Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Evolution

"...Consciousness tends to focus upon what we lack rather than what we possess.  From the moment we are born we struggle to achieve the things we lack , or think we lack: food and drink, possessions, the esteem of other people, security, personal fulfilment.  It is only when we are faced with some threat or crisis that we grasp how lucky we are, how much we already possess.  Then, suddenly, consciousness ceases to focus upon what we still want and focuses upon what we already have...."--Colin Wilson

I remember when I was a freshman in high school I embarked on the writing of a Lord of the Rings  inspired fantasy novel.  My brother and I conceived the characters and story together, and we called it  Goldfire.  It was pretty much what you would expect  such an effort to be; although in light of the flood of other such works that have come out since then ours was not too bad.  It is one of many unfinished novels of mine, but the thing I remember most about slogging through the 500 some odd (some very odd) handwritten pages of Goldfire  was the intense longing I had for a manual typewriter to help me in my efforts.  I got a job at a local supermarket bagging groceries, and eventually saved up enough money and purchased the much anticipated typewriter.  You would think I was in heaven.  Well, I was.  For about two days.  Then I started thinking about how I really needed a good desk to work at.  After much begging and wrangling I was able to talk my Mom into letting me use a dresser as my beloved desk.  Then I needed a good light.  Then a good workspace.  There was always something else that I needed to acquire in able to become the successful author I so longed to be.  
Well , my dissatisfaction kept me acquiring until I had everything I should need to do the job, but somewhere in the chase I lost the fire for Goldfire.  
I realized then that no matter what I was able to acquire or achieve, I would always be unhappy, because I was more focused on doing the next thing, rather than making the most of what I actually had.  I had unwittingly stumbled on the Buddha's Second Noble Truth, Samudaya , the origin of suffering is craving.
Certainly an argument can be made for the dynamism of consumption being the dynamo for effort, warding away stagnation; etc.  After all, we must provide what we need to survive.  
The moments that we are able to see what we do have, and we are able to count our blessings, are typically rare and usually a peak moment of bliss or produced by the  threat of losing what we have.
I'm certainly not going to be a hypocrite about it.  I haven't changed much since my Goldfire days.  I just got through badgering the same brother that collaborated with me on the book into getting me a leaf blower ( that I had no money myself to purchase but just had to have) as a late Christmas present, and am already contemplating what I will just have to have next.  
But I think almost everyone can agree that 2008 was a pretty rotten year overall.  The economy is in a shambles, the globe is still inflamed in turmoil, etc.  Today is New Year's Eve, and we are about to put this terrible year behind us, and at least embrace the perception that with a new year comes new opportunity.   The truth is, of course, that every day is a new opportunity, but we, as a species, take this day to contemplate our lives and progress as a civilization.  
There is no telling what we might be saying about 2009 at this time next year.  For now, I think it is good to take stock of what we have, what is worth fighting to keep, and what we can afford to get rid of.
The main thing I could afford to get rid of is my desire for new stuff I cannot afford.  Oh, and about 75 pounds...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Absurd Good News of Great Joy

"I look at the side of your face as the sunlight comes

streaming through the window in the autumn sunshine

and all the time going to Coney Island I'm thinking,

Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time?"--Van Morrison

The last hour of Christmas Day is ticking away as I write this, family tucked in and drowsing off after a full day of fellowship, food, and of course fun presents for the little ones. All the usual stresses of the pre-holiday madness melted away with the early morning unwrapping, and before the melancholy duties of dismantling all the decorations begins , I wanted to reflect on an interesting phenomena.

Colin Wilson often refers to a state of consciousness that he calls "the holiday effect." I think most of can understand his thinking here based on personal experiences: it is the feeling that we sometimes have when on a holiday from our usual routine, that life is much bigger, more magical, and much more brimming with possibilities than we usually perceive . I suppose it is the very goal of taking a holiday for many of us; not so much the physical destination as the mental one that we journey towards to "clean out our systems."

