Saturday, April 30, 2011

Why drug-induced spirituality is inadequate

I came across a rare sight the other day-- a harmonious and constructive Internet discussion between a skeptic and a very mixed group of religious and spiritual-but-not-religious individuals.

At one point two of the spiritual-but-not religious persons spoke of how drugs, many years before, had brought them to an understanding of the oneness of existence, an understanding which has stayed with them throughout the years. It would be impossible, reading their words, to doubt the power of what they had experienced.

Yet, their experiences were as a peck on the cheek, compared with the profundity of true consummation brought about through disciplined, drug-free, practice. Let's see how this is so.

You can't forget truth. Whether it's the truth of how to ride a bicycle or the Truth of a glimpse into the Ultimate, one is changed forever by one's experience of the truth, and forever it will be with you, sometimes in an attenuated firm, but it will be there. The two persons who discussed their drug-related experiences spoke of this transformation.

But yet, that was what they spoke of. They spoke of an experience,  of a singular event which came about largely by happenstance, an experience which they could not further expand upon because, while a drug may impart an experience, it cannot impart tools, discipline, continuity, or development. And in their voices, even as they spoke of the profundity of the change they both experienced, was sadness. What they had was a memory, a powerful memory of a place they longed to return to but could not, and did not believe they ever could. And so they comforted themselves with their memories.

Something I must add here: memory, of such an experience, is more nearly like motor memory than the recollection of your aunt's telephone number. It is a much more powerful and intimate state, this soul memory, than is ordinary mental memory. Nonetheless, it is not presence itself.

Spiritual discipline lacks any of the ease and charisma of drugs. It lacks even the sex appeal of isolated techniques like meditation (chiefly because meditation, these days, is used as an artificially induced drug substitute, rather than as something that arises naturally in its own due time). There's zero glamor accrued to the art of digging the crap out of one's head and refusing idle thoughts their play. But while the purpose of the effort and the risk and the disruption is often out of mind, that one has tools and is self-propelled somewhere is never in doubt for the practitioner of spiritual discipline. And hidden in its debris field of its austere recklessness, is the development of presence, that which cannot be longed for, and which is not even oneness.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The urgency of making distinctions

I was in a minor spat with another poster on a discussion board the other day. The poster said that he intended to revolutionize mysticism by putting words to the ineffable; I called him an idiot or a fool or some such fungible word (folly, it seems, is highly "effable" in English), and ended the conversation.

I have not gotten back there recently due to illness, and so I can't say I saw all of the aftermath, but there seemed to be some shock and a few words to the effect that "everyone in your path is put there to learn from" and other well-how-can-anyone-know-what-is-foolish kind of statements. I'm not here to rehash the incident away from the board (I'll do that, if at all, at the board); I'm here to address the importance of making clear distinctions.

The world's wisdom literature is full of accomplished mystics calling other people fools, and worse. Were one not attuned to the reasons why, it would seem, say, that the patient, kindly, wise one on page 19, who sat up all night with a distraught parent, and who on page 24 gave away his robe in a snowstorm, on page 35 suddenly, inexplicably, thunders "fool" at a visitor who said no more than a word or two, and throws him out on his ear.

Those wise ones sure are inexplicable, right? Surely that  last anecdote wasn't intended to be an example for us, like all the other anecdotes were, right???

Making such distinctions to the best of one's ability is an imperative, not an option and not a special prerogative of a handful of great masters from great books.  A mystic pursues Truth and nothing else. Admitting ego nonsense and delusion, and setting it it up as an equal to Wisdom with a shrug of ones shoulders and a sigh of "how could anyone hope to tell which is which?" is cowardice at best. If one is mystic enough to know what mysticism is, one has tools to begin to make distinctions between wisdom and foolishness.

What tools? An earlier post of mine that unfortunately lost its title in the move points to them:
If one is steeped in the Western tradition of prayer, sooner or later in among all the words has to enter the thought “why am I praising That which needs no praise? Why am I asking things of That which already knows everything I would ask about? What function does all the noise I make serve, except to display my insolence?” Then, the most natural prayer in the world is silent contemplation of the Divine.

Such prayer is absolutely indistinguishable from most forms of Eastern meditation. There is a trend, in fact, to call it “meditation”, so that the general public knows what is being talked about. Or, worse, to label it “centering prayer” and then to teach it as a technique, much as yoga is taught. But it’s not a technique. It’s a state of mind that simply sprouts after one has tilled the soil long enough.
Somewhere after the point where practices converge, so too does theology, which is to say that it disappears. Whether one calls it emptying or repentance or yielding or surrendering, one cannot cling to dogma with a deeply silent mind, not even to the dogma that brought one to silence.

Any sound path will converge at that same point.

Where does something point? Does it point towards that point of convergence, at least for the individual who believes it? If they are promoting it as truth, might it lead their listeners closer to that point of convergence, or are they inadvertently misleading others? Is it a suffering individual looking for answers (looking for answers is not the mark of a fool). Or is it just another example of something that aimlessly meanders the fields of ignorance?  Sometimes the answer may not be obvious. But it  is important to try to recognize the differences.

So does that mean that every time one spots foolishness, one shouts "fool!"? Of course not. Aside from the obvious risk to one's vocal cords from shouting "fool" all day and night (often at the mirror ;-) ), one has to exercise some judgment. There are times to suffer foolishness in order to get something else constructive accomplished. There are times to suffer foolishness because sometimes by stringing a fool out one can reveal the foolishness to the fool and/or observers.  Sometimes shouting "fool" will bring about harm to oneself and accomplish nothing constructive. Sometimes it is best that someone else point out the foolishness. But, as a rule, it is a kind deed to let a fool know they are a fool (or more accurately, are thinking and spreading foolish -- i.e., false -- ideas). Whether, when, and how this is done is situational.

A kind deed? Is Hardcore nuts?

My best moments have come about, by and large, as a result of being told accurately, either by myself or by others, that I was a fool. Sometimes it was said gently. Sometimes (often by myself to the mirror) it was not. The more appropriately delivered under the circumstances, the sooner I have understood it, and the more quickly I have benefited. But no one -- no one -- benefits from having their foolishness tolerated.

Those who fail to discern between foolishness and truth are neither wise, nor courageous, nor kind.

Friday, April 8, 2011

As is obvious, this blog has moved to Blogger

My annual web hosting bill was coming due at the same time I was hit by a number of other annual bills and a large vet bill. Given a choice between web hosting and a parrot, I decided to keep the parrot :) So, for the foreseeable future, it is.

I'm weighing whether to abandon my anonymity here, so that I can do some flagrant hawking of merchandise (I make stuff) to offset vet bills (both recent and past bills I'm still paying off, and for that matter future vet bills, as my sweetheart needs an expensive procedure I can't yet afford).  If I do this, I promise to keep the hawking to a minimum.

How spiritual teachers do a disservice (sometimes)

(This entry was first posted on the old blog on Saturday, February 19th, 2011 at 12:51 am)

No, I’m not talking about the flagrant frauds (oh so many to link to, oh so few words here to link). I’m talking about what happens when some people get a little whiff of truth (but only a little).

