Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Two Days with Kali and the Carioca

When we look back at life, there are always sign posts. Some don't become clear until many years after they happen. Some become significant immediately, and you somehow know things will never be quite the same. As a person who had a conservative disposition toward recreational drugs growing up, it is quite interesting that at middle age I would decide to explore entheogens. It was only several years ago in a Buddhist meditation retreat I started to hear of Ayahuasca from a couple practitioners. While I'm pretty good at talking myself out of things, this path seemed to always be piquing my curiosity in the background. 

(And yes, it should be noted that Ayahuasca has become somewhat trendy in certain circles, as noted by this New Yorker article. This is always a concern for me as I do try to avoid trends, however, I also believe many are not entering this path with appropriate intentions.)

So with the encouragement and support of a friend, I was ready to continue my inner exploration to uncover new ground. My intention was bold: I wanted to know the nature of Reality, or God to be more exact. Was I biting off more than I could chew?

As the ceremony began, I had little trepidation. Ignorance is bliss only for a short while. It wasn't until an hour of the first cup (of three) of the medicine did I begin to feel the effects of DMT, and then almost immediately my mind opened up in a way I have never experienced. I could see the room become vivid with colors so beautiful beyond any garish descriptors I could come up with. But as I became aware of my experience, I immediately started to hear a voice that I was responding to. It's one of those moments you think you're going crazy. The mind having is having a conversation with itself, but the other voice was not my own. The idea of God speaking to Moses at the burning bush did not seem as unlikely now.

Aya-huasca is known to be the embodiment of the Divine Feminine, also known as the Grandmother (or Aya). Grandmother is also not always gentle, but she gives you what you need. Although not having a strong affinity for Hinduism, I found it fascinating that the voice appeared to me with the name Kali (a.k.a. Hindu Goddess). How Kali came to me I have no idea, but it appears some believe there is a similar thread with Aya. 

And there She was, conversing with me very quickly with insight on top of insight. I was other-powered.

Me: Show me your face.
Kali: I'm not playing games with you.   
Me: I want to see.
Kali: I'm not sure you can handle this Love.

It was then, I was exposed to a Love so intense that it was completely overwhelming. If you took the love you have for a child, a parent, a friend, a pet, and a lover and multiplied that by a million, it would still not come close to this. I knew She was only unveiling as much as I could handle (or I was letting go as much as I could), but it overtook me with great humility and fear. I realized I was a small speck in comparison to Her and I immediately recoiled. The first significant insight: I came to this as an ego searching for God, instead of allowing God to find me. Hence, my vessel was not ready to be consumed by the fire.

Kali: It's okay. I'm always here.

It was then I was sent down to the path of utter dark night. All night long I was forced to face my thoughts at a heightened intensity. I recall at one moment dry heaving completely in sync with someone else sitting behind me. It was as if we were connected in the healing process. I continued to see the all the things my crazy mind does: the planning, the scheming, the controlling. Only now there was no place to hide. I was head on in pain, discomfort, purging, and such extreme anguish. It was literally one of the worst nights I can remember.

My second great insight: I've always been able to keep myself at a safe distance from teachings and teachers, and therefore allowing myself to control my experience. I had nowhere to run to with Kali embodying me. The purification was needed. In the morning, I was unsure I could go through another experience of this. But I had no choice. This is what I came for.

To be stupid is to believe that it is possible
 to take a photograph of the place about
which the poet sang. 
— Dávila
Day two started with a lot more agitation. Being humbled by Kali, I knew this was a serious adventure and shouldn't be taken lightly. After the first cup, I tried to focus on the music of the Carioca and his trio. And soon enough, I began to feel discomfort in my body (this was somatically induced by some of the challenging music being played at the time). It felt as if all this energy was building and needed to be released through movement. So I did the only thing I could... I danced. My body was flowing to the music with such refinement, it literally felt like it was being done to me. My rhythm was perfectly on time, and the music moved through me without distinction. The energy was so warm and playful. I have never had an experience of music so vividly as this. The songs were soaring as me as the Carioca beautifully held the space with his exquisite playing. I was flowing spontaneously to the notes, and releasing to the space in between them.

Kali: I'm not here to harm you.
Me: You are so beautiful.

During this time, it felt as something was working through all the blockages in my body. My physical being felt 20 years younger! It was becoming clear, I was clear. I was present, luminous, playful, joyful. The evening was utter, pure awakened bliss. But only this time, She said enough with the mind and transcendence. It was all about immanent embodiment of the Divine. It was a pleasure to be on Earth and in this moment. I now knew beyond concepts that Reality is a lot more mysterious, overpowering, and sweeter than I ever could have known otherwise without this experience. It made the first night worth every moment. The third big insight: the Divine has a personal quality and character, and we can always be in relationship with Her.

