Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Transcendent Times, Indeed! The Convergence of Science & Religion

As I've long suspected, we live in in the most transcendent of times. "Bliss it is in THIS dawn to be alive!"

The Vatican's Chief Astronomer, Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, confirmed in an interview published May 12th in L'Osservatore Romano, the Catholic Church's daily newspaper, what many I suspect have long since known: It is not antithetical to know and understand that the 'Big Bang' was the Creation!

Rev. Fune, the Jesuit scholar from Argentina who was "infallibly" chosen to be the Vatican's chief astronomer and to direct the Catholic Church's observatory in Vatican City, confirmed the position endorsed by Pope Benedict , that science does not contradict religion - a position explored in great depth by the Dalai Lama in his wonderfully affirmative book, "The Universe in a Single Atom".

Rev. Fune said Tuesday (as reported by Reuters UK):

"Dialogue between faith and science could be improved if scientists learned more about the Bible and the Church kept more up to date with scientific progress.

Funes, an Argentine, said he believed as an astronomer that the most likely explanation for the start of the universe was "the big bang", the theory that it sprang into existence from dense matter billions of years ago.

But he said this was not in conflict with faith in God as a creator. "God is the creator. There is a sense to creation. We are not children of an accident ...."

Transcendent times, indeed . . . . Could this put the other bookend on the sad 300+ year litany of debate that started with the faux-Enlightenment that saw Galileo condemned as an heretic, and the most-brilliant of modern-Jesuit scholars, paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, silenced under a Vatican publication ban and external exile to the avowedly atheistic 'People's Republic' of Maoist China?

Galileo is no longer spinning in his grave, I suspect, but rather dancing the Macarena while Teilhard de Chardin smiles knowingly from the palaroma of Unitive Consciousness in which we, and this Universe, "live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28)

John, the most mystic and beloved of the Apostles, gave us the New Testament's account of creation when he wrote:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God." (John 1:1-2)
Now the New Testament itself is fairly old in relative terms at this stage in the game. Thankfully, the physical sciences finally found and clarified the voice of its own testament to the creation of the heavens and the earth this past century when the physicists Gamow and Herman first detected that voice - the cosmic background radiation which still radiates out the radio waves that carry the Word of the Big Bang to us from far across all the reaches of the Universe. And the social sciences too found their testament when Carl Jung wrote of the synchronystic, universal experience which is the unity of our being with Wholeness. This universal adventure and the indications of an awakening of a newer Enlightenment than that of old that Rev. Fune's interview herald make now the best and only time that we can live up to our potential. This universal adventure which continues to expand all that is - and us along with it - is itself a testament to that original creation out of G_d (whatever that word might mean to each of us) some 18.3 billion earth years ago.

These are truly transcendent times in which we are fortunate to be alive! Sit up and take note Messrs. Dawkins and Hitchens, and all you intelligent designer label fans out there! It is time to clarify your terms and visions and join the unfolding of this greatest of stories. Keep an open mind and expand your horizons. . . .

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What Is Spiritual Awakening, Enlightenment etc.?

Enlightenment is a "new state of consciousness and being" which is deeper and more profound than our ordinary self-consciousness or "ego". Experience of this deeper, impersonal state of consciousness is available to anyone - particularly, anyone who has the clarity of intention and impeccable and unwavering commitment to individual and collective liberation from the egoic enslavement of our conditioned, learned processes of rational and analytic reasoning.

Enlightenment is the state of the adept - beyond our reacting to sensory stimuli through (i) mere reception of the stimuli, like when a frog reacts if he were poked with a needle, (ii) the deeper perception of what a stimulus represents, like the dog that gets nervous at the vet when it sees the needle, or (iii) through conception, or forming ideas about possible stimuli - physical, purely mental or a combination of such - as when a child reacts when first told he or she is "going to get a needle", irrespective if they have been inoculated before.

These three "ordinary" states of consciousness, as well as the state of the adept, or cosmically conscious person who has benefited from an experience of enlightenment experience are clearly discussed in Richard M. Bucke's classic work, Cosmic Consciousness, which was written by Bucke (a friend and student of the poet, Walt Whitman) in 1901 and went on to become - or so I hear - a "Hippie Bible" in the '60s. It is still in print.

