Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Sacred Ground of Intimate Relationships

Intimate relationships provide wonderful spiritual opportunities for those who maintain the tenacious faith, courage and wisdom to remain open to the process. This is especially true during inevitable times of great suffering. Through both hardships and in good times, we learn the art of compromise and acceptance (for both our partner and for ourselves), thus enabling a deepening in our ability to remain fully present and awake in our lives and with each other. While long term relationships can be challenging, it is the inherent difficulty that provides us with the opportunity to grow as individuals. The fact that we share this earth with others guarantees that things will inevitably not go our way. This becomes magnified the closer we become to those we have chosen to love. To expect that things always go our way is nothing more than a childish addiction to illusions of our own ego.

The challenge in any relationship is to be mindful in keeping ones heart open and soft. Equally important is the ability to resist the urge to let our hearts grow cold and harden during times of heightened emotion and inevitable misunderstanding and/or disconnection, inherent of most intimate relationships. Challenging this tendency involves the constant reminder that both individuals are equal members of a "team," and though it may feel so during times of great turmoil, in most cases, neither party is "out to get" one another. Resist the urge to see your partner as the enemy. Your partner is merely suffering and doing the best that they can (just as you are). Ignorance is the true enemy in most relationships. Because it is external to both of you, it can be overcome by coming together in understanding as intimate and integral parts of a unified team.  Without understanding there can be no compassion.

The truth of the matter is, studies have shown that most people will typically lose close to 30 IQ points during times of great emotional stress. Relationship difficulties are no different.  Attachment injuries of childhood inevitably become triggered in our most intimate relationships and it is often these injuries (and the cycles of thought, emotion, and behavior that accompany them) that we are responding to emotionally and projecting upon our intimate partner.  Don't trust your reasoning during these times (or heaven forbid, act upon your impulses), because emotional reasoning can be quite different than reasoning that relies on critical thinking.  Take space, take a few breaths and try to cool down before coming back to the subject.    There is a Zen saying that states "to eternity, a mountain is no more solid than a cloud."  Your thoughts and emotions are like this.  During heated exchanges our logic is typically flawed on some level, and we often later regret the things said and done in the heat of the moment.  Nothing ever turns out to be quite as it seems during times of heightened emotion (one merely needs to look back upon their own history to see the truth in this).

It takes great courage to admit that you may have been wrong.  Maintaining faith in the fact that our thoughts and emotions are merely untested hypothesis, we begin to gather the courage to remain fearlessly open to our loved ones in a new way, especially in the face of great suffering and confusion.  In this way, we establish a more intimate understanding of one another, and through the process, begin to grow closer, feel more intimately connected, and inevitably heal as a result.  It is within this process of remaining fearlessly open to one another - no longer rigidly attached to our own biased opinions or thoughts that keeps us from intimately connecting with one another - that we open ourselves to our own latent compassion and wisdom inherent of our species.  Within this process, old attachment injuries of childhood are held compassionately and understood by both parties on a deeper level, thus bringing a couple closer together and more intimately connected.   While these emotional injuries may never fully disappear, the process inevitably leads to a great deal of growth and healing and generally brings most couples together on a deeper level. With this said, it should come as no surprise that most people in healthy, long-term relationships tend to be, on average, more emotionally complex than their habitually single counterparts!

But many of us erroneously succumb to the meme a fearful society projects - that being open and vulnerable is a weakness to be avoided at all costs.  We are told that boys don't cry and that a strong person will pull themselves up from their bootstraps.  As a result, many of us fearfully continue to run, compelled by a relentless aversion of intimacy, and cling to the superimposed western ideals of independence.   While inflexibly guarding our perceived flaws from the light of the outside world and calling it "freedom", we are doing nothing more than hiding our true selves from others.  The irony of this is that while acting as though we were keeping some kind of dirty secret hidden from others, we fail to make the connection as to why we feel so empty inside.  The fact of the matter is, what most of us often view as our greatest strength (our stubborn independence) is actually nothing more than the exact area in our lives where we are most weak and incorrigible.  Because of this self-fullfilling prophesy, we never open ourselves to the opportunity of connecting with this inherent strength and/or connection shared by all of us - the one place where they could inevitably find peace and healing in their lives.  The result is that while we remain closed off, we do not develop a deeper confidence in ourselves - a confidence which could often be supported by an understanding, unconditionally loving partner in most healthy relationships.

