Leaving in Parts

I feel like I’m leaving in parts; As I age, holes appear; wrinkles carve their canyons in my skin; eyes strain to sense details; mind clouds; cells struggle to replace themselves. Can I learn to see beyond the holes to something gained rather than lost? Does spirit automatically fill the emptiness?

There is a strange comfort in these holes, the loss of limbs, cells, parts. The stars still shine through them. And after all, “stardust” is what we are.

At the same time, there is an urgency to the fact that we will never know, cannot ever know what we really are. Spirituality is our attempt to create meaning out of that mystery.

If we see our lives as gardens, why then, do we clean and plant the garden when we know it will grow thick with weeds soon after? Or to use another metaphor, why do we clean our rooms when we know they will soon become messy with the entropy of living?

Can the true meaning of, or metaphor of, the garden be that it is something beyond, or further inside us, part of us still, either way?

Can gardening speak of a cure for the insanities of the world, murder, torture, war, famine, and the political and social webs which create and imprison beauty and freedom?

In the reflection of the puddle I see my tortured face, my stony frailty, monstrous melting glacier, shuddering scrawniness, dialed-in stupidity, creaturely, Gollemy.

Can the garden cure all that?

Yes. Out of the dirt I create myself, muddy, filthy, and beautiful. There will be no other like me or this moment.

No matter how down or weak you feel, cherish that uniqueness, all parts of it.

Meet me just beyond the garden gate, nowhere else.

Integral Spirituality, Humanist Spirituality

Another New Age trend? Well, perhaps a New, new age, looking beyond crystals and incense. Why should we think about these ideas?

All peoples from around the world maintain some kind of spiritual practice. It adds meaning and wholeness to their lives. I am included in that bunch. When I started this blog is was about my poetry. Now I realize I was seeking clarity through my poetry. As I age, I need a firmer grasp of the big picture. My search has led me to Sufi poetry, Buddhist thinking, learning Yoga and its philosophy, Taoism, even some mystical Christian poetry, such as Thomas Merton. And it has also led me to read books on consciousness, psychology, biology, philosophy and language.

Religion as it is now ends up creating pockets of belief, quietly held close to the chest, so that only those close to us will hear what we believe. We cannot afford to continue limiting our spiritual practices to these kinds of fenced in beliefs. We all need to look beyond faith to truth; the truth about what all humans need and want.

I want to believe something with everyone else, but history and the current trends of the religious right in the US have forced me to reject the faulty tower of Christianity. Things need an overhaul. Religion in its current state is leaking credibility like a plastic bucket that’s been dragged across a hot asphalt road for 2000 miles. One has to deny to much of reality to believe it. After reading Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, I’m convinced there are no innocent followers of any organized religion based on pure faith and not fact.

So, what am I getting at? I’m not sure. Maybe you can help. Why is it that science and technology, medicine, knowledge, intelligence, education, government, and everything else has progressed with the times, while religion still touts fairy tales? How can intelligent people know so much about the universe and biology and and life and death and psychology and quantum reality and still think there’s a petulant guy with a beard sitting up in the sky wearing white robes watching us and judging and sending some to heaven with harps and some to hell with red horns?

Jesus was a really, really cool guy who wanted us all to feel and know and nourish the incredible gift of consciousness and spirit we inherit, and that we needed some guidelines. But we basically misunderstood most of what he said and eventually blew it all out of proportion for thousands of years, using his teachings to kill and oppress. As for the miracles, there are better special effects these days than any of that hocus pocus. Human spirit is a real miracle, not just the followers of an old book.

We all want to belong. I do, too. There’s a lot of pressure to conform to what everyone else believes. “Can billions of people be wrong?” Heck, yes. The whole planet used to think the world was flat. On a global scale, people want to believe something outside their meager existence, and religion has made VERY good use of that need, and used it to gain incredible power. But there are other options, there really are.

I think Jesus and whatever god there might be would want us to put two and two together and grow beyond the literal words of books written 2 millennia ago by humans, men, with their frailties and limitations, and ‘god’ knows what political power strategies to implement.

