Saturday, November 3, 2018

God-less Merit

I'm going to contradict myself here, as I actually do see much good in the modern world. But there are always the trade-offs; such as, how we now relate to existence.

There’s good reason why we feel so separate, autonomous, independent, alone: we choose to see things this way.

We see ourselves as substances, but without relations. 

Decartes initially articulated the divide, which then got fleshed out more so with Locke. I don’t believe these thinkers compartimentalized things on their own. As Jonah Goldberg says, “We tend to give too much credit to intellectuals for creating ideas. More often, they give voice to ideas of impulses that already exist as pre-rational commitments or attitudes. Other times they distill opinions, sentiments, aspirations, and passions that already exist on the ground, and the distilled spirit is fed back to the people and they become intoxicated by it.”

Consider it all part of the Fall.

At some point we became intoxicated with the new science. In this, “we let one’s method dictate what counts as reality, rather than letting reality determine one’s method” (Feser).

The world was no longer enchanted with beings, animated with the supernatural, and gifted with aliveness! It was now a world of objective observation of the fragments. And “What is often regarded as a “discovery” arrived at via empirical scientific inquiry was in fact a stipulation concerning the nature of scientific method, a limitation, more or less by fiat, of what would be allowed to count as "scientific"” (Feser).

This should have got stuck in our claw, but we indulged to gain God-less merit. “If the science of the moderns has “succeeded,” then, it might be argued that this is in large part because they stacked the deck in their own favor” (Feser).

The traditional Scholastics did not see an epistemological and representational gap, or the self as buffered. There was relation and unity between things, with forms and matter making a whole. The unity between the parts was “organic and necessary, not mechanical and contingent.”

The character of existence was relational: this exists because that exists, and they exist in one another: inseparable, but distinct: substances-in-relation.

But these relations were not just horizontal, but vertical too. In fact, it is only because of the Trinity that we can relate to existence at all. 

It is in the Trinity, where we can relate as existence itself.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Twice Borns: from Suffering to Redemption

William James, in his seminal book The Varieties of Religious Experience, draws a contrast between what he calls “Once Born” and the “Twice Born” people. I am, and you are also dear reader since you are here, in the latter category.

Once Born people appear biologically predisposed to happiness. They tend to be easy-going, upbeat individuals who are more accepting of their place in life. More often than not, they're not spiritual seekers in the modern sense, and if they have any spiritual disposition, it is usually a faith they were cradled into. 

By contrast, Twice Borns feel there is something wrong with reality that must be resolved. As James expounds, “There are persons whose existence is little more than a series of zigzags, as now one tendency and now another gets the upper hand. Their spirit wars with their flesh, they wish for incompatibles, wayward impulses interrupt their most deliberate plans, and their lives are one long drama of repentance and of effort to repair misdemeanors and mistakes.”

Sounds like us Twice Borns are a tad cursed. And yet, James argues that some of the happiest people are actually Twice Born. How so? Well, the Twice Born attitude towards life often leads to an existential “crisis”, often accompanied by a strong desire to make sense of things. This leads us to find authentic meaning, significance, and purpose. Also, as seekers we are more conscious of any inner turmoil where First Borns may repress aspects of their confusion. As such, the challenges of Twice Borns are not seen as obstacles to happiness, but rather as the means to achieve a deeper and more lasting happiness.

This all leads me to highlight Gerald G. May's Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology, which I consider a terrific book for anyone who identifies as Twice Born. It’s one of those books I wish I read when I began my quest, as May is astute at pointing out all the traps and distortions fledgling spiritual aspirants will often come across. 

Why do we go off the rails? May says, “The problem here is not so much what one believes as how rigidly the belief is held. Extremes of monism and dualism get into trouble not because they are inherently right or wrong but because they create frozen images of reality. They reduce the way things are to systems that, though they may be comprehensible, are so strict and brittle that they fail to embrace the vibrancy of real life. They miss the mystery. If unitive experiences could teach us only one thing, it should be that life is infinitely vast and mysterious, and that it is a process so rich and dynamic that the more we understand of it, the more mysterious it must become.”

