Tuesday, April 25, 2017

In Loving Memory of Robert M. Pirsig | My Plato

Today I say 'Goodbye' to a friend I never met--a mentor I never thanked. A 'Qualified' and beautiful mind who, in sharing his life story, also shared some very deep truths with the world.

Robert M. Pirsig positively changed my life.

Mr. Pirsig has influence many thousands of individuals since he published his semi-autobiographical work "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". As relevant a book today as it was in its first printing in 1974, it literally transcended the generation gap between me an my own father. We've had many great discussions based around Mr. Pirsig's observations of quality, form, and function. I remember seeing that book on my dad's end-table as a child, and thinking that it was literally the owners manual to his Honda Trail 90. I never actually encountered it myself until I was living on my own. After my most recent reading of it, a couple of years ago, it was interesting to share that memory with my dad, and have him announce that it has been too long since he read it. I promptly loaned it to him!

I have always been an avid reader, but up until the ages of 17 - 19, I read mostly fiction. The sort that I knew would interest me, because it always had. Not acknowledging the fact that I chose to read things that came from familiar sources, and that I was, in a way, depriving myself from reading anything that might make me think of the world differently. Isn't it funny? Not knowing what you don't know, and feeling that what you do know is all that matters... At some point, I started to realize the power of writing, and how ideas could be spread like contagion, if one was willing to be exposed to new ways of thinking. Eventually I started really seeking in my reading to learn something new, and gain different perspective. I was looking for answers to very big questions, and just beginning to understand the value of questioning. I was only really considering asking the hard questions in my mind, but I was ready to start that process. Something about challenging my own "givens", was really exciting, and the process of discovering and confronting these little loops in my logic became a sort of pursuit of its own. Just the same, I don't think it would have taken root had I not encountered Pirsig so early in that process. It happened so completely organically, I have to say that it speaks to the power of the book itself. My broad curiosity of philosophy lead me almost directly to that book. I found Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in the tiny philosophy section of a Memphis bookstore, while I was looking for a copy of Sartre's "Existentialism & Human Emotion". I flashed back to seeing my dad's copy. I had dabbled in reading some Taoist philosophy, but still had very little understanding of 'zen', so I thought I would grab a copy for myself. The selection was so very small, and yet this book definitely made their list. It is indispensable to any philosophy canon, no matter how modest. That impulse purchase marked a step onto a path that has changed my life in so many ways, I can honestly say it is impossible to know who I would be today without considering that book's role. I suppose everything one does in life has that potential, but that book-- and its author-- definitely stand out in the course of my life. Literally just last week, I had to verify my identity with Mr. Pirsig's name!

Although I have read the book multiple times, the first reading was so powerful, it was like discovering alchemy. My young mind was as close to tabula rasa as it had ever been. The truths he addressed seemed as tangible and real as gravity itself, and I was astounded at his grasp of it. I was drawn in from the very start, and enjoyed every mile of the ride. It is very difficult for me to really put a finger on how I choose the books I read. Sometimes, I read books just to be able to check them off a list, and be able to say "I've read that". Some books, I feel accomplished with each page I finish. Sometimes a book will speak to me so loudly that I know I must read it, even when I have no idea why. This book was like that. I bought it on impulse, and yet I almost feel that it was put in my hands by the universe itself. I was both excited and intimidated by it. I wanted to read it on one sitting, but I also knew I couldn't ingest it that way. I think it actually cured me of the tendency to speed read. I used to breeze through 400-page books in a matter of hours. But Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is not a book to be engaged with lightly. Though it is Beautiful and poignant, it's not a light read at all. I used to get away with reading very haphazardly. I could be distracted, realize that I had not been paying attention as I read the last page or so, and simply start paying attention without ever feeling that I had missed something. With Zen/tao/mm, I found myself reading very deliberately, and re-reading again to be certain I had not missed anything. It was immersive in that I couldn't allow myself to be distracted, or I would be lost completely. Each line was a line of reason, and to miss something was like jumbling a math formula. I learned to slow down, and I even developed an appreciation for reading at the same speed with which an orator might speak. This may have been my first real experience with mindfulness, and Zen. Slowing down to pay attention-- Relishing the journey, whether a bike trek or "an inquiry into values". And although I don't consider myself an authority on the work, I feel that the recognition and appreciation of quality seems to rest in prolonging the experience of it. If the book had not been one of quality, I would have disengaged from it. But it held my attention, I believe, because of its commensurate (upper-case) Quality.

The impulse to devour the book was balanced by my desire to contend with it. I found myself experiencing a certain sense of elation, as I picked up on the concepts he was addressing. This elation was, in a very real and profound sense, liberation. The type of liberation that Plato spoke of in his Allegory of the Cave. He granted me nothing short of permission to evolve myself as a human being, and own the fact that I am capable of higher reasoning than simply problem-solving my way through life. I was a very self-conscious, introverted, and indoctrinated individual. All these aspects of my upbringing factored into my efforts to re-define myself. I was looking for substance that resonated with truth. I had spent so much effort trying to extract nuggets of truth out of a belief system which had resonated as patently false since my earliest memories. I was in the process of challenging that belief structure, but I really didn't know where to start. Zen gave me a firm foothold in following my own intuition, and not compromising my own senses by blind obedience and deference to authority on the big questions. I remember thinking--repeatedly--"What a brave thing to say....", because I was very afraid of the consequences of thinking for oneself. And yet I was often as incredulous. Ready to argue. In fact I still remember putting the book down because my own thoughts were so rapid and distracting that I had to take time to sort them out-- bounce them off someone else. I identified with his experiences, both as a technician and a 'romantic', and ultimately I guess that bothered me somehow. How could he presume to have anything to teach, when his own process was so riddled with doubt and uncertainty? Did he not admit to being a blue-collar philosopher? At the time it struck me as a paradox of its own... But he had done his due diligence. He had done his homework. And I admired his effort to answer the unanswerable question, if only for himself. And he wasn't forcing his ideology. In fact, if anything I felt that he was talking around it, because he was so delicate in his approach, and thorough in his logic. I was hungry to sink my teeth into the nitty-gritty, the meat and bones of the subject: "what is quality?" I wanted to know! Before, I didn't even know I wanted to know, but now I was obsessed.

His thesis was balanced out with a meditation on the beauty of nature. At times I felt like he was intentionally stringing me along, ending his chapters on a cliff-hanger. He would start to approach the topic directly--occam's razor drawn-- and then, instead of cutting in, he would cut away... A scenic view would absorb his attention, and suddenly describing the expansive landscape became as important as the truth he was questing after, as if it were that truth itself. But it felt like a commercial break. When he returned to his thesis, he was back to treating it in broad strokes, and I wondered if he really knew what he was talking about? Or whether he was going to have a sly cop-out, like the host of Unexplained Mysteries--introducing the topic with a voice authoritative and engaging, but ultimately with little substance to offer the discussion. Sometimes it seemed like it would be impossible for him to 'qualify' his statements, I could almost envision the closing line of the book: '...can we ever know the nature of Quality? Or, like the Bigfoot and the Chupacabra, will it continue to evade the scrutiny of the scientific mind, as it has for ages?'. It was like reading a thriller novel, because it welled up this anxiety in me--"can the question be answered?" my own adolescent insecurity, meshed with my inherent stubbornness, and determination to prove my intelligence were all coming to the surface as I watched Mr. Pirsig put it all on the table. The stakes were so high I marveled that he was so cool and collected. That's what was so engrossing about it. I had so much respect for someone who could be frank about his own struggles and doubts, and yet so confident of himself to take on such a tremendous question as the nature of quality. He went about it by asking a question, thinking aloud, and then questioning his thought process to determine if he was being reasonable, or delusional. Witnessing that process was such a powerful experience. I had a strong background in arguing a point from within a given set of prescribed credenda, without considering any other position-- always from trying to argue for the truth of a belief that was predetermined to be true. A sort of feigned reasoning, which prohibited scrutiny, and instead demanded that the mind align to the concept. I was pretty good at doubting my doubt, and affirming something hard to believe. But I was altogether novice as scrutinizing, criticizing or challenging. I had always been taught that I had the truth, and that it was merely a process of accepting it, and incorporating it. But here was an authentic process of seeking truth. Here was someone sloughing off the desire to align his beliefs with those of a certain community (academia), or the world at large, or even his close friends. I was recognizing my own thought patterns. In ways completely separate from the topic, I was expanding my own mind. I was starting to see myself in that process.
 It was kind of perplexing for me to have to wonder to what extent he was aware that his writing could have this effect. Like a hypnotist, he was guiding the stream of thoughts entering my mind. Every so often, his words would seem irrefutably to confirm that he knew my thoughts. Like Poe's Detective Dupin, he was remotely observing my thoughts, and intimately relaying them to me. It was fascinating and off-putting at the same time. And what is more, he never assumed authority. He beckoned me to listen, but he didn't prescribe dogma. He invited me to think for myself, to discover my own truth. Ultimately, in inviting me along on his 'Chatauqua', he managed to acquaint me with the intention required to approach the unquantifiable-- a certain sense of humility, and caution. But also a certainty that I was capable of arriving at the Truth. It was as if he were asking the question as a mental exercise, and that in following along, it was as if he was intentionally exercising my mind as well. That he was asking questions that would demand that I turn introspective, and challenge my own assumptions. It was as if he was in my mind more than I had been, tapping the dilapidated rafters along a mineshaft and asking "think this could withstand an earthquake?" And each tap rumbled and reverberated, as if it might start that earthquake! I realized I had been relying on faith-- simply hoping my supports were sufficient, and that I would know when I struck the truth, because it would be self-evident, self-justifying, and entirely worth the risk. I was learning to appreciate the slow and deliberate means of getting to the gold. I had to be meticulous in setting my support beams if I wanted to survive the process of mining deeper understanding.

