Jonathan Livingston Seagull

I found Jonathan Livingston Seagull in a bookshelf I don’t look at too frequently.  I had no idea I had the book and imagine it probably came from my father.  I had read it when I was about 10 years old and absolutely loved it then. It’s a very short little book so I decided to read it again.

I didn’t like it so much 36 years later.  Not sure if that means I’m getting cynical in my old age, or what.  It irritated me.  Of course, I haven’t been feeling well and life hasn’t been looking particularly rosy or hopeful, so maybe it is cynicism that caused the irritation.

Once upon a time, life seemed like it was about achieving your full-potential, becoming all that you can be and not letting the nuisances of every day life or the banality of normal societal existence keep you down.  But I’m 46 years old and have watched untold numbers of friends take huge nose dives while trying to achieve untold heights. Several walked out on their spouses and children seeking a more “meaningful” lifestyle and didn’t find it.  Another friend ended up completely bankrupt and reliant upon whomever would take him in because he was certain that by creating the company of his dreams, he’d become a millionaire.  Maybe it finally happened, but I doubt it.  And even if it did happen, did it contain the meaning he expected?

I do think you should go after what it is you want to do.  But at what cost?  If Cognitive Psychologists are correct, then what makes us genuinely happy is ordinary stuff like family and friends, not extraordinary achievement.  Richard Bach left his wife and six children because he decided he didn’t believe in marriage.  I don’t believe in marriage, either, but I think there is a lot to be said for commitment.

A lot of people claim Jonathan Livingston Seagull is about transcending the ego.  I don’t read it that way at all.   Chasing after your desires is all about ego.  Of course, there is also a lot to be said for flying for the sake of flying, eating for the sake of eating, raising children for the sake of raising children, and loving for the sake of loving.  I’m just not convinced you need to leave the ordinary things of this world, like spouses and children, in order to be extraordinary.

Speaking of leaving children, we have yet another vagabond teen staying in our home tonight.  This is the third kid we have taken in who has been kicked out of his house this year!  I seriously don’t get it. If your child violently assaults you or someone in your home, throw him out.  But if he comes home stoned or talks back or something like that, please figure out a more adult way to deal with it!!  Throwing him out on the streets is guaranteed to make him worse, not better.  If you aren’t expecting him to be homeless because you know he’ll likely find a decent place to stay, just know that most of us have our own struggles and don’t really want to have to take on yours, too.

Sorry! I’m just grumpy because I’m not doing much soaring, lately.  I haven’t been feeling well. Not sure what is wrong with me.

Church

My primary concern 5 years ago was Christianity. After 9/11, it was beginning to seem to me that religion was the reason for the majority of hatred, wars, intolerance, division, and environmental issues in the world. I still think that is true. Religion has created horrible divisions in our relationship to one another and the earth.  However, I no longer think it is the fault of religion, but rather, how religion is practiced.  The modern world has tossed out all that was beautiful about religion from traditional times and modern religion is every bit as guilty of this as is modern atheism. I’ve already discussed this ad nauseum, but if you are interested, I especially recommend reading Huston Smith’s Why Religion Matters.

I tried various churches: mainline, progressive, liberal, traditional, non-traditional and could find nothing that made sense to me anymore, so I quit going altogether.  After ten years of not belonging to a church, my husband and I joined a Methodist Church in November of 2009.  I think we were mostly looking for an accepting community and we thought we had found it. I joined a Spiritual Directions group which I thought might harken back to traditional times in it’s spiritual approach.  Instead, I think it serves as a pulpit for the minister to push her belief in God,which is exactly what makes me uncomfortable with modern religion – it’s more about pushing ideas and beliefs about God than it is about experiencing God.

The minister isn’t pushing anything harmful.  She claims we are all precious children of God and that we should think of ourselves as such.  That would be fine, but I feel like this is an idea I’ve since outgrown.  Once upon a time, the idea that God loved me because I am His precious child was very comforting.  But these days, I experience God much more broadly than just a loving, comforting, warm fuzzy father/mother figure. The feel-good, new agey spirituality was all well and good and served a purpose, but I’m just not there anymore.

