Spritzophrenia

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Archive for the ‘Mysticism’ Category

Between Two Towers

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 29, 2010

In 1968, a secret plot to exploit New York’s famous “twin towers” began. On 7 August 1974, shortly after 7:15 am, Phillipe Petit stepped off the South Tower onto a steel cable, a quarter mile above the sidewalks of Manhattan. One of the police officers who tried to bring him down told this story:

I observed the tightrope ‘dancer’—because you couldn’t call him a ‘walker’—approximately halfway between the two towers. And upon seeing us he started to smile and laugh and he started going into a dancing routine on the high wire… And when he got to the building we asked him to get off the high wire but instead he turned around and ran back out into the middle… He was bouncing up and down. His feet were actually leaving the wire and then he would resettle back on the wire again… Unbelievable really… Everybody was spellbound in the watching of it.

His audacious high wire performance made headlines around the world. When asked why he did the stunt, Petit would say, “When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk.”

Twin towers tightrope

I sometimes feel I’m balancing between two extremes, but the consequences of falling are far less frightening. Today I talk about one of those extremes.

A Different Logic

The universe has given us a wonderful gift of logic, it’s the mind-power that enables us to do so much; all of our science, art and even love language makes use of it. There is even a case that “the” given-ness of logic, like gravity, tells us something about g0d. However, sometimes people feel constrained by logic in a way that they don’t by gravity. When finding an answer hard to accept, some say “Oh well, there must be some other way of thinking that goes beyond black & white concepts”. I find this hard to accept, but I’m giving it a fair go. To that end I got Edward de Bono’s I Am Right, You Are Wrong out of the library.

The book is about moving “from Rock Logic to Water Logic”. There is something in the back of my mind which hopes, “Maybe He’s not actually throwing away logic, just getting us to think in different ways about it. Logic itself still stands.” However, reading the summary at the end seems to say that, yep, he does think that traditional logic, while very useful, is not enough for “human affairs”.

In the summary he says the objective of his book is “to shift the emphasis to the importance of perception”. De Bono is very good at coming up with simple analogies and illustrations to make hard concepts easy to understand. I want to learn how to do that. His book is challenging me, but its a highly stimulating challenge now that I’m about one third of the way into it.

There is some irony in De Bono’s claims and approach, as he uses logic and criticism against logic and criticism; uses language, which he criticizes as constraining, to criticize language; provides a history of thinking while condemning the focus on history; and, in my opinion, one can claim that he applies a different philosophy to thinking while also declaring an end to philosophy. None of this is a condemnation of his work, but rather and acknowledgement that, ironically, any revolutionary thinker can only inherit for his work the very same tools he seeks to change.”

~ from here

“Feeling” God

I also found a good book on Mystics. Mystics are people who believe we can “encounter” or “feel” ultimate reality. Many religions have a mystical element to them, this book considers the Christian mystics such as Thomas Merton, the Sufi (Islamic) mystics (the most well-known being Rumi) and the Zen Buddhist mystics such as Dogen.

The mystic is often— and mistakenly— portrayed as an otherworldly, dreamy-eyed figure who lapses into ecstatic trances, who beholds strange visions or hears heavenly voices. I grant that one finds reports of such things— and stranger— in some mystical texts. But that is not what mysticism is about. Mystics themselves often regard such phenomena as peripheral to the deeper spiritual quest. According to commonplace mystical wisdom, such experiences should not be sought after, encouraged or cultivated. …

[On the ‘mysticism’ category in booksellers] There you usually find legitimate books on mysticism mixed in with stuff on the occult and witchcraft, fortune-telling, mind reading, and alien abductions. Mysticism, of course, has nothing to do with such matters…

More than a few [mystics] have been hard-nosed practical thinkers, respectful of intellect and education. Many have possessed a healthy, down-to-earth sense of people and politics and have often been movers and shakers in the world of their day.

~ William Harmless, Mystics p 3,4 [Edits mine]

Perhaps we can go beyond logic. And perhaps we can perceive spiritual reality directly. The view from the top is attractive to me and far less terrifying than a tightrope walk. Perhaps I sense that the universe is warmer than that. Perhaps the secret is in training oneself— Petit never fell during a performance in his entire career. Walking the tightrope that values the mind, but is also open to other possibilities is challenging. Philippe Petit did it, I hope I can too.

