The Van Bruggen Interview on Spiritual Freedom

Chet, thank you very much for agreeing on this interview.

Q: I have read you have a background in engineering. Now you are what I call an earth warrior, someone who stands for nature. At first sight they are separate, for engineering you use a lot of the earth’s resources after all. What caused the shift for you?

A: Engineers employ system control theory to analyze complex systems. The shift from engineering to sociological/environmental issues occurred when I began applying control theory to the human condition. As a result, I looked at the life of our species as a complex system, with the brain as its controller. When applying control theory to the issues that face us, it didn’t take long to realize that our attempt to control the distant future by force of instituted law cannot possibly work. It’s like trying to back a long train of two wheeled trailers—there are too many interdependent variables, causing the train to fold up on itself. This illustrates, from the perspective of control theory, why all civilizations eventually collapse. I then focused on what inspired humans to make the mistake of trying to control the future in the first place. That effort culminated in my book, Eden – Regaining our Spiritual Freedom. Eden is its title because, in my view, we expelled ourselves from the metaphorical Garden of Eden—from our natural state of being—by imposing social and material contracts in order to realize our designs on imagined futures.

Q: What is the connection between spirituality and nature for you?

A: Human emotions express the human spirit. These emotions include love, anger, romance, acceptance, grief, the sense of sharing, celebration, finding beauty in Nature, being loyal, and sacrificing, to name a few. Without human emotions, the human spirit would not exist. For example, people suffering from serious dementia lose more than just their memory. They eventually lose their emotions. Though physically alive, spiritually they are no longer with us. Our emotions, like our bodies, evolved as expressions of Nature for the purpose of enabling our species to flourish in the natural world. The connection between spirituality and nature is: Our spirits are as fundamental expressions of the natural world as are our bodies. The spirit is expressed in the subjective domain; the body in the material domain. Being revealed by feelings, the spirit cannot be seen; it can only be experienced. If, because of a brain dysfunction, I were unable to experience intimacy or empathy, then I would have no way to know what you meant by those terms.

Q: From your synopsis I see that you encourage people to have a 360 vision, to look beyond religion and science and ideologies. What is the main benefit from this?

A: I will answer this indirectly. Though indirect, the benefit of not being dependent on the promises offered by religion, science, and ideology will be evident in my answer.

In our natural state—in Eden—humans lived in extended families bonded by their natural need for one another. Being dependent on one another for material resources, safety, and identity, they lived in a state of relational intimacy though which they had the sense of being as one with their surroundings, with one another, and with all time. They found spiritual fulfillment in the intimacy of interdependent relationships. Other than simple stories they used to explain such things as their origins, they had no need for religion, science, or ideology. Though at times they would have faced conflict and natural disasters, for the most part they had everything they needed, including one another.

Relational intimacy is something that you and I, as dependents of law and money, seldom, if ever, experience. Instead of living in intimacy, we exist in a state of spiritual estrangement. Once dependent on the law, instead of on one another, humans adapt to the pain of spiritual alienation by turning to religion, science, and ideologies for a sense of purpose, commitment, and direction. However, these entities are not real, meaning they are not expressions of Nature. They are artificial constructs humans have created; in effect, tools we employ to overlook the pain of spiritual alienation by transferring the significance of our lives from the moment into the future. The consequence is: We seek spiritual fulfillment mostly in the future, sometimes even in the hereafter, instead of in the present where our distant ancestors lived.

Our expulsion from Eden—the securing our lives in money and law, instead in extended family and communal relationships—represents more than just a different way of life. It resulted in a paradigm shift in reality. In Eden we took care of life, and allowed ourselves to be taken care of by life, by gifting our brothers and sisters with our presence, concerns and unique skills, as they likewise gifted us. Since Eden, we spend our lives pursuing our personal happiness by trying to find it in wealth and privilege. But our spiritual needs can be satisfied only through interdependent relationships. Those who lived in Eden may have appeared materially deprived, relative to us—at least a fortunate few of us. But they had something that cannot be seen. It can only be experienced, which is the happiness of relational intimacy.

Q: There still are people who think that global warming is a myth, and nothing is happening, and we should live on as we always did, abusing the earth. What is your message to them?