I can’t exactly explain it, but I have a very strong desire to break through all ideas of God because I think we use them as a crutch.  There is nothing wrong with a crutch if you need it, of course.  But a crutch indicates that healing is in order, does it not?  If we rely too heavily on the crutch, how can we ever truly heal?  I have no desire to knock the crutch out from anyone who needs it.  But I get a little irritated with those who insist we all need it.  That’s an issue I have with religion in general.  In traditional times, religion was meant to be a liberation.  These days, it seems to me that rather than being a liberator, it insists on crippling people so that it can provide the crutch.  What’s so wrong with just being human?  If something makes us sad or makes living difficult for a period of time, is it because we lack the appropriate belief in God?  Or is it simply because we are human?

Not sure where I am going with all of this other than that we were supposed to go to church today and didn’t go.  In fact, we haven’t been in 3 weeks. I haven’t been going to my Spiritual Directions group, either.  It’s just way too lonely.

Sudden Awakening

Eli Jaxon-Bear’s Sudden Awakening was another book I found for $1.00 in the clearance section of the HalfPrice Bookstore next to my daughter’s dance class. I bought it because I attended an Enneagram class several years ago given at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin by one of his students from Leela.  I had a HUGE self-realization while reading his book, The Enneagram of Liberation, which had been assigned for the class.

 

Just a little back ground info.  I’m a seven on the Enneagram scale. This has been confirmed by several Enneagram practitioners including those from Leela, so I’m assuming it is an accurate assessment. Sevens are experience gluttons.   We have difficulty sticking with anything for long because we are always off seeking the next, new experience or grand idea.  Because we tend toward gluttony, our movement toward wholeness, according to Jaxon-Bear, is through “sobriety”.

I had already been through Richard Rohr’s class on the Enneagram as well as a class given by a Jesuit priest who was a psychologist and expert on the Enneagram in San Diego, so none of this was news to me when I took the class offered through the Leela Foundation.  But what I hadn’t considered before reading Jaxon-Bear’s book was that particular kinds of spiritual seeking can be a form of “gluttony”.  I wasn’t into the sort of religious experience people try to effect through meditation or drugs. That has always seemed to me more like gluttony than spirituality.  What I was into, however, was trying to figure out “the code”.  (I don’t know how else to put it.)  I felt certain that if I just studied enough, prayed enough, meditated enough… I’d figure out the spiritual secrets of the universe which would, in turn, “save the world”.  In Enneagram, Jaxon-Bear wrote:

Sevens love to skate on new ideas.  This is a place of synthetic or associative thinking.  They love to bring together new and interesting combinations… These are the future thinkers.  For them, the present is made tolerable by the future.  Sevens always envision us moving into a Golden Age. Things are going to get better.  Thoughts of the future are used to avoid the pain in the present moment.

This hit me like a ton of bricks. Part of the reason I’ve been a spirituality junkie is because I genuinely believe there is something to figure out and when it gets figured out and is presented to others in an understandable way, everything will be better. That this could be a form of avoidance never occurred to me, but it makes sense. It’s like Nietzsche’s idea of Eternal Recurrence. Would you be willing to live your life over and over and over again, as it is now – warts, wars and all?  Nietzsche had chronic migraines and serious, painful stomach issues.  This wasn’t coming from a man who was living a carefree life.   But it makes sense.  We aren’t living in the future. We are living now.  If your focus is on a “better life” in the future rather than gratefulness and verve for life as it is, then according to Nietzsche, you aren’t living.

Anyway, I was excited to happen upon another book by Eli Jaxon-Bear because I had gotten so much out of his first book. Unfortunately, the primary focus of Sudden Awakening seems to me to be on the very thing Jaxon-Bear warned sevens against in his previous book.  It’s full of “wake up so you can save the world” mentality.  I checked out the Leela Foundation on-line and the bi-line is: “Dedicated to World Peace and Freedom through Self-Realization”.  At one point in the book he writes, “Perhaps the only hope for the planet lies in our willingness to end our personal suffering.”

