Understanding awakening in an atheist and materialistic context

No matter what worldview we prefer, it can be helpful to also understand awakening in an atheist and materialistic context.

WHAT IS AWAKENING?

I’ll give the short version I often use in these articles.

In one sense, we are a human being in the world. It’s not wrong and it’s an assumptions that helps us orient and function in the world.

And when we look a little closer in our own first-person experience, we may find something else. Especially if we are guided by effective inquiries and guides familiar with the terrain.

I find I am more fundamentally capacity for any and all of my experiences. I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am capacity for this human self and anything connected with it.

I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. I am the oneness the world, to me, happens within and as.

KEEPING NOTICING AND EXPLORING HOW TO LIVE FROM IT

This can be a glimpse, and this noticing can also become a habit. Throughout the day, we may notice this whenever we remember.

When it becomes more of a habit, we can explore how to live from this noticing. How is it to live from oneness? How is it to live from oneness in this situation? This is a lifelong exploration and new things will always be revealed.

And when the noticing is more of a habit, and we explore how to live from, something else tends to happen. And that’s a transformation of our human self. It’s a transformation of our perception, life in the world, and our human self and psyche. Whatever was formed within and still operates from separation consciousness (which is often a lot) comes to the surface with an invitation for it to align with oneness noticing itself.

THE LOGIC OF WHAT WE FIND

We may also discover that there is a logic to what we find.

If we “have” consciousness, then to ourselves we must BE consciousness. Consciousness is not some appendix we somehow have like we have arms, legs, and organs. It’s what we are in our own experience.

To us, the world and any experience happen within and as consciousness. The world and any experience, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are.

Consciousness is inherently one and cannot be divided. (Although what happens within its content can obviously be divided.) And that means that the world, to us, happens within and as the oneness we are.

This also means that, to us, the world appears similar to a dream. It happens within and as consciousness, just like a dream (and any experience).

OUR NATURE VERSUS THE NATURE OF REALITY

What does this discovery allow us to say something about?

We can say something about what we are in our own immediate experience, and not so much else.

For instance, we cannot say if the nature of reality – of all of existence – is the same as our own nature.

It will inevitably appear that way since the world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are. It appears to us as if the world is consciousness. We may even call it Spirit or the divine or God. But we cannot know that for certain.

SMALL AND BIG INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING

This leads us to the psychological (small) and spiritual (big) interpretations of awakening.

In the psychological interpretation, we talk about it as I do above. We keep it to our own experience, and we don’t generalize to the nature of existence itself.

In the spiritual interpretation, we take it one step further. We assume that our nature is the nature of all of existence. We assume all of existence is consciousness and what we can call Spirit, the divine, Brahman, God, and so on.

The spiritual interpretation is most common, perhaps because awakening has traditionally been talked about in the context of religions and spiritual traditions, and these use the spiritual or big interpretation of awakening.

THE VALUE IN THE SMALL INTERPRETATION

There is a value in the psychological or small interpretation of awakening as well.

It fits a range of different worldviews, perhaps nearly all of them. (I am sure it’s possible to come up with some that don’t fit but I cannot think of any of the common ones that don’t fit.)

It even fits an atheist and materialistic worldview. In our own experience, we are consciousness. That’s the reality in our own first-person view. And from a third-person view, it may well be that the most fundamental nature of reality is matter.

Taking this into account has value for those of us already exploring awakening. It helps us see that many worldviews may fit our experience. It helps us hold any preferred worldview a little more lightly. It gives us a common language to use when we speak with people from other backgrounds. And each worldview we explore may give us useful insights and pointers for our views and general and even how we live our life.

And it also has value in a more general sense. It makes awakening more available to more people. If it’s presented in a non-religious and non-spiritual context, then new groups of people may get curious about it. Some may even wish to explore it for themselves since they realize it may be compatible with their existing and familiar worldview. It’s more of an add-on or a nuance than a replacement.

WHICH IS MORE CORRECT?

So which one is more correct? The psychological or spiritual interpretation?

The psychological interpretation is safer. It stays with our own experience and doesn’t make assumptions beyond that. It allows us to consider different worldviews, hold them all more lightly, and find the value in each. It is, in many ways, more intellectually honest. It makes awakening available to more people. It goes to the essence of what mystics across times and cultures describe and can provide a common language for people from different traditions.

The spiritual interpretation may be more familiar to many. It may be more inspiring. And I personally suspect it may be more accurate. There are hints suggesting just that. (Sensing and healing at a distance, ESP, premonitions, synchronicities, and so on.)

On an awakening path, many of us experience things that best fit the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening.

And on a collective level, the more prudent approach is to hold that one lightly as well.

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Maps for the awakening path

Maps for the awakening path can be very helpful.

MAPS HELP US NAVIGATE IN UNFAMILIAR PLACES

After all, any time we enter a place that’s unfamiliar to us, maps, stories, guides, and fellow travelers can be invaluable. They help us orient, make better decisions, avoid some pitfalls, provide company and guidance on the way, and can make the whole experience generally more easy and enjoyable. We can learn from those who are more familiar with the place, and we can find support from others exploring it.

Of course, this depends on the quality of the maps, stories, guides, and fellow travelers.

It depends on how we relate to these sources of information and the journey itself.

And it depends on what we bring with us in terms of baggage, orientation, experience, and good sense.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MAPS

For all the many benefits of maps, they also have some limitations, and it’s good to be aware of and explore the characteristics of maps.

They are different in nature from the terrain. They are mental constructs and are different in nature from what they point to. (Unless they happen to point to other mental constructs!)

They simplify and leave a lot out. That’s why they are useful, and it’s also one of their limitations.

They may be more or less accurate. Sometimes, maps are misleading.

They inevitably reflect the biases of the one(s) making them. They reflect a certain time, culture, worldview, personal orientation, and sometimes even hopes and fears. That doesn’t make them less useful, but it’s good to keep in mind.

As with any story, they inevitably reflect and come out of a certain worldview. There are innumerable other existing and possible worldviews that may make as much or more sense, and fit the data as well or better. And these worldviews may produce very different maps of the same terrain.

Maps and stories in general cannot reflect any full, final, or absolute reality.

Reality is always more than and different from any map.

And any mental construct is a kind of map, no matter what form it takes. Whether it’s a book, a diagram, a teacher or fellow traveler sharing something, or our own mental images and words telling us something.

THE LIMITATIONS OF AWAKENING MAPS

Maps of a physical place have these benefits and limitations, and that goes doubly (or triply!) for maps of non-physical and metaphorical places like an awakening process.

Yes, there may be patterns in how the awakening process unfolds that we can detect and put into a kind of map. Many have done just that. For instance, Ken Wilber has collected and synthesized many of these maps into a more inclusive and comprehensive map.

And yet, life doesn’t follow our shoulds or our maps. Life goes its own way.

The process may be different for people in different cultures. Your process may be very different from mine. Each case is always different to some extent, and sometimes by a lot.

Also, maps about awakening are informal. They come from people’s own experiences, or what they have seen or heard from others. It’s not a topic that’s studied rigorously using scientific methods.

Maps of the awakening process are provisional at best, and likely only partially accurate.

In my experience, the process is not necessarily very linear, and the process itself tends to undo any and all fixed ideas I have about it or anything else.

HOW WE RELATE TO MAPS

How we relate to these stories and maps makes a big difference.

Do I hold onto some of them as true? What happens if I do? For me, I typically find it’s stressful. I need to hold onto, rehearse, and defend the stories. I make an identity for myself out of it. If my path is different from the maps, I feel something is wrong. And it’s generally stressful whenever life shows up differently from the “shoulds” of the maps, which it inevitably does.

How would it be to hold onto them more lightly? Here, I find it’s generally more peaceful. I find more curiosity. I recognize the maps and stories as pointers only, and as questions about the world. I am more open to exploring what’s here rather than being distracted by how a story tells me it should be.

USING MAPS TO FEEL BETTER (OR WORSE)

We can use maps, and especially stage maps, to feel better (or worse) about ourselves and our life.

We can use them to tell ourselves: I am at this stage in the awakening process. It means I am further ahead than these other people. It means those people are ahead of me. It means this will happen next. It’s all cleanly laid out and predictable, and I know how it is.

But do we actually know? Can we know if the maps are accurate? Can we know that we understand them well? Can we know that another worldview wouldn’t make as much or more sense, and bring about a very different map? And what about everything left out of the maps? Isn’t what’s left out far more than what’s included?

HOLDING IT ALL LIGHTLY

For me, and for all of these reasons, it makes more sense to hold these stories and maps lightly, and it gives me more sense of ease. It’s more aligned with reality.

Yes, I have found it fun and fascinating to learn about them. (Since my teens and for about three decades, I read everything by Ken Wilber. I read widely about stage models in general from psychology and spirituality. And I studied developmental psychology and stage models at university.)

Yes, they can be somewhat useful as something I keep in the back of my mind and sometimes check in with.

And it feels better to hold it all lightly. To not invest too much into it.

SCIENCE IN GENERAL

That’s how it is for me with science in general.

I love science and find it fascinating, fun, and helpful.

And yet, I know that the stories from science are maps. They reflect our current culture and understanding. They are provisional. Future generations will see our maps as quaint, at best as partially valid, and often as hopelessly outdated.

Perhaps most importantly, what they leave out is far more than what they include. What they include is likely an infinitely small part of what there is to discover. And what we discover may put what we already (think we) know in a completely different light.

Reality is always more than and different from any story we have about it.

[Read on to see what ChatGPT has to say on this topic.]

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Holding onto overly simplistic views for safety

It’s quite common for folks who get into healing and spirituality to hold onto simplistic views for safety.

We hold onto it to try to find some distance from the discomfort we are experiencing, created by deeper, more visceral, and stressful beliefs and identities.

PHYSICAL HEALTH AND EMOTIONAL ISSUES

One of these simplistic ideas is that our physical health challenges are created by our emotional issues.

I have this illness, so it must be created by an emotional issue. Working on that issue is the answer.

The reality is often far more complex. What happens locally is the result of movements within the larger whole. The small things we think we grasp are drops in the bucket of what’s actually going on. Innumerable things influence our health and our emotional issues are just one of those.

Yes, it makes sense to explore that aspect of it and see what happens. Most of the time, it won’t hurt, and it may help.

And it also makes sense to recognize that innumerable factors influence our health. Our health is an expression of what’s happening in far larger and more complex systems.

HOLDING ONTO SIMPLISTIC VIEWS FOR SAFETY

Holding onto views, identities, and stories for safety is inherently stressful.

I find it helpful to identify these and explore them.

What is the story? And some underlying and supporting stories?

What do I hope to get out of holding onto it? A sense of safety? Predictability? Having answers?

What happens when I hold onto it? In this case, do I overly narrow my options for how to explore and view my own health? Do I apply it to others and tell them their physical health issues are held in place by emotional issues? How does it impact my relationship with myself and others?

What’s the genuine validity in the reversals? Is it true that my physical health may have other causes as well? Or that the main cause could be something else?

How would it be to hold the initial story more lightly? How would it be to explore the emotional components and see what happens? And also explore other avenues? (Including finding more peace with my health and body as it is?)

WE ALL DO IT

In one way or another, we all hold onto overly simplistic views for safety. It’s what we humans seem to do, at least so far.

And, in reality, any view, identity, and story are overly simplistic.

Any mental representation is different in kind from what they are about. (Unless they happen to be about mental representations.) The terrain is always different from and far more than any map.

What we think we grasp is a tiny part of what’s there, no matter what it’s about.

And what we think we grasp tends to change over time. It’s provisional. It’s not final or absolute.

Spirituality as indulging in fantasy vs exploring reality

We can define spirituality in several different ways.

I’ll here focus on two very general orientations – indulging in fantasies vs exploring reality.

INDULGING IN FANTASIES

One broad category is the type of spirituality where people indulge in fantasies.

We imagine all sorts of things – about nonembodied beings, spiritual teachers, life after death, karma, and so on. We may even try to pretend it’s true even if we don’t know for certain and cannot check it out for ourselves.

This pretending is not completely successful since we know, somewhere, what we are doing. We know we are trying to trick ourselves, and it doesn’t really work.

And this is also why many view religions and spirituality with – well deserved – skepticism.

EXPLORING REALITY

Another broad category is spirituality as a sincere and honest exploration of reality.

What am I, most fundamentally, in my own first-person experience? What do I find? How is it to explore living from this noticing?

What do I find when I explore how my sense fields combine to create my experience of the world?

What do I find when I explore any mental representation – in words or mental images – I hold as true?

Can I know anything for certain?

THEY BOTH SERVE A FUNCTION

Both orientations serve a function.

The upside of fantasies is that they can serve as a carrot for us. Although they may not be grounded in reality and our own direct noticing, they can give us motivation and a sense of direction. They are also projections, showing us something about ourselves and what’s already in ourselves.

The downside is that they are fantasies. Somewhere in us, we know that we cannot know for certain, so they are not completely fulfilling to us. Something is missing.