Words are a pathetic vehicle for conveying ultimate truth. The best description possible would still contain within itself aspects which, taken together, render the description an inadvertent fraud. The first is that, being evocative of the truth, it would inspire many listeners and stir in them positive feelings. The second is that, being a mere approximation, it would fall far short of describing truth. When words of this sort fall on the ears of the spiritually lazy, what such people carry away is not understanding, but a bunch of feel good words. Because they “know” the words, and the words stir in them a pleasant feeling, they think they understand. They repeat the words to each other without real understanding. And, like a demoniacal inoculation, the words immunize them against hearing anything deeper and clearer and truer.

You can’t speak of love to someone who has memorized platitudes about love. You can’t talk of the truth in the silence to those whose minds are filled with noisy words about silence. Even the less popular, if sometimes more apt for the audience, words like surrender and sacrifice become blotters which absorb stray truth before it hits home.

How can one speak to such persons, when they’re looking for help, wanting insight, but have become immune to the meaning of words? These are not abstractions for me. I count among my friends people who are inoculated against verbal teaching in this way. Some of them are plainly stuck at being spiritual dilettantes, and there’s nothing to be done for that — I mean, if you really think you can buy enlightenment through pricy weekend workshops, what can anyone do but let you have at it till you tire of such nonsense (or go broke)?– but some are not. Some want more depth, and the words they’ve memorized have become their shackles. They would be better off if they “knew” nothing at all.

As a freelance mystic I obviously have my issues with notions like “initiation” and “inner” and “outer” teachings. Formal religious hierarchies built on those concepts fossilize quickly into all ritual, no substance. But there is something genuine in watching one’s words so as not to dispense descriptions where they can’t be understood except as a cliche. Of course there’s nothing that can be “hidden” anymore, with the world awash in spiritual triteness, but at least one can try not to add to it.

A primer on reason

(This entry was posted on the old blog on Sunday, January 2nd, 2011 at 9:41 am)

This ought not be a blog post. This ought to be a book outline. Perhaps someday I’ll find the initiative to write such a book, but for the moment, here’s a quick and dirty, almost flow chart like, look at reason as appropriately applied in mysticism.

Step zero in reasoning is humility. One must be brave enough to know what one does not know, and ready to submit oneself to the truth one may find at the end of one’s quest, whether or not the answer one found was expected or desired. If this sounds, well, mystical. it’s because all truth seeking converges at the same point, even rationalism.

Step one is to look at the question and make your best guess at the answer.  What is it that you think might be true?

What if you haven’t a clue what might be going on? Most likely you either lack sufficient good information for a guess, or you are being indecisive (sometimes as a result of an overwhelming amount of information). Try seeking out more information,. Or carefully outline what you do know on paper. Or get the opinion of others. Then just make yourself make a best guess.

Step two: ask yourself how can you test your idea(s) to be sure of their validity?  Can you set up some sort of experiment – say, by making coffee three different ways, then tasting all three to find out which one really tastes better? (scientific method).  Or can you look over published raw data – say, census bureau data, to confirm whether there really are an unusual number of single Polish biochemists living on your block (the scientific method as applied by observational astronomy and many social sciences). Maybe you can go back and read Aunt Millie’s letters to see what she was really saying about your father when your father and mother first met (the historical method). Or perhaps your idea is untestable – say, a thought that God loves people more when they wear Red Sox t-shirts (in which case you may need to evaluate the idea spiritually- see below).

Really important question: Is it worth your while to test your idea? Maybe you’re a tea drinker who doesn’t really care which method makes the best coffee, at least not enough to go out and buy or borrow three coffeepots. It’s okay, then, to simply keep your opinion that coffee is best made in a French press as an unvalidated personal opinion (but remember always that you don’t really know this to be a fact).

Or maybe your idea is testable but you don’t have the means to test it — perhaps, it turns out, census data is not fine-grained enough to determine if your block is chock-full of single Polish biochemists, and while in theory a survey could answer your question, you don’t have the time, skill set, or finances for such a survey. Then you can infer a likely result from census data for your neighborhood or city, decide to keep your opinion as an entirely unvalidated one, or defer to the opinion of experts who have performed the kind of research you  cannot, depending upon the importance of the question and the resources available. Maybe the question about chemists is a little important to you and there are no experts on the question, in which case you choose to infer an answer from the number of singles and of Poles in your neighborhood coupled with that you live across the street from a biochemistry research institute. Your opinion then has some evidence behind it, but remains untested.

Or maybe your question is very serious and while you haven’t the means to test it, there are experts — say, instead of pondering Poles, you’re trying to decide what treatment approach is best for your newly diagnosed cancer. Then absolutely look at what the experts who have studied the question have to say.  If someone says they are an expert, but they have not studied the question, then their opinion is at best inferred from a little data, at worst, sheer quackery. I once saw a surgeon who represented himself as trained to perform a very delicate, highly specialized form of joint surgery, but his curriculum vitae made it clear that he had not, and no, the argument that he had been trained at the Cleveland Clinic (where such surgeries are sometimes performed– but not, apparently, by him) was not sufficient to make him a genuine specialist. People don’t acquire expertise by eating in the same lunchroom as experts, though sometimes they try to acquire it by experimenting on a lot of unwitting patients till they get it right.

Step three: If you should test: test. If you will rely on others results: examine how they got their results. Did they test? How many others have gotten similar results? Is their opinion consistent with what you do know?

If the question appears to be a spiritual one: First, is it actually a testable (i.e., scientific) one? If someone claims to be channeling advanced aliens from Betelgeuse, it is possible to determine that Betelgeuse is a short-lived unstable supergiant that almost certainly never had sufficient time to evolve any life, let alone advanced life (when dinosaurs looked up at the sky, Betelgeuse hadn’t yet formed, and any day now Betelgeuse may go out of existence with a spectacular fireworks display, as it has begun it’s final stellar collapse). If the channeler quickly adjusts his or her story to fit the facts (“Oh, not that Betelgeuse, but the other star The Space Ancients call Betelgeuse”), you are right to suspect fraud or self-deception on the part of the channeler (it’s implausible that The Space Ancients would speak a derivative of medieval Arabic).

Important fact: it isn’t necessary that someone be asking payment for their wisdom for fraud to be a possibility. Maybe they’re quietly collecting “donations”, or secretly sleeping with cute female followers. Maybe they are in it for the ego boost. Or maybe they’re black magicians trolling for potential victims. Certain things, like purporting to sell divine wisdom, are inherently suspect, but evaluate the claims, not appearances. A good con artist knows how to fake appearances.
Of course, if you know someone is acting unethically, get away from them as fast as possible. They are almost certainly not dispensing anything like wisdom, and whatever wisdom they may by happenstance share is not worth your becoming their victim. The same applies when a spiritual group often  acts badly.

If it is a truly untestable spiritual question: What is the broad opinion of spiritual thought throughout the ages concerning the matter? Note there is not anything like universal agreement on the particulars, but certain principles and patterns have a way of appearing over and over again in spiritual thinking.Are your ideas consistent with, or at odds with, those themes?

