perhaps the main ingred­ient lacking in the perspective of the modern world; acknow­led­ging inner experience is often the golden key to managing society’s problems.
  • To take philosophical, cultural and aesthetic matters very serio­us­ly, as they are seen as inherent dimensions of reality, not just “additional woo-woo” on top of physics.
  • To create art and architecture that allude to the depth and myst­ery of exist­ence, without putting it “in your face” or trying to tell you what to think or what is real.
  • To support a democratic, intersubjective, participatory, scienti­fically supp­orted, peer-to-peer created spirituality, rather than traditional paths, teach­ers, gurus or authorities.
  • To see that both a spiritual and non-spiritual life experience and world­view are fundamentally okay. Spirituality and non-spirit­uality: neither is inher­en­tly better than the other.
  • To understand that people are fundamentally crazy, that our everyday consciousness is not a sane reflection of reality, but a bizarre, psychotic hallucination that is utterly contingent, made up and arbitrary.
  • To intuit that the central spiritual and existential insight is the perfect­ion of absolute totality as it always-already is; that there is a pristine, serene clarity underneath all the chaos and contra­diction; that there is an under­lying elegance even in the often tragic, hell-like experience of life; hidden, as it were, in plain sight. This can be called the recognition of “basic goodness”.

”…if there are experiences that lie beyond even our most profound love and our will to live and that feel more real than our everyday lives do, it is only seemly to take these seriously into account.”

This of course only scratches upon the surface of metamodern spirituality and religion. In Bard’s and Söderqvist’s “Syntheism” there is an attempt to develop a systematic theology that might be said to express a metamodern form of religion. Syntheists are “religious atheists” and their God is Syntheos, a God admittedly created by humans as we grasp for meaning, consolation, community, transcendence and ascension. A synthetic God. There are three other aspects of this God: Atheos (the God of atheism, a slot of nothingness or void), Pantheos (the God of Spinozist pantheism, i.e. god-as-nature-itself) and Entheos (the God of inner, subjective experience, of all emergent phenomena).

We are connecting the spiritual to all aspects of life: there are some very “high” or “elevated” states of consciousness that can show up through meditation, in rare life moments and by use of some drugs. There is something crisp, clear, open, grand, epic, profoundly alive that we can experience. This can be evoked or at least intuited in works of art. These are real aspects of reality and cannot be dismissed as “illusions” any more than our everyday consciousness. From these higher states we can sometimes develop wise and universal perspectives, sometimes not, and sometimes go crazy. Anyway, they’re real. In such high states our brains and our whole bodily systems are in states of deeper, unobstructed integration, as the American psychiatrist Daniel Siegel has argued and struggled to show.

And if there are experiences that lie beyond even our most profound love and our will to live and that feel more real than our everyday lives do, it is only seemly to take these seriously into account.

What are the great pieces of classical music “about”? Surely Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons isn’t actually about metrological shifts and the inclination of the planet vis-à-vis the sun. They are about conveying certain moods, certain unnamable things. Not just emotions. No, there are whole worlds of harmony, hope and despair, order and chaos.

Art – from music to painting to films to architecture to gaming to participatory performance art – subtly and sensitively suggests different aspects of the depth of experience; it hints us towards greater complexity, towards more profound and terrifying depths of experience, and towards the highest and lowest states experienced by organisms.

And then, once we take such high states and spiritual experiences seriously and begin to learn from them, they begin to inform not our science – no, that’s a misunderstanding – but our metaphysics. You cannot gaze into the abyss without being moved. You cannot taste the heavens without becoming, at least in some abstract sense, a believer.

And this connects us to a reconciliation and reevaluation of the spiritual traditions and major religions. In a deeper sense, they weren’t wrong. In some ways, they were more true than modern mainstream atheism. This means that we can begin to take in aspects of the spiritual traditions and learn from them. For instance, we might learn from Christianity that we are free from sin at any given moment if we genuinely purify our intentions this very now. In that cosmic sense we are always-already forgiven and we can pass no judgments upon others – an insight that is profound in its implications and can ideally be helpful not only to find peace of mind, but even to understand society: if there is no “sin in our souls” and no essential evil in the universe, then this clears all metaphysical monsters out of the way, and we can look at society with the detached eyes of pure behavioral science.

Taking it a step further, we can say that the Buddhist notion of inner monsters that reveal their divine origins if faced fearlessly is also validated: in a fundamentally guiltless world even our darkest and most terrible nightmares can and will ultimately be cleared – however long they may first persist.

Metamodernism then explores these notions and traverses existentialist philosophy, mainstream religion, esoteric spirituality – even occultism – and plays with them through the arts, ultimately connecting the spiritual not only to an individual question of “personal faith” but right back to society at large, which we shall discuss in the following post.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.