Aside from being absorbed by the philosophy of Zen and (TAO) Motorcycle Maintenance, I was inspired by his writing itself. Perhaps not fully auto-biographical, his writing dealt directly with his personal struggle with a mental illness. Phaedrus, the ghost in the story, seemed to haunt his future as much as his past. It left me wondering about my own mental health. Since I identified so much with his feelings of being an outsider, of being in some ways too committed to the truth for my own good, I wondered to what extent I could trust that I was not, or might not become, certifiably insane. In the process of that first reading, I started to wonder if I should look to him like a coach, because it seemed that he had some great insights to offer in the ways of coping with mental illness. Looking back, I understand that it was just a lot of insecurity that made me anxious that I was losing my mind. That is to say, "losing my mind" was a fear I had, because of the repercussions associated. Homelessness, ostracization from society, family, friends... Nowadays I am not so much concerned with being homeless, being an outsider, having a small group of close friends, because I have a better sense of self, in any case. Homelessness is not actually such a bad thing if one can choose it... But it was a pretty scary thought to me back then, and I thought it was incredibly brave for him to be so forthright about his own struggle, risking rejection by sharing his truth. I feel like witnessing that actually served to calm my anxiety a lot, and that ability to relax my mind may very well have saved me from having a mental breakdown. The fact that I can be so frank about it now is interesting to me, because I find myself wanting to explain this aspect all the more, and my only worry that I have is that someone will be offended because they think I am treating it *too* lightly. The fact is, I have had several life-changing mental breakdowns. Perhaps not schizophrenic, or dissociative, but none-the-less world-shattering.  And while I am tremendously grateful that I have never been clinically diagnosed, let alone treated, I don't doubt at all that I could have had a very similar experience to his in similar circumstances. Maybe the extremity of his experience is lost on me (I don't know the intimate details, or extent of his treatments, only what is relayed in his story, and short "about the author" bio...) But the term 'coincidence' can't convey how directly I attribute Mr. Pirsig's story with my own sense of self, and trusting my own mind. I felt that his story was not an admission of weakness so much as a demonstration of strength, and seeing that allowed me to be more confident in my own ability to overcome my dark nights of the soul, when I wasn't sure I could handle another day in my own skin. Not to dwell on this too much, but this goes well beyond teenage angst, and even 'haunts' me today in many ways, but I can always see light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing that one could overcome such trials dealing directly with one's sense of reality, and reasoning, and then go on to become a powerful teacher in that same field--reason--, allowed me to trust myself more. I was 19 when I first read "Zen...", and I took for granted how very little I actually knew of the world. I feel fortunate to have latched onto such a great mind. Pirsig holds a special place for me, to the extent that I regard him as my own personal Plato.  believe that Plato was describing a man such as Robert Pirsig as the one who ventured into the light of day, and returned endeavoring to teach the rest of us.He asked all the right questions to help me discover the answers I sought. He shared with me his descent into the darkness, his adventure into the light, and he did his very best to relate that in a way I could understand. I The truth is, that we all sell ourselves short. We are all capable of much more, and often we simply need the insight and guidance of someone who has had to prove themselves to themselves as well. This process is an intricate part of being human, and as we find ourselves in different stages of our journey, we discover that we have been the willfully blind, the trusting pupil, the bold rebel, and even the concerned teacher... We are all in a struggle of escaping the cave of our own minds. The human experience *is* that journey. I will always be grateful to Robert M. Pirsig for demonstrating the beauty in that process.
Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Tao: Each Winding Path Still Leads to God

If you have lurked around this blog much at all, then you already know that I am rather long-winded when discussing religion, spirituality, dogma, personal truth... Yet I can never seem to say enough about it.

I could probably stand to write less about the tenets of faith that do not resonate with me, and say more about those that do. This is an honest attempt at doing just that. To my friends of my former faith, I must seem to have "gone off the deep end". In some ways, perhaps I have. I have had quite a lot of different experiences since I made my final exit from my "native religion".

Things have become much less concrete in my own mind. Some tell me that that is a dangerous way to go about this thing we call "morality". Some have even invoked the sentiment of children's hymns, which refer to the foolishness of "building a house upon sand".... I can't find words in those instances to help them understand that their is no allegory for my beliefs in their catechism. In fact, I bite my tongue at the urge to comment on the rigidity of their belief system, and how like a tomb I found the edifices "built upon the rock". Living water laps at the sands of time, and we all would do well to ponder our impermanence in this world. I feel like humanity would experience much more compassion, empathy, gratitude, love... perhaps even with an urgency that would allow them to shrug off formality and tradition, which, in that mansion on the mount, only seem to steer us to expend our energy perpetually cleaning away the cobwebs from the seldom used chambers of our hearts.

 It wasn't as much a conscious choice as many suspect, this process of leaving my inherited religious tradition behind. It grew, much like many other proverbial seeds, from the fertile desire of my heart to understand God. I wanted to understand God, so I could understand my purpose. And hopefully, that understanding would lead to an understanding of myself. I committed myself to "Truth", thinking that this must be the most concrete evidence of God. I reasoned (yet whimsically) that a trail of lowercase truth must lead to God, but if not God (I acknowledged that I didn't actually know if it was true that God could be found), then absolute Truth must lie at the end of this path.... I soon found that paths of lowercase truths spiral—fractal-like—from an epicenter, which is the observer himself. That is to say, truth is found everywhere. If it is a path, it is not designed with a single destination. It is not a path to the gates of heaven. But, as I would begin to understand many years later, that doesn't mean that every truth doesn't lead to the throne of God.

I wandered on many paths paved of little truths, and they seemed to be taking me in circles. Gradually, though, I began to see that I was expanding out from my central, familiar, territory of spirituality. I was taking longer and longer treks into the unknown world around me. When I finally began to trust that these paths were not leading me to certain doom, I began to trust myself to explore them more deeply. It took a lot for me to shake off the idea that if the path was not "Straight and narrow", then it was certainly not "The" path.

Eventually, I found myself on paths that took me so far from my initial concept of God, that I could look back on it, and with a wider perspective, it seemed so infinitesimally small that I had to wonder to myself how I ever thought God could be contained in such a space, when clearly there was more to understand about creation than I could ever begin to fathom. Feeling rather small myself, I would give up on the aspiration to know God, and I would come home like a prodigal son, begging for bread and water at the altars I was most familiar with.

I didn't necessarily consider my interest in other philosophies to be entailed in my search for God, I was simply fascinated by the variety of cultures around the world. I was probably about 16 when I started learning about Zen Buddhism. But it would be another decade before I really began to understand even the most basic tenets of a Zen lifestyle. Along with an interest in asian culture came all the cliche accessories: I got into zen gardens, feng shui, yoga... I have to say, making these things a "hobby" actually stunted my understanding of their nature for a long time. If I had studied them with the understanding that dedicated practitioners find fulfillment in them, I might have been open to more of the effects from the beginning. But I treated them as quaint, and I was almost embarrassed for people to know that I was into "asian culture". It made me feel insecure. Especially the looks I would get when I would flip coins to come up with answers to any number of questions or quandaries... "you don't believe God answers your prayers, but you believe that he controls the coins to give you... a pattern?"

