From fundamentalist to agnostic to taking the stories as mirrors

I listened to a podcast with someone who went from Christian fundamentalist to agnostic to taking the Jesus stories as a mirror.

It’s a nice illustration of some of the ways we can relate to religion and spiritual stories and mythology in general.

Do we take it as literal truth? If we do, we inevitably come up against logical inconsistencies. And by holding anything as any full, final, or absolute truth, we take a position not aligned with reality and this is inherently filled with conflicts, a need to defend and prop up our position, and discomfort.

Do we still think of it as a literal truth or not and say: I don’t know. I take an agnostic view.

Do we see the stories as useful metaphors for our life? As saying something universal about humans and ourselves?

Or do we go one step further and see the stories and mythologies as we would a dream? Do we see it all as reflecting parts and dynamics of ourselves? Here, it doesn’t matter so much if Jesus – or other religious figures – were historical persons or not, or whether or not the stories actually happened. What’s important is what they can show us about ourselves and our own process.

For instance, we can see Jesus as an image of the clarity and love we all have in us and ultimately are. Or the wholeness of our human self when it’s more healed and we are conscious of more of it. Or someone who lives from noticing his nature as capacity and what his world happens within and as.

We can see the virgin birth as an image of how the world, to us, happens within and as what we are. Our world – including this human self – is born from nothing, from virgin territory.

We can see the death & resurrection as the death of our beliefs and the resurrection on the other side of these beliefs. This can happen in smaller (and still significant) ways when we see through old beliefs and identifications and find a less limited and more receptive way of being on the other side. And it can happen in a more dramatic way when our identity as something within content of experience falls away and we find ourselves as capacity and what the world, to us, happens within and as.

We can see Judas as the dynamic in us abandoning truth, clarity, and love for the benefit of reactivity to fear and unquestioned stories.

And so on. Any story within religion and mythology can be explored in this way.

Two of my favorite books on this topic are Resurrecting Jesus by Adyashanti and The Jesus Mysteries by Tim Freke and Peter Gandy.

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Moby Dick as metaphor for awakening?

Some years ago, I heard someone using Moby Dick as metaphor for awakening. I understand why. It can describe some folks experience with awakening – if it involves dogged persistence, aggressively pursuing it, drama, struggle and so on. But that’s just one of many flavors. It’s not always that way.

Awakening can come out of the blue and most involve adjusting to it and finding healing for all of the unprocessed emotional material surfacing following the awakening. (Generally how it happened in my case.)

Awakening can come gently and gradually. It can be undramatic.

Awakening can happen through self-kindness, heart, and gentle but precise inquiry.

Awakening can happen in many different ways and with many different flavors.

To me, it seems that the Moby Dick metaphor comes from a masculine approach to spirituality and awakening, and perhaps a macho approach to awakening and life. (More specifically, it feels like something that could come out of a macho subculture within the male US culture.)

There is nothing wrong with that. It’s one of the many flavors of awakening. It’s one way the divine expresses, explores, and experiences itself and its awakening to itself as all there is. And it’s good to know it’s just one flavor. It doesn’t have to look like that at all.

Past lives as metaphor

This is pretty obvious, but I’ll mention it again since I was reminded of the topic.

Sometimes, images of past lives may come up in a healing session or spontaneously, either from ourselves or someone else who then tells us about it.

And these past lives can be seen as metaphors for something going on in us here and now. We can use them as pointers or questions. Can I find the dynamic here and now, in me or my own life?

The other side to past lives is whether they exist or not. Is there a continuity or thread through a series of lives? This is more a question for science. (Leslie Kean has just written a book about this.)

There is yet another side to this. If there is some continuity through lives, that is a continuity of conditioning and imprints. Said a little too simplisticly, it’s not who or what we are. We are what any content of experience happens within and as, including this life and any past lives.

So past lives can be used as a pointer or metaphor for what’s going on here and now. It can be studied scientifically. And this or past lives are not really what we are.

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Past lives as metaphors

I have some images that could be taken as images of past lives, and also from a disembodied state before my current incarnation. More recently, two separate vortex healers have had images come up during sessions with me that had them wonder if it had to do with my past lives.

I am very aware that all of these are images, perhaps with some charge associated with them. That doesn’t mean they are actual memories. And it doesn’t really matter that much to me. What matters is what these images of possible past lives mean to me now. In what way do they resonate with me? What in me do they speak to or point to?

For instance, the two vortex healers both had a sense of a soldier energy in me, someone who has been in a war. One also had images of a medieval battle. All of that very much resonates with me. It fits the primal survival fear that I have experienced off and on for some years now. The survival fear that surfaced when I – stupidly? bravely? inevitably? – asked God or life to show me what’s left. (The primal dread and terror surfaced one or two weeks after that prayer, stayed at an intense and overwhelming level for about nine months, and then lessened a bit.) It doesn’t mean I have had past lives as a soldier, but those images fit perfectly my experience of this dread and fear. It’s what I imagine a soldier in and after war easily can experience.

Life as an experiment

Mind sometimes seeks metaphors for life.

Life is a battle. Life is a school.