The inevitable result of our self-protection is that we often continue to feel as though we are alone or unique in our suffering, and unconsciously believe the notion that we are somehow uniquely flawed (often blaming ourselves for this) and thus go through life feeling as though we were an empty, disconnected shell of a person.  Never opening up to others, we have very little exposure to the fact that most of humanity feels or has felt this way at some point.  Rigidly adhering to a code of self-protective silence does nothing more than further strengthen the belief in the universal myth of ones own mortal failings.  What is most ironic however, is that which is most feared - being vulnerable and the sharing of ones suffering - is primarily that which has the potential to make us whole and more fully alive.  It is who we truly are as a species and what intimately connects each and every one of us, and is in turn, can be seen as our greatest collective strength - our ability to connect and overcome adversity.  Touching this aspect of our humanity merely requires the courage to remain open despite the pain, and to place our faith and trust in the compassion of others.  Unfortunately, it is this rigid, fearful attachment to ego and ignorant, self-protective stubbornness that keeps one from realizing the sacredness of life and the world that we are all intimately a part of.

The fact of the matter is that it takes much more courage and strength to allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of somebody - being open enough to allow them to see all of your perceived flaws - than it does to hide behind protective walls of silence and not let anybody in.   Running away from pain takes very little effort.  Without such fearless courage there can be no true openness. Without true openness there can be no meaningful understanding.   And without meaningful understanding there can not be a deeper level of unconditional compassion.  Deep compassion therefore, requires great courage.   Despite its inevitable hardships, the end results of such an endeavor - greater clarity, balance, harmony, and confidence within oneself and in relationships with others, as well as a much deeper level of lasting happiness - makes such a journey so worthwhile and personally meaningful.  It is nothing more then a small taste of what it means to be truly human.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Confusion Between Atheism & Agnosticism

A theist accepts or believes the idea that god exists.  An atheist (which literally means “one without theism”) is a person who does not believe in god and typically bases this “belief” (I use the term lightly and in its non-dualistic sense) on the evidence as they see it.  Many atheists base their “beliefs” upon the scientific method.  A true scientific hypothesis is based upon observable evidence and challenging established theories.  It is constantly evolving.  There is no “doctrine” to be found in the scientific method other than to follow the evidence and to be mindful of personal biases.  Yes, the scientific method is fallible, as is human reasoning and perception, as many studies have shown.  This is exactly why many atheists, as a consequence, reject their own emotional reasoning – because they know it’s inherently flawed.  But if an atheist were suddenly faced with some overwhelming evidence as for the existence of god (that didn’t rely on pure emotional evidence or personal testimony – we’re talking solid, empirically validated evidence here), an atheist would discard this belief.  Not many theists can make such a claim.  

Many people who have faith may simply see atheism as just another entrenched belief or dogma (or doctrine) because that’s what they know, or how they see the world.  Most atheists have decided there is no god, but again, their decision is based upon the “evolving” evidence (as they see it).  A true agnostic is simply a person who hasn’t decided yet (for what ever reason).  Now if we really want to split hairs here, then one could argue that what we’re likely talking about here is an “agnostic atheist” (or the cringe-worthy “weak atheist”), but I’m not particularly fond of either term, so I’m sticking simply with “atheist.”  I have had many discussions with people of faith but I continue to find few surprises in these arguments.   

Whenever I mention the term “inherited Bronze Age dualism*” I am usually speaking of the psychological mindset that tends to see the world in black-and-white terms.  From such a perspective, in terms of faith, there can only be two options - one either has a belief or does not have a belief; one either accepts/believes the claim that god exists, or one rejects/disbelieves the claim.  Atheists do not tend to subscribe to such polorized thinking, and thus tend to have a much more expansive, global view on the subject.  Atheists merely believe that the proof in favor of god is just simply not there but are open to changing this belief if they were suddenly presented with new (reliable) evidence.  This is not to say atheists think a person is stupid for having faith (although many militant atheist might believe just that).  I personally would never make such a divisive (dare I say “dualistic) statement.  But I would argue faith comes down to conscious choice – the choice to accept emotional reasoning and/or to believe in impossible things (the “leap of faith” that began our discussion).  Atheism requires no such a leap because it’s based on evolving evidence (or lack thereof) - and I’m not making a value judgment as to which belief is “better.”  Again, it’s about acknowledging the “limits of human understand” that I’m focusing on here, which was genetically established long before Hume ever began discussing it.  These limits hold true whether one has faith or does not have faith.