So the fantasy approach can be helpful in the beginning of our exploration and tends to thin out as we go along.

The upside of the reality orientation is that it keeps us more grounded and focused on our immediate experience and noticing. It’s more real to us, so it’s also more fulfilling. Especially as we start noticing and living from a noticing of our nature.

OFTEN A MIX

In practice, there is often a mix of the two.

We may indulge in some fantasies, and also engage in sincere practice and exploration of our relationship with the divine, or our nature.

And if we have a sincere orientation, I assume we tend to move away from initial fantasies to a more dedicated exploration of reality.

THE ROLE OF RELIGION AND SPIRITUAL TRADITIONS

Religions and most spiritual traditions inevitably have an element of fantasy, and often a strong element of fantasy. They encourage fantasies.

That’s why, if we have a sincere interest in exploring reality, we have to – at least internally – be willing to question and examine it all and hold it all lightly and place our own immediate exploration and noticing first.

THE ROLE OF SCIENCE

Science has a particular content which reflects our place in time and culture and changes over time, and it also has a methodology that is more universal.

The methodology of science is a kind of systematization of common sense and can be a great support in our spiritual explorations. Learning about the history and methods of science, logic and logical fallacies, and so on, can all be valuable. It can help us avoid some of the pitfalls on the way.

THE FANTASIES

The fantasies come in a couple of different forms.

There are the ones mentioned above.

They are the typical spiritual fantasies – mental representations of something we cannot check for ourselves or cannot know for certain. For instance, what happens after life, karma, angels, avatars, heaven and hell, and so on. It may be ideas of what awakening means and how it will change our life, that it’s a kind of permanent state. It may be ideas about spiritual teachers and how they are and what they can or cannot do for us. It may be ideas about what actions or practices will do for us in the future, or won’t do for us. And much more.

These are often a kind of wishful or fearful thinking. We use them to feel better about ourselves and life, or to scare ourselves. And what they refer to may or may not be real in a conventional sense.

In a more basic sense, these fantasies include any mental representation. For instance, of space and time, past and future, who and what we are, and so on.

These mental representations help us orient and function in the world and test out possibilities.

TWO WAYS OF RELATING TO THESE FANTASIES

We can relate to these fantasies and mental representations in a couple of general ways.

We may mistake them for reality. We don’t recognize them as mental representations and assume they are how reality is.

When that happens, they often have a charge for us. They mean something special to us and we feel something related to them. And as mentioned above, we use them to feel better or worse about ourselves, and they often become wishful or fearful thinking.

We use them to feel safer by telling ourselves we know, whether that is something we see as desirable or undesirable.

We can also recognize them for what they are. We can recognize them as mental representations. We can recognize what these mental representations can and can’t do for us.

They help us orient and function in the world. We cannot know for certain how accurate they are in a conventional sense. And they cannot hold any final, full, or absolute truth.

We can notice that we cannot know for certain how accurate they are in a conventonal sense.

We can notice that we cannot find safety in mental representations. It’s not in their nature.

TYPICAL FANTASIES OF THE REALITY-ORIENTED APPROACH

There are some common fantasies in the reality-oriented approach.

For instance, as we begin to notice our nature, we will inevitably form mental representations of our nature. We have mental representations of oneness, consciousness, love, and so on, and ourselves as that.

That’s not wrong or inherently problematic. It’s natural and helps us navigate and talk about it.

And yet, it’s also easy to mistake our mental representations for a direct noticing, and it’s good to examine this and learn to recognize the mental representations for what they are.

MY ORIENTATION

I inevitably have a mix of the two as well, although I have a strong affinity for the more reality-oriented approach.

This is likely influenced by the culture and family I grew up in. (A culture that is secular and largely non-religious, and a family that was focused on science and art and the practical.) And likely because I, before the initial awakening shift, was deeply fascinated by science and a self-proclaimed atheist since I saw religion and spirituality as indulging in fantasies. (Not wrong since most who are into spirituality do that to some extent, in some phases of their process, and in some areas of life.)

Note: This article is an example of what happens when I have stronger brain fog and when my energy goes more into the physical than the mental. It has little flow and is not nearly as succint as it could be.

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Does our timeless nature mean we live forever?

I sometimes hear people say:

My timeless nature means I’ll live forever.

My physical body happens within me so I’ll live beyond this physical body.

For me, it looks a bit different.

TIMELESS IS NOT THE SAME AS ETERNAL

Yes, I find myself as what the world to me happens within and as.

I find myself as the timeless that time happens within. I find myself as the spaceless that space happens within. I find myself as what this physical body and the rest of the world, as it appears to me, happens within and as.

And that doesn’t mean that I – meaning this oneness the world to me happens within and as – will live forever, or continue to live beyond the death of this physical body.

IDEOLOGIES ARE NOT THE SAME AS REALITY

Yes, there may be many religions, spiritual traditions, and ideologies that say that we’ll live beyond this physical body.

There is even some research pointing to that.

And that’s all second-hand information. It’s not something I can test out for myself. I cannot know for certain.

MEMORIES ARE NOT THE SAME AS REALITY

My whole life, from early childhood, I have had what seems to be a memory from between lives and before this life.

When I look, I see that this apparent memory consists of mental images and words, associated with some sensations in my body.

Those mental representations and sensations are just that. They may not point to anything real. Again, I cannot know for certain.

BEING HONEST

I notice that if I tell myself I’ll live forever, or beyond the life of this physical body, it’s stressful.

I tell myself something I cannot know for certain. I tell myself that what to me is imagination is reality.

I know I cannot know for certain.

And that’s stressful. It’s also stressful to have to remember that imagination, recreate it, enhance it, support it, defend it, and so on.

What’s more honest for me is that I don’t know.

I’ll get to see when that phase of the adventure comes.

What I can find here now is my nature. I can find myself as what any content of experience – including time and space and this physical body and the world as it appears to me – happens within and as.

And that’s enough.

There is a joy in being aligned with reality.

In being honest with myself.

Real Zen is not about Zen

Real Zen is not about Zen.

WHEN ZEN IS ABOUT ZEN

When Zen is about Zen, it’s about the identity of Zen. It’s about the tradition, rituals, specific practices, and so on. There is nothing wrong in this but it’s good to be honest about it. There is a lot of value in Zen, and when Zen is about Zen, this can be passed on to new generations.

WHEN ZEN IS NOT ABOUT ZEN

Real Zen is not about Zen. It’s about the exploration. It’s about finding what we are and exploring how to live from it. The essence of this is inherent in who and what we are, and in reality, and it’s not dependent on any traditions.

Many traditions have insights and pointers for exploring this, and no tradition has any monopoly on it. And if we are too identified with a particular tradition and its particular approach, we may miss out on practices and pointers that could be very valuable to us.

SPIRITUAL TRADITIONS IN GENERAL

The seed of this article came from a brief comment I made about Zen on a friend’s social media post, so I wrote it about Zen. But this is far more universal. This is about spiritual or awakening traditions in general.

They each contain valuable pointers, practices, guidelines, and insights.

Since they are traditions, their main priority is inevitably to maintain themselves. In practice, this means that for many within a trdtiion, they will set their tradition on part with or sometimes above what the tradition is explicitly about or initially was about.

And it means that if we are sincere about finding what we are and living from it, we lose out on valuable pointers, guidelines, and practices if we stay too rigidly within the tradition for too long.

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Adyashanti: Recognizing our imperfection takes a lot of humility

Recognizing our imperfection takes a lot of humility. Spiritual people, for all their desire to be humble, are often not humble. They’re kind of horrified at their own imperfection.

– Adyashanti, Commitment to Truth and Love

This quote touches on many topics. 

SECRET IDEALS OF PERFECTION

These days, many who are into spirituality are a little more sophisticated than this. We know it’s better to embrace ourselves as we are. We know it’s better for us psychologically. We know that if our spirituality is about truth and love, then we need to be honest with ourselves and find love for ourselves as we are. 

We know that ideas of perfection are human-made and often used to control people. And in our modern culture, ideals of perfection are used to encourage us to be good consumers and buy products that will help us appear more perfect.

And yet, many of us are also caught up in some ideas and shoulds around perfection. Secretly, somewhere in us, we wish to live up to certain ideas of perfection. Often because ideas and shoulds are common in our culture and we have absorbed them almost without noticing from early childhood, and we are now applying these secret shoulds to our approach to spirituality.

What are these images? What are the images of perfection I wish to live up to? How does it influence how I see myself and how I present myself to others and the world? What happens when I try to live up to these images? What’s the cost? What am I trying to achieve? What am I afraid would happen if I don’t live up to these images of perfection? Do I assume others will judge me? That God will judge me? That I won’t get what I want? 

SPIRITUALITY AND PERFECTION

Why is spirituality sometimes associated with perfection?

Is it because God or the divine, almost by definition, is perfect, so if we aim to connect with the divine we too should be perfect? Or because we assume we need to be perfect to be saved, whatever saved is for us? Or is it as simple as wanting to be accepted by others? Or ourselves?

Or by an image of our parents from when we were little and needed and wanted their acceptance, love, and protection?

What form does this drive to perfection take for us? And for the spiritual tradition we are in? Or the culture we grew up in?

And more generally, what form does this tend to take in the different spiritual traditions? Are there traditions where we find less of this? Or do some here too try to live up to certain ideas of perfection even if they, on the surface, may appear not to?

EXPLORING IT FOR OURSELVES

As usual, this is a fertile ground for exploration.

What beliefs, assumptions, and identities do I have about this? What do I find when I investigate these? How would it be to find love for the parts of me scared of imperfection? How would it be to find peace with what I fear the most would happen if I am imperfect or seen to be imperfect? 

What are the genuine upsides of embracing my imperfection? The general answer for me is that it’s a relief to not have to try to live up to images of perfection. It helps me find and embrace more of my wholeness. It gives me a wider repertoire. It helps me more genuinely connect with others. It helps me recognize we are all in the same boat.

More importantly, when I look at specific situations and specific ways I try to live up to perfection, what genuine benefits do I find in embracing my imperfections?

Can I find safe spaces for exploring embracing my imperfections? Perhaps in a journal? With a good therapist? With accepting and relatively mature friends? Can I find ways to talk about it that make it easier for me to embrace it?

And maybe most directly, how is it to meet and get to know my fear of what may happen if I don’t try to live up to perfection? How is it to feel it in my body? Allow it? Notice it’s already allowed? See what it really wants (love? acceptance? safety? support?) and give that to it? Notice its nature? Notice how its nature is my nature? Rest in that noticing?

FINDING WHAT I AM

If I find what I am, my nature, does this change these dynamics? Does it create a different context for exploring all of this? 

I may find myself as capacity for the world as it appears to me. I may find myself as that which the world to me – this human self, the wider world, and any other content of consciousness – happens within and as. Here, there is a kind of perfection. Nothing is missing. It’s all there is. And yet, it also includes and embraces and IS all the apparent imperfections in me and the world. 

This can help me shift my relationship with imperfections in a few different ways. The perfection inherent in what I am makes it easier for me to embrace the many apparent imperfections as who I am. I can recognize my nature even in the imperfections, they too happen within and as what I am. Noticing my nature helps me explore my old beliefs and assumptions and find what’s more true for me. And finding myself as oneness and love helps me find love for these parts of me. 

THE MESSINESS OF ALL OF IT

When it’s written out like this, it can seem like a relatively simple and clean process. And that’s one of the ways we can try to live up to some ideal of perfection. We may try to live up to how someone else has described something.

In reality, the process is typically far from simple, clean, and perfect. When it’s lived, this process, as so much else, is flawed, messy, and imperfect. And It’s an ongoing process without a finishing line.

And that’s OK. That’s life. That’s how it is for all of us. 

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Spiritual fantasies

How do we make sense of all the chaos and breakdown of the world as we have known it during the past few years?

First Covid, now the Ukrainian War, as economic issues, climate change and other issues lurk on the horizon.

Is there a larger context holding it all in a way that is meaningful and reassuring to our souls?

Here’s our take:

Humanity and the Earth are entering into a time of profound, existential transformation. 

For millennia, human souls have been gestating as third-dimensional, physical “caterpillars.”

But now we are entering into the chrysalis of transformation.

All that we have known of ourselves and our world is dissolving, so that a new species of 4th- and 5th-dimensional, luminous, divine human “butterflies” can emerge — Homo Luminous. 

We can find spiritual fantasies in all forms of spirituality.

The quote above is one example. We experience what humans have experienced throughout history: We have pandemics, war, a possible famine, and so on. It’s routine. And instead of recognizing it as routine, and using it to heal and mature, some go into spiritual fantasies to make sense of it and feel better about it.

SUMMARY

This article became quite long so I thought I would simplify it in this summary:

We rely on mental representations – mental images and words – to orient and function in the world. 

And they can be more or less accurate in a conventional sense. Sometimes, they correspond to something and are relatively accurate. And sometimes, we cannot find what they refer to or they may be inaccurate in other ways. 