It makes me think of that George Carlin skit where he wonders if human beings have reached a new pinnacle of egoic arrogance by thinking we can “save the planet”. Carlin reminds us that the planet will be just fine. It will recover. It is human beings who are fucked!

Of course, I don’t disagree that there is value in ending our personal suffering.  Healing is healing and has a wide-reaching ripple effect that should never be underestimated.  And I truly got a lot out of reading Sudden Awakening.   Jaxon-Bear is fully of psychological insight.  But I can’t help but wonder:  if we place an urgency on human beings “waking up” in order to “save the world”, how is that not an attachment to the ego?  

How can we possibly put an end to our own personal suffering if our primary reason for doing so is to save the world?   This seems to me to be a double egoic attachment to waking up which I suppose keeps spiritual gurus in business.  It’s a great sales pitch:  “buy our services and we will help you ‘wake up’ which will put an end to personal suffering and world salvation will be yours.  But if we “do in order to get”, is that truly an awakening?  Maybe Jaxon-Bear needs to re-read the book he wrote on the Enneagram.  Especially the part about the Sevens.

Praying Naked

J. Francis Stroud’s Praying Naked is a very interesting book. I’m a little trouble as to why he feels the need to speak through Anthony de Mello? It felt just a tad too new-agish for me, but there were several quotes used in the book which I’ve been meaning to jot down before I shelve the book…

  • When I pray for something, I do not pray.  When I pray for nothing, I really pray.  ~ Anthony de Mello
  • A neurotic is someone who worries about things in the past that never happened.  Not like us normal people who only worry about things in the future that won’t happen.  ~ Anthony de Mello
  • The tragedy of life is not how much we suffer, but how much we miss. ~ Thomas Carlyle
  • To understand things equals learning; to understand others equals wisdom; but to understand yourself, that is enlightenment.  ~ J. Francis Stroud, S.J.
  • Whatever one believes to be true either is true, or becomes true in one’s mind.  ~ John C. Lilly
  • Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion.  You must set yourself on fire.  ~ Reggie Leach
  • To fall into a habit is to begin to cease to be.  ~ Miguel de Unamuno
  • The consciousness of divinity comes only with quietude. ~ Meister Eckhart
  • Pain is the bitter pill of the inner physician that cracks the shell of our understanding.  And, after all, how can a seed grow into a flower unless the seed swells and dies?  ~ Kahlil Gibran
  • Great men are they that see that the spiritual is stronger than any material force, that thoughts rule the world. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • The only thing that we can know is that we know nothing.  And that is the highest flight of wisdom.  ~ Leo Tolstoy
  • Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.  ~ Robert Frost
  • What can you say to a close friend who is about to die? There is only one thing you can say to give the deepest comfort.  Say that in his death, a part of you dies and goes with him.  Wherever he goes, you go also.  He is not alone.  ~ J. Krishnamurti
  • We become the God we adore.  If we make a monster of him, then we become monsters, also.  ~ J. Francis Stroud, S.J.
  • Three stages of a person’s development:  I believe in Santa Claus.  I don’t believe in Santa Claus.  I am Santa Claus. ~ unknown
  • A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and will sing it back to you when you forget it. ~ W.N. Clarke

Women and Spirituality: The Goddess Trilogy

I tend to think of paganism as non-important, primarily because it has always seemed to me a new age reaction to Christianity – an attempt to go backward rather than overcome current issues. Women and Spirituality:  The Goddess Trilogy made me slightly less biased, however.

Think of this: a patriarchal spirituality has been in place ever since the origins of Christianity. In fact, it was in place long before then. All the current major world religions are based on a patriarchal spirituality. Paganism represents a female spirituality.

The term pagan referred to those in rural areas. No matter what your religious beliefs, if you lived in a rural area during Roman rule, you were referred to as a pagan. The term acquired it’s negative connotation when Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire because those in the rural areas were the most difficult to convert to Christianity. The pagans (the rural folk) actively resisted conversion.