Hence, we must “be willing to surrender one’s habitual tendencies to either solve or ignore mystery”, as well as be “willing to risk some degree of fear.”  As they say in Zen: If it’s in the way, it is the Way.

May adds, “But while we may not be able to realize union, we can at least escape from separateness and keep our self-image. We can seek a series of romances; we can deaden our awareness; we can lose ourselves in activity; we can try to convince ourselves that our willfulness is really willingness.”

There's plenty of distraction for all of us to restrict awareness. But even in our “attempts” to relax “involves an effortful act of shutting out stimuli.” This is a fascinating point, as it appears all artificial stimulants to relax are just other forms of distraction from what is.

The table below from May's book clearly shows the ways we can dull or restrict the mind, when open, relaxed alertness is the path...

As Twice Borns, “The hunger for love is not a simple matter of wanting to love or be loved by other people; nor is it just the psychological gratification that comes with feeling that others think you are important to them. Nor is it just the basic desire for human contact. All these things exist as strong forces within the human psyche, but still there is something more. We are touching here upon a desire to be in love with life itself, with creation, with the universe, or with God.”

The flavor of May's teaching is Christian, although he pulls from many traditions. But I do find his Christian disposition to be of importance, as I believe the spiritual guardrails are more emphasized throughout his book. For instance, here are some additional insights I find useful that are typically not found in an Eastern approach:
“As arid as theology may seem in our modern experience-oriented world, it remains one of the best human protections against spiritual distortions. It is somewhat ironic that as our culture probes into the realms of spiritual experience as a reaction against too much dry theology, we are ever more in need of that theology to keep our explorations sane.”
“Deepening willingness is the only thing we can “do,” the only “how to” of the entire process.”
“And while we do not necessarily find God through the sacrifice of our self-importance, we may indeed become more willing to realize that God has already found us.”
“We must repeatedly remember that we cannot in any way design or accomplish our own spiritual growth.”
“Words of Scripture, senses of divine presence, and intellectual ability are no longer things of themselves, no longer even means to an end. They are windows of special clarity into the ever-present mystery of creation. They are in fact gifts that expand the even greater gift of not-knowing.”
“Duality, at its core, is every bit as mysterious as unity.”
“In sin, this separation is a mistake. In evil, it is intended.”
“Wholeness can mean anything. Psychologically, it can mean coping, or growth, or happiness. Spiritually it can mean belonging, re-union, or autonomy. It can be used to justify either willingness or willfulness. One of the destructive uses of wholeness, in my opinion, is the attempt to presume that psychological growth and spiritual growth are synonymous.”
“Jacob Needleman says that psychology and spirituality should be separated rather than integrated because 'the former seeks to help a person solve the problems of living; the latter deepens the Question of human life itself. For the psychotherapist, therefore, the great challenge is to assist the patient in solving his problem without closing his Question.' 
“Our error is in thinking that we are, can be, or should be separate, autonomous, independent, alone, or otherwise away from God and each other. Or in jumping to the conclusion that because God transcends us and all our imaginings, God is not at the same time immediately present and alive within us.”
Read this book!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Between the New Age and the Dry Age

I just read a unique and compelling conversion story by Roger Buck. Cor Jusu Sacratissimum means the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is where Buck points the reader towards as an attempt to renew Christendom as well as the catalyst for his own change of heart. Part of my interest in his book was based on his reverence for Valentin Tomberg, who like for me, was influential for Buck.

Unlike most conversion stories, Buck came from the New Age to Catholicism. This is as idiosyncratic as it comes, since I’ve known too many who have attempted the inverse (myself included to some extent). 

But some may say there is no conversion to New Age, since most just see it as a spiritual, but not religious abstraction where there is no club to join. While somewhat true, there are some principles that are implicit to New Age. 