Fast forward several years. I had rejected dogmatic religion completely, "emancipated" myself from the culture of Mormonism, endured all the self-inflicted loss and hardship that anyone might endure when removing themselves from such a "lifestyle". I was bitter, and I had given up on God altogether. Like a trail of dominoes, my life had toppled and tumbled in all directions. I found myself ready to die alone, quite literally, in the cold. I thought about how I had gotten there, and could not deny that it was my own stubbornness that had led me to that place. But I also could not deny that to deny that stubbornness would have been to betray my own sense of what was right. I didn't feel regret. I mostly just felt sorry for myself. I was ready to die as a martyr for my own cause. I visited the edge of death, and came away with an undeniable knowledge that God was still out there. I could no longer identify as an Atheist, and yet this God experience was unlike any form or philosophy I had ever heard of before. I came away from my near-death experience believing in the Bible (the truth truly is stranger than fiction!), and yet my belief was that the truths in it were found in the most unlikely passages.... I became my own walking contradiction. I was "born again", but in a way that I had never heard of before... It was very confusing, because none of this had anything to do with a return to some previous truth. It was all brand new knowledge, not just a better understanding of something I had been taught before....

Suddenly, that pattern that I had began to see so many years before was right in front of me at all hours of the day. Little truths that spiraled out away from me, and into me, in infinite fractal beauty. Terms that I had been so fixated on before, I could now see simply as names for God in a beautiful and dynamic, living poem. Every sound in all of creation is simply the voice of God, even that which emanates from my lungs, and yours.

For so much of my life, I felt that when things were going "wrong", it was because of some failure on my part, and that I could have avoided it by being more knowledgeable, or humble, or studious. I had been told that I knew where to find "the answers", and the scriptures had been presented as some sort of Operators Manual—if only I had taken the time to read, and refer. Now I saw the scriptures in a much different light. I had been toying with the concept that "prophet" was more closely translated to "poet" than "mouthpiece of God", but now I could see the pattern plain as day. Holy scripture is that which resonates with the soul. And it resonates with the soul because it is truth. But scripture doesn't speak any more truth than each of us may share with the world from within ourselves. The patterns....
Immortalized in written word, the experiences of men and nations from millenia ago still speak to us today, because we feel and encounter the same reality as they.

I remember when I was deep into my inherited religious traditions... scripture study and memorization were a part of my daily life. When I felt that I needed a scripture for myself, and not just to meet my assigned quota of verses for Seminary, I would hold my bible (or "quad") closed between my palms, the binding resting on the table, and let of flop open. I would start reading wherever I felt an impulse to. I was perpetually astounded by the relevance I would find for whatever given quandary I was struggling with. It was as if some unseen hand had thumbed the pages in an instant so I would read exactly the verse that I did, Little miracles. "Tender mercies", we called them. Once my brother had an ear infection, and thought that reading the scriptures might help (whether to pass the time he had a baked onion steaming on his ear, or in an effort to please God into healing him... I don't know.) He utilized this method, and the verse that he came upon began "behold, the lord hath opened up mine ear..."

Indeed. I felt like my ears had been opened. Every time I heard someone quote scripture, a completely different understanding than I had been taught would somehow reverberate in my head. The pattern... it was always there. Most of the time, it was an uplifting message, and I would feel immense peace. But quite often, the words I was hearing simply did not ring true. There was something wrong with them altogether. They were contrived. They were full of fearmongering, and reeked of the devious purposes of Man. They referred to barbaric traditions that were being sold as God's good news. Human sacrifice. Justified spilling of innocent blood. Murder. I still don't prefer to hear more than a few verses of Christian doctrine, because I get sick when I hear "worthy is the lamb" "drink... the blood of Christ" etc. A man was brutally killed for his beliefs, and all around the world today, people say "there was no other way..." and then follow it up with a semblance of the act of drinking blood. I reel at the words of the hymns that are played before this ritual is carried out. It only takes a vague familiarity with the circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus to understand that these hymns are oh so obliquely acknowledging, justifying, and reverencing an act of murder by the will of the people.

It is strange that these books are more widely accepted in society than so many others which share the same truths. I found the I Ching to be one such book. And whats better, is that you get all the little moral lessons without all of the glorification of war (yes, it speaks of it, even justifies it, but it never glorifies it) and without all the accounts of favoritism by God. What the I Ching is, is the pattern. It is a collection of 64 iconic experiences in every human life "loss" "gain" "struggle" "humbling" "waiting" "peace"... etc. These are meditations whereby if one is able to find and identify their own moral character, they may act mindfully in any scenario that life might throw at them. Taoism is an exercise in impartiality. I used to look at iconic chinese depictions of the tao, and try to figure out where i should be more balanced in order to attain or maintain the path. but i never could see clearly what I needed to shoot for. I still can't most times. But I have learned a few things about Yin and Yang. They are the delusions which draw us away from a zen nature. They are also the elements of the dualistic reality we each experience. The I Ching is an ancient approximation of the flow of these two ethereal energies. Perhaps it is just coincidence, but there seems to be that same "tender mercy" aspect to random readings of this book with an element of chance. In fact, that is how it was designed to be read.

If you ever tried the "flop and read" method to scripture study, and found it meaningful and insightful beyond reasonable coincidence.... It is much the same concept with the I Ching. Only, imagine that instead of simply flopping the good book open, you roll dice to get an indication of the page number you should read. The idea is, that if God is involved in turning the pages of your bible to the particular message that you might need to hear, then he may be just as present in turning the dice to give you the page number. Do you believe that God would do this with one book and not another?
What would be the all-loving purpose of restricting his influence to one book, out of the millions upon millions throughout the world? I just can't see the arbitrary line in the sand... To me, even the lines in the sand are just grains of the supreme reality anyway. The nature of the line is the same as the nature found on both sides of it. Why do we seek God only in certain buildings, in the words of certain people, or certain books? I continue to find God *everywhere* I seek.

Thanks for Reading

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Stewards of Consciousness"

This weekend me and a few friends took some time to go camping in southern Utah, in the vast rocky expanses of desert surrounding Goblin Valley. The following are some of the thoughts that came to me while we camped at the foot of a truly majestic rock formation, in a place that, in all likelihood, offered the same protection from the sun for ancient peoples like the Anasazi or Pueblo Indians.

We were exploring the San Rafael Swell, and drinking in the sun. I just recently rigged myself out with all kinds of new (to me) camping gear. This was my first actual camping trip of the year (not counting the overnighter just a few miles from my house; it was just to to get my pack organized). As we wandered and pondered the ages of all the rocks and trees, it was hard not to let my thoughts drift back, once again, to the 'cave' people who once occupied these stomping grounds. The Anasazi creation narrative, as I have heard it, is that they emerged from the Earth, they climbed to the surface from within the womb of mother Earth. In their temples, called 'Kivas', which resemble longhouses sunken in the earth, they practiced rituals which symbolically represent their creation, and when they were done, they would emerge through a hole in the roof, with a ladder leading out onto the surface of the earth, as a symbol of their 'birth' into what they called the Fourth World (the belly of the earth being the Third World). Then, suddenly they disappeared. They left their dwellings high in the cliff walls riddled with the tools of everyday life, and vanished without a trace. Even today, we don't really know what happened to them. Some hold that they re-entered the Earth because of the threat of invading European cultures. Some even say that they will emerge again someday, and reclaim their land that was lost to them over 600 years ago.... I wonder what ancient traditions they will bring back with them, or will they have to re-learn how to survive in the sun?

Also scattered throughout the swell, are remnants of petrified forests, which were ancient even in the time of the Anasazi, who used the hardy material for making tools and weapons much like the flint, chert and obsidian blades of other ancient natives. I had read a little tutorial on how to find geodes, and as we wandered through the winding canyon, I kept an eye out for cauliflower-texture, clam-shaped rocks to test my luck. Finally, I spotted one, and sure enough it had a small pocket of crystals! A dark, caked mud inside the cavity tumbled around as the smell of petroleum wafted out of the little pocket. I guess you could say I 'struck oil' as well.

I began to notice the remnants of an even more ancient population of this area: Dinosaurs. I tried to imagine what life on earth must have been like at that time, but the task was largely beyond my imagination. However, I was humbled by the vast body of time in which life on Earth has been in flux. Sediment, filled with little pebbles which had perhaps once been boulders, long since eroded down to their 'pits', and eventually washed into this natural mortar, forming new layers of earth, only to be broken into more boulders which even now are in the process of being washed down those ancient slot canyons, chipping away at the floors and walls, and continuing a process which has been ongoing since time out of mind. I imagined the scale on which grazing and defecating took place when behemoth herbivores roamed the area, before it became desolate desert, before the Earth began a new phase of life on her surface.

