Energy Versus Spirituality

September 11, 2018 § Leave a comment

I often tell people, that as an Atheist, I believe in energy, but not in spirituality. It means that I stay mindful of what is rather than what isn’t. That I am invested in the earth rather than in the imaginary.

People often describe the intense feeling of being interconnected with all of life as a spiritual experience. I see that experience as simply tapping into what we actually are—elements of earth that are all part of the life source that it grows in cycles of time. When my niece stayed with me last summer, she observed how I interact with other life forms. Whether it was being mindful of tiny crabs under rocks at the beach, or the way that I show respect and appreciation for my two cats, she was intrigued by how I strive to honor all of life. If we’re only aiming to think of ourselves in the scheme of our environment, then we fail the environment completely, of which we are a part. For me, this is a meditative state of living within an awareness of all energy and life forms. That’s not to say I’m always in that state, but I aim for it. In all honesty, it is most difficult to feel that way towards other humans when they can be challenging to deal with.

In comparison to the state of being grounded in nature, spirituality specializes in the things that are unseen and unverified. It generally believes in the existence of “souls,” but only for human beings. Spirituality either makes gods of imaginary entities, or of the universe itself. Because its basis is within the imagination, it breeds superstitions of all kinds that build fear in people, and lead to an obsessive development of rules and regulations. In both the East and the West (except in extremely ancient and indigenous traditions), it furthers the concept that we must transcend the body through prayer and rituals of purification, that lead us toward the dream of immortality after death, or reincarnation.

I’ve been working on my book, on the history of religion and conquest, for the past three years now. It’s been a fascinating journey, and what continues to be most striking is the interconnection of myth stories throughout time and region. It is also interesting to perceive exactly when certain ideas took shape, and how they affected culture on a massive scale. For example, if a person comes to a vague idea about what it takes to get to paradise (and imaginary ideas are always vague), they may do whatever it takes to get there, even if that means killing hundreds of people for the glory of their god. If they believe that the apocalypse will occur in their own lifetime, they may live in extremes of piety, seeking signs and symbols at every turn. And if they believe in purity, they will attempt to regulate bodies and control women through a rigid patriarchy. These various reactions then become layered in the culture, both within these beliefs, and outside of them.

Every decade, the number of people who attend church in the U.S. goes down. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, in 1986 only 10 percent of young people (eighteen to twenty-nine) claimed to be religious “nones,” while in 2016 that category went up to 39 percent.[1] One aspect of that shift, is that our sense of ethics has grown beyond religious literature and institutions. In my own case, when I read the Bible I’m struck by the violence, the hatred for outsiders, and the way in which women are property with less rights than they ever had before. In the New Testament, the Evangelical concept of “family values” appears ironic next to the words of Jesus telling his followers to leave their families and follow him. Adding to this ethical disconnect, in the age of science, people are less susceptible to a literal belief of myth stories.

Two attacks that I often see made against Atheists is that we must either be nihilists or pantheists. Even in my dashboard dictionary, the example for nihilist is: “dogmatic atheists and nihilists could never defend the value of human life.” My question is, why does life lose value without a belief in things that don’t exist? Shouldn’t life have more value if I only believe in existence? As for the view that I must be a pantheist, this assumes that as a human, I must worship something. I don’t believe in worshipping anything at all.

Instead, I am simply aiming for awareness. Activities that bring me toward this daily goal are:

  • Exercise – to achieve balance in mind and body.
  • Expression – for meditation and reflection.
  • Experience – to build connection within a diverse community.
  • Empathy – through understanding other points of view.
  • Exploration – which brings clarity from being outside of routines.

This is my practice of cultivating presence in an energetic world that is alive, and therefore constantly shifting and in flux. These points might sound basic, but I find them challenging because every day is a new beginning. For example, I have days when I would like to avoid flow, and stay within a rigid space of control. It is easy to grow cynical and hard. Much more of a challenge, however, to remain open and flexible and alert to the experience of life.

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[1] Fred Edwords, “Faith and Faithlessness by Generation: The Decline and Rise are Real,” The Humanist, August 21, 2018, https://thehumanist.com/magazine/september-october-2018/features/faith-and-faithlessness-by-generation-the-decline-and-rise-are-real.

