Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Meditation’

In preparation for my year of Druid candidate training, I have been trying to get into the habit of meditating. So far, I’ve only been working on color breathing and training my concentration, using the suggested meditation target (from John Michael Greer‘s Druidry Handbook):

Meditation Target

The process has been fascinating and enlightening. Although I find my mind wandering behind my back, slipping away for me only to realize it a few minutes later, I’m always able to round up my thoughts and walk back along the path that took me to where I found them, and bring my conscious mind back to the Moon-target where I can simply be. I realize that the aim here is to develop concentration in preparation for discursive meditation later on (which I want to be able to begin right away with Samhainn), but the effortless effort spent being completely present to the image I am concentrating on is nevertheless very zenlike, and I find myself having the same sort of physical and mental sensations (a sort of trancelike, not-unpleasant feeling of fraying at the edges of my existence) as I did with zen meditation back when I was giving that a go.

Also, it’s amazing how good I feel after meditating–positively euphoric. Fifteen quick minutes leaves me completely energized and focused, and it goes a long way to calming the anxiety and depression that my own personal brand of crazy inflicts on me. I’m looking forward to learning and practicing discursive meditation, but I think I will ultimately want to mix in something more zenlike, and maybe explore Indian techniques like Kunalindi yoga to supplement my Western, Druidic approach.

I’m interested in exploring moving meditation, specifically trying to achieve a meditative state while running. Usually while I run I either listen to heavy metal at unsafe volumes on my headphones (which is not necessarily not conducive to a calm state of mind…) or I just let my mind completely wander, but i have an intuition that a kind of physical meditation should be workable. I’m just not necessarily sure how I would go about it.

Read Full Post »

Back in April when I first started to come out as a Pagan, I mentioned that one of my goals was to figure out some good ways to celebrate the Wheel of the Year.  Although my emphasis is typically on the Hellenic gods, and my personal practice draws more from reconstructionism than anywhere else, I do not necessarily self-identify as a hard reconstructionist.  I’m suspicious about extensive New Age influence in Neopaganism, and I am cranky about eclecticism generally, at the same time I feel drawn to multiple strands of pagan worship and theology.  To make a long story short, I feel drawn to celebrate the eightfold Wheel of the Year (solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days) despite the fact that as a whole it is a recent phenomenon.  As John Michael Greer is fond of pointing out, the validity of a spiritual practice comes from whether or not it works, not whether or not it is ancient.

One of my earliest specific pagan epiphanies was with the Wheel of the Year.  As a teen, I was immensely interested in mythology and pagan religion (ancient and neo-), but was often nervous about telling other people about it, so I did a lot of reading and research in secret.  One day I was sixteen or seventeen or so, I was looking at a calendar with the eight pagan holidays on it, and I was calmly and peacefully but intensely struck by the rightness of it.  It was particularly significant to me because that kind of spiritual reaction was the kind of thing I had always been raised to believe would be the Holy Ghost’s witness of the truth of Mormonism.  And there I was having it over a pagan calendar.  I called up my best friend John (maybe he’s reading this?), and told him about it.  It was really the beginning of my secret adolescent religious rebellion.

Anyway, since I have felt comfortable ebracing my Pagan identity, I have let three of the eight major holidays pass by without doing anything about them, because I don’t know what to do.  I don’t really have a group of fellow-believers to practice my religion with, so most of my spiritual expression winds up being in a personal or family context.  Luckily, my beautiful and sexy Christian wife is more than willing to be supportive and take part, but since it is my thing, I really have to take the lead.

I like holidays and festivities a lot, and that’s what I am looking for here.  Not rituals, but traditions, the things that make the day and the season feel festive and special: decorations, meals, traditions, things to think about.  The eightfold year is a cycle, so it lends itself well to that kind of thing, but it can be hard to find resources about it.  Most of what is available on the internet is either too generally stated to be useful, or it is presented in ritual form, which is definitely not what I am loking for.  While ultimately I do plan on engaging in seasonal religious ritual as part of my Wheel of the Year celebration, I really want to also lay a festive foundation for said ritual.  Maybe I’m going about it backwards, but this is the way it makes sense to me, and it is the best way to share with friends and family.  Over time, I expect my religious and ritual explorations would influence and affect the festive traditions.  But I want something to start with.

The other consideration I have is the similarities between some of the holidays on the pagan calendar and Christian and civic holidays.  Christmas is similar to Yule, Samhain matches Halloween, the Spring Equinox parallels Easter, etc.  For most pagans, this is not a problem: they give rpesents on Yule instead of christmas, and they decorate eggs and such on the Equinox instead of Easter (shoot, the Easter Bunny actually makes a lot more sense as a part of a pagan holiday than a Christian one).  But my family is interfaith, which means we’re celebrating both sets.  So I don’t want two Easters.  I want to figure out how to celebrate Easter and the Spring Equinox, etc., in a way that makes them both not only enjoyable but also sufficiently distinct.

