Science on Natural and Tactical Ecstacies

British scientist Rupert Sheldrake is applying science to the subject of natural and tactical ecstasies in two recent books. The first is called Science and Spiritual Practices.

Rupert Sheldrake. Photo: Hanna-Katrina Jedrosz,
from Sheldrake.org

Even though practice of religion is in steep decline in Europe, he writes, “spiritual experiences are surprisingly common, even among those who describe themselves as non-religious.”  One study asked British people, “Have you ever experienced a presence or power, whether you call it God or not, which is different form your everyday self?”  In 1978 36 % said yes; in 1987, 48%; and in 2000, over 75% said yes.  In America, a Gallup poll asked if people had ever had “a religious or mystical experience” and in 1962 22% say yes; in 1994, 33%; in 2009, 49%.

“Standing among Tall Trees.” Photo by Clément M. on Unsplash

Beginning around the turn of the millennium science began to investigate spiritual practices and their effects on humans.  The University of Wisconsin is famous for its hooking Buddhist monks up to scientific gadgets to test what goes on in the brain of a person in meditation.  Literally thousands of research studies now exist and what is their general consensus? 

Sheldrake summarizes the findings this way: “The results generally show that religious and spiritual practices confer benefits that include better physical and mental health, less proneness to depression and greater longevity.” (20).  In addition, people lacking the kind of practices he lays out in the book are “unhappier, unhealthier and more depressed.  Militant atheism should come with a health warning,” he proposes.  (204)  Thus, Sheldrake concludes that “the old-fashioned opposition between science and religion is a false dichotomy.  Open-minded scientific studies enhance our understanding of spiritual and religious practices.”

“Singer.” Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

In his first study Sheldrake considers seven practices including: Meditation; Gratitude; Reconnecting with the more-than-human word; Plants; Rituals; Singing, chanting and the power of music; Pilgrimages and Holy Places. 

In a follow-up book called Ways To Go Beyond and Why They Work, he considers additional practices such as: Sports; Animals; Fasting; Psychedelics; Prayer; Holy Days and Festivals; Good Habits. 

Both books shed deeper light on why spiritual practices work.  It is one of the signs of hope in our times that science and spirituality are reuniting after several hundred years of a debilitating and dangerous divorce.


Rupert Sheldrake,  Science and Spiritual Practices: Transformative Experiences and Their Effects on Our Bodies, Brains, and Health, 16,17, 20
Rupert Sheldrake, Ways to Go Beyond and Why They Work: Spiritual Practices in a Scientific Age
Banner Image: “Untitled” by Joshua Earle, Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation:


Which of the practices of natural or tactical ecstasies are most prominent in your life at this time? 

What benefits have you accrued by practicing some of these tactical ecstasies?  How have you grown as a result?

Recommended Reading

One of Matthew Fox’s earliest books, this title explores the importance of ecstasy in the spiritual life. Fox considers the distinction between “natural” ecstasies (including nature, sex, friendship, music, art) and “tactical” ecstasies (like meditation, fasting, chanting); he names the spiritual journey as taking us from ecstasy (Whee!) to a community consciousness (We), to our battling forces that prefer control to pleasure shared or justice (wee).

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4 thoughts on “Science on Natural and Tactical Ecstacies”

  1. Avatar

    Dear Matthew,
    I appreciate you so much and thank you for the daily meditations. You are in my prayers of gratitude. I am going to an intentional community conference in Hudson New York next week and am looking for communities to collaborate with. Please check out our 12 Steps for an Ecological Civilization churchforourcommonhome.com and let me know if you have any ideas of groups or people to collaborate with. Anyway we can support you and your work and collaborate with you and your community we would be honored.
    In gratitude,
    Bonnie Tarwater

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Bonnie,
      Thank you for the good news about intentional communities and the 12 Steps for an Ecological CIvilization. It is good to hear of ways people are approaching our predicament with creativity. You might try to connect with some of the people involved with Creation Spirituality COmmunities. There are eco-minded people gathering for ritual and support all around the country. Here is their website: http://www.cscommunities.org
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the DM Team

  2. Avatar

    I’m reading “The Pope’s War” and there are a lot of things that you wrote about that sure seem relevant today. 1) in terms of the POS if you don’t see things his way then you are probably a moron. 2) When I worked at the VA I was told that good ideas came from Central Office and went to the field, and when I was with Wal-Mart this idea was reinforced, and don’t dare think outside the box. I recently read a goodbye letter from the outgoing President of the University of Colorado where he said our mission is to teach people how to think rather than what to think. I am enjoying your book
    Karl

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Karl,
      Thank you for your reminder of the constrictive way our culture has dealt with creativity. It is certainly time for a paradigm shift. Creativity is one of the joys of being human and one of the greatest gifts we give each other.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the DM Team

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