More recently the three ordinary levels of consciousness preceding enlightened consciousness were set out by Neale Donald Walsh (he of "The Complete Conversations with God" fame) in his book, What God Wants: A Compelling Answer to Humanity's Biggest Question. Walsh describes these three levels of ordinary consciousness - reception, perception and conception - as reptilian, mamallian and human. He describes the differences in terms of (a) getting to close to a cobra's personal space, in which case it will react and strike, (b) a he-lion perceiving a rival as being too close to his personal space, and his pride of lionesses and reacting to the smell of another lion's urine on a tree used for marking his territory with his scent, and (c) the physiological reaction of jealousy we humans experience when we think (or conceive the idea) that someone is hitting on our spouse at a cocktail party.

According to the great Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, one may achieve this state of liberation and self-transcendence spontaneously (a) through an act of Grace - documented, if rarely - or, (b) through a profoundly deep, honest and personal contact with friends (particularly if those friends have become aware that freedom and liberation from the false but 'seemingly real', sense of "ego" or separate individual identity is possible in this lifetime), or (c) more likely, through consciously walking on a path "which leads to a higher education of the mind, beyond mere rationalism".

Enlightenment, self-transcendence, mystic union - the state of consciousness and being described by every great world religion or wisdom tradition - is, thus, a heightened state of depth consciousness beyond what a person who has not progressed on the path to a higher understanding of his or her mind and state of being is normally capable of. It is the experience of a profound spiritual awakening, and the continued, quiet abiding in that state.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Transcendental Rowing Lessons

I attended a wonderful Bhuddist meditation and dharma talk this evening put on by one of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's Kadampa Meditation Centers at a local Anglican Church. This is a regular Thursday evening event, and I have attended it on and off for a few years now. It used to be taught by a Bhuddist monk, and then by a wonderfuly radiant Bhuddist nun. Now it is taught by a wonderful lay teacher in the New Kadampa Tradtion from our local center.

This week's dharma talk was on "Understanding our Resistance to Change". (We finished April's talks on "Responding Skillfully to Conflict" a week late due to the Church's Spring Rummage Sale.) As I understand it, our resistance to change is one of the fundamental roots of samsaric suffering in the unawakened mind - change, or impermanence, being one of the inescapable features of this human life according to the Bhudda's teachings, along with the emptiness and insufficiency of the phenomenal world. (I recall Chuck, one of my great spiritual friends and first teachers, fiercely echoing Eckhart Tolle's admonition. "Resist nothing!" Chuck would almost shout in his thick, Glaswegian accent.

That our mental resistance to the inevitability of change causes us great emotional suffering was the gist of the teacher's talk this evening. With merriment, she recalled with pleasure how her own teacher would say that one of the West's favourite nursery rhymes was actually written by a Bhuddist. I think he was probably making it up when he told her that, but I too smiled with inner glee when I thought of those lines we would sing in rolling harmonies as children. As the school bus, or our family car would travel the many miles between anywhere in Northern Ontario, we would often sing the lines everyone knew by heart, each person joining in one after another: "Row ... Row ... Row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, Merilly, Merilly, Merilly ... Life is but a dream." How true!

I didn't know that as our family car rolled mile upon mile down Highway 17 to get to the next town or city, that we were all actually entering a transcendant stream. I thought it was actually about rowboats. . . . And so the Dharma Wheel Turns!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Awakening as the Dharma Wheel Turns.

Jung said that every psychological problem is really a problem of the soul - a spiritual problem or disconnect, if you will. Jung studied the Eastern religions, and I know my analyst is a student of Jung. Imagine my surprise then when a man with years of psychoanalytic practice who has been one of my greatest spiritual teachers confessed that he was never really quite sure about what people mean when they speak of Dharma.

Bhuddism, a technically atheistic wisdom tradition given that the Bhudda never spoke of or recognized a 'creator' as such, puts great store on the turning of the Wheel of Dharma the awakening of sentient beings to the unchangeable, empty void and "suchness" in which we live and move and have our being. It is said that a great advance in sentient consciousness occurred some 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha Gautama, the Bhudda or Awakened One, arose from meditation under the tree in Bhoda Gaya where he achieved transcendence and began to speak of the The Four Noble Truths which are the heart of the Bhudda's teachings - the Noble Truths of the nature of suffering in the egoic state, its cause, the possibility of ending suffering by eradicating its roots in attraction and aversion to phenomenal 'reality' of our everyday world, and the Eight-Fold Path to achieve this. This it is said was when the Dharma Wheel, the awakening of consciousness to the absolute nature of our being, began to turn.

