Almost all religious or spiritual communities in the so-called Western world are experiencing a decline in permanent members. If we want to approach the question of the significance of spiritual groups today, it seems to be central to first consider the reasons for the growing rejection of religious institutions and spiritual groups by the modern individual. We would like to start by suggesting four possible reasons for this development.
The first reason is that today in the Western countries, despite the present special situation, there is unprecedented social security which goes hand in hand with psychological security and far-reaching personal societal freedoms. This situation opens up more and more opportunities for expressing outwardly personal individuality. The experience of living out of individuality, on the other hand, leads psychologically to a greatly reduced attraction to fixed, collective spiritual communities and narratives.
Another consideration might be that not more than 20 years ago only a few groups were known and accessible to a person while today, potentially every spiritual group in the world is findable online with a few clicks. There is today, therefore, an online visibly seamless spectrum of religious groups with their world views and teachings. As a result, the formerly appearing unique selling point of a group – as it presented itself in the “analogous” age – is being blurred in today’s information age. There are today, therefore, less pronounced reasons for joining a particular community accompanied by an excess of options for choice. Psychologically, this means that one is more likely not to choose any of the options.
A third reason, which goes hand in hand with the previously mentioned, may be that, in today’s information age, religious institutions have lost their monopoly on religious knowledge and its interpretation, which they still held in the last century. Today, knowledge is no longer centralized and tied to institutions, but can be accessed online at any time and in a decentralised manner. People are increasingly coming into situations in which they can instantly acquire the knowledge that they need and in which they are interested by themselves. At this level as well, spiritual communities and institutions are, therefore, losing significance.
A final point could also be the increasing social and psychological dominance of modern science. This leads arguably to the fact that people are increasingly rejecting outdated or inconsistent worldviews of many religious communities and are fundamentally critical of approaches such as “believe” and “spiritual authority”.
An approach to find an answer
So, what is the future of spiritual groups and what significance does a spiritual group have today?
If we want to find out together what the meaning and potential of a spiritual group is – in the deepest sense of the word – we must approach this question completely unbiased: free from all assumptions, all belief, all narratives, all tradition, all imagination, all past. Is that possible for us? For we will only live up to the creative dimension that potentially lies in such a group if we allow our question to take us beyond all that we know and what we have thought. So, we ought not to start from the known. Only then can the first step be completely new. The first step is asking the question.
Therefore, if we inquire into this question, we are not doing it based on speculation or by derivation from knowledge. We do it on the basis of the irrevocable vitality of this question. And so, we all stand together on the same ground which is a vital not-knowing and questioning.
If we meet at this level, then we are able to ask, as it were, in one spirit. Hence, this question does not arise in many, separate individuals, but rises in life itself, in the space that opens up between us.
The deepest common ground of a group
Standing together in such a way, we realize that the deepest common ground of a group is not its knowledge, its opinions, or narratives, but the simplicity of mutual inquiry in not-knowing. In the simplicity of vital not-knowing, the superficial separation between individuals is being taken away and the group is led back to its common essence.
To dwell on a question that is born out of not-knowing and to explore it in pure awareness without answering it has immense power. It is pure beauty when a group has this insight standing in their midst in complete clarity. However, of course, not as a learned knowledge, but as a structural quality, which has grown in each participant due to mutual inquiry and insight, an insight that arises in the same way from the ground of not-knowing and silent observation.
Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) makes an interesting remark on this aspect in his speech “On Not-Knowing”. And although he seems to be addressing the individual in the following quote, his words also apply to a group of people, or even humanity:
To execute an inner act, a man must withdraw all his powers as if into a corner of his soul where, hiding away from all images and forms, he can act. Here, he must come to a forgetting and a not-knowing. There must be a stillness and a silence for this [eternal] Word to be heard. We cannot serve this [eternal] Word better than in stillness and in silence: there we can hear it, and there too we will understand it aright – in the not-knowing. To him who knows nothing it appears and reveals itself.
So, if we as a group stand on this ground of not-knowing, we can ask what the significance of a spiritual group is in today’s time. Then we have a completely receptive mind, a mind that is unbound, that is not afraid that the living movement of the response, which is born of the inner question, could contradict one’s own view. In fact, such a mind is free from any view. This means that the possibility of feeling threatened by truth has ended in pure awareness.
If we have now come so far by inquiring together, we can ask: What is the significance of a truly spiritual group in today’s time?
When we ask this question, we realise that the answer to that question does not lie in the realm of content. We realize that there is only a fluent, vital, wordless response to it in the realm of the spirit in which man can partake. This response is not expressing itself within certain limits. It is a holistic, undivided movement. A group that is able to ask this question is like one ear, like one resonant body that is receptive. And in this receptiveness, in this hearing, in this resonating, the truth of the answer is directly manifested on a certain level into force and thus action. The related creative energy is freed and acts out of its own timeless quality on all other levels of being.
Master Eckhart continues in the same speech:
For as boundless as God is in giving, so is the soul in hearing or receiving. And just as God is omnipotent in action, so the soul is an abyss of taking, and therefore she is reshaped with God and in God. God shall act and the soul shall receive, he shall know and love himself in the soul, she shall know with his knowledge, and love with his love […].
(to be continued in part 2)
 Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow, Harper; Illustrated Edition (2017), ISBN-10: 1910701882
 See also “Paradox-of-Choice”
 Meister Eckhart – Sermon 2 – On Not-Knowing (Vom Unwissen)