Though particular attire has been used over the centuries by the world’s spiritual traditions, the attire prescribed has generally been worn for reasons of modesty or simplicity, or to visually set the group apart from others.  Rarely do spiritual traditions say that God favors wearers of particular attire (i.e., simply donning a head scarf or prayer cap will not automatically please Allah. Only the state of my heart towards Him will do that, though if my inmost desires are towards Him and He commands modesty, presumably if at all possible I will cover my head). Do Red Sox t-shirts fit the pattern of religious and spiritual attire?

If what you think is true is also  consistent with spiritual thinking throughout over the ages, it is more likely to be sound. If it is not consistent with the  repeating themes of human spirituality, or don’t seem to appear among them, then honest self-examination is called for.  Is it plausible that God hates New Yorkers who do not renounce their own baseball teams, or at minimum agree to wear the T-shirt of their rivals? Does God really care about baseball, or is God more concerned that His creation come to know him  and be filled by his truth and love? Is your idea an insight, or is it wishful thinking, or is it the result of outside influences you’d rather not be influenced by? Maybe you own a bar not far from Fenway, and you make a lot of money on game days, and that has influenced your thinking.

The final word on a spiritual thought is direct mystical knowledge. But be aware that most “mystical experiences” are nothing of the sort. The more mystically inclined one becomes the more aware one becomes of, for lack of a better description, “spiritual static”.  Some “static” is clutter and distraction, and some is outright hostile and deceptive (many religions call that stuff “demons”; I prefer to give the nasties the more diminutive moniker of “fleas”).

If one has not known true mystical insight it can be hard to discern signal from static. The best description I can muster is that a true mystical experience has the quality of imparting actual understanding and insight, rather than mere ideas and information. A mystical insight, for example, won’t tell you to find a job by blindly going to the corner of Main and Vine at precisely 2:30 on Thursday. Mystical insight instead opens ones eyes to how things really are, so that one sees more clearly. After a true mystical insight, one is a changed person. One may see that the patterns of things would lead one to find employment if at that street corner at that time, but if so then one would truly understand why it would be so.

If one “sees” something, tests it, and it does not turn out to be true, then your “mystical insight” had become testable, and it has failed. You have a genuine emergency on your hands. You’ve got a heaping helping of delusion to free yourself from. If at all possible find someone you trust to help you through the crisis. You need to determine whether it was wishful thinking and you are a poor judge of genuine mystical experiences (and fix that, pronto), or if you are awash in static or fleas (also something that needs to be fixed asap). It may be necessary to drop freelance mysticism for a more formal path at this time. Take this seriously– understand that this is the very  scenario where would-be mystics sometimes go insane.

Note there are psychic experiences that resemble the blind take-it-or-leave-it of the job search example, which, if carried through, do work (i.e., one would find a job in that manner). I don’t like psychic experiences, because not only is it difficult to discern “good” psychic experiences from flea-laden suggestions intended to cause harm, they offer no experience of Truth.  I would advise others to stay away from the merely psychic, though obviously ymmv.

How to “find” happiness this holiday season (and always)

(This entry was posted on the old blog on Saturday, January 1st, 2011 at 8:58 am)

It’s really quite simple. It’s what’s suggested by the world’s established wisdom. And it worked for me:

Forget about your own personal happiness.

Do that, and happiness will find you.

How I start the day

(This entry was first posted on the old blog on Wednesday, December 29th, 2010 at 11:13 am)

As someone without an existing religion to provide me with ready-made rituals, I’ve had to invent a few of my own. I don’t have very many, but one evolved into the way I start my day.

I keep a 4 oz drinking flask (the kind normally used for stronger stuff) filled with pure water at my bedside (the cleanest, purest water I have, which is generally the stuff from the Brita filter I have for my parrot). I usually wake a couple of hours before I get out of bed, when aside from a short while in the summer, it is still dark. When I wake, I say the following:

I pledge myself to the clarity that cannot be named and I pledge myself to love, and to its expression, justice, which pierces the darkness as starlight pierces the night and promises the dawn.I intend now that every obstacle to clarity and love be removed, internal and external

and I pour a bit of the water on myself, then drink the rest.

This post is really an addendum to the last post. It doesn’t matter how one does it, whether accompanied by a daily ritual, or simply an affair of the heart, but unless one’s spirituality includes a genuine commitment, not merely to oneself, but to one’s fellow beings (no “well, if I get all spiritual on myself everyone else will benefit” excuses accepted here), then one has set oneself well outside the mainstream of the world’s spiritual traditions, and well into the realm of escapist nonsense.

That category would even include my own morning pledge and ablution, should I not take it seriously.

The immorality of escapism disguised as spirituality

(First published on the old blog on Wednesday, December 29th, 2010 at 4:22 am. Republished with a minor revision for clarity)

Let’s face it. We’re in a bit of a pickle, us humans, what with imminent environmental catastrophe and a major extinction event of our making just revving itself up, and an exponentially increasing divide between the very few rich and the rest of us leading to the collapse of effective governance which can only culminate in a collapse of civilization.

If all those words are a few syllables too long, they can be summarized as: life sucks. It sucks for a lot of humans (and plenty of nonhumans) and no one not living in a bunker need look far to see the suffering. How many of us know someone who is unemployed or on the verge of unemployment? Who has lost their home, or is on the verge of losing their home? Who is living on the streets? Who can’t afford sufficient food or medical care? I suspect that most of us who haven’t isolated ourselves in caves (or in gated communities) can answer yes to most of these questions.

In the face of such suffering, what is the duty of a spiritual individual?

The Golden Rule is as universal a value as one can find, more universal than, say, the belief in Gods or angels, or the practices of prayer or meditation. If I were thrown out onto the streets by thieves who wanted my home, I would certainly act in my defense. In light of the Golden Rule, what then ought I to do about things like this? The world’s spiritual traditions are nearly unanimous: the duty of a spiritual individual is to act to alleviate suffering, based on the principle that the welfare of others is my welfare, the crises of others my crises, the suffering of others my suffering.

In light of this universal imperative, garbage of the sort I recently read at is simply obscene:

Stop trying to change others (people, systems, governments, organizations, policies, procedures, etc) and focus on the one person you can change. YOU! You have the ability to go inside your own self, your heart center, and change the program. The only thing you need to do is CHOOSE to do so. You can stop fighting yourself and choose to let go, let go of the fail safe belief pattern. We can promise you that it is SAFE to do so!

That’s not spirituality. That’s not profundity. That’s cowardice.

A genuine spiritual commitment is a commitment to what is spirit, to what is true, to what is right, to love writ large. It is not a commitment to private bliss — indeed, what private bliss actually exists can’t be gotten at without renunciation of the petty ego, and so can’t be found without paradoxically renouncing the pursuit of private bliss. Such a commitment, such a renunciation, far from creating a conflict-free la la world, compels deeply spiritual people to create conflict. The Reverend Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi were two individuals of extraordinary spiritual depth. They did not retreat into themselves to find their own exclusive salvation, though it would certainly have been easier to do so. Instead, in the face of great injustice, they stirred up trouble with the aim of alleviating the suffering they had witnessed.