Spiritual stories are also fantasies. Sometimes, they are relatively accurate, and sometimes what they refer to doesn’t exist or doesn’t exist as anything close to what our stories tell us. 

What I’ll write about here are the spiritual fantasies that we are invested in, for whatever reason. 

They are the ones I cannot verify for myself. They are typically about something “out there” (in others, the world, the future, the past). And I am invested in the stories in order to feel better about myself or the world, or sometimes to fuel my fears. (They have an element of wishful or fearful thinking). 

What are some examples of these spiritual fantasies? It can be about an afterlife. Some imagined future jump to a higher dimension. That awakening will give us a lasting desired state or solve all our human problems. Or anything else we label spiritual, cannot check for ourselves and are invested in to feel better. (Or to fuel our fears.) 

There is nothing inherently wrong with this. It’s natural. It’s necessary until it isn’t. Sometimes, what the stories refer to exists and sometimes it doesn’t. And these spiritual fantasies tend to become more “subtle” on an awakening path. They can take the form of mental representations saying we are consciousness, awakeness, oneness, love, capacity, and so on. (Which is not necessarily wrong, it’s just that investing in these mental representations is not what it’s about. These images and words are pointers, not important in themselves.) 

At the same time, there are inherent drawbacks to spiritual fantasies. Mainly, they distract us from what’s here. And what’s here is what we all deepest down long for. We long for noticing the wholeness and oneness we already are. And any idea of finding what we are looking for “out there” is a temporary distraction and misdirection. It’s a distraction from focusing on healing at a human level, and from noticing what we are.

We can also make use of these spiritual fantasies. 

We can use them as a mirror for what’s here. 

What’s the spiritual story? How is it to explore this story as I would a dream? How is it to see all the elements of the story as mirroring parts of me? How is it to dialog with these parts of me? Or take the role of these parts and see what they have to say and how they perceive me and the world? (Voice dialog.) 

When I turn the story to myself, can I find specific examples of how it’s true – in the past and now? Can I find in myself the characteristics and dynamics the story describes and points to? How is it to get to know it in myself and embrace it? 

We can use these spiritual stories to notice that they happen within our mental field. We can notice the mental images and words making up these fantasies, and we cannot find what they (literally) refer to outside of these images and words. 

We can investigate the story through different types of structured inquiries. 

For instance, what happens when I hold the story as true? Can I find genuine examples of how the reversals of the story (when I turn them to the opposite and to myself) are equally or more valid? (The Work of Byron Katie.) 

What do I find when I explore the mental images and words, and how the mind associates them with particular sensations in the body? How is it to notice that the sensations lend a sense of solidity and perhaps even truth to the stories, and the stories give a sense of meaning to the sensations? Does that peek behind the curtain remove some of the fascination and magic from these stories? (Living Inquiries.) 

How is it to find myself as capacity for these stories and what they may refer to? How is it to notice they – and what they may refer to – happens within and as what I am? Does this soften the fascination of these stories? (Headless experiments, Big Mind process.) 

We can use them to practice being more honest with ourselves. It’s a story. I cannot verify it. I notice a pull in me to invest in it to feel better. (Or to fuel my fears.) And all of that is created by my own mind.

See also Alejandra’s perceptive comment on this topic.  

IN MORE DETAIL

HOW DO WE RECOGNIZE A SPIRITUAL FANTASY?

To recognize a spiritual fantasy, I can ask myself:

Is it a story I label “spiritual” or associate with spirituality?

Can I check it for myself? Can I know for certain it’s true? Would it hold up in a court of law?

Am I invested in the story? Do I wish to hold onto the spiritual story to feel better about myself or the world? Or to fuel my fears?

If I am honest with myself, and the answer is yes, no, and yes, it’s very likely a spiritual fantasy.

In general, spiritual fantasies are: (a) Stories we label spiritual. (b) They are typically about something out there – in others or in the world, or in the future or past. They are out there in space or time. (c) They are about something hidden and something we cannot easily check out for ourselves. (d) And we are invested in the stories. They help us make sense of the world, and we invest our hopes or fears in them.

OPPORTUNITY FOR EXPLORATION

When this happens, it’s an opportunity for exploration. 

We can recognize the telltale signs of attaching to a story in order to take refuge in it. We defend it. Perhaps we proselytize and want others to know about the story and agree. We rehearse it in our mind. We seek out confirmation for it, even if the sources may be flimsy. We experience an emotional charge around the story. We create an identity around it. And so on. 

We can then explore this in several ways. 

We can identify the story and examine it. 

When I look, where do I find the story? Can I find it outside of my own mental representations and what others tell me? And where do I find what the story refers to? Can I find it anywhere? Can I hold it up and show it to someone? Can I take a photo of it?

Can I know for certain it’s true? What happens when I hold onto it as true? How am I in the world when I hold it as true? What’s the genuine validity in the reversals of the story? (The Work of Byron Katie.) 

What are the mental images and words making up the story? What are the physical sensations my mind associates with these images and words? What are the associations that come up? What do I find when I examine these mental representations and associated sensations? (Living Inquiries.) 

What do I hope to get out of holding onto the story?

What do I fear would happen if I didn’t hold onto the story? How is it to feel this fear? Thank it for protecting me? Recognize it comes from a desire to protect me and from love? Find love for it, as it is? Give it what it deeper down wants? (A sense of safety, being seen, support, love, etc.) 

Do I know that a story is a spiritual fantasy, but I still want to hold onto it? What am I afraid would happen if I don’t have it? What are my fearful stories? What do I find when I examine those stories? How is it to befriend the fear?

We can also use the stories more explicitly as a mirror. Can I find in myself what they point to? If I turn the story around to myself, can I find in myself here and now what the story says is out there? Can I find the characteristics and dynamics the story says is out there also in myself? Can I find specific examples here and now and in the past? How is it to get to know this side of me?

How is it to notice the story – and anything associated with it – happens within and as what I am? That my nature is capacity for it all? (Big Mind process, Headless experiments.)

In this way, we take any tendency to spiritual fantasies in ourselves and make use of them for exploration, healing, and a bit of maturing. 

WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF SPIRITUAL FANTASIES?

The quote above is one. It’s something we cannot check. It’s a form of wishful thinking. It’s unnecessary and doesn’t give us anything of substance. It’s a distraction. It looks like something some cling to in order to feel better about themselves and the world and keep some unpleasant feelings (fear) at bay. 

Any idea about an afterlife is another. This too is something we cannot check for ourselves while we are still alive. It’s something science hasn’t thoroughly examined yet. (Although there are some good efforts.) People use these stories to instill fear or hope in themselves or others. 

In Vortex Healing, it’s when we attach to the story that by taking these classes, we likely won’t have to incarnate again. How can I know? To me, it’s just a story someone told me. Again, some seem to hold onto this story in order to feel better about themself and their life. It’s a comforting promise of escape from a life they struggle with.

It can also be any ideology we attach to and label “spiritual”, for instance, veganism. We tell ourselves it’s going to save the world, and we attach to it to feel better about ourselves and the world and distract ourselves from a difficult discomfort. (I am not saying there isn’t a lot of good in veganism. I am all for eating low on the food chain and I am aware of the many benefits for our health, for the animals, and for Earth. I am just talking about what happens when we attach to it as an ideology, as a belief that’s going to save us or the world.) 

The conspiracy theories that circulate in the wellness and New Age world can be seen as spiritual fantasies. People go into them as a coping strategy, associate them – for whatever reason – with spirituality, and choose these particular fantasies because others in their subculture do the same. 

It can also be fantasies about awakening. For instance, that awakening is a state free of discomfort. That it will magically solve all our problems. And so on. 

In general, we may tell ourselves we know that things are a certain way. Yes, my stories and maps may seem relatively accurate and they work to some extent. But…. How can I know for certain? How can I know I am not missing something important? How can I know I won’t see it differently tomorrow or in ten years with more experience and new information? How can I know it won’t look very different in a different context? One I am not familiar with now, but would make more sense to me if I knew it? Any time I tell myself I know for certain something I label spiritual, I engage in a spiritual fantasy. 

WHAT IS NOT A (SPIRITUAL) FANTASY?

When I write here, I try to avoid any form of spiritual fantasy. I aim to make it practical and something people can check out for themselves. Of course, I am not always entirely successful.

The only thing that’s free from spiritual fantasies is direct noticing. What’s here in my sense fields? In sensations? Sight? Sound? Smell? Taste? Movement? Mental representations? 

Anything found in the mental representations – mental images and words – is, in essence, a fantasy. It’s created by the mind. These can be more or less accurate in a conventional sense. The more accurate ones help us orient and function in the world. And the rest are more obvious fantasies. 

Even when we explore our own nature, it’s often mixed in with some spiritual fantasies. We may partly notice directly our nature. (Find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us, and what any content of experience happens within and as.) And there is often an overlay of mental representations of whatever we expect to find. (Oneness, love, capacity, and so on.) Sometimes, we may look at a mental representation and assume it’s a more direct noticing of what it points to. Sometimes, we are conscious of the mental representations and use them as pointers for a more direct noticing. And often, it may be a bit of both. 

THE USE OF SPIRITUAL FANTASIES

Spiritual fantasies are useful in a couple of different ways, as mentioned above. 

They can serve as a distraction from our own discomfort. This is useful whenever we are not ready for meeting and exploring it more directly. We may not be in the right place in our life. We may not have the tools and skills. We may not have the support for doing it. We are not ready until we are. And the spiritual fantasies are necessary for us until they aren’t. 

And they can serve as a pointer to something in us to explore and get to know. As just about anything else, we can use them more intentionally to find healing, wholeness, and notice our nature. 

SPIRITUAL FANTASIES WITH AND WITHOUT A CHARGE

I should mention that spiritual fantasies can come with or without a charge, or with different types of charges. 

I can imagine the spaghetti monster from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Pastafarianism). For me, this has a slight charge and is associated with some physical sensations. But the charge doesn’t tell me that it’s true. The charge just tells me I find it funny and I love the intention behind that particular church. 

I can imagine an apple as a spiritual deity. For me, this has no charge. It’s clearly not true. I recognize it as just a fantasy. And many spiritual ideas are like this too, for me. For instance: God is a blue boy. (Krishna movement.) 

And if I consciously believed something, for instance, that “I” somehow will continue after this life, it would have a charge telling me that it’s true. My mind creates the mental representation of it, it creates certain physical sensations in my body through tensing up certain muscles, it associates the two, and it uses the physical sensations to give a charge to the mental representations and tells itself the sensations means its true. (Of course, when we recognize this and notice it directly, it seems slightly ridiculous and the fantasy tends to lose its sense of reality.) 

HOLDING FANTASIES AS TRUE 

Spiritual fantasies may be more or less accurate in a conventional sense. They may refer to something in existence that’s actually there in some way.

What this article is about, is more the dynamic of (a) creating a story, (b) calling it spiritual, and (c) investing in it in order to feel more comfortable or safe. That’s something that’s worth investigating no matter how accurate or not a story is in a conventional sense. 

And it’s really about any story we hold as true. Ultimately, any story is a fantasy whether it’s accurate or not in a conventional sense. It’s created by the mind to make sense of ourselves, the world, and existence. The stories are inherently different in kind from what they point to, they are simplifications, they cannot hold any full, final or absolute truth, and they can be more or less accurate in a conventional sense. And the dynamics of holding a story as true is more or less the same no matter what the story is about.

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Awakening doesn’t have anything to do with spirituality or religion

This is true in one sense, and not another.

AWAKENING DOESN’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH SPIRITUALITY OR RELIGION

Awakening doesn’t depend on spirituality or religion. It’s what we already are noticing itself.

It’s about noticing what we are to ourselves in our own first-person experience, and then see how it is to live from this noticing.

For me, I find my nature more fundamentally is capacity for the world as it appears to me, for all the content of my experience. My nature, or “I”, am what all my experiences – of this human self and the wider world – happen within and as.

Noticing this doesn’t require or depend on any spirituality or religion. It’s something that will, in some cases, happen naturally. It’s already here. It’s about noticing what’s here.

AWAKENING DOES HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH SPIRITUALITY OR RELIGION

At the same time, awakening does obviously have something to do with spirituality and religion.

Some aspects of spirituality and religion reflect insights from awakening and the life that happens naturally within awakening. Although most or nearly all of it is partially obscured by culture and tradition, and the assumptions and misconceptions of people who were more focused on philosophy than immediate noticing.

Some aspects of spirituality and religion are aimed at helping us mimic living from noticing what we are. This can include guidelines for living, and it often includes heart-centered practices.

Some aspects of spirituality and religion are pointers and practices inviting us to notice for ourselves what we are and our more fundamental nature.

HELPFUL DISTINCTION

For me, this is a helpful – although perhaps very obvious – distinction.

Awakening itself doesn’t have anything to do with spirituality, religion, or anything within culture. It’s more fundamental than that.

Also, the pointers and practices within spirituality and religion are not awakening. At most, they only invite us to discover it for ourselves. In this context, they don’t have more value than a sign pointing us in a certain direction.

