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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Life As A Secular Humanist

June 21, 2018 § 2 Comments

The most challenging hurdle that I face as a Secular Humanist, is just how different my worldview is from those that I interact with on a daily basis. The majority find my views threatening to their experience of life. It goes beyond people of a religious persuasion, to friends who are “spiritual.” We might all share the English language, but our meanings are not the same.

Twelve years ago, the metaphysical was my last stop before becoming an Atheist. My friends were shamans, reiki practitioners, wiccans, and various energy workers. I performed as a belly dancer with a percussion group, and wrote odd little melodies on the mandolin paired with my poetry. A perfect day was spent at artist Alex Gray’s Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, where my friends and I hob-knobbed while people at our feet were stoned out on LSD. I viewed life in such a romantic sense; surrounded by people who should only exist in literature.

Often, the spirit world seemed more prevalent than the real world. Much later, I came to understand that the spirit world does not exist—it is simply the strength of the mind. If a person believes something to be true, their mind does whatever it takes to prove that thing to be true. This is enhanced in group experiences, where everyone becomes caught up in a performance of certainty and the exclusion of outsiders. Some people gain power through building on charisma or paranoia. Their position is heightened through supernatural terms where the imagination has no limits.

When people feel that they are having a spiritual experience, they sense a breakdown of physical form, while feeling expansive and united with others. As this occurs, the anterior of the brain—the part which gives us spatial awareness—slows its function. The temporal lobe increases in activity—the part which breaks down space, allowing us to connect, or in some circumstances, hallucinate. This experience is not supernatural, or even spiritual at all. It is what we actually are—physical forms understanding our connection with other physical forms. Rather than the spiritual, I believe in what exists—space, energy, form.

One of my closest friends has a difficult time understanding my views. We first met at the height of my metaphysical phase, and our shared history is a strong bond. She is very intelligent with an intimidating personality that comes from being passionate about a cause. A few months ago, she stayed with us for a week so that she could take a class in the city. She began to get to know the more recent parts of me that we hadn’t fully explored in the brief visits we’ve shared in the past ten long-distance years. My views really upset her, and one night, she and my husband debated me for hours. She has a scientific point of view, and sees the metaphysical as an essential part of that. My husband believes in an uninvolved god and the idea of spirit, but he had never debated against my atheism before. On other issues, yes, but not on this. It really threw me. My two closest allies were no longer my allies. This produced an extreme sense of being alone that lasted for some time after. It is one thing when this sense occurs indirectly with acquaintances. It is entirely another thing, when this occurs in a safe space with those that are closest.

After that, there was a shift. Everywhere I went, it became much more obvious how people express superstitions that are layered within language, culture, and experience. It is embedded in our consciousness, so much so that most people don’t even realize that they are doing it. In reaction, I dodge comments that are so outside of my own philosophy. I develop new forms of language in order to subtract the supernatural, religious, mythical, and mystical.

I go to yoga once a week, which centers me both mentally and physically. I approach it from an energetic rather than a spiritual approach, but of course, highly “spiritual” people practice yoga. I often hear how the Universe does this or that for us, as though it is personified and singling us out from the rest of life—Universe as deity. I smile and say nothing, respecting that I am on someone else’s turf.

A couple weeks ago, one of my instructors said that the “negative” is not a part of us. I found this problematic. Thoughts are not a “dark energy” outside of the self. My thoughts are my own work to deal with and get through. It is the difficulties in life that make us stronger, and I fully embrace that as an essential task. Furthermore, negativity is an opinion. I see pain, struggle, and obstacles to be surmounted as the key to growth. All of life is built on conflict—it is healthy, and how we grow.

At yoga, I also hear the word, “serendipity” which is similar to the more recent term, “synchronicity.” Carl Jung first introduced this concept, and felt that unexplainable events of chance determined a paranormal aspect. My opinion is that synchronicity has yet to be fully explored, but can be explained through science and math, such as quantum physics and probability. For example, subatomic particles connect instantaneously with other particles no matter the distance between them. We don’t fully know the extent to which this occurs on a macro level. Also, in highly populated areas, chance events are more likely to occur due to the increase of possibilities. I personally experienced chance events the most when I lived in the New York City area, and had an extensive social network. Much less so in a smaller network.

Mathematician, Steven Strogatz, said, “Sync is perhaps the most pervasive drive in all of nature.” My cats synchronize as they clean their faces at two opposite ends of the room. Flocks of birds, schools of fish, herds of animals all flow in a synced-up state. Within these actions there is a magnetic quality of bonded forms.

