Friday, October 26, 2012

The Inner Projection of Forgiveness

I admit, writing about forgiveness has become so much harder than writing about apologies. There's an inner pain that refuses to give up it's hold. The litany of half-truths, self-deception, broken promises and commitments, exists like a repeating siren call of anger and shame; anger at being treated that way by a friend who declared so long about love and shame and at the inner belief that at some level perhaps it was all deserved, that one is not worthy of being treated better. Is that not what many of us wrestle with, that inner voice of shame/guilt whispering to us of a reality however false that being treated awfully must somehow be our choice or reflective of our nature? Combine all of that with a refusal to attempt amends, where the continued broken commitments create a path of wanting to work things out only on the basis of blindly accepting an apology that isn't, thus tacitly accepting a quality of interaction that was horrible, there seems little recourse but to wallow in the self-destructive linearity of pain/anger/internal immolation. This is where the cry of "how can I forgive?" is born and soars, where the focus resides in such a way that seeing a path out is like noting a light while one's head is stuck in the mud.
 
As I noted in the previous entry, where "I'm sorry" is truly more about the person saying it, forgiveness is about the person declaring it, not the external person who's behavior is at issue. Make no mistake, this is not about ignoring consequence or moral abnegation or an absurd individualism that states others actions in no way affect us. Being hurt when one is abused, mistreated, lied to and broken their word about will result in pain and suffering. There is a quality in such actions that makes reality turn slightly sideways and exposes a serrated edge. The resultant feelings may be and likely are inevitable. However, the continuation of them is not a necessary aspect of reality. I am reminded here of the non-attachment stance in Buddhism. It is not so much that the practitioner has no feelings, but that attachments are noted as what they are, ephemeral and constantly changing, reflecting the nature of the one doing the feeling. Non-attachment is not no-attachment, but non-continual-attachment.
 
Forgiveness within this framework resides not in the pain and suffering but in that next potential moment that can and should follow, that moment of pain-less-ness. Anyone who has been hurt knows this moment, can think of it and remember the time when pain became less a constant companion and more a distant acquaintance who comes around every so often. When the reality of our lives reasserts itself in that first moment, however short, and later on increasing periods, there is where forgiveness can be found. Forgiveness is not pain filled but self-filled, pain obscures from reality that our lives are not synonymous with hurt and that is where those moments come from. Pain and heartache are a distortion, not a true story but a detour on the path of a lived life. In recognizing the absence of pain as being a more accurate picture of true existence there it is which begins healing.
 
Focusing only on the pain, in other words, places awareness on the wrong object, the other person. In noting the absence of pain, in that moment that eventually comes to us all, the real person comes to light who needs a greater awareness. Forgiveness is not about figuring out the other person who did the wrong, though at times that can certainly help and is often a part of the process (the absence of self-delusion is very often a two-way street in relationships). Forgiveness is instead a re-assertion of the reality of one's existence, where the pain and shame of the hurt is no longer present and the wholeness of which we at a deeper understanding are always in possession of. Pain/anger simply makes us forget that truth. 
 
So it is that forgiveness becomes a re-establishment within oneself, a re-cognition of a whole that was momentarily thought broken a-part. Then this re-cognition is projected outward, not as a condemnation of the other, but as a declaration that one is no longer broken, that you see yourself for what you truly are, a whole person that while hurt at one time no longer believes the story of what the other person's behavior said about them. We do not have to reside within the false notion of ourselves that broken promises are promoting. We can with time, practice and the love of those who see us as worthy of not being treated as such come to that same re-cognition of our worthiness and in so doing find forgiveness.
 
 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Soft Tyranny of "I'm Sorry"

There are social standards that exist below usual awareness, automatic responses to statements that we declare with a flippancy that is consonant with the inquiry. We greet each other with "how are you?" but get surprised when the other person actually answers with anything more complicated than "good," and often even that simple answer we rarely wait around to hear. This is not a condemnation of social etiquette or a lament at the communication standards of social relationships. There are a great many variables involved in relational short-cuts as we steadily evolve in a world of left-clicking to bring up more information quickly. Rather, the issue is more a concern with those standards that affect us at a level deeper than mere social surfaces; where the "how are you?" question seen often as a standard greeting is rather felt to be a genuine question. The result is an emotional distance from any real inquiry and a placid acceptance of the status-quo. This is what I reference as soft tyranny, where to buck the system and declare such questions as disingenuous labels you a trouble-maker or at best gets you a look of consternation as of parental rebuke.

