Saturday, December 28, 2013

A dream I had

        So, as some of you know, I've been doing some reading about and experimenting with astral projection --otherwise known as out-of-body experiences-- over the past few months. I originally heard about it several years ago from a friend and wrote it off as some new age, devil-practice of some sort. Most people don't seem to know anything about it apart from the movie Insidious. I haven't seen it yet but I can tell by reading the plot summary on wikipedia that it's a lot of half-baked nonsense (like virtually every cheesy horror flick). I recently started investigating AP simply on a whim as I've become more interested in the whole idea of human consciousness and how it relates to dreams.

   Anyway, the concept is essentially that while the physical body sleeps you can "project" your consciousness --or a part of it-- out of the physical and experience different realms, if you will. The basic level looks nearly identical to the physical world and then there are subsequent deeper levels, worlds or frequencies that can be explored. A lot of accounts involve being connected to your sleeping body via a "silver cord" and to get back into their physical body one simply has to think about it --it's pretty trippy stuff. There are quite a lot of methods out there on how to experience it involving self-hypnosis, meditation and various relaxation techniques. There are also a lot theories that involve everything from it being mentioned in the Bible to how quantum physics might explain the whole thing but that is all lengthy and not worth getting into here. Suffice it is to say that regardless of it escaping common knowledge, the phenomena appears to go way back and is attested to in various religions.

   I haven't tried to achieve an out-of-body experience every single night, but for the past 2 months or so I've been listening to a couple self-hypnosis mp3's before bed that are supposed to help induce the state. I suspected that, even if AP was real, that I would probably dream about the experience before it actually happened as your dreams tend to involve things you are thinking about before you doze off. However, this has not really been the case. Up until the other night, I've had a few odd dreams and experiences but I never woke up thinking I had projected. In one dream, I woke up and then dozed off again to see my body flying above the Earth like superman but I became aware, or lucid, that this was a dream which caused me to wake up again. I immediately felt vibrations throughout my body and my heart was beating really fast which totally freaked me out until it subsided. Subsequent times I have tried to flow with that vibrational state a bit more and I can only describe it as feeling pure love (supposedly this involves the heart chakra). I have awoken to other strange sensations like my body being covered with energy (?) but still not actually projecting in consciousness or what have you. Other dreams have involved me floating or flying through an area but never involving my sleeping body or my room. However, the following is a slightly edited version of my waking thoughts from around 3:28 am on December 29th:

   While laying in bed I couldn't decide whether to keep laying on my back or lay on my side. Somewhere in the course of the night, I turned to my side and had an almost cartoonish sense of splitting off into two separate bodies and then flying around the room shouting, "wooo!" I heard a voice from some unknown place say, "yes, flying around is fun but you should--" I wasn't really paying attention to the voice because I was so giddy at the thought that I had achieved this state. I assume it was giving me some valuable information on what to do. I tried to stick my head up through the ceiling and then through the door but there was some type of resistance that was stopping me from passing through them. I went and tried to turn the knobs on my dresser/entertainment center and then clicked on my TV. To my surprise, it turned on and there was a scene presumably from The Dark Knight as it involved the joker so that was kind of creepy. I went towards the door after this but it was clear that it was ending and I said something like "wait, what does this all mean?" and then I remember being shifted into in some unrelated dream.

   Afterwards, I woke up in the middle of the subsequent dream and wondered, "shit, did I just project or was that a dream?" I haven't read much about interacting with actual physical objects beyond just passing through them so, it's quite likely that it was simply a dream. However, the monkey wrench is this concept I have read about called the "mind split effect" from a book I'm reading called Astral Dynamics (which I wouldn't recommend as your first read on the subject). The concept is sort of confusing on top of an already confusing, farfetched-sounding idea but basically it suggests that there are three "copies" of your consciousness --the physical body/mind, the dream mind and the projected double/energy body. These different copies can apparently experience very different things within the same time period and the stream of memories that you actually recall is really all up to a number of factors. So, my thought is that perhaps I did successfully project my consciousness but what ended up as the solid memory recorded above was my dream mind's interpretation of it or even a combination of the projection and the dream mind's. Perhaps it's a bit of a stretch but,it's just a theory. In any event, it has been fun and I'm going to keep experimenting.

P.S. If you are looking for some decent information on the subject, check out Adventures Beyond The Body by William L. Buhlman.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Spiritual Ride

    I've recently noticed a pattern in my spiritual life in regards to the deconstruction of ideas and the reconstruction of new ones. Basically, whenever I start to strongly resonate with a particular body of spiritual ideas, it is soon smothered by deep doubts. I start to doubt myself in just about every way imaginable but doubting myself in a spiritual sense is the main symptom it seems. I'll feel like I understand something deep about myself, others and the universe, then it's like I shoot down and everything just seems very scary and I want to get off the ride --like a spiritual roller-coaster.

    Of course, I am no stranger to doubt and I see it as typically a good thing that helps us. However, I find this as more of a doubting of self that hinders me from weighing concepts from a fair vantage point. The doubt I experience in these particular instances just wants to me to call "bullshit" on everything and call it a day...which, perhaps, isn't the most logical route. This process has actually happened a couple of times for me before. First hearing about the concept of universalism in my Christian days sparked a similar "up and down" emotional phase for me. My brief journey to become a pastor and my conclusion that God was bigger than Christianity were also followed by this phase. You would think that I'd be a pro at dealing with it by now but apparently, not so much.