Buck defines New Age as a “Western (primarily Anglosphere) Synthesis of Pre-Christian world religion (absent Judaism). Plus: Twentieth-Century Imports from Secularism, Liberalism, Psychotherapy, Ecology, and the Esoteric. Minus: 20 centuries of Christian Theology and Tradition (particularly Catholic).”

This definition displays the Achilles heel for a movement that likes to see itself as holistic and inclusive. Right here, we can see there is some incoherence in a movement that denies its own intolerance or sees itself stripping out the “superfluous” from most religions. Moreover, much of New Age kowtows to worldly sensibilities, which often waters down the moral safeguards and implicit teleology found in tradition. 

For those looking for a mystical aliveness, there is no question that New Age offers something from secular humanism. But as Buck acknowledges, New-Agers prefer to replace God with more banal, impersonal terms, such as being, energy, field, and consciousness. Not to mention, the intellectual rigor that gets lost in abstract and empty platitudes. This has a depersonalizing effect towards what it means to be truly human as “in the world but not of it.” Instead, a subtle bias towards being “of the world but not in it” gets emphasized. 

Buck says, “All of this is to avoid the preconceived notions of traditional religion without really truly understanding traditional religion fully.” He does acknowledge that the legacy of Protestantism in the Anglo-American world and the liberal excesses in the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II has done a disserve for seekers of tradition. He also notes that the idea is “not go back to fundamentals but rather go forward with developing tradition.” Or as they say, mutatis mutandis

For him, restoring the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the only option for the West. On this path, the mystical experience is where “fire meets with FIRE”… where “nothing is extinguished in the human personality but, on the contrary, everything is set ablaze.” 

I definitely appreciate his conviction and the less-worn door he came through. There is an education in all of this.

No spiritual quest can progress very far without becoming religious.Gerald G. May

Monday, October 1, 2018

Just Be

Here's over 2500 years of meditation instruction distilled into barely a phrase. It’s the cosmic joke that you can’t really laugh at, but hopefully we can smile along with it.

Anyhow, my knowing mind is a bit jarred right now. And I consider that a good thing, because not-knowing is always subsequent to knowing. But for my omniscient-wannabe mind, this takes a lot of intention without effort. In fact, I wish I could write more symbolically today because this discursive language just moves me away from what is.

Yes, I am meandering. I just did a self-retreat, following along to some audios from a retreat Jeff Carreira had in August. I've known Jeff for several years, and he's become a very skillful teacher at distilling the dharma for a post-secular demographic. There's an elegant and affable simplicity as to how he teaches, and it was just what was needed now.

Writing about retreats is challenging. We can be on point with insights, but lose the circumference of the depth. I’m sure that’s what Dávila meant when he said: To be stupid is to believe that it is possible to take a photograph of the place about which the poet sang.

That’s why I can only write for an audience of one. I could never authentically write in the way that would be consumptive for the masses. 

But for what it’s worth for my reader of one, here’s my big takeaways. These are not necessarily quotes from Jeff, but an amalgamation of his direct pointers, my paraphrasing and interpretations, and whatever Truth needs to be brought out in this moment...

Humility is to accept we have seen without evidence. The bottom line is faith matters! We take more things on faith than we realize. Even science is predicated on uncertainty (see Karl Popper’s falsifiability). So the leap is always part of the process that can happen in any moment when we decide. God is always there, even when not seen with certitude.

I don't want to believe all my hard meditation work is for naught. Come to mediation as a beginner each time. It’s the only way we can be open enough for the unexpected to occur. And things also occur the way they need to. We all have our own karma.

The miracle of the sacred is it shows it’s going to be okay although problems persist. On a fundamental level we are all okay existentially even if things must change, but that fundamental place is the best place to act on that change.

Why do we meditate? It is an access point to the Divine, so we can see the sacredness in life. It can liberate us into life, so we don’t lose our center while participating in the Passion of life. Moreover, we don't become indifferent to life, but indifferent to the afflictions of the mind that don't allow us to fully engage in life!