Declaring "I'm sorry" is of a similar type, where the social pressure is incumbent upon the recipient to placidly accept, disregarding any and all context. I'm reminded of children who are told by their parents to say "I'm sorry" and the child in a fit of insolent insincerity mumbles a barely coherent apology. The words have taken on a power beyond context, the result being if someone noted the clear insincerity of the child then such someone would find themselves the object of rebuke rather than it being acknowledged the words are meaningless. This act of magical thinking and subsequent social obfuscation leaves the person declaring "I'm sorry" in a realm outside of real consequence and need for change. There can be some understanding here that in children it may be difficult, depending on the age, for them to be capable of empathically understanding the other person sufficiently enough to warrant an introspection leading to a genuine declaration of apology. That this practice continues into adulthood, however, indicates a greater problem.

Let's be honest, it simply takes work to feel a genuine apologetic stance. It's difficult, it's emotionally strenuous, it requires the person to be not only willing but capable of introspectively noting their false behavior, the notions that were used to rationalize it and then possess an energy to change subsequent behavior. An apology is, in the end, far more about the person declaring it than about the person receiving it. The flip-side of this is forgiveness, where such is far more about the person feeling that emotional space than about the other accepting it. We do not forgive others so much as we no longer accept the hurt that was inferentially caused by them. So then we do not apologize to others so much as we no longer accept and practice the inner personal delusions that led us to the behavior of said causal-hurt.

Thus it is that we look upon apologies with an eye towards whether said apology indicates a change in the person or whether they are resting on the soft tyranny of socially mandated impotent acceptance. We can see the difference in the person who with a giggle or a laugh, relying more on a be-sparkled personality says "I'm sorry," but makes no attempt at amends, continues with the same delusions and changes none of their behavior. The apology takes on a disingenuous character reminiscent of that child being punished by their parent, the only difference is that instead of a face of frustrated suffering there's a smile. Ironically it is the recipient of said empty apology who must take on the look of frustrated acceptance. How often has it been experienced that when confronted over the emptiness, the person responds with "but I said I'm sorry! why don't you get over it?"? This is the declaration of a person who has more interest in control than of change, though certainly there still even here exists a tell-tale truth concerning forgiveness (which will be the next blog entry).

The weight of an apology rests not on the shoulders of the person receiving it, but on the person declaring it. The introspective energy required to do so genuinely indicates not a desire for perfection, we are gloriously human remember, but a willingness to amend a situation that went awry. We do not follow the greatest potential of our humanity by merely recognizing the delusions we believe, but by actively working to change them and therefore the behavior which results. That is the power found in a genuine apology and that is why we look for more than just words, but action to show they have real meaning.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Relationships: Subjection of the Self with Others

"You are the prime factor in your experience, and to whom you submit yourself, that person will you obey and from that person will you receive."

- Joel Goldsmith, "The Foundation of Mysticism", p. 88

What is focused upon, so shall we be. This is an accurate appraisal of an essential doctrine within New Thought and also a recognition of the power of conscious awareness. We are not conscious of the vast majority of data being brought in by our senses in this reciprocal relationship the body has with the "external" environment. What becomes conscious is almost entirely outside of any form of control that we would classify as such, but that does not mean awareness is a static thing or incapable of affecting change. Rather, it becomes like a rudder on a ship, capable of guiding but still at the mercy of extremely stormy seas and prone to breaking or becoming stuck. Training and education can help with this, strengthening the power of focal conscious awareness (FCA, it's my phrasing) to broaden what is capable of being consciously appraised and the ability to "choose" what is at the so-called forefront of mental activity. This power of "choice" has a consequence in that consciousness, which is still phenomenologically sketchy as to just what it is, comes out of the unconscious unbidden but has a reciprocal relationship traveling back down the neural firing pathways and helping guide what is formed there outside of our immediate control. It is not a system completely known, understood or easy to put into practice. In studies by Ritchie Davidson, some Buddhist monks have the capacity to stop the startle reflex but this took thousands of hours of meditation and a particular lifestyle, neither of which the majority of people are able to do. However, it has also been noted that even after a few minutes a week of meditative practice, the brain is more capable of dealing with stressful events and engaging in compassion. This is indeed powerful to apprehend.