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Rock Logic? B52s

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Posted in agnostic, epistemology, Mysticism, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Mindless Belief

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 20, 2010

The role of our mind or reason has been a past theme here. I want to share what someone said in a recent post on Beliefnet. Here’s the verbatim quote:

The idea that there is a God and the idea that there is no God are both mind conceptions. The mind can go on developing the idea one way or the other, but it just goes around in circles. The rational mind is incestuous and keeps recreating itself endlessly.

The perception of Reality is beyond the rational mind. The experiences that people have on drugs, for instance, happen when the drug annuls the rational mind.

In Zen Buddhism there is a practice based on koans, which are questions that have no rational answer, like “what is the sound of one hand clapping”. The purpose is to have the mind make the efforts to find a logical answer until it short circuits itself. That is the time when the transcending experiences, called satori happen, moments when reality is seen as it is.

I would add that the aim of all true spiritual practices is the wearing off of the rational mind. Not to kill it or remove it, but to transcend it and not be the center of one’s perceptions.

meditation

I feel uncomfortable reading this. I think there are two extremes, one is to have too strong a role for the mind, the other is not to value it at all.

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Listen to Plus-Tech Squeeze Box make genre-busting crazy music. This is “Early Riser”.

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Posted in agnostic, Buddhism, god, music, Mysticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

I Would Like a Great Lake of Beer

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 16, 2010

I would like to have the men of Heaven
In my own house:
With vats of good cheer
laid out for them.

I would like to have the three Marys,
Their fame is so great.
I would like people
From every corner of Heaven.

I would like them to be cheerful
In their drinking.
I would like to have Jesus too
Here amongst them.

I would like a great lake of beer
For the King of Kings,
I would like to be watching Heaven’s family
Drinking it through all eternity.

~ Celtic poem from 10th century Ireland.

Celtic roots

Man, those Irish Celts, eh? Pity I don’t like beer. I have Irish heritage and one of the things I like about Celtic christianity is the way they incorporated it with their culture in a very earthy way. There’s comfort in that. Making the divine, human; the esoteric, common; the mystical, mundane.

I wonder what part of my modern culture could do with taking up into g0d? What part of yours?

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What is “The Universe” Telling Me?

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 15, 2010

Cigarette smoke swirls in the air and teaspoons swirl patterns in the coffee cream. The waiter wanders past with someone’s bowl of fries. It’s Friday night and I’m hangin’ with a dozen friends at our usual café-cum-nightspot. Conversation rises and falls. Sometimes people say unexpected things: “The universe is telling me to let go”, says Carole. Carole is an atheist. Others nod and murmur in agreement, I look away and say nothing.

Have you heard someone say “The universe will provide”? “The Universe is trying to tell me something”? Or perhaps “Put your intentions out to the Universe”? Do you believe in “signs from the universe”? If these words simply mean something metaphorical, I can accept that. Just what IS this “Universe” Carole talks about? It’s obviously more than the stars, rocks, oceans and life that make up the physical Cosmos.

Is it energy?

I think most Universe-invokers conceive of the Universe as some kind of energy or force. A Universal Energy like electricity, or perhaps a force like gravity. If you put out positive energy, you get positive stuff back, and vice versa. Karma, if you like, it’s a kind of cause-effect thing. Flick the switch on the wall, the energy flows and the light bulb gives light. Forgive me, but aren’t we just talking about the consequences of actions in a blind universe? What does the “Universe” add?

The Universe

But Carole often goes further than this. She talks and behaves in ways that imply the universe cares about her. She seems to say that the universe has a purpose or plan for us.

A purely bricks-and-mortar Universe doesn’t care about us. An energy can’t speak, it can’t “tell us” anything. If the universe can give good things based on the “positiveness” of our energy, can communicate, can take notice of us, can be on our side— those are all things only a mind can do.

So Then, Is it Personal?

OK, so perhaps there is a powerful energy that is also personal. By personal, I mean something like a mind. Does Carole mean a “something” that has personality— has intelligence, consciousness and maybe purpose, ethics or desires? If this is what she means by the Universe, I think she’s talking about another word for g0d.

I don’t have a problem with her calling God “The Universe”. But let’s not kid ourselves when we’re doing it.

Is There a Middle Way?

Carole dips a cigarette into the ash-tray. She might suggest I’m closed to some other “middle way”. I’ve been trying to conceive of how that might work. Maybe a kind of “force” like gravity? Do a certain thing, and it reacts. Apparently, if I think negative thoughts then negative (unhelpful? bad?) results flow. The idea of “positive versus negative” thoughts reminds me of the warm energy of reason, a gift the Universe gives us.