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Drop Out, Turn On, Grow Up

April 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

I used to wear long flowing skirts with rainbow bursts of color splashed across the side. There were headscarves with silver thread in dusty rose, orange, chartreuse, and umber. Large silver hoops with turquoise beads, amber stones around my neck, and a three inch long silver cuff with inlay that made me feel invincible.

The exotic bohemian garb began when I was a professional belly dancer, and the style grew until it seemed I’d turned full-blooded gypsy. I had style for sure. But my style spoke louder than I ever could. A lot of people would take one look and write me off as one of those annoying hippies. But I didn’t smoke out, I was never going vegan, and I hated the idea of groupthink.

Behind my back, my boss at an art gallery said, “Lauren only dresses that way because she needs too much attention. She’s insecure.”

Having just moved back to anonymous Seattle from connected New York, I certainly was having an insecure moment, trying to find my footing. It had nothing to do with the way I dressed.

For me, my attire was in the spirit of the dance. As an artist, I loved to wear all the objects that made me happy. When it began, I was on the East Coast, missing the laid-back vibe of the West Coast, where people can just “be.” The scene I’d left in Seattle wouldn’t think twice about my dress. But by the time I moved back, I was totally over the Burning Man crowd.

I’d been involved with enough guru wannabe’s to know that the whole thing was a hoax. The drugs made people feel powerful in an otherwise disempowered life. Overnight, you could go from being a hooker to a tantric practitioner, or from a massage therapist to a healer or shaman. The ultimate path was to find a way to make money off of your newfound mystical powers. But I was always the one paying for their dinner. Then came resentment, and statements like, “You don’t appreciate my gift.” Because really, one person never has enough worship to give them. The people I knew, needed as many lovers as possible. Hence, I got tired of the scene, though my style remained the same.

Three years later, I was newly married and having a crisis of not feeling attractive anymore. I gained weight, and stopped getting looks from men or glares from jealous women. A server at a brunch spot that I went to every weekend asked me if I was pregnant. My empire waist dresses and wrap skirts seemed like the culprit in letting myself go. Or maybe it was the decadence of being in love.

I wanted to feel sexy again. But even more than that, in a city where you could go to the same coffee shop everyday for years without a single person ever talking to you, I wanted to feel approachable. I was tired of appearing mysterious and intimidating. It might have worked in New York where people have the balls to talk to anyone, but in Seattle, not so much.

Piece by piece, the bright colors disappeared. My hemlines began to climb up to my thighs. As an art model, I can’t wear any jewelry, so that slipped away too. The only thing that remained the same was the tights and combat boots. Now it’s all a slim minimalist aesthetic. Black cotton dresses with ruching at the sides, short blazers, Rocker T’s. I fit in just about anywhere I go, while still looking somewhat interesting. People can get to know me without a bunch of snap judgments about my dietary restrictions, my spiritual life, my bank account, or my need for attention.

I have a close friend, Freda, who moved here from New York shortly after I did. She fell for a hippie vegan guy and now they are preparing to move into their second yurt in Eastern Washington. They have a cool life together – growing their own food, playing in a band, working temporary jobs. She has long itchy dreadlocks, and years later, I still pine for her chocolate brown silken strands that tickled instead. She left her job as a Geologist, and even surveyed Yankee Stadium at one point. Food-wise, we’ve found common dietary ground by dining at sushi or Indian places.

Freda finds her solace by being identified with a group that shares hardcore values. But she is amazing, simply on her own. When I get those rare moments of having Freda solo time, the belly-shaking laugh comes back, and the spark in her eyes reappears. It’s when I know she’s stripped to the core of her pure self.

I stand by while her friends are sometimes judgmental, calling me an enabler for having a drink with her before their show. I’ve watched her go through evolutions, and I’m sure she’ll go through more. It’s the nature of our lives as free spirits. I don’t really get this current evolution that she’s in, but I do my best to be supportive. I’m on the other side now, looking in.

