Pierre Teilhard du Chardin's indispensable insight regarding the nature of mortal human experience always springs to mind whenever I find myself contemplating the meaning of "life, the universe, and everything." The insight is incredibly straightforward, which means it is strangely susceptible to being misunderstood.
Those who pursue spiritual aims often regard the material world in which human experience happens as essentially wicked and worthless. As such, the material world and physical human experience must be ruthlessly separated from the spiritual if the spiritual aspect of ourselves is to remain pure, whole, and unsullied.
This appears to be the general attitude of those who adopt the "human beings having spiritual experiences" approach to human existence -- an approach which tends to believe that the divine can only be valued when all that is human about us in this time and place is consciously devalued.
Although this "humans having spiritual experiences" approach to mortal life is vastly superior to a purely materialist/atheistic approach that rejects spiritual reality altogether, I can’t help but feel it misses the mark when it comes to the "reality" of human experience within spiritual reality. It misses the mark by undervaluing and underestimating the role human experience plays in the development of what we truly are -- spiritual beings.
One potential pitfall of the “human beings having spiritual experiences” is the motivation to denigrate lowly, “fallen” human experience in favor of pursuing a higher “spiritual experience” in mortal life. Within this conceptualization, the human being I am and the human experience I am having is devalued against the spiritual being I have – by the grace of God – the potential to become.
The conceptualization itself is not wrong, but it under-emphasizes one key point – we were spiritual beings before we became human beings, are spiritual beings while we are human beings, and will continue to be spiritual beings after we cease being human beings.
Thus, the purpose of human experience does not reside in aspirations to “become” a spiritual being. After all, there is no need to become what one already is.
Which leads to the following open questions: What kind of spiritual being was I before I became a human being? What kind of human experience must I – as a spiritual being – have in order to spiritually learn what I need to learn? What kind of spiritual being will I be when my human experience ends?
We are inherently spiritual beings who have chosen to have a human experience, which implies that the human experience is an infinitely valuable experience for us to have. Yet the value of the human experience is only properly understood if we know the reality of ourselves as spiritual beings.
If we know the reality of ourselves as spiritual beings, we can begin to understand and focus on those aspects of our human experience that will provide the learning we need to become the kind of spiritual beings we wish to be when our human experience ends in physical death.
If we do not know the reality of ourselves as spiritual beings, we run the risk of pursuing the needless spiritual aim of “becoming” a spiritual being instead of aiming to become a more developed spiritual being.
We also run the risk of turning our human experience into some sort of Matryoshka Doll game in which we constantly strive to remove every level of the “inferior” human experience in order to get to some sort of potentially “superior” spiritual experience.
The genius in Du Chardin’s observation rests not only in the awareness of spiritual beings actively having human experiences, but in the recognition that human experience is something that we, as spiritual beings, wanted to have.
Nevertheless, as du Chardin states, the human experience only becomes meaningful if it is lived by human beings who know themselves to be spiritual beings.