And certain aspects of spirituality and religion do reflect awakening and point to awakening.

WHAT IF WE WISH TO NOTICE FOR OURSELVES?

What’s the practical side of this? What if we want to explore what we are in our own first-person experience?

Does that require spirituality or religion?

The answer may be yes and no.

Sometimes, what we are spontaneously notices itself without any previous conscious interest or guidance. (That’s what happened in my case as an atheist teenager with no interest in these things.)

Sometimes, we may find helpful practical pointers that work well in themselves. For instance, Headless experiments, the Big Mind process, and Living Inquiries. These may rest on or be inspired by certain spiritual traditions or religions, but as an explorer, we don’t need to even know about that for it to work.

And sometimes, we may choose to get involved in a spiritual or religious group and tradition for the additional support this gives us. If we do, it can be especially helpful to remember that awakening – in itself – doesn’t depend on spirituality or religion. It’s simpler and more immediate than that.

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The spiritual path & comparing ourselves with others

Comparing ourselves with others seems relatively universal although I am sure it plays out differently in different cultures. It’s also part of what fuels our current consumer culture, and advertisers know how to make use of it.

TWO WAYS TO COMPARE

There are two ways to compare ourselves with others.

One is for pragmatic reasons. It can give us useful information.

The other, which is often overlaid on the first one, is to make ourselves feel better or worse than others. This is not so useful. It can feel good to compare ourselves with someone and make up a story that we are somehow better than the other. But it’s a temporary victory since it means we inevitably are worse than someone else in the world, on the same scale, and we’ll inevitably be reminded of it. And it’s hollow since we know – somewhere in us – that it’s just a mind game.

In terms of spirituality, we can tell ourselves we are more advanced, sophisticated, or mature than someone else and it may feel good for a while. At the same time, we know we are less advanced, sophisticated, and mature compared with some other people. And we know, whether we acknowledge it or not, that it’s a mind game.

We cannot know for certain where people are in their process. We know we are comparing to make ourselves feel a bit better about ourselves. And we know it’s a losing game in the long run.

OUTSIDE VS INNER VIEW

When we compare ourselves with others, we often compare the public image of someone with our inside knowledge about ourselves.

We all have a public persona, which is more or less polished and inclusive. We present a certain image to the world and often leave out a lot of the confusion, pain, and unsavory attitudes and behavior. At the same time, we are often very aware of all the confusion, pain, and unsavoriness in our own life.

So it’s inherently an unfair comparison, and it tends to make us feel not so good about ourselves.

Often, it looks like the spiritual path and insights of others is clean, easy, and perhaps even joyful. And we know that our own spiritual path is windy, confused, didn’t go as planned, and so on.

HOW WE TALK ABOUT OUR SPIRITUAL PATH

The pain of comparison is greatly enhanced or diminished depending on the culture (or subculture) we are in.

If we are in a culture where spiritual practitioners and teachers like to present a glossy image of their own path, and of the spiritual path in general, it can lead to a more unfavorable impression of our own path.

If we are in a culture where spiritual practitioners and teachers are open about the messiness of their own path, and the spiritual path in general, it can help us see that we are all in the same boat. My own messiness is less painful since I know it’s similar for others.

And if we are in a culture that encourages us to work with projections, then…

MAKING USE OF THE TENDENCY TO COMPARE

…we can make good use of the tendency to compare. We can use it as material for our own exploration, and to invite in healing and maturing, and even awakening and living from the awakening.

We can make a practice of finding in ourselves what we see in others. (And in others what we know from ourselves.)

We can identify and examine our painful comparing-thoughts and find what’s more true for us. (Often, that the story is not absolutely true, and that the reversals have validity as well.)

We can explore how the comparing appears in our sense fields. What are the sensation components? The mental image and word component? What happens when I differentiate the two and rest with each? What do I find when I follow the associations, for instance back in time to my earliest memory of having that feeling or thought?

Instead of indulging in thoughts and feelings relating to the messiness of our own path, we can take a pragmatic approach and make use of whatever comes up.

THESE DAYS

I am grateful that these days, in our culture, there is more transparency and openness about the messiness of the spiritual path. People seem to feel more free to share all aspects of their experience. And many work intentionally with projections and inquiry, which also helps.

A glossy image of the path may serve as an initial carrot. But in the longer run, it seems far more helpful to be open about everything that can – and often will – happen on a spiritual path, warts and all.

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Why I typically don’t refer to the vagus nerve, quantum physics, or other popular topics from science

I rarely refer to the vagus nerve, quantum physics, or other popular topics from science in these articles.

Why? If I love science and have spent a good amount of time exploring these and other topics, why don’t I refer more to it when I write here? (For instance, in my teens and twenties, I read everything I could find about the connection between quantum physics and spirituality/philosophy.)

One reason is that our understanding of these topics is very specific to our time and place.

The content of science always changes. The way we think about the vagus nerve and quantum physics today will likely be outdated in a few years or decades, and even more so in a few centuries.

Similarly, our understanding of these topics is very incomplete. We are only seeing fragments of a bigger picture.

Some current views on quantum physics may tie in with some insights from perennial spirituality, and that may quickly change as we understand quantum physics differently in the years ahead. And the vagus nerve is probably important for regulating our nervous system and our system in general, and it’s only one small piece of a much larger dynamic whole.

It doesn’t mean that these topics are not important. I love that people are studying and thinking about it, and share their findings and reflections with the rest of us. That’s the beauty of science, and it benefits me and society as a whole.

When I write here, I do reference what I have picked up from science in my mind. I check if what I write fits or not. (Just as a mentally reference and check with what I have heard people say about healing, awakening, and so on.) But I won’t refer to it explicitly for the reasons mentioned here.

I prefer to focus on what seems a bit more timeless.

And I am very aware that the way I see and talk about this too inevitably reflects my own time and culture.

Adyashanti: Our minds may believe that we need subtle and complex spiritual teachings to guide us to Reality

Our minds may believe that we need subtle and complex spiritual teachings to guide us to Reality, but we do not. In fact, the more complex the teaching is, the easier it is for the mind to hide from itself amidst the complexity while imagining that it is advancing toward enlightenment. But it is often only advancing in creating more and more intricate circles to walk around and around in.

– Adyashanti, The Way of Liberation: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

A childlike orientation

Whenever we set out to do something in life, it’s supported by having certain orientations. And what those are depends, to some extent, on what we set out to do. 

So which orientations are helpful in spirituality? Which orientations seem especially helpful when we set out to explore our relationship with life – and perhaps what we are to ourselves, how to live from this noticing, and how we relate to life and our experiences? 

For me, the central one is a more childlike orientation.

THE ORIENTATION OF A CHILD

How does a healthy child relate to the world?

A child is often curious, receptive, free of preconceptions, honest, sincere. There is a natural humility, and a natural willingness to test out what others share.

A child is often absorbed in what they are doing, and diligent in exploring. They can do the same for hours.

They are here and now. There is no idea of not doing something because we did it in the past, or putting off something because we can do it in the future.

Children often have a natural reverence and awe for life. All is new.

WHEN WE FIND THAT CHILDLIKE ORIENTATION

How does this translate to us?

We are that child. We never left childhood, even if we are also adults. We still have it in us.

We can find that curiosity. Receptivity.

A certain innocence that sets aside, at least for a while, what thoughts and memories tell us about what we are.

Honesty about what we find, how we are, and so on.

Some diligence in exploring all of this. An ability to keep exploring, and with this, some patience.

The kind of urgency that comes from noticing, and taking in, that all I have is what’s here now. I cannot find past or future outside of my ideas about past and future.

Humility because we know we don’t know. A willingness to test out what others share with us, and especially those more familiar with something than we are.

Some reverence for life and the whole process. And awe since all is new.

HOW TO FIND THIS CHILDLIKE ORIENTATION

There are two general ways to find this childlike orientation.

We can find it in ourselves here and now since it never went away. It may have been covered up by us trying to be good adults. And it’s still here.

The other is to examine what prevents us from finding or living from it.

What in me covers it up? In most cases, what covers it up is a kind of coping mechanism we used to deal with fear. We adopted beliefs and identifications in order to feel more safe. We abandoned parts of ourselves because they seemed scary or didn’t fit who we thought we needed to be to be safe and loved.

How can we find healing for this?

These parts of us are, in some ways, like scared and confused children. So the answer is to meet these parts of us as we would scared and hurting children.

We can meet them with respect, kindness, patience, and curiosity. We can get to know them. Listen to what they have to say. Help them examine their scary stories and find what’s already more true. Be a safe habor for them. Remember they have their own process and timing.

Find love for them and their process, and for ourselves being a parent to them.

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The word “spirituality” (and why spirituality is not really about spirituality)

To continue on the previous post:

There are many commonly used words in spirituality I prefer not to use, for a few different reasons.

One of these is the word spirituality itself.

The upside of using this word is that most people have a rough idea of what it refers to. It’s a convenient shorthand, and I sometimes use it for that reason.

If the upside is that it gives people a general idea of what it’s about, that’s also it’s downside. It’s imprecise and sometimes misleading.

It’s a word with many different definitions, and there are probably as many understandings of what it refers to as there are people. I may use the word and mean one thing, and you understand it differently and possibly very differently.

It comes with a lot of baggage, and people associate a lot of different things with it. In our contemporary western culture, they may take it to mean something fluffy without substance, divorced from reality, irrelevant for our daily life, without practical use, or for especially interested people.

The way I see spirituality is very different. For me, spirituality is not really about spirituality. It’s about exploring what I am in my own first-person experience. It’s about living from that noticing. It’s about befriending my experiences. Finding healing for my human self. Live a life with life at the center.

This type of spirituality is not really spirituality, and it’s not dependent on any spiritual or religious traditions. (Although we can find many valuable pointers there.)

So I sometimes use the word spirituality as a shorthand. And I prefer not to use it very much since people may understand it very differently from how I intend it, and what spirituality is about for me is not really about spirituality. It’s about life.

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A tantric approach to spirituality: Making use of situations and experiences for awakening and living from it

A tantric approach to spirituality is where you make use of any kind of situation and experience to invite in, clarify and live from the awakening. 

I rarely use that term since it seems obvious. If we are serious about this exploration and use the right approaches for this type of exploration, why not make use of any kind of experience?

I intentionally say “kind of situation and experience” since we may not make use of every single situation and experience, but we can make use of every kind of situation and experience. 

What’s the alternative? 

I guess it would be an approach where we only make use of what’s happening while we engage in meditation or another practice, and live our life without paying much attention to what we are or how we relate to what’s happening. 

How do we take a tantric approach? 

Mainly, through our orientation and the type of approaches and practices we use. 

We intend to make use of any kind of situation and experience, and we find approaches that allows us to do so. 

Most of the approaches I mention in these articles are tantric in nature since anything can fodder for them, and the orientation is to make use of anything. 

We can take any situation or experience to inquiry, whether it’s The Work, Living Inquiries, the Big Mind process, or something similar. 

We can find ourselves as capacity for our experience and the world as it appears to us, in any situation, especially as we get familiar with noticing through Headless experiments or the Big Mind process. 

Similarly, we can notice the true nature of whatever we experience – for instance emotions, thoughts, and physical discomfort. We can notice that their true nature is the same as our own. (And has to be since, to us, it’s all happening within and as what we are.) 

We can use any situation to see how it is to live from noticing what we are, especially as we get used to noticing this. 

We can bring any prayer with us through the day. Prayers tend to become automatic over time and run in the background even if we are focused on daily life activities. They live their own life after a while. The Jesus or Heart prayer is an example, as is ho’oponopono and metta. The words may come and go, but the orientation and energy – for lack of a better word – continues. 

We can use any situation to pay attention to what’s triggered in us – of hangups, beliefs, emotional issues, and trauma – and invite in healing for these, in whatever way works for us. For instance, dialog with subpersonalitites, inquiry, energy healing, or something else. 

In these ways and many more, we can make use of any kind of situation and experience to support awakening, healing, and living from noticing what we are. Most of the articles here are about this, even if I don’t use the tantric label.

Is religion & spirituality opium of the people?

Yes, it certainly can be, if it’s used that way.

When Karl Marx called religion opium of the people, he talked mostly about organized religion. It’s true that organized religion often has been used to pacify people and make them accept unjust social structures. This is a well-trodden territory so I will only mention a few things about it, and then explore how it may apply to our own life.

The distracting and numbing function of religion and spirituality

In Christianity, people are taught to accept second-hand views as true even if they can’t verify it for themselves and it may not make much sense. Traditionally, people have also been taught to not question authority, to accept hierarchies, and to wait for their reward in the next life. Many religions have a similar history, and this is one of the ways religion is used to control people and protect those who benefit from the system.

This is often “invisible” to those within the culture because it’s so familiar, and that’s why contrasting traditions and outside views are valuable – and sometimes perceived as a threat.