   Maybe a key component of the descent is just doubting my own intuitive faculties and my ability to make sense of things that-- quite frankly-- there is no proof for? I usually feel relatively comfortable with uncertainty and taking all things in regards to spirituality with a grain of salt. Yet, perhaps it is possible that I still yearn for some kind of certainty subconsciously? Not in the dogmatic sense where I unquestionably believe that I have all the big things figured out-- but more in the sense of having certainty that I can trust myself to come to conclusions that are at least in the right direction. I mean, I'd like to believe that I am somewhere in the ballpark of knowledge as far as spiritual truth goes.

    It's difficult to believe that, however, when I consider all the things that I simply don't know. No matter how much I read or try to expose myself to different practices and understandings, there will always be a plethora of things I don't know. What I do know (or think I know), will always have the possibility of being misinterpreted or misapplied in some fashion. That just seems to be the way things are and I am reminded of it whenever I strongly consider new and wonderful ideas. Yet, I don't see any other option but to trust myself -- by that I mean trusting that there is indeed something real going on when I resonate with particular ideas or experience strange things.

    Of course, trusting oneself can be scary. Many religious institutions make a lot of money off the very idea that you cannot trust yourself to figure things out. The idea is like a damned parasite on our consciousness that can take many years to remove fully. Yet, I've found that it's about the only thing that can be done when it comes to figuring out the meaning of life and how to best live it. As I've said before, to trust other people in spiritual matters is simply to trust that you are trusting the right people in the first place --it's the catch 22 of all religion. We have all been given the freedom and responsibility to make what we can of existential meaning --by God or random chance. I'd like to think that God or some force leads us to think all the things we think so that we are always right where we are supposed to be until we're somewhere else, but who knows? Perhaps it's not important for me to know everything that I don't know and figure out our existential meaning? Perhaps there is no actual existential meaning and I'm just wasting my time fretting about the details of some nonexistent thing? I dunno.

    All I can really think to do is sit back, enjoy the spiritual ride and try not to spill my coffee in the process.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What truly matters?


    What in life truly matters? That's the question I've been thinking a lot about lately. Of course, there are so many ways to attempt to answer that and in life it seems to be an ongoing process of figuring out (or think we are figuring out) what is actually important and worth devoting ourselves to. Yet, I think it's all too rare that we revaluate those things or at least in my case.

     I've really just been trying to step back whenever I'm angry or worried and just ask myself why that particular thing even matters or at least as greatly as I think that it does --it's been very eye-opening for me. Someone recently told me about how bad my new tattoo is going to look when I become old and wrinkly, and I thought to myself "why would care about that?" For one, I don't feel like I'm going to be overly concerned with my physical appearance when I'm eighty-something years old but I also may not even live to be old and wrinkly for all I know. So, why should I base my life decisions on a far off future that may not come?

     Humanity seems to have such a gross obsession with the future. We're told to save money, go to college, get a good career, build credit, buy a house, etc. all so we can secure this thing called the future, because apparently the future that you're not guaranteed matters so much more than the present moment which you are currently experiencing. In our society, living for today is often deemed as reckless and irresponsible, because everything that matters comes tomorrow-- thats just so ridiculous to me.

    I don't want to live recklessly or irresponsibly necessarily, but I don't think true happiness resides in "playing it safe", or following the rules based on an arbitrary set of morals and ideals that are bound to change over time and location. We have been taught that certain things  are important when more often than not it's just about our egos feeling a false sense of security while other egos control and manipulate us to their own selfish ends. We're taught that all sorts of things matter and will bring happiness when more often they bring never-ending dread and sadness because we cling so tightly to mental pictures of success. I often call it "the game", if you will.

    The game is unspoken, but it is designed to make you jump through countless hoops and bust your ass to attain lasting contentment yet, ironically, contentment isn't really ever found or not for long. Now, religion is principally concerned with pointing out this game and beckons that we escape it, but often I think it just trades it for yet another game that is very similar. For example, we may detach ourselves from seeking worldly riches and satisfaction because someday in the future we will go to heaven, be cured of all troubles and we need to get as many other people on their way to heaven as possible and so on. The best is never here but always around the corner ---so, the mentality is virtually the same between some secular and some religious mindsets. Quite frankly, I don't feel like striving for a sense of bliss that has no real guarantee, be it in this life or the next.

    I'm not saying that I want to live apathetically and without passion but simply that I want to live without fear --fear of failing, death, the future. Life is not meaningless to me, it's just difficult to say what anything amounts to in the grand scheme of the universal story. If anything means anything in the ultimate sense, I think it is much simpler than the elaborate mental and emotional labyrinths we have created for ourselves.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Building my own spirituality

     Last year, I wrote a post about how it was difficult to find spiritual direction or structure once you become detached from a particular religion. I still find this to be a true thing nearly a year later yet I think I have begun to find my way out of the darkness a bit (or I am simply enjoying the darkness, however you want to look at). Yet, there is much that has helped me through this process.

