Monthly Archives: April 2018

Trusting God

As I look back on my 40 years of life so far, I see that a lot of the pain I have experienced is due to my wanting and trying to do good and help others.

This is not other people’s fault. Nor my fault.

But it is due to a deep misunderstanding I had about myself and about spirituality.

When I was 16, I had some, what I would now call, spiritual experiences. I experienced a deep sense of oneness, a connection to all living beings and an awareness of what felt like a deeper, truer reality.

But my mind interpreted the fact of these experiences in a very particular way. It reasoned:

– I have a deeper insight into the world.

– If people who are fighting have a sense for this insight, they will stop fighting and live harmony.

– As someone who has a sense for this insight, I should try to help people stop fighting (be it in family or society more generally).

As a result of this line of thinking, I thrust myself into people’s arguments, trying to thereby evoke peace. I did this in my family, in my wife’s family, in academia, with friends and in thinking about politics.

In every instance, the result was the same. I never managed to stop the fighting, in any of the cases. I would get beat up emotionally. And when I would feel hurt and unloved that people don’t care about me enough to listen to me, people would react with puzzlement about why I got so involved in the first place and why I was taking other’s problems (that is, their problems) onto my shoulders.

They were right.

A person who runs into the middle of two people fighting can’t get upset that he is getting punched. Nor that the people might not care enough about him to stop fighting.

People define themselves by their fights. I was asking them to be different than who they were. Even while I wasn’t changing my own instincts and habits.

I now see that spirituality is not about changing the world, or healing it. It might lead some people in that direction. But there is no guarantee that is the case for every person. Spirituality puts one in touch with how the world is, without judgment or narrartive. It is to see the world from a cosmic perspective and to see humans as small parts of that. No more. No less.

It was my own very particular human personality and needs which interpreted the spiritual experiences in terms of helping the world. When the vast world resisted my puny attempts to move it, it led my suffering and incomprehension.

Instead of trying to heal the world, better to bring the spiritual perspective to my own personality and assumptions, and to see how small indeed are my own attempts and power.

God reached out to me when I was 16 and gave me the gift of seeing him. I then tried to take that gift and use it as I deemed fit, assuming that is why God reached out to me. I tried to control divine power and was confused when I couldn’t control it.

I couldn’t control it because it is not controllable by anyone other than God. He presented himself to me just because He wanted to. And as an invitation to surrender myself to Him. Instead, I assumed to control his power, to be one of His generals on Earth. I see now He never told me that when I saw him. I assumed it and was eager to interpret it that way. That was my ego’s way of seeing Him and as such I couldn’t bring healing to any of the fights around me in my family, academia or society.

Better to be aware of this than to, as I was, mindlessly taking on a role God never gave me. Better to focus on simply being with God and not presume to do His work on Earth.

He know all. He controls all. He takes care of all. Trusting Him is the greatest work I can do.

Roots of Spirituality

Spiritual consciousness is rooted in mammalian consciousness. Spirituality is, at heart, just a very sophisticated way of being a mammal.

In mammals, a mother takes care of her young. This means the mother and the child have modes of shared consciousness as long as they are inter-dependent. For the mother, the child’s welfare is her welfare. For the child, the mother is an extension of himself.

So a mammal has two kinds of awareness: ego awareness, where the animal strives for its own individual well-being, and communal awareness, where the animal experiences well being as fundamentally communal – including itself and members of its group.

This is the basic tension implicit in mammals. Not only in mammals. It applies to social animals, such as bees for instance. But it is a central feature of mammals.

For most mammals, this tension between ego and communal awareness is resolved by biology.

Once hominines, such as with homo habilus about 2 millions years ago, started to use tools and so started to have culture, the duality in mammalian consciousness between ego and communal awareness starts to be connected to culture.

Tool use – seeing how others are using tools, replicating them, seeing tools as communal property – is essentially tied to communal awareness. A group succeeds insofar as it’s members are able to do two things: 1) pass on tool use through fostering communal awareness, and 2) keeping ego awareness, which is hard wired into every living organism, in check so that it doesn’t undermine communal awareness.

By the time of the Neanderthals about 100,000 years ago and the Cro-Magnons about 40,000 years ago, we have the beginning of culture beyond tools: burials, jewelry, cave art.

All of this proto-mythological activity was part of the way these communities balanced ego and communal awareness. The more sophisticated tool use became, the more activity there has to be for communal awareness in order to instill the skills required for sophisticated tool use and community activity. These were enabled through communal rites like dancing, early chanting and singing. Seen from an ego awareness perspective, these actions seem bizarre: why would someone do that? But seen from a communal awareness perspective, group dance and rituals are no different from bees building a hive together or rams engaging in battle dances, etc.

With the rise of agriculture about 12,000 years ago, tool use and cultural practices became so sophisticated that humans now effectively live in a cultural world. Their activities are no longer like others animals plus some tool use. Now they start to have identities as defined by their roles in the social world.