Most of us when asked about favorite childhood memories will recall holiday events, or birthdays, or vacations, those occasions when time seemed to slow down and become less "in charge".

Then there are the peak moments. Not so much the moments of achievement or accomplishment, although these can of course be very important to us; but the small moments wherein somehow, unsought after or expected, life glows with the meaning, vibrancy and possibility that we feel on holiday. Whether it be a particular bright day, or a moody storm, or any of countless small moments that could have been forgetful , but instead became part of the parcel of joy that you carry in your spirit forever.

What is it that causes these moments, this "holiday effect"? Can we produce these consciously, or are we only to catch them when they arise?

Obviously the feeling is a perceptual phenomenon. Two people standing side by side experiencing the same environment may not necessarily get the same effect from their surroundings. It occurs within the beholder; the filling in of significance at an unconscious and super normal speed , washing over the beholder as an experience that occurs to him rather than by him. Rather like a dream, only in a waking state. So it would seem that the short answer to "can we consciously evoke peak moments?" would be "no."

It is probably wise that our Creator made it difficult to summon peak moments; after all , they would cease to be peaks if we were allowed to be there all the time; which is probably what we would do, like the lab monkey that repeatedly stimulates his pleasure center without nourishing his body and ends up dead.

However, we can make things conducive for them. Have you ever had the experience of waking from a dream that you were enjoying and being able to talk yourself into getting back into that dream? It doesn't work all the time ;but occasionally, while still in that receptive, relaxed mode, you can will the dream to go on. I think by actively exercising our perceptive abilities we can increase the chance of having these spiritual, cleansing moments. Take the time every so often to really look at your surroundings; listen to what is going on all around you, use all your senses to help you take in just what is going on in your life. The robot that gets you from point A to point B, so you can earn your daily bread, needs to be turned off from time to time, so that you may connect with the real you in the real world...

Doing these things will help us feel like we do on those really meaningful holidays: connected to each other, to our world, and most importantly, to the Creator of all things...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

E Spiritus Unum

"You should undoubtedly bow before all views. But there is a thing called unswerving devotion to one ideal. True, you should salute everyone. But you must love one ideal with your whole soul. That is unswerving devotion." ---Ramakrishna

"They call you Christ, Vishnu, Buddha, Jehovah,

Our Lord

You are Govindam, Bismillah, Creator of All."---George Harrison

Have you ever had the experience of reading an article concerning a subject that you had first hand knowledge of and being aghast at how skewed the facts had become between the happening and the reporting? Or if some media figure dips into a realm of your expertise and reports something as the gospel that you happen to know they got completely wrong? The experience inevitably causes you to wonder, 'Gee, if they got this all wrong, how much of the other stuff are they getting wrong that you just accept as truth?'

In an earlier post I talked about the difference between fact and Truth, and the impact that a confusion of these two principles have had on modern humanity's "buy in" on certain religions. When we read stories concerning events that occurred thousands of years ago, we know that they were written themselves mostly long after the fact, mostly by people not remotely attached to the subject matter, and mostly from what one may call a political agenda. There are different levels of objective at work at all times; edification, indoctrination, etc. And yet there is often the bones of what we may believe to be the source material there, enough to gather the essential wisdom of the many prophets and pilgrims of spirituality that came before us.

When I first heard the lyric that I quoted near the top of this page in the George Harrison song "Life Itself" back in 1982 it opened my eyes to the idea that many of the world's religions were only separated by vernacular mythology, that all were paths to homage for the same Creator. They were what Joseph Campbell called the "Masks of God". And the further down the road I go the more I see that this is so, and there are many bones of the source material to be found in the works of world religion.

One of the tough things to square with this viewpoint as a Christian is Yahweh's insistence on strict adherence to shunning all other gods except Him. If there was no other lesson to be learned in the Old Testament it was that one. I know you can rationalize your way out of or into anything, but I believe since Yahweh's plan was to set aside the Hebrews as his Chosen people so that he could eventually incarnate into a man and be among his own creatures for a time in order to bring us to the next stage of spiritual evolution , it was necessary to demand this from his people. If many of the gods are different aspects of one, then no other gods are being put before the other. So, I think this can be squared .