We need to move beyond all that outdated dogma into a modern kind of spirituality, one which embraces the human desire to understand the big picture, and one which includes science in that picture. I want to know the larger meaning of my life, how I fit into the universe, why I am alive, what is my purpose. I want answers. I want guidance. I need it. But I refuse to accept that there are no options beyond the current organized religions. I recently asked a very liberal Episcopal Minister why we need to refer to a book which is so full of violence and contradiction. I was told that I just haven’t interpreted the Good Book properly yet. Hogwash. I want a new book.

On the other hand, some of the lessons in the Bible are still valid today. For example, the gnostic Gospel of Thomas intrigues me. It shows Jesus telling us “If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you” And…”the Kingdom of God is within you…” Good. I’m bringing forth what’s within me now.

Let’s use these teachings, and add more modern, up to date spiritual answers for the new problems we have: the threat of extinction, overpopulation, global war, destruction of the environment, lack of social connectedness, lack of spiritual unity, lack of morality, hypocrisy, corporate monopolies causing injustice and destruction of cultures and land.

Let’s begin the discussion, or continue where we left off 2000 years ago. What would Jesus do? What would Buddha do? What would Mohamed do? I don’t think they’d approach todays world the same as they did then. Do you?

Who are the living leaders in these religions? I’ve given up on the Catholic Church, so steeped in its own gilded power as to be paralyzed to any change, let alone evolve. And the loudest religious leaders in the US are also hopeless, soaked to the bone in their own volatility, ready to immolate any second, flambé in their own vitriol. We won’t even mention Islam at this point, who’s spiritual goodness cowers behind twisted righteous dogma. The Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh are one hope. Their teachings are the most evolved spiritual guides we have in living people today. But to most people, they’re just wishy washy monks from Asia. That’s about it.

I plan to explore new approaches to the problems of spirituality today. I will share my readings and findings here on my blog. So far, the best description of what I am looking for is Humanist Spirituality, or Integral Spirituality.

Here is an interesting sermon on humanist spirituality by Rev. Bill Gupton of the Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church in Cincinnati, OH. I also just read an outstanding talk, Humanist Spirituality: Oxymoron or Authentic Path to Enlightenment given by Doug Muder, who’s blog is Free and Responsible Search. He reasons that a new kind of spirituality can offer in terms of connection to reality and liberation from its limitations. It is a worthy read.

A blog which explores alternatives to mass religion is IntentBlog. There’s a good article on Empirical Spirituality where the writer, Judi Rall, says “I am an empirical spiritualist because the only way one can know truth is by experience. Observing with our eyes, sensing with our intuition, feeling with our emotions: these are all necessary parts of discerning truth. We must trust them. That is how God communicates with us, by providing emotional, visual and intuitive information cued to the empirical experiences of nature.” Along those lines, I think Pagan Spirituality gets a bad rap from everyone. For the past 2000 years, the Church as been stealing pagan rituals as their own and destroying their credibility, using smear tactics which rival the US Republican Party!

One book which popped up in my searches is Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins. He, along with many others who wish to foster a new kind of spirituality, emphasizes the mystery and wonder of the natural world, both inner and outer, and how science has helped amplify the beauty of the unknown, rather than mythologize it. Of course he’s been lambasted by those who feel threatened by the possibility of bringing spirituality up to date. Edmund O Wilson is another truth teller who’s being swamped with venom from small minded thinkers.

More and more people are claiming to be “spiritual but not religious”. What does this mean? Is it possible to feel the pulsing vitality of a great joyous, creative Spirit within ourselves without going to a church and reading an old, self-contradictory book? What do you think? Really, I want to know! If you don’t agree with me, tell me why. Perhaps these new, freethinker, human spiritualists are misguided and will be trapped in some dead end teachings, following a false slimy guru who has a taste for purple koolaid. Perhaps. But that’s why I’m here asking and wondering how and why we might unleash a new of direction in spirituality, something focused and appealing, real and mystical, sensible and enticing. In this age of brilliant advertising and research into mass appeal, I’m sure we can come up with a well researched, sensible, powerful, constructive spirituality.