Growing up in conservative America in the 1970s, paganism was viewed as the “anti-Christ”. You didn’t want to be a pagan. Of course, dig in to what the term “anti-Christ” really means and perhaps many Christians are actually the anti-Christ. Especially if Christ is understood as universality. Most Christians are exclusive, not inclusive. Yet Christ is technically understood as all inclusive. Therefore, the anti-Christ is anything that is exclusive rather than inclusive. That which excludes describes numerous Christians while that which includes describes the bulk of paganism.

I suppose I’ve been somewhat skeptical of the Pagan movement because I was introduced to it through a UU Church that exists in the midst of ultra-conservativille. Many of these pagans are ex-fundamentalist Christians who have rejected the fundamentalist doctrine of their upbringing and have assigned all of Christianity with the fundamentalist baggage. So all they’ve really done is flip the judgment (Christianity is bad; Paganism is good) while maintaining the same intolerance and magical belief system of their fundamentalist upbringing.

Paganism wasn’t described in The Goddess Trilogy as an anti-Christianity at all.   One woman kept describing it as pre-Churchianity. That makes perfectly good sense to me because I definitely have a problem with the way Christianity has been handed down to us through “Churchianity”. Jesus message was something far more universal than the Church which was based on the Roman governmental city-state hierarchy.

The Goddess Trilogy presented “The Goddess” as  metaphor in the true sense of metaphor, rather than the warped modern sense which doesn’t understand metaphor at all. Many of the women acknowledged their dissatisfaction with the term “Goddess”. They fully recognize that the term is every bit as problematic as is the term “God”.

The question is – how do you experience the universe? As a “He”?  Or as a “She”? Personally, I’m not sure I experience the universe as either, but if I had to choose, it would definitely be female.

Kabbalah

I watched a documentary called Secrets of the Kabbalah from the History Channel last night. I know next to nothing about Kabbalah so this was of major interest to me even though anyone could tell me anything about the Kabbalah and I would have little means to decipher fact from fiction.

A friend recently posted a video from the Ashlag Research Institute called "Perceiving Reality” which has to do with Kabbalah and I reacted to it similarly to how I reacted to "What the Bleep" and "The Secret." I’m skeptical. Not because I disagree with the message, but I am troubled by the delivery because it feels to me like I am being sold a spirituality which doesn’t feel right, although I can’t quite put my finger on why. Maybe the old Christian brainwashing? Or maybe it’s as Huston Smith says – that as soon as you turn spirituality into a noun, something that can be consumed – you’ve destroyed it. What you create is yet another desire which pushes aside emptiness rather than allowing for it.

My friend’s rabbi claimed to be somewhat of an expert on the history of Kabbalah and said that what came about in the middle ages is not what Kabbalah is actually about. This potentially meshes with what "Secrets of the Kabbalah" presents. Kabbalah began as a means for individuals to experience a vision of God like the vision Ezekeil has in Ezekiel 1: 1-28. But it wasn’t called Kabbalah at that time. It was simply an exercise.

"The Book of Creation" (the Sefer Yetzirah) claimed that the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet were the creation of the universe. Apparently God spoke in Hebrew? The details of the book were kept hidden for centuries. (Of course now you can read it in English on-line.)

During the crusades, when Jews were being persecuted against, the mystics who studied "The Book of Creation" and attempted to experience Ezekiel’s vision of God began to be called Kabbalists. (Kabbalah means receiving.) In 1280, the book of Zohar (meaning “splendor, radiance”) was discovered. The author of the 2000 pages is a mystery. It is a mystical commentary on the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). It was written in Aramaic by someone who didn’t know Aramaic very well and is very difficult to interpret. On the surface, it is a novel. But underlying the story is the understanding of the Torah as a code.

It overturns the account in Genesis that God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. What it teaches is that Adam expelled God. We are still in the Garden of Eden but we no longer realize it by our own choice. According to Kabbalah, God is comprised of both male and female aspects. Shekhinah (something Deepak Chopra kept referring to in "How to Know God") is the feminine part of God (possibly akin to the Pagan idea of mother goddess). The goal is to unite the male and female halves of God and this is understood as a sexual union. Human beings affect God by uniting the male and female through acts of compassion, love, etc. This idea, of course, completely clashes with the orthodox idea of God being omnipotent and omniscient.