    One of the things that has helped me is just giving myself the freedom to explore all the different spiritual ideas out there, as many of you know. I've slowly given myself permission to investigate and entertain all the things I felt I wasn't allowed to look in years past. I often can't make up my mind about the veracity of said things but the beauty of it is I don't feel I really have to either. I'm simply exploring and being in awe of what I find. And it is always really interesting to not only see where spiritual paradigms differ but also where they overlap. The overlap reaffirms my theory that all spiritual paradigms are really just attempting to describe and relate to the same thing ultimately. I went from thinking there was no more ground left to cover spirituality to feeling like there is too much ground to cover than I will ever get around to. I'm actually to the point now where I have more books I want to read and more rituals I want to experiment with than I do time to dedicate, which can be frustrating but also exciting at the same time.

   Exploring all these various perspectives gives me the materials to build something of my own. Rather than passively accepting a ridged structure of spiritual beliefs and rituals, I have the chance to really create my own structure. After all, why the hell not? Who is to say those who constructed the spiritual structures before me necessarily knew any better than I do? Who is to say they had divine blueprints  to construct what they did?

    Perhaps this method just resonates with me so well simply because I have always been creative by nature; I've never been content with just appreciating the art. I've always had to eventually make my own art, and now, my own "religion".  Interestingly, I've encountered more and more people that seem to be doing something similar. My feeling is this is not merely some crazy idea of mine, or a trend but a movement into the future in relation to how humanity comes to view spirituality and eventually, science and spirituality as tools describing the same phenomena. 

    Maybe the thing that has helped me most of all is realizing that the spiritual journey paradoxically starts and ends right here and now. The thought that we are ever far away from the Divine, or salvation or enlightenment is simply that--a thought and that thought can be released. Those things are all right here. Of course, there are various ways to open yourself up to that inner paradise (prayer, meditation, etc.) and explore the mystery of it all but it is always within us at the center of our being. Fear is really the only thing blocking that realization.

    There is so much we can learn about and incorporate into our practice but ultimately I feel the spiritual journey is just about realizing that you already have the peace and fulfillment you seek, if you only accept it as so. 


Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Pyramid of Self (a theory)

    I drew this simple pyramid on my iPad as a way to visualize my current thoughts on what "we" actually are. My following explanation is a hodgepodge of ideas I've been reading about and my own personal reflection. I have no idea if any of it makes much sense as it's just a theory I'm putting together. Feel free to pick apart or provide your own thoughts, I would only ask that you try to see beyond the language used to communicate potential realities:

Ego - The most superficial and temporary part of ourselves yet the one we most commonly identify as "I". It see's itself and the physical body as one in the same, though it is not necessarily. It is the sum of individual biology and personal experiences and is concerned primarily with survival and personal satisfaction --though the ego's very nature is ironically often counterproductive to both of those ends. Spirituality is particularly concerned with overcoming or seeing through this aspect of the self.

Inner Guide (the Higher Self) - An extension or "face" of God that could be seen as a mediator between the ego and God. It is the part of ourselves that has perhaps eternally existed and reincarnated in different forms, if reincarnation is true. Having much more wisdom than the ego, it is always calling us to meet our highest potential on this plane of existence. One could say this is the "personal" extension of God which we can have an inner dialogue with (which may partially explain why there is so much disagreement on what God supposedly says). The more we peel back the ego, the more the higher self shines through.

God (the Ground of Being)- This is the part in which all that exists is inextricably connected. It's essence is pure energy and pure consciousness. To experience God is to experience the deepest core of our being which is simply an awareness that beneath the ego, and beneath even the higher self, we are all fundamentally one thing. The ego may have some awareness of God via the higher self, but often taints it with the ego's own thoughts, desires and traits to give divine validity to it's own selfish ends.

    With the understanding of the God above, perhaps a more accurate visualization would be the following :
(please ignore the fact that this looks like a crude drawing of a piƱata)

    I realize the essential weakness in this theory is that I am working through the "ego" to postulate about these different levels of the self, but take it for what you will.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Some thoughts on Atheism


     I've often been asked if I am an atheist and in some cases, simply branded as one despite any explanation on my part to the contrary. This has often confused me but I suppose that if you don't adhere to a label of some sort or fit into a person's specific definition of a label, people will inevitably give you one to classify you in their world of endless classification. So, I'd like to talk a little bit today about why I personally don't adhere to the label of atheism.

    The first thing I would say is that atheism seems to sometimes be confused with being skeptical of religious (particularly fundamentalist Christian) claims. This is just plain silly to me. I don't think being a skeptic automatically makes one an atheist, I think it just means that you question popularly accepted ideas, specifically in the religious sphere of things. You are not easily swayed because you are after the truth or the best understanding of it that you can possibly have.

    The second thing is that I don't find myself identifying all that much with what I see in atheism. On the one hand, I agree with questioning religious claims and thinking critically as well as not undermining or ignoring all the discoveries science has made. There is no reason to think that things like evolution or the universe being billions of years old is a bunch of nonsense simply because it seems incompatible with a literal interpretation of holy writ. On the other hand, the message I gather from the main spokespersons for atheism (ex. Richard Dawkins) is that religion is pretty much a bunch of useless nonsense and that we should solely rely on science for our answers about life. I realize that is not the feeling of all atheists but even so that is not something I wish to identify with. While I can agree that a lot of harm and ignorance has festered under the umbrella of religion, I simply don't think it is all bad and I do think religion has it's place. Even if those that adhere to religion don't always practice it, most of it's teachings are typically about peace, compassion and excelling our understandings --which is something the world can always use more of.