An identity is a self-awareness which balances ego and communal awareness. A farmer. A blacksmith. A cobbler. These identities define a person’s place in society, and imbues them with an awareness of the sacred importance of those identities. If those identities collapse, that means individuals care more about their ego needs than the needs of the community.

Early myths are the groups narratives of these identities. Gods are the beings who excel at those identities – hunting, weaving baskets, maintaining fires, etc. Gods are the exemplars of a skill. So individuals aim to be like the Gods, in that they aim be skilled at the activities of the community.

The shamans and the priests – their identity is to keep the myths going, to channel the Gods and the divine realm of pure communal consciousness so that the society doesn’t break down into ego consciousness.

As communities grow and get bigger, new narratives of communal consciousness are needed to balance ego consciousness and communal consciousness. This is the history of mythology of societies.

When communities were small, there were select people whose identities were to let go of their ego conscisousness and channel group consciousness. Shamans, priests, divine kings.

But as communities became civilizations with hundreds of thousands of people, with empires filled with people of many different cultures, communal consciousness was no longer channeled only through priests or kings.

By about 2,500 years ago societies were so complex that some people had to cultivate their own communal awareness themselves. They could not simply focus on farming or being a warrior and expect the priests or the kings to channel the communal consciousness for everyone.

A new ideal started to form: each person has to deal with their ego awareness themselves and choose the divine, communal awarneess. This was the axial age revolution of Zoroaster, Abraham, Buddha, Socrates, Christ and Lao Tzu. By this point in history, nature by itself couldn’t balance ego and communal awareness. Nor could culture by itself. Over and above nature and culture, each person had to choose communal consciousness over ego consciousness.

This choice was being born again. Of dying to the ego consciousness and submitting to the communal consciousness, which would harmonize all of one’s being into a whole and provide peace from the rift within oneself between ego and communal consciousness. This choice was not a physical or an intellectual act. It was a transformation of one’s being, a change in body and mind at the deepest level.

One can’t achieve this by going to Church or learning physics, by affirming religion or by denouncing religion. The Axial age sages were clear about this. There is only one way: find the root of communal awareness within yourself, and submit to that heart and soul until your ego consciousness starts to burn and melt away; and keep holding to the communal awarenes even as the ego awareness screams and shouts, tries to deceive and trick you into holding on to it.

The journey of that path is spirituality. It is part of being a human mammal living in a vast civilization.

Science and Spirituality

Are science and spirituality compatible?

Yes. The way they are compatible is so simple that it is hilarious that normally we forget it and lose ourselves in “big” debates.

Science, in the broad sense, is the study of big history, the history of the universe. It tells us:

  • the big bang happened 13 billion years ago
  • the earth formed 4.5 billion years ago
  • Life on earth started 3.5 billion years ago
  • Mammals appeared about 250 million years ago
  • Hominines appeared about 6 million years ago
  • Homo sapiens appeared about 250,000 years ago
  • Humans discovered agriculture about 12,000 years ago.
  • The first major civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt began about 7,000 years ago.
  • The axial age of modern religions like Judaism, Hinduism and Confucianism and also science began about 3,500 years ago.

This is what science – physics, geology, archeology, anthropology – tells us.

Spirituality is living life with the constant awareness of the vastness of life and having that awareness infuse so deeply into your consciousness that it transforms your day to day interactions with others into a mode of increasing peace and lessening of emotional conflict.

One way of being spiritual is to bring the vastness of the scientific awareness into everyday human life. The cosmic awareness of science and the cosmic awareness of spirituality can come together and enforce each other.

Poof! The apparent conflict between science and spirituality disappears.

How then does the appearance of conflict arise?

That too is simple: when one forgets cosmic awareness, but still lays claim to it. Be it the scientist who mistakes his scientific identity as cosmic awareness, or the religious person who mistakes his religious identity as cosmic awareness.

Two people who forget the vastness of the world and lose themselves to their identities and so presume that the fight of their identities defines the world – that is the source of the apparent tension of science and spirituality.

The tension disappears when one holds to the cosmic awareness of the real, deep vastness of the world, and sees that science and religion as social practices, institutions and identities are only a few thousand years old. A mere few seconds in the time of the universe.

The clash is not between science and spirituality. Nor even between scientific and spiritual identities. It is between misunderstandings of scientific and spiritual identities.

The Sacred and the Profane

The profane forgets the sacred. That is what makes it the profane.

The sacred embraces all, including the profane. That is what makes it the sacred.

The sacred and the profane are not two actualities. Not like table and chair, or pen and paper. Nor like two different places like New York and Paris.

They are like the true and the false. Reality and illusion. There is not a true world – one filled with truths – and a seperate false world – one filled with falsehoods. There is only one world, that which is real. Illusions are illusory mental states which are part of reality. They are not truthful mental states of a world consisting of illusions.

Truth seeks out all, including illusion, and embraces all with a common consciousness. Illusion resists aspects of reality, creating boundaries where there are none, and lives within those boundaries as if it were simply accepting how reality is.