We have the ability to unite and create harmony, but we likewise have the ability to create disharmony. Human sin creates a mis-balance and empowers cosmic evil. It disrupts the harmony in God. (The Zohar says that the Biblical characters are metaphors of the aspects of God.)

In 1492, 100,000 Jews fled Spain because of the Spanish Inquisition and Kabbalism spread. It became a sort of puritanical movement that taught that if people were holy enough, they could help God bring about the Messiah. In the 1500s, Isaac Luria created yet another form of Kabbalah which became known as Lurianic Kabbalah that had a huge influence on Hasidism. Luria believed in reincarnation and thought that if you could understand what someone had undergone in a previous life, it would help individuals navigate their way through this life. He taught that the first act of creation was not creation, but was withdrawal. Withdrawal created the emptiness necessary to give God the room to create. (The basic understanding is that you cannot have creativity without destruction.)

In 1572, Luria died of the plague which was a blow to many believers who thought his death was brought on because of false teachings. But, with the invention of the printing press and the widespread distribution of the Zohar, Kabbalah continued to spread.

The Zohar was translated into Latin and something known as the Christian Kabbalah came into being. Many claim that this was the very beginnings of modern science and physics  because what the Christian Kabbalists were interested in doing was using Kabbalism as a means to understand Pythagorus whose theories mirrored much of ancient Kabbalistic thought.

Meanwhile, Lurianic Kabbalah gave rise to a mystic named Sabbatai Zvi. He had major bouts of depression mixed with mystical ecstasies (likely bipolar?) He claimed to be the Messiah but when push came to shove and he was given the choice of his Messiahship or converting to Islam, he converted to Islam. A few followers converted with him, but the vast majority decided that mysticism was “bad”.

In recent times, Kabbalism has taken on a completely different character. A New York Rabbi named Philip Berg who had devoted himself to Kabbalism was part of the 1960s American Counter Culture. He created a simplified version of the Kabbalah that he claimed anyone could understand and simultaneously created a Kabbalah empire in Los Angeles called The Kabbalah Centre. This is what has produced much of the Hollywoodized version of Kabbalah (ie Madonna). The practice is open to all and there is no longer any need to engage in the study of Kabbalah in order to consider yourself a Kabbalist. It’s a sort of postmodern spiritualy based upon a materialistic/physical/secular understanding rather than the spiritual/metaphysical understanding traditional Kabbalah held.

This seems to me to be the problem with all of religion/spirituality these days! We’ve almost completely secularized what was once spiritual. (We’ve turned spirituality into a noun – something to consume – rather than a discpline/process.)

Boomeritis – New Age Spirituality

More notes from Boomeritis …

The core of New Age spirituality is the belief – “You create your own reality”. The New Age movement is attempting to get in touch with an all-pervading spiritual and creative source, but the idea often gets filtered through boomeritis and comes out slightly loopy: part good cognitive psychology, part emotional narcissism and prerational magic, and part what seems to be a rather complete misunderstanding of mystical traditions.

Perversion of mystical stance: According to cognitive psychology, people’s belief systems help to determine their experiences. To change your beliefs is to help change your response to life. True. Although I cannot choose my sensations, I can choose how to think about them, and by consistently altering my beliefs and reframing my experience, I can change the very nature of my outlook on life. There are limits to what my beliefs can accomplish, however. But boomeritis recognizes no such limits. “Thoughts influence reality” becomes “thoughts create reality”, therefore my egoic thoughts govern all of reality. This is a narcissistic perversion of the mystical view.

Mystical stance: The world’s great post-turquoise spiritual traditions maintain that the deepest part of your awareness is one with Spirit, and that this divine oneness can be realized with enlightenment – satori, moksha, cosmic consciousness, unio mystica, etc. This is the truth that many New-Agers are attempting to embrace, but the Self that is one with Spirit has little to do with you; it is, in fact, transcendence of your ego that allows this Spirit to shine forth. That Self is the absolute opposite of Boomeritis.