                                                   - SIDE NOTE -
* [Prior to the rise of agriculture (which provided surplus to feed armies and the inevitable rise of male solar gods who dethroned the previous holistic earth goddess’s) there was less of need for such a “tribal” outlook.  By dividing heaven from earth solar hero/god essentially divided human consciousness and thus provided a general rise of dualistic thought – a perspective which sees things as being opposed to one another other in a struggle for supremacy (ie: one being viewed as better than the other; as in life being better being than death, light being better than dark, etc).  All throughout the Paleolithic these same opposing forces were also recognized but the major difference is that they were both seen as intrinsic, essential, intimately connected (and dare I say "sacred") to one another].
                                                - END SIDE NOTE -

The key point to be mindful of here is that disbelief is not the complete opposite of belief.  Such an idea is simply suggests a limited dualistic approach to the problem.  Just because I do not believe Michael Jordon was the greatest basketball player of all time doesn't mean I think he was the worst either.  Again, disbelief is not the opposite of faith.  Is the glass half empty or is it half full?  How about we smash the glass, stop viewing the world from such a limited perspective and enter the situation with a truly open mind (again, easier said than done)?  It’s neither good nor bad - only (dualistic) thinking makes it so (I'm paraphrasing/butchering Shakespeare here).  This is atheism as I see it (keep in mind I know a lot of ignorant, militant atheists who do not share this belief either, who ignorantly can’t even bring themselves to use the word “spirituality” without wanting to vomit, which I think is a true shame and hints at it’s own dogma).  For me, it merely boils down to the fact that god created the universe – or [he] didn’t.  It really doesn’t matter because nothing changes - the result turns out to be exactly the same.

With this said, I do personally have a non-empirically validated faith which requires an emotional leap, but it is one often lost on most practicing Christians.  My faith is in the goodness of HUMANITY and the evolution of our inherent compassion for one another.  It amazes me that many Christians fail to maintain this faith, and choose to subscribe to the sin hypothesis.  Jesus never spoke of this, yet many Christians freely accept that man has inherited some sort of existential cooties from our ancestors (i.e.: original sin).  In the infamous words of Richard Dawkins, "What kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor?"  Food for thought.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Dethroning of the Goddess & the Rise of Western Dualism

Born of the Paleolithic era and the rise of human consciousness, the earth goddess is actually the template to which all male sky gods were born. Initially, dualism wasn't a part of humanities psyche, and death was viewed as part of the greater cycle of life, where everything flowed from the feminine, which was venerated above all else for its intrinsic life-giving properties. Within such a worldview everything was seen as intimately connected, essential and, above all, sacred (ex: the death of an animal was seen as necessary for to sustain the life of the hunter and his tribe, and therefore intrinsically “respected” as part of an interconnected, sacred “web of life” – one must die so another will live).

As humankind inevitably learned the art of agriculture - enabling food surplus and the feeding of armies - humanity's own hubris and/or spiritual narcissism created male sky gods, which were seen as separate from and above the sacredness of the earth. It was within this new mythology that the male sky god was venerated and the earth goddess began to fall from favor and was inevitably dethroned.

A mythological characteristic from the Bronze Age forward, a male sky god was seen dividing the earth from the heavens, typically by mutilating an earth goddess’s body in the process (the Babylonian myth of Marduk and Tiamat is a good example of this). The end result was a marked shift in humanities perception, where mankind no longer began to see itself as an intrinsic part of a greater and sacred connection to all things, but as separate and alone in a world of great suffering (the suffering which inevitably came with the wars of conquests that the agricultural revolution enabled). This paradigm shift inevitably allowed xenophobia and the FEAR of death to slowly creep into the consciousness of humanity. The sacred realm (heaven) was no longer seen as PART of earth, but a separate “place” above and removed. Humanity itself was similarly viewed as something “other,” “outside” and “apart” from the earth itself. As a consequence of this, our species began to no longer view the earth as an interconnected web of life, but as something that could be “conquered” and used as “man” saw fit, divinely sanctioned by male sky gods.

