CONVERSATION with NEVILLE HODGKINSON on Science and Spirituality

IMG_0576 (copy)I attended a talk by Neville Hodgkinson at Park Lane in London. The title of the talk was: ‘Good news: You are not your brain!’ Behind this headline lie a series of discoveries that present a huge challenge to predominant scientific theories about the self, and the nature of the material world around us.

Neville Hodgkinson, former science and medical correspondent of The Sunday Times, and a long-term meditator, has been following these developments closely. In his evening’s talk he offered an overview of recent findings and discussed the emergence of a new paradigm of science based on the primacy of consciousness.

The evening was truly interesting and many of the guests hesitated to rush home as there was so many stories and opinions to share. I myself stayed until the last minute and participated actively. The subject itself intrigued me to the point where I felt a great need to invite Neville Hodgkinson to have an interview with me.

It is wonderful to see how people no matter their age and social status question these matters, which often seem beyond mere understanding.  Usually we can only feel matters of the spirit, but some – courageous ones – dare to go deeper into these subjects and even try to explain them. Apparently, spirituality and mind can be beautifully blended together and applied in daily living.

And so, in summer 2012, we met at the Brahma Kumaris Retreat Centre in Oxford, where he has been a permanent resident for over 18 years. It is a place for people to reconnect with their innerselves and find answers to questions which have sometimes persisted for a lifetime. There Neville Hodgkinson often conducts talks and workshops, and humbly shares his insights.

He spent many years as a journalist specialising in science and medicine, believing at first that there would soon be a pill for every ill and enthusiastically engulfing himself in the search for it. He looked at different ways of explaining human ills, and methods of healing, interviewing doctors in various specialised fields, and yet finding that no matter what, there was always some gap, some unanswered question, or another question mark requiring one’s attention.

Neville Hodgkinson wrote a book on mind-body medicine, calleda “Will to be Well”. It was published by Hutchinson (UK) in 1984 and translated into several languages, including Spanish and Japanese. At that time he was thinking deeply about the mind and its relationship to the body.  This gave him a strong realisation that he needed to nourish his own mind better than previously. He says he had been very goal driven, living life based on materialistic values and the excitement and competitiveness of newspaper deadlines and headlines. Eventually he felt drained by this constant search for stimulus, and the desire to meet every want of his and others. According to Neville, it was as if he wrote “Will to be well” to himself as well as for the public.

During the writing he realised that regular practice of positive thoughts and feelings would nourish him in ways that would promote physical as well as psychological health, and he became a student with the Brahma Kumaris (BKs), a spiritual training organisation. A few years later the BKs invited him to live and work at their newly opened Retreat Centre near Oxford, as they were looking for people who could play different roles there. He accepted the invitation and has been a resident there ever since.

At university, Neville took an economics and politics degree. He started writing for student publications, and found that he liked journalism. “I am the only one in my family who has chosen the writing field,” he says. While working at the London Times as a general reporter, he had an opportunity to assist the medical and health services correspondents. Later he moved to the Daily Mail, where he became a full-time medical and science correspondent, and it was during this time that he became inspired to write his first book. Neville notes that “It was a dual motive – on the one hand it was helping me to understand how the mind works, including my own; and on the other, I had realised that medicine was in something of a state of crisis because of neglecting non-material aspects of health and illness.

“When I started, I had a very materialistic mindset, and thought that with modern science and the fabulous techniques to which it was giving rise there would soon be a pill for every ill.  But as I became more familiar with the field, I started to realise that if the underlying causes of ill-health are not recognised and treatment becomes chronic, there is an ill from every pill.”

He learned that the non-materialistic aspects of medicine have been greatly neglected, and became interested in holistic approaches to health, which take into account mind and spirit as well as the physical aspects. “I understood that when we lack happiness or fulfilment in life, it becomes the biggest causes of ill health.”

