Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Spiritual Exhortations

So what is my BIGGEST spiritual pet peeve?

Spiritual exhortations.

What am I referring to as spiritual exhortations? Basically, they’re this: Any statement that says: IF YOU grow spiritually—if you meditate—if you go to church—if you study scripture—you get the idea, THEN THIS: you will become: MORE BETTER.

And what is: MORE BETTER?

Glad you asked.

MORE BETTER is ALWAYS what the person who is making the spiritual exhortation wants you to become. The key words being: “the person” i.e. other human being—believe me, they are as limited as you, no matter how much they want to convince you that they are better equipped to decode your experience of spirituality than—the other key word—“you”—are.

This kind of predictive dogmatism just drives me nuts. Why? Well, the Creative Principle, the Divine, God, whatever you want to call it, is so, well, creative, limitless, and playful … that no one no way no how can know exactly what will happen if/when you connect with Source!

Think about it.

No one knows the End Game of your union with the Divine. Maybe not even the Divine. Certainly no other human.
This is also related in a big way to the “we are one” theology. Yes, we are connected; being connected is not the same as being the same. Perhaps it’s just a battle of semantics, but why, why, why, are we always trying to return to the womb? Even if/when it’s a Cosmic One, returning, going back being THE PURPOSE of our existence is non-sensical. If THE PURPOSE is to go back, re-unite, why leave in the first place?

No.

I think the BIG GOAL is to grasp how truly unique we are—accept, appreciate, embrace?, support, tolerate, whatever-level-we-can-muster-of-living-with our own unique-ness and everyone else’s—to move beyond national, racial, tribal, and family values. THE GROUP. See. Evolution is the individual thriving within the group, not just one leader, or the upper echelon, but everyone, thriving in their uniqueness. Until then, it’s just THE GROUP doing everything they can, in every way they can, to eradicate, obliterate, suffocate, our inconceivable uniqueness.

See I think the Cosmos is moving from unity to singularity—not from unity to the illusion of singularity back to unity. But that’s just me. Oh, and maybe Aldous Huxley too ... 

Grateful for every bone in my body.

Within this framework, the purpose of mortal life is to bring the soul’s essence to fulfillment. Various qualities inherent to mortal existence challenge this purpose: a certain spiritual density (seemingly unique to mortals), a propensity to relinquish individual thought, a tendency toward mental and/or physical sloth, to name a few. A relatively small number of mortals ever achieve their destiny in a single lifetime; thus, upon death, few are released to the Unknown Beyond.

A greater number of mortals die without knowing or experiencing themselves to any significant degree. Their souls (vessels of consciousness) are reabsorbed into the primal essence of the Whole. While lost to the individual, residual consciousness from prior lives is pooled within the primal essence of the Whole for rebirth.

It bears emphasis: The Whole conserves all consciousness. Considering the grave obstacles mortals must overcome in its attainment, any gains along these lines is deemed worth preserving.—Half Faerie, Daughter of Light

On Friday, I’ll give you my take on meditation.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Stanislav Graf: Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness

Today, I’m going to introduce you to Stanislav Grof. Born in Prague in the former Czechoslovakia in 1931, he began his studies in medicine, and obtained an M.D. and Ph.D. Since then, he’s embraced over sixty years of professional training and experience in psychiatry and psychology. In his 80s today, after years of “traditional talking therapy” in his early adulthood, he had a life changing encounter with LSD, and from there went on to become one of the founders of Transpersonal Psychology—integrates the spiritual and transcendent aspects of the human experience with the framework of modern psychology (Wikipedia).

OMG! Squee! Heart bursts! That is how I felt reading the TABLE OF CONTENTS of Stanislav and Christina Grof’s: Holotropic Breathing. (Christina is Grof’s wife and they have worked together to develop their method of achieving non-ordinary states of consciousness through, well, holotropic breathing [accelerated breathing].)

You have to understand, my path, which has been always a bit rebellious, often incoherent, and not rarely meandering, nonsensical, and odd, has always been dancing in some Venn diagram of body/movement, mind/psychology and soul/spirit/spirituality/wholeness. I’m always circling around those issues, sometimes dive-bombing one or the other, but really always and only interested in their points of contact.