It is possible to imagine a spiritual tradition where the focusing practices of Buddhism and Buddhist thinking can join with the physical balancing of Yoga and The Alexander Technique, which can then be guided by some moral teachings from Jesus and Mohammed, updated to reflect the rich depth and expanse of modern science and cosmology, (for a REALLY cool, fun, educational tour of the big bang go here) add a dose of climate and ecological responsibility, a heaping spoon of sane technoprogressive perspective, a dash of Steve Pavlina for focus and direction, and mix it all up to form something really useful and relevant to our complex and overcrowded world.

The Edge

Sheer Cliff
Standing at the edge of the cliff
We notice there are two possibilities.
One, we can remain, safe, where we are.
Or we can jump into an unknown future.

On one hand,
we are freed by the possibility of not jumping.
But imagining the flight without experiencing it
is a also a kind of suicide.

Seeing both sides of the view is not one or the other,
but a third angle, floating beyond hesitation and demise.
This is the philosopher’s island of peace.

Yet paralysis and demise are ultimately choices.
Most of us are not philosophers.
We yearn to fly.
Flight implores choice.
Our wings need to be developed as we grow.

Decisiveness resides deep in the body.

Ted Haggard is a Test

I’ve been meaning to write a post on old fashioned virtues. I realized I didn’t know what they all were, so I looked them up. I found a beautiful site about The Virtues featuring painting and quotes for each of the 12 virtues.

They are listed as: ~ Faith ~ Honesty ~ Gratitude ~ Perseverance ~ Forgiveness ~ Patience ~ Courage ~ Respect ~ Generosity ~ Discipline ~ Compassion ~ Humility~.

The incentive to write about these came in an email from Amy of Chattering Mind, a spiritual blog from over at BeliefNet. She suggested I write something about the Ted Haggard scandal, “something compassionate, spiritual, expansive”. I shot back an email saying, “something compassionate about Ted Haggard? You think me a comedian?”
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What is Spirit and Spirituality?

Adirondacks, View from Snowy Peak
Recently I’ve used the words spirit and spirituality very freely in my writing. What do these words mean to me?

These thoughts are based on personal experience, but are certainly influenced by my interest in science, Buddhism and yoga philosophy. I wish to highlight an aspect of being human which is difficult to categorize or analyze.

The word spirit has many uses, and in fact is overused. This especially true in New Age culture, where I believe its meaning has been weakened by lack of focused thought, and in Christian culture, where it is implies something outside any empirical or tangible sense.

So why write more about “spirit”? My intention is to balance its use in favor of something both ancient and current at the same time. By ancient I mean pre-Christian, indicating its use by American Indian, Buddhist, Yoga and Pagan cultures, where spirit is something knowable and sensed through experience, yet mysterious and powerful. To give modern support for its meaning, I rely on knowledge of the human experience as described by scientific research, including physics, biology and astronomy.

The foundation of spirit is, I believe, based on personal experience and sense, “What do you feel spirit is?”, rather than what someone has told you it is.

In my twenties I often used the phrase “poetic moment”, meaning an experience where many factors contributed to a higher than average intensity of pleasure, understanding and connection. I mean something more meaningful than, for example, just sex, which is certainly intense and usually pleasurable. A poetic experience involves mind, body and something else, some out of body emotion or understanding. Things click in a big way. When I had these experiences, they didn’t last long, but always left a lasting impression on my memory.

For example, I listened to all 9 symphonies of Beethoven on day, beginning in the afternoon and continuing until late evening. As my fatigue accumulated from so much listening, my mind opened up to another level. I stopped thinking about the music and started just experiencing it. That’s when Beethoven came rushing deep into my being. The last three symphonies, Nos. 7, 8 and 9, were truly Spiritual experiences, poetic moments of connection to history, culture, music, myself and my muse. There was a connection to something and a liberation from something. Boundaries became less distinct. I felt as if I were in Beethoven’s head, hearing and writing them with all their meaning and depth and quality.

I’ve always appreciated the value of “subjective experience”. A lot of my poetry comes from what I feel rather than what I know or understand. In fact, sometimes the words just come to me, nagging to be heard. The personal experience of something, your version, has absolute validity for everyone. Beethoven is a great composer, but your subjective experience of his music will be completely different than mine. I can try to show you what I’m experiencing, but I can’t make you experience it. Your path is yours. In that way, your spirit is yours to acknowledge and develop.