So then, the "you" in Goldsmith's point above can be seen as focal conscious awareness and how that awareness is utilized will determine, in no small part, how behavior will become actualized. Submitting the "self" to another, in other words forming a relationship connection, is an inevitable aspect of human experience, we are hardwired to form connections, even making up figments if none are available otherwise and/or creating connections with those who have long since died (as is the case in many religions). Our relationships are introjections of a projected narrative, as such they are as much a part of our own story as they are an objective contemplation of what is presented to us, which is why people can legitimately declare to have a relationship with Jesus or Mohammed or a deity, whatever the reality of their previous death or lack of existence in objective reality. These interrelational connections determine the course of our FCA and give it substance.

The number one topic of gossip is relationships. David Livingstone posits that our evolutionary behavior of grooming as a form of relational bonding, combined with the surplus of neurons our ancestors began developing, played an integral part in forming language. Language is the means by which we instantiate and give form to our connections, relegating what would have required hours of grooming and picking ticks out of fur into just a few words or sentences. Language is the principle form information takes in communication and is a bedrock datapoint for the creation of relationship bonds. This is, incidentally, why lying is ethically negative, because it creates a distortion in the information available within the relationship and makes it that decisions and the very neural processes of attachment and personality are being changed by a false sense of reality. When a person lies, ignores promises, breaks commitments, the repercussions are not just hurt feelings and anger, but an actual change in the physiological make-up of the other parties involved and have effects on their future ability to form healthy attachments. The severity of these repercussions is determined by a host of other factors, from history of other relationships, how the person takes in and integrates information and what if any other relationships are currently available to mitigate. None of these, however, dismiss the power of what a close relationship can do when it devolves to deception and a lack of guidance by life-giving principle.

Thus it is that we return to the initial quote by Goldsmith. The connections one makes is a form of subjection, of placing oneself under the influence and therefore care and manipulation (generally speaking and hopefully of a benefical kind) of that person(s). The care with which this is done should be a constant evolving educational enlightenment of everyone. We do not have the power to simply choose anything regardless of circumstances, we do not have the power to affect or select all of the circumstances of our lives, but we do have some power in who we have connections with. That power helps shape how circumstances are integrated and how then our lives our shaped. This is the substance of our lives, this is the power humanity possesses. We do well to remember and act accordingly.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Joys of the Flesh

One of my favorite quotes is from Richard Feynman: "Science is a lot like sex. Sometimes something useful comes of it, but that's not the reason we're doing it." To me this declares loudly what science and sex are all about, the unmitigated joy in discovery. What's astounding is how many are overwrought with anxiety and concern over exploration into either. I've touched on science before and will undoubtedly do so again, but like a song I grew up with said "let's talk about sex, baby."

As most of you are likely aware I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian social experience. Sex, much like any topic touching upon uncertain taboos, was talked about, at times openly but later as puberty set in and opportunities for exploration arose, with a degree of judgment as fundamentalist dogma sank its teeth in. There would seem to be no greater fear of the conservative-religio-minded than that of sexual power being awakened. Finding it to be wholesome in itself is simply beyond the pale. Only in the carefully constructed parameters of "holy" matrimony can sexuality be explored, all else being at best a slippery slope to debauchery and sin.

I'm quite certain that were my parents confronted with the notion of sex as inherently evil they would recoil as well and quickly attempt to mitigate such a strong teaching, but much like the doctrine of sin, there are consequences to such ideas whatever may have been intended. As with sin and total depravity, the inevitable conclusion to be reached is the beautiful art your child posts on the fridge was done so by a deplorable cesspool of depravity fit only for eternal damnation. To praise is to praise the wicked flesh. Clearly only the most horrible of parents would think this of their beaming 2 year-old and as such the inevitable hypocrisy of religious dogmatism rears its double-head. So it is with sex, where the fall of man was orchestrated by the lascivious character of woman and sexual energy becomes evil except as it is made "holy" by a state-sponsored social apparatus called marriage. The consequence follows that until such an event occurs all feelings of sexuality are inherently wrong and point to the failure of humanity in the face of divine prudence or is it prudishness?