Sync also directs the flow of my work as a writer and an artist. Thoughts magnetize to experience. These connections happen constantly as film, literature, music, art, and conversation both filter through and become my own experience. As I absorb these forms, they direct me to the next things that I will absorb, and all of it begins to overlap in a complicated weave that grows through time and creates the brain that is thinking and producing and creating. Associations develop through comparisons, developments, unities. A magnetism of sync, and an expression of energy.

People often think of the Atheist’s experience as a flat, meaningless, existential dilemma. For example, Christian writer, Francis Schaeffer sums up his view of people without a god as thinking, “man is nothing, the world is nothing, nothing is nothing.” I remember having this same exact opinion as a young Christian. But another thing I wondered back then was, “Why doesn’t anyone else seem to notice how amazing earth is? Why are we looking beyond the stars?” There is a rich experience to be had by scaling one’s vision back from the imaginary to the uncharted territory of life itself. To be fully embodied and present in this existence.

 

 

The End Of A Book By Osho

November 4, 2013 § 4 Comments

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In Zen: The Path Of Paradox by Osho, I enjoyed reading more about what Zen isn’t, rather than about what Zen actually is. I don’t consciously practice Zen, but unconsciously I tend to be more Zen than anything else.

When I first left the Fundamentalist Christian Church, I felt like I needed to fill some spiritual void. It was similar to a break-up of a serious relationship. So much of your identity is wrapped up with that other person, that you don’t know how to just find yourself apart from them. So the first reaction is to rebound, to find another person to identify with, so you don’t have to wade through your own painful insides to reach the balanced sandy shore.

I played a game of hide and seek. The hiding was my breathing room. The seeking resulted into forays of a plethora of other faiths. Starting out tame, I tried the more liberal and open-minded Episcopalian Church. I liked that the minister was a woman and that she read poems by Anne Sexton to the congregation. But my issues with the Bible and the Church went much deeper than surface details of modern acceptance.

After that, my exploration went all over the map – Hinduism, Tantra, Buddhism, Kundalini, Reiki, Runes, Tarot, With-craft, Shamanism. There are basic truths to be found in all belief systems. But in the end it’s all mostly claptrap. Not a single ideology can offer our lives total and complete spiritual nutrition, and I’ve come to even mistrust the word.

I find a sense of completeness through very simple things. Through community, art, dance, writing, reading, city walks, thought, brisk air, a hot cup of coffee in my hand. The effects of these experiences, meant to be captured in moments on a daily basis, have created the building blocks of my life. They are the things that make me happy and keep me aware and awake.

It seems that most spiritual teachers are egocentric charismatic spin-doctors. A great documentary on this subject is Kumare. Vikram Ghandi is a regular guy from New Jersey, who goes to Arizona, pretends to be a guru, and ends up finding his better self through the experiment. He comes up with all sorts of mumbo jumbo yoga moves and chants, exploiting his followers attraction to his exotic persona. He is both embarrassed and in awe of his own success throughout the film. And he makes a better guru than any I have seen for the simple reason that he has no ego.

“Ideologies are all blindfolds, they obstruct your vision. A Christian cannot see; neither can a Hindu, nor a Mohammedan. Because you are so full of your ideas you go on seeing what is not there, you go on projecting, you go on interpreting, you go on creating a private reality of your own, which is not there. This creates a sort of insanity. Out of a hundred of your so-called saints, ninety-nine are insane people (Osho, 22).”

The definition of Ideology:

1. the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.

2. such a body of doctrine, myth, etc., with reference to some political or social plan, as that of fascism, along with the devices for putting it into operation.

3. philosophy

     a. the study of the nature and origin of ideas

     b. a system that derives ideas exclusively from sensation

4. theorizing of a visionary or impractical nature

In other words, ideology is not based on research, experiment, or facts. And what is the origin of our ideas? The origin is built on the basis that in ancient times, we didn’t know much. We used our lack of knowledge to create myths that explained the universe to calm our ever-searching minds. But the myths have kept us in a child-like state ever since. Patronized by leaders, kept from becoming responsible for ourselves.

“Zen says that when there is no God there is tremendous freedom, there is no authority in existence. Hence there arises great responsibility. Look – if you are dominated by somebody you cannot feel responsible. Authority necessarily creates irresponsibility; authority creates resistance; authority creates reaction, rebellion in you… (Osho, 14).”

So what is Zen? Zen is infinite possibilities. It leaves the ego and the aggressive posturing of the mind, for the life source of the belly.

“It believes that if we participate with reality, reality reveals its secrets to us. It creates a participatory consciousness (Osho, 24).”

To truly be in participation with reality, you can’t really care what others think of you.

“… respectability is not life. Respectability is very poisonous. A really alive man does not bother about respectability. He lives; he lives authentically. What others think is not a consideration at all (Osho, 81).”