We need spiritual inspiration to get us through the crises of now and the coming years. We need a Gandhi, a King. I do not know where we will find our inspired spiritual leaders. But I know where we won’t find them, and that’s anywhere where the nonsense that we should not remedy injustice, but instead wrap ourselves up in an egotistical search for individual salvation, is prattled.


(First posted on the old blog on Tuesday, May 18th, 2010 at 6:46 am)
For a brief while it seemed that talk of 2012 had died down in the new age community. Crappy movies that make notions look as absurd as they are have a way of doing that. Unfortunately, the blessed effect of the movie seems to have worn off, and again I’m seeing discussions of 2012, this time as a kind of super duper Harmonic Convergence (remember that one?), at which point we’ll all make some kind of leap in consciousness.

No, we won’t.

There is one and only one route to a leap in consciousness, and that is hard work.

There are no cosmic dispensations to be had. If the cosmos (or God, or whatever) could hand out magical Get Out Of Ignorance Free cards, would it not have done so earlier? Why would it wait for a particular calendar day? There aren’t any special astrological alignments that day (vigorous imaginations notwithstanding), and in any case all but the very worst of astrologers are adamant that stellar alignments do not cause anything to happen. Not even the starting point for the 2012 myth makes sense, as the Mayan calendar does nothing more significant that day than the modern calendar did in 2001.

2012 is just another way of saying “I’m too lazy to do real spiritual work, so I’m going to pretend I don’t need to” (and no, visualizing pretty light and “sending” it hither and yon is not real spiritual work).

Finger Choppers

(This entry was posted on the old blog on Saturday, January 30th, 2010 at 8:56 pm)

When I was a teen I read the story where a zen master who put up one finger when asked to describe buddha nature chopped off the finger of a boy who had imitated him. Reading that at the time soured me on Zen.”What pointless cruelty!”, I thought.
I have a different take on the story today. The boy had imitated the form without grasping the essence. The master put an abrupt end to that, compelling the boy to look at the essence.

Of course, imitating the form while failing to grasp the essence goes on today, and a stroll through the Wild West will produce no end of finger choppin’ good examples. Perhaps the most ubiquitous of the finger choppers goes: “There’s nothing for you to strive for. You’re already enlightened. You just need to realize this.”

Some portion of this statement is true,  more or less, when looked at from an enlightened perspective. The catch here is that this is not a piece of advice directed at an enlightened individual: this is a piece of advice generally directed at John and Jane Doe, beginning meditators, or to Mandabuddhi Kadali (known as J. Doe before the name change), spiritual cowboy who has been spinning his/her wheels in the pursuit of the easiest possible way to Truth– or better yet, the furthest possible location from truth– for years.  And, used thusly, it could not be more wrong.

No one has ever become enlightened without plenty of hard core, daily, difficult, sometimes painful, effort, effort not necessarily recognized as “spiritual” at the time, but most certainly recognized as effort. The right advice to John and Jane Doe is not “don’t try so hard, you are already there”,  but “you are embarking on the most difficult task anyone can do. If you are serious about it, it will consume  your life. It may take you to the brink of insanity. It may lead to your death. The only way forward, and the only way out once in, is to fearlessly seek truth with every molecule in your body and with your every breath, ruthlessly dispatching every obstacle in your way. ”

Of course, that is the kind of message spiritual cowboys aren’t interested in hearing (or aren’t interested in understanding when they hear it: finger choppers can be recursive). Cowboys prefer to imagine that everything comes easy to them, now that the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, and all.

Another common finger chopper is physics abuse, most commonly quantum theory abuse. Now, I happen to have actually studied quantum theory, sweaty pencil in hand, slide rule on belt (I’m old) , Ph.D. physicist who helped to develop the theory at the blackboard, and more PDQs swimming around in my head than I ever want to experience again. At no time do I remember my instructor announcing “you see, this means objective reality does not exist”.  Indeed, when I measured, in lab, the speed of an electron to be about five times the speed of light, they didn’t say “wow, what a great subjective reality you have: you can see another plane of existence where one is free of the  conventional limitations of time, energy, and matter”. No, they said “do it over”.

Quantum theory is a rigorous description of objective reality, not a rejection of it.  That physical reality at the particle level doesn’t look much like our macroscopic ordinary daily experience is of little concern, either to modern physicists or to physical reality.  That we can’t precisely measure both a particle’s location and its velocity is not the same statement as “everything is subjective” or “everything is controlled by the mind”.  This isn’t simply my interpretation, equal in value to your interpretation:  the assertion “everything is subjective” looks, mathematically, nothing at all like Heisenberg’s equation.

Again cowboys drag a truth, kicking and screaming, from the comfort of its context, and use their hostage to deliver a ransom note demanding that they be exempted from personal discipline (which is what “everything is subjective” really means).  Where’s a good Zen monk with a sharp knife when you need one?

Of  course quantum abuse is just the latest in a long line of physics abuse. Before quantum abuse, it was relativity (yep, studied that too, and no, everything isn’t relative, but field equation). Before that there was the magical healing properties of radiation (ooops) and electromagnetism proving all sorts of things it does not (yep, I know Maxwell’s equations, too, and no, none of that stuff is in them either), and before that there was the clockwork perfection of classical mechanics proving the existence of God (ooops again). Physics is a discipline which studies the physical world through the method of science. Physics, like any study of a facet of reality, can be inspiring, and conversely spiritual insights has sometimes helped move physics and mathematics forward. But it is not a vehicle for proving spiritual truths, especially made-up ones about not having to work at anything.

If inspiration from physics is needed, maybe it’s wise to find it in the First Law of Thermodynamics. Because, whether it’s work performed by an isolated system, or spiritual practice, you can’t get something from nothing.

More about self-examination

(This post was first published on the old blog on Tuesday, January 26th, 2010 at 2:04 AM)

It has taken me a very long time to return to blogging. Apologies to the readers. I had my legs blow up on me, followed by a pet health crisis for my Christmas present. Given what happened, I won’t promise anything here anymore. Here is, with little modification, what I’ve had in the can all this time. I’ll follow up on this, and other topics, whenever.

The purpose of self-examination is awareness of reality. Armed with awareness, one can do battle, and win, with one’s character issues.

How? It’s almost too simple: when you see yourself thinking up one of your personal failings, stop. Don’t indulge it. It’s harder than I put it , but not much harder, once one can see what one is doing and has resolved not to do it anymore.

This is very different from “not thinking negative thoughts”. Spiritual cowboys into various forms of “positive thinking” assert that lots of goodies (somehow, the goodies sought by spiritual cowboys always end up being material, not spiritual, goodies) will come your way if only you can be positive about the goodies materializing for you, which inevitably involves the denial of reality. Cowboys believe that you should throw out, for example, thoughts of being broke and in danger of having your car repossessed when in fact you are broke and repossession is a possibility. It is well nigh impossible to completely exclude reality from one’s thoughts. Even schizophrenics and drug users can’t do that.