I recently heard someone say (which I'll likely paraphrase badly) that a god who created everything, set the stars in alignment and played with the massively destructive forces of supernovas and blackholes would hardly be afraid of someones genitals.

The immense amount of shame such thinking creates in people "suffering" from an inevitable outpouring of biological energy can only be described as horrendous. How it has gotten funneled down into even secular thinking and the social consciousness is perhaps one of the most enduring thought-crimes of the millenia. Here in America we are inundated by sexual energy, so much so it's a wonder we aren't literally oozing it out of our pores in a colorful sludge of smelly goodness. Faced with all of this we seem to retreat behind a thin veneer of anxiety and false-distance, looking away while all the time soaking it up out of the corner of our eyes. We scoff at politicians caught in sexual scandals and hope nobody finds out what we view on our computers. We look with disgust upon various other life-styles and then gobble up copies of "50 Shades" like a dying man gazing upon the elixir of life.

The consequence is that sexual energy, tacitly accepted and explicitly denied, runs our lives anyway and by ignoring it we create a schizophrenic dichotomy wreaking havoc with our minds. This boiling kettle of a situation makes a lie out of the fact that not every impulse must be acted upon, but as the water heats up and boils over we find ourselves acting in ways we would otherwise have not. There is strength to be had in acknowledging sexual power and then riding it out. Where every touch and embrace does not need to be an overture however much attraction there may exist. Sexual energy can be treated like a wading pool and by floating through it, not have it become a wave-pool pulling us under with every crest. Attraction becomes simply another outlet of our sexual natures, not something to hide behind with humor and blacked out magazine covers, nor immediately acted upon like crazed animals. Make no mistake, we are animals, but our instincts are there to be explored, not denied and hedged around by tall walls.


There have been relationships through the years that have helped me recast sexuality as a means of personal expression rather than shame and condemnation. The sex-positive community of which polyamory is a part has taught me much of touch and how sex is simply one part of sexual energy not it's entirety. We can do much as people, as human beings with a brain wired to enjoy sensuality. To do so we must first accept that we are sexual beings and second that such is not bound to any one particular act or behavior but like heat, pervasive throughout our experience. Then we can create a space where the joys of the flesh are shared and laughed with rather than nervously at.

Monday, October 15, 2012

What We Think We Know Can Be Held Without Judgment

There is only so much deception that truly gets by people. To be fully deceived, to believe utterly a false truth, is not always, perhaps very rarely, a fully conscious thing. We have far too many mental short-cuts, heuristics, to be about the business of deliberating over everything we are told and faced with and upon careful reflection accept it. Hence my declaration of the rarity in believing a false truth. The fact of the matter is we do not deliberate over most of what we take as truth, some of which may in fact do us harm, but the majority of which likely won’t. We communicate with people and if someone were to point out that some or much of what we hear is not the whole truth most of us would shrug and explain that the whole truth simply takes too much time and energy to understand. So we take shortcuts. We parse out our energy to focus on the things that matter and take on trust much of what we hear. That trust takes many forms, most notably that of authority, whether it be a teacher, scientist, minister or politician we trust the words that come out of the mouths of those we tacitly accept as having more power than us in the understanding of particular truths. Trusting authority is a shortcut, the world is simply too big, too expansive, to spend the time figuring everything out. We select our figures, often based on completely unconscious biases, whether how and where we grew up, what relationships have shaped our attachments, and our educational backgrounds, to name but three variables. We call it our “gut” feeling and while it is often wrong, our minds not un-helpfully remind us usually of the times we were right and so we go on trusting an intuition that has little greater propensity for fortune telling that simple chance. But because it is ours we put a greater weight upon it, just like we do in the stories we tell and the hubris with which we believe events happen to us rather than we belonging to greater events of which we are too often unaware.

This is not to say that intuition, gut feelings and the like are foolish paths of knowledge, only that they are limited and should be worked at, like a muscle, practice making them stronger as we expand in knowledge and understanding. There is no more clear a case for this need to expand than when figuring out relationships, particularly in selecting those we wish to connect our minds with in a swirl of energy and information. We are changed by those we keep around, more so than the saying of Euripedes “you are like the company you are won’t to keep,” our neurology and how we interpret events being guided and shaped by those we hold close. And so it is that our intuitions leap and bound about with wanton abandon whenever our brains fire in a wash of neurochemicals when love or like is found. In that rush and heat, when the flames of passion or hoped for connection lick at our souls, it is perhaps these times in which we should both listen to our shortcuts and hold them in deepest wariness.