Though I identify with many of these concepts, Zen is still a religion. It still has its patronizing aspects. And it prefers to stomp on my more American Capitalistic tendencies. Yes, I actually have those. Zen tells us to let go of competition. This is an anti-human nature statement. I view competition as healthy, exciting, and enjoyable. It kick-starts us into being better, more productive people. Without that competitive sense of community, we become flubby and out of tune.

Here is an example of total judgment that rubs me wrong:

“The more a person is educated, the less alive he is. The more he knows, the less he lives. The more he becomes articulate about abstractions and concepts, the less and less he flows. A man confined in the head loses all juice, loses all joy (Osho, 117).”

A reminder to keep participating in life, and not get too stuck in books, yes. But is ignorance bliss? I don’t think so. In fact, I see more life in people who are educated, whose lives revolve around the mind, than I do in those who are blindly walking through life.

Osho says that there is danger in words, in classification. That we cannot simply enjoy the rose because word associations get in the way. Who gives a shit? Maybe I like to remember all the stories revolving around the rose as I smell it and take in its magnificent vermillion color, which makes me think of painting, and how colors interact, or how the smell is reminiscent of an elusive past that I never lived through and will never capture, and on and on into a domino effect of thought that gives me ultimate joy.

This is what I mean about the more patronizing effects of Zen. I don’t subscribe to it, and I’m not going to berate myself over something I truly enjoy, such as word associations, education, thought, and even the gratification of my own ego.

In God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, he not only attacks all religions of the patriarchy, but also goes into the violence of Buddhists, and considers Osho to be an absolute charlatan. At the time, I thought to myself, ‘Not my Osho!’ But yes, Osho. Osho’s words have helped guide me when I didn’t have any guide at all. He taught me that Sex Matters, and showed me The Responsibility Of Being Oneself, and helped me more fully tap into my Creativity. But I see now, that I am outgrowing his teachings, and taking him with a grain of salt. I even see where he’s getting some of his ideas (as in Freud, for example, who spoke a great deal about the issues with an authoritarian God, and how followers remain in an immature state).

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I have loved Osho’s work so much that I even suggested to my friend who introduced me to his books, that she name her dog after him, and she did. He was a fully Zen puppy back then, always living in the moment. Now he’s a little salt n’ pepper old man dog, still shaped like an O.

Zen has been on my to-read shelf for about ten years, as long as I have known Osho the dog. My to-read shelves are like my own personal library. There are so many books that sometimes I outgrow them before they are actually read.

In Zen, Osho had a few things left to say to me about the nature of God, or non-God. But I see that our relationship as reader to writer has come to an end. This both makes me sad, and reminds me that I am growing. Osho is saying, let go of attachment; be free; be infinite in your possibilities.

The Tree of Life

April 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

The minute I heard that Andras Jones had his book Accidental Initiations published, I was magnetized and couldn’t resist the pull.  It arrived in the mail, and I dropped what I was reading to dive right in.  It is strange and kind of wonderful to read a book written by an acquaintance.

“… we are sent to schools where we learn the agreed upon truths our CULTure calls reality.  These institutions ultimately release us into the wild, civilized world, to parse the varied sub-cults available to us and find our way toward a truth we determine best serves our nature (Jones, 22).”

When I first met Andras he unnerved me.  That feeling never went away.  He is quiet and introspective.  It bothered me that I never knew what he was thinking.  This was heightened by the fact that it is obvious he is a mischievous visionary, spiritually heightened but always on his guard.

In the book, Andras writes of his life experiences through various cults and relationships while guiding us through his own personal Kabalistic Tree of Life in the city of Olympia, Washington.  He finds ritual and symbolism in the map that represents different aspects of being.

The symbol of the Tree of Life has appeared to me several times, and each time it did, my life changed dramatically.  I found it again the night that I met Andras.  It was my last year living in New York.  That December, people from Seattle kept appearing, drawing me back west.  Their spirituality overwhelmed me in a place that tends to be so matter of fact.

A massage healer who was also a confessed energy vampire was staying with me off and on.  I had met him at a party in Seattle the summer before.  He was extremely pale and had a disease that aged him in the sun.  The more time he spent with me, the darker his skin got, and the lighter mine became.  Things were very trippy with him around.  I liked that he made me uncomfortable.

“Yes, many of my new friends and teachers were well-meaning charlatans or self-deluding shamans, but at least they were trying for the big consciousness shift (Jones, 52).”

He took me to midtown to an apartment where traveling tantric practitioner’s stay while working in the city.  Andras was staying there with his girlfriend at the time – an escort turned sacred sex worker.  My friend mentioned that Andras did a show called Radio8Ball based on concepts of synchronicity.  Audience members submit questions to the Pop Oracle and random songs answer their questions.  I eventually became a fan and saw the show in New York, Seattle and LA.