Every commune eventually reaches its end. It’s the nature of the hippy beast. This week, I read the highly entertaining novel, Drop City, by T.C. Boyle. For years I laughed over the front cover in bookstores – eight naked people lying facedown in a circle amidst wild flowers and grass. Looking at the cover, it’s uncertain whether or not they have just drunk the wrong kind of kool-aid, or if they’re all facedown, taking a bizarre nap. But in their facedown nakedness, arms piled around their backs, they seem stripped of individual identity.

It’s 1970, and a commune of hippies decides to skip out on the land regulations of California. Their leader, Norm, moves them all to his uncle’s deserted cabin in the middle of Alaska. As can be expected, chaos ensues. Their lazy cluelessness in the wild is contrasted by the hard work of the settlers down the river, who work day and night to store food for the onset of winter. The greatest plot twist hits as 24/7 nighttime descends and the thermometer drops forty degrees below zero. Utopia is forgotten for the harsh struggle against fierce elements.

It seems we’re all trying to protect ourselves from the harsh truths of nature. In the wilds of Alaska, it can’t be avoided. Religions all promise a utopia on the other side of death. The thought of it completely bores me. Nature is much more exciting. It’s a struggle, it’s a discipline, it’s a code of values completely contrary to anything humans want to snuggle up to.

While reading, I thought a lot about the dropout hippies on their drug binges doing nothing as months and even years passed. Only on drugs, does it ever feel okay to languish. The idea is such a concept of extreme youth, and not even in youth does that make you happy.

It was my birthday last Thursday, and I tried doing nothing all day. I felt increasingly depressed as the minutes ticked by. I collapsed with sleepiness on the bed and couldn’t get up without a homemade mocha and a campy Ami Stewart vinyl record playing “Come on baby light my fire.” Disco + Hippy = Crazy.

I am on the settler end of the spectrum. I love action. I love getting things done and preparing for the future. I love being a survivor. It seems I’ve won some kind of fight against submitting to the corporate world, which is something that hippies and settlers have in common.

On a positive note, without the hippy movement, we wouldn’t have the entrepreneurial market that we have today. Through their vision to see outside of the box and create technology, now artists can make their own rules, and sell their work without the big man in charge. That’s the thing. Most hippies turned into yuppies eventually. They got bored of tuning out, so they turned on and got with it.

Sometimes I put on the old clothes, just to see how they make me feel. But they represent a Lauren that doesn’t exist anymore. All of that fabric slows down my stride, and the long skirts get wet and dirty in the rain (not to mention the bell bottoms). I feel like I’m wearing a costume. I can’t see myself beneath the eccentric character.

My life now is all about movement. I’m in a race against time to achieve my goals as a writer. I’m growing a life with my husband. All of my values have shifted. When I was in my twenties, I thought everything would remain the same. But it all grows. That is the way of nature. We just have to tend to it.

God Against Nature

January 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

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             A picture was posted on Facebook, “Twins in the Womb – Hey Brother!  Do you think there is life after birth?  Do you believe in Mom? – Nah!  I’m an Atheist, I mean, have you ever seen Mom?”

This analogy literally makes no sense.  First of all, we don’t leave our bodies when we exit the womb.  The mother is also a physical body and everything she does directly effects and is experienced by the fetus – Walking, talking, dancing, listening to music.  Not only are the twins physically inside of her, but they are also consuming what she eats through an umbilical cord.  Both mother and fetus are a part of and joined in nature.  But the idea of ‘God’ is not.

In Nature, Man And Woman, Alan W. Watts explains, “The architectonic and artificial style of Christianity is nowhere clearer than in the idea of God as the maker of the world, and thus of the world itself as an artifact which has been constructed in accordance with a plan, and which has, therefore, a purpose and an explanation.  But the mode of action of the Tao is called wu-wei, translatable both as “non-striving” and “non-making.”  For from the standpoint of Taoist philosophy natural forms are not made but grown, and there is a radical difference between the organic and the mechanical (Watts, 39).”