In future posts I will go into more detail about my thoughts on Christ. I have issues with some of the attributions concerning his birth and activities after death; but the bones of the source material, his teachings and so on, are to me the pinnacle of spiritual wisdom and a great boon to Mankind. It is in his teachings that I have placed what Ramakrishna referred to as "unswerving devotion", and though I find wisdom, joy, and enlightenment in many sources, it is to Yehushuah that I turn for ultimate spiritual guidance.

What is your source for "unswerving devotion"?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Underlining Truth

"There is only one journey. Going inside yourself..." --Rainer Maria Rilke

I bought a book I had been wanting to read for a long time the other day. It was secondhand , but in good overall condition. However, when I set upon reading it , I noticed with some annoyance that it's previous owner had underlined many lines and passages in the first half of the book. It's not so much for the aesthetic marring of the pages that this bothers me , so much as the fact that as I read along I always pay special attention to what was underlined. After all, if it was important enough for the previous reader to take pen in hand, it must be more significant than the other stuff. As I went along though, it seem to me that most of the marked passages were random, oddball, and not in any obvious way to me more relevant than unmarked passages. I began to wonder about this reader. Here was an eloquent work with pearls of wisdom sliding by left and right, and yet the oddest, almost throwaway items were being tagged as significant. I began to make a mental profile of Reader X. I determined that he/she was probably a student forced to read the book and really didn't know what to look for. Reader X could not have had much of a feel for the work because only half of the book was marked up, and hey, they sold it off to a used bookstore, so there could not have been much of a bond there. As I pushed on into the parts that Reader X had left unmarked I'd come across some stray item that seemed random enough to have been underlined by their busy pen, and I would laugh to myself that they missed out on that one.

And then it occurred to me. There really was no telling what this reader had in mind. The stuff that I considered important might seem as offbeat to them as theirs seemed to me. They might have been at a level of journey were they needed those particular thoughts to help them along. Or perhaps they were so far in their journey that they saw relevance in things that I could not. I am not much of an under liner myself by habit, but I wondered if I re-read a book that I had underlined passages in, say, ten years ago, would those items still be the most significant things in that work to me? I think we are often exposed to things when it is not time for us to "see" them and they have a tendency to "bounce off." I had read Christ say "Let he who has ears hear," for years before I finally had "ears" to really here what He had to say. So it was not right to judge poor Reader X too harshly. In fact, I paid closer attention to things I would have glanced through otherwise, and perhaps had a fuller, more rounded read of the subject matter than I otherwise would have.

And at least Reader X didn't use a highlighter pen... Those are just annoying!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Angels in the Architecture

"Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?"--Hebrews

"Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light."--2nd Corinthians

While perusing the new calendars at a book store the other day I noticed many different versions in an "angel" theme. Most seemed to be of the maudlin or romantic variety, some culled from the works of the great masters of art. But it got me to thinking about the nature of angels, and their place in spiritual practice. I remember reading somewhere that a great majority of people who were polled on the subject professed to a belief in angels. Certainly anyone raised in the Christian faith, as I was, has been so steeped in the presence of angels in Bible stories that a belief in them is in some ways less challenging than a belief in God himself.

I can certainly see why Yahweh would choose the form of an angel to address mortal men, as He seems to have when approaching Abram. There is no doubt that their appearance is majestic in some way, exuding an awesomeness that makes them typically tell whoever they appear to to "fear not!" Even to Moses, the closest man God ever had to having what you might call a "pal" , the most he got to personally see while still in his mortal incarnation was the majestic backside of the Creator, lest he be overcome by the awe of seeing any more.