The typical New Age notion is that you want good things to happen to you, so think good thoughts; and that you create your own reality, those thoughts will come true. The mystical notion, on the other hand, is that your deepest Self transcends both good and bad, so by accepting absolutely everything that happens to you – by equally embracing both good and bad with equanimity – you can transcend the ego altogether. The idea is not to have one thing that is good smash into another thing called my ego, but to gently rise above both.

Which I am I listening to? I need to be very careful when I start claiming that I create my own reality because which “I” am I actually listening to: my ego or my Self? the ego in me or the Spirit in me? For the Spirit that is me is not concerned with just me. The Spirit that is in me is likewise in all beings great and small and that Spirit does indeed create the entire universe; it creates its own reality… But when I start claiming to create my own reality and that reality is about nothing but getting a new car, a new job, more money, fame, health instead of disease, happiness instead of sadness, joy instead of pain, light instead of dark, then perhaps I might start to question just which “I” is getting a hearing, because I am no longer being one with everything… I am only being one with a small slice of the universe governed by my small desires and wants. That is not Spirit, that is the ego, plain and simple.

In Boomeritis, God can be captured by merely thinking. All you have to do is think you are one with the Goddess, the Web of Life, etc. Boomeritis wants to think that it is Divine and Sacred, not as a prelude to practice, but as a magical substitute for it. And an absolutely massive industry has grown up to produce this word magic for Boomers; to produce, that is, reasons for Boomers to think that their egos are Divine.

Boomeritis on Physics: Since you can’t predict anything about the small particles until you measure them, then they don’t exist until you measure them. Therefore it is the very act of measurement that brings the particles into existence, and that means you are responsible for their existence. Since all things are made of these particles, then you create all reality. Your big fat ego creates the universe.

Dana Zohar: Spokesperson for Boomeritis physics: The idea of a “quantum society” stems from a conviction that a whole new paradigm is emerging from our description of quantum reality and that this paradigm can be extended to change radically our perception of ourselves and the social world we want to live in. A wider appreciation of quantum reality can give us the conceptual foundations we need to bring about a positive revolution in society.” In other words, subvert the old paradigm, transgress the old society, usher in the world-shaking revolution. Boomer ego saves the world.

Paradigm: The term comes from Thomas Kuhn and was misunderstood through the lens of Boomeritis. Since “paradigms” govern science, and since paradigms are allegedly not anchored in actual facts and evidence – but instead “create” them – then you needn’t be tied to the authority of science in any fundamental way. Science is arbitrary (it is not the result of actual evidence but of imposed power structures), relative (it reveals nothing that is universal in reality, but simply relative to the scientific imposition of power), socially constructed (it is not a map corresponding to any actual reality, but a construction based on social conventions), interpretive (it does not reveal anything fundamental about reality but is simply one of many interpretations of the world text), power-laden (science is not grounded in facts, it simply dominates people, usually for Eurocentric and androcentric reasons), and nonprogressive (since science proceeds by ruptures or breaks, so there can be no cumulative progress in any of the sciences). Kuhn argued vehemently against most of these views. But the misunderstanding took hold in Boomeritis: we can abandon the straightjacket of science and evidence by merely thinking up a new paradigm – sixties narcissism.

The new paradigm is something like systems theory which has been around in serious fashion for at least half a century, and has been used by many sciences for most of that time, including various schools of sociology, psychology, biology, ecology, and cultural anthropology. Nevertheless, Boomer writers all seem to agree on these points: there is definitely a new paradigm emerging, and this paradigm might very well serve as the catalyst of an unprecedented world transformation, which will be led by those who have the new paradigm: deep ecology, transit astrology, the quantum self, the quantum society, holistic health, postmodern poststructuralism, ecofeminism, quantum psychotherapy, neo-Jungian psychology, channeling, pre-modern indigenous tribal consciousness, crystal healing, rebirthing, ecopsychology, holotropic breathwork, aura cleansing, psychic network, revisioning transpersonal psychology….

Kuhn used the word paradigm to denote both the established and admired solutions that serve as models of how to practice the science, and also for the local social structure that keeps those standards in place by teaching, rewards, and the like. The word was catapulted into prominence and now seems a standard item in the vocabulary of everyone who writes about science – except Kuhn himself who claims it is a dead metaphor.