This happens in society and culture in general, not just connected to religion. Why do we accept royalty? Because of tradition. Why do we accept that some accumulate wealth that’s taken from the commons and goes far beyond what any person would ever need? Because we are taught it’s OK and even admirable. Why do we have a fascination with celebrities? Because celebrities and media benefit from it, not because there is anything particularly fascinating about these people.

The comforting function of religion and spirituality

There are some benefits to the comforting function of religion and spirituality. At a personal level, we sometimes want – or need – comfort more than shaking things up. That’s natural and even healthy, although it’s good to be aware of what we are doing.

At a social level, this comforting function of religion can be used to justify injustice and protect those in power, and this is the opium Marx referred to.

Traditions can also shake us

There is another side to this, and that is that religion and spirituality can intentionally shake and wake us up. They can help us find and reprioritize our values. (Although the prioritization may be colored by the values of the tradition.) Some segments of traditional religions invite us to actively work for social change to benefit those in the weakest position in society. (Liberation theology and more.) Some traditions – like Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism – actively invite us to discover what we are behind our assumptions.

Religions and spirituality can also unintentionally shake and wake us up, and especially if we use them that way. They can inadvertently bring us to question the underlying assumptions behind the tradition, and by extension the assumption of other subcultures we are part of and the general culture. That’s what happened to me and some of my friends when we were required to take Christianity classes in elementary school.

In our own life

The world is our mirror, and these dynamics also play themselves out in our own life.

In a practical sense, that’s as or more important since it’s right here and something we can do something about.

Do I identify and question underlying assumptions in religion and spirituality? Do I use pointers from religion and spirituality to explore deeper?

Do I use religion or spirituality as opium? As something comforting? Do I use something from it to tell myself I’ll get my reward later? Or that a comforting idea is true even if I cannot verify it? Or that I don’t have to be a good steward of my life here and now?

In a broader sense, what do I make into my religion? What beliefs and identities do I feel I need to defend? How do I use these to feel safe or comfort myself?

Any thought I hold as true – whether it’s conscious or a part of my system holds it as true – becomes my religion. I identify with it, defend it, and hold onto it for safety.

A note about Marx

This is perhaps obvious but worth mentioning.

Marx had many very valuable insights. And he got an undeservedly bad reputation in the West – and especially the US – during the cold war since he was associated with the horrors of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union may have been communist in name, but not so much in reality. The atrocities of the Soviet Union had more to do with authoritarianism and dictatorship than communism.

A motivation for spiritual practice: avoiding discomfort

For many, one of the surface motivations behind spiritual practice and wanting to awaken is avoidance. We want to avoid our discomfort.

Depending on our approach, we seek to transcend this discomfort, hope it will go away through an imagined future awakening, pretend through nondual ideology it’s not there or doesn’t impact us, try to make it go away through healing, try to make it easier for us through befriending it, and so on.

This is natural and understandable and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. But it is good to be honest about what’s going on. This honesty can help guide our approach.

How can we explore this?

One approach is, perhaps ironically, the most basic of all forms of meditation. Notice what’s here. Allow it. Notice it’s already allowed, whatever it is. (Basic meditation, Natural Rest.)

Feel the sensations as they are. Notice and allow.

We examine the scary thoughts associated with these sensations (The Work of Byron Katie), and how sensations and thoughts come together to create a sense of reality to these scary thoughts (Living Inquiries).

Another variation is to befriend these aspects of us as if they were beings. The discomfort. The subpersonalities. Get to know them. Listen to what they want us to know. Find some understanding for them. Respect. Perhaps even love for them, as they are.

And we can also use heart-centered practices towards the discomfort in ourselves and what triggers it in the world. (Ho’oponopno, tonglen, metta etc.)

What happens when we explore our discomfort?

We may find more comfort with it, as it is. It may take away some of the drive behind our compulsions, including for spiritual awakening. And that, in turn, is very good news. We get to see if there is still a draw towards spiritual practice and/or awakening, and we can then engage in it in a more grounded way.

Isn’t this just another way to try to avoid our discomfort?

Yes, in a sense it is. It’s a way to find comfort with the discomfort.

The difference is that we are facing it head-on instead of in a more roundabout way. And we seek to see and feel what’s already here, and befriend what’s already here, as it is.

Are there not other motivations for spiritual practice and seeking awakening?

Yes, definitely. The most basic motivation is for what we already are to seek itself, to seek to notice itself as it is.

This may take the form of yearning for truth, love, home, or something similar. This is truth wishing for itself, love wishing for itself, and home wishing for itself. It seeks to bring itself into consciousness.

We may also recognize that our life as it is doesn’t work – for ourselves, others, and the world. And seek to find a way that feels more right.

And we may have glimpses of what we are, or intuit it, and seek it. Or it may be relatively clear and we wish to clarify it and learn to live more fully from it.

How do compulsions come into the picture?

When we try to avoid our discomfort, we go into compulsions. We can say that the basic compulsion is to avoid our discomfort, and that takes the form of all the different compulsions we may have in our life: Seeking awakening, food, sex, distractions, entertainment, career, being seen a certain way by others, and so on.

Why isn’t this a more explicit part of the conversation around spirituality and awakening?

It is, more and more.

And it is part of many of the teachings of the past as well. This is not a new insight by any means.

In the past, it seems that this was often addressed indirectly through different practices. They may have trusted that people would discover it for themselves at some point. And teachers may have spoken with students more directly about this when they felt they were ready for it.

It may also be that spiritual teachers and traditions found it useful for people to operate from this compulsion for a while. It kept them in the practice, even if their practice inevitably was colored by it and for that reason slightly misguided.

In what way is our practice colored and misguided by this compulsion?

When we are caught in a compulsion (which is always to avoid discomfort), it colors our perception, choices, and life. And it also colors our spiritual practice.

We tend to get caught up in an idea of a future goal (desirable) versus what’s here (undesirable), and miss that all of it is already happening here and now.

We tend to go into effort and pushing when all that’s needed is noticing what’s already here.

We may get disillusioned since our efforts may not give us what we want, or if it apparently does then it goes away again. Our efforts cannot give us what we want since what we want is already here, and finding it depends on noticing and not effort.

Spirituality labels

Life is always more than and different from our ideas about it. That means that any spiritual tradition or practice can help us explore some facets of reality, but we may need to go beyond it – through other approaches or in other ways – to explore more of the fullness of who and what we are.

That also goes for any identities we have for ourselves. We are more than and different from any of these identities.

That’s why I have generally avoided using spirituality labels for myself, along with many other forms of labels.

Some of them can be useful in a specific situation as a short-hand to convey something. But beyond that, they are perhaps not so useful.

I am not a Buddhist since I am interested in many other traditions and don’t practice within buddhism. During the time I did, I said: I do Buddhist practice but am not a Buddhist since I knew that what it’s about goes far beyond any one — or all – traditions.

I am not really a Christian mystic, although I have a (sometimes) strong connection to Christ and resonate a lot with several Christian mystics. I don’t belong to Christianity as they did.

I am not religious since I don’t belong to any one religion, although I am interested in the history of religons and the gems of insights and pointers in all of them. And I also know that the main purpose or religons is to maintain themselves and often power and social hierarchy, and life and reality can’t be captured by any one religion or all of them combined.

I can’t call myself a light-worker since I am equally interested in different forms of metaphorical darkness – the divine feminine, my own shadow, not-knowing, and so on. (Also, it sounds silly.)

Although I always seek to discover more and continue healing, maturing, and embodying, I am not really a seeker. Mainly, I am exploring what’s here and I can equally well call myself a finder, although I don’t really resonate with either label. (Both sound too clear-cut and the reality is something in between and different from either and both.)

Am I an explorer? I have loved stories of exploration since I was a little kid, and it is a label that resonates with me. It points to an orientation and a process and is a little more open-ended than many of the other labels in spirituality. And yet, this one too is too narrow and a little misleading. For one, it’s a word and thought and what it points to is different.

Although I am interested in some New Age stuff, it’s not really my main focus. If astrology or past lives catches my interest, it’s mostly to explore it as a mirror for myself here and now.

I am into spirituality, but for me, it’s more about exploring who and what I am and reality – to the best of my ability. Spirituality hints at a certain orientation and interest, but it’s really just an exploration of what’s here and reality. It’s simpler than the label spirituality hints at, and it also goes far beyond the label.

I am an instant student of different teachers when I hear or read their words and follow their pointers. But I know that I am my own final authority, I am the one who have to explore it for myself, and what I see in them is what I have in myself. So, yes, I am always a student of some teachers, and it’s also is both simpler and not that simple.

We are all teachers for each other. When someone reads these words, they may get something out of it one way or another (it may resonate with their own experience, it may encourage their own exploration, or it may not fit their experience), and in that sense I am a temporary teacher. In another sense, I am not since I don’t particularly seek or feel I am qualified for that role – beyond being a temporary teacher as we all are teachers for each other.

When I facilitate others or do distance healing (prayer) for them, am I a healer? Perhaps yes, right there and then and in that role. But not really since I just facilitate healing. I am not doing the healing. Their own system does the healing. Life does the healing. At most, I facilitate the healing. I help set the stage for the healing. (And that too is Life’s doing, Life sets the stage for it’s own local healing.) In general, I am a lot more – and less – than that label suggests.

Awakening can point to some things in my process, but it also doesn’t quite fit. It comes with a lot of typical associations that are misconceptions. There is plenty in me – at a human level – that still lives in separation consciousness. Awakening is ongoing and can always clarify further and be more fully embodied.

I also don’t avoid spirituality labels in all situations. Sometimes, they are useful. They can create a connection. They can give a rough pointer about something. They can ease or start communication. They can be useful there and then, and that’s about it.

Do I intentionally avoid being pinned down by others? Most of the time, I am OK if people want to put a label on me. Although I sometimes mention how it also doesn’t fit if that seems useuful.

Differentiating the content and approach of science

It’s important to differentiate between the approach and content of science.

The approach of science is mostly common sense guidelines for exploring and investigating reality and life. And it’s very applicable for exploring who and what we are, and the nature of reality as it appears to us. In other words, it’s very applicable to our exploration of – what some may call – spirituality.

The content or product of science is different. This is what we think we know and it changes over time and somewhat across cultures. What we think we know today may be outdated tomorrow. Even our worldview and our most basic assumptions about reality changes.

Spirituality as a restriction

The elements of formalized spirituality – the teachings, practices, traditions, guidelines and so on – are meant as stepping stones. They help us shift from taking ourselves as fundamentally and finally a separate being, to recognizing ourselves as oneness, to oneness recognizing itself as all there is. And it helps us realign our human self within oneness recognizing itself. (All of which is an ongoing process of noticing, clarifying, deepening, and so on.)

And yet, as with any stepping stones, we need to move on. At some point, they become restrictions. Life and Spirit is boundless. It’s more than and different from any ideas we have about it. What we are is more and different from any ideas we have about it and any pointers anyone can give us.

At this point, there may be a mix of still using some tools and guidelines as needed and a more free exploration guided mostly by our inner guidance, the quiet inner voice or knowing.

Science of the mind

Most of what I write about in this collection of articles is the science of mind. It’s pragmatic, grounded in experience, and testable by others. I usually use the “spirituality” tag, but “science of mind” may be more accurate. (Of course, some things do fall in under the wider label of spirituality, or just “life”.)

What are some examples of science of mind topics?

In general, it’s anything that’s testable by oneself and others. And mainly, on this blog, it’s the effect of different practices and approaches.

How does the mind create its own experience of the world? What do I find when I explore the different sense fields and how they combine to create this experience of the world? (The sense fields are usually sight, sensation, smell, taste, sound, and thoughts.)

How does the mind create a charged experience for itself? How does it create the experience of thoughts telling it something that’s true? What happens when a certain thought, or set of thoughts, combine (are associated with) certain sensations? (Does the sensations take on meaning? And the thoughts a sense of saying something true?) What happens when we explore and notice this, and rest and allow with the different components?

What happens when I do ho’oponopno towards/for someone I have a strained relationship with? Or parts of myself? Or the world as a whole? Or if I do tonglen?

What happens when I use the heart/Jesus prayer over time? Or the Christ Meditation?

What happens when I train attention to be more stable? What happens in how I feel in general? What happens with how I do everyday activities? Which areas of life do I notice a difference in?

What is awakening? What are some different ways we can understand awakening? How does it unfold for different people? What are some of the challenges and struggles people experience? How do we navigate these?

All of these are examples of what falls in under science of mind. In mainstream culture, it may be seen as spirituality and that’s not wrong. But it’s equally helpful to see it as a science. It’s something we can try out for ourselves and see what happens. It’s something we can research through formal science. It’s something others can test out for themselves. (Although the results will vary, of course, since we are different and do these things slightly differently, and that’s part of the exploration.)

Dialog with one who has lived eons and has a mystic streak

In my case, I find a more down-to-earth and pragmatic language helpful. There are already a lot of amazing mystic poets out there. And people are hungry for not only that but also the more pragmatic.

– quote from this dialog

This is part of a series of imagined dialogs with people who have lived eons. This time, it’s a dialog with someone with a strong mystic streak.