Self-examination, on the other hand demands immersion in reality. If you’re broke and can’t make payments, then that reality, and how you respond to it, is exactly what you look at. If this is what is happening, and your fear and stress is leading you to act badly towards others, then you spot the thinking leading to the bad action, stop it, and where appropriate, substitute a right action.

You don’t have to drive the evidence of your own senses from your mind. You don’t have to manhandle the Universe into dispensing shiny blobs of matter. All you have to do is look at what’s in front of you, and make a better decision. It’s low on the warm fuzzy feelings that come from denying reality, but it takes much less effort, and every step of the process is within the ordinary experience of a human.

It helps, a lot, to have other people to bounce your self-observations off. Other people, if they are conscientious and trustworthy, can sometimes alert you to your blind spots, or warn you when you are being too hard on yourself. It’s still possible to make progress without the input of others.

When you are stuck (i.e., can’t stop acting like the ass one doesn’t want to be), one of three things is true:  you have not examined the matter thoroughly, and you’re not aware enough of your thoughts, feelings, and motives (most likely); you lack sufficient motive to stop (which usually means you haven’t examined the  matter sufficiently to understand  how the problem adversely affects you and others); or the problem isn’t really a character flaw (perhaps one is feeling guilty over reasonable behavior (which is itself a character flaw), or perhaps what you think is a character flaw is a hormonal disturbance or some kind of organic brain dysfunction).

And more apologies

(First posted on the old blog on December 23rd, 2009, at 8:55 PM)

I’ve had an “interesting” few months. First, I injured myself in a way that no one had ever done before, at least as far as my doctors could ascertain. Then, just as I appeared to be recovering from one “impossible” injury, I repeated the same “impossible” injury on my other side.

I am not exactly nimble at the moment, but I am A) home (a mixed blessing: when you don’t move well, having a call button is a handy thing), have a properly configured laptop in my bedroom/temporary prison, and C) have run out of every excuse not to get back to posting here (I hope).

I’m going to look over what I have written so far on part two of spiritual bungee jumping, and I’ll try to finish it tonight or tomorrow. Then I’ll post a review of a book by Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright Sided.

Apologies for the extended absence

(First posted on the old blog on Friday, October 6th, 2009 at 3:54 AM)

You know you’re not having a good couple of months when the most active telephone numbers in your PDA belong to orthopedic surgeons and physical therapy departments.

I am working on the next post, but it needs several more revisions to be presentable. I’ll get it up as soon as I can.

Spiritual Bungee Jumping

(This was first posted on the old blog on Friday, August 7th, 2009, at 8:32 AM. It has been lightly edited in the reposting to more clearly credit my 12 step friend for the methodology described here.)

Yee haw pardners! Put on your spurs, ’cause ol’ Hardcore here is about to go a-cowboyin’ on ye’!

Well,  not exactly. The wild ride I’m about to talk about is the quintessential  bit of wildness no spiritual cowboy would ever attempt. It’s the perfect practice for adrenaline junkies. I call it ‘spiritual bungee jumping”. Other people call it “taking inventory”, or “confession”, or “self examination”. Once you get over the fear and throw yourself over the edge, you’ll want to spiritual bungee jump again and again.

No really. Sum up the courage, make the leap into hard core self examination, poke into the dark and dirty corners of your mind and strip yourself bare of your deep dark secrets. and you’ll have discovered  one of the most liberating experiences short of liberation. Toss in a bit of mental discipline, and woo! you might just find yourself on the edge of that, too.

Spiritual bungee jumping is not therapy. A lot of therapy wastes its time figuring out why the subject feels as they do. Spiritual bungee jumping doesn’t look for reasons (which are tantamount to excuses), nor is its purpose to make one feel better. The object is to ferret out the ego, and when appropriate, identify incidents in one’s past that need to be cleaned up. Like everything else about hard core spirituality, it’s not about easing the pain of the ego. It’s about tearing it down.

It is almost impossible to do an adequate job, the first time at least, without at minimum taking detailed notes. Anything less will be quickly shoved into it’s own dark corner of the mind, and no progress will have come of it. After one has done it and lived, built up a habit, and become a true self-examination adrenaline junkie, it’s possible much of the time to do it on the fly in one’s head.

How can one identify raging ego? Write down everything that you dig up that makes you feel bad, and look very closely at anything that makes you feel good. If the positive feelings are anything less than the most exalted of feelings (for example, anything less than unconditional love), write those down too. Take a hard look at each instance, describe the role played by your ego, and if applicable note anyone you’ve hurt as a consequence.
“Okay, Hardcore”, I imagine some brave (or gullible) reader saying, “I’m a wreck, I haven’t been able to eat for a week, I’ve got this notebook I can’t even bring myself to look at full of things I never intended to say to myself, let alone to anyone else.  What now?”

The best possible next step is to find someone trustworthy to unburden your secrets with. The obvious candidate is usually a best friend who is able to listen to you without being judgmental, but who won’t hesitate to call you out if instead of honest self-examination you produce a pile of steaming poop on a platter. If you have a friend in a twelve step program, you have a perfect candidate. Twelve step programs are masters of “taking inventory”. Your friend has almost certainly done “moral inventories”, and may well have heard the inventories of others. The first time I took the leap, I shared the aftermath with a friend in a twelve step program who had heard many an inventory. Not only did I relieve myself of the burden of  a lifetime’s worth of secrets, It was from her that I learned the nuts and bolts of self examination.

If you don’t have a friend you can trust with this, it is possible to “borrow” a clergy person. Clergy people are obligated to keep your secrets. Christians, of the Catholic, Orthodox, or Mainline Protestant sort, are a good choice, because Christianity places a high value on confession , though any clergy you feel you can trust is fine.  Contact the clergy member, explain that you aren’t a member of a church, but you’ve felt a spiritual need to take a look at your past, and you want to talk about it. It’s good form to make a donation for their time.

If among your deep dark secrets are things like “I’m attracted to my same-sex coworker”, absolutely positively make sure you’ve chosen a clergy person who does not feel theologically obligated to panic at the mere mention of homosexual feelings (and if that is among your deep dark secrets, you’re among the majority of the human race who’ve experienced such feelings).

Yes, you can do all this over the internet, if you have a trustworthy internet friend or you feel you can trust a clergy person you’ve met online. Just be sure that the person in question is who you believe them to be. I advocate revealing your secrets, but not in the form of a Facebook page dedicated to a blow-by-blow mockery of your self-examination.
I personally would not choose a therapist, because in my experience therapy tends to work at cross-purposes to spirituality. That said, therapists are not fungible. If you feel most comfortable speaking to a therapist you know, talk on.

If all else fails — you have no friends you can trust or who are willing to sit down with you, never in a million years would you trust any of the local clergy, the mere possibility of a Facebook page dedicated to your failings causes you to weigh the merits of various suicide methods, and you are sure any shrink that got past the first page with you would lock you up  –  you can go it alone. In whatever manner has meaning to you, confess to That Which Already Knows And Doesn’t Care. Ask for help overcoming these failings. Then destroy your notes.

With the exception of the time I borrowed and learned from a 12 step person, I've gone it alone.