    From my perspective, atheism seems to usually be about the disbelief in a magical male deity on a throne somewhere in the sky who sometimes intervenes in the affairs of man if they pray fervently enough and who will judge the deeds of mankind. Many atheists seem to have come from a judeo-christian background and now reject the "God" concept they were given within that, understandably. If that is what defines atheism then no doubt I am one or at the least, I am agnostic. But what if your concept of God goes beyond that narrow, popular view?

    What if you use the word "God" to describe the feeling you get when you are in love or the sense of wonder you get from looking at beautiful mountains or the stars? What if you use God to describe the feeling of inner connectedness to all people and things? What if you use God as a place marker concept for a sense of yourself that goes beyond the flesh and blood body that you typically identify with? I have really nothing to back this up, but my thought is that a lot of people who claim to be atheists would be a lot more inclined to believe or at least entertain  that type of God and probably already do even if they don't use the term. After all, what is "God" but just a word at the end of the day?

    I guess all I'm trying to say here is that to have a label based on the disbelief in something as ambiguous as the concept(s) of God does not make a lot of sense to me and thus I do not hold to it.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Truth and Rocks


    Not long ago I was having a conversation on the topic of "truth" in which I admitted that I thought that virtually anything I perceived to be true could, in fact, be incorrect. The person I was conversing with thus concluded that I had "given up on truth" and while I tried to press further into what the person meant by that exactly, it seemed that was their sign to give up talking to me so, I unfortunetly didn't get to explore that statement much.

     From my perspective at least, my spiritual journey has always been about my hunger for what is true and aligning myself with that to the best of my ability. At the same time, my idea of what is true has obviously changed over the years and it seems the more fervently I try and nail down and define it, the more elusive it seems to be. In one of his books, Alan Watts uses the analogy of "trying to get the water of life into neat and permanent packages," which quite accurately describes my past attempts at trying to discover what the absolute truth of reality is.

   So, in a sense, I'd say that person was actually correct in saying that I had given up on truth. I have given up on it in the sense of having the certainty that my beliefs about God and the universe are unquestionably true. That idea of truth is what seems to have gotten humanity in a lot of trouble throughout history and I find it to be incredibly unrealistic. One of the things I like to bring up is that various people of various faith traditions throughout history have all claimed exclusive rights to this idea of truth. Debates, stake burnings, wars and rumors of wars have all been had over people's certainty that they understood truth and that anyone who claimed different was wrong, if not plain evil and deceptive. So, whenever you claim to have the truth you inevitably have to do something with all the other truth claims that have been made especially those that seem to yield miraculous and/or positive results in people's lives. I find the more I come to understand about many of those who hold those differing claims, the less I judge them or their beliefs.

    Various experiences and findings are used as evidence in supporting such claims on truth but they are nonetheless very subjective and never settle the issue for everybody. What I'm wondering though is what does a sensible person, who is genuinely interested in the truth, to make of all these claims and the various things used in support of them? How often do people actually investigate these differing claims and their support without some sort of dismissive, apologetic agenda that has made up their minds well before hand?

    Why is it that when someone is convinced they have discovered spiritual truth and yet someone else shows their disagreement, it is so often assumed that the other party is merely refusing to see it? It's as if our perceptions of truth are like interestingly-shaped rocks that a person discovers and then proclaims to everyone how it's the greatest treasure. Some come to agree but they are always surprised when someone else doesn't see it as anything that great and insists that it is just simply a rock. The treasure-finder then assumes the person is refusing to see it or has not been "gifted" to do so, and thus react accordingly...either by trying harder to make them believe, dismissing them as fools or by having their head chopped off (which is still a modern reality in some places).

    I'm thinking the above vision of truth does not work though and there may be a more sensible perspective. For me, truth is about embarking upon a personal journey where I experiment with different ideas and practices and discover what seems to work and what doesn't. To ask,"what is truth" is of little benefit if one is expecting a black and white, neat and packaged answer. The reason I say that is if there is such a thing as absolute truth regarding God and spirituality, it seems that it transcends anything we can say or think about it. Linguistics and symbology will faith the absolute truth every time. Understandably, that seems to be a frustrating idea to a lot of people but it need not be if they can learn to set aside their presumptions and soak in the mystery that is truth. The journey is best when we can find those interesting "rocks" and appreciate them aesthetically without bashing them over the head's of others in hope's they'll get it. I think we can celebrate our ideas and personal truth's without insisting they are the absolute truth and be open to better ideas coming our way to shape our understanding of truth over the course of our lives.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

'Hellbound?' documentary review

    I've been waiting awhile for this documentary to come out. I don't remember when I first heard about it's development but I know it had to be at least 2 years ago. Anyway, the documentary is centered around the idea of "Hell" particularly in Christianity and how many have come to question and even reject it. This topic is of considerably less interest to me anymore as I debated it into the ground and I don't confine my beliefs strictly to the Christian philosophical box any longer. Yet, it is a topic dear to me in the sense that it's what first caused me to question and ultimately explore my faith. The idea of Hell is what first got me to open up my mind to differing spiritual beliefs not only in Christianity but outside of it too. This blog started as a wrestling with the question of Hell essentially so, it seems worth mentioning my thoughts on it here.

    First, I will say that Hellbound? was pretty well done. I think it's difficult to do a documentary on a religious topic correctly but director Kevin Miller did a good job in my opinion. The documentary seems focused on bringing to light the argument for Christian universalism but I feel the different camps are represented fairly and respectfully. Mark Driscoll and the Westboro Baptist church come off as various shades of crazy, but honestly I think they do that all by themselves in whatever capacity they show up in. Nobody needs to try and make them look nutty.