That night, as the mice scurried in the shadows of the campfire, hoping to snag a scrap or crumb from our outdoor, covered kitchen, I mused at the idea that these little mammals have been around for a long, long time. In fact, evolutionists say that it was the scurrying, digging mammals which survived the catastrophic weather which wiped the dinosaurs out of existence. The new landscape left by the asteroids required adaptation. New diets, new survival tactics. Some say that these little rodents gave rise to humanity itself. So perhaps the Anasazi really did emerge from the Earth afterall? Whether you believe in evolution, or divine creation, the fact remains; there would be no human consciousness if not for the nurturing aid of Mother Earth. Humanity would like to take credit for their ability to cultivate the Earth, and thereby sustain itself. But the fact of the matter is, that Earth is actually cultivating humanity.

Whether you believe in God or the Big Bang, here we are. Humanity is the pinnacle of creation on this planet. We are what I have come to call "Stewards of Consciousness". We have been blessed with intelligence, and it is our duty to protect and to cultivate it. We are responsible, both collectively and individually, for building a body of knowledge, exploring the realm of experience, engaging in dialogue about the issues that press humanity, and above all, to pass this process on to a new generation.

This process of "cultivating consciousness"—this shared responsibility between humans and our planet—has been ongoing for millennia, even millions of years. But the modern man shares nearly nothing in common with his ancestors. Our language is restricted for the most part to speaking in terms of generations; we are lucky if our grandparents are a part of our lives, and luckier still if we happen to garner some insight into what life was like for them as children or youngsters. But we have hardly any concept of what life was like for our parents, let alone before the industrial revolution—at least for the individual. Have we ignored the planet, the seasons, the processes that once had to be studied closely and mindfully to ensure the continuation of our species? Is it still a necessity, or have we grown independent of our parents; Mother Earth and Father Sky?

I think not. I think we have been duped. Somewhere along the lines, we stopped listening to the Earth. We began to spend our time checking our egos against those around us, We began to steer our societies in new directions, and we forgot that the Earth is the mother of our species. We forgot that our neighbors are our brothers. We began to fight over the gifts our parents gave us. Now we live our lives by the clock, not by the sun and moon. Somewhere, someone is racing a man-made clock to work, so they "clock in", and spend their entire day building clocks so that the rest of us can do more or less exactly the same thing. We are so hurried and flustered that we cannot take time to be conscious of ourselves, let alone to be conscious of the world around us. We are in a state of sensory overload, perhaps even by design.... And we are failing our roles as Stewards of Consciousness.

To be conscious is to know that we are sovereign souls. We are more than capable of finding harmony with every single person we come in contact with, given enough time. It is possible, but we are told that we have a duty to go and kill and take from our neighbors in order to survive. Natural resources are being harvested in unnatural ways. Fighting over oil like so much agar, and preying on our own like a cancer...

It seems we have lost touch with our own nature. After all the preparation that the cosmos, Earth and humankind has undergone to bring us to this present moment, here we are squandering our greatest asset—our intelligence—in a mindless pursuit of convenience over consciousness. It seems we wont be content until there is a McDonald's under every Bodhi tree.... So how do we get it right? How do we get back on track? I don't claim to have a master plan, but I know it starts with the individual learning to recognize their own nature. Before thorough self-exploration can take place, fear must be overcome. Fear is what drives us to fight, or flee. Love is what perpetuates evolution and harmony.

There is a Frequency of Fear humming just over our heads. It comes in to form of mass media, pop culture, politicking... Even the habitual self-doubt that reverberates in our heads. It is a low-frequency signal that repeats the same thing over and over: "Us vs. Them...". This low frequency level of consciousness is all we ever know if we never allow ourselves to be drawn inward, and to learn about our completely unique "crystal set"—we are our own, mobile/bi-pedal transceiver tower. We can send out love, and we can tune into love. But only after we have taken some time to learn how to attenuate to a higher conscious.

Above the baseline bandwidth of Fear, there is another frequency, much higher over our heads. it is the bandwidth of Love. Do you know anyone with a HAM radio? Surely you've seen or heard of people talking with someone on the other side of the world with their High Amplitude Modulation radios? But, if you're like me, you haven't taken the time to learn the language and function of such a system. Perhaps you've messed around with a CB "Citizens Band" radio, and talked and listened to a few crude and rude truckers, a few happy campers, probably a good amount of just plain static. But the beauty of these systems are that they are a two-way communication device. A transceiver. The exchange of information and experience is possible with these tools. The same cannot be said of your car stereo, and guess what? For the most part, those only attenuate to the low frequency, fear-based signals that tend to put the soul in the fetal position.

As responsible stewards of consciousness, we rise to the challenge of finding what we can do to help the process of spreading a message of peace, love and learning. Once we have turned on our higher conscious, and tuned in to the love frequency, we will find that the frequency of fear becomes... less frequent. Eventually, we don't even get the static or interference. Part of becoming a beacon of consciousness, is taking inventory of our repository of messages received, and messages to be transmitted. The best way to not send out a low-frequency signal is to rid ourselves of those messages all together. We may not be able to control every single message or bit of static we receive, but we can certainly decide what we will allow to 'repeat' from or proverbial tower. In terms of radio transmission, there is a term called 'Emphasis', and I think that word fits beautifully for the analogy of what we prioritize in our communications. Low-frequency signals tend to travel further than high-frequency signals. So a sort of 'signal booster' is required to send out messages of love over messages of fear.

These thoughts of mine, my own experiences, are observed through a glass darkly, and therefore I can only say that though it may be there, deep within, I don't see perfection in myself, but the promise of transcendence is there in my being, though perhaps I do not now have all the necessary tools or knowledge at this time. I don't wish to hold humankind up to standard of perfection which is ultimately disheartening (after all, that measure of perfection is a low-frequency message that I spent far too long attenuated to, and I don't believe that perfection is a necessity for one to experience and share transcendent love), but I do wish that we all could see ourselves more clearly, and appreciate that our struggles do not mean we are not divine creatures. Each human being holds within them a gift from the universe. A seed of consciousness which will grow exponentially if cultivated mindfully.

This post is a lateral expansion on my previous post, and I feel that I am rephrasing some of those concepts without necessarily drawing out the parallels, but my post is running long. I wish to leave you with a blessing that you will find time to explore your consciousness, and that the practice will take over and replace any habit of letting some other signal—stray or focused— repeat on your transceiver without your mindful consent. Once we are able to dwell in mindfulness, we will find that we get to do all of our own thinking for ourselves. At that point, what we share with our peers, and what we pass on to the next generation becomes wholly our responsibility. It's a tall order, but we are capable. Be mindful of what frequency you get your information from, be mindful of the messages you emphasize.

"I bow to the divine that is in you, and also in me."

Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Between Heaven and Hell: "Thou Art That"

Over the past year or so, I have been pondering certain aspects of my own life, and trying to match my own patterns to that of humanity at large, often with limited success. I guess I have been doing this all my life. I sort of adopted the moniker of "caveman" for myself about a decade or so ago, because I have this inkling of being a Neanderthal trapped in a Homo Sapiens body. It may have something to do with my lack of socialization early in life, which resulted in feeling like such an outsider when I finally became autonomous in this wild and crazy world.

It seems I have come more or less full circle. I have found that I actually seem to attenuate to certain types of primitive communication, body language mostly, in order to understand people when their words elude me. I have always been a proponent of the adage that actions speak louder than words. As it turns out, humans are just as impulsive, or instinctive in their body language as birds, dogs or the primordial man. We have, ingrained in our genes, certain programming which trumps whatever we happen to be communicating with words: Grunts, huffs, sniffs. 'Micro-expressions'. If you have ever seen the TV show 'Lie to Me'... well, that's a little more advanced, but you get the idea, right? We are constantly saying something, even when we can manage to shut up for just a moment.

I have found that it's in "reading between the lines"—literally between the words—that I can really pick up on people's emotions. People make little "micro-grunts" to express displeasure. They sniffle when they enter a room, or clear their throat to announce their presence when they fear that they might spook someone, or feel that they owe the courtesy so that other occupants don't feel a false sense of privacy, etc. I see it constantly, I even catch myself doing it. And sometimes, I find myself trying to resist an impulse, and it happens anyway!