[What “positive” energy actually means, is another good question. I think to be labelled “positive” implies something ethical, like “helpful” or “good”, which in turn could lead to a moral argument for God.]

Unfortunately I don’t think a force helps us any more than an energy. If the “something” is in any sense benevolent, if it in any sense “notices” us, then we are again left with some kind of g0d. We know that in our Universe only minds can speak, or love.

There is nothing we can conceive of as a mind in the middle, a “half mind”. We know of damaged minds, and of animals that don’t quite seem to have a mind in the sense we understand, but these are not half minds. These are minds that are not able to do the full range of mind-stuff. A half mind would be like saying I both have a brain in my skull, and at the very same moment, do not have a brain. (Quiet with those rude comments in the back seats 😉 )

I don’t want to be mean. I’ve really tried, but I can’t conceive of any other option. Either the Universe is impersonal (negative?)— and therefore useless in the way the concept is used. Or it is personal (positive?), a mind. And therefore a g0d. There seem no other options.

“The Universe” is Personal

For all Carole’s neurotic foibles as a fashion designer, I love her. Maybe one day we’ll discuss what she means about “the Universe”, but people don’t like having the bubbles of their personal beliefs pricked. I don’t know if she realises it, but she’s not an atheist.

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I love this track from King Crimson’s brilliant album, Discipline. Well, I love all of them, actually. “The more I look, the more I like it. I DO think it’s good.” It speaks to our obession around creating a thing (a philosophy?) which is good.

King Crimson | Indiscipline

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Posted in agnostic, god, Mysticism, New Age, ontology, Philosophy, Sociology, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

White People Need More Ganesh

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 9, 2010

I dreamed briefly about Ganesh last night, the god of wisdom, beginnings and removing obstacles. Meryl commented recently and asked why I find Hinduism weird; it’s mainly the polytheistic side that makes me feel funny. Blue gods, gods with many arms, elephant-head gods… Nevertheless, I found Ganesh ’warm’ enough in my dream.

Ganesh

Ganesh

I‘m amazed to discover he’s “invoked as Patron of Letters during writing sessions”. I’m a writer. Mystical connection, hello? Apparently Ganesha Chaturthi, the festival celebrating him usually falls between 20 August and 15 September— right now. Spoooky. He “is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all his devotees in the duration of this festival.”

Many neo-Pagans also believe in multiple gods, of the goddess and her consort at minimum, and possibly a whole lot more for those who identify with the ancient pantheons of the Greeks, Celts or Norse. Hindus can be atheist to pantheist to polytheist to monotheist and more. Indian religions are not one big unity, that seems to be an error of the West in naming the whole lot “Hinduism”:

Westerners approaching the Indian tradition for the first time … are faced with two equal and opposite problems. One is to find something graspable amid the apparently bewildering multiplicity; the other is not enforcing such a straitjacket onto the material as to overlook significant aspects of the diversity. The classic example of the latter is ‘Hinduism’: because of the existence of the name Hinduism, Westerners expect to find a monolithic tradition comparable to other ‘isms’. They remain baffled by what they find until they discover that Hinduism is a label that was attached in the 19th century to a highly complex and multiple collection of systems of thought, by other Westerners who did not appreciate that complexity.

Imagine the area covered by Europe and the Middle East at the time of the beginning of the Common Era— and suppose that outsiders had attached a single label to ‘the religion’ of that time and area. This will give an idea of what happened when ‘the religion’ of India was labelled Hinduism, and the extent of what needs to be unpacked to understand the tradition in its own terms.

~ Sue Hamilton, Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford Uni Press, 2001) p8

I love the Indian people, we had lovely neighbours growing up. It’s the large painting of Ganesh in their living room I dreamed of. I have thoughts about gods being representations of a deeper reality, something Jungian perhaps. I’ll leave that for you to discuss.

So there you go, a mystical/emotional/stupid brain experience (take your pick), made me think warmly about Ganesha. Maybe there’s hope for me yet?

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How do you feel about multiple gods, some with alien-looking bodies?