At that time he did not focus on traditional medicine, such as naturopathy and herbalism, but he agrees nature often offers more favourable forms of help than the manufactured pill. “For example, remedies present in nature to help the body often contain balancing substances that act as an antidote to possible side-effects of the treatment. Nature has tremendous wisdom, and a tremendous capacity to help us.
“Still, I strongly feel that the most important influence by far is the mind, and that if the mind is troubled, you will continue to generate the problem inside the body that causes the ill health, no matter what medicine you use.”

Neville added that we are so used to being treated for every symptom with medicaments, even temporary ailments such as an upset stomach, that we often forget Mother Nature is capable of treating us unaided. At times all we need is plenty of fresh water, rest, and good sleep.

“Prolonged stress is one of the biggest indicators for any kind of illness,” said the journalist. “It is good to slow down at times and reconnect with the inner-self.”

I was curious to know how Neville Hodgkinson heals himself. He answered: “I really accept ill health much more than I used to, seeing that it can benefit us if we learn the lessons it brings, although I haven’t been seriously sick or visited a family doctor since I was 33 y.o.” He lives a healthy life at the retreat centre, although it carries its own challenges.  Apart from sharing his home with 15,000 other people – the number of guests who visit each year – the core aim of his lifestyle is to change his sense of who he is from the ego identity, linked to the body and its roles, towards deep soul identity. “It is quite a journey,” he admits.

Once he wrote about a family doctor who had been told by Britain’s National Health Service computers that he had the lowest prescribing rate in Britain. This had come about because the doctor, instead of reachi9ng for the prescription pad, educated his patients about their body and its capacity to heal itself. That gave them the confidence to be patient, and allow healing to take place naturally. Of course, he would refer serious cases for hospital treatment, but for general aches and pains he would help the patient understand the causes, and therefore reduce their worry – which itself causes illness. “So often people don’t realise how illness can be a friend, giving us an opportunity to step aside for a while from life’s struggles, go deep inside, and review our life’s direction. Rest and sleep, as well as exercise and sunshine, can be so healing, letting us obtain a more peaceful perspective.”

Neville is a strong believer in the power of modern medicines to offer us a helping hand towards recovery. However, he is also aware that there is a huge pressure on doctors to prescribe, and drug industries to sell their products. People get used to taking pills far more often than is useful or needed. Because so many are not handling themselves well in this area, their health remains compromised and health expenditure continues to rise. This led him to wonder in what way science and spirituality could help to deal with this vicious circle.

“I think one of the most toxic elements of our modern society is the loss of awareness of the spiritual dimension of life. When we teach in our culture that the materialistic perspective is the true one and the best one, this is damaging us. The spiritual side is actually the engine of regeneration. It makes a healing and creative energy available to us. When we lose connection with that energy, life becomes dry and purposeless.
“People then find various ways to try to escape that emptiness – filling their waking moments with music, with shopping, with drugs, with work, and so on – but actually it never really works. This is often the reason why we become sick:  the habit of trying to fill that internal vacuum through over-close, dependent relationships, for example, or through sleeping around a lot, through taking drugs, through becoming dependant on medicines, or becoming a shopaholic or workaholic. All these physical ways of trying to fill a spiritual vacuum eventually become too much, putting our bodies under such stress as to lead to ill health.”

Neville quoted the scientist/philosopher Albert Einstein as saying that whilst science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. The journalist believes science and spirituality could be blended together, yet to this day many believe that everything outside materialistic thinking and living is a kind of heresy. He says the ones who think like that often profess to be sceptics working in defence of science. However, by refusing to look outside the materialistic framework, they miss out on a very important part of reality

IMG_0368Silence, he says, can be a wonderful tool to reconnect with one’s self. “Silence is when we allow the mind to be still, loving and peaceful.  This helps us to develop awareness of the flow of the spiritual dimension and its unique strengths and powers.  In our deepest nature we are all love, we are peace, we are children of nature in whom happiness should be our primary experience and goal.
“It is hard to live in a balanced way in today’s society, so we have to consciously develop the habit of choosing what we truly want and walking towards that, deliberately finding the time to nourish the spiritual aspects of our being. When you are detaching yourself for a while from material responsibilities and engagements, and just become peaceful and still, you can resonate with the truth deep within you.”