People will do anything to avoid pain. Spiritual bypassing is just another version of this. We can always find some avoidance activity. But eventually we have to become available for the pain so God can be available for us. We can love our afflictions as old friends, so as to not always be thrown by them. It's not always easy, but something is strengthened by the struggle.

You can only get good at what you practice. Meditation (as technique) isn't something you necessarily want to get good at. Better to just be. Don’t do meditation, let the mediation find me. Grace, not so much effort.

It takes a lot of humility to identify with an experience you barely have. And yet, there is no spiritual experience that will change your life. It just gives us an excuse to change. We are always empowered to change by allowing to be changed. 

Give more attention to the part of ourselves that has clarity over confusion. Better to make life decisions from clarity.

Most people are looking for a better deal than life itself. There is no better deal than just being. The issue is we are not comfortable with life itself.

Awakening is a function of the life you're living. It is not a personal quality! You can't have it, like intelligence or attractiveness. 

Good pointer: Don't try to meditate, just let the part of you that already knows how to find the meditation, and then just rest there and forget yourself. Let your mind be busy while you rest in the Truth of who you are. I don’t need to strive; it’s the commitment to show up that takes care of the effort needed for effortless. There is an Unconditioned Freedom no matter what my experience is.

Where there is Kundalini that overwhelms, gently talk to the Kundalini to underwhelm.

As I mentioned earlier, not-knowing is always subsequent to knowing. But if we can just be, we can fall in love with the not-knowing more than anything we can know. Spiritual experiences don't add up to the way things are, but affirms that the Truth adds up to a lot more than we can imagine. 

In that Freedom, the edges will keep revealing themselves in the midst of our love for what is.

So, just be.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Can We Love Unconditionally?

The short answer is, well, I would say no.

To get more nuanced, we need to define what love is. I know there has been many good (and really bad!) songs written about it, but I think we're all still a little confused about this loaded word. James Thurber acknowledged this when he said love is “that pleasant confusion we know exists.”

I believe the ancient Greeks had it fairly right when they distinguished love in the following ways: agápe (divine unconditional love), éros (romantic/erotic love), philía (friendship/brotherly love), and storgē (compassionate/filial love). Freud would probably add a healthy narcissism for oneself, a self-love or positive self-regard, as part of these forms of love.

Eros, philía, storgē, and self-love are all manifestations and gradations of divine agapic love. But unlike agapic love, these forms of love are conditional. There is always a subtle manipulation going on within ourselves (our fears and our desires) in relationship to others as finite beings. And for convenience sake, we have created a false consciousness in which things-in-relation are seen as separate for us.

I know there are some that would say the love a mother has towards her baby child is mostly unconditional. While somewhat true, even the young mother has her challenging moments. And let's not forget that child will someday grow up to be an incorrigible teenager where that "unconditional" love may not always be so accessible. 

I believe that's why Aquinas defined love as “to will the good of another”. He understood that most of us are not infused with the grace of agapic love at all times. As such, love requires a commitment or covenant even when we don't necessarily "feel" it. If the feeling-sense of love is not there in the moment, then we may need to cultivate a willingness of love for the other. (One person told me when she couldn't feel love for someone, she would thank God for loving them. I've found this to be a helpful practice for myself.) Moreover, the practice of love for others can help dissolve some of our self-image and self-importance to make way for more agapic love over time. As such, we can see where faith, family, work, and community are vital to our spiritual growth.

But if I’m acknowledging there is this agapic love, then why would I say we can’t love unconditionally? Here’s the rub: we really can’t do it! 

As long as we're identified with our self-image, then love will always have “to remain a marketing sort of business, something to be given and received, and always with conditionality. It does not know anything of unconditional love because it is only while self-image sleeps that unconditional love is realized. For self-image, unconditional love must remain a matter of faith rather than experience, and it is almost invariably unwilling to risk itself for faith” (Gerald G. May).