   Second, I think Kevin Miller picked some great interviewees to include the infamous Westboro Baptists, Mark Driscoll, Ray Comfort and a random exorcist. William Paul Young (author of the Shack, which I reviewed awhile back), Brian McLaren, Gregory Boyd, Chad Holtz and Frank Schaeffer were also good picks. Robin Parry was definitely one of my favorites as his book, The Evangelical Universalist, had a big impact on me when I was studying the topic of Hell. The only interviewee I didn't care much for (besides the singer of GWAR) was Robert McKee, whom was an atheist arguing for the logic of eternal Hell, which was confusing in itself but I also just wasn't able to coherently put together the points he was articulating for some reason. I also think it would have been nice to see Rob Bell get interviewed for the film, though clips of him do appear and some of the interviewees mention him. In addition, Carlton Pearson is interviewed but it is very brief and only appears in the special features. It's a small gripe of course, but being that they are two former megachurch pastors that essentially made the topic of Christian universalism known to the media and public at large, I feel like they just warranted a little more attention than they recieved.
    An unexpected surprise was the mention of Preterist eschatology, which is another one of those ideas in Christianity that until recently, wasn't something many people seemed to know about unless they went to school for theology or something. It fits in nicely with the discussion on Hell because it's an idea that really shifts your perspective on the concept just like the idea of Hell being nothing more than a state of conciousness in the here and now (I don't know if there's a fancy name for that view though).

   One of my favorite things said in the movie was by Frank Shaeffer, whom I previously had never even heard of, "Even if you accept a tradition and say 'i'm going there for authority' it's still you, a fallible human being, making a decision to accept this as true". I think that is one of the most important points one can make about religion, particularly when one wants to be dogmatic about particular beliefs, books or institutions being of divine origin. You can say that something has the final word on what you believe but logically it seems inescapable that nothing or no one besides you has given that something the final word. And if you think someone else has chosen the wrong authority on matters of truth, what's there to say you haven't potentially done the same thing?

   Anyway, there's a lot of stuff I could dive into here but for the sake of brevity and repressing my inner nerd, I will simply end on the importance of the particular topic this documentary is based on. First, I'll say that I do not think the importance lies in figuring out what a book, like the Bible, "actually" teaches or figuring out what the early followers of one single religion thought; although that is what many will inevitably reduce it to. On one level, I'd say the importance of questioning Hell is that it ultimately leads to a lot of other questions in regards to one's faith and can free people to make up their own minds as opposed to adhering strictly to one spiritual perspective. On a deeper level, the importance lies in the questions that I see as behind all spiritual thought to one degree or another: Who am I? Who are you and who is God? And how deep does the separation between those things go or is that separation merely an illusion? How we answer these questions will invariably impact how we perceive and treat others and also ourselves.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Some thoughts on the Law of Attraction

    About a week or so before I was supposed graduate from bootcamp I got a stress fracture in my foot, putting me on hold from training. I was on hold for something like 6 weeks and found it even harder not to be extremely depressed. Anyway, I used the time to check out some of the other religious services offered there like the Unitarian Universalist and Buddhist ones. The Buddhist one was actually something called Nichiren Buddhism which oddly seemed to have aspects of the Law of Attraction principle (made popular by 'the Secret' movie) woven into it. Essentially, what I gathered from it was that by chanting and focusing on what you desire you will either receive it or come to an understanding of why you didn't.

    Towards the end of my time being on medical hold, the doctor had told me that he was going to send me back a couple weeks in training, instead of just letting me finish out the last tiny bit of training like I requested. For whatever reason though, he wouldn't allow it. So, I decided to try chanting and focusing on my desire to get the hell out of bootcamp. Long story short, I finished bootcamp 3 days later and the following week I was sent to Maryland for school. Now, I guess that wasn't the greatest, impossible miracle to ever happen (though at the time, it sure felt like it) but it is a story that have thought a lot about since. Was it really because I had "attracted" the outcome into existence? Honestly, I don't know but I found it very interesting none the less. There have been many other similar coincidences in my life as well.

     Regardless of entertaining the law of attraction from time to time and seeing what appears to be results, I admit that I have often dismissed it as silly. I mean, saying that I can have a Ferrari or a million dollars if I continually think and speak it so that the universe will somehow bring it about...does indeed sound silly and I'm not particularly sure about those sorts of applications. However, since coming to a more pantheistic view of God, I have to admit that the basic principle actually makes a great deal of sense to me. If everyone and everything is essentially a manifestation of God then why wouldn't the power to create worlds and stars be within each and every one of us? If God is not this guy out there somewhere pulling the cosmic strings and it's really me, then theoretically I can achieve virtually anything. Crazy, supernatural things even...theoretically. I mean, Jesus claimed to be God and he supposedly did all sorts of miraculous things. I don't know if any of those things really happened or not but if so, maybe the truth is he wasn't any different than any of us, he was just much more in tune to his "God-hood".