Aya (Kali) is not an easy path. She grabs you by the throat, is steadfast, and firm. And yet, she can open your Heart in ways you can't expect. She is Infinite Love, but meets you where you are. And now that my experience has come and gone, something stays: a trust, a richer faith, and an enduring hope.

The prophets (and shamans) have not misled us.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pixelated Addictions

I have a confession to make. I love information. I really do. It's so convenient to get at something of interest now. But I don't love the monkey mind that ensues.

What got me thinking about this is a recent article from Andrew Sullivan: I Used to Be a Human Being. Sullivan knows this problem first hand. He ran one of the most popular blogs for several years until burnout got the upper hand.

Maybe this topic has been hammered to death since the advent of the television, but I want to take it on with a more spiritual angle. Off course I should note that there are obvious psychological consequences by all this distraction.

David Warren observes, “Everywhere I see these little ones. From their strollers, they look up at mommy. She is on her Smartphone. It is not that they are unloved; but there is something else more important. They must learn to think tactically. Perhaps, when they get their own Smartphones, they can call her, on theirs?

This is quite disconcerting. If you know anything about attachment theory, our upcoming youth are a going to be one hot mess.

Stanley Kubrick was concerned as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens out. So in other words, artificial intelligence won't come to us, but we will come to it.

There was a time when ancient man was much more verbal. Reading silently was rarely encouraged. Socrates was actually worried that reading might substitute for remembering, and therefore a lack of inner depth. He had no idea what was to come.

Nicholas Carr made the interesting point that, “We can decode text quickly but we're no longer guided toward a deeper, personally constructed understanding of the text's connotations.” It looks like the postmodernists have really won, all syntax and no semantics. Content in, garbage out. Carr adds, The internet diminishes the ability to know, in depth, a subject for ourselves, to construct within our own minds the rich and idiosyncratic set of connects that give rise to a singular intelligence.” 

So here we are losing our sensible narratives that unified us while becoming more fragmented, splintering our consciousness into a web of content that travels widely without nuance and depth. Sadly, we have become a collection of parts, when our deepest nature desires life to be one singular event. 

Sullivan notes, modernity slowly weakened spirituality, by design and accident, in favor of commerce; it downplayed silence and mere being in favor of noise and constant action. The reason we live in a culture increasingly without faith is not because science has somehow disproved the unprovable, but because the white noise of secularism has removed the very stillness in which it might endure or be reborn.

Hence, exponential informational distractions along with secularism exacerbates the problem. It was our traditions that allowed us to “recognize a critical distinction — and tension — between noise and silence, between getting through the day and getting a grip on one’s whole life.” So as we continue to lose our grip with life with the bombardment of distraction, Sullivan concludes the real threat may ultimately be with our souls.

My remedy to all of this: meditate, pray, read books (good ones), walk in nature, and limit the demon I love.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Random Thoughts About Non-Random Beginnings

Back in secular materialism headquarters, Mr. Darwin continues to be admired for his profound discovery of random mutations and natural selection as the leading cause for life. The disease continues to be religion and all its supernatural fodder that offers weak people comfort and dumb folk a nice little fantasy to believe in.

Then why can't the idea of evolution explain itself completely? I mean, it is a fairly coherent theory to some extent. But if you look at the huge audacious picture, it sort of goes off the rails.

Bob pointed out a nice quote by Karl Polanyi (who was channeling Gödel): “No conceptual system can ever demonstrate within its system its own consistency... Belief is always based on personal, tacit grounds, extraneous to the system.

It always gets back to our premises, principles, and assumptions. So end of story. Have a nice day, folks!

But really, this would get boring if we couldn't poke some holes at the mantra of evolution. Materialists certainly like poking holes at God, but they can only do it from inside the box they've made for themselves. While all along God never intended for there to be walls in the first place.

I found this recent article fascinating, showing that life made a more sudden appearance than once believed (a nice 200 million year shave!). What this means is the random chance of human life coming into existence didn't have that much time to make such a great leap. So was there an architect, God forbid?

