Finding spiritual common ground

“It is not through uniformity that we achieve unity, it is through understanding,” Shiv Talwar began, speaking about religious divergence at a conference from July 16-17, hosted by the University of Waterloo (UW). The weekend long event, titled “Education to Globalize the Human Mind,” is an annual tradition of Talwar’s organization, the Spiritual Heritage Education Network (SHEN).

Registered participants, numbering approximately 80, were invited to meditate, discuss and be enlightened by a variety of presenters who spoke about their experiences with spirituality. Talwar explained, “Our [the conference organizers’] goal is to emphasize our underlying oneness,” a concept which stems from a shared belief that all derive from a singular “reality” or “God” depending on the preferred language.

Speakers and attendees derived from numerous traditions, including Mennonite, Sikh, Christian and Buddhist, but found common ground in their shared appreciation for a deeper meaning in life.

“What we are trying to do is integrate diversity,” Talwar continued. “So that people do not hate each other because of differences of any nature.”
It is true in many instances that religion has proven to be a divisive factor, as can be seen both in the history books of yesterday and the newspaper headlines of today. SHEN, which had its first meeting in 1998 and became formally established as an organization in 2000, has been hosting these conferences for several years in an attempt to find peaceful coexistence through overlying spiritual connections.

For Stephen Modell, who drove four hours to attend the conference , it was an excellent opportunity to connect with like minded and yet equally diverse people.

“What’s been the theme of this conference is seeing yourself in people you’re completely unrelated to in your usual walk of life … and seeing the commonality, and appreciating that what they feel is also what you feel,” he explained.

Modell, who also attended last year, was already looking forward to next year’s event, due to its overwhelming success with those involved. “What I’ll be taking away the most is that the experience, a greater experience … is always there available to us,” he said. “I’ve learned that we have to open up to the spiritual, or what links us to other people.”

Many of the speakers shared their personal life stories and means of connecting to a higher level of existence. Darrol Bryant, a professor emeritus of religious studies at UW’s Renison College, gave examples of how his extensive travelling and exposure to differing religions and cultures allowed him to gain a deep connection to his own spirituality.

“Every question has built into it the word quest,” he began. “Every question presupposes some kind of quest to find the answer to that question.” Bryant’s quest for knowledge and understanding imparted on the audience the need for introspective thinking in addition to outward acceptance of difference.

Looking ahead to future years, SHEN intends to organize more conferences on the universality of spirituality, and is also working toward creating curricula for this type of dialogue that could hopefully be introduced at a university level.

Meanwhile, the organization will continue to work in accordance with its mission “to provide easy access to the thinking and findings of people who have spent their lives studying the nature of humankind and its relationships in the universe.”