After writing this, I felt that the many eons perspective didn’t show up very much. I suspect it’s because mystics tend to perceive and live as if they have lived for eons anyway.

THE DIALOG

How do you see spirituality?

That’s a very broad question. I’ll have to split it up.

What I consider authentic spirituality is about life and reality. It’s about exploring and finding who and what we are, and live more consciously from and as it. It’s by necessity nondual since reality is one. It’s about finding ourselves as that which all already is.

In a more concrete sense, it’s about finding ourselves as that which all our experience happens within and as.

People have a lot of different ideas about spirituality. Some are closer to reality, in a conventional sense, and some are more imaginative. They can serve as pointer for our own exploration, and they can also serve as mirages we get fixated on.

It goes almost without saying that conventional religions and spiritual traditions often deal with a mix of mirages interspersed with some glimmers of real realization. Those who get it a bit more, who get it from own experience, are found both outside and inside of traditions.

If they are inside of traditions, they often tone it down so it fits the tradition more. A real awakening goes outside of convention and tradition, but it can be expressed so it fits it more. Or it can be expressed more freely and then it only partially overlaps with tradition.

In the bigger picture, it’s all lila, the play of the divine.

We can say is all the divine exploring itself, and sometimes locally and temporarily takes itself as a separate being. This is what we see in most Earth beings, including most humans. It’s part of the game.

You sound a lot like P.? (This interviewer)

Well, yes. You are dialoging with a part of him. And this is pretty basic and universal stuff. Of course, it takes on the flavor of the person who speaks the words. It’s a little limited, but that too is part of the game.

Also, he is quiet and a bit somber right now so he doesn’t feel like going to the effort of going outside familiar ways of taking about this.

What’s something many people don’t get about spirituality?

That’s also a broad question. Some don’t get that is OK to not be awake. It’s perfectly fine. It’s natural. It’s the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself that way, locally and temporarily.

Others don’t get that they can have a taste or glimpse of what this is about in relatively easy ways, for instance through the big mind process and headless experiments.

Some don’t get that what this is about is something very ordinary. It’s this ordinary experience, just with the “context” waking up to itself. What our ordinary experience happens within and as notices itself. All of the components are completely ordinary and familiar to us, is just the noticing that shifts, along with what we take ourselves to – more fundamentally — be.

Can you say something about healing vs awakening?

For most people who seek awakening, there is an element of wanting to escape pain and suffering. And that’s easier addressed by seeking healing. A wise approach is to use tools that invite in healing and awakening. Like inquiry and heart-centered practices.

And embodiment vs awakening?

Give at least as much attention to embodiment as awakening. Most people can embody a lot more of the kindness and wisdom in them than they do.

Continued a while later….

What about nature spirituality or nature mysticism?

Yes, I love nature spirituality and mysticism. Spirit is as much nature – and everything physical – as anything else. The divine takes the form of you and I and everyone and nature and the rocks and stars. Nothing is left out.

How would you live if all is the divine?

It changes everything. And the beauty of it is that although nature mysticism can be seen as a step towards a more clear awakening, it can also very easily exist within this more clear awakening and enrich our lives and the lives of others.

You use a very down-to-earth language? I thought mystics used a more effervescent and poetic language?

Yes, that’s the image! But it doesn’t have to be that way. It depends on the personality of the person it comes through, the phase we are in, and also what the function of the words are and the audience.

In my case, I find a more down-to-earth and pragmatic language helpful. There are already a lot of amazing mystic poets out there. And people are hungry for not only that but also the more pragmatic.

What do you think about other mystics?

Well, it’s a very varied group. I love how some of them express it. Especially the ones who are more clear, heartfelt, embodied, and pragmatic. (I know that’s a tall order.)

I also appreciate the rest even if there are more obvious – to me! – filters. They too are in the awakening and embodiment process. They filter based on their own conditioning as we all do. They see themselves and not so much the world as it is – as we all do. They connect with some people and not others – as we all do.

How has all of this changed for you over the eons?

It took some eons to get here. It’s an ongoing clarification and deepening. Mainly, I have a more sober approach now. In the beginning, everything was very exciting. And now, it’s still alive and fresh but in a more sober way. It’s more and more a part of me. It’s more and more what I live and live from. More and more, I see it’s about being a sane human being. It’s simple and at the same time infinitely complex.

Thanks you

Thank you!


Note: I had initially decided to not post this since there isn’t much new here and the “many eons” dimension didn’t show up very much. I suspect the problem is partly with the interviewer! And maybe more importantly, mystics live as if they have lived for eons anyway. I re-found this article some months later and decided to publish it now even if it’s not as interesting or surprising as I had hoped.

Sincerity on the spiritual path

Professor Broom: In medieval stories, there is often a young knight who is inexperienced, but pure of heart.
John Myers: Oh, come on. I am not pure of heart.
Abe Sapien(who’s psychic) Yes, you are.
Professor Broom: Rasputin is back for him. What I’m asking of you is to have the courage to stand by him when I am gone. He was born a demon; we can’t change that. But you will help him, in essence, to become a man.

– from Hellboy (2004), quoted in Wikipedia

One of the most valuable qualities on a healing and spiritual path is sincerity, a pure heart. As Broom says, this is a recurrent theme in some of the traditional legends and perhaps most famously the grail legend (Perceval).

Sincerity allows us to be more honest with ourselves, and that’s essential for emotional healing, awakening, and embodiment.

Is also essential for having a meaningful and juicy relationship with ourselves and others, one that allows for authenticity, growth, and surprises.

If we have some sincerity, it doesn’t matter so much if we are young or inexperienced on the path we are on. Sincerity is gold, and we can always learn tools and we will gain experience.

Is sincerity something we can learn or develop? Perhaps not. But I can notice when I am not sincere and I can then shift into sincerity.

Sometimes, it’s not so easy. We may be caught in fear of a situation or something coming up in us and retreat into defensiveness to try to stay safe. That’s OK. Again, it helps to notice. I can be honest with myself about what happened. And that, in itself, is sincerity.

It also helps to notice what in me takes me away from sincerity. What is the fear about? What is the fearful story? What beliefs do I find? Identifications? And then explore it further, befriend it (find healing for my relationship to it), and perhaps find healing for the issue itself.

As I wrote the second paragraph (“Sincerity allows us….”), I noticed a synchronicity in the lyrics of the song I was listening to:

There are times when a man needs to brave his reflection,
And face what he sees without fear,
It takes a man to accept his mortality,
Or be surprised by the presence of a tear.

– Sting and Rob Mathes, I love her but she loves someone else

Image: The Achievement of the Grail by British Artist Sir Edward Burn-Jones design, William Morris execution and John Henry Dearle flowers and decorations, from the Holy Grail tapestries 1891-94, Museum and Art Gallery of Birmingham, wool and silk on cotton warp.

Adyashanti: Spirituality is simply a way of indicating that we’re plunging beyond the personal

Spirituality is simply a way of indicating that we’re plunging beyond the personal consciousness. The depth of our being is just astonishing.

– Adyashanti, Silent Retreat Vol. 70

There are many definitions of spirituality, and the most basic one is perhaps Adya’s definition above. Spirituality suggests that we are going, or intend to go, beyond the personal human being and into something wider. Whether that is our human community, our Earth community (nature and Earth as a whole), the Universe as a whole, or Existence as a whole. And whether it is to connect with this larger whole, take it into account, live as if it matters, expand our sense of “us” to include all there is, or – ultimately – find ourselves as that, and this human being as an expression of it.

Is spirituality timeless?

The answer is yes, and no, and it depends, and we don’t really know.

Yes, the simple essence is perhaps more or less timeless and universal. It’s all the divine. And the divine, locally as us, can discover that – and live now from it – through sincerity and basic practices and pointers.

No, a lot in spirituality (and especially religion) is not timeless. Religions come and go. Spiritual taurine come and go. Specific practices come and go. The specific context all of it is understood within comes and goes.

It depends on what we are taking about. As said before, some of the basics – in terms of understanding, practices, and pointer – seem more universal and timeless. And a lot is more specific to a time, culture, and tradition.

And more honestly, we don’t know any of this for certain. Even what seems more timeless and universal can and will change. It changes with the time we are in, our culture, and our general worldviews and understanding of really.

Is it likely that spirituality, and even more so religions, will be quite different in a distant future? Yes. Is it likely that if there is life other places in the universe, and interested in these things, they will have a different take on this? Yes. And is it still likely that the essence may be somewhat similar? I would say yes to that too.

What do I see as relatively timeless and universal?

The main is that all is the divine. Existence – including us and all our experience – is the divine exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself.

Spirituality, at least the typical human version, is about helping the divine – locally as us – rediscover this and live more from this in daily life. This too is part of Lila, the play of the divine.

And what about spiritual practices? These are a little more tied to a time, place, and tradition, but there are perhaps some universals here too.

These include:

Guidelines for our life. (For social and community reasons, but also to minimize distractions and help us mimicking view we naturally live when we are more clear and healed).

Devotional practices like song and chants, mantras, prayer, and some forms of meditation. (This includes all forms of mediation and other practices when done with devotion.)

Contemplation, inquiry and pointers.

Basic forms of mediation. For instance, notice and allow whatever is happening within content of experience. (And, with time, what it all happens within and as.)

Training a more stable attention, which helps us in spiritual practice and all areas of life.

Gratitude and forgiveness practices, and working with projections, like some forms of prayer (“thank you”), all-inclusive gratitude practice, Tonglen, and ho’oponopono.

Body-inclusive practices like dance, yoga, tai chi and chigong.

Subtle-energy practices through any form of inner yoga, and as found in traditional Indian yoga, tai chi, and chigong. (I would include Vortex Healing as an example.)

And (emotional) healing practices to remove blocks to noticing what we are and living from it.

Of course, I say these are more universal and timeless, but I am very aware that different traditions emphasize these differently, have different ways of doing each of them, and that this list reflects my own preferences, interests, and what I have found useful and helpful.

The scientific method is universally useful – and science content always changes

I have written a few Life 101 posts, and this one is about the scientific method and science content.

The scientific method

The scientific method is, in many ways, common-sense set in system. It is a formalized version of a grounded, pragmatic, and common sense approach to life and exploring and learning more about anything in life. It’s just about universally useful, any time we wish to explore and learn about something.

And that includes when we want to discover who and what we are, our true nature, and how to live from noticing our true nature. We can follow pointers and practices, notice what happens, notice what we find, invite our human self to be transformed from the practices and the noticing, and so on. We may share it with others. They see that they find and report that. And there is a dialog. We learn from each other and inevitably are our own final authority.

Science content

The content of science is different. This is the product of the scientific method. It’s what we discover, and how we think and talk about what we discover.

In conventional science, this is less universal. How we understand things in the world varies across time and cultures. Often, we refine smaller things within the bigger worldview. And sometimes, even our bigger worldview changes.

If we explore what we are and our true nature, what we find seems a bit more universal and it tends to be described similarly across times and cultures. And here too, people perceive and express it through the lens of their own time, culture, and personal background and inclinations, and we may focus on and emphasize different facets.

Read More

The science and art of spirituality

There is a science and art to almost anything, and so also spirituality.

We can say that the science is what we can write in a book, and the art is how we go about doing or living it. Or, in this case, how we live life itself. How life lives itself through and as us as a human being in the world.

What’s the science of spirituality? We can say it’s the maps of the terrain, where the terrain is all of existence, who and what we are, and the process of awakening and living from the awakening. It’s also the study of the effects of different practices, and perhaps what practices works best for whom when. These are all things we can write down, read, and learn about.

At another level, the science of spirituality is our own process of trying out different practices and pointers and see what happens. We can benefit from the guidance of others in this, although it’s something we ultimately have to do on our own.

And what’s the art of spirituality? It’s in how we apply and explore what comes out of the science of spirituality. It’s in how we use and explore pointers. It’s in how we follow our inner guidance. It’s in how we take the ingredients of our life and make a meal out of it. It’s in how we relate to the wounded parts of ourselves. It’s in how we live from whatever kindness and clarity is available to us. It’s in how we live our life. This is something we have to discover for ourselves although it helps to have a community of others with a shared intention.

Read More

Spirituality in Norway

I have lived several years on the US west coast (Oregon and California) and am very comfortable with the more mature spiritual communities I find there. They draw on decades of experience with exploring spiritual traditions and practices, and combining them with western approaches to therapy, bodywork, and healing. 

In Norway, where I grew up and find myself right now, I haven’t found any communities where I feel at home in that way. And, if I am honest, not many – or perhaps any – individuals I resonate with in that way. Of course, there are many spiritual communities and even more individuals I don’t know about and haven’t yet met. 

What I have found is less experience, less variety of experience, and overall less maturity. It feels a little provincial. And for good reasons, since the contemporary spiritual community in Norway is provincial. It’s not as rich or old as in some other places. 

Of course, this sounds a little arrogant. But it’s also real. The US west coast is unique in this way due to its unique history (partly because of the large Asian population and the counter-culture of the 60s and 70s). 