So it is with the spirit of living. Spirit is the subjective (individual) experience of living, the consciousness of being alive. It is your coaxial cable connection to the universe, a direct link to all that is and is possible. I see this as the very basic, simple form of spirit, which needs to be cultivated and nurtured to grow. Animals have spirit, and so do plants. But we are able to be aware of much greater levels of spirit, our own and others. No ghosts, but a living, conscious spirit.

There is spirit in our experience of all things, from the beauty of a sea Anemone and also in its sting, to the magnificence of the Milky Way and its daunting void, in the magical flutter of a hummingbird’s wings, in a baby laughing or crying, a dog’s sadness and joy. There’s spirit in the act of eating, thinking, reading, cooking, painting, sculpture, poetic inspiration, hearing or making soulful music, roller coaster riding, mountain climbing, fixing cars, blogging, thinking, gardening, etc. And there’s spirit in just plain sitting.

The problem is, our natural spirit is often damaged, or at least obscured. The various trappings of life maintenance, physical distractions, ego, desire and self-deception cause myriad malfunctions and disconnections. It’s as if the “software” to life is damaged by various “viruses”. The usual suspects are judgment, self-deception, hubris, attachment, fear and ignorance. Add to that habits of unclear thinking and living, or the misfortune of traumatic experience, and one faced a veritable minefield of obstacles to experiencing pure spirit.

A damaged self-esteem is a symptom of a damaged spirit. The spirit still exists under these circumstances, but it is obscured, as if looking at life through a cracked or soiled lens. One could argue that a cracked lens may also act like a prism, offering a unique, poetic view of life. Perhaps. Ultimately, there is no objective good or bad spirit, just balance and clarity and flow of the point of view you inherit.

Beyond the personal experience of spirit, one can begin to appreciate the bigger picture, the recognition that we are not a multitude of separate spirits, but all part of a Great Spirit. My sense of this comes from reading about a variety of spiritual traditions, including American Indian, Asian Indian, Pagan, Christian and Jewish. I have also delved into scientific writing of human biology, psychology, history and culture.

All spiritual traditions refer to something which encompasses All. I prefer to call it Great Spirit because, I believe, it is an extension of our own individual spirits. With greater awareness, we begin to know that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves. We can sense and fathom the Great Spirit, a connection between all. We also know that we came from and will go back to the Great Spirit. So, we are from it and of it. Scientifically, the atoms are barely differentiated between earth, life and sky.

I propose, we are also the Great Spirit’s sense of itself, its consciousness. I don’t give this Spirit a sex or a personality. It is best described by science, which continues to reveal the magnificent complexity of the Great Spirit, as if It is getting to know Itself through us. Looking at it this way, our lives are precious purveyors of a grand consciousness, and we have good reason to nurture and respect our “voice” of the Great Spirit.

What I am searching for in life is a connection and balance of Spirit on all levels, a refinement of my experience of life down to its essence, without attachment, fear, or judgment. The ultimate goal is to break the illusion of separateness from the Great Spirit. This is easier said than done. We are often distracted or unbalanced by daily life so as not to have a strong connection to the natural Spirit of our living.

I recently saw a bumper sticker which said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience”. I love that. It makes me feel more human, more forgiving, to think of it that way.

So, Spirit is a flow of direct experience of your life in all its facets, all its poetic serendipity, good and bad. The goal of a “spiritual person” is to embrace Spirit in a focused and refined way, with a fearless directness of experience, a depth of awareness, a greater consciousness of our connection with all life through that Spirit.

It’s a poetic coming together of awareness and experience. Ideally, with a healthy Spirit, one may achieve a perfect balance of open consciousness, heart filled intention and good action.

It’s like being inside Beethoven’s music, except the music is your life.

PS After writing this, I found an article which states some of these same ideas, though in much more obscure language. It is a Theosophical view, written in 1966, and is included in a Theosophical website called WisdomWorld.