The angels that approached Lot also seemed to be aspects of Yahweh. It seems clear that in the Old Testament much of the activity of angels was as God's helpers, and as things progressed they became Man's helpers.

This all smacks of the kind of "parlor game theology" that I have previously eschewed but stay with me. I know it can be theorized that EVERYTHING is an aspect of the ONE, and this is probably true to a degree, but other than as tools to help us understand the enormity of an almighty Lord , I don't see the necessity, spiritually speaking, of all this angel hoopla. I am not saying necessarily that I do not believe in them myself, if I do have a guardian angel than I am glad to have as many friends as I can, but to me , it is like over emphasizing middle management when you can have the ear of the CEO whenever you want it.

There are all kinds of layers and layers of angel lore, different names and powers, etc. , mostly created by the Catholic faith. And on the flipside, there are lots of detailed descriptions of demons and devils , too. This all seems to be an effort to restore the colorful demi-gods to a place in Christian belief that had been dumped back in the days when Moses and Joshua were ordered to wipe out anyone who had household gods or worshipped in high places. So why bring them back? Probably for the same reason that Mary was elevated to an intercessory position, restoring , at least partially, the Goddess of old back into what was a decidedly strict Semetic patriarchy. The colorful characters were familiar to the "pagan" masses that were being indoctrinated into the Faith, and it made for a more seamless union.

And that is all very well and good if that is your thing. But does it help us any to worry or think about any of this? As I see it , our world is populated by many spirits, both incarnate and disincarnate; but the only two that I need to truly invest in are my Creator's and my own. Certainly I hope to help guide my children and anyone who cares into a good direction, but then it is up to them.

Still, they do make for some very lovely works of art...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Say What?

"Language was made to express concrete facts and ideas: it is helpless to describe even the difference between the smells of an orange and of a lemon..." -Colin Wilson

One of the difficulties in communicating about subject matter that could be considered "way out" is that it is often very challenging to capture the ineffable in terms that can be easily comprehended by anyone. Sometimes I get the impression that certain writers overload their compositions with heavy duty metaphysical-speak to cloak the fact that they don't know what the hell they are talking about. Usually if you break everything down there is a meaning, but deciphering it is such a tortured process that only the brave or foolhardy stick it out long enough to see whether the idea is cogent or not.

It is somewhat unfair to blame these writers for being obscure, because often times language is just too limited to do something of unusual depth justice. Here is an excerpt of Franklin Merrill-Wolf trying to describe his experience of Nirvana:

"I abstracted the subjective moment- the 'I AM' or 'Atman' element-from the totality of the objective consciousness manifold...Naturally, I found what , from the relative point of view, is Darkness and Emptiness. But I realized It as Absolute Light and Fullness and that I was That. Of course, I cannot tell what It was in It's own nature. The relative forms of consciousness inevitably distort non-relative Consciousness."

Okay, not completely incomprehensible, but it took me a couple of times to get the complete gist of what he was trying to express. It ain't easy. That is why the visual arts, and such forms of communication as poetry and mythology are so often utilised; they speak to us on a deep level that is not lost when delivered. Sometimes meaning is sacrificed when a profound idea is dissected into cold hard words. And then you come across someone who speaks to you, like a C.S. Lewis, say, who manages most times to keep the gossamer intact. You realize IT CAN BE DONE! Of course, the ultimate example would be Christ, who in beautiful and poetic parables taught the world some its deepest lessons.

Still for all that I know many people don't have patience with poetry and art; and yet they hunger for Truth, too. There is many a pitfall in writing about this subject matter: no matter how you put it , much is cliche; or if you get too carried away you run the risk of sounding like Merrill-Wolf , and lose everyone in a metaphysical fog. Worst of all you can come across as some sanctimonious Maharishi , who has got all the answers, and expresses them in mysterious riddles and questions.