    What sets apart the people that achieve greatness from everyone else in this life? Maybe its talent or luck or perhaps there really is a deity separate from us and he/she blesses some more than others for some mysterious, divine reason? Perhaps it is those things but perhaps it has more to do with our thoughts and the way we focus on them. I'm not sure what the context of the quote was, but Muhammad Ali said, "I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was." Sounds a bit egotistical, but maybe the deeper truth in that statement is that Ali's intention and speaking of that intention helped alter reality in such a way that he become a boxing legend?

    One last thing, I was talking to a counselor recently and telling her my various life issues and one of the things she said was that my negative self talk was basically acting as a self-fullfilling prophecy and I needed to reverse that in order to see change. Now I don't know that she necessarily meant anything spiritual by that, but it makes a lot of sense when I think upon my different situations. For example, I've been basically single for something like 4.5 years. And truthfully in that time I have thought and talked about it a lot and it would seem that I have somehow perpetuated that situation by thinking and speaking that negative fact over and over again. So realizing that, I've been trying to flip those negative thoughts into positive ones and I intend to focus only on that. Maybe if I focus really hard on being a "chick magnet", perhaps I will become one ;)




Sunday, May 5, 2013

Spiritual addiction


    As most of you know, I've spent the last couple years on this blog talking about various topics regarding spirituality and chronicling my own journey. While I don't feel I have as much to talk about as I once did, I still see the overall activity of blogging as very important for my personal reflection in addition to maybe giving someone else out there in the internet world something to relate to.

    However, one thing I've tried to become more mindful about is just how much time and thought I devote to spirituality. The reason being because I know just how addicting the whole thing can become. I've seen it take over people's lives in scary ways and I would say I've had those scary moments myself.  Scary ways for me mainly has been in terms with debating people and trying to get people to consider my point of view. I have thrown myself into that game more times than I care to count and while I think I typically have a gentle approach to it these days, I still often find myself having to bite my tongue from saying something that I know I'll regret. I still have to check myself to make sure I'm not perceiving myself as a valiant, knight of truth and reason out to slay wayward and ridiculous ideas wreaking havoc upon the interwebs. There is just a dark room of delusion one can get caught up in when one feels they have some sort of grapple on life's mysteries.

    I've also always been a fan of reading all sorts of books but the majority of what I read anymore are books pertaining to spiritual philosophy. I'm not really sure why I find them so entertaining but I suppose it keeps my mind stimulated and my ideas progressing. It also eases my need to discuss such topics with people since it is kind of taboo talk for the majority of folks, so in those ways it is very beneficial. But it can be a scary thing when I get so lost in these books as to neglect other hobbies or attend to my social needs. Even when I'm not reading, my mind has a habit of wandering off during work or daily interactions and I end up down a rabbit hole of questions to the point that I sometimes totally forget what it is I'm actually supposed to be doing.

    Another way that spirituality can be a detrimental addiction is in terms of power. The obvious examples would be certain clergymen that famously abuse their positions of authority and either physically or emotionally injure those around them. In a more relatable way, spiritual views appear to make great pedestals by which all others can be judged and thought of as intellectually or morally inferior. Honestly, I think that is a more common thing than is often realized because it's often something subconscious. The most well-meaning and kind people can commit this. For example, as much as I don't believe I am better or smarter or more enlightened than anyone else, the feeling of "one-up-ness" can creep up on me when someone seems unable to answer my questions or their responses seem illogical in some way. A small part of me silently celebrates and thinks "the truth has triumphed!" because I can't help but feel I have constructed the most sensible spiritual perception even though I know that is a completely relative thought.

    Lastly, spiritual ideas have the potential to create an internal war within our being. I'm particularly thinking of the concept of "sin" which can easily get people distraught about not meeting a perceived ideal and beating themselves up over things they plain just can't help. This internal war between right and wrong has been a source of my own struggle in genuinely loving and accepting myself and it's painful to see so many others endure the same.

    In conclusion, I obviously think spirituality can be a very positive thing but there are several things I've realized that I have to be mindful of. Not making time for it is perhaps just as bad as making too much time for it, but as with all things, moderation is key. Moderation is what I think will keep me from being burned out and frustrated by the spiritual quest. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Letting go

   The road from evangelical Christianity to where I’m at now has been a pretty long road filled with both times of spiritual peace and spiritual angst. Currently, I feel like I’ve entered another period of peace and I’m not entirely sure why. One thought that I had today is that perhaps it’s because I am finally begining to "let go" of Christianity a whole year after giving up the Christian label.
    I think before giving up the label I spent a good couple years working through various theological ideas (as documented in this blog) to help justify my faith because I simply could not see my spiritual experience apart from it. After I gave up the label this past year, I spent the majority of the time feeling confused on just how to edify myself spiritually without a rigid system and community to guide me. I knew that my old ideas and ways of doing things simply wouldn't do but yet I felt a sense of emptiness without anything to replace them with. I struggled to figure out what spirituality outside of religion was supposed to look like...only to conclude that the idea of it needing to look like anything was just another byproduct of the religious mindset I had tried so hard to overcome.

   In another sense, “letting go” is no longer feeling a strong need to help instigate or stimulate change within the religious systems as a whole…at least, not in an active sense.  I have great respect for those that are devoted to those systems and seem to be benefiting from it. I also have great respect for those that do feel an active need to stimulate change within those systems. For me though, I’m starting to feel that people find what they are looking for when they really need it. People that are truly in a state of cognitive dissonance will pursue what they need to recapture their spiritual equilibrium, which in some cases means dropping spirituality altogether. The best thing I can do is focus on my own spiritual well-being and if “fate” has it, I will be able to assist someone else if and when the need arises.