Andras’ girlfriend made mushroom tea, and though I normally do not do drugs, the mushrooms seemed so natural and called to me.  I played it like this was nothing out of the ordinary, but I was nervous.  Here I was with three people I didn’t trust at all about to do shrooms.  Anything could happen.  And in fact, it seemed that night that everything did happen.

At first I felt ill, but once outside and moving, the feeling subsided.  Everything unnatural was disturbing, and in New York City, that’s pretty much everything.  I realized I was not experiencing an altered state exactly.  This was true reality in another dimension, as seen through the soul of a mushroom.

“… the high was only a perspective shift from which to experience reality more realistically (Jones, 36).”

We walked past a man and I knew right away that he had killed many people.  My friend thought he could speak in foreign languages.  And I realized, in my suede jacket, that I was wearing a cow.  I could feel the cow and hear it mooing.  Unnerved, I asked my friend, “Just be my reality, okay?”

We went to Central Park and I could suddenly breathe and the world was made of rainbows and light.  Andras said nothing at all.  He had the grin of a Cheshire cat.  His girlfriend seemed like a doe – innocent and pure, an awesome contradiction to her line of work as a high-paid sex worker.

We came to a stage and my friend walked into the shadows becoming darker, then walked back becoming lighter (his favorite trick).  The three of them felt far away from me.  I climbed the stairs behind the stage, wanting to escape.  There were thick vine trees lining a path and I found the Tree.  I sat in it and the Tree began breathing up through me, rocked in a cradle of inhaling and exhaling wood.  We were melded together as one.  I wanted to be alone and away from all the uncertainty.  But my friend kept calling me, “Lauren, we’re moving on.  You need to come now.”

“No, I don’t want to.  This is where I belong.”

Eventually, I caught up to them.  We walked through a horse round and circled a statue where a panther mutated into a squirrel.  Live animals had become fluffy unreachable entities with no connection to humanity.  Electronic music was a terrible noise while church bells were the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.  People moved in herds except for some crazy disco roller skaters that all moved to their own rhythm.

When we returned we descended into an emotional slump.  I became obsessed with willing a rose to open, and then felt depressed as it began to wilt.  My friend worked on Andras doing massage and Andras had a break down, conflicted over his own masculinity.  We all sat down and my friend began to cry as he confessed that in a past life he had been on intimate terms with the insides of human bodies, opening them up to look inside.  Andras’ girlfriend wanted to work on my friend in a healing exercise where she needed to feel connected to him spread eagle on the massage table.  Andras was getting pissed, so they left us and went into the dark bedroom to finish the therapy.

Andras and I sat on the couch awkwardly feeling jealous.  He began to obsessively clean the kitchen and the living room.  I wanted to catch the train back to Hoboken, and he had plans for the next morning.  He began to yell all of this towards the bedroom, and finally my friend and I got the hell out.  I couldn’t go to sleep when we got back home, and I found the dark room disturbing.  So we lay there for a long time with the lights on, talking beneath the covers.

I would see Andras randomly here and there over the next five years.  Mostly through his show, once at an awkward networking event, and once at his past job as a bartender at Bottleneck Lounge.  He approached me at one point to help find sponsors for his radio program, but I was not at all right for that kind of job.

Accidental Initiations is enjoyable to read, and I don’t think that’s just because I knew many of the stories and people he writes about.  It’s a shame that on Amazon his ‘boring haters’ have made quite the mark, although their crazy attacks made me want to read the book even more.  He left KAOS radio station in Olympia on bad terms, fired for indeterminate reasons.  There was much slander and harassment against him and he’s hell bent on getting his show back on the station.  But he needs to let it go and move on.  The low point of his book is including all the dirty details involved in the case, including letters (that according to the ‘boring haters’) are not accurate.  This chapter has nothing to do with the spiritual journey we are all on with him throughout the rest of Accidental Initiations.  It is more suitable to a temporary platform like an article or a blog, not the pages of a book, which had the potential to go beyond his current audience for Radio8Ball.

Next week I am off to a place of solitude to finish a memoir that has been in the making for the last ten years.  Andras reminds me that our shared history is a strange one, with details impossible to recreate.  I too am not as social as I used to be because of people that have let me down.  And though I began my memoir out of spite, I somehow was able to forgive my enemies as I wrote through their voices.  I became the people that I loved, the people that I hated, and left behind the person that I was.

“One of the key components of any effective cult is some level of getting over yourself as a route to getting truly into your Self (Jones, 51).”

After that night when I sat in the Tree, everything changed.  There is strength in knowing the earth is made of magic.  I didn’t need to find my identity through someone else, because I had my own.  Nothing could stop me from being an artist.  It was time to go home.

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