I call this process “spiritual bungee jumping” because the first time it is pure terror, non-stop adrenaline all the way  to the bottom.  Next time around it’s still frightening, but it’s also exciting . Do it enough — really, I’m not lying to you — and it becomes pure  adrenaline rush followed by freedom from something that otherwise would have gnawed at you indefinitely. It becomes fun.

So now that you’ve made yourself intimately acquainted with all the crap in your head and seen just how your crap has hurt the people around you (Hardcore admittedly has strange ideas about fun), what can you  do about it? That’s the topic of my next post.

Waiting for Nirvana and other nonsense

 (first posted on the old blog on Friday, July 1st, 2009 at 1:31 AM)

Sorry for disappearing for a while: life has a way of demanding one’s attention at times.
Something I’ve read more than enough of lately has been claims that this or that planetary combination or eclipse or planet traipsing across a new sign or zodiac is the harbinger of a new age. All we need to do is sit here and soak in the magnificent energy of Charon stellia or  transiting fill-in-the-blanks. Alternately, for those not as astrologically inclined, 2012 isn’t the end of the world, it’s the beginning of a new era of peace, love, and understanding.

I hate to break it to the true believers in nirvana as a kind of pizza waiting to be delivered (what would we have to tip the delivery boy?). But neither spiritual advancement nor world peace is yours for the waiting.

This mistaken attitude reminds me exactly why I gave up my short-lived career as an astrologer. Yes I do think there’s “something” to astrology — but that something is not to be found in forecasting the future. Astrology is a language of symbols and concepts which pervade much of Western esoteric thought. Without being able to speak the language, much of what has been written over the millennia would be incomprehensible to me. I’m glad I drifted into the study of astrology many years ago.

What I was not glad about then, nor can I abide today, is the notion that this language describes outside forces which act upon us and shape our future. Thinking in those terms, even when those terms are softened by concepts like “probabilities” and “tendencies”, was not good for my thinking, and not at all good for the few people who offered me money so that I could describe the world to them in those terms. Even if astrology’s predictive powers were accurate beyond any credible disputation, looking at it as predictive would be destructive. The same goes for any other non-trivial form of forecasting, including  the 2012 Mayan calendar insanity.

We are not members of the audience watching a movie, waiting for the scene to unfold. This isn’t a movie, this is the real deal, and we are the actors, as in one-who-acts. No scene unfolds without our active participation, no scene even exists without our having collectively willed our roles in it into existence.

There is no nirvana, no pure land, no heaven, no moksa, no Summerland, and no new age, for those who wait, however expectantly. Wanting and waiting for world peace, for an end to hunger and want, for the very best hopes of one’s heart, will end with more war, more want, and more desolation, because the sociopaths who set the world ablaze for their own amusement do not wait and hope. Only action wins the day.

Today, right now, do what you need to do at this moment to bring about what you want. You will then have something much more valuable than knowing the future: you will have made the future.

Router problems

(first published on the old blog on  Monday, July 6th, 2009 at 2:41 AM)

I’ve had router problems over the past few weeks that have made substantial posting too painful to attempt. I hope to have the problem fixed (read: new router delivered and installed) in a few days.

Spiritual Narcissism

Perusing Internet spirituality, one would get the sense that it was all about getting high without needing to pay the bartender or your dealer. Or about healing whatever emotional or physical ailments one might have (or think one might have). Or about manifesting an upper middle class lifestyle.

Above all, it’s about “me” –about “my happiness”, about “my health”, about “my dietary preferences”, about “my pain”, about “my relationship”, about “my spiritual development”, “my  meditation practice”, “my automobile” and “my stock portfolio”.

Except no, it’s not. It’s not about “me”. It never was about “me”, ever.

Meditation taken up artificially (i.e., before one  turns to it naturally) and made the exclusive, or nearly so,  practice makes for a lopsided, narcissistic spiritual life. Missing is the  unfashionable practice of continuous self-examination (yes, looking at one’s failings and trying to correct them is a spiritual practice, and an essential one). Absent is genuine service to others (by genuine I mean for-real, not for something to put on “my” resume that gives “me” warm fuzzy feelings).

It’s not just lopsided–  it’s doomed to failure. I guarantee  you that anyone who gloms onto a largely mental practice and with it intends to pry open the doors of truth will find their path blocked, and the more they try to force past the bouncer at the door, the worse things will be for them. There is no substitute for character work, regardless of how unfashionable it may be, and there is no substitute for that equally unfashionable word, sacrifice. The surest path to enlightenment is to forget altogether about enlightenment, and let it tap you on the shoulder while you’re caring about others.

Spirituality may ease emotional pain, but spirituality is not therapy. The concepts and vocabulary of therapy make absolutely no sense in a genuine spiritual context. In fact many of the aims of spirituality are directly opposed to those of therapy.  It’s not about healing the child within or expressing one’s feelings. It’s about the Divine, period, end of statement.

Wanting to manifest more stuff for oneself is just not spiritual. Well okay, it is, if you count the left hand path as spiritual– they do think the object of everything is to use the invisible world for self-aggrandizement. Simply tacking on something stating it only counts if it doesn’t harm anyone can’t nullify the underlying intention, that a very imperfect ego be made more comfortable.

I’m not a materialist. I certainly think one can use one’s will to manifest things, and that it works, at least some of the time. I also think that employing the will to make ego more comfortable is a mistake, even without the unintended consequences that almost always come with it. About the only good thing I can say for the half-assed covert magickal schools that describe themselves as working with the “Law of Attraction” is that most of the people who attempt to follow their guidance will be unable to manifest anything (you can’t make things manifest unless you truly understand will, and you can’t understand will short of a lot of very serious inner work of the sort that is not and never will be trendy). Unfortunately even though these programs are largely impotent they still spread the evil nonsense that is the Just World Fallacy.

If magick is what you want, learn the real thing the right way, caveats and all. Or better yet, recognize the power for what it is, a glittery attractive and potentially destructive thing that is not to be sought and that, when acquired, is to be used sparingly, and with great caution.

The cowboys of the world keep on thinking they can have spirituality and egotism too. They can’t. They can feign spirituality, occasionally at a profit, but they can’t have it and use it in the service of “me”, because spirituality is all about the systematic, often disruptive, destruction of “me”. All about it.

Wincing at “Enlightenment”

I always feel embarrassed for persons who pontificate about enlightenment without the foggiest notion of what they are speaking. Someday they’re going to know enough to know how foolish they’ve looked, and they will feel like they do when they dream of going to work naked, only this time the alarm clock won’t save them. I wish I didn’t see such things. Witnesses only exacerbate later shame.

I’ve just read another pontification on the net (I know its blogging protocol to link to those one cites or criticizes, but I am omitting this link out of courtesy to the future embarrasee). Apparently the author has had the misfortune to have published his or her pontifications in a book. I’ve not read the book, but what’s out there on the net is certainly no enticement to do so. It reads less like  inspiration and more like the inside of a Hallmark card.

Enlightenment has nothing whatsoever to do with “wholeness” or “oneness”. Wholeness is the polar opposite of fragmented,  and both poles are the product of a confused mind. Enlightenment is neither whole nor fragmented.