Because … well, they really cannot be separated. I mean if you want to talk about ILLUSIONS, one of the greatest ones is that: our bodies, our minds, and our souls are somehow separate. I know. I know. Everyone wants to go on and on about how We. Are. One. Humanity. The species. Doesn’t the thought just make you want to run and scream, hands waving in the air. I am God, you are God, we are all inseparable, after all, skeletons don’t exist, and, well, we’re really all just one ginormous amoebic blob. Hehe. I don’t think so. But that’s fine if you do. You’re probably AWAKENED. But paradox abounds, so as much as the essence (or Whatever) of the Divine is in us, we are ALSO separate, discrete, unique … umm … individuals.

She twirls in the sun.
AND … I am certain that my body, my mind, and my soul/spirit/what have you ARE one. A continuum of me. Just like your body, your mind, and your spirit are a continuum of you. Honestly, this is why I used to just cringe at church potlucks. Have you ever been to one? Seen the crap people bring? The amount of food they shove in their pie holes and then what, pray? Expect to receive some revelation about the scripture when you can barely waddle out of your chair?

Hmm … I don’t think so. And no, I’m not for asceticism. But, come on.

Okay, a personal pet peeve. Yes, I do have a few, and I’ll be discussing another one next Tuesday. THE BIGGIE as far as I’m concerned.

Back to the Grofs—because they are A-Mazing—and that table of contents, for their book, well, here are some of the chapter headings that had me wanting to throw a consciousness, we-might-just-not-destroy-the-world party:

Holotropic states of consciousness: MIND (And what does holotropic mean? “oriented toward wholeness” or “moving toward wholeness”, “it is related to heliotropic—the property of pants to always turn in the direction of the sun [light]”)
Dimensions of the human psyche: MIND
The role of spirituality in human life: SPIRITUALITY
The nature of reality—Psyche, cosmos, and consciousness: MIND & SPIRITUALITY
The healing power of breath: BODY
Healing of emotions and psychosomatic disorders: BODY & MIND
Favorable effect on physical diseases: BODY
Effect on personality, worldview, life strategy, and hierarchy of values: BODY, MIND, & SPIRITUALITY
Potential for healing of cultural wounds and historical conflict resolution: MIND & SPIRITUALITY Healing as a movement toward wholeness: MIND, BODY, & SPIRITUALITY

See?!? It’s a single book, one lovely book, about all three of my favorite things!!!

From the Foreword: (ummm … you had me at hello!)

… the Grofs offer a comprehensive vision of mental health and of human growth potential that extends the range of psychology to dimensions of the perinatal, the transpersonal, the transcultural, and the mystical. Their work organically incorporates the indigenous wisdom of shamanism and the natural world, the cultural and historical basis of consciousness, and the far-reaching breadth of modern physics and systems theory. In it the personal and the universal are equally valued, the physical and the biographical, the cultural, evolutionary, and spiritual dimensions of our humanity are included.

Wow. I think it’s all covered!

Here are the five major shifts away from tradition psychological theory/practice that the framework of holographic breathwork makes:

1. Extending the cartography of the “Freudian” psyche from post-natal experiences and the individual unconscious to include peri-natal (memory of biological birth) experiences and transpersonal consciousness.

This is actually a huge leap as transpersonal consciousness would be vast: potentially including the ancestral, archetypal, collective, karmic, imaginal, mythological, Cosmic and more.

The idea that peri-natal experiences contribute significantly to our psychological make-up is intriguing. If you think about it, moving from un-embodied, formless being/consciousness into body/form being/consciousness is probably quite a trip.

2. Relying upon the direction/guidance provided by the individual’s “inner healing intelligence” as opposed to the external analysis/interpretation of a degreed/trained doctor, professional.

Everything always comes back to the unlimited creativity of the Cosmos. We are, after all, snowflakes. Therefore, theories, models, generalizations simply fall apart the closer and closer you get to truth.

3. Recognizing the limitations of exclusively verbal strategies in therapy.

If the body does indeed hold trauma, just talking about it is not going to be adequate to relieve those blockages.

4. Valuing non-ordinary states of consciousness that are commonly perceived as pathological.

“From a psychiatric perspective to take [spiritual] things seriously, means to be ignorant, unfamiliar with the discoveries of science, superstitious, and subject to primitive magical thinking. If the belief in the God or Goddess occurs in intelligent persons, it is seen as an indication that they have not come to terms with infantile images of their parents as omnipotent beings they had created in their infancy and childhood. And direct experiences of spiritual realizes are considered manifestations of serious mental diseases—psychoses."—Grof.