Ah, yes, I endeavor to sound wise in pronouncing a contradiction as if in obscurity is found deep truths. It is, thankfully, clearer than this. Our shortcuts point to what is likely, our wariness of them should point to what we then do if such is found to be true. We look upon people, hear their stories and, in clearer moments, are not surprised by their fruits. A man grows up as a child under the influence of an abusive father and it is little wonder that as a man he is distant, prone to using people and discarding them when done. A woman grows up as a child under the influence of a mother steeped in narcissism and it comes as no surprise that the woman is also self-centered and prone to facile apologies. A man grows up in a judgmental and condemning family and struggles his whole life with knowing how to hold something without destroying it. These stories and more are not fantasies, they are the realities of men and women of everyday life. There are hundreds, thousands, more and when we come across them we hear our shortcuts calling out to us to see the nearly inevitable progress from childhood to adult, but often in a wash of passion shunt aside what later becomes painfully clear.

So yes, our shortcuts can be right, they can point us in a direction of truth, even reveal that which often is acknowledged only in retrospect, dwelling in the land of post-experiential wisdom. But the shortcuts are just that, a shortening of imagination and reason and however right they may be initially it does not mean they should guide us to simplistic judgment. Rather, they should point to how limited perhaps those in the previous examples have found their lives and, in a spirit of compassionate understanding, hold them in a space that allows for growth. Judgment limits not only the person making the judgment but the one being judged. It allows for no imagination, no newness of progress or room for change. Judged a sinner, they remain as such. Judged a user, they remain as such. Judged as afraid, they remain as such. Held within the evolution-allowing space of compassionate understanding however, there is room for other possibilities. This is not a call to refrain from our shortcuts, to blindly go into connections and wallow in suffering as if pain is inevitable in the path to truth. No, it is a call to remember the philosopher who said “we should be careful to judge others by what we wish them to be for we cannot make of ourselves what we wish to be.” In judgment is isolation and static living, in compassion there is genesis and the possibility of doing something differently.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Wrongly Separating Mind from Soul

What is mind? The question seems pertinent to the beginning of any neurology and most psychology classes, but the question often gets bandied about in meetings and groups discussing spiritual or mystic philosophies. The question, often without any definition provided, is predicated upon confusion and lack of critical study, thus leaving room open to place any number of nebulous notions upon it. This is, incidentally, what I discussed in my "filling in the gaps" post on "absence of knowledge is not presence of truth." However, this does not mean that the question is unimportant nor unworthy of being asked, merely that the question tends to assume a general understanding of mind that is based principally upon uncritical subjective experience rather than analysis and scientific testing.

The mind often then becomes part of a triumvirate of the person, so that people become flesh, mind and soul, with the soul signifying a purer or in some cases more real aspect of the person than either flesh or mind. I touched on this as it pertains to flesh/body in the last post on "falsely limiting the human in us" and will now see where such thinking limits our understanding of the mind.

I once heard consciousness explained as "that thing you have before you go to sleep and regain when you wake up." While certainly a tongue-in-cheek statement, there is something appealing in its simplicity and offers a standard public understanding, though without much substance. Difficulty here is that such a delineation gives a false understanding of wakefulness, as there are any number of near-infinite data being processed unconsciously and of which we almost never become aware of. Indeed, we can with only a little self-analysis note how often even when awake we're not quite aware of what's going on around us, whether we're stuck in a book, focused on something else and miss that person who just bumped into us on the walkway, or get jarred out of reverie by some other event. Consciousness or awareness now seems to be something of which we do very little of and only comes about when something different or outside of the expected occurs. Looked at this way, consciousness becomes less important, in percentage at least, where it concerns our daily life. And yet, our minds are always active, constantly thrusting up narrative projections based on data we're rarely ever aware of and creating a mostly consistent view of a world the vast majority of which we are unaware.