Enlightenment is not a “journey”. There’s not even nowhere to go.

Enlightenment has nothing to do with “listening” or “feelings”or “self-expression” or “relationships” or “healing”. Those are more “good” ideas which try to ameliorate or respond to “bad” ideas, but both the “good”  ideas and the “bad” ideas emerge from confusion. “Goodness” is to enlightenment what a chicken sandwich is to a tuba: it’s unrelated, in a funny absurdist sort of way.

Enlightenment isn’t fostered by buying nutritional supplements (here I break my unofficial policy and link to this atrocity, because the persons responsible for the site should feel embarrassed.)

In fact enlightenment has absolutely nothing to do with any idea you can describe, theorize about or believe in. Not even “love” or “truth” (which is separate and distinct from the importance of love and truth, which gets into another topic I may or may not post on in the future). The wisdom writings of the world (the real, time-tested, ones, not the babble of the net) usually avoid directly describing enlightenment (or whatever their tradition calls it) . It may be better to use words to trace enlightenment’s outline, without straying into direct description.

If the reader wishes not to listen to lil’ ol’ anonymous me on why thinking up “good” words to say about enlightenment will lead to embarrassment, maybe the reader  would rather listen to the world’s wisdom literature. There are illustrations throughout the world’s wisdom literature, but my personal favorite on the topic, is the Sutra of Hui Neng.

Hui Neng was a layperson and a lowly kitchen worker in  a Buddhist temple in  Guangzhou when the Fifth Patriarch of the Zen school of Buddhism announced a poetry competition, to see which of his students he would choose as his successor. The lead monk of the temple penned the stanza:

Our body is the Bodhi-tree,
And our mind a mirror bright.
Carefully we wipe them hour by hour,
And let no dust alight.

Hui Neng, the lowly kitchen employee, being illiterate, dictated the following stanza in response:

There is no Bodhi-tree,
Nor stand of a mirror bright.
Since all is void,
Where can the dust alight?

And thus the kitchen help became the Sixth Patriarch.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A few thoughts on purity versus freedom

(First posted at the old blog on Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 at 3:49 am)

I don’t have the luxury of staying awake to greet the dawn today, yet here I am, awake at 4 AM, with a few thoughts that want very badly to be a blog entry. So I’ll try to keep it short.

The news that churchgoers are strong supporters of torture bothers me, even though it’s no more a surprise to me than it is, or should be, to anyone else that  average churchgoers  (and for that matter, a considerable number of priests/ministers/rabbis) haven’t the foggiest idea of what their religion is supposed to stand for.

The first impulse, upon seeing something as awful as torturers in God’s name, is to want more purity, more lines that divide “the good/wise/sincere people” from “the confused/ignorant/bad people”.  Can’t there be a firmer grasp on the membership by the leadership, stricter standards for the leadership, a government-issued flashing LED badge people like me can wear that says “I’m a mystic, but I don’t torture”? Something??

The answer is no, there can’t be.

Virtually every group of people who, with greater and lesser accuracy, believed they were in possession of the truth (or something close to it), has tried to preserve the transmission of the truth by creating hierarchies and designating authorities to guard that truth. And as far as I can tell every such attempt has failed. Hierarchy and authority have an attraction for those least qualified for them. It doesn’t take many transmissions among even those of the best intentions for strong, brave, wise leadership to be replaced by weak, cautious, sort of middling leadership. And success is almost certain to kill any organization with an influx of members with agendas other than the ones intended by its founders.

But I’m not saying that every organization is worthless, or that it is hopeless to think that a spark of wisdom can be preserved and transmitted. In fact, I think the opposite. Those organizations which, despite the odds, despite their own mediocre or power hungry authorities and the confusion (to put it politely) of their membership, preserve and carry on a faint spark of wisdom are those which have failed at purity, and having failed at keeping themselves under control, become a haven for the few who do understand the original vision.If the structure intended to maintain purity hadn’t broken down, the mediocre to bad leadership and the confused membership would have identified and driven away the visionaries.

It’s a fools errand to try to prohibit the wrong. Far better to carve out a small, safe spot for what is right.

Torture, Karma, and Compassion

 (This was first posted on Sunday, May 10th, 2009 at 3:19 AM)

Someone brought this CNN Wire post to my attention:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new analysis.
More than half of people who attend services at least once a week — 54 percent — said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified. Only 42 percent of people who “seldom or never” go to services agreed, according the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified — more than 6 in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only 4 in 10 of them did

I really don’t know what to say. That is one of the most atrocious illustrations  I’ve seen of how those who worship rules and authority warp religion. It saddens me.

It’s not time, though, for the spiritual not religious to congratulate ourselves on our superiority.

There is an equally pernicious idea popular among our spiritual cowboys.  It’s usually presented as  “karma”. I’m of course not referring to the near-universal idea that whatever one sets in m comes back to oneself. I’m referring to its twisted counterfeit, that anyone who is suffering is suffering because they deserve it.

Think about it for a moment: it does not follow that if anything I set in motion will come back to me, then whatever I experience is the result of what I set in motion. It could, after all, be the consequence of what someone else set in motion (which, someday, will be theirs to deal with).

In fact, if it were not possible for me to act to affect others, the first statement, that what I set in motion will come to affect me, would be so trivial as to be meaningless. We’d all live in our own isolated bubbles, unable to connect to each other, unable even to detect each other (because, after all, even knowledge of each other has an effect). Karma would be less a statement about justice and more a peculiar state of masturbation.

This inverted “karma” has a name: the Just World fallacy. It’s a common bias not unique to cowboys, but cowboys are peculiarly attracted to it and fond of promoting it as if it were a spiritual truth. Why? That should be obvious. While the properly stated version of karma (that my acts will come to affect me) promotes responsibility, the bassackwards version promotes irresponsibility.  If the bassackwards karma believer should  see the poor, the ill, the oppressed, the suffering,  it’s not something they should involve themselves with, because the victims brought it upon themselves. Voila! Irresponsibility affirmed.

To the extent cowboys wish to involve themselves with the world’s suffering, it is to “help” by explaining to the victim how it is they brought it upon themselves. They should have known X would lead to Y, where X is usually some mundane act,  an act forced upon them by circumstances,  a common human failing, or an act any compassionate person would take.  This is another common  error, hindsight bias. It penalizes the lecturee for being baryonic matter, condemned along with everything else made of atoms to move blindly forward in time, and thus certain to have experiences which precede other experiences.  It is not at all “helpful” , let alone compassionate, to self-righteously express this bias against someone in need.

In fact, by embracing the Just World fallacy, one negates justice itself. It’s hard to distinguish the implications of a blind belief that those who suffer have deserved it from sociopathy.

I’ve been trying, for a few days, to describe that viable alternative to the above silliness, compassion. I can’t do it adequately. Instead, I want to take my readers on an Internet field trip where they can try out compassion for themselves.

Our destination is the Beliefnet prayer circle directory at . Browse.