"For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible; all things were created by him and for him." - Colossians 1:16-17

Something to keep in mind: the violence and ruthlessness of humanity only arose within the last 10,000 years, through a response to changing cultural dynamics of the time. It’s unfortunate that the majority of the population continues to view our species through the distorted lens of the sin hypothesis (e.g.: the belief that humanity is wretched and evil and can only redeem itself in the eyes of a god which looks down upon us from heaven). This small worldview is simply not true. We’ve merely inherited an antiquated belief system from our rightfully fearful ancestors early as 8,000 B.C, who were merely doing the best they could with the circumstances that fate had dealt to them. Prior to this time, our race was known more for it’s collective connection and inherent compassion then for its ruthlessness, greed and individualism.

Consequently, a 'witch' was initially a derogatory term that followers of these male sky gods would call goddess worshipers to delegitimize them and have others (typically males) ignorantly fear them.  And don't even get me started on the Inquisition!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jesus Was Right

We must resist the urge of falling prey to the conviction that compassion is merely touchy-feely, utopist non-sense. Despite what St Augustine, Anne Rynd, or the Religious Right might have you believe about our species as a whole, Jesus’ message still stands as a compelling example of our potential. Turning the other cheek continues to be a powerful psychological "tool" because it essentially deprives our "enemies" of their sense of entitlement to self-righteous anger. Jesus may or may not have died for our sins, but one has to admit to the brilliance of his teachings. You don't have to be a Zen sage to know that it's much harder to hate someone who shows you love when you cause them harm than responding with the hate that’s expected in return. From an evolutionary stand point, we have powerful psychological drives which prompt us towards revenge, but we have also been endowed with a discerning mind that can be utilized mindfully and trained with compassionate awareness, enabling us to make wise decisions in our lives and thus have a profoundly positive impact upon those around us. Compassion is contagious, but don't believe for a second that this doesn't take a great deal of commitment, hard work and deep courage to maintain in the face of adversity.

It's easy to have strong spiritual convictions when life is easy and uncomplicated but a person who harms us deeply hardly deserves the satisfaction of bankrupting our spiritual convictions, destroying our inherent compassion for others. It's a spiritual choice not to be consumed by hatred and ignorance. To forgive someone who has harmed us does not mean you approve of that persons behavior. It merely means that you understand that person has taken their suffering personally and that it is their ignorance which has 'allowed' them to subdue their innate compassion, thus enabling them to commit great atrocities. Good people sometimes do bad things, especially in the name of righteousness. The sin hypothesis is a spiritually destructive myth that feeds upon this impulsive drive for revenge. When others are seen as innately evil (and thus “other”, as we all tend to consistently view ourselves as “good”) it is much easier to withhold our compassion from them. Without deeper understanding one cannot have compassion for others. If one is consumed by hatred for someone who has committed horrible deeds, that person is also unwittingly consumed by their own ignorance. True faith resides in the potential of humanity and the fact that everything is workable just as it is. We wouldn’t have survived as a species if this were not true. The impulse for revenge can inevitably be worked through.

Humanity has the potential to transcend its Bronze age dualism which discriminates and divides people into separate tribes of “us verses them” out of a deep-rooted, 'habitual' fear. Evil arises from ignorance of our own true nature, not some erroneous cultural meme that states that humanity was born selfish and inherently bad. While the inclination for revenge might be strong, one must be mindful of the fact that we are much more then a collection of driven impulses. The fact of the matter is that we have more that connects us as a species then that which divides us. It is only our own ignorance prevents us from seeing this truth. Dogma is just another name we give to our rigid ideals that is nothing more than an illusion of a discriminating mind. Answering hate with hate only multiplies hate, and merely allows evil to creep back into the world as the inevitable result. We may not have the power to radically change the world to match our ideals but we do have the power to change our own unconditioned thoughts (and thus the way we feel and behave) and thus have a profound impact on those around us. In this manner, we are planting the seeds of positive growth and meaningful change. This is what Dr. King, Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi and others like them have shown us. If their work has been pure silliness and empty words, never having had a true impact on this world, we would not still be discussing them to this day. We owe it to them to continue this work as what they have humbly shown humanity is nothing more than the true potential of our species.

I refuse to "celebrate" the death of anyone, even if they have killing thousands of innocent people. I do not mourn for their death, I only mourn for their ignorance.

Whether it was Dr. King who said these words, or someone else – they still speak truth to our existence:

"I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." - Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.