The profane says: “The world is just like this, of divided, limited beings struggling for survival. Not an issue of whether I like it or not. Not about my preferences. It is just a matter of reality, just how things are. We have to make do and live as best as we can in this world of egos clashing. I am an ego, and egos look out for themselves. It is just what we do. This is just reality.”

The sacred says: “The world is just like this: whole, all embracing, without an other.”

The profane affirms itself by justifying limits. The sacred affirms itself by simply being.

The profane views the sacred with apprehension, with distrust. Or even sometimes, with longing and with desire. The profane views the sacred as the other, an illusory or a real other. Through this othering of the sacred, the profane affirms itself.

The sacred views the profane as itself, as not other than itself.

For the profane, there is a distinction between the sacred and the profane. For the sacred, there is no distinction between the sacred and the profane.

The profane is fear. The sacred is fearless.

The profane is profane. The sacred is sacred.

Dread and Bliss

Pain is discomfort. It can be mild or severe or very severe. No matter it’s degree, it is a condition of the body or the mind. It just is. In it’s nature there is no narrative. No sense that it should or should not exist. It might involve an attempt to reduce or eliminate it, but that is an instinctive response.

Suffering is the mental narrative associated with pain. It can be regarding pain in the past, present or future. It is not the pain itself, but the web of thoughts about actual or potential pain in one’s life and the world. It is the fear of pain.

Dread is anxiety that one’s self is drowing in suffering. It is the feeling that one’s self is being lost and dissolving due to excess of suffering, of more suffering than the self can handle.

Feeling cold in 0 degree weather is pain.

Thinking “if I lose my job, I won’t be able to pay my rent and will be homeless” is suffering.

Feeling “I just lost everything, I have nothing, I am nobody, I am worthless” is dread.

Ordinary ego consciousness is defined by suffering – either suffering or keeping suffering at bay. Suffering is called unhappiness. Keeping suffering at bay is called happiness.

Happiness is not a state intrinsically defined. It is defined as the absence of suffering. It is gotten through watching tv, drinking, sex, vacations, addictive eating, having all the good things in life – things that usually feel good because they turn down the mind and so dial down suffering. When the mind is unable to be turned off, suffering rises to the surface and presents itself as the ever present, natural state.

A life of happiness is a life keeping suffering at bay.

Since happiness is not the default state, one can lose it at any moment if there is bad luck. There could be an accident. An illness. Death of a family member. Bankruptcy. Spouse has an affair.

Ego consciousness is like swimming in a lake filled with crocodiles. Happiness is not having any crocodile in one’s immediate vicinity. Suffering is remembering that the lake is filled with crocodiles.

Dread is the realization that at some point a crocodile will get you. You only get so many moments when they are not in your vicinity. And when they are around you, you can only avoid them or out swim them for so long. Eventually you will be caught. Some crocodile will have you for dinner.

Happiness is contented forgetting of reality. Suffering is worry that happiness will not last; that one won’t be able to ignore reality all the time.

Dread is awareness of reality. But it is awareness tinged with denial. It is awareness of reality merged with thinking of oneself as outside that reality. That one is getting pulled into, drowing in, unable to avoid reality.

Bliss is awareness of reality without denial. It is awareness of reality merged with thinking of oneself as fully a part of that reality.

The most surface bubble of consciousness consists of happiness and pain. Underlying it is the realm of suffering. Below that is dread. Further below that is bliss: awareness of reality without denial.

In happiness, I am safe from the crocodiles. In suffering, I anticipate the crocodiles gathering around me. In dread, I feel like a speck and the crocodiles are everywhere, about to engulf me. In bliss, I am a speck and the crocodiles are specks and the lake itself is a speck in the broader reality.

Awareness, Thought and Instinct

Cosmic awareness is to thought as thought is to instinct.

Thought is awareness of instinct. In that awareness one steps back from instinct, recognizes it as one among several ways of acting. In thought, one is not compelled by instinct but sees a broader array of possibilities.

Cosmic awareness is awareness of thought. In this awareness one is not compelled by thought, but steps back from it to consider it from stillness. Free of the compulsion of thought, one is open to the possibilities of the world without prejudging them.

Thought isn’t a substitute for instinct. Life functions mostly on instinct. This is just reality, neither good nor bad. But when instinct becomes harmful, when it contorts into a knot of confused action, thought unties the knot and reawakens action which flows positively.

Likewise, cosmic awareness is not a substitute for thought. Human life functions on thought. But when thought becomes unhelpful, lost in mazes of mindless repetition, anxiety and confusion, awareness of the limits of thought clears the mind and resets thought in its natural, productive mode.

Thought is maintanence of instinct. Cosmic awareness is maintanence of thought.

Cultivate thought to be free of mindless instinct. But do so by cultivating awareness, which fosters uncluttered thought.

One who thinks when he wants and stops thinking when he wants thinks clearly. One who can’t stop thinking can’t seperate clear thoughts from unclear thoughts.

Exercising all the time ruins the body. Thinking all the time ruins the mind. Cultivate awareness to still the mind and limit thinking, so the mind stays fresh and rejuvenated.