 Have you ever been in a room with someone who just seems way too into what they are doing to notice you enter, and you're pretty sure that when they notice you, they are going to either be spooked or embarrassed that they didn't know you were there? Maybe you don't know this person, maybe you just can't think of anything to say... And then your throat legitimately starts itching, or maybe your nose... at any rate, your Sympathetic Nervous System gives you an easy out! You clear your throat, without even looking up. Or you sniffle just enough to ease that little tickle-y tingle that was building up. Sympathetic indeed. ;-)

So far, this has had very little to do with the title of this particular post. No matter, I needed to put those thoughts out there first. But I suppose I can segue into the real topic with an invitation to you, dear reader, to pay attention to that sort of thing, and see if it doesn't change the way you experience personal interaction. I am going to go out on a limb and say that if you keep an eye or an ear out for these or other sorts of behaviors that perhaps you hadn't looked for before, that it will indeed change your paradigm. Not (necessarily) because you'll start feeling like a caveman (you might). But because you will be practicing "Mindfulness".

Mindfulness is simply being present, aware, in the moment. I say "simply" but it can actually be a difficult thing to do sometimes. In fact, it is a very sad thing but I believe that in our culture, in the entire life of an average adult, they will spend less than a day—cumulatively— in a state of actual, upper-case, Mindfulness. Even artists, dancers, musicians and other types that would be considered "in tune" find it difficult to reach the state of mindfulness that really, truly allows for pure, uninhibited personal expression... In time, their bodies get used to the motions and gestures that produce their art: muscle memory. brush strokes, pirouettes, face-melting guitar solos... whatever it may be, once it is committed to habit, the mind becomes free to wander again. and it does. And when it does, it is usually thinking ahead, or recalling the past, or fixating on some aspect of the present while ignoring a whole wealth of others. Muscle memory is what allows chefs to mince herbs without looking, while simultaneously screaming some obscenity at a slow-poke waiter, and kicking a mop bucket all without cutting himself. Now, is he being "mindful"? Sure, he is minding his and everyone else's business, because that's job, and he's darn good at it. But he's not Upper Case Mindful. Okay, okay... I'm ready to introduce the title.

Perhaps you have heard me, or read me, talking about my thoughts on the nature of Hell. If not, this is the place to do so. Right here, right now.

Embarrassingly recently, I had a couple of very different experiences of being in complete hell by my own doing. We can even capitalize that: it was Hell. I didn't have a name for it at the time of the first experience, but the second experience shed quite a lot of light on it all. I first understood it as the duality of Fear Vs. Love, but in the past several months, that understanding has broadened to encompass the (false?) duality of Heaven Vs. Hell.

First off, let me say that I don't mean to disrespect anyone who believes that either or both of these places actually exist on a physical plane. I don't really know if I believe that myself, though I certainly believe that Heaven and Hell are real in the mind of the beholder. But let's talk a little about each of their qualities.

  • Mansions in the sky
  • forgiveness for all shortcomings 
  • Eternal happiness, love
  • Immortality
  • Reunited with God
  • No more of the "cares of this world".

  • "Burning pit" of eternal suffering
  • 'Weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth...'
  • Cannot progress, or improve one's condition.
  • tormented by one's regrets, shortcomings.
  • Banished from God's presence
  • Chains, enslavement...
Now, I know quite a lot of people who maintain that Heaven is 'where God is' and that hell is just "a state of mind". But, that doesn't make much sense to me. Hell would have to be a place just as much as heaven, right? If only some people get to go "where God is", then it only makes sense that there would be a place for the rest of those who don't get to be where God is (though it doesn't make sense to me that an all-loving God would design a plan by which he banishes his imperfect children, but that's not really relevant here). The point is, either they are both places, or they are both "states of mind".

I believe they are states of mind. And while I don't claim to know for any certainty whether or not the soul continues after death, it seems possible to me. Perhaps the "place" in which all spirits experience heaven or hell is all around us right now; another dimension, which we have yet to discover and prove. "The spiritual realm", perhaps (and perhaps the laws of the universe declare that humanity will never be able to exist in those dimensions, but that's a musing for another post as well).

So, how does this have anything to do with mindfulness?

Well, this is where I just kinda blurt it out and then hope you stick around while I explain it: Heaven and Hell are simply allegories for the two states of mind that we can choose to be in, or that we cannot help but be in, in this life. We experience either heaven or hell when we fail to be Mindful of the here-and-now.

Hell is the state of mind wherein we fixate on some aspect of the past, and wish and plead and cry and beg in vain that we might change it. Hell is knowing exactly where we messed up in such a way to cause ourselves to be in misery. For instance, how about a kid who didn't take high school seriously, and consequently gets stuck working his whole life in a po'dunk town grocery store as a result. For him, hell is knowing that he could have been a straight A student, and gotten a full ride scholarship to NYU if he hadn't decided that the pursuit of underage drinking and partying took priority over homework. Not a day goes by, not a pallet goes unloaded, that he doesn't feel the weight of his pride, his short-sightedness, in squandering his opportunity.
Or how about the military veteran who struggles with depression, or PTSD, or suicidal thoughts after witnessing the horror of war and killing. His hell is remembering his former self, how he could make his girlfriend laugh, back when he could think of funny things at all. Hell is real enough for him, because he knows it will never be the same, and there's nothing he can do about it. Just like those cruel words you can never take back, or that stock purchase you didn't make... Hell is a state of mind, of dwelling in the past.

If Hell is a preoccupation with the past, then Heaven represents the future, a goal to be attained. A place of peace and relief after a whole life time of blood sweat and tears, where finally we get to experience pure joy and happiness without the cares of this world. Or maybe our "heaven" is just tomorrow, or next week, or upcoming summer vacation... Heaven is ALWAYS in the future, isn't it? Heaven is our "happy place" that gets us through the hard times, because it will be SO worth it. But, to quote a song, "How 'bout them transparent, dangling carrots? How about that ever elusive 'Kudo'?"

Sometimes we need something to keep us going even when we aren't really sure what exactly the nature of our reward even is. Perhaps it's the promise that it is real and attainable that drives us to pursue it. But then again, maybe we are just future-tripping; idealizing the future as a means of escaping the present and all it's cares and woes and myseries that must simply be "endured" to the end.

Heaven is only there the save us from an misunderstood perspective on life. If "men are that they might have joy", then why do we take a raincheck on being with the people we love, doing what we love, experiencing the beauty of the miracle of life? It might be just pure and simple human nature: "yeah, it'll be incredible! I'll get around to it, but not today, I have other stuff to do..." I dunno, it seems like we prefer life on earth.  Perhaps it's something that our brains have contrived to appease that drive and desire for certainty. Our brains don't get a break from the moment we're born to the day we die. It doesn't seem outlandish to me that our brains would be predisposed to come up with some BIG reason to keep it waking up day after day, making that commute, punching that timecard, eat, sleep, repeat, ad nauseam. I think it's the culture and society we live in... was there a such thing as "eternity" when there were no clocks? Heaven might be a place, but it might be humanities first group-think modality. A carrot on a stick to keep humanity motivated to put up with all the little busy work that comes with civilization. It just seems to indicate that we are not happy with the reality that humanity has carved out of this world. We haven't taken the time to really be mindful of all the beauty that life has in the here and now. We were never given such an opportunity, so we don't know any different. We spend our whole lives just trying to manage to stay afloat by working our fingers to the bone, and trying to provide for our children... We have bought into an ideology that says that the work is more important that the individual, and that happiness must be sacrificed in order to keep food on the table, and a roof over head. In other words, heaven is for those who don't have time for love, joy, happiness, unity, peace, contentment etc in this life. Sure, we can have those things from time to time, but not during working hours, or the school year, or when the game is on... See what I mean?

Thank you for reading thus far. We're only half-way through with the title. What about the rest?

"Tat Tvam Asi" -- "Thou Art That". It comes from The Upanishads, which comprise some of the Hindu scriptures. The Upanishads are teachings given from either Gods or mentors to mortals about the nature of the universe and of the human experience. Thou Art That, is essentially another way of saying "all is one", or that the "supreme reality" is everything, and everything is the Supreme Reality. It is only through delusion, cultivation of ego, that we come to perceive ourselves as separate from the Supreme Reality, and it is only through accepting the divinity in ourselves that we are able to meld with the supreme reality. When we give up our delusions, we attain nirvana.

What are our delusions? Yesterday and tomorrow. These two are also a part of the one supreme reality, therefore it is delusional to regard over the other, or either over the present moment. Because the present moment is also the supreme reality. Perhaps the present moment is the ONLY reality. How do we experience the present? Mindfulness.

I could tie this in with my understanding of what Christ was trying to teach, and how it is not so different from what the Buddha was trying to teach, or Krishna, or any other transcendent being who tried to teach the art of mindfulness... Christ wanted us to be mindful of each other, and to "consider the lilies", or the birds, or any other of God's creation which doesn't need to fret or stress about the future. The Buddha taught to be mindful that all is impermanent, that nothing lasts. That it is only in accepting this that we are freed of the anguish of hell or the anxiety of heaven...these are illusions as well. It is only through Mindfulness that we learn to exist in that space between Heaven and Hell. There, in balance.... Thou art THAT.

I hope that you got something out of all this. If I can express one more hope for my reader, I hope you catch yourself doing some amusing caveman behavior, and that you remember that cavemen didn't have to worry about 2 o'clock appointments, or mortgages, or fantasy football brackets, and that is exactly what allowed them to be completely present, in the moment, and constantly aware. Drink your food, and chew your water, and never let anyone take another moment of your time, that you don't give willingly. Because time is an illusion anyway. There is an eternity in every single moment. Share eye contact with someone you love, and don't spoil it with spoken language. "how about remembering your divinity? How about  you enjoying a moment for once?"

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Growing Pains of Transcendence

I recently read a friend's thoughts on the recent overturning of the Utah ban on gay marriage, which I think make a really good point in this whole discussion. He represents a significant number of folks who see this topic as important, but not as an "Us vs. Them" scenario. Simply, he wants to be free to vote 'yea' or 'nay' without his motives or demeanor bring presumed, one way or another (and I intentionally have not said which side of the issue he falls on). I think it is completely valid, and not an entirely hopeless quandary. We don't have to agree to disagree, or agree to stop at nothing til the opposition fails. Believe it or not, it IS possible for both parties to be satisfied (given, of course, there's always that other demographic which just wants to see the world burn...).

Many devoutly religious, kind- and tender-hearted people are accused of being bigots, or homophobes, simply because they understand "marriage" to refer to a man and woman knitting their souls in the sight of almighty God...
 Many equality advocates are accused by the religious community of defying God, attacking the sanctity/making a mockery of a religious institution, etc. When the reality is that these individuals never wanted to have to choose between loving God, or loving their fellow man.

Notice that one doesn't have to be gay, atheist, apostate, or antagonistic to be an advocate for gay rights. Really though, trust me, it's possible.
Likewise, one doesn't have to be homophobic, violent, bigoted, or closed-minded to vote 'yes' on a proposition with a definition of 'marriage' which aligns with their own.
Really though, trust me. It's possible.
Unfortunately, at this point in history—in which you and I join the debate—things have already started down a certain course, and the myopic approach that worked (or only seemed to work) in the past, no longer suffices to resolve these issues. If we're going to find long-term solutions, we have to all take a(t last one) BIG step back, and reassess the big picture. What we begin to see is a history of folks who can't see past the end of their nose presuming to have a grasp of, and solution for, the issues we're facing now.

This generation is experiencing the growing pains of transcendence, and we are not quite able to move past the modes and methodologies of our predecessors. Astigmatism is a persistent, recessive gene. Our caveman ancestors had to make due with what they had. If one had bad eyes, it essentially led to removal from the gene pool. Our recent forefathers had eyeglasses. Not only that, but they also enjoyed the benefits of a more hospitable culture and environment, where bad eyesight didn't necessarily ensure an early death. Eyeglasses had to suffice for a couple hundred years from the time of Benjamin Franklin and the Founding Fathers, til contact lenses came around... and that has been it for the past few generations. But times are changing. We now have laser eye treatments which correct the eye itself. We may not be able to chose the genes we inherit, but we don't have to be stuck with bad vision for the rest of our lives. We no longer rely on the existence of outside accessories to augment our optics to put things in perspective. We have reached that point where we can admit to ourselves that we are not perfect, and we might not see things the same as others, and that perhaps—perhaps—our neighbor's perspective can shed a little more light on the human condition than we are able to see from our vantage point. Our generation is learning to adapt, and adjust, the world is changing so rapidly that we absolutely must go forward with eyes wide open, taking nothing for granted.  Can we agree that we no longer need to rely primarily on tradition or convention to navigate and construct our social lives? How different would our perspectives on the world be even just 50 or 60 years ago? Our generation is able to see past superficial differences, and co-exist with people of different color and cultures, religion. etc. We can answer to the inkling inside us that says everyone deserves to be treated equally, regardless of their appearance or their salary... but we cannot do so with two different definitions of "equal". Is it a bad thing to think that eventually we may not even see such distinctions as relevant? Perhaps in the future individuals will not be labelled and categorized before their needs are assessed. Everyone will be entitled to equal treatment simply for existing.
But that's not where we are. We are stuck. Bogged down by politicking and protesting. Where one wrong approach led to another wrong approach. Now there's no getting back on track without major overhauling of the system. If I may borrow a term from Bruce Lipton, we need a "spontaneous evolution" to solve this perplexing problem to the satisfaction of everyone. That is, every single--or married ;)--person on the planet, now or in the future. 

The traditional "religiopolitical" process (and it has been a long, drawn out process indeed... Make no mistake) has thus far failed to appease either side of the issue. And from where we stand, it doesn't seem possible at this point. But it is solvable, and it is actually pretty straightforward. We just have to live and let live. This means that we no longer seek to be in a position of favor over any other person or demographic in the eyes of our legal system. If Marriage is, as many would argue, the domain of religion, then I think we have found common ground. Let religion have marriage. Do away with all legal recognition of the religious rite of marriage. Does this mean an end to tax breaks for married couples? an end to visitation rights in the hospital based on marital status? and all the other little incentives that government has developed for married folks? Perhaps so... But then again, perhaps that is the price to pay in order to retain (indeed, to re-claim) the so-called "sanctity of marriage"... What does government know of 'sanctity' anyway? Why have we allowed government to dabble in affairs of 'sanctity', in the first place?
So, once Marriage is stricken from the vocabulary of government. What is to say that it can't be replaced with the term 'civil union', across the board? 'Civil Union' is a pretty darn good descriptor for a family unit formally recognized by the government for tax purposes, and paperwork. Being 'civilly united' would be one thing, and being 'married' would be another, and never the twain shall meet, As a religious rite, marriage would not be recognized by government, But, if you would like such recognition (and the government perks, and legal obligations which go along with it) then you may file the paperwork for a civil union. Nothing would prevent a couple from doing both. This seems to me to be the only solution to maintaining the religious definition of marriage, while allowing all civil unions equal recognition under the law. This scenario seems to meet the needs of the religious crowd, the equal rights crowd, and the religious, equal rights crowd. It seems reasonable enough to me. It would be the proposition to end all propositions. It would also do away with "common law marriage", replacing it with "Common Law Civil Union". Makes sense. No one should "accidentally" become married through prolonged cohabitation... That seems to be the most glaring travesty in regards to the Sanctity of Marriage, in my opinion.

Prop. 8 and its similes, have not been geared toward removing government from the jurisdiction of marriage regulation (reserving it as a religious rite and term) which would look something like... "We the people propose that government cease all legal regulation and recognition of "marriage", and forthwith to cease using this term, as it is (we believe) a religious term, for a religious rite, to be defined and addressed by our various respective religious communities..." .
 Instead, these propositions have done kinda the opposite. Soliciting further "official" government interpretation of what the prop. supporters believe to be a purely religious rite/concept. In other words, presenting for a vote a legally enforceable definition of a religious rite. It looks something like "We the people propose that henceforth, government shall issue no official license or recognition to any couple who do not meet this definition of marriage: one man, and one woman..."