This state of existence, with consciousness taking little time in the way of our lives, but exponentially more time in our projected image of ourselves, lends to behavior that is confusing and thus in need of rationalizing. Hence it is that when we do actions that jar us, undermine our self-image or confuse us, there is an immediate response to declare such behavior "not us" or subtly different "not the best of what I am." Thus the insertion of the soul as a locus for our deepest self or most pure quality. This notion finds ample room in subjective experience, not because it actually provides an answer but because it resonates with a notion of our causal agency that is uncritically accepted by the majority of people. We like, without really recognizing how horrible this actually is, the notion that we are in utter control of all our behavior, as if some self is picking and choosing amongst many up-facing cards forms of behavior to instantiate. The horror here noted is how such a notion relies upon an existence that is all-encompassing, enveloping not just our own bodies but every event and object and person in existence. Humorously, as an example of human hubris, we tell stories as if they pertain only to us, rarely spending the time to note the million events, events that have nothing to do with us, that must have happened for such an experience to manifest in our lives. Not so amusingly, context and its limiting quality is often ignored for those we wish to condemn but gleefully accepted for our own actions, with nary a blink at the hypocrisy. All the while we think that the subjective feel of an "I" is freely at work.

The delusion of the "I" was noted in the previous blog and others and undoubtedly will be explained again in a future entry, but what I wish to offer here is challenge to the supremacy of the soul over the mind. To do so we must begin with noting that the term mind refers not to a thing in itself, an object, but is a descriptive word pointing to a process, a process which Daniel Siegel notes is "the flow of energy and information." (Handbook to Interpersonal Neurobiology). Everything is some form of energy, though not all energy contains information, as should be readily noted by hearing the difference between static and music coming from a tuned radio. From this starting place of looking at mind as a process not an object, we then can note how context then encapsulates both the brain (by this is meant the entirety of the nervous system), the genetic map of that individual and the social and familial milieu in which that person is living. Mind becomes here much bigger and more nuanced than soul initially indicates. Within mind is bound the sum total of our potential behaviors, simply awaiting release as we respond to stimuli both conscious and unconsciously acknowledged. Within mind is the potential for change as we learn and train ourselves to be more aware, to be more observant and thus open ourselves up to that many more possibilities of behavior. Rather than viewing our greatest potential as an object to be reached, it serves as one among many, contextually dependent, stories to be written in our thoughts, behavior and relationships. Soul then can become, like god, a term for a trajectory in which life/love-giving qualities become contextually connected to our greatness and that which is life/love-denying becomes contextually connected to narratives we no longer want a part of our path.

Viewing Mind as separate from soul shortchanges our ability to progress and own our current pregnant potential for good. Rather than a path towards something, whether it be soul or goodness, the path becomes a journey of ever-expanding realization of our current capacity for understanding. We can begin today not by asking "what is in my way?" but "how can I expand my present awareness of life?"

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Falsely Limiting the Human in Us

Meander through any spiritual section of a bookstore, browsing amongst the myriad of titles on offer looking to open you up to the vast vistas of potential just lurking within you and not far into any of its pages there will be found a seemingly inevitable phrasing indicating a lack to be found in your humanity. The "limits" of the human are detailed for all to read though often if not always bound within the nebulous realm of poorly defined metaphor, odd usage of analogy and misunderstandings of human psychology. These "limits" are often phrased as some version of " the soul is not bound by the human" or "it is beyond the understanding of the human part of you" or "the human part of you knows only limits but the soul knows freedom." In any case there is a subtle and at times not so subtle demeaning of the human condition, as if finding a means of sloughing off this meat-suit would result in a new existence of perfection, intellectual profundity and cosmic strength.


The pervasive dualism here hearkens back to the days of gnosticism and its hierarchical system of belief placing the physical/material and therefore bodily/human aspect of people below that of the spiritual/soul. The material was considered corrupt and of a lesser substance than the purity of the spiritual and truer form in heaven, undoubtedly connecting, albeit poorly, to Plato's notions of a realm of form that all instances of which on earth are but poor facsimiles. At the time this thinking was at the center of the so-called Arian heresy, whereby it was noted Jesus could not have been fully god as perfection would never demean itself by being placed in an inferior physical form it had already moved beyond, the two are simply too separate. This unfortunate philosophy has come down to us through the millenia buttressing further spiritist thinking and being given further weight by the dualist philosophy of Descartes. Indeed, it is a common phrasing in mystic studies that one's soul is a "truer" you than your human self. The end result is a belief, though often not explicit, that one's mind is at the mercy of poor human thinking that must be discarded for a higher or deeper quality of knowing.