I finally sat down about a week ago to start hammering all of this out.  I showed it to my wife, and she thought it all seemed interesting and fun, but she also pointed out that the problem for her was that it was not always clear what all of these traditions actually mean.  It’s a fair question, and one that I can’t easily answer.  This list is really something I have cobbled together from a lot of different sources, whatever sounded good to me, and from things I intuited on my own.  Unfortunately, my own personal theology is still in development, so it is not easy to weave my own meanings into these traditions.  That gets us back to the long view: as my spirituality develops, I imagine I (we) will tinker with these holidays and alter or replace traditions that do not make sense in my own pagan context, and emphasizing those that do.

So without further ado, here is my Official Wheel of the Year Resource.  Feel free to add your comments, suggestions, insights, questions, whatever.

Beltaine
Date:
May 1.
Description: A time to light bonfires and revel, to celebrate fertility and sexuality.
Traditions: Most importantly… hot sex. Possibly sex outside if practical. Hot sex and huge bonfires, lit on a hilltop (toss juniper sprigs in the fire, and leap through it for good luck)..
Holiday Food: Rabbit, Strawberries (strawberry pie or strawberry shortcake), Mead
Decorations: Flame, wildflowers, rowan crosses, may boughs hung over doors and windows.

Midsummer
Date:
June 21
Description: A second bonfire—bonfires on the water (the ashes bring good luck), and active holiday where the sun is at maximum power and energy is strongest.
Traditions: The veil between the otherworld (or the un/subconscious) and the waking world is thin, it is a good time for resolutions, and for putting plans into effect. Keep vigil through the shortest night, waiting for the rising sun. It is also a good time to gether fresh herbs.
Holiday Food: Lamb, fresh produce, lemon merangue pie.
Decorations: Wheels, sun symbols, St. John’s Wort.

Lughnasa
Date:
August 1.
Description: The first harvest festival, Lughnasa is a time for being outside, for celebrating the physical world with games and physical activity. It’s a time for dancing and bonfires, for blessing the fields. And it’s a good time for marriages.
Traditions: Bread is baked in the shape of a man and eaten to represent the Dying God (Cernunnos, Dionysus, Odin, Osiris, Jesus, Arthur, the Green Man).
Holiday Food: Bread, beer, watermelon, barbecue.
Decorations: The Green Man, a flaming wheel.

Autumn Equinox
Date: September 21
Description: The second harvest festival—the harvest of fruit—a time of thanksgiving and recollection, the in-gathering of experience.
Traditions: Make and burn a straw or wicker man, to represent the burning of the Harvest Lord.
Holiday Food: Corncakes, Nuts, Berries, Fruit Pies (not apple), Wine.
Decorations: Pinecones, acorns, gourds, gold, red, orange, and brown.

Samhain
Date:
November 1
Description: A night when the borders between the living and the dead are the thinnest, the last harvest. Time is abolished and the spirits of the dead walk free. A time for remembering those who have gone before. The time of year when livestock were slaughtered.
Traditions: Leave an extra place at the dinner table for dead ancestors. A perfect time for divination. The day after Samhain is a day forcleaning and getting rid of old things.
Holiday Food: Pork Roast, Apples, Apple Pie, Cider, Hazelnuts, Pumpkin Bread
Decorations: Leave a candle burning in a western window to guide the spirits of the dead.

Yule
Date: December 21
Description: The shortest day of the year, this is a time to celebrate the rebirth of the sun. It is a time of rebirth and stillness, a time to celebrate intuition. There is a lot of symbolism between intuition, the Pole Star, the Great Bear, and King Arthur.
Traditions: A Yule log is burned for ten days (Yuletide lasts from December 20 to December 31), and then the ashes are strewn on the plantings in the spring. The wood from the log is yept to light the yule log the next year. Give libations to the fruit trees.
Holiday Food: Baked goods in sun shapes, and mulled wine.
Decorations: Sun wheels, decorated trees, candles, wreaths of mistletoe, holly, and ivy.

Imbolc
Date: February 1
Description: The holiday of the lambing, or childbirth (it is no accident that Imbolc is exactly nine months after Beltaine…). It is a time for initiations, and purification. It is a good time for meditation.
Traditions: Write and read poetry. Share it, have a poetry competition.  Leave a white cloth out a window for the goddess to bless, and when the first light of the sun touches it, it gains healing properties throughout the year. Candlemaking.
Holiday Food: Milk, honey, dairy foods (a massive cheese smorgasbord).
Decorations: Hundreds of candles, and pools of water.