5. Considering states of consciousness as a fundamental aspect of the universe and that the brain mediates or moderates consciousness rather than “produces” consciousness from matter.

I love this. Let it sink in. We're swimming in a vast reservoir of consciousness that our individual brains mediate or moderate with unfathomable uniqueness.

The book Holotropic Breathwork provides a pretty thorough coverage of the kind of therapy that has evolved from the Grofs' lifework, although it won't teach you how to do it, as it's recommended to be experienced with a trained facilitator.

“Holtropic Breathwork is a powerful self-exploration and therapy that uses the combination of seemingly simple means—accelerated breathing, evocative music, and a type of bodywork that helps the residual bioenergetic and emotional blocks.”

Now, I’m not a shill for the Grofs, nor have I experienced their brand of breathwork, but my curiosity is piqued and if I ever have a chance to attend one of their workshops, I likely will.

However, whether or not one participates in the breathwork, the advances the Grofs have made in understanding the inner life of the individual in relation to the cosmos is a Door-Opener. There IS much more to us, around us, and beyond us than most of us perceive.

If you put together things like: the unified field, a loving Source, form and formlessness, psychological life and biological life, and an individual spiritual drive that seems inherent in all of us (expressed in radically different ways of course!), the Grofs’ work makes a lot of sense, and certainly seems to orient our concept of ourselves and the world we live in in a constructive direction.

How does this relate to mysticism?

Well, number 1 and number 4. That extended cartography of consciousness accessible through the non-ordinary states of consciousness, have been “described by mystics of all ages …” and “Procedures inducing these states were also developed and used in the context of the great religions of the world—Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.”—Grow

Then, there’s number 2. Mysticism is always about plugging into a broader intelligence, a larger Self, of which, self-healing is an attribute.

And, number 3. Mystical experiences are simply beyond the verbal.

Finally, number 5. Us as mediators of Cosmic Consciousness. The more quantum theory reveals, the more the experiences and revelations received by mystics throughout time are validated, and the bridge between science and spirituality is strengthened.

Want more Grof? I thought so. Here’s a great video from youtube:
Next Tuesday, I’ll be sharing my personal BIGGIE as far as spiritual pet peeves go!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Asra Nomani: Child of Truth

Asra Nomani, a Muslim, born in India, and raised in West Virginia, USA is a contemporary mystic. I won’t say she’s inspiring, it’s become such an insipid word, as it’s so overused these days. I’d say Nomani is illuminating, showing us the way to travel where there is no road, revealing how to travel to places where no one has ever traveled before.

She wrote an amazing book, Tantrika: Traveling the Road of Divine Love, that is a much better read than Theresa of Avila’s over quoted Interior Castle—I know, I know, I read that tiresome piece of work in my twenties. Okay, sorry to dis a saint, but come on! We really are alive and living in 2016; today’s world is the one in which we must cultivate and explore and test our spirituality. So maybe, Tantrika is just more relevant to the modern mystic.

At one point in her book, Asra Nomani sees herself as a bridge, one of the rope ones; I’d add … one of those rope ones over a high gorge with treacherous body-smashing rocks below.

Her ancestry and life experience is so foreign to me, despite my also being raised in the United States—honestly, before I read her book, I didn’t realize Pakistan had been carved out of India, for Muslims, and the Hindus left—I know, ignorant American—and yet Nomani's story, her search for Self and authentic identity, her returning to her ancestral home and roots, the spiraling of her path, the stop-start-backward-forward, her grappling with the questions, reality, station of gender, resonated deeply with my heart.

There are so many gems in Tantrika. I don’t want to spoil them for you because you really need to read it. But let’s just say, Cheenie Bhai and Cheeni Apa are two of my favorite characters, because … well, the freedom of flight has always been one of my favorite metaphors for independence.
One of the gifts of Nomani’s journey is her clarity and her ability to articulate that. She’s not dogmatic—as someone who wore a head covering in solidarity with her Muslim sisters after 9/11, her co-written article As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear a hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity rings with greater awareness than if it had been written by someone who has never worn a head covering, has always refused to.