That this dualistic thinking continues to this day, despite the massive advances in neurology, psychology and sociology is a testament to the power of how lived experience doesn't match scientific understanding. We use the phrase "I hit the wall" as if we are a moving object hitting a stationary one, yet the reality is that the "wall" hits us with as much force as we hit it, for it is anything but stationary at a molecular level. The sun rises and sets but we know this isn't actually true, no more than when we describe the "front" of a tree or other object in nature that it possesses a real front. All of these examples, and there are plenty more, point to our lived experience and the analysis of it as being contingent upon our physical form but also that such thinking is valid only from a phenomenological or personal view, not an objective one. This is not to say that such thinking is completely false, only that we should be careful of giving greater truth-value to something that seems to make intuitive sense.

Thus it is that when we discuss our soul as being "more true" than our human self, we run into two notions that are based on a subjective reality which is only partially accurate. The first deals with the ethics of living in a social world. We constantly struggle, at least those who think of such things, to be better reflections of ourselves in our actions, looking upon behavior deemed unworthy as indications of having not reached our true self, even to the point of using phrases such as "that wasn't me" or "I wasn't in control there" in attempts to distance ourselves from the reality that there was nobody else responsible. It is simply easier to believe that there exists a goal of achievement out there in the distance or deep down below the surface, where resides the self we think we truly are. Whether that person is reached through the personal revelatory experience of "being saved" in fundamentalist religion or the "deep knowing of intuition" in mystic practices, the goal is still the same.

The second notion concerns a feeling of possessing a transcendental self. We live a life in which we believe, falsely, our thoughts are under our control and there is an "I" existing apart from our actions. However, just as the "front" of a tree exists only as a means of providing a means of locating one's bodily relation in space to it, so the "I" of the self is simply a means of locating one's bodily relation in space to everything else. To be utterly visceral and not a little gross, were the body incapable of differentiating itself from other animals, there would be no holding back from munching on ourselves when we got hungry. The "I" descriptive is not a thing in itself, however real it may feel as we live the narratives the brain supplies.

Much could be said about the above two points and I plan to do so in other entries (the next one concerns the separation of mind and soul which is at the core of the "I" delusion), but the purpose here is a focus on limiting the human. There are two problems with falsely limiting the human, the first is one of identity and the second one of growth potential.

First, identity. There is a disconnect when it is posited a separation from the human and one's highest or deepest good or true self. We are, inevitably, part of this world and therefore subject to it, feeling our way through it via the nerve impulses running through our skin, being funneled through our optic nerves, oracular canals and olfactory nerves. When we begin denying the centrality of these senses by inferring they are somehow lesser than some other, undefined, sense that is subject to no objective analysis, i.e. the intuition of our soul, we put ourselves at the mercy of whatever forces are happening regardless of our awareness of them. There is so much more occurring than we are usually aware of, but through training and education can expand, none of which requires an extra sense or any removal from our physical/material reality. The world is simply bigger than our subjective experience typically lets us believe, science constantly opening up vast reaches of the cosmos that earlier would have appeared absurd.

Second, growth potential. This derives directly from the first. If one distances from the human through the imagining of a realm even subtly contrary to the one we are actually part of, then we lose sight of all the potential we can do by further study and expanding our awareness of our existence. Such notions as the soul are in the end nothing more than projections of an idea into mental space, much in the way we describe the center of a field. There is no objective "field" anymore than there is a "center" to it that must be "crossed" to get to the other "side." These are all subjective metaphor projections, perfectly usable and required for navigation and determination of growing products, but in no way characteristic of anything other than our mental state. If we were to focus exclusively on the metaphorical boundaries we'd miss how the so-called "surrounding" land is affected by what we do within the field and how it is all interconnected from the field to the stream to the ocean and so forth.