Life is a game. Life is divine play.

All of these can be helpful, to a certain extent, and some can also be stressful.

Life is a battle. It can help us find determination and strength, while it’s also clearly stressful.

Life is a school. It can help us look for what we can learn in different situations, while it can be stressful to think I am supposed to learn something. Maybe I am not getting it? Maybe I am learning the wrong lesson? Maybe I won’t pass?

Others are more playful.

Life is divine play.

Another one is life is an experiment.

Life with capital L is an experiment. Life is always experimenting, with the big bang, making itself into…. elements and other particles, stars, light, exploding stars, heavier elements, solar systems, planets, living planets, ecosystems, species, families, emotions, thoughts, culture, civilizations, technology, drama, peace, striving, war, peacemaking, and much more.

This life, my life, is also an experiment. What happens if I do this? Does it bring pain? Peace? Joy?

Life as an experiment is an attractive metaphor for me now. It highlights the curiosity and inquiry aspect of it. And it highlights that there is no one “right” way to do it.

Taking it one step further, I can see if I can find “life” or “my life” as a solid, real object in immediate experience. Can I find it outside of words, images, and sensations? And can I find experiment, or play, or the divine?

P.S. Thanks to KL for reminding me of this metaphor today. I needed it.

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Metaphors and the Living Inquiries

We experience the world – including ourselves – partly through metaphors, some from our culture, some unique to us, and some perhaps shared by most or all cultures.

Through the Living Inquiries, or any other form of sense field exploration, I get to see this first hand, and I get to see how the metaphors that my mind use and hold as true influence my perception and life.

For instance, I looked for depression. I didn’t find it in the word. And as I looked at images, I saw several visual metaphors for depression: a dark blob vaguely the shape of my body. A “depressed” posture. A dark cloud around my body. A drawn out face looking like a person from a Munch painting. And as I saw these, one at a time, I saw that none of them were depression. They were not what I was looking for. Coming to the sensations, they were now revealed as sensations – free (or more free)  from associated words and images. I could feel the sensations as sensations, allowing them to have their life and change or stay as they wanted.

And it’s the same with other things I look for. I find words that sometimes are metaphors. I find images that sometimes are metaphors. I see some ways these influence my perception and live. And as I look at each one, the associated sensations are (more) free to be felt as sensations.

This is how it appears in a more conventional sense. And yet, that’s not all. I see three facets here, for now:

(a) In a conventional sense, some words and images are metaphors, as outlined above. (b) In another sense, any word and image is a metaphor. It appears to stand in for something else. (Although that too – the “something else” – is revealed as words and images associated with sensations.) (c) And in yet another sense, they are just themselves and not even metaphors. A sense field exploration reveals each of these, and perhaps especially the last one. A word is seen as a word. An image is seen as an image. A sensation is felt as a sensation.

Male, female

I had a conversation with a friend about feminine and masculine aspects of reality or God, and we both know that it’s just a play with images and stories. It can be interesting, fun and perhaps even helpful, especially when we recognize it is a play with an overlay of images.

I have images of what constitutes masculine and feminine characteristics, mostly from culture – and many of these are somewhat contradictory. (What’s associated with one or the other tend to make less sense the closer I look at it.) So I may use these as metaphors when I talk about facets of reality. And life, in a sense, use my images, when certain facets of reality appear in my dreams (and visions) in a masculine or feminine form. For someone else, perhaps from a quite different culture, the same facets may take quite different forms.

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“We have discovered, over the past decade and a half, that a conceptual system contains an enormous subsystem of thousands of conceptual metaphors — mappings that allow us to understand the abstract in terms of the concrete. Without this system, we could not engage in abstract thought at all — in thought about causation, purpose, love, morality, or thought itself. Without the metaphor system, there could be no philosophizing, no theorizing, and little general understanding our everyday personal and social lives. But the operation of this vast system of conceptual metaphor is largely unconscious. We reason metaphorically throughout most of our waking, and even our dreaming lives, but for the most part are unaware of it. At present, the metaphor system of English has barely begun to be worked out in full detail, and the metaphor systems of other languages have been studied only cursorily. Working out the details would be a huge job — not as big as the human genome project, but most likely more beneficial. For what is at stake is our understanding of ourselves and our daily lives, and the possibilities for improvement through that understanding.”
– George Lakoff, ‘The Neurocognitive Self’ in The Science of The Mind, page 229.

“Space and force pervade language. Many cognitive scientists (including me) have concluded from their research on language that a handful of concepts about places, paths, motions, agency, and causation underlie the literal or figurative meanings of tens of thousands of words and constructions, not only in English but in every other language that has been studied. … These concepts and relations appear to be the vocabulary and syntax of mentalese, the language of thought. … And the discovery that the elements of mentalese are based on places and projectiles has implications for both where the language of thought came from and how we put it to use in modern times.”
– Stephen Pinker, How The Mind Work, page 355.

Through inquiry, my world of metaphors is revealed bit by bit, and itself taken to inquiry. It goes from being unconsious and sometimes unconsciously believed to investigated and perhaps liberated from belief.