See how the the first example would permit freedom of religion for ALL folks, and the other seeks to legally constrict the religious and legal rights of folks who's god/religion may not have any such criteria?
This is where the boundaries of church and state are being pushed. Those who feel strong religious convictions on the matter are not looking to tell government to butt out, they are instead asking government to get involved, and to take their side.This is simply not a feasible approach to resolving the issue. It begins to be seen as elitist, and folks begin to presume that the religious community wishes to reap exclusive government benefits for their respective brand of human relationship.
When a law is found to infringe on the constitutional rights of any citizen, it is to be stricken from the books. The constitution is the law by which laws must abide. Therefore it is irrelevant how many people voted to enforce such a law.
It is similar the process which revoked/overturned the "extermination order" in Missouri, which allowed anyone who killed a Mormon to be exempted from murder charges. In other words, the measure reduced Mormons to lower value than human life. Once it was passed, it was completely irrelevant how people felt about Mormons... the fact was, that whether deliberate or accidental, maliciously or mistakenly, killing a Mormon was an excusable offense. For a long while--much, much too long-- this law was on the books. It was simply passed and enforced by the majority/popular vote of that particular geographical area at that time (1838), and though attitudes toward Mormons became much more tolerant in the generations that followed, the law was never rescinded until the mid-1970s—nearly 140 years later. Not that it was ever constitutional... It was never a constitutional law. Overturning it did not fly in the face of democracy. It also never meant that folks who rejected Mormonism as being offensive (to their definition of Christianity, or whathaveyou) while that law was in place were murderous and/or intolerant. Nor did it mean that overturning that law was an attack on the traditional/Christian definition of the Holy Trinity, or the Atonement, or any other. It meant that a certain group of citizens (Mormons) were no longer excluded from exercising their constitutional rights in the state of Missouri. Just as the recent ruling in Utah will allow gay couples the rights they have as US citizens to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness..." With equal rights to recognition and due process of law.

Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.... Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

James 1

Today I read James 1. And I had a few impressions come to me that I can honestly say I have never had before.

I have been able to read the bible with new eyes after a hiatus, and this chapter actually gave me a lot of new insights. It is actually really interesting to see what terms stand out to me now that never did before. I especially like the imagery of the flower of grass "passing away". It actually reminded me of a nature documentary on the great plains. Grassland fires appear to completely devastate the plains. It seems nothing remains. But, whereas the stems and flowers of the grass are all burned up, the roots are protected, and "rise again". The symbolism of roots is a strong one, and a fitting analogy for the cycle of life. I have recently been studying the beliefs, and symbolism of agriculture-based societies as far back as the neolithic period, around 10,000 BC in comparison to hunter-gatherer societies and their regard for life and how it manifested in their rituals. It actually draws out the mindset—literally, the "lifestyle"—of living for a greater cause, as opposed to living for the moment. For instance, hunter gatherers regarded death as a certainty, and lived a 'kill or be killed' lifestyle: living for the moment. Whereas agriculture-based societies focused on LIFE as a certainty, and lived a 'live and let live' lifestyle, celebrating birth as triumph over death. celebrating the seasons and their associations with planting and harvest with the process of birth (new crops) life (harvest, feasting) death (planting) and the repetition of this cycle. Their rituals of internment mirrored those of their crops: Just as they retained some seeds for planting so their crops would grow from year to year, they 'planted' their dead in the earth, and regarding new births as the return of those dearly departed.  Whereas the hunter-gatherers were inclined to violence, to pillaging, to using up all the resources they accrued. They worshiped the animals they hunted, but only inasmuch as their own 'selfish' needs (food, tools, clothing, etc.) were met. Their lifestyle consisted of using every inch of hide, and bone from the animals they preyed upon, or collecting and consuming every edible berry they could forage, or taking over every tool and resource from a conquered tribe, often burning whatever they couldn't use. It struck me that these two regards for life persist even today, and often both perspectives exist in a single individual. Such is the state of the "double-minded" man.

I should mention also that, in looking elsewhere (from biblical texts) for truth, I have come to find that Kabbalah seems to be the grandfather (that is to say, the unwitting predecessor) of almost all modern Abrahamic religion, as well as many eastern religions. If nothing else, it is the origin of much of the religious symbolism I was raised with. But don't let's get me started on that. I only mention it to say that, through studying Kabbalah, I have begun to see hidden esoteric truths in the words of the bible, especially once I stopped trying to take every word literally, as an explicit instruction manual written and translated from many different languages to the point that it literally takes divine intervention to make use of it.

 It actually speaks to me in a deeper way when I allow it to be poetic. After all, much of it is imagery, and little of it is clear instruction. I used to look for clear instruction, in an effort to "lean not unto my own understanding", and I got little more than frustration for my effort. But I find now I have begun to see terms like that in a different light, focusing on the words "lean not" as opposed to the words "own understanding". Or, in other words, focusing on being in balance, as opposed to denying, or relying wholly on, something in my own nature. One's own understanding is crucial to comprehension of God, or His word, and personal meaning. However, "leaning unto one's own understanding" seems a lot like "staying in one's comfort zone"... If you cling to comfort, or certainty, or a certain level of understanding, then it never expands, never grows. And if it does grow, you most certainly don't want it to be "leaning", or it will only grow so far before collapsing. Like a ladder on soft or uneven ground, you risk a fall the higher you climb; you will never reach that "Crown of life". Or , like the wise man says, you must have a sure foundation to build upon. You must have strong roots in order to grow.

What else stood out to me this time around was the term "superfluity of naughtiness", or more specifically the word "naughty". I am not sure, but it seems as though this word "naughty", is one of the stronger synonyms of 'Sin'.To have 'Naught' = nothing, zero, goose egg.

Sin, translated from its greek origin means "to miss the mark", as in an archer missing the bull's eye. It doesn't matter if it is by an inch, or a foot, or a mile, missing the bull's eye is missing the bull's eye. Some might argue that missing by an inch is better than missing by a mile, but ultimately, it comes down to hit, or miss. You either get a point, or you get a zero.

"Naughtiness" then, is a state of having, or deserving no reward. Scoring a zero. Think of a "naughty" child; they are behaving in such a way that would not deserve reward, or praise. Their behavior or effort is deemed

The same with sin. We strive to be like God, but invariably we miss our mark, we sin. We "fall short of the glory of God". We strive for perfection, but sinning is sinning. Though we seem to measure sin in terms of severity, ultimately we are either perfect, or we are sinners. We all "miss the mark". We all get "bad marks" for our unsatisfactory performance. But if the goal (perfection) remains our focus, we find that we become more and more consistent. Perhaps we may hit the mark from time to time, though we may miss again on our next shot. But only in having a goal of perfection are we able to improve toward it.

"Superfluity of naughtiness" I suppose, would then be unmindful, or deliberate, missing of the mark. Simply not putting forth an effort. Not caring, not trying. After all, It is 'easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle...' Or perhaps it is like threading a needle from 100 yards away with a string on an arrow... It seems so beyond us, and perhaps downright unreasonable, so we decide it's not worth the effort. All we have to tell ourselves is that we will never be perfect, we'll never make that one-in-a-billion shot, so why even try? Why beat ourselves up about it? It is easier to not care. So we become the archer who doesn't work on his aim, and blames the target. He simply fires away til he's out of arrows, playing the odds. And when his arrows are gone, he consoles himself that it was simply a matter of luck anyway.

A wise archer knows that he will miss the mark. He knows he is fallible, he is mortal, he is not perfect. But he knows that he can improve himself. He knows that the "bull's eye" represents perfection, but that his personal value is not determined in any single shot. He also knows that without such a goal there can be no measure of improvement. He teaches his hands, and his heart, how to do the best they can, always. Perhaps he'll never thread a needle from 100 yards, but he becomes a dead-eye on a larger target, or on the hunt, where his efforts are rewarded "in kind". It is not enough to know the principles of archery. One may know the physics involved, or the calculations of perfection, but be unable to even nock an arrow. Only practice—consistent practice—makes perfect.

Mindfully practicing being patient, humble, slow to anger, exercising faith, grace, resisting temptation... only with these goals in our hearts and minds do we become this person. Only when we are 'tried' do we receive that 'crown of life'. It is in consistently striving for perfection in these aspects of our lives that we begin to see improvement on our "larger" or "closer" targets. We may never be perfectly patient, or humble, etc. But we do become much more practiced at those traits. We begin to see our rewards "in kind", as we bring these developing skills and qualities into our daily lives, our relationships, or our interactions with complete strangers. I happen to work a job that is continuously trying my patience and humility, and even my physical stamina, but it is an opportunity for me each day to stretch myself, to not let myself resent the job. I want to learn these qualities almost more than I want an income. I am fortunate to have the ability to get both. I am putting into practice what I value. I want to be Christ-like, but I'm not going to just wake up one day with Christ-like qualities.

I actually was thinking about this very thing last night, before I went to bed. Perhaps not in terms of scripture study, but of meditation, or prayer. It occurred to me how in my reading spiritual texts, but not taking adequate time to exercise and develop my personal spirituality, I was a "hearer only", and not so much of a "Doer" (though not consciously in those terms).