Back in 2004, Stephen Meyer published an article in the extensively peer-reviewed magazine, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, about the origin of biological information and higher forms of life. His conclusion:
An experience-based analysis of the causal powers of various explanatory hypotheses suggests purposive or intelligent design as a causally adequate--and perhaps the most causally adequate--explanation for the origin of the complex specified information required to build the Cambrian animals and the novel forms they represent. For this reason, recent scientific interest in the design hypothesis is unlikely to abate as biologists continue to wrestle with the problem of the origination of biological form and the higher taxa.
The Cambrian explosion is certainly a mystery. Most of the species that came out of that period were fully developed, most of which have not altered since. Also, there is still missing fossil evidence of an assumed transitional species, prior to homo-sapiens. And it appears to there is an irreducible complexity to much of life, that can be partially explained by Gould's punctuated equilibrium, however, still without decent causal powers.

Not too mention all the fine tuning of physical constants and low-entropy needed for anthropic life to exist on the third planet from the sun in this particular solar system. Spitzer says, [Fred Hoyle] compared the emergence of a single cell by pure chance to 'a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard assembling a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.'

I guess we got some supernatural nudges along the way from somewhere.

And if you prefer to believe in the multiple permutations of chance that got us here with a multiverse hypothesis, you will need to rest that belief on faith much like I do.

As Spitzer notes, Physics has not explained away transphysical causation, but rather is opening the door evermore widely to an intelligent, transtemporal, causative power.

Place your bets.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Give Me Truth, Or Give Me a Pointer!

One of the challenges with Spiritual Teachings of all kind is that instructions that are really pedagogical devices are treated like ontological assertions of truth ... and in the worse case scenario...delivered as such. I vow to strive to keep this distinction as clear as possible in my own work. — Jeff Carreira

The above quote came as a result of some facebook chatter that intrigued me (yes, you can learn things on facebook almost 5% of the time). The issue with any spiritual teaching/dharma practice is whether or not what it points at speaks to ultimate reality and how one should live. 

There is a lot of confusion in this space. Let's take Buddhist emptiness practices as an example. Emptiness is an unfortunate word, but in essence it is a pedagogical device to point out there is no intrinsic reality to our cognitive structures. Unfortunately, this often gets conflated with deconstruction philosophy, where all concepts have no ultimate meaning and are devoid of richness. After all such destructuring you are left with a void of nothing, however, this is not how the fruition of emptiness practices are perceived by a spiritual practitioner. Instead, an openness to our structures are revealed as a more vivid reality (or the inseparability of emptiness and clarity).

The peace of mind that comes through spiritual teachings also get distorted when conflated with reality. Peace as inner experience should not be taken as a position for all outer experiences. But we still see this pedagogical idea espoused by pacifists, even when conflict is inherently unavoidable. One quote I really like comes from the book Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
“Peace is not just about the absence of conflict; it's also about the presence of justice. ... A counterfeit peace exists when people are pacified or distracted or so beat up and tired of fighting that all seems calm. But true peace does not exist until there is justice, restoration, forgiveness. Peacemaking doesn't mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.”
Some Advaita schools (more so with the Shankara lineage and today's neo-advaitists) take their pedagogical approach, that the world is an illusion, to be real. As such, life is not taken as an important quality of the ultimate. All realizations then become about the release (or liberation) from life, and ultimately there is no self to be released. Yet, even Shankara ran from a stampeding elephant, and was then questioned by a student as to why this was done since isn't the elephant an illusion. He had the nerve to respond, “My dear friend, you saw me running…who said that was the truth. It was also an illusion.” 

(Two hundred years later, Ramanuja saw the flaw in this orientation, and posited “that there exists a plurality and distinction between Atman (souls) and Brahman (metaphysical, ultimate reality), while he also affirmed that there is unity of all souls and that the individual soul has the potential to realize identity with the Brahman” (wikipedia).)

So what was the beef with Mr. Carriera's pointer? He stated, “When you practice the subtle art of not making a problem out of any part of your experience you sink into the profound recognition that contentment is always already yours.” A friend of mine rightly acknowledged that problems are not just psychological. Jeff followed up to note that this is true and that problems are real, and “at the same time their existence does not mean that something is wrong. Problems exist because they are part of reality. In this way these instructions do away with the illusion that there is so problem-free heaven that is the real reality.” 

Spiritual practice is not ontology, however, a darn good method can point beyond itself.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Flawed R Us

For whatever reason, some programming I have taken in recently revolves around the theme of the fallibility of man. Earlier this summer, I watch the amazingly well-done documentary done on O.J. Simpson (directed by Ezra Edelman and available here for viewing). I enjoyed the documentary so much, I even decided to watch the ten part series that aired on FX. Prior to the airing of these episodes, I wasn’t that enthusiastic about viewing them this since I lived through it. However, after some good critical reviews and word of mouth, I decided otherwise. Besides, it’s great to have context and sometimes that can only come in time. 