I certainly don't claim to have answers;I am a pilgrim inviting other pilgrims to join me on my journey. I will try to speak from the heart, always, and as clearly as I can with my limited tools. I write this as both a Mission Statement of sorts, and as a request for mercy from my readers for the inevitable times in the future when I may fall into any of the pits I have mentioned! Bear with me, correct me when I am off base, and let us journey on...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Common Myth Conceptions; or, Jung At Heart

"Myth is the natural and indispensable intermediate stage between unconscious and conscious cognition." -C.G. Jung

In my post entitled "Questions, No Answers" I posed a series of questions concerning the soul, its' nature, and the central proposition of whether it was something that was truly believable or not. It may have seemed a bit psuedo-mystical or too cute by half, but my primary aim was to try to slap enough questions together concerning the soul to jolt the reader into truly thinking about his spiritual self; not as some philisophical parlor game, but as a real force within, an essential part of our selves that by its' nebulous nature is often ignored or not even considered to be real.

I can remember the first time I felt "aware" of something within me that I later came to regard as my soul. It also happens to be the first peak experience I can recall. I was around six or so, playing alone in the back yard of our old family home on a fine autumn day. It was cold and windy, but the sun was shining brightly in a blue sky. I was wearing a red fuzzy sweater which kept me quite cozy, and lying on the tin roof of a homemade doghouse, watching the amber leaves blow around against the blue sky, full of expectation of a trip to some relative's house that we were going to undertake later that day. I felt a huge welling of joy at the beauty, the promise, and the security of the moment , and I thought to myself, "I will always remember this moment of this day." And of course I have. I have felt all of those emotions at various times before and since that moment, but that moment was so unique because I felt a one-ness and some kind of cosmic approbation that I have only felt on rare occassions since.

These are the moments where we glimpse something of the infinite, when our "higher consciousness" speaks to us. Colin Wilson is a very interesting and provacative author who has synthesized much of the thinking of the philosophers, artists, and mystics who have grappled with the "Big Questions" of humankind, and he posits a very interesting theory about conciousness. In essence, it is this: There are three aspects to our conciousness; the conscious, our thinking, left-brain, everyday awareness that you consider you; your subconcious, that primal, right brain , involuntary area that can only communicate to you in dreams, symbols, and hypnogogic states, and what you might call a superconscious, the higher force that is considered your soul, the spirit that incarnates the flesh and bone machine of your body, and perhaps the immortal fragment of the infinite spirit that comprises the universe.

Absurd Good News is the way the regular consciousness momentarily grasps some notion of the superconsciousness, all the aspects of our "self" align like some astrological event and we feel ourselves in our full potential. I feel our spirit and our relationship with it are the starting point of any quest for "enlightenment", because only if we are in tune with that part of ourselves can we begin to examine our spiritual relationship with God.

On the subjects of God and religion I hope to explore in depth as this blog unfolds, but for now I would just like to say a word on belief, because this is key when discussing matters of the spirit. In our scientific rationalistic world there has been a great schism that has occurred because so much of the content in the great religious works clearly could never have factually happened as recorded. A confusion has occurred that has done a great disservice to spirituality. Much of what is contained in spiritual literature is the Truth, even if it never happened. Material that was meant to instruct in that deep, symbolic language that works on different levels of conciousness has been either fanatically accepted as factual , or discarded as superstious bosh; both of which throw the baby out with the bath water. I will often quote things that I have found to be true from different faiths; this doesn't mean I have endorsed all the dogma of that faith; it means that I believe in Truth when I hear it. No particular faith is true, but all faiths are a path to Truth. I don't think that it is so important what you believe ,as it is important that you believe. As regards the soul, a big positive "yes" of belief knocks down all the barriers and greenlights progression much better than the halting "maybe" of a coy dabbler , waiting to be wooed into acceptance.

The question becomes: if we know that peak moments are our best moments of communion with our spirits, what can we do to have more of them? Is there a way, or do we just have to take them as they come? Where do we turn to? Inward, through meditation, maybe? Or outward, through consulting the mystical wisdom of all the pilgrims who came before us? Perhaps go right to the souce: prayer...Or all of the above?