This gets into all sorts of notions of what the self-image is. Buddhism nails much of it. According to Dumitru Stăniloae, man is “nothing but a mass of component parts, with no inner unity, therefore there is nothing in the human being that can call for, or make possible, any ultimate love. Altruism of any kind, whatever its tinge, and however ardent it may be, can only be a procedure for getting rid of desire.” Hence, when identified with this self-image, we are always subtly defensive in our self-serving manipulations and unable to open our heart fully.

The way out is the way up. If we can offer up our self-importance as a sacrifice to God, then we find something beyond the self that can love unconditional. May says:
“Agapic love is ultimate, unconditional love. It is a love that transcends human beings both individually and collectively. Because it does not originate from within individual people, it is not influenced by their personal desires or whims. It is a universal “given” that pre-exists all effort; it neither needs to be earned nor can it be removed. It is only agape that is perfect and capable of casting out fear, for it is only agape that cannot be taken away. Narcissism, eroticism, and filial love are all conditional forms of love; they can be influenced by circumstances and by personal whim. ... But agape suffers none of these vicissitudes. It is permanent, eternal, and completely unflappable. The only choice humans have in relation to agape is whether or not to recognize its presence, to “realize” it. We can neither magnify nor destroy it.”
When this is realized, the disparity between an inner longing for unconditional love and an outer experience of conditional love is resolved. We also find our center, and paradoxical unity that can love unconditionally as persons in relationship in God and with others.

I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I'll make you so sure about it
God only knows what I'd be without you 
Brian Wilson and Tony Asher  

In an erotic “high,” the world disappears in love. In the spiritual “high,” the world appears in love. — Gerald G. May

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Know Your (Sacred) Surroundings

In a recent interview, Peter Thiel said we need to look up and not so much around (which just creates a mimetic trap).

He studied under René Girard, so he's aware that the wisdom of crowds can easily devolve into the madness of crowds. It's an easy trap if we don't stand deep and high. So perhaps better to center ourselves vertically, otherwise we just fall into utter horizontal fragmentation that is never unified.

I'm getting this point in another book I'm reading by Jonah Goldberg. His thesis is that civilization is fragile, but works because our pluralism is centered around deeper principles. Once those principles go, we just become pre-modern tribal power mongers trying to subsume or battle everyone else. Watch the news lately?

But maybe there are some things worth being with down here. 

Shall we get a little woo-woo? Well, I suppose this blog often touches on the woo, but hopefully holds on to enough traditional and intellectual rigor to not let the other ‘woo’ come in. We’ll leave that to the Deepak’s of the world.

I found this (white paper)* very compelling. What it shows is how much relational exchange goes on beyond the physical. And not just between us as people but also the objects we come into contact with. We are indeed always transmitting and receiving energy and information with each other.

One profound example, that has been scientifically verified, is that highly-conscious human beings can change the properties of an artifact through focused intention on it. “Not only can properties of inorganic materials such as pH of water be changed in line with the intention, but liver enzyme activity (chemical potential) of alkaline phosphatase (ALP) can be augmented.” This can be tested on any device that is unimprinted to where it becomes an Imprinted Host Device (IHD). This setup is illustrated below, and has been replicated numerous times.

This has huge implications for how we consider sacred relics! Many relics that have been offered virtuous intentions by saints and sages throughout the ages can potentially store and continue to transmit this information to others. I know when I enter some sacred spaces, it's no accident that my state changes immediately. It's as if my contemplation is being done to me.

Moreover, “Another important observation is that the Buddha [sacred] Relics have an aspect of consciousness and one could even say that they have an innate intelligence. It is well observed that relics multiply in reverential environments; they also disappear if kept in what we could consider ‘unholy’ places like trouser pockets! In this sense they are meta-stable. ... A dynamism enters from these higher dimensional intelligences through the Relics.”

The cliché is true: we are all interconnected in more ways than we realize.