Then recently I took in the documentary about Anthony Weiner. Coincidentally, news came out right after I viewed this that he was up to his texting shenanigans again, only this time his wife wisely said goodbye. It’s interesting when people get this self-destructive, although you could intuit the pathology seeping through his pours from the get go.

And even more recently I took in this CNN documentary about the Buddhafield, led by a real creepy guru who first went by the name of Michel, then Andreas. I know these things sometimes only become apparent in the aftermath, but wasn’t it clearly evident to his followers that this guy was a tad unhinged? I suppose in spiritual circles we cut our idols a little slack. I just recently read somewhere that Saint Catherine of Siena, like many mystics, was a bit crazy. So maybe the followers of the Buddhafield knew deep down something wasn’t right, but taken in by rapture they were hoping for the best. Ask anyone who went through a bad divorce, if they could take an honest look at their deeper impressions of their partner when they decided to get married, many would admit that something did not feel right at the time.

We are all flawed, and yet carrying something that is flawless. But if you’re not orientated toward the flawless, watch out! I believe Chesterton said “if you do not fear God, you have good reason to fear man.” But these days, we have dropped the notion of sin. Instead, we will use the concept of ego, and play psychological games with ourselves that we can transcend it (and for those that think they have, this just creates even more ego for them and their minions). 

While much of this comes from distorted ideas around eastern mysticism, some of it started with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He believed man is born innocent, but by exposure to the world, he comes to be bound, enslaved, and corrupted by civilization. Clearly Rousseau didn’t consider if the “corrupting dimension of civilization is other human beings, how can a civilization become corrupt unless the individuals within it are corrupt?” (Sproul). Not to mention, he sent his five children to the Paris Foundling Hospital immediately upon birth and never saw them again. Innocent my arse!

We can’t get away from sin, and it is pretty original too.

Here’s the other fascinating thing about cults like the Buddhafield, more often than not, our sinful natures are worse in collectives. There’s plenty of evidence for this (from Nazi Germany to Scientology) as well as many sociological studies to back it up. We are all potentially gullible and easily manipulated in the right circumstances. So while it intrigues me to see such fallible models, I try not to do it at a heartless distance. It's all there as a constant reminder! 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Elevator Pitch for Ultimate Things

Robert Barron's recent blog post reacts to the recent Pew Study's of why young people are leaving the active practice of Christianity. And it appears that scientism and relativism are winning out! For every person who enters the Church, six leave. As such, he clearly acknowledges that the Church needs to pick up their game intellectually.
And I agree that's part of the problem. But it's not that today's youth are intellectually stunted, it's more like their fuzzy logic and reason have been co-opted by a postmodern worldview. So while a more traditional intellectualism needs to be reinstated, it would need to be through the lens of students indoctrinated by Dawkins and Derrida. And that's a challenge in itself.

I would add the Church has not done a great job making the mystical component accessible to the laity. As someone who has been in Buddhist circles, I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say they are exploring the Eastern traditions because they are more experiential and less dogmatic. Anyone who has looked into the early Desert Fathers, Meister Eckhart, Ignatius, Teresa of Avilia, Padre Pio, and Thomas Merton can see their is a robust tradition in Christian mysticism (albeit not as continuous and refined as Buddhism). And this would also be needed so people didn't fall into a dry, arid scholasticism that doesn't cultivate the embodiment and alignment of one's beliefs. While the Sacraments may cover much of this, they have probably been overly ritualized through the years. 

Combined, this would be what Bob would call the heart-intellect.

So if I was to create a school for today's youth, that would augment one's spiritual path and not replace it, I would focus on practices that would facilitate access and embodiment of deeper dimensions of consciousness, intellectual study of contemporary and traditional metaphysicians that use science, logic, philosophy, and culture as a gateway to deeper understanding, and character cultivation through fine literature. I suppose I am missing some components, but then again, I would assume to Church can offer the community, mission, lineage, exemplars, love, and other non-material values that could support a body of believers.

In an unrelated interview, Barron offers up an elevator pitch if you ever got into a one minute conversation about the Big questions in life. It happens to me all the time once the weather updates have exhausted themselves, someone will turn to me and ask what's your take on the metaphysical adventure we are on? Joshing aside, if only we could avail ourselves more to these good problems.

Question #1 - Does God exist?
Yes, because the world doesn't explain itself. 

Question #2 - Who am I?
I am a hybrid of both body and soul. [The soul is in the body, but not contained by it. It is the animating form of the body which orders me to ultimate things.]