It should quickly become clear that many of the individuals who are requesting prayer have, indeed, set in motion the predicaments they find themselves in.  See where the individual may be causing or exacerbating their own suffering. Make sure it’s actual knowledge,  not believing or expecting (bias). Treat what you see as possibly useful information, and nothing more.

Others you may find are asking for specific results that may not be compatible with one’s own values, or which may not be the best results. Other prayer requests may seem, for lack of a better word, ignorant. Instead of seeing what’s wrong with any particular request, hold in your heart the desire that whatever is best, right, and true happen for all involved.

Find a few of the most off-putting, least “deserving” prayer requests (this is obviously subjective).  Recognize the pain in the requests (yes, even in the requests that seem to be coming from a self-righteous point of view, there is pain. Look for it.).  Lead with your heart. Don’t think of how at fault someone may be. Don’t
think of how much better or wiser you may be. And certainly do not think of how compassionate you are for doing this. Every time these thoughts, and other irrelevant thoughts, pop into your head, throw them out. Think only of the very best possible outcome for all involved, and pray.

It’s not “compassion enough” if all one ever does is pray over web pages. Putting compassion into action in the real world with real-world people gets a lot more complex and messy.  But, the principles remain the same.

Apologies: I’ve been doing a lot of work

(First posted on the old blog on Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 at 3:25 AM)
I’ve been busy, too busy, in fact (between the work and the tired) to post recently. I’ve not abandoned this blog. In fact I have a post partially written, waiting for me to find the time and energy to finish it. I don’t think I’ll be able to do so later today or tomorrow (I need to build a new system, and I’m adopting a new pet), but I should be able to get to it within the next three or four days.

effing it up

(Posted on the old blog on Sunday, April 19th, 2009 at 1:41 AM)

There is a conflict between the subjects of this blog and the act of writing about them. Nearly every post touches at some point on the ineffable. Bloggers, however, must “eff”.

Just as Kabuki theatre uses the convention of stagehands dressed in black to designate invisibility, I use some conventions, when I must use words, to designate the ineffable.

One of those conventions is to constantly change what I call… well, that which can’t really be named at all. I do feel very strongly that one cannot name the Divine. To say anything is to say something far too complicated and cluttered and  distorted to apply to that which it is intended to designate. By never settling on one name for the Ultimate, but instead switching terms constantly, I am using a convention to indicate that these words are not names, but ordinary words, and that the subject of the words forever remains unnamed.

On a related note, whatever you do don’t take a word I write too seriously. I’m not a theologian, I’m a spiritual-not-religious mystic. Theology is to mysticism what a description of a holiday meal is to Thanksgiving dinner. The theologian describes the proper way to cut a turkey; I eat, and drip gravy on my shirt and get my sleeve in the the cranberries, and I don’t care. I’m not interested in getting my doctrine right. I don’t even have a doctrine to get right. I try to get my experience of spirituality right, and leave it to others to get their descriptions right.
 (From the old blog, and dated April 18th, 2009 at 1:17 AM)

Fundamentalist Christians, after reading the last substantial post, might have clucked to themselves thinking “Yes, I knew it! Meditation is demonic.” So perhaps it’s time to make the links between the world’s spiritual practices.

There are four plausible routes from my where I sit to the convenience store I can see from my window (as well as many more bizarre routes involving things like jumping out of windows or rappelling off the roof or simply going in the opposite direction and circling the earth). I can think of at least three plausible ways I could fry an egg in my kitchen, and another three ways to make toast (not counting extra ingredients). I have at least five different ways to post this entry. Because God  is very great and is more than one dimensional, I find it implausible on the face of it that there could be “one true path” to God.

That’s not to say, as spiritual cowboys (and others who haven’t thought about it carefully) often do, that “all spiritual paths are valid”. As close as I am to that convenience store here, I could nonetheless plot out an infinite number of routes that are guaranteed never to get me there. Human history is a bin overflowing with failed notions and errors committed. To claim that all spiritual paths are valid is as implausible as to claim that there is only one true way.

But there’s more here. When I say I “meditate”, I don’t, really, though what I do is indistringuishable from meditation. I do Western contemplative prayer.

If one is steeped in the Western tradition of prayer, sooner or later in among all the words has to enter the thought “why am I praising That which needs no praise? Why am I asking things of That which already knows everything I would ask about?  What function does all the noise I make serve, except to display my insolence?” Then, the most natural prayer in the world is silent contemplation of the Divine.

Such prayer is absolutely indistinguishable from most forms of Eastern meditation. There is a trend, in fact, to call it “meditation”, so that the general public knows what is being talked about.  Or, worse, to label it “centering prayer” and then to teach it as a technique, much as yoga is taught.  But it’s not a technique. It’s a state of mind that simply sprouts after one has tilled the soil long enough.

If my hypothetical fundamentalist mentioned above was strong in his or her faith, he or she too should have tasted at least something of this silent prayer. (And yes, Christian mystics report all the same problems with disruptive “whatevers” as their Eastern counterparts. If meditation is satanic, so too must be Christian prayer.).
Somewhere after the point where practices converge, so too does theology, which is to say that it disappears. Whether one calls it emptying or repentance or yielding or surrendering,  one cannot cling to dogma with a deeply silent mind, not even to the dogma that brought one to silence.

Any sound path will converge at that same point.

But I did say there were plenty of not-so-sound paths. Our hypothetical fundamentalist is on one. Fundamentalisms of every sort are defined by a baggage train of ideas, rules, and beliefs, and a militant insistence that they have a unique claim to the truth.  Fundamentalism whirs along on its own route, studiously avoiding everything that might disturb its self-absorption, like, for example, God. Either our fundamentalist will someday pray his or herself out of fundamentalism, or his or her fundamentalist beliefs will stifle prayer.

Another path whirring along on its own course, never actually turning towards that convergence point and beyond, is a sizable proportion of what calls itself New Age. Yes, that mean you, cowboys.  If you spend  time creating elaborate cosmologies in one’s head, populated by pantheons of Ascended Masters led by St Germaine who predict Earth Changes after which Indigo Children exploit UFO technology to recreate Atlantis  (insert any one of a number of other incredibly complex, mentally noisy, evidence-free ideas here)— well, where are you going? You’re carving ever more elaborate cognitive gargoyles to adorn the vast mental castles you build, while everyone who approaches the Ultimate throws everything out.

Sorry- managed to crash my site

(From the old blog, and dated Friday, April 17, 2009, at 3:00 AM)

I managed to crash my own site by playing with Modules I Did Not Understand [TM]… don’t worry, the content is alive and well, and will be back up later tonight, this time On Software I Know Well [TM].

[Edited to add] Content has been restored, as has the theme. Assorting things like the rss feeds, etc, may still be in need of tweaking, and I need to deal with external links, but I’ve been  sitting too long at this desk to deal with it tonight.

I’m already missing Drupal. WordPress is nice, but Drupal is much more powerful (assuming one doesn’t play recklessly with things one should not play with, thereby turning one’s database into powerless sludge).  Perhaps once my foot (recovering from minor surgery) recovers, I’ll put Drupal back and keep my hands out of the development module cookie jar (yes, it was that stupid).