There is great strength already in existence. There is monumental intelligence already at work. The usage of the soul is not invariably destructive or limiting no more than the usage of god is demanding and judgmental. All are projections overlaying and defining experience. The soul/god can exist as a descriptive for the embodiment of goodness/forgiveness/love/respect/tolerance/understanding, but it must never be forgotten that these are all derived from our humanity, not from something other than.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Our Relation to the Spiritual: God as Actualized Idealism


It would seem one cannot throw a holy book these days without striking up a conflagration of international import. Whether it's someone using an insensitive and ignorant source as a means of fomenting political unrest or if the person(s) genuinely believe in the religiously heinous crimes of blasphemy and idolatry. In either case the agreed upon consequence for those deemed unrepentant in their sin is death and if others get caught in the process of meting this judgment out, well, that's what happens in an "us vs them" world with god deemed on the side of the victor.

The two strains of responses to this violence are at face-value seeming opposite but at core still derive their criticism from a basic assumption of the usage of the term "god." The first, what can be characterized as the typically liberal response, is to declare with nary a blink indicating the arrogance under-girding the assertion, that the religious beliefs of those involved have truly little to do with their actions and the real reasons are economic, political or simply personal. There is a smug intellectualism going on here that I find repellent, as if one's personal experience and explanation of it are inherently wrong when it pertains to the religious realm. Certainly one can make the case that a person's religious views do not correlate well with an objective reality, but that in no way removes the power of it's subjective feel and source for rationalizing behavior. To blithely dismiss declarations of fealty to a deity is simply not to take people seriously resulting in diminished chances of offering a legitimate criticism.

The second response, being given too often by those on the so-called atheist side, seen as radical simply because so many others are too obsequious, notes only that the violence in question exists in a seeming linear connection with the religious beliefs of those involved. While I'm quite certain that the opinions of the higher profile writers like Sam Harris are more nuanced than this, the characterization of such a response in the public mind often devolves to this level. What is lost here is a recognition that many believe the same or similar and yet do not engage in violent responses.

There is room here for a more nuanced understanding of belief, one that delves into intent rather than merely noting and resting criticism on verbal declarations. Certainly intent is informed by and given strength through religious ideology, however the full force of that ideology is nested within social and familial context. In a country like the United States where Catholics can, without understanding the absurdity, declare their disagreement with the Pope on basic dogma, there is clearly space for determining just what beliefs have in terms of power over actions.

Both responses assume a particular relation to deity that is not necessary: deity as rationalized cynicism. Both responses in their own way look at religion from a cynic's point of view, noting either its tendency to be used for rationalizing behavior otherwise noted as horrific or in the true believer as the inevitable lead in to violent fanaticism. Deity then has become a repository of the basest of human tendencies, our proclivity towards self-serving narrative structuring and our capacity for malignant aggression (using Erich Fromm's wording here). That so often violence, in word and deed, is attached to various forms of religious ideology does not prove either response wholly accurate, only takes note that the believers also tend to fall into the notion of deity as rationalized cynicism where fanaticism becomes the only recourse in a world gone the way of the devil or apostasy.

This current state of affairs need not necessarily follow however, for as god is, regardless of he/she/its actual existence, still a concept evolving in the human mind, so it is malleable to an increasingly better understanding of virtue.

With this in mind, I came across a quote by John Dewey: "It is the active relation between ideal and actual to which I would give the name 'God.'" Here is found the replacement for god as rationalized cynicism. Here is where we take not from our destructive capacity but from our life-giving potential. There is not found here a tendency to look upon the world as a lost place, but of a world in which the interconnection of humanity is wallowed in and wrapped around in warm connection. God becomes not the cynic ready to destroy, but the ideal ready to create, actualized in our behavior of rational discourse, inner understanding and principled negotiation rather than positional fighting. God is, rather than vengeful condemner, the highest goal of our lives, to be lived and fully accepted as a state of affairs as we make it. Idealism is not for the timid and is not, as some may note, a realm of the impossible, but a land ready to be known, to be brought into being because it is already within us. We look upon the fanatic not as a person in need of destruction, but one in need of realizing their human ideal, where societal structures exist not as bulwarks against encroaching imperialism but as community-building exercises recognizing that we are all our sisters/brothers keeper, to hold one another in the spirit of our good.

This is, as Dewey noted, an active relation. The ideal does not pop into existence, but must be actualized through the instruments of its creation, e.g. human beings. It means being strongly dedicated to the pursuit of truth and the application of it to the reciprocally connected "inner" and "outer" worlds of our existence. It means a rigorous and robust scientific enterprise. It means, in the end, a loss of ego and the realization of transcendent/spiritual mind.

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