We are what we consume, what and who we surround ourselves with, what we think, and who we love, or... 

Mass ↔ Energy ↔ Information ↔ Consciousness

Best to get right with our surroundings above and below!

* All references and illustrations are from the paper “The Sacred Buddha Relic Tour: For the Benefit of All Beings” by Nisha J. Manek, MD, FRCP (UK) and William A Tiller, PhD. Presented at the Annual Toward A Science of Consciousness Conference: Forum on Eastern Philosophy Symposium. University of Arizona Center for Consciousness Studies, Tucson, Arizona, April 9th, 2012.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Ultimate Confession

In reading Fr. Stephen Freeman's blog post Saved by Weakness, I was taken back at how small our aims are. I'll admit to feeling good about myself when I have not done any recent explicit transgressions against my fellow man. It's the secular bar of being a "nice person". But this hubris comes from a lack of Truth in being, where we lose sight of the ultimate goal in life is to become a saint (i.e. sanctification, deification, theosis). Yet, we either dismiss this as being unattainable for ourselves or we conclude this was never attained for those seen as such (who we believe to being corrupt in reality despite narratives told to us by history or an institution).

If I am to see my brokenness sincerely and with gut-wrenching honesty, I can also come to feel some healthy guilt in all of this. The guilt is there to show there is something inconsistent with my values, my essence, my telos. The point is not to compare ourselves to others in spite of falling short, but to muster the courage to transform the image to the likeness. Spiritual atrophy can easily creep in, and if we're not moving upward eventually we fall downward.