 I have been defaulting to that reasoning of "I'll try tomorrow; I'm too exhausted tonight..." And it seems almost inevitably I feel the same way the next night. Again, I seem to apply this in my life in ways that I never would have thought to be relevant before. I am not currently seeking redemption from a savior, but I am seeking to build a stronger sense of, and connection to, a higher power. The concept of Faith has taken on a whole new meaning. 'Faith without works' is like "striving" to hit the bull's eye without ever actually picking up a bow. Or, being a "hearer only", and not a 'doer', is simply thinking about what the words mean (if even that), but not incorporating them into your life. Like reading a phone book, but never making a call. It does nothing for you if you do not acknowledge, and utilize, the connection we each personally have with our Creator. I don't want to get into my personal belief of who God is, but I do recognize a higher power in my life, and when I am able to tap into that higher power, I feel fulfilled, energized, peaceful, compassionate, charitable, patient. I imagine if I were able to be continuously in this place, to have an "eye single to the glory of God", that I would not suffer the doubts of being "double minded". It is what Christ meant when he counseled us to "consider the lilies of the field"... That we draw on our higher power for everything, and don't give way to doubt or worry.

All of that to say, I have recently fallen out of the habit of dedicating my attention to my higher power when I am meditating. I have felt the effects of faltering in my commitment, and I am taking the opportunity to rededicating myself, and a portion of my time, to getting to know myself through meditation, and my higher power through supplication.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Kundalini Awakening

Tonight, I am a satellite.
I am a solitary drifter.
Observing. Searching the cosmos.
Embarking on a quest for knowledge.

I sit and gaze steadily at the pine cone in front of me. A perfect specimen of the Fibonacci spiral.I stare intently at the center of its crown, even as the natural spiral tries to draw my attention outward like a spiraling corkscrew. My focus is fixed. After a few minutes, it seems as though the center of the pine cone is becoming a white-hot pinpoint. After a few minutes more, this pinpoint seems to be an entire galaxy. Still, my focus is steady, as if my life depends on describing all the stars, and their planets, contained in this minuscule galaxy.

When I first began this style of meditation, I would have described it as a process of "peeling a hole in the universe" through pure conscious. The idea is that, when you find yourself with a moment to spare, you may look around you and find any blemish or imperfection on any object or surface... And if you are able to focus on this point, you will find that it is a gaping passage into another world. The blemish, pattern, or imperfection is simply "a glitch in the matrix". Once you peel the hole, you may pass through it into another dimension. It doesn't have to be a pine cone. I have used a dime, placed at arm's length, and focusing on the mint mark on the face of it. I have used a grain of salt on my fingertip... the first time I did it, I was staring intently at a string cheese wrapper. Later, I found that this meditative process I thought I had developed was simply the serendipitous discovery of an ancient meditation technique called "Trataka", translated as "Fixed gaze" or "Steady focus", and it is traditionally practiced by looking into a candle flame.

At first, the eyes want to wander. They seem impossible to control; fidgeting and flitting about. After just a few moments of staring at a stationary object, their attention is drawn by any movement, any sound, any color that may promise to be more stimulating. The Mind must master the eyes. Eventually the eyes become disciplined, and a steady gaze is possible. Even still, the eyes crave to be active. They try to adjust focus on the stationary object. Again, the mind must command the eyes to be singular in purpose. Once a steady gaze, and a fixed focus is established, the mind is free to relax. Upon relaxing the mind, there is often felt a sensation of leaving the body. For me, it is the sensation of "falling into my own head". This is the rabbit hole. The wormhole leading out of this world.

Once this sensation sets in, I close my eyes. At first, it seems as if there is a wall of darkness just beyond my reach, but this is simply due to the fact that the brain is accustomed to observing the world outside of headspace, and had some difficulty with the concept of self-observation. In the day-to-day, it is used to operating in a proximity (usually the cushion of space arms' length from oneself) that we usually term as a "personal bubble". But the mind now must master itself. The brain must become introspective, and confront its own delusions: consciousness—the processing of all sensory experience and thought— occurs within the brain, not within the cushion of space surrounding the body.
Did you know that the eyes are technically an outgrowth of the brain? Our brains are literally bulging out of our skulls. Exposed. Protected only by a thin fold of skin, and the brain's ability to observe, interpret and avoid threats through reflex.

I meditate on the absolute zero clearance between my eyes and my eye lids. I struggle to reach a conscious level of awareness that this blackness—this almost tangible void— is not outside of me, it is within me. If I am able to come to terms with the fact that my entire existence is emanating from my conscious and subconscious mind, I continue to freefall into my own head, and experience nothingness: Zen masters call it "No Thought". I soften my gaze at the seemly expansive black void of my quiet headspace, and try to conceive of the vastness of my universe. Yet again, I must remind myself of the fact that my eye lids pose a physical barrier to the outside world, resting on the surface of my eyes. Again, my eyes revolt in a fit of self-importance, insisting that this is trickery. But the real trickery is every day life. In everyday wakefulness, the eyelids are only allowed to cover the eyes for a few hundredths of a second at a time. Because the brain places such value in the function of vision, it has hardwired, autonomic commands, which cause the blink to become nearly imperceptible to the conscious mind. But now the conscious mind is attempting to acknowledge the very presence and position of the eyelids. My poor, weary eyes are conditioned to believe that they are the gateway to my reality. That through them, I am able to perceive my world. This is why they are so eager to perform, and so anxious at the thought of relaxation... Through habit, they try to see beyond my eyelids but they are unable. Unable to focus on my eyelids, they ache, twitch, spasm. My eyes seem to have a will of their own, which my mind must struggle to tame. They seem to suffer from claustrophobia; They can't handle the proximity of my eyelids. Flashes of light, and electric white circles dance in my head as my brain receives a frantic neural feed through quivering optic nerves. I must calm my eyes with my mind: 'you are not needed at this time, I can see just fine without you...'. Eventually, my eyes relax, and my brain activates an eye of its own.

My third eye stirs in the recesses of my reptilian brain. I am entering the realm of pure conscious. From this realm emanate the esoteric abstractions of universal knowledge and energies, the concept of Nirvana, transcendence, or absolution through communion with the divine self found therein. The Chakras and their various domains, the flow of Yin and Yang energy throughout the universe, the Sephirot and the rungs of Jacob's Ladder-- All consciously perceived only by those who have a sense of this dimension. There are worlds within worlds. The physical realm lies on the surface of all human experience. In order to get below the surface, one must venture inward. On this inward journey, one may encounter the true self.  But to reach this depth of self-knowledge, one must be disciplined, with singleness of purpose: to navigate the precipice between physical stimulation of the senses, and a welling chasm of thought which reflects the outer world, and the outer self.

Within me—within the confines of my skull—there is boundless space, unexplored territory... ever expanding, yet my conscious is coalescing and condensing as my mind becomes centered. Now that my eyes have submitted to my intentions, I am able to begin drawing my other senses inward. My body awareness becomes more keen as I "scan" its surface in a microcosmic orbit. I situate my skeleton on the axis of my spine, and feel the flow of chi, serpentine, rhythmic. This is Kundalini energy. Ancient mystics describe it as "the serpent coiled three and a half times at the base of the spine". it is represented in the symbol of the Caduceus; the symbol of medicine. The two intertwined serpents represent positive and negative energy, or active and passive, yin and yang. The light serpent is known as Ida, and is the essence of masculine, or Yang force. Pingala is the dark, and represents receptive or passive energy. Like terminals on a battery, winds on an electromagnet, these two channels run along the spine. The spine is the staff represented in the Caduceus. The wings of the Caduceus represent the soul or human spirit, and its potential to "ascend". Kundalini energy is latent in the human organism, and is roused and cultivated by yogic practice, and meditation. Though it is said that some Gurus are able to waken Kundalini in others with a simple touch, or even with their voice. Kundalini is cosmic energy, and the spine is a veritable superconductor of this energy. The human brain the quintessential node between the two.

Ida, the active force of Yang energy, elongates and straightens my spine and stretches my neck. Pingala, the passive energy of Yin, flows behind, soothing my body in waves of relaxation and healing. They follow the path of the microcosmic orbit. Up the spine, over the head, down the throat to the navel, and around again. This energy slithers and weaves between the chakras, drawing vital energy from the extremities and channeling it up to the crown. My toes find repose. slowly my ankles release all tension, and I feel my conscious pull away from my feet altogether. I relax my calves, my knees, my thighs, my haunches.... each region that relaxes releases more awareness, which is drawn in by the black hole forming in my mind. The single goal of this process is to direct all conscious thought, all sense, all awareness, into that void in my head. The void becomes more dense, more energized. Blue-white energy is building. Deeper still, the vortex of this wormhole is opening. At last, the third eye looks up along the axis of the spine, beyond the crown chakra...

Kundalini is awakening.