And the Divine is not dogmatic, in fact, the Divine is so fluid, humans seem incapable of comprehending—or accessing the power of that fluidity—perhaps our fascination with magic, a blink of the eye, snap of the finger, wave of the wand, transformation. Intuitively, we grasp that being responsive to the moment, being open in the now, is a key. But we’re so often stuck. Stuck by our ideas of how others perceive us, stuck in the actualities of how other’s perceive us—you know those people, the ones who feel so free in sharing their oh-so-limited opinions of us—and stuck in how we perceive ourselves.

The final chapter in Tantrika is: Child of Truth. Right behind Love is the Divine as bringer of Truth. Nomani’s evolution through personal truth to Divine Truth is one which can give us courage to ride our own tiger through streets crowded with illusions that are meant to define us as something other than who we really are.
Sometimes I think—know—only the power of the Divine breathing our hearts is the way out of the cage. Nomani reminds us that the journey is not only a worthy one, but a necessary one. I thank her.

Curious yet? Enjoy this recent interview of Nomani on THE SAAD TRUTH.
On Friday, I’ll be sharing another contemporary mystic with you!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Father Thomas Keating & the Vanishing Point

Back to 2016! Is anyone still doing this contemplation, meditation, sitting still stuff? I mean with all the spinning and whirring of AI and the cascading technological advances occurring daily, why even bother?

The interesting thing is this: As our understanding of the science of the cosmos advances, the reality of a creating, nourishing, and sustaining cosmic force is becoming more and more evident as well. In fact, as we’re advancing, we’re not moving away from the reality of a driving energy or intelligence ordering our world and the universe, we’re sailing directly toward it. Soon, the distinctness between science and spirituality will disappear in a vanishing point. They will become the study of the same thing. Quantum wave theory, the unified field, the vibrational quality of positive and negative emotions, all these things have already been proven to exist.

The question is becoming: How do we let these new understandings impact and transform our lifestyle choices and world views? Father Thomas Keating considers these kinds of questions in a fascinating Buddha at the Gas Pump interview, and his insights are very refreshing. Once the abbot of a Trappist monastery, Keating is an active participant in the Interspiritual movement and an advocate of Centering/contemplative prayer.

When asked to define God:

There are as many ideas of God as there are people; the word is a label and it would would be nicer if we had another word for God; is-ness without any limits; I am-ness without any other pronouns; God has aspects beyond reason; how do you comprehend infinite justice and infinite mercy, you must open your consciousness to a synthesis of the two and transcend a rational concept of god; God is in everything without being limited to anything; dynamic and expanding; God is change itself which is what’s changeless about God.

On an evolving cosmology:

Christian cosmology is patriarchal and limited by the culture it was formed in; it just doesn’t work anymore; theology needs a new cosmology; the dynamic idea of god which evolutionary cosmology has provided in the past 50 years is a revelation of a higher power, one in which we’re immersed and engulfed in, so we don’t have any identity outside of the evolutionary process; creation is not a one-time event; religion has to listen to science because science is giving us up-to-date revelations about who God really is and developing a cosmology that can support union and unity with God.

On consciousness and globalization:

Perhaps we’re at a critical evolutionary level in our time, in which a new general level of consciousness beyond rational is emerging; the capacity to understand reality intuitively may be beginning to happen around the world; the globalization of the world could be an opportunity to allow these insights into reality to be revealed at one time to large numbers of people; insights that can’t be reached on the rational level because the ration level of consciousness is limited.

On Centering Prayer and Contemplation:

Meditation is so important because it’s probably the most direct access to our deeper levels of consciousness; beyond the ego-ic self is a Self that we don’t usually access without something like meditation; by sitting long enough the dust begins to settle, and you begin to see more clearly; the deepest level of consciousness is God consciousness manifested in our uniqueness as a human-being.

Centering prayer can be adapted to any tradition and to someone without a religion; it has been taught in prisons, when other men saw their friends being more calm and peaceful, they ask to attend the classes, then those men begin experiencing more peace and calm, however, you can’t persuade people to do this.

If you’d like to learn more about the specifics of practicing centering prayer/contemplation, listen to the interview (recommended if you’re not Christian) (specific instructions are towards the end of the video), visit Contemplative Outreach, or read Keating’s book, Open Mind Open Heart.

I've embedded the video here for those who would enjoy watching it!
On Tuesday, I’ll be introducing you to a contemporary Muslim mystic.