What I have found more of in Norway are people being more dogmatic about the one approach they have found and are familiar with, or people with a lose grasp on reality who seem to want to believe anything that’s weird (and the more weird the better). Again, this is perhaps to be expected since contemporary spirituality is relatively new here, and it’s perhaps also a not entirely fair description. 

Whenever I write these type of posts, I am very aware that they reflect my own hangups and wounds. I am holding up a mirror to myself. I find myself in how I see the US west coast and in Norway. I have the more mature, inclusive, and innovative forms of spirituality in me, and also the less mature versions. And those projections come from beliefs, identities, and wounds that I can explore through inquiry and find some resolution for through a variety of approaches. 

Awakening: small vs big interpretation

This is something I have found interesting since the initial opening or awakening, and I have written about it a few times before. 

The experience of awakening is, in itself, quite simple. And yet, there are different ways to interpret it.

What do we mean by awakening?  I have found a simple way of talking about it that seems relatively accurate. What we are, which is what any experience happens within and as, wakes up to itself. We can label this consciousness, or love, or Big Mind, or the divine, or many other things, but each of these labels makes it seem that we have pinned it down more than words really are able to. What we are wakes up out of identifications with anything created by words, with any identity.

Thoughts – mental images and words – describe what happens within content of experience. And identities are created by thoughts so also happen within content of experience. They cannot easily point to anything outside of the world of experience. They cannot very easily point to what we are, what awakens to itself. 

Small interpretation. There is a small interpretation of this, and we can also call this the psychological interpretations. I assume this is the interpretation that some within psychology or academia use or will use in the future. We can assume a world much like most people perceive it. There are separate beings. We have a physical world. And the awakening happens because we are, in our own immediate experience and whether we notice it or not, consciousness.

Since we are consciousness, or that’s where the identification “lands” in an awakening, everything appears as consciousness. All of content of experience – all our sense fields including thoughts – happens within and as consciousness. So, to us, the whole world appears as consciousness. It’s a projection. 

Awakening is real, and happens much as it’s described by mystics of all and no traditions. And yet, the world as the mainstream society and academia assumes it is, is just like that. Separate physical beings exist within a physical world, and that’s it. This interpretation makes awakening more palatable to the mainstream society and academia. And the essence of awakening is still as described by mystics from all times and around the world. 

Of course, any thought of the world existing as the mainstream sees it happens within and as what we are. So we just pretend that’s how it is. It’s a strategic choice. A guess. An assumption that makes sense because it makes awakening more understandable to more people. 

Big interpretation. There is also a big interpretation of awakening, and this is the one often found in spiritual traditions. Again, the essence of the awakening is the same as described above. But here, we assume it’s all about the divine. All of existence is the divine, and it wakes up to itself locally and sees through the thoughts of being separate, being a separate being, the world inherently being physical and so on.

In an awakening, the world appears as consciousness and love taking all the forms we see in the world, and that’s exactly how it is. It is all consciousness and love, and we can call it Spirit, Brahman, the divine, or whatever else the different spiritual traditions call it. 

Which one to choose? Which interpretation do we choose? It depends on our situation, background, and inclination. If we want to approach the mainstream world, or work in academia, the small interpretation may make more sense. If we are more free agents or come from a spiritual tradition, the big interpretation may make more sense. 

And there are also some hints that can help us choose. With an awakening, there is often a whole range of side-effects. We may see auras and energies. We may pick up information at a distance. We may experience a great deal of hard-to-dismiss synchronicities. We may sense what will or may happen in the future. All of this, in my view, points to and fits better with the big interpretation of awakening or reality. All happens within and as the divine. Within and as the One. Within and as the nothingness allowing it all. 

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Non-religious, or pan-religious?

It’s popular these days to say I am spiritual but not religious.

That partly fits me too. I don’t belong to any particular religion but I am interested in spirituality. (Of course, the word spirituality is something that means different things to different people.) 

Something else fits me as well, and that’s pan-religious. I am interested in insights, pointers, and practices of any religion. I have explored quite a few religions and their pointers and practices over time and found something beneficial in each one. 

Just to keep it fluid, I can keep going (!). 

I very much resonate with atheism. I was a self-professed atheist in elementary school since it seemed that the Christians I saw (a) believed something just because they wanted to or were told it was so, and often (b) did it for social reasons or for comfort. And although I understand the appeal, neither made much sense to me. 

I resonate with the recognition we can find in the more mature versions of any religion or spiritual tradition: Our images of God or the divine are our images. They are not what they (mean to) point to. 

And I see the value in staying within one religion or spiritual tradition over time and perhaps for life. There is a beauty in the deepening that can offer. It just happened to not be my path in this life. 

Psychological and spiritual interpretations of awakening

This is something I have been curious about since the initial spiritual awakening: an awakening can be interpreted in a psychological or a spiritual way, and most of the data fit either explanation. Which one we chose depends on our inclination, which one seems most helpful to ourselves, and perhaps which one seems more helpful for the reciver if we point to it for someone else’s benefit.

In short, an awakening is typically experienced as a realization that all is awakeness or consciousness. Any apparently separate beings are expressions of this awakeness. They are local and temporary expressions of awakeness or consciousness, as is everything else including what appears as the physical world.

This can be interpreted in a psychological way. This awakeness or consciousness is connected to this human being, and since we are this awakeness we can awaken to ourselves as this awakeness. We – as observer, experiencer, doer, human self – and the world as it appears to us happens within and as this awakeness. This is an explanation that actually would fit within conventional psychology, although not that many talks about it this way. (Yet… I imagine more will in the future.)

This allows us to operate with our immediate experience on the one hand, where everything happens within and as awakeness, and the conventional world on the other hand, that exists and functions as before. Of course, in our immediate experience all of this, including this framework or map, happens within and as awakeness, as everything else does.

It can also be interpreted in a conventional spiritual way. The whole world is the divine, and it temporarily and locally takes itself to be a separate being, and then awakens to itself as awakeness and everything happening within and as this awakeness.

Both the psychological and spiritual interpretations fit most of the data. In the first case, we – naturally – project the awakeness onto the whole world. In the second, everything – the whole world – is this awakeness and awakens to itself as all of it.

So which one do we chose? It depends on our culture, background, and inclination. And it also depends on what is most helpful to ourselves and others. If we talk about this in a conventional psychology setting, we may choose the psychological approach. If we talk about it in a spiritual context, the spiritual interpretation makes more sense.

In either case, it’s good to be aware of these two ways of interpreting awakening, hold both lightly, and see that we can choose to use one or the other depending on what seems most helpful in the setting we are in.

I said that most data fits either interpretation, which means some data fits one better than the other. To me, what’s revealed through parapsychological research – ESP, near-death experiences, reincarnation cases and so on – fits the spiritual interpretation better. As does my own personal experiences of ESP, seeing energies and auras, distance healing, and more.

I also said, “This awakeness or consciousness is connected to this human being”. I use the word “connected” intentionally since it leaves room for both a materialistic interpretation (the mind arises from the brain) and the reverse (the mind and consciousness as primary and using the brain as radio waves uses a radio).

Why is most mainstream psychology is not yet on board with the psychological interpretation? Partly because they are not so interested in awakening, and may assume it’s just a fanciful idea and not something pragmatic and close at hand. Partly because they may not realize or have taken in that we, in our own experience, are awakeness or consciousness, and that all content of experience happens within and as this awakeness. It can’t be any other way. When this awakeness wakes up to itself, and to all its experiences as happening within and as itself, that’s what we call awakening. It’s close at hand and not very mystical or fanciful.

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Deep ecology, ecopsychology, ecospirituality, healing, sustainability, spirituality, nonduality

These are the types of articles that quickly mushroom into something that could be a book instead of a brief article. So I’ll try to keep it brief and succinct. The downside is, of course, that a lot of the richness and juiciness is left out. The upside is that it invites the reader to explore the richness and left-out connections for themselves. Rich explorations sometimes come out of very simple pointers.

What are some of the connections between deep ecology, ecopsychology, ecospirituality, epic of evolution, systems views, healing, sustainability, and spirituality? These are all areas that have been passions for me since my teens, and they are closely related, although often not explored in connection with each other.

Deep ecology can help us change our conscious view and be more aware of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life. We are a part of nature and the Earth. All life has intrinsic value.

Deep ecology practices, such as Joanna Macy’s Practices to Reconnect, helps us have a visceral experience of deep time and the deep interconnectedness of all life. Over time, this visceral experience of deep time and deep interconnectedness can become a new norm for us. It can become something we naturally live from in daily life.

Ecopsychology can provide very helpful pointers for how to bring more people on board with sustainability, and organize society so that what’s easy and attractive to do is also something that benefits society as a whole, ecosystems, and future generations. Other branches of ecopsychology give helpful pointers for individual healing.

Systems theories help us also change our conscious view to recognize the deep interconnectedness of all life, of society and ecosystems. Earth is one seamless system, and we can learn basic principles of how Earth as a living system – along with most or all other living systems – work. A systems view also gives us pointers for where to target what types of social interventions to invite systemic changes.

Healing is essential for reducing reactivity, open for more flexible, pragmatic, and big picture views, and provide contentment and a sense of safety allowing us to act more consistently in the interests of the larger whole and future generations. As we heal, and if our basic needs are taken care of and we feel relatively safe, we tend to mature. And as we mature, we naturally tend to broaden our concern to include others, the wider social and ecological wholes, and even future generations. Our sense of “us” tends to broaden and be more inclusive. At the very least, as we heal and mature, we don’t feel as threatened if someone else acts from this more inclusive sense of “us”.

Society and culture is another aspect of this and a big topic. Some cultures already offer a deeper sense of connection with all life, while our modern western one tends to teach us we are separate from nature and disconnected from past and future generations (however illogical that is). Similarly, I imagine that societies with good social safety nets tend to allow people the “luxury” of being concerned with sustainability. And, of course, ecological crisis – whether regional or global – will tend to do the same out of necessity.

Ecospirituality can open for a deeper sense of all as expressions of the divine, and it can help us bring people from different religions on board with sustainability by using their existing religious language, values, and rituals. Depending on the religion, and the subgroups within the religion, we can say that all is the divine, or infused with the divine, or at least divine creation. And that we are not only part of but stewards of God’s creation and responsible for passing on an Earth to our descendants that will allow them to thrive. The specific language will depend on the religion and the subgroups, as will the rituals and practices aimed at deepening our experience of all as the divine, and how we bring it into our lives and society.

Epic of Evolution uses science to help people shift into views and more visceral experiences of deep time, the deep interconnectedness of all, reverence for all of existence, and even Big Mind. As Carl Sagan said, “And we who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos we’ve begun, at last, to wonder about our origins. Star stuff, contemplating the stars, organized collections of 10 billion-billion-billion atoms contemplating the evolution of matter, tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet Earth and perhaps, throughout the cosmos.”

Spirituality and nonduality provide tools supporting all of these shifts in perceptions, views, and visceral experiences. Heart-centered practices help us reorient from indifference or aversion to befriending and finding genuine love and appreciation for ourselves, others, society and ecosystems as a whole, life as a whole, and future generations. Inquiry helps us heal from wounds and hangups created by identifications, and it also helps us see through and shift out of the sense of separation created by identifications. The Big Mind process, which is a form of guided inquiry, can allow us to have a direct and immediate taste of all as the divine which can also help us reorient and feel a greater sense of responsibility for how our actions impact all life.

I should add the obvious, that natural and social sciences, and technology, are all vital components for us creating a more sustainability society locally, regionally, and globally. Effective global governance is another vital component. As is shifting out of neo-liberal views and policies aimed at benefiting corporations over people, nature, and future generations.

When I imagine a more sustainable society in the future, at least in regions of Earth, I imagine all of these as important components and commonly found in different parts of society. And I imagine serious research being done in each of these fields. Of course, most likely only a small(ish) part of society will be actively interested or engaged in these areas, although that’s often enough for it to be reflected in mainstream culture, and it may be enough to bring about the changes needed.

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Bonnie Greenwell: When Spirit Leaps

I have enjoyed reading When Spirit Leaps by Bonnie Greenwell, published this summer. I have known her for a while, from when we were fellow Oregonians.

I can recommend this book for anyone who would like a general overview of the awakening process. The book is written in a deceptively simple style, and there is a lot of wisdom and experience reflected in each sentence. She goes through the different phases of the process, and I especially appreciate that she addresses some of the challenges in the awakening process and ways to navigate them.

What teachers of meditation and spirituality need to know

A meditation practice can offer surprises, as can any spiritual exploration or path. And it’s good for whomever guides us to know about these.

What are some of these surprises?

Some are specific to a spiritual path, for instance…

Meditation or a spiritual opening leading to the lid being taken off unprocessed psychological material. This can be scary and overwhelming.

Energy system fried or destabilized. In or after a spiritual opening, high energies can run through the system and fry or destabilize it.

General psychological disorientation and destabilization.

Other wrinkles are well known from regular psychology.