Neville says that the distressed and negative thinking with which we often occupy ourselves robs us of the peace and love that can be experienced when we enable the mind to become still. Silence can be a wonderful tool, capable of awakening us to its inner depths and truths.  However, he is not arguing that the material world is a bad place to be. In his view both realities can co-exist, with right understanding and proper practice. Then marvellous things become present in our day-to-day living, the biggest of which is the sense of filling naturally with peace and love.

What is the mindset of humanity right now? Do we live in the scientific mind or spiritual mind or somewhere in between? Neville said: “I think we reached an extreme, perhaps a few decades ago, on the side of the non-spiritual. It was as though our thinking, and our lives, became somewhat fossilised. We elevated the materialistic scientific outlook to such a degree that it became almost antisocial to be thinking about things in a deeper way. For example, there is a body called the Scientific and Medical Network in the UK, founded nearly 40 years ago for qualified doctors and scientists with a spiritual orientation, and now with a membership of about 2,500 internationally. For many years they had to keep their membership a secret, because it could have been professional suicide to admit an interest in the spiritual side. So modern science was behaving like an intolerant religion! However, I feel now that there is a far greater openness. Discoveries in the fields of brain science, quantum physics, and biology are enabling us to explore consciousness in greater depths.”

Neville believes life where the spiritual dimension is ignored becomes so dry and meaningless, creating so much tension and sorrow in people, as to be unsustainable. “I think this spiritual emptiness has caused us to put the planet under such strain environmentally and ecologically, and that it is also why depression has become the most common illness.  Spirituality serves as an antidote to lack of balance in one’s life. Mind and spirituality, science and spirituality, can exist in a perfect harmony.  It is possible, and nowadays we can see a shift happening in that direction.”

Neville Hodgkinson is himself an example of such a shift that is currently happening in our society. He was once a person who lived with the materialistic mindset: chasing headlines, meeting deadlines, spending money, and looking for approval from the outside world. Later in life, due to his own choice and reasoning, he moved towards something deeper. He chose to explore thinking and being from a different perspective. “I wanted change to happen. I found the spiritual perspective, explored it, and looked for ways to nurture it. I found that it enabled my life to change for the better. Before it took place, I felt I had become a spiritual orphan: disconnected from my own deeper truth, that nourishing inner intelligence. Just because we cannot see this aspect of reality with our physical eyes, it does not mean it is not there. You cannot see radio waves, but you can listen to the radio. It is the same with our brains. We can experience spiritual vibrations internally, and send them out to the world. But our over-engagement in outward life has blocked our ability to receive those deep, intelligent messages, and that is what made us feel so very empty.”

Neville now not only follows a lifestyle suited to fostering these ideals, but also speaks publicly about the benefits that can come from living a more balanced life, blending material and spiritual values together.

I find it beautiful to see how people can awaken to new ways of thinking and living, especially so when a person in their sixties or seventies finds a different way of perceiving and being. This type of awakening can be truly extraordinary. It is never too late to ask ‘Who Am I?’.

Neville says: “People now are becoming more and more aware of the dangers of being over-engaged in the ego identity, the sense of self linked to the body and its conditioning. An over-emphasis on this physical identity causes our lives to become all about taking, instead of giving, with very damaging consequences. For example, we have been taking so much from the earth to fuel the enormous growth in our numbers, but as those resources run out, disease is likely to become rampant. Distress and associated ill-health are already widespread, and the planet itself is under great pressure from human activity. Renewal of our spiritual identity is already happening, and I think it will accelerate as the consequences of the narrow way we have been living become more apparent.”

Copyright © Jolita Kelias 2013
All Rights Reserved

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