For many, the tangible, perceivable physical world is the essential if not the only reality. It is the most reliable and verifiable reality. It can be measured, quantified, calculated, its properties and forces computed and understood. For some, the answers to all questions can be found in the realities of the physical universe.
Even for those who recognize an extra-physical dimension to existence - even a spiritual dimension - physical reality is experienced as most real.
Since humanity began to think in abstractions, to speculate about the reasons and meaning of things, there have been those who hold that the material dimension is the core of reality while others have asserted that it is the essence of unreality.
There has been an ongoing set of ideas that there is a fundamental dichotomy between the spiritual and the material. Some see the material as corrupting the spirit. Another view has been that the material confines the spirit; the spirit must free itself from the material. Yet other views hold that the material is a mirage, a delusion which the spirit must relinquish.
On the other side many see the factual reality of the physical universe as the only rational reality, the only logical truth. That which is attributed to spirit is explained through the functions of natural physical processes. Scientific inquiry, for the materialist, verifies the fundamental reality of the laws governing the physical universe and that is the beginning and end of reality as such.
Strict materialists argue that there can be no spirit or spiritual dimension in a purely physical universe. However, there is actually no logical necessity that the reality of the material dimension of life prohibits the reality of a spiritual dimension. The natural processes of the physical universe have produced life out of non-living elements and increasing levels of consciousness through evolutionary development. And human consciousness has evolved ever more complex awareness of inner states of being. The natural progression makes the evolution of spirit not only plausible but logically consistent with the known functioning of the natural processes of the physical universe.
For those who believe in the reality of spirit, there is also no necessity to regard spirit in opposition to materiality. If materiality has emerged from the absolute Reality that is God, then it cannot be other than real. Coming from God, it must partake in the nature of God, which is reality itself. Physical reality is as much a part of the divine existence as is the spirit. One cannot deny physical reality without denying God from whom it emerges.
The physical universe is the crucial medium, the vehicle for the evolution of consciousness. It provides the conditions which foster and bring us into full human consciousness. The physical universe is the womb and the nursery in which consciousness and spirit emerge and evolve. It nurtures, supports, and encourages the development of consciousness, soul, spirit.
The material aspect of life is real, it's just not the only or even the most important of the many different realities. It does not stand alone or apart from the realities of consciousness and spirit but is interwoven and interdependent with them. Consciousness could not have emerged in living things without the long journey of evolution through physical forms in the physical universe. The spirit would not be able to manifest from consciousness except for the experiences of our physical life in the physical universe.
The reality of the material dimension of the universe is not an absolute but a relative reality; it is contingent, qualified. Rather than an unlimited reality, it is limited to what can be observed and recognized by the physical human senses and conceptualized by the human mind. It is, never-the-less, an extremely powerful reality. And though the fully conscious human mind is capable of apprehending, conceptualizing, and experiencing multiple non-physical realities, it is the physical reality which is the primary, if not exclusive, object of our consciousness.
It is not necessary to reject the material in order to enhance the spiritual. Physical reality will naturally create conditions that incite increasing development of spiritual awareness. For those interested in the spiritual dimension of life, the key is simply to keep physical reality in second place. Think of it as a means rather than an end. This is difficult because physical reality has a tremendous hold on our conscious awareness due to the continual and overwhelming barrage of sensory input and the complex mental conceptual universe generated to interact with physical reality. Also our own individual physical forms produce reactions and urges in response to the material environment which can dominate our consciousness and drive our choices and our experience of life.
It helps to keep reminding ourself that "it's just the material world; it's delightful and infuriating; it's miraculous and it's devastating; it's tedious and gorgeous and frightening and unbelievable, but in the end it's not what matters most." The more we remind ourselves and teach ourselves to look at it for what it is, experience its good and bad, and look beyond the physical reality for the meaning and purpose of life, the more the physical will become what it is, a vehicle, a means to an end - no more than that.