   I've just become aware of how much mental and emotional energy I have put towards this Christian/institutional religion thing that I don't even identify with anymore. Perhaps to some extent it was necessary to sort of work through my new ideas but at some level I think it's prevented my own healing and progress. I wasn't allowing myself to enjoy the extent of spiritual freedom. It's like constantly talking about an ex-girlfriend that you've long since ended things with but are still rehashing the events that led to the break and the painful aftermath in an attempt to warn the current boyfriend. Not only are you going to piss of the boyfriend, you're just reopening your own wounds for no reason and not being mindful of the opportunities before you.

   It's not that I have to swear off ever thinking or talking about it again, but there is simply so much more to explore and focus on. I've said what I've needed to say regarding it. The "good" fruit grown in my time as a Christian I have carried with me and I have discarded the "bad". There isn't really any point in wrestling with it or trying to get others to wrestle with it. I have a journey that I am on and others have theirs.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

God is the all

    Not too long ago, I made a post about God being a concept that many people have approached differently over the course of human history and gave a very brief idea of what I currently thought God to be. Since then, I've been entertaining a different take on God I've been learning about and I'd like to try and articulate that in this post. The basic idea is that you, me and everything around us is God manifested. God "plays" various roles from a human to a bird to a rock to a star but is one single thing in reality. God is the universe but also may transcend the universe as well. This is along the lines of pantheism or even panentheism that can be found in much of the eastern religions yet can arguably be found in the western religions as well.

    Admittedly, this idea is still fairly strange to me and is among many of the things I once outright objected without any real consideration. However, thinking upon it seems to not only resonate on a very deep level but also has led me to a few interesting conclusions.

    First of all, it not only puts God in a different light but illuminates the purpose of the universe as well. The concept of God I grew up with was said to have created the universe for his glory and worship alone, while in this concept it seems God created (or rather manifested as) the universe to have experiences -- to love, to fear, to laugh, to cry and to learn. "I", in the grand sense of "I" as an eternal being, have purposefully forgotten who I really am in order to experience "I" in a more limited sense.

  This concept of God also seems to support a feeling I've had for awhile, which is that all the suffering we experience is essentially rooted in the illusion of separation. Our journey to be whole beings in this life is based on a yearning for something we all once shared --a universal sense of oneness. This realization of oneness is where we all have been and it is where we all are going because that is truly what we are. From a Hindu perspective, this process has happened before and will happen again and again. It is the cosmic game that God plays to not only have experiences and relationships but to have something to contrast it's fundamental oneness to.

  So, essentially the question is not, "why did God allow suffering" but instead perhaps "why did we allow suffering"? The answer to which may lie inside the common structure of many stories in movies, video games, books and so forth-- the protagonist versus antagonist model. There is something psychologically fulfilling about a perceived "good" embarking on an adventure to overcome a perceived "evil". In the same way, we at some point decided to bring about evil, perhaps for the sole purpose of defeating it. By overcoming evil or separation from the One we are able to celebrate good or unity of the One with new freshness and life.



Saturday, March 2, 2013

Discussing the spiritual

    Some years back when I was big on Christian evangelism, there were a series of questions I had been taught to ask a person to see if they were "saved" or not. If not, I would go into various Bible verses that explained how they could be redeemed and so forth. I don't recall what all the questions were exactly, but I remember the last question went something like "if you were wrong, would you want to know?"

    I think there's something telling about that question in regards to how spiritual conversations are often engaged. The attitude behind the question is, "if you do not have the same general beliefs that I do, then you are simply wrong and need to be corrected." At least, that was definitely my attitude then and it honestly took several years for me to shed it (assuming I even have completely). I think that attitude, though, is the reason why little to no real discussion happens between people of differing beliefs. One or more parties are only interested in dispensing what they deem to be truth and if others in the discussion dare to doubt that truth, they are written off and their ideas dismissed. "Agree with the Truth or just go away" seems to be the motto of many today.

   A few such interactions is all one needs to find reason to never discuss their beliefs with anyone of differing beliefs ever again and hence many people stop talking about it, if they indeed ever started. I sometimes find it amazing that I haven't got to that point yet; my desire to discuss things regarding spirituality never seems to totally dissipate for one reason or another. However, I often wonder what is the best way to go about such discussions? How can we avoid detrimental or frustrating conversations of spiritual nature?

   Perhaps it's best to first ask "what is the purpose of such discussions?" Back in my evangelical Christian days, I thought the purpose was to get people to believe like me so that they wouldn't go to Hell. Now, I think the purpose is simply to foster understanding and provide the opportunity for people to actually compare and weigh differing ideas instead of only bouncing the same ten tired ideas off of ten other people that essentially see things the same as you. If that is the purpose, it's only necessary to put the ideas out there and if people think it's far fetched, then so be it. There is no need for conversion.

    Another thing we should consider is the effects of these discussions. Is what were discussing going to have a positive or negative effect on the person we are discussing with? I think this is relatively a hard thing to gauge simply because everyone is different and if you put something out online, you never really know who all will see it or how they'll react. Some people are able to entertain different spiritual ideas without necessarily accepting them and others simply cannot. For some people, to even suggest that something other than their particular belief could be true is to evoke immense anger or sorrow because our attachment to spiritual ideas (or lack there of) are just as much emotional as they are rational. So, I think we have to be cautious of giving ideas to people who clearly are not yet in a place to discuss them.