Question #3 - What is the meaning of life?
The meaning of life is to return to God from Whom we came. 

Question #4 - What is the right way to live?
What is right is what's in line with the teleology of my humanity.

Question #5 - What happens after death?
We are raised to a higher pitch of transfigured existence, also known as the spiritual body.

Obviously this is a starting place that can only be fruitful through a lifetime of unpacking and practicing! Most can't do this on their own, and with a bleeding Church and the prevalence of new age spirituality, today's youth are ever more in need of a robust spiritual revival. In the meantime, carry on and start contemplating.

No human life is complete until like Jacob we have wrestled with the Creator.  Nothing is more private and personal than those wrestling matches, and no other human being is in a position to judge the results — but unless in one form or another you are engaging with God you are missing out on the most challenging, rewarding and defining experience that life has to offer. — Walter Russell Mead

Monday, August 29, 2016

Appreciation of the Tragic Dimension

Over the weekend I read Theodore Dalrymple's Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality, and took away a nice augment to a recent blog post. Dalrymple, being a retired psychiatrist himself, speaks a tad bleakly about his profession. While he admits that psychology has some positive outcomes (I found it to smooth some edges for me), his issue that eventually it reaches a clear limit and can be counter-productive.

Ultimately, we find that psychology contributes little to human understanding. As that can only come from outside our ruminations and desire to chase the happy state.

Dalrymple suggests that fine literature has been an aid in understanding the human condition, and gives man a perspective on tragedy that can locate us outside ourselves. I am going to quote a section from his book, where he refers to Samuel Johnson's novella Rasselas as an example of literature that can assist us in embodying a deeper understanding of humanity. This touched me somehow, maybe because I relate to the limits of philosophy and having a purely intellectual understanding that is not in service to something higher...
Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, travels the world in search of a way of life that is perfect. Each place that he visits seems to him at first to be full of promise, but on closer examination he finds that every place, and every condition of Man, has its drawbacks, disadvantages, discontents, and inconsistencies. In Cairo, Rasselas finds a professor of philosophy who eloquently preaches a noble stoicism.
He showed, with great strength of sentiment, and variety of illustration, that human nature is degraded and debased when the lower faculties predominate over the higher; that when fancy, the parent of passion, usurps the dominion of the mind, nothing ensues but the natural effect of unlawful government, perturbation and confusion; that she betrays the fortresses of the intellect to rebels, and excites her children to sedition against reason, their lawful sovereign. He compared reason to the sun, of which the light is constant, uniform and lasting; and fancy to a meteor, of bright but transitory lustre, irregular in its motion, and delusive in its direction.
Rasselas is deeply impressed:[He] listened to him with the veneration due to the instructions of a superior being. . .and he tells his guide during his peregrinations, Imlac, that: “I have found . . . a man that can teach all that is necessary to be known. . .”
Imlac warns him to “Be not too hasty . . . to trust, or to admire, the teachers of morality: they discourse like angels, but they live like men.”
But Rasselas, being young, does not heed the warning because he “could not conceive how any man could reason so forcibly without feeling the cogency of his own arguments.”
The day following the lecture, Rasselas visits the philosopher at his home and finds him utterly disconsolate because “my daughter, my only daughter, from whose tenderness I expected all the comforts of my age, died last night of a fever.” He continues, “My views, my purposes, my hopes are at an end. . .” 
Rasselas, still full of the lecture, replies in best callowyouth fashion: “Sir . . . mortality is an event by which a wise man can never be surprised: we know that death is always near, and it should therefore always be expected.”
To this the philosopher returns a cri de coeur which the American Psychiatric Association would do well to note: “Young man . . . you speak like one that has never felt the pangs of separation.”
Rasselas persists a little in the rational stoicism that he has learned at the philosopher’s feet: “Have you, then, forgot the precepts . . . which you so powerfully enforced? Has wisdom no strength to arm the heart against calamity? Consider that external things are naturally variable, but truth and reason are always the same.”
The philosopher replies: “What comfort . . . can truth and reason afford me? of what are they now, but to tell me that my daughter will not be restored?”
Rasselas, reproved, “went away convinced of the emptiness of rhetorical sound, and the inefficacy of polished periods and studied sentences.”
What Johnson captures so brilliantly is the inherent tragic dimension of human existence, a dimension that only literature (and other forms of art), but not psychology, can capture, and which indeed it is psychology’s vocation to deny and hide from view with a thin veneer of science. Without an appreciation of the tragic dimension, all is shallowness; and those without it are destined for a life that is nasty and brutish, if not necessarily short.