Limitations of Modernist Worldview

November 08, 2017

As the beneficiaries of a modernist worldview, a dominant thread in our culture tends to put high value on self-control and science, and may be dismissive of spirituality. From this perspective phenomena like trance, possession, and mystical states are typically written off as misguided or superstitious.  Even more, some of us who grew up in fundamentalist Christian households may have been taught that any realization originating from within, such as one would have during a mystical experience, was highly suspect, and mind-altering activities that allow one to access hidden realms and alternative realities are dangerous.

But trance is a very normalized activity in many parts of the world, and so-called non-ordinary states of consciousness have been utilized for beneficial purposes in virtually every culture around the world for thousands of years. Indigenous and shamanic practitioners have used music and dance, along with other techniques, to access the spirit realm and bring higher knowledge and healing to the community.

It is important to note that trance-inducing techniques would have been abandoned long ago if they did yield benefits, and yet evidence goes back to Neolithic times that drumming, dancing, and consciousness-altering substances were being used for ritual purposes.  Historically, outsiders with colonial agendas have looked down on indigenous cultures as backward and ignorant, and researches have been blinded by their bias to not see the value of the practices they were witnessing. Such practices may also have seemed threatening as they suggested a spiritual reality existed beyond that which the modern mindset, cut off from intuition and their instinctual roots, was ready to accept. But things are changing, as is evidenced by the proliferation alternative healing practices, including the popular interest in yoga and conscious movement.

Dagur shaman with her drum, 1930

There are different historical factors and agendas that have propagated certain assumptions, fears, and lack of respect around mind-altering and body-centered practices, and I will write about those in detail another time. Suffice it to say that as the religious paradigm shifted towards patriarchy and emphasis was placed on the superiority of the mind and reason, there was strong motivation to mock, forbid, and demonize practices belonging to earlier magical world-views.  We see this play out around the ritual of Halloween where symbols of earlier belief systems are correlated with frightening, dark, uncontrollable aspects of our natures. Yet those layers of our consciousness are still with us and have relevance, and it is possible to reintegrate them in a way that expands and sheds light on our human experience.

With all its admirable and significant achievements, the modernist’s worldview has had some serious consequences. One only needs to look at the epidemic of loneliness, isolation, and depression that plagues our population to see just one facet of its limitation.  Rationalism and scientific knowledge, carrying forth by individualism and disconnected from Spirit, has flourished at the expense of the wisdom of the body, intuitive understanding, and authentic human connection.  A sad side effect is that many of us inherited an inability to truly feel our bodies and recognize emotional states. When there is pain we are encouraged to suppress or numb it. Though a major achievement of humanity, we are now coming to understand the limitations of the “mind over matter” mindset when left unchecked, and are reincorporating the balancing gifts of intuition, instinct, and interconnectedness. This shift fundamentally affects how we relate to living an embodied life on planet Earth.