We'll take a look in future posts...

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Fish Called Wisdom

"I was born here and I'll die here-

against my will-

I know it looks like I'm moving-

but I'm standing still."

-Bob Dylan

I had a dream last night that I had come home to find that the light/hood thingy that covers my small aquarium had somehow fallen into the tank, pinning Oscar, my beloved bottom feeder , and it looked like he was dead. I quickly reached into the tank and plucked him out. His lips moved slightly so I began to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in hopes of reviving him, and then I woke up. It was dead serious in my dream, but kind of bemusing once I was awake. However, it did not even strike me until later in the day how absurd the act of trying to administer artificial respiration to a gilled creature was. Sort of like pumping water down the throat of a drowning man in hopes of saving him. And it got me to thinking; was this significant in some way? If so, what was my dream-consciousness trying to tell me? Having just embarked on The Absurd Good News Network , and taking in the daunting challenge that documenting a spiritual quest entails; the pessimist in me couldn't help but think: "Maybe it means that launching such a dubious venture is futile; trying to break down all the questions, longings, insights, etc. is as pointless and perhaps harmful as trying to puff life back into a dying fish. " I quailed at the thought; re- spun the interpretation a few times, but the pessimist always ended up winning. This troubled me for awhile even though I kept reminding myself of Freud's "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Then I remembered that right before I woke up, it seemed that Oscar was coming around as I worked on him. And, as absurd as it was, it made me feel better. Maybe it means that unconventional methods can be beneficial as long as the giver and receiver are both sharing the goal. So I will continue my journey after all with that in mind. And I can be bemused again...Until I think of what our friend Freud might have made of my going lip to lip with my pet bottomfeeder ...I prefer my interpretation, I'll stick to it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Questions, No Answers

"There never was a time when I did not exist, nor you...Nor is there any future in which we will cease to be...That which is non-existent can never come into being, and that which is can never cease to be..." -The Bhagavad Gita

Do you have a spirit? How can you be sure? What is its nature? Can you communicate with it? Are you doing good by it? Is it doing good by you? Is it distinct from your conciousness? Is it immortal? Is it part of God? What is its purpose? Are you helping fulfill it? Is it leading you? Are you leading it? Are you on the same page? Do you really know anything about it? Are you interested in finding out? Is it even possible to explore it? Do you look within? Do you seek without? What is this force that lives inside us, is more our true self than we are, and yet is virtually ignored by most of us most of the time?

It seems like a good time for a proper introduction...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Declaration of Interdependance

Absurd good news...This is how writer/thinker/all-around wise man G.K. Chesterton described those moments when for no good reason, for no apparent purpose, something occurs to remind us that life really is great; there is more out there than we generally regard; we are connected to each other and the world and the universe in a moment of stabbing beauty and intensity; what Maslow called a "peak experience". For that moment possibilities are opened before us; solutions seem absurdly simple; time seems to stop momentarily and allow some higher part of ourselves to see not just the "forest for the trees" but the whole countryside, the continent, the planet, even beyond. The problem, of course, is that these are only moments, and before long we re-settle to our state of "normalcy" and the only thing left of our peak moment is a warm emotional imprint. Most people have these moments from time to time. It is said that if we make a point of recounting, sharing and thinking about these moments that they are likely to occur more frequently. The aim of this blog is to detail information that is conducive to the nourishment of this "higher part of ourselves" . It is not necessarily a self-help blog , although hopefully its' content will be somewhat helpful. It is merely a counter to the squalid catalogueings of death and misery that we receive as "news you can use" . Nor will it present "happy" news stories of firemen rescuing cats and so on. This blog aims to represent a cafeteria of "food for thought". I intend to travel far in my investigation; some entries may be "absurd good news" some may just be absurd, but I wish to share this journey with all of you ,for in my peak moments I am not alone; I am with all of you, too. So let's set forth together and see what we can see...