Western man would like to measure, categorize, explain, experiment, and use every last inch of our earth.  If he probes deeply enough into our insides he feels he can explain our bodies as mechanized objects.  In this way, existence is only used as a method for profit and gain.  And though we have come into an age of a more secularized society, the brain is still programmed from religious thinking to be on the outside of nature looking in.  In this way, life is experienced as a bystander, irresponsible and apart in a perceived isolation, separate from all other creatures.

As a person who grew up in the church, it was exhilarating to first experience the freedom of my natural self without guilt or shame.  I was surprised that I felt no guilt, but for me, it was like an escape from a prison that I had been in all my life.  I had struggled to make my belief real.  But it was dead and I was left hungry and thirsty for real life and the riches of gritty experience.

“For in identifying God, the Absolute, with a goodness excluding evil we make it impossible for us to accept ourselves radically: what is not in accord with the will of God is at variance with Being itself and must not under any circumstances be accepted.  Our freedom is therefore set about with such catastrophic rewards and punishments that it is not freedom at all, but resembles rather the totalitarian state in which one may vote against the government but always at the risk of being sent to a concentration camp (Watts, 133).”

I think it is obvious to everyone that merely having belief in principles does not make you those principles.  A person who lives by belief must also wear a mask, because what is occurring on the outside and what is being thought on the inside are two entirely different things.  And the more you try to be ‘good’ with all your might, the more its shadow twin ‘evil’ is increasingly prevalent from the denial of it.

Christians like to say that their belief is not about might.  They say that Jesus will change you from the inside out.  If you believe that enough, through the power of self-hypnosis and faith, yes, you will change to some extent.  But you will still have all the same feelings you had before.  Feelings that are now associated with a sinful nature.

“To give free rein to the course of feeling is therefore to observe it without interference, recognizing that because feeling is motion it is not to be understood in terms which imply not only static states but judgments of good and bad (Watts, 93).”

Allowing our feelings to guide us is the only way to be truly happy and centered, to break out of isolation and connect into the flow of life.  “… Confucius felt that in the long run human passions and feeling were more trustworthy than human principles of right and wrong… (Watts, 177).”

Christianity has a long history of denying the spiritual that we experience in the physical.  In denying the body we deny life.  And fear of experience becomes worse and more consuming than the actual experience.  In pain we learn the possibilities of ecstasy and pleasure.  In sex we find spontaneity and transcendence.  In expressing emotion freely, we are released and connected with other human beings.  The full spectrum of physical experience moves us forwards into spiritual growth.

I had a friend in college that I love very much.  She goes to a questionable church that I used to attend.  They believe in punishing the unfaithful by disassociating with them, which is probably why she doesn’t talk to me anymore. But we had also grown apart, and the last time we saw each other, it felt slightly forced and awkward.

I first fell in love with her when we were on a student trip to Europe.  We were in Salzburg, and we all ordered Wiener Schnitzel with currant sauce and lemon.  It was succulent and delicious.  It was so good that she began to cry.  I had never seen someone so moved by the pleasure of eating.  She lived out her pleasures in the most beautiful ways, and I have always admired the joy she takes in the simple things.

She has alluded to a sexual sin in her families past that resulted in an excommunication from a church.  This seems to have shaped her fear of intimacy, beyond basic morals.  She believes in waiting for marriage, and has denied herself the sexual experience of being with a man.

It is obvious to everyone who knows her well, what a truly sensual, and beautiful person she is.  Her greatest repression has become her ultimate mission.  She goes out with her church group at 3am to help prostitutes by talking to them about God and giving them toiletries.  Her passion is to help stop sex trafficking.  But I find it ironic and strange when such a difficult repression is used to fuel a passion.  I am always happy to hear that someone is helping people, but I also worry that it can be patronizing to the less fortunate tiers of society.

“…  Profound love reveals what other people really are:  beings in relation, not in isolation (Watts, 199).”  A coward’s life is in isolation.  But the lover’s life is in relation.  I see my friend as a lover who is only allowing herself a fraction of what life has to offer.  In my opinion of this, of course, I am making the judgment of an observer.  But it pains me to see how religion can limit a person’s experience of life, where feeling is repressed beneath doctrine and dogma.

“… a God to be grasped or believed in is no God, and that a continuity to be wished for is only a continuity of bondage (Watts, 116).”

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