In his post, Fr. Freeman brings in a remarkable passage from The Way of A Pilgrim that elaborates the deepest confessions from the nameless Russian mystic. Here, our anonymous pilgrim offers a vulnerable and courageous self that is not limited by secular treasures. I feel the need to repost these confessions, as a reminder how I fall short by low aims and to inspire me to repent evermore.
“1. I do not love God. For if I loved Him, then I would be constantly thinking of Him with heartfelt satisfaction; every thought of God would fill me with joy and delight. On the contrary, I think more and with greater eagerness about worldly things, while thoughts of God present difficulty and aridity. If I loved Him, then my prayerful communion with Him would nourish, delight, and lead me to uninterrupted union with Him. But on the contrary, not only do I not find my delight in prayer but I find it difficult to pray; I struggle unwillingly, I am weakened by slothfulness and am most willing to do anything insignificant only to shorten or end my prayer. In useless occupations I pay no attention to time; but when I am thinking about God, when I place myself in His presence, every hour seems like a year. When a person loves another, he spends the entire day unceasingly thinking about his beloved, imagining being with him, and worrying about him; no matter what he is occupied with, the beloved does not leave his thoughts. And I in the course of the day barely take one hour to immerse myself deeply in meditation about God and enkindle within myself love for Him, but for twenty-three hours with eagerness I bring fervent sacrifices to the idols of my passions! I greatly enjoy conversations about vain subjects which degrade the spirit, but in conversations about God I am dry, bored, and lazy. And if unwillingly I am drawn into a conversation about spiritual matters, I quickly change the subject to something which flatters my passions. I have avid curiosity about secular news and political events; I seek satisfaction for my love of knowledge in worldly studies, in science, art, and methods of acquiring possessions. But the study of the law of the Lord, knowledge of God, and religion does not impress me, does not nourish my soul. I judge this to be an unessential activity of a Christian, a rather supplementary subject with which I should occupy myself in my leisure time. In short, if love of God can be recognized by the keeping of His commandments—“If anyone loves me he will keep my word,” says the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:23), and I not only do not keep His commandments but I make no attempt to do so—then in very truth I should conclude that I do not love God. St. Basil the Great confirms this when he says, “The evidence that man does not love God and His Christ is that he does not keep His commandments.”
2. I do not love my neighbor. Not only because I am not ready to lay down my life for the good of my neighbor, according to the Gospel, but I will not even sacrifice my peace and my happiness for his good. If I loved my neighbor as myself, as the Gospel commands, then his misfortune would grieve me also and his prosperity would bring me great joy. But, on the contrary, I listen with curiosity to accounts of my neighbor’s misfortune and I am not grieved but indifferent to them and, what is more, I seem to find satisfaction in them. I do not sympathize with the failings of my brother but I judge them and publicize them. My neighbor’s welfare, honor, and happiness do not delight me as my own; I am either completely indifferent to them or I am jealous or envious.
3. I do not have faith in spiritual realities. I believe neither in immortality nor in the Gospel. If I were firmly convinced and believed without a doubt in eternal life and in the consequences for our earthly actions, then I would be constantly thinking about this; the very thought of immortality would inspire me with wonder and awe and I would live my life as an alien who is getting ready to enter his native land. On the contrary, I don’t even think of eternity and I consider the end of this life as the limit of my existence. I nurture a secret thought within and wonder, “Who knows what will happen after death?” Even when I say that I believe in immortality, it is only from natural reasoning, for down deep in my heart I am not convinced of it and my actions and preoccupations with earthly cares prove this. If I accepted the Holy Gospel with faith into my heart as the word of God, then I would be constantly occupied with it; I would study it, would delight in it, and with deep reverence would immerse myself in it. Wisdom, mercy, and love hidden within it would lead me to ecstasy, and day and night I would delight in the lessons contained in the law of God. They would be my daily spiritual bread and I would earnestly strive to fulfill them; nothing on earth would be strong enough to keep me from this. But on the contrary, even if I sometimes read or listen to the word of God, it is either out of necessity or curiosity; I do not delve deeply into it but feel dryness and indifference to it and I receive no greater benefit from it than I do from secular reading. Further, I am eager to give it up promptly and go to worldly reading, in which I have greater interest and from which I get more satisfaction. I am full of pride and self-love. All my actions confirm this. When I see something good in myself, then I wish to display it or brag about it to others, or interiorly I am full of self-love even when outwardly I feign humility. I ascribe everything to my own ability and I consider myself more perfect than others, or at least not worse. If I notice a vice in myself, then I try to excuse it or justify it; I pretend to be innocent or I claim that I couldn’t help it. I am impatient with those who do not show me respect and I consider them incapable of judging character. I am vain about my talents and cannot accept any failure in my actions. I grumble and I am glad to see the misfortune of my enemies, and my intention in doing anything good is either praise, self-interest, or earthly comfort. In a word, I continuously make an idol out of myself, to whom I give unceasing service as I seek sensual delights and try to nourish my carnal desires.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Unbearable Lightness of Believing

I find it fascinating that someone can have a mystical experience and still be an atheist. It just proves there is no test or observation that can be performed to prove the existence of God when your noggin is a hard shell. I suppose there are miraculous divine intervention experiences that could make a crack, but even then, the rigid logic of their minds would make every attempt to explain it away.

It always comes down to faith; on both sides of the fence. Either we make a leap to it’s all random chance (and those mystical experiences are purely epiphenomenal), or we leap to something comes from someThing.

I only mention this because I’m reading Micheal Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. It’s a fun read, and Pollan is an excellent writer. He’s also into immersing himself into his subject matter. As such, in this book he does the noble task of tripping away on psilocybin, LSD, and 5-MeO-DMT (“the toad”).

I’m not strictly opposed to some people who use these technologies. (Yes, I have experience.) But I also acknowledge their limitations. First, you can’t cheat spiritual development. In fact, these mystical tools could make your ego more inflated than it already is. You start to believe in you're special because of your spiritual athletic abilities. Also, the intensity of the experiences could make it challenging to fully integrate them in everyday life, as well as truly cultivate a relationship with God. You’re more caught up by the light show than the light itself. This also makes it challenging to discern the "fools gold" from the gold. Lastly, it could be a form of spiritual adultery that works against the tradition you are rooted in.