    Lastly, I think we should strive for humility. We need to have the humility to accept that we, whoever we are, do not have all the answers and that people across the world and throughout time have been wrestling with the very same questions regarding spiritual truth and have come to different conclusions. So, we should view each discussion of such nature to be an opportunity not only to share but to grow and become familiar with all the various answers that are out there.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Living in the present

   I've been on quite the Alan Watts kick lately and as a result I'm currently reading his book The Wisdom of Insecurity, which was written after he left the Episcopal ministry. One particular concept in it has really been forcing me to revaluate my perspectives. The concept can pretty much be summed up in this quote,
"If happiness always depends on something expected in the future, we are chasing a will-o’-the-wisp that ever eludes our grasp, until the future, and ourselves, vanish into the abyss of death."

I've come to realize just how much I've been basing my life on future hopes, as well as past memories.  I rarely seem to be satisfied with where I'm at in this particular moment...I'm always wishing for things in the past or looking towards things I expect or hope will be in the future. I rarely seem to just enjoy the present for what it is. I will give an example of this:

    In the two and a half years between graduating from college and joining the Navy, I perceived the good majority of my life to just plain suck. I had a degree in what I wanted but was still living in the same boring town, with a boring job, making crappy cash and an erratic social life; I felt like I was going through a midlife crisis twenty years earlier than expected. So, despite never having any previous desire to be in the military, I began to daydream about joining the Navy. I heard about so many exciting stories and places and developed an absurdly romanticized view of joining simply because I yearned for something (or anything) to give my life some renewed meaning. It seemed like the perfect escape route out of my increasingly mundane existence and so my mind lived in this hopeful reality for several months on and off.

    Since joining the military, however, I've had a few hard-hitting life revelations. One of the most important of those revelations being that my previous life really wasn't that bad. In fact, it was pretty good. Of course, things were far from spectacular but I had a lot freedom and key relationships that I regretfully took for granted. The first time I realized this was at some point in boot camp and it almost felt like I had died and my soul was unable to move on because of all I had left behind. The experience of being cut off almost entirely from your old life and old joys is an extremely painful experience that leaves you no choice but to view life differently. Anyway, the moral of the story is that my refusal to live in the present caused me to focus on a future that, once reached, only made me yearn for that present that had now become the past.

    I have been bewitched by this cycle of wanting things past or future for as long as I can remember and I suspect most people are to one degree or another. Watts did well to point out, however, that neither the past nor the future actually exists; only the present exists. All that is exists in the present, not the past or the future. So, to be anything else other than mentally and emotionally focused on this moment is to effectively be disconnected from reality. I don't take that to mean that all thinking about the past or future is inherently bad, but to be constantly taken by those ideas is to miss the full experience of life and that is something I want to avoid.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A "Relationship" with God?

    In a recent conversation, it was asserted by a Christian whom I've known for many years, that I had "given up my relationship" with God because of my changes in belief. At first this angered me because it seemed arrogant that anyone could claim to know what someone else's relationship with God was. After cooling down though, the event reminded me of something I've been wanting to blog about...just what exactly is a relationship with God anyway? 

   When I was a Christian, I perceived relationship with God as something initiated by accepting Jesus as "lord and savior" of my life and then he would "speak" to me through prayer, sermons and through reading the Bible. I also gauged my relationship (usually subconsciously) on how well I was living out the teachings of Jesus and the Bible, even though I believed God wasn't keeping still felt like he was. Underlying those things, however, was another sense of relationship that I can really only describe as an overwhelming presence and an emotional connection to something beyond what I could see. I have described some of those experiences on this blog before, but some instances where I recall that feeling strongest include: jogging under a starry sky in the country, speaking in "tongues", various times of song and worship, watching people at a store and feeling that God loved every one of them and meditating by the beach. Each experience was accompanied by tears of joy, inspiration and/or a deep sense of peace and contentment. 

    In hindsight, it seems likely that what I often perceived as God "speaking" to me was more the subliminal playback of the teachings I had convinced myself were true, than they were representative of God itself. I mistook a relationship with the tenets of a religion as being a direct, unadulterated relationship with God, which is perhaps the same issue that the aforementioned Christian has and thus why he thinks what he does about me. The reason I think this happens is because these tenets were readily available for me to use to help describe and understand the "overwhelming presence" and thus it was very difficult for my mind to separate the two (as I suspect it is and has been for many others). The overwhelming presence appeared to be confirmation of the tenets being true, particularly when being experienced in-conjunction with Christian events.

    The thing of it is, that once I was able to mentally and emotionally separate the two things, I still continued to experience the overwhelming presence, which tells me that it was never bound by the teachings and rituals that I thought it was for so many years. It hits me at the weirdest moments, sometimes when I'm eating or when I'm working and the only thing I can do is enjoy it and to try and gain something from it. It is something I feel I have come to understand so much more and yet, ironically, so much less at the same time. It is now my sole basis of a relationship with God...not a set of beliefs that may or may not accurately unveil what that presence is or what it desires from us. This isn't to say that beliefs are not useful in our interaction with this presence or this higher being, but they are simply human attempts at understanding it and therefore should never contain it to a point that we assume that others that do not share our beliefs, must in fact, not have a relationship with this God.