Chasing states. Get a taste of a state and try to recreate it while missing the essence of a spiritual opening or glimpse.

Inflation. Seeing oneself as better than others due to spiritual openings, insights, or abilities.

Projections. Blindly projecting things out on others and overlooking them in oneself.

Giving away authority. Giving away ones own authority to a spiritual guide or organization.

When we chose spiritual guides or coaches, it’s wise to chose someone who has knowledge of these and knows how to prevent and recognize them, and can help people navigate through it or know who to refer to.

At the minimum, people who teach meditation or similar approaches (prayer, inquiry, yoga etc.) should be trained to minimize the risk of these, recognize the signs, and know who to refer to. And those who help navigate people through these should be familiar with the terrain from their own experience.

Since the second category is well known in mainstream psychology, quite a few guides have some skills and familiarity with how to work with those.

But in my own experience, not many teachers are educated or equipped to deal with the first category. For instance, when I needed guidance for grounding and stabilizing in the early awakening phase, what I found was teachers who were mostly or only trained to help people further open – which wasn’t what I needed at the time. Fortunately, I knew that I needed grounding and not further opening so I found my own way.

When I later went through the “lid taken off” phase, I was fortunately in a different situations and did find some who could offer guidance and support based on having gone through it themselves.

And I should mention that none of these wrinkles or hiccups are wrong in the big picture. They can be confusing, scary, uncomfortable, and destabilizing. But they are not inherently wrong. If they happen, they become part of the path, and – as anything else – are fuel for healing, maturing, awakening, and embodiment.

Note: There are, of course, no real “shoulds” here and no real “need” to know. I just decided to use a more conventional language. It would be more accurate to say that if people seek out teachers with this insight and experience, they can be guided through it more easily if some of these wrinkles happen for them. And teachers who familiarize themselves with it will similarly be better able to guide others, or at least recognize the signs and refer to someone else.

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Dark Night in Psychological vs Spiritual Context

The term dark night, or dark night of the soul, can be used in a psychological or spiritual context.

In a psychological context, it’s often used about anything psychologically shattering – trauma, loss, burnout or similar.

In a spiritual context, a dark night of the soul it’s what typically comes after an initial opening or awakening, and a period of “illumination” (as Evelyn Underhill calls it). It can take the form of a loss of conscious connection with the divine, a great deal of unprocessed psychological material surfacing, loss of health and other losses in life, and more. It’s a humbling and very human process, and the “darkness” comes largely from our reaction to it. Our minds don’t like it and perceive it as dark, even if it is the next natural step in our maturation and development.

They are quite similar. In both cases, we may have a great deal of unprocessed psychological material surfacing with an invitation to find kindness, understanding, and healing for it. We come up against our beliefs and identifications with certain identities and are invited to examine them and allow the hold on them to soften. In both cases, it’s an opportunity for great healing, maturing, humanizing, and reorientation.

In the bigger picture, both can be seen as a spiritual process. An invitation for healing, maturing, and even awakening out of our old beliefs and identifications.

There is also a difference, and that’s the conscious context of the one going through it. In a spiritual dark night of the soul, there is already a knowing of all as Spirit – even what’s happening in this part of the process. And that makes a great deal of difference. That helps us go through it, even if it’s just a background knowing.

What helps us move through a dark night, whether the context is psychological or spiritual?

Here are some possibilities: Taking care of ourselves. Understanding people around us. Therapy – body-oriented, mind-oriented, or both. Nature. Food that’s nourishing. Time. A willingness to face what’s coming up and move through it. Inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries etc.). Heart-centered practices (Tonglen, Ho’oponopono, loving kindness etc.) Body-inclusive practices (yoga, tai chi, chigong, Breema etc.)

For me, support of someone who understands the process, finding helpful tools and approaches, and the willingness to face what’s here and move through it, have been especially helpful.

What tools and approaches have worked for me? The ones mentioned above, and more recently Vortex Healing.

Note: In a spiritual context, there are several dark nights of the soul. I simplified it here and just mentioned the dark night of the soul. The essence of having to face beliefs and identifications is the same for all of them, at least the ones I am aware of so far.

Note: In any dark night, and any life experience, our distress is created by how we relate to and perceive what’s happening. That’s why inquiry can be very helpful. There is an invitation there to find more clarity and consciously align more closely with reality.

The photo is one I took at the edge of Princetown on Dartmoor some years back.

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Spirituality = ?

What is spirituality?

It’s a term used to mean many different things, as Ken Wilber has pointed out.

So what does it mean to me? How do I use it here?

To me, spirit = reality, and spirituality = exploring and aligning more consciously with reality.

In a Christian culture, this may seem a bit odd. Christianity came to create a dualistic worldview that sees spirit as mostly separate from this world. And that, in turn, meant that spirituality came to mean something impractical, mysterious, indefineable, and irrelevant to the daily lives of most of us. It became something we encountered briefly and occasionally in church and perhaps at Christmas, Easter, baptisms, weddings, and funerals.

For me, since spirit = reality, it means that spirituality is practical, relevant to daily life, and doesn’t have to be that mysterious. It’s something that can be understood and described in practical terms.

And what is reality? It’s our everyday reality, in addition to the aspects of reality we are not yet familiar with and haven’t explored or described yet (either individually or collectively). Our experience of life or reality is, obviously, very limited. And our interpretations and maps are tentative, only useful as pointers, and have no absolute or final truth in them.

There are many ways to explore reality. Everyday life and science are perhaps the most common ones in our culture. Spirituality is yet another way of exploring life and reality. And the tools of this particular approach happens to include prayer, meditation, body-mind practices, inquiry, energy work, transmissions, and more.

So science and spirituality are two ways to explore life and reality. They compliment each other. And they even use many of the same guidelines and methods. Scientific methods and guidelines very much apply to spiritual explorations.

And how do we use spirituality to consciously align more closely with reality? We do so through an honest exploration of what’s real. For instance, through inquiry I may see that thoughts or images I hold as real and true are not. They are created by my mind. Other thoughts and images about the same are equally or more valid. And none of them hold any final or absolute truth.

This is an ongoing process, and if I am honest with myself and have some basic skills, it will help my view and life gradually align more closely with life and reality.

How does that look? It looks very ordinary. It looks like normal clarity and sanity. It looks like living life as a more mature and sane human being, in a very ordinary sense.

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Images of God

Most of what I write about here is very basic. I often feel it’s just Life 101.

And yet, I keep seeing people speaking and acting as if it’s not, so I am drawn to writing a bit.

When people reject God as depicted in religion, as I did in elementary school, we are often just rejecting certain images of God. They don’t make sense to us, so we – often understandably – reject them.

For instance, if we have an image of God as a man with a gray beard sitting on a cloud, it will be seen as quite childish and ripe for rejection. In modern society, even images of God as a separate entity that helps and/or judges us is often seen as relatively immature and something best rejected.

I have to admit, most of the images of God presented by theistic mainstream religions seem a bit childish. So no wonder many reject these images, and in the process reject religion, God in general, and perhaps even spirituality. (Although in Norway, it seems that most reject religion but are open to spirituality and some ideas of God.)

It seems that the better our lives are in a society, the more likely we are to reject old-fashioned theistic images of God. And in places where there is more inequality and larger portions of us live in poverty and under difficult situations, we are more likely to adopt these images. (And that’s fine. It helps us, and it’s very understandable.)

I have two favorite images of God, both of which seem to work a bit better in modern society, and both of which are non-theistic.

God = reality. God = what is, whatever that may be. This includes our physical universe as described by science and perhaps more. We know only parts of reality so we cannot assume we know God as a whole.

God = Big Mind. The consciousness that everything (universe+) happens within and as, and which makes up this consciousness here that my local experience happens within and as.

A benefit of these two is that we can equally well say it, she, or he about God. I tend to it or she since he has been used so much in our culture. Or I may choose one depending on which aspect of reality we talk about.

Another benefit is that we are free to find the validity, helpfulness, and potential shortcomings of any religion or spiritual tradition. They all have some validity to them. They all may be helpful for some people, in some situations, in some ways. And they all have shortcoming and pitfalls.

So if someone asks me if I believe in God, I may say “yes” or “no” depending on who I talk to. I may explain which images roughly apply in my case. I may mention that it’s not really a “belief” but more a pointer and something to explore. Or I may ask which image of God do you mean?

Note: The painting is by Harmonia Rosales. If God can be depicted – mainly by white men – as an older white guy with a beard, so why not also as a black woman? We tend to create God in our own image.

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Born into a religion

Many people adopt whatever religion (or lack thereof) they are born into. It’s very understandable and natural. We adopt the religion we are born into because it’s familiar, because there is something of value in it (as there is in just about all of them), and for social reasons (to have a community, to fit in, for support).

And yet, if we say that the religion we happen to be born into is the “only true religion”, then there is some lack of intellectual honesty. How can we know? How can we know unless we seriously explore and experience all of them? How can we know even then?

Of course, if we say it’s the only true one, that’s OK as well. It comes from conditioning. That too is natural and understandable. I do the same in many areas of life, including in ways I am not aware of (yet). And it does come with some inherent discomfort and suffering. It can create discomfort for ourselves since we know – somewhere – we can’t know for sure, and when we see things of value in other traditions. And it can create discomfort and suffering for those around us who do not belong to our particular religion.

I became an atheist in elementary school on my own accord, partly for this reason. It didn’t make any sense to me that people happened to be born into this traditionally Christian culture, adopted that religion without questioning it much, and then saw it as the only true religion and the only path to salvation. To me, even at that age, it smacked of intellectual dishonesty.

I am still an atheist in a conventional sense. I don’t “believe” in any religion, and I don’t “believe in God” in a usual sense.

For me, “God” is a name for reality, life, existence. I don’t pretend I know exactly what that is. I have my own experience, and I am familiar with maps and frameworks that make sense to me based on my own experience and intellectually. And I know very well that those maps are just maps. They are questions about life, myself, and reality. And as maps, they are very much provisional.

I also appreciate the wisdom and guidance offered by the major religions. They often start from real insights and realizations, and individuals through the ages infuse the religions with fresh impulses from their own insights and awakenings.

At the same time, I know that religions…..

  • Are structures that at best initially came from real insights. Have other functions than guiding people to spiritual insights and realizations, and that these are often more important. These may include social regulation, comfort, and a sense of community and fellowship.
  • Have as their main purpose to perpetuate themselves. Although individuals within the traditions may have other priorities, including functioning as experienced spiritual guides for those interested in that approach.
  • Use a “lowest common denominator” approach and at best recommend what tends to work for most people. The suggested practices and paths are often not so much tailored to the individual unless you find a more flexible and experienced guide.

The reality is that few people are interested in a spiritual path, and that’s fine. And that’s also reflected in how most or all religions are set up and function, including Buddhism. There is nothing at all wrong with this.

But it does mean that if we are seriously interested in a spiritual path, we may need to find free spirits within the traditions, or guides who function outside of them.

That’s why I – from the start in my teens – have sought out people like Jes Bertelsen (Danish spiritual teacher), Ken Wilber (for the framework), and later Adyashanti (who does have a solid grounding in one of the traditions).

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Chronic fatigue and spirituality

I have wondered about CFS and spirituality. It does seem that more people with CFS are into spirituality than average. It may be that people with CFS get into spirituality as a way to deal with it. Or that there is another connection. For instance, it’s possible that both CFS and getting into spirituality has to do with a wish to find refuge or escape from this world. That may be part of it for me as well. (And that doesn’t mean that spirituality can be reduced to wishing to finding refuge or escaping.)

From a previous post.

In my case, I got CFS at age 15 a few months after mononucleosis. There was a sense of the world becoming very far away, my head felt filled with cotton, I was severely fatigued, my brain didn’t work properly. (I didn’t think of it as CFS then, but looking back the label fits.) After about a year, there was a spontaneous opening or awakening where everything without exception was revealed as God, Spirit, consciousness, love. And that opening never really closed down. The CFS continued, although I learned to regulate it more following high school, and it was compensation for by my passion for what I did.

I then got severe CFS again some years ago, and a few months after pneumonia. (I was bedridden for 3 weeks and terribly sick. My doctor called it “walking pneumonia”! I normally don’t like to take medicines, but at that time I strongly felt I needed it, but my doctor didn’t agree.)

In both of those phases of my life, I felt quite lost and off track. Initially, combined with or because of typical teenage angst. More recently because I found myself in a situation that didn’t feel right at all, and it felt difficult to get out of it. (Getting out of it in a real way meant I had to go against or confront some very core beliefs and fears.)

So it may be that CFS is connected with feeling off track. Or seeking refuge from a difficult situation or world. Or there may be personality characteristics – such as being highly sensitivie – that makes us both interested in spirituality and susceptible to CFS. Or that may just be the mind trying to make sense of things.

What’s more real is that CFS and other illnesses does bring up our fears, beliefs, and identifications, and we can look at these. It tends to bring up what’s unfelt, unloved, and unquestioned in us, with an invitation to us to feel it, find love for it, and question the stories behind or associated with it.