With that being said, Pollan makes a good point that psychedelics can bear fruit for those suffering from addictions, obsessions, depression, and existential dread. Funny enough, during their journeys people often report a banal platitude that they already intellectually knew. (For instance, one woman reported "eat right, exercise, stretch" during her journey.) However, psychedelics seem to “relax the brain's inhibition on visualizing our thoughts, thereby rendering them more authoritative, memorable, and sticky.” While before you think you know, but now you just know.

Yet, despite all of Pollan’s mystical experiences and research, he still holds to the idea that it’s all in the head. He says, “it seems likely that all mental experiences are mediated by chemicals in the brain, even the most seemingly transcendent.”

If mysticism is all in the brain, why would random mutations see an evolutionary fitness to it? It all seems superfluous to me, but then again I’m sure our logical atheists would argue that it gave us religion and myth; and therefore communal bonding that allowed for our survival. Aww, come on. 

I tend to side with DávilaMysticism is the empiricism of transcendent knowledge. It may not be proof of the transcendent itself if you’re vertically closed off to that sort of thing. But that's your problem, not God's. 

Or as the Aphorist said: The truth does not need the adherence of man in order to be certain. You may not be sure, but the Truth always is.

And if you really need to explain God away, then you may have to throw in yourself as collateral damage. Two negatives make a positive. Problem solved.

The atheist devotes himself less to proving that God does not exist than to forbidding Him to exist. — Dávila

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Give Me Depth, or Give Me Death

I have a craving for spiritual depth these days. But what do we mean by depth? For some, it could translate as a stoned hippie who sees the whole cosmos manifesting in his dirty fingernail. For others, it could be seen as a pseudo-intellectual with the right mix of charisma and prowess to pontificate abstract drivel disconnected from reality.

As for me, I could just say I know it when I resonate with it. But I think we could do a better job explicating this depth thingy.

Best I turn to this passage in MotT as Tomberg has some interesting things to say on the matter:
“It should not be forgotten that Christian Hermeticism is not a religion apart, nor a church apart, nor even a science apart, which would compete with religion, with the Church, or with science. It is the connecting link (hyphen) between mysticism, gnosis and magic, expressed through symbolism —symbolism being the means of expression of the dimensions of depth and height (and therefore of enstasy and ecstasy), of all that is universal (which corresponds to the dimension of breadth), and of all that is traditional (corresponding to the dimension of length). Being Christian, Hermeticism accepts the cross of the universality, the tradition, the depth and the height of Christianity, in the sense of the apostle Paul when he said:
'That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians iii, 18-19)' ” 
So here Tomberg brings in the word enstasy which he equates with depth. It's not a word I'm familiar with, so let's see what Mr. Encyclopedia has to say:
“Enstasy (Gk., en-stasis, ‘standing into’). The experiences, or abolition of experience, arising as a consequence of those meditational, etc., techniques which withdraw the practitioner from the world, and even from awareness of the self. The word was coined in contrast to ecstasy. Examples are dhyāna, jhāna.”
Fascinating concept, as it would appear to be a sober intoxication; with the emphasis on sober while intoxication equates more to the ecstasy (or height). Enstasy is not always proportional to depth of spiritual experience, but how fully you are living from your realizations, intuitions, and gnosis. This is good news for those of us who are not natural mystics!

If we go back to Tomberg, he also mentions breadth (universal inclusion) and length (reverence to tradition). It would seem to me a person with true depth would need to be somewhat immersed in these dimensions also. 
So depth may be what grounds us as to how our whole being relates to existence itself. We also add in Paul's "rooted and grounded in love" and you get yourself a person who is awake, alive, integrated, curious, and (w)holy.

This person can't be measured, quantified, or mapped-out. They tend to be more analog than digital. And it's not someone who is easy to come by in today's world. But like can know like, so when cultivated within it can be seen without.

“To be in the depth is to be depth.” — A.H. Almaas