The Moody Blues | Om More Westerners giving it a go. Damn hippies! 😉

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Posted in god, Hinduism, Mysticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments »

Mystical Experience in a Godless Universe

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 12, 2010

I’ve always found something about deserts beautiful. When I was sixteen, two friends and I spent 5 days tramping around Tongariro National Park. Much of the landscape is volcanic desert and I still have a memory of walking out alone into the rocks and sand of the Oturere basin. The sense of loneliness, sadness and beauty in the evening sunset was profound.

Yesterday I wrote about atheist spirituality, which generated a reasonable amount of traffic and a few comments. From this I can deduce that a) Atheists find talking about their spirituality interesting or b) Non-atheists like atheists talking about their spirituality or c) Google’s finally found me (but Google doesn’t actually find a great deal) or d) It’s really kinda hard to interpret much from traffic stats. Anyway, I want to follow up on a few points.

For example, do atheists pray? Does this violate some kind of atheist code, is it the unforgiveable sin? There’s an old saying – which I’m sure many atheists hate – “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Well I’m not so sure that screaming “Fuuuuck!” in your head counts as prayer. Actually, it probably does – I rather like how Anne Lamott‘s prayers mostly go “Help!”, and she’s not an atheist so that makes her an expert. From my experience, many christians would agree with her.

As an open agnostic, I can pray. I just don’t know if anyone is out there to hear me. I guess atheists wouldn’t pray, it would be inconsistent, right? They might meditate, but if we meditate, it would need to be totally divorced from g0ds or the Buddha. I’ve already written about the common misperception in the West that Buddhism is an atheistic religion. One former Buddhist writes

Once inside Buddhism you find out that belief in afterlife (rebirth), karma as a moral retribution law, the omniscience of Buddha, miracles of Buddhas and Bodhisatvas, pure lands, complete obedience to one’s guru, sins (bad karma), gods (“devas”), supernatural powers, etc, are all seen as fundamental beliefs in Buddhism.

Perhaps we can turn to more naturalistic spiritual experiences? Viewing a nice sunset perhaps? Being caught up in the beauty of music? Comte-Sponville’s “mystical” experiences involving a sense of “infinite happiness”, an “eternal sense of peace”, and the “dazzling presence of the All” sound rather like drug experiences that can be had on MDMA (ecstasy) and certain hallucinogens. An ex who is a committed user of such drugs nevertheless insists that drugs are not a spiritual experience. But then, maybe she’s not defining spiritual experience very well? If spiritual experiences are really just intense emotional or mystical experiences and don’t require a g0d or spirit world then maybe these drug experiences are, in fact, spiritual experiences. This topic is one I’m planning some guest blogs and a little debate on.

Atheist Left Coast Librul writes: “Human beings are by their very nature spiritual. I wonder if theists would resist atheists quite so fervently if we were more willing to admit that simple fact.” Non-atheist Lou Kavar suggests some definitions of spirituality that doesn’t necessarily require a g0d, although the rest of his post probably goes beyond what most atheists would be comfortable with: “Spirituality is a dimension of life we each have. It is the dimension that enables to us to create, discover, or encounter something about meaning, purpose and value in life.”

Julian Baggini concludes his article on Spirituality for Atheists with “Personally, I’d like to banish the word ‘spiritual’. It misleads us into thinking that we need more than the world we live in as physical, organic beings. What we think of as ‘spiritual is simply those things – love, morality, values and meaning – that make us creatures with rich inner lives.” Sabio, a commentter on yesterday’s blog would also like to leave the word “spirit” out.

Agnostic Pentecostal, commented yesterday and asks of atheist spirituality

how it’s possible? In my mind, even a pantheistic-type (or panentheistic) “other” is still representative of something/one beyond. To me, this is a “theos,” regardless of the nature we ascribe it, whether we call that Eywa, great spirit, Nature, Universe, or God…even if it has a lowercase “g.” I like the idea of atheistic spirituality but in my mind, whatever you replace “God” with is still a God.

Of the two friends I shared my desert spirituality experience, both were atheists. Ross blew his brains out with a shotgun several years ago. Tony, who argued vehemently with me over theism in his late teens moved to England, got married and is now a christian. Me, I prefer just being alone in the desert. I think it’s about time I went camping there again with my son. Perhaps if g0d is real she might choose to meet me there.

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listening to Blue Oyster Cult | Don’t Fear the Reaper
Today’s Fun Unrelated Link Cool! Stop-motion animated T-Shirt Fight

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Posted in atheism, Mysticism, personal, Sociology, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »