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Monday, July 23, 2007

Further thoughts on spirituality

This Mumble repeats much of what I said in an earlier Mumble, but such is the nature of Mumbles...

'Anonymous' posted the following comment on the Daily Mumble a couple of days back; I've decided to use it as a jumping-off point for today's post.

Have you read the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins? If not, you should, it's quite interesting. There is a slight whiff of coffee-table atheism about it and some of the arguments are somewhat cyclical but overall a soundly argued polemic.

I, like you, was raised Catholic but have grown increasingly disillusioned and skeptical of mainstream religion. I don't believe in God but I don't believe in NOTHING after death so I suppose that makes me...err...agnostic? Perhaps? Not sure.

Anyway, in my mind all religion and spiritual belief seems focused on the word you used a lot in your most recent post "why?". As humans we seem unable to cope with the concept of infinite randomness. It's something in our make up. It's like those ink splodges psychiatrists use sometimes...they are completely random...but our brain FORCES us to try and make sense of what we're seeing and so we end up seeing familiar images that are not there.

By the same token I feel religion serves the same purpose - "Why has this happened to me?"/"Why did this event occur?". Religion or some spiritual framework (call it, say, fate) answers these questions for us and gives us piece of mind. However, to me, it seems that religion and other belief systems are just a response to our inability to accept that LIFE IS RANDOM. Random things happen for no reason all the time... sometimes good, sometimes bad (we often only notice the bad)...but ultimately, in my opinion, there is no rhyme and reason - no great solution. In my life I try to "go with the flow"...accept things that happen and move on...change my plans and move to the next step without the incessant questioning. In a way it could even be construed as self-pity (as you seem to allude to in your later post). This is just my observations...there's no greater reasoning behind it than my own thoughts but I'd be interested to hear your views Joseph?
Anonymous


Thank you Anonymous, for your comment, welcome as always.

I was aware of Richard Hawkins' book The God Delusion, having heard him talk about it on Radio 4 when it came out. Since then I have read the first chapter, but am not moved to read the rest of it.

It seems to me that his argument is based upon the notion that we are humans with a spiritual life - rather than spirits temporarily enjoying a human life, as I have long felt but until recently not acknowledged. Thus, I don't really see the relevance of his argument to my existence.

He seems to be arguing against those who believe in 'Our Father, who art in heaven'. Whilst I don't subscribe to what little I understand to be his argument, I too do not feel comfortable with the concept promoted by this line. My Catholic upbringing instilled in me this idea that I was a wee little human down here, at the mercy of an almighty God who was, as literally stated in the Lord's Prayer, in Heaven, out of reach, only appearing now and then through a parting of clouds (ok, so I have to admit that Terry Gilliam may have had a hand in that...!). A lord whose mercy had to be sought (suggesting to me that God was not fundamentally a nice guy), whose help had to be requested (suggesting he was a withholding God). And why was it that I could not experience God directly, in everyday life? Why was an intermediary necessary (i.e. a church and a priest)?

I know that organised religion brings a great deal of strength to many many people, and thus I am not dismissing it as an altogether unnecessary or negative thing. Looking at the religious communities in my home county, I see a great deal of good being done. For many, I know it is a lifeline. I have a few friends who work in the church, and whom I know bring a great deal of light into the lives of the congregations that attend services that they participate in. I have a great deal of respect for the selfless work that they do, and it is an absolute joy to be around them.

My childhood experience however, whilst by no means 'bad', was one of being controlled and at the mercy of a higher being, out of sight, out of reach. I was disenfranchised. I don't resent my Catholic upbringing one jot, indeed I am grateful, as it has led me to be very skeptical of any religious teachings directed my way, thus, if anything does feel 'so right' to me, as it does now, I can feel confident that I have stumbled across something that resonates with my soul, my energy.

These past few weeks I have been trying to live in congruence with my core feelings / soul. That is, making decisions based on what my heart tells me, not what my head or ego are demanding. I have found that doing so provides me with a stillness, a calmness, a peacefulness that has been lacking when my head has tried to make controversial decisions in the past. We know the answers to many of lives 'problems' (the existence of 'problems', along with 'coincidences' is something I am growing increasingly skeptical of) within us. We may ask others for advice, but at the end of the day, if we don't act in accordance with the way in which our 'souls' are directing us, we will suffer a great deal of anguish.

I've also started to work upon acceptance of all that happens. For example, the other day, when I was attempting to visit both the Chinese and Mongolian embassies in the space of 90 minutes , I missed a train by a couple of seconds - the doors shut in my face.

My initial reaction was that which I have long had in such situations: mild anger, frustration and stress.

I then stopped, and thought, "Ok, so I could carry on feeling like this, and have a bad day, or I could simply let go, cast the negativity aside and smile". I opted for the latter. The weight was lifted from my shoulders, I straightened my back, I felt happy and relaxed. And, ultimately, I did get to the Mongolian embassy before 12pm.

Anonymous, you stated that LIFE IS RANDOM; perhaps it is, but I choose to not believe that that is the case. We are similar in that we both "...accept things that happen and move on...change [our] plans and move to the next step without the incessant questioning", the only difference being that whereas you choose to ascribe no particular reason to events, I choose to ascribe to it a reason that will in due course reveal itself, before moving on.

If nothing else, this makes for a great game, as when the meaning does reveal itself you can cross out another square on your mental bingo card. There is no incessant questioning, just acceptance of what has occurred, and then joy when the pieces fit.

Whilst I wouldn't go so far as to say that there is some grand masterplan, as that takes me back to the idea of a supreme being partially or wholly separate from myself, I still strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. For me, there is an energy that balances all. For me, to say that all is random is to say that we are random, that the eco-system is random, that night and day are random.

At the end of the day though, it doesn't really matter if Life is random or not. I choose to subscribe to the notion that it is not, as it gives me a mightily powerful tool to work through 'difficulties' when they arise. If one is truly able to dismiss all as random and not raise the question 'why?', then that's great, and I admire your ability to do so, but I would imagine that a lot of people would find it difficult to not ask the question. You may think that my method is a kind of get-out clause, but the number of times I have found a reason (often in the form of a valuable lesson learned) for inexplicable events after they have occurred informs me that in my life has a core thread that connects everything together, a thread that could be thought of as my source.

It occurred to me this morning that this notion of us being fundamentally spiritual beings living a human life is reinforced in business and self-development literature. Last year, The Secret was unleashed upon the world, riding the crest of a media campaign that was expertly executed to ensure maximum exposure and returns. The Secret, the title and theme of which is virtually identical to the late Earl Nightingale's The Strangest Secret, speaks of manifesting your destiny through the power of thought and belief. Of course, this idea is nothing new, it's been around for centuries, and tends to be reinvented every few decades (as it was last year) for the new generation. "What you think about Expands" "What you think about and thank about you bring about" "You are what you think" - there's endless ways of putting it.

We see the results of the power of our thoughts all around us - but thinking alone won't bring ideas to fruition. It takes passion, and a strong belief in your project which is rooted not in your physical body, but in your core, your source, your soul, your spirit, your thread. Without this, you are unlikely to succeed in (for example) your business venture. Think iPhone production.

This truth, which is demonstrated time and time again all around us, shows the strong link between current thinking and future events. The link is not the simple ticking of the clock and a series of random things that have 'just happened', rather, it is this continuous thread that runs through our spiritual lives, a minute section of wire on the fairly lights that Shari wrote about last week.

If one was to accept the notion that is was a spiritual being living a temporary physical life, illness and disease would not wreak half as much damage as they normally do.

"How are you today?"
"I'm great!! I really feel so good! Mind you, my body's not doing so well since I broke its right hip last week. It'll be as good as new soon enough though. Its immune system is kicking the arse of this flu too. I'll just keep on feeding it what it needs and it'll be back on track in no time."

This positive attitude will have a great effect upon your recovery time: I have a friend here in Tokyo who, after he broke his leg, refused to acknowledge that he was temporarily disabled, took a high dose of organic multivitamins, minerals and protein as demanded by his body, used his leg as much as possible, and was running around again in a tenth of the time the doctors predicted his recovery would take. The power of our thoughts can be especially powerful with diseases such as cancer and Aids. last week I heard a very inspiring story told by an American chap who had been living with HIV AIDS for 17 years. His condition was worsening, and the doctors gave him just a few months to live. It was then that he started to change his thinking, to believe in his bodies power to beat the illness ...and sure enough, a month later he started showing signs of recovery, and has since enjoyed the best health he's ever had, and now spends his time running marathons to raise money for AIDS charities.

I do not believe that such things would be possible if we were not able to draw upon our source. A thought is but a few electrical impulses in the physical brain - a strong feeling, a belief is much more and reaches deep down into our spiritual energy reserves which are ultimately limitless.

At least, that's what I feel to be the case.



For me, the greatest struggle this week has been with the notion that "What you think of me is none of my business".

This is another of those phrases that is often repeated in self-development books. "Learn to be independent of the good opinion of others" is another. It does not promote selfishness, and it does not promote the taking advantage of those around you. It does, however, encourage you to trust in and act in accordance with your source, to not be negatively affected by the opinion of others. I understand that this is necessary for a peaceful inner life, but losing 16 years of social conditioning is not something that can be done overnight. Mind you, it does help in the short term. Provided I always act in accordance with what I feel is fundamentally right, I should not fear the opinions of others. They are perfectly entitled to their opinions, but they have their own lives with which to experiment, and I should not feel obliged to fit in with what they think is right just for the sake of making them feel 'right'.

At the end of the day, they most likely feel like me anyway: I would be quite disappointed if someone was to change their position just so that they would be looked upon favourably by me.

Anyhow, time to move on.

Thanks for listening.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very interesting post Joseph. There are a couple of points I would like to pick you up on. Firstly, my concept of accepting that life is random does not disempower us from MAKING things happen. It is not a passive stance, as you appear to have implied in your post. I do believe in the power of positive thought and so and so forth, but we do have to accept that we are still small beings being swept around in the seas of change. We can never have complete control over our lives because a large percentage of our lives are affected directly or indirectly from the “random” actions of others/the weather/technology…and so on and so forth. But, again, I must stress this is not disempowering, quite the opposite. If we recognise what we CAN change, what we CAN do; this is a realisation that, in fact, empowers us.

As for your notion as to there being a “jigsaw”…that things happen for a reason…I can respect this idea and, to some extent, would like to buy into it myself but I have a nagging doubt that it falls into the very human trap of inflated self-importance. It’s a phenomenon that is prevalent in many mainstream religions, in fact…the concept that followers of a certain belief system are the “chosen ones”…that they are on Earth to serve some higher purpose. The reason I would like to buy into this idea is because I, too, would like to believe that I am not one small individual in a population of billions. An insignificant bundle of cells and firing neurons in the infinite wonder of the universe. Again, some people may see this as disempowering but, again, I believe that it is, in fact, humbling. I am not important but I will do what I can in this world for what I believe in and hope that I can make the lives of those I care about better. Even with modest ambitions we can achieve great things.

23/7/07 20:18  
Anonymous Thomas Hurst said...

People are very good at pattern matching, especially when it comes to ascribing meaning and purpose to things; it doesn't take a huge leap to recognise why we would have evolved this way, as it gives us a great advantage when interacting with others and interpreting their actions, inferring motivations, and so forth.

Evidently it can also be useful to apply this to the wider world; even if it has no intrinsic meaning or purpose, we can imbue it with our own as an aid to our modeling of it, and to help us improve our own responses to it, without having to reduce everything to a long drawn out scientific study.

That is, so long as we recognise it as pure perception; more a reflection of ourselves than of any objective reality (indeed, this goes for a surprising amount of what we actually perceive; our consciousness simply doesn't have the capacity for anything but a summary). Take it too seriously and before you know it you'll be thinking the creator of the universe is having a dialog with you and taking an unhealthy interest in your sex life.

I guess the same could be said for spirituality and dualism -- ultimately while you are clearly information encoded in and utterly dependant upon your physical body, being able to "elevate" yourself above that, as you say, can have its own benefits. It's even potentially somewhat true; you're the *information*, not the substrate, and the two could potentially be seperated; "all" it'd take is to copy the information to a new substrate and you have an existance seperate from your biological body; if we're lucky we might even live to see that.

(Hi Joseph! I must admit, I immediately thought "Bwahaha, that's karma for you" when I read about the incident with the caterpillar, after hearing how great your life's been going, but I guess congratulations are still in order so.. watch out! ;)

23/7/07 23:59  
Blogger Joseph said...

Anonymous, thank you. My apologies for misinterpreting what you said about randomness - delighted to hear that you you do not subscribe to a passive approach to life. I would however tentatively suggest that that such things as the action of others / weather / technology are not random. I guess it's just a case of what you choose to believe.

I don't really see the 'jigsaw' as being a sign of an inflated self-importance, and (although you are not suggesting that I do) I certainly don't subscribe to any notion of their being 'chosen ones', as promoted by some religions (it was that kind of view than led to my rejection of religion as a teenager).

'An insignificant bundle of cells and firing neurons' - I respect your thinking, but for me, personally, that just doesn't work, as it seems to imply that we are first and foremost human, whereas I feel we are first and foremost spirit. The cells and neurons are merely tools employed by our core energy to enable us to live temporary human lives.

Your approach towards life, that is, that you 'will do what [you] can in this world for what [you] believe in and hope that [you] can make the lives of those [you] care about better' really makes me smile with positivity and hope, but I think it's a shame that many people do not believe in the incredibly rich resources that we ALL possess, yet seldom call upon.

Your reference to modest ambitions reminds me of the following quote, the name of the author of which I forget:

"It's not that we set our standards too high and fail to reach them, its that we set them too low and do reach them".

Imagine if we all strived for a far better life for all living things on this planet, and the planet herself! The things we could achieve if only we'd believe in ourselves, be brave enough to dream big dreams, and pursue them with love and absolute confidence. I know you are skeptical when it comes to mass movements (I recall our Co2 discussion!), and I guess once again I could be seen as being extremely idealistic.

Nonetheless, I have a strong feeling that I (and therefore all others) are far more than just a complex bunch of cells with electrical currents flowing through them; I strongly feel there is more to us than meets the eye or xray machine.

Perhaps it is my ego speaking when I say I don't subscribe to the notion that I am not important. It could be the fact that it reminds me of the church I was brought up in.

I have a strong feeling however that it is my sadness, triggered when I see unhappy people who feel that they are powerless, and do not even believe they have the right to dream (and we have all met such people), that causes my unease with the statement that we are not important.

Someone said to me a couple of weeks back that they'd be completely lost without their spiritual life. This was not someone who was particularly religious, they are not followers of any particularly faith.

I'm beginning to understand how they feel, as something stirs inside me. It's pretty exciting and empowering, it helps me be strong in order that I may help others more than I have been able to up until now. And as far as I can tell, this isn't a bad thing at all.

24/7/07 00:00  
Blogger Joseph said...

Thomas,

an absolute delight and quite a surprise to hear from you.

Fascinating comment, thank you. I only wish I had your way with words!


Re. '... so long as we recognise it as pure perception; more a reflection of ourselves than of any objective reality'

Absolutely. As for having a dialog with the creator, well, as I Am God theoretically that's not quite possible, but none the less, I take your point. The notion of 'talking to the creator' does not sit well with me, as it once again promotes this notion of an exterior almighty force 'up there'. Personally, I'd prefer to simply get on with working with the energy within myself.

I love your take on spirituality and dualism, although am not sure about having my body copied onto another substrate (I may feel differently about this when I'm age 85!). I also doubt whether this could ever be possible, no matter what technological advances are made. I am reminded of the artificial seawater created by scientists that is chemically identical to the stuff that makes up the oceans: put fish in it and they die.

There's some pretty special forces at play when it comes to giving living creatures life; I do subscribe to Darwin's theory on evolution and natural selection, but feel there is much more at play behind the scenes, inaccessible to technological instruments.

Anyway thanks again for your comment. Hope you got the email I sent a few weeks back. :-)

24/7/07 00:30  
Anonymous Thomas Hurst said...

My comment on "dialog with creator" was an extreme (heh) example, not a specific dig. Even I (a devout atheist) am guilty of sometimes ascribing meaning and dialogs with the events in my life, and it can sometimes be tricky to accept that it is ultimately an illusion.

For copying minds, I think it's intuitively obvious that it's possible in a general sense (i.e. intelligent entities are just as copyable as dumb ones), but concede that our own mental architecture need not be made in a way which makes this particularly feasible. I think if this is the case, it's almost certainly going to be because it's very hard to take an accurate enough snapshot of a squishy living brain, and nothing to do with "well, we can't do it because there's a semi-magical soul which we can't copy".

Artificial sea water? Our fish, and those in aquariums around the world seem to do pretty well. Granted it's difficult to get it right and keep it stable, but that's an implementation issue. If scientists really did make something "chemically identical" to seawater and fish die in it, [citation needed] ;)

I can appreciate the sense that "there has to be something more" -- something as you say "behind the scenes", as though physical reality wasn't enough to make things like us. I think this is just another cognitive bias; a rock isn't alive, and no matter what combination you put the rocks in, it won't spring to life (again, it's handy to be able to make a judgement call like this out on the savanah), and it's tempting to accept this sort of generalization -- you might make a clunky machine or a wizzy computer, but *life* is special.

And yes, life is special; it's amazingly complex and interdependent in ways which makes Windows Vista look like "Hello World". Still, I don't see a need for scientifically inaccessable realms to embed this complexity -- there's *plenty* of room in what we know is there already :)

Also.. I have email? ;)

Yay, found it. I'm afraid I'm pretty bad with email these days; it's just too full of crap for me to take seriously, and when I do look, it's scarily easy to miss even quite important messages. And if I *do* notice them, I go "ok, I'll [finish that] reply later" and.. we all know how that ends ;)

25/7/07 08:27  

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