A: What humans believe is not based on facts, historical or otherwise, but on our dependencies and our fears. Through the brain’s amazing ability to adapt, we are subconsciously blinded, not only to environmental destruction, but also to the failure of civil rule, both present and historical. This isn’t due to evil, dysfunction, or lack of intelligence. It is because, when dependent on money and law, such blindness is necessary for our peace of mind.

Though, like many others, I believe we are denaturing our environment, I am participating in the destruction as much as anyone. I am distressed by this role. But I don’t blame myself, nor anyone else. As dependents of money and law, not only are we deprived of relational intimacy, and thus also of the moment, but our way of life requires that we participate in environmental destruction for the sake of our personal survival. We can hardly blame anyone for doing what is necessary to survive, or for believing whatever is necessary to have peace of mind.

Q: Do you feel there is still a chance to turn this all around? How can we, for instance, inspire the youth today that change is needed?

A: I do not know whether it can be turned around. However, I feel that doing so will require that we be true to Nature as expressed through the human spirit, instead of to our designs on imagined futures. This is true even if our designs on the future include fixing the environment. As material and spiritual expressions of Nature, we are its subjects, not its masters, no matter how much comfort we take in believing otherwise.

This means we must regain our natural state of being by trusting our lives to a body of people. With our wellbeing dependent on the wellbeing of our brothers and sisters, we will be as concerned for their needs as we are for our own. Having found happiness and purpose in intimacy, instead of trying to find it in wealth and privilege, our need for material resources will be minuscule compared to now. Should enough of us return to being true to Nature, as expressed through the human spirit, the planet will heal itself.

Q: What is the first simple step to a more sustainable life? How can you inspire my readers to take it?

A: There is only one step to take: We must anchor our lives in relationships, instead of money and law, for our own sakes, as well as the planet’s. Regardless of how difficult regaining our spiritual freedom might seem, my hope is that there exists a few people who might want to think about it. They can check out my website at where they will find excerpts from Eden, as well as new essays on the subject that I frequently post. Eden is available at Amazon in both hard copy and electronic form.

Keep in mind, regaining our spiritual freedom doesn’t require that the whole human race regains theirs. It requires only a body of people who believe in one another—that is, who believe in the human spirit as expressed through their brothers and sisters. Should spiritual freedom begin happening it might spread quickly, much more quickly than we can now imagine. When others see what is going on they will want to be a part of it, in which case they will be inspired to seek out their soul brothers and sisters.

The inspiration for regaining our spiritual freedom is: Only by trusting our future to the human spirit, as embodied by a band of brothers and sisters, can we live in the moment. When not alive to the moment, we’re not really alive. We are just waiting around for something real to happen.

Q: What is the one message you want everyone to carry with them from your book?

A: There are two, actually. As a result of reading Eden, I would like people to realize there is no cause to blame. Since the moment we expelled ourselves from Eden, we have scapegoated, even demonized one another in order to whitewash our institutions. This attitude so permeates the post-Eden reality that the major world religions proclaim that humans are born in sin. But the people who lived in Eden did not see themselves as sinful, and if we should regain our spiritual freedom by trusting our lives to the human spirit, instead of to money and law, we won’t see ourselves as being possessed by sin either—indeed, quite the opposite. We will celebrate the emotional and material beings that Nature created in us.

One other thought: No matter how remote or impractical spiritual freedom may seem to us now, there is another way of life available to us that is sustainable and through which know one another’s real selves, instead of the personae we have taken on to survive a world ruled by money and law. To embrace it, however, requires that we return to our spiritual homes, homes that serve both our material and our spiritual needs

Thanks for this interview, your concerns about the environment, and your thoughtful questions. I wish the best to you and your readers.

I will leave you with two thoughts. The first one mine, and then one from the Dalai Lama.


If life is what is important to us, then we are all losers. None of us, including eventually even our species, are getting out of this alive. If love is what is important to us, then we are all winners, but only if we re-establish relationships in which the wellbeing of those around us is as important to us as our own.



When asked what surprised him most about humanity, the Dalai Lama said, “He [humanity] is so anxious about the future, that he does not enjoy the present, the result being that he does not live in the present or the future, but lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”



Have a wonderful day,

Sylvia van Bruggen