Mayan Mural, Bonampak
Photograph by the Author
I've been reading two recent books of note, on what appear to be widely different subjects, which are provoking some thoughts on our nature, both biological and spiritual.
The first of the two books is The Runes of Evolution, by Simon Conway Morris. Morris' book is a wide ranging examination of convergence of evolution; his argument, which is IMO very nearly irrefutable, is that convergence is the norm, and that evolution is a highly directed process. Far from being an accident, which is the prevailing view among Darwinian biologist today, it is a strictly circumscribed and limited process that is inexorably directed by the constraints of physics and chemistry to a set of predictable results which appear over and over again both in the fossil record and modern organisms. These results not only appear in overall physiological form, as in the nearly identical morphology between dolphins and ichthyosaurs, creatures separated by over 200 million years and two entirely different clades ( mammals and reptiles); convergent results appear over and over again on a microscopic scale in physical structures such as ears, eyes, noses, and so on; and convergence extends strongly into the molecular realm, with similar genes and substances being recruited over and over again to perform nearly identical functions.
While Morris' writing is hardly the best, his ideas are superlative; and the degree of convergence in the biological world is so striking that it seems impossible to argue evolution is a random process.
The second book I've been reading is Stephen Houston's The Life Within, a book on the art of the Mayans. Stephen's book, which ought to be of great interest to anyone in the spiritual community, is an extraordinarily fine (and very well written) piece of work examining the nature of the Mayan worldview, their art, and the commonality of concept, imagery, and substance we find in their art, which evolved entirely independent of old world civilizations.
Despite this distinctly separate line of evolution, it produced a number of remarkably similar and convergent results, many of which are recognizable to us. Their art is, furthermore, one of the great arts of any time—drastically underexamined and undervalued by Western artists and art historians, due to its appearance in what seems to be isolation from the so-called "valuable" or "meaningful" cultures of the old world.
The connection between these two books is that taken together they point out deep convergences not only in biological evolution, but also the evolution of the psyche, the soul, world concepts, arts, and the religions of mankind. The Mayans were not an alien culture; geographic separation did not separate them from the roots of the human community or the natural tendency of human beings to create both great arts and great spiritual understandings.
These spiritual understandings were, furthermore, not at all dissonant and foreign when viewed in the light of old world spiritual practices; the world tree, for example, is a concept deeply rooted in both Mayan and the old world. As I have pointed out in my own essay, there are striking evidences that suggest Mayans "stumbled" on yogic and kundalini spiritual practices, furthermore illustrating them with the same kinds of serpentine imagery that are found in temples in Southeast Asia.
The relationships aren't coincidental, in my opinion; they arise not because of influences that somehow "leaked" between the cultures, spurious contacts between peoples and priesthoods, but because there is a convergence of understanding not only in the physical, but also the spiritual world.
We'll explore this idea further in the next few posts.