Spring Equinox
Date:
March 21
Description: A time to celebrate planting and prepare for the gifts of the summer, and to recognize the power and presence of spring. A time of emergence, fertility, and balance. A time that is sacred to Persephone, to celebrate her return from the Underworld and her reunion with her mother Demeter.
Traditions: Decorate eggs.
Holiday Food: Twisted bread, honey cakes, eggs, carrots.
Decorations: Flowers (honeysuckle, iris, peony, violet, lily, daffodil), in baskets or garlands.

FOLLOW-UP: I have put up a new post about trying to piece together the ritual and religious aspects of the Wheel of the Year, specifically from a Hellenic polytheist perspective.

Read Full Post »

So the following experience seems entirely appropriate given that the moon is basically full right now. Also it just occurred to me that the last time I went on a kind of pilgrimage to the wilderness, I kept encountering deer: they kept suddenly jumping up from nearby and running away, scaring the shit out of me.

I have been thinking about Artemis and Apollo a bit lately, and I have been wrestling with Artemis quite a bit. For some reason, I find her terrifying: there is something primal about her, sexual but untouchable and untouched, something about her as a goddess of the hunt but also the protectress of babies and children that just puts her close to the jugular vein of human existence, frighteningly close to our primordial origins. Maybe it’s the story of Aktaion, but to me, Artemis is fearsome and panic-inducing. She reminds me of the First Slayer, from a particularly weird episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: primal, destructive, female, savage, and above all a huntress.

I prayed to Artemis as I was putting my children to bed two nights ago–the night before I had my forgotten revelation from Artemis and her brother–and I felt a brief presence, malevolent and disapproving. It made me feel tight inside and frightened.

Last night, I was thinking about the experience, and feeling a bit anxious about it–I prayed to Artemis to ask for her forgiveness if I had done something to wrong or slight her, but the panic I felt became almost a tangible thing. I didn’t really know what to do. I will admit that I am no stranger to anxiety, and the dark and twisty fear I was feeling was not unlike other times I have felt varieties of anxiety attack, so I decided to use a meditative trick I have learned, and try to embrace the panic and feel its roots instead of trying to run away from it. Only I visualized it in terms of the goddess: instead of trying to run away from Artemis, in fear for my life, I decided to turn and face her, to be present to the goddess not in spite of my fear, but fully embracing my fear.

The panic went away immediately, and I was overcome by a powerful kind of euphoria–of the same general category of experience as I felt when I first experienced the divinity of Aphrodite, but of a different flavor. It was milder, lasted shorter, kind of a mini-mysticism. It was brief, more like a mini-contact than a full-blown spiritual euphoria, but it was warm, and it was good. Like for just a moment I was being touched by some incredibly powerful spiritual conduit–just a taste, nothing more. And the fear was completely gone.

I am resolved to make a sacrifice to Artemis, to thank her for her presence and to acknowledge her power.

Read Full Post »

I have been giving some thought to theology as of late. I know I think about and talk about religion all the time; that’s not what I mean. What I mean is giving thought to my own theology in a constructive way. Something more than “ZOMG I just don’t know what I believe.” The thing is, I am starting to actually figure out what I do believe, and I am starting to think about how to put all of the pieces together. So here goes:

My philosophical foundation is essentially Advaita Vedanta. I have read the Baghavad Gita and the Upanishads and I am blown away by them. When I read from those texts, I feel like I am hearing the voice of God–not “god’ as in a divine being, but GOD, the entire universe, the ultimate divine reality that is all things and is beyond all things. I believe that everything is a part of this ultimate reality, but that in total it is something entirely beyond out conception. Nothing is like God, and so no analogy or metaphor could possibly do God justice. The differences we perceive, the identities we imagine ourselves as having, are all ultimately illusions. The world of sense objects and empirical data is basically an illusion, called maya. On one level, the creation of the universe as we know it was the creation of this illusion of separateness. Maya is practically necessary for us to function, but it is nevertheless illusory, and it can mislead us powerfully.

In the deepest parts of our own consciousness, we are one with everything, even the gods. But we spend most of our time identifying ourselves as the tips of the fingers, as entirely bound in the world of the five senses. When we dream we withdraw into our own consciousness, which is further back but still a world of deceptive distinction. In dreamless sleep we come closer to our essential oneness, which the Hindus call Atman, the Self that is all-self, the ultimate divine reality of Brahman.

From a practical standpoint, however, this knowledge or philosophy doesn’t do much. Maya is powerful, and it is difficult to even be sure of the Atman, much less to be able to fully identify with it. Because we are out on the branches, functioning in the practical maya-divided world of sense and identity, we need to be able to thing in those terms, even when we think about divinity. The Hindu Vedanta thinkers do this, but their gods are culturally alien to me. Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, and Shiva are extremely interesting, sure, but they are not compelling to me the same way that Zeus, Aphrodite, and Odin are. And furthermore, the gods I have had personal contact with are decidedly Western.

So instead of thinking about divinity in terms of Indian myth, I choose to think about it in terms of the mythology that is compelling and accessible to me, and as an American of Western European descent, that basically points the way to three clusters of myth-tradition: the Celtic/Arthurian, the Norse/Germanic, and the Greek/Classical. The former two are the mythologies of my genealogical ancestors, and the latter is the mythology of my cultural ancestors. These three mythologies are extremely powerful to me. Their gods have spoken to me. I believe that their stories point to the ultimate divine truth that unifies and unites all of reality and that fundamentally explains and gives meaning to my existence.

In these mythologies, I find inspiration, wisdom, a guide to behavior, and a tangible connection to divinity. These are the gods that speak to me, and so when I try to connect to the Ultimate, these gods are my mediators. Why do I need mythology and mediator gods? I guess I could theoretically do without them, but practically, that’s not what my brain is hard-wired to do. And I need something practical that can serve as a kind of stepping stone towards the ultimate.

Even so, belief in these mythologies doesn’t fully carve out a path of action, at least spiritually speaking. I need a set of spiritual practices to serve as a vehicle to take me through the triple-lens of these mythologies and ultimately back to the Divine Self that lies behind everything. For that, I think I have chosen Revival Druidry. Revival Druidry is flexible enough to accommodate the theology I have constructed, and it gives me practices that take me places spiritually that I want to go. I intend to start with the AODA’s first-year curriculum, which includes meditation, regular celebration of the seasons and the position of the sun, and care for the environment leading to an increased awareness of my place in the natural world. In addition, I will probably do some extensive work on poetry.

Vedanta is the philosophy, my three chosen mythologies are together the conceptual lens that I use to construct meaning, and Revival Druidry is the way I will put it all into action. At least… that’s the idea.

Read Full Post »

In a previous post I talked about my troubles with boxed religion.  My conclusions were somewhat contradictory, but I think they boil down to this: I want to feel like what I am doing is valid and legitimate, and I want some kind of structure to help me know how to practice my spirituality.  I hunger for the divine in a way that necessitates some action, some drawing closer on my part.  Navel-gazing and thinkin’ ’bout gods by itself just isn’t going to do the trick–I need a practical element to my spirituality.

So the question becomes, how do I get those things–practical spirituality and a feeling of legitimacy and validity–without also having to deal with the suffocation, claustrophobia, mental revision, and inevitable shame and embarassment that seem to be inescapable by-products of boxed religion.

One thing I know for relatively certain, is that my personal theology doesn’t appear to match any currently existing and widespread theology, so no complete boxed religion will do–no matter which one I pick I will wind up feeling the need to change what I believe in order ot be orthodox.  I know I shouldn’t, but that’s not the issue.  I will.  So then, where do I get the things I am craving out of religion?  How do I practice a religion that’s out of the box but still stay focused, on track (even if the track meanders and changes), and maybe most importantly for me, feels valid and legitimate?

One possible route that I have been seriously considering is the Ancient Order of Druids in America.  The AODA’s spiritual practices don’t involve a specific theology, although they have theological implications: they are earth-centered, they skew strongly towards some kind of (neo)pagan approach, they are meditative and contemplative, and they tend to favor some ostensibly new age stuff like magic, divination, etcetera.  There appears to be a strong tendency toward Celtic paganism (no surprise there; we’re talking Druidry after all), but with an openness to different “flavors,” even if it means going (shudder) eclectic.

The thing is, I have been interested in the AODA for a long time, but I have recognized that it onvolves in some ways a spiritual skeleton, a kind of box with nothing in it.  While I have no doubt that you could practice Revival Druidry without any further theological baggage, and int he process develop a strong earth-centered green spirituality of your own, I have always felt that I wanted something more to fill the box with.  I wanted some kind of mystical component, a catalyst even, that had specific theological and spiritual implications to flesh out the practical skeleton of the AODA’s approach.  From that perspective, I have everything I need to begin.  Granted, it still means cobbling things together a bit, and I admit that the spiritual experiences I have had do not necessarily point directly toward Druidry (it’s not even one of the implications I mentioned in my last post).  At the same time, Revival Druidry is completely compatible with what I have been doing so far.

So I want to go through a list of advantages and disadvantages of choosing Revival Druidry as a spiritual path.  I will start with the advantages.

First, Druidry is green.  It is earth-centered.  It is a spiritual practice that recognizes the power of the earth, has roots in the living earth, and draws strength form protecting nature and the environment.  I haven’t necessarily shared this before, but I have long felt a spiritual connection to the earth.  I feel recharged (and less crazy) by being outside.  I think there is wisdom and balance to be gained by being more connected to the natural world, and that is an aspect of spiritual existence that I feel compelled to explore.  Maybe I will go into more detail in a future post, but suffice it to say for now that this is important enough for me to make it actually be a big problem with Hellenic Recon Polytheism, which is not connected ot the earth enough for my tastes.

Second, Druidry provides a box, but not a claustrophobic one.  Even though the kind of Druidry I want to practice is connected to an organization, the organization does not claim special authority to dictate to me what I should and should not be doing, and what is acceptable for me to practice.  The is partly due to a general neopagan norm of live and let live, but it also has specific roots for the AODA in Anglican latitudinarianism, as the AODA’s historical roots go back not to ancient druids, but openly and honestly back to the Druid revivalists of several centuries ago, most of whom started out as Anglicans in the midst of a growing trend toward Latitudinarianism–an allowance within Anglicanism to admit diverse theologies but come together in practice.  So Revival Druidry provides direction but is not forceful.  And the Anglican connection, which comes out in a lot of other practices, especially in the AODA’s meditative approach, doesn’t make me cry either.

Third, as a kind of corollary to the second above, Revival Druidry is a big enough box to contain all of the disparate spiritual elements I have swirling around in my head and heart.  It certainly can accomodate all of the different kinds of western mythology that I feel drawn towards–Greek, Celtic, and Norse.  In fact, it is a context that will allow me to move around and through those three diffferent mythic and polytheistic contexts as my personal theology continues to grow, develop, and solidify.  (Hmm–three is a number that is significant and sacred in Druidry) Druidry is also definitely expansive enough to encomepass a cosmology that is based on the Baghavad Gita.  But better still, Revival Druidry’s box is big enough to account for all of the different possible ramifications of my spiritual experiences.  Revival Druidry is compatible with a green, mystical Anglican Christianity if that’s where I ultimately end up (and if I end up Christian, I highly suspect that that’s the kind of Christian I will be), and certainly with the male/female archetypical divinities that I might be dealing with (DruidCraft–the fusion of Revival Druidry and Wicca–is already fairly established and has a major advicate in the form of Philip Carr-Gomm, one of the most important voices in modern Druidry and the head of the British Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids).  Moreover, practicing Revival Druidry in no way excludes the practices that have so far become important in my paganism: prayer, libations, and small sacrifices to the gods.

Fourth, Revival Druidry practice involves things I want to be doing anyway.  Seasonal celebrations, meditation, poetry, music, divination.  It wraps all of these together in a whole, centers it all on environmental spirituality, and interlaces the whole thing with a healthy respect for the gods and a default polytheistic worldview.  There’s a lot of good juju in that box, really.  I might be on to something here after all.

On the other hand, I have some concerns with the AODA as an organization and with Revival Druidry as practice that I feel I need to address and think about.

First, the AODA is an organization that is in the process of rebuilding.  There are not a lot of members, and that means not a lot of community support.  The flip side to this is that it being a part of the movement means being able to help build something with a lot of great potential.  A connected oncern is the place of John Michael Greer at the head of the organization.  Don’t get me wrong-I think Greer is absolutely awesome, a prophetic voice who deserves more attention than he gets.  But is the AODA just Greer’s fan club, or can it be an organization that stands on his two feet without him?  The AODA’s not a personality cult, and Greer doesn’t really play that part, but is it basically the same thing for practical purposes?  Of course, on the other hand, practicing AODA-style Revival Druidry doesn’t actually mean I have to be a part of any organization whatsoever, so the organizational concerns may be a moot point.

Second, I don’t know how comfortable I actually am with the idea of calling myself a “druid.”  I am convinced by Greer’s rationale that, as descendants of the Druid Revival, modern Druids have every right to claim the name–not because they are descended from ancient paleopagan Druids, but because they are descended from mesopagan revivalists who called themselves “Druids.”  The term Druid has been used to refer to revivalists for three hundred years now, and (in Greer’s words) it is easier than calling the movement “British Universalist Post-Anglican Latitudinarian Pantheist Neo-Pythagorean Nature Spirituality.”  Nevertheless, the idea of calling myself a Druid seems, well, kind of silly.  Again, maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill.  I am in charge of how I label myself, after all.  I can practice Druidry and even join the AODA and call myself whatever I want.  Maybe I would be the most compfortable thinking of myself as a Pagan who practices Druidry, or something like that.  Or maybe thinking of it in terms of “Revival Druid” instead of just “Druid” would seem less ludicrous and more intellectually honest.  Semantic niceties aside, the way I label myself and the way I construct my own identity is really important to me.

Third, Revival Druidry has a lot of New Age ideas built in, and I am suspicious of New Ageism.  I don’t think I really believe in “magick,” or feel like it is an important or even desired part of my spiritual life.  I don’t believe in auras or moving energy around at will.  I think a lot of that stuff is kind of flaky gobbledygook, and by entering a movement full of that kind of thing, I risk being associated with it or being seen myself as a New Ager, or alternately getting frustrated and fed up with what I see as flaky, non-valid spiritual beliefs and practices.  Nevertheless, this is not a concern that is unique to Revival Druidry, but is one that I will face everywhere in the Neo-Pagan world.  Perhaps if I was content to be a hardcore Reconstructionist, or was happy to act and practice in total solitude, I wouldn’t have to worry about it.  But I am not and I don’t necessarily.  So as long as I think of myself in terms of paganism, New Age is always going to be on the radar, whether I am involved with Revival Druidry or not.

Fourth, the big one, is that athough it may be the perfect box for me, it’s still a box.  This is really my problem, not Druidry’s problem, but the chances of me pushing myself towards whatever passes for Orthodoxy in Revival Druid circles despite my contrary beliefs, intuitions, and desired practices, is really high.  Orthodoxy is basically bred into me–I grew up Mormon after all, and it is really hard to root out that kind of thinking, especially when it is more of a knee-jerk inclination anyway.  I naturally lean towards obsessive orthodoxy in whatever I do, regardless of whether it actually makesme happy or bears any kind of fruit in my life.  But this is going to be a problem wherever I go, no matter what direction I decide on, probably even if I make up my own spiritual direction whole-cloth.

So, what does all of this mean?  Honestly, I think my reasons to practice Revival druidry outweigh my reasons not to.  And when it comes down to brass tacks, Druidry is something that has attracted me for a long time.  I have hesitated before, but never because I thought I might be unsatisfied with Druidry.  I either felt held back because of a hesitation to move in any spiritual direction without some kind of mystical catalyst to hang it all on, or I have held back because I thought I might need to set Druidry aside in favor of some other Orthodoxy.  And now both of those reasons have evaporated: I have had a decidedly pagan mystical encounter with the gods, and I have recognized that Revival Druidry will fit almost any spiritual direction I have a reaosnable chance of ultimately settling down on, assuming I can keep my Orthodoxy reflex in check.  In fact, practicing Revival Druidry may wind up being the perfect cure for said reflex, assuming I don’t wind up jerking my knee towards orthodoxy in Druidry itself.

Read Full Post »

I am actually writing this post from… the future!

Seriously, in going back and assembling my list of high points along the journey, I realized that there are a couple of spots where important things happened, I didn’t blog about them, and I didn’t go back and explain what happened either. This is one of those spots, so I will try to recap for the sake of historical continuity.  So I am actually writing this post on April 2, 2009 to go back and fill in the blanks, and I am inserting it timewise into the summer of 2008.

In the spring of 2008, I headed east, spiritually speaking. I read a lot of the Baghavad Gita, I watched a lot of Heroes, and my daughter was born. For awhile, I thought that a kind of quasi-Dharmic Hinduism was going to be the path for me. I even went and started a new blog called “Dharma Bum” which I subsequently deleted (after bringing the important posts back here, so they wouldn’t be lost).

My brother came to visit with his wife in April, and he brought a bunch of books about Zen Buddhism, which I had never really considered seriously before. In particular, the book Hardcore Zen struck me as relevant and important. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that Zen Buddhism was the right path for me–the truths that it espoused were, for the most part, things that I believed to be self-evident truths about the universe. I had some semantic concerns about distinguishing the Hindu Atman from the Buddhist Anatman, but that was more the kind of thing that could produce long, quirky debates later on. Important was the Zen universe was a universe I believed in, and Zen meditation seemed rally helpful to me.

But there was still a nagging feeling that this wasn’t really the right thing for me. Maybe it was jsut my fear of spiritual commitment, I don’t know. But it seemed to me that the problem with Zen was not that i thought it was untrue, but that it did not provide me with things I wanted and needed, spiritually speaking: a culturally relevant context with ritual, compelling mythological framework, professional clergy, etcetera. Although I couldn’t make myself believe that Christianity was true, I still felt an attraction to the Episcopal Church that in my opinion contradicted my Zen inklings.

My brother’s advice was just to pick one, go with it, and see what happens. And eventually that’s what I did.

While studying for final exams last April, I read C. S. Lewis’s Surprised By Joy, which is an amazing book. I was surprised to see how unconventional Lewis’s conversion to Christianity was, and in the end, I started to feel like the Episcopal Church really was the place for me–a place to be, in fact, even if I was not sure about my belief in Christianity.

So when we moved to New York for the summer, we started attending an Episcopal Church in the Village, and I even went to services at Trinity during my lunch hour downtown. It was meaningful and important to me, but there was some critical quality that was just elusive. I read every C. S. Lewis book I could get my hands on, I prayed and did devotions, and I thought of myself as a Christian, a Protestant, and an Anglican.

Maybe the biggest problem was that, concurrent to all of this, I spiralled into what might have been the worst depression I have ever been in. I can’t even describe it beyond saying that it was an absolute nightmare, and finally getting help and eventually climbing out of it has saved my life. My beautiful and sexy wife was there for me in my darkest hours, even when things got scary and that means so much to me. But in a lot of ways, God was distant, and I couldn’t figure out why. I literally cried out to Jesus to deliver me, but things just kept getting darker.

My love affair with Christianity started to enter a period of uncertainty when we came back to Maryland, partly because I was just plain more interested in Led Zeppelin than I was in religion. I still kept Episcopal Christianity in my head as a spiritual placeholder, but even then I wasn’t sure anymore–not because Christianity hadn’t pulled me out of my depression, because for all I know things might have been a lot worse without prayer and devotion, but just because my interest was fading. Again, fear of spiritual commitment? Maybe. But also Christianity honestly just wasn’t punching all of the spiritual buttons I needed to have punched.

Incidentally, I haven’t really felt the need or desire to go back to Zen. It is interesting, and probably, in retrospect, the religion whose truth-claims are the closest to matching reality, but despite being true, it is so stripped down that it actually lacks Truth.

Read Full Post »

What then is consciousness? What is the “I,” the thing that is doing the observing when I think about my thoughts? Some people posit a soul. Ebon Muse proposes a construct along the lines of distributed intelligence. Scientists call it the “hard problem” of the study of consciousness.

If the consciousness, the watcher that is observing the mental processes and the metaphorical movie screen in your head, is a matter of distributed intelligence, then we can think as a unified consciousness the same way that swarms of bugs can act as a whole unit even though the decision-making isn’t happening at any one point in the swarm. Your brain is thus the hyper-complex neurological analogy to a swarm. Every mind is a hive mind.

If such a thing is possible on the small scale, then I find it entirely possible to imagine that it happens on the large scale, or even on the largest possible scale. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to think that the universe, the cosmos, has a kind of consciousness that is composed of distributed intelligence. It wouldn’t be a consciousness like ours- it would be so big and in such a different context that not only would it be so alien we could never interface with it, but the sheer difference in scale and the nature of consciousness means that it would be categorically impossible to wrap our minds around what it is.

Yes, we are part of it. Everything is part of it. If it exists, that is.

But if it isn’t conscious or intelligent in any way at all, it still exists. The cosmos unquestionably is. And to me it is equally unquestionable that separateness is not, in fact. Thus, the cosmos not only is, but it is us. We’re part of it when we rest in dreamless sleep, when your brain is not tricking you into believing that you’re separate from other things. We’re also part of it when we’re dead. Actually, we’re always part of it, but there are times when nothing is trying to trick us into believing that we aren’t, and that there’s a difference between me and you. But at those odd times, like when we meditate and lose track of our individual identities, our Self merges into the Whole.

What could be more fantastic?

Read Full Post »

In his article, A Ghost in the Machine, Ebon Muse discusses the superior parietal lobe. I’m not a neurobiologist and I don’t necessarily know anything about the brain, but Ebon Muse cites sources, and I have no reason to not believe what he says about what this part of the brain does.

Essentially, it’s the part of the brain that tells us where we are. It gives us a sense of location, which means it also gives us a sense of separateness, of being distinct from other things. When the superior parietal lobe’s functions are impaired or otherwise disabled, a person loses a sense of their own physical limits, i.e., where self ends and not-self begins. This can be accompanied by feelings of oneness with the universe or even religious and mystical experiences.

The more I think about this, the more it blows me away. Ebon Muse uses the function of the superior parietal lobe as evidence against mind-body dualism, but to me, this knowledge validates Maya.

Separateness is an illusion. In reality everything is the same as everything else- it’s all connected in one big system and the boundaries that we perceive are merely cognitive conveniences that enable us to simultaneously have consciousness and perform vital physical functions. The superior parietal lobe’s function is to produce a mental construct of physical (and mental/spiritual) distinctness. In other words, without the superior parietal lobe convincing us that we were separate individuals, we wouldn’t think we were. So the truth, before it’s chewed up by our brain and formed into a picture that we can comprehend, is that separateness is a myth. Everything is really the same.

Like I said, this is huge to me. I already believed in Maya, because it seemed like the most reasonable thing in the world when I read about it in books on Hinduism. I mean, we’re all made of the same basic atoms as everything else is, and the atoms that compose us don’t stay with us; they’ve not got our names written on them or anything. Our own bodies take in new matter and replace the old matter. If matter is really all just three different kinds of subatomic particles, how can I really say where “I” stop and “everything else” stops. Our mind tells us that we are finite and have borders, but our minds tell us lots of things that are not so.

Our very empirical experience of the world is not direct- it’s sensed indirectly by remote sensory organs, coded into nerve impulses which are sent to the brain, and then the brain sorts through it and composes a perceptive impression which it feeds to the consciousness. Along the way, mistakes get corrected, gaps get filled in, and all kinds of mental processes color and shade this sensory information. What I think I’m seeing is not necessarily the objects I think I’m seeing, or even the photons that bounce off them or the raw data that gets sent to the brain. It’s a processed mental construct. What we think we see is not necessarily what we see.

How is the sense of separateness different, particularly if it is only maintained by nervous activity in the superior parietal lobe? Without that, we would have no sense of independent existence, and to me that means that the sense of separateness is actually the artificial construct.

In other words, Maya is the product of our superior parietal lobe lying to the rest of the brain. It’s a functional, useful lie, to be sure, but it’s a lie. The real truth is that all is one, that everything is everything else, including you and me.

Read Full Post »

These days I have been thinking about consciousness quite a bit. I don’t know that I am at the point where I have soemthing to report, but I did read an excellent article by Steven Pinker on the topic, from Time magazine.

Read Full Post »

I grew up Mormon, which means I grew up in a Religion.

That’s Religion with a capital R. Religion with observances and commandments and organization and hierarchy and a complete cosmological view. Religion is the only way I know how to relate to the divine, really. I’ve never been that spiritual; I’ve never had what you could call a relationship with the divine.

The extent of my spirituality has been “warm fuzzies” over things I already knew (which may simply be a learned/conditioned pituitary response, thanks Simeon!), but that’s nothing like a relationship with God or God’s presence or anything. I always prayed, but it was more like Finny from A Separate Peace: “always say your prayers in case there turns out to be a God.” I felt good about praying, but it was more of an “I’m satisfied because I consistently pray, so I can check off that box and maybe God will be impressed with my consistency and not damn me for all the other stuff.” Either that or it was invoking the genie in the sky to grant my wishes. Which sometimes worked and sometimes did not, but not consistently enough to be taken seriously as something other than coincidence.

In contrast, my wife has always seemed to have a relationship with God. She wasn’t raised in a religous home, so for her conversion was not a change in policy but an initial introduction. She’s never been too wound up about doctrine or dogma, because her religion has always been one of spirituality. In the forefront is her relationship with God, and other stuff doesn’t matter that much.

I envy her, because I don’t know how to do that.

My brother is also more spiritual. Although he qualifies his experiences and acknowledges that they might very well by psychological, he’s always had a meaningful prayer relationship with God, and has often felt God’s presence and comfort. This is why years of praying about the Mormon gospel were so difficult for him: he had a communicative relationship with God, so why didn;t Godtell him the Book of Mormon was true?

But I digress. He has had spirituality, but I have only ever had religion. So when I leave Mormonism and want to find something to fill the spiritual hole, I go looking for a religion. And I get frustrated and “mad at God” when I find that they all look false to me. What am I supposed to do, then?

Be spiritual? What does that mean? I’m skeptical of it. I’ve never “been spiritual” before. To me, being spiritual has always just been the mental component of being religious. In other words, being spiritual just meant being good and thinking religious thoughts.

The thing is, I just realized this yesterday. I don;t know what to do about it.

Even there- i’m looking for somethign to do about it. I’m looking for religion and religious behavior, but I’ve talked myself out of religion. So I’m left feeling more than a little alone. What does it mean? What am I supposed to do with it? How do I “get spirituality?”

Even if I joined a religion, I would just begin behaving religiously. not the same thing.

I read Donald Miller talk about Christian Spirituality in a nonreligious sense, and it sounds great. I’d like some of that! But I don’t know how to make that happen in my life.

This is why I have been wanting a mystical experience. Something nonreligious, but unequivocably spiritual. Soemthign more tangible that I can use to base spirituality on. but it seems to not be coming.

Maybe my beautiful and sexy wife is right that I’m demanding a lot of God without making rom for him to talk to me. I was meditating for a while, but it is really hard, and it’s tough to make room for it.

I’m not sure about praying. Like I said, I grew up Mormon, which means a view of God that is like a human. Mormon God has a body and takes up physical space and stuff, so when you pray it’s like using a magical telephone to talk to an actual being, like a human but perfect, that can hear and answer the way a person does. Of course, God never seemed ot answer in words when I talked to Him in words, and I’m not sure that makes much sense, if he’s a person with a mouth and ears and all.

My conclusion is merely that spirituality is elusive. I’ve been confusing it with religion. I realize that now, but at the same time it doesn’t help me because if spirituality is not religion, then I don’t think I know what spirituality is.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 106 other followers