Virtually every time I meet with my doctor, I sense the Dharma Wheel turn a notch as our discussion is always based, at least to some degree, in knowing that overcoming egoic suffering is our human destiny and deepest impulse. The Dharma is the law of spiritual cause and effect. Each moment we realize and are conscious of how our words, actions and the state of our being either contribute to the awakening of us all to the underlying consciousness that grounds our seeming 'real world' and psyche in the absolute or obscures this consciousness in seemingly real egoic suffering, the Dharma Wheel spins imperceptibly. The Bhudda was a great psychologist, as was Jung. I sense each turned the Wheel of Dharma. I know that my doctor does as well, even if he is uncertain about what this means to me or others. The inevitability of spiritual awakening, the emergence of our Authentic Self from the entwinement of the Ego is Dharma in action as the Wheel turns.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Enlightenment and Spiritual Awakening: "Bottom-Up" vs. "Top-Down" Transcendence

I hear a lot of discussion about spiritual awakening and self-transcendence where the emphasis regarding the whole enlightenment 'thang is as a process - a walking along a spiritual path rather than getting effortlessly and spontaneously to an end state, if there is indeed such a thing as an end state. That seems to be the case in most religious bodies and groups - in what the famed psychologist, William James, distinguished, in Varieties of Religious Experience as "outer religion".

Who knows? Maybe we're kind of looking at this backwards or askew. I know that for me that would be no surprise. I don't see enlightenment as a process but a state of being (be-ing). That's perhaps the fundamental difference between “bottom-up” or gradualist enlightenment which would be a process, and the sudden occurrence of an enlightenment which is experiential, “top-down”, occurring suddenly and that's it - the process of 'spiritual awakening' versus its outcome 'self-transcendence. . . .What's the old Zen adage? “Before enlightenment , chop wood and haul water. After enlightenment, chop wood and haul water.” … Or as my friend Harry taught me (my friend and teacher who had his “bright light” experience after 22 years of practicing affirmative and invocative prayer together with transcendental meditation), “If you are on a train reading the newspaper, and all you're doing is reading the newspaper . . . that is enlghtenment.”

Moral of the story? When you're peeling carrots, peel carrots. And when you're listening on the news to what is happening in Tibet, do not let yourself figure out how you would or can solve that problem. Rather, be the solution by manifesting the state of compassion that the Dalai Lama encourages. (Now if only I could bear that in mind when I am on the train reading about Tibet.)

Common sense says “nothing changes, if nothing changes. But I've often told my friends and those I work with (work, not in the sense that I'm employed doing it, although I do talk about it there, too), that in these times we need "uncommonly common sense." It's not that, “nothing changes if nothing changes,” I think. . . but, rather. that “Everything changes if no-thing changes”. One of the only 'absolute' constants in this relative world is that everything, everywhere is always changing (transitory, insubstantial and impermanent, as the Bhudda would tell'ya. . . .)

But, if the one thing that we perceive to be permanent in this egoic state which causes suffering changes, then every-thing does indeed change - that is, everything in the “outside” world, or at least in our perception and emotional reaction to the objects, even the mental objects, of the exterior world. And that one “thing” that needs to change? Our identification with, and the relentless persistence of the internal dialogue of, our unexamined, habitually conditioned thinking (i.e., learned way of thinking), our thinking without true awareness. That is, the inner “voice” which in our egoic state we take to be “us”, the stream of constant thinking that we can fall back into at any time and that can carry us away, precipitating virtually any action on our part - from the most altruistic acts to acts of murder or self-immolation.

For, of course, the one permanent firmament and fixture that we all have is our awareness, our “consciousness”. We are aware, therefore we are. We are conscious in our dreams and even on awaking from dreamless sleep again we are conscious. . . . We are aware. We are awareness or consciousness itself. . . . It is our awareness, our inner witnessing that is the portal through which we seem to look out from the Absolute to this relative world. If our identification with the constant thinking that obscures this awareness ceases wholly - and I believe that this is a spontaneous event if it is to be permanent, even if it occurs for us after years of prayer, meditative and contemplative practice - a “top-down” experience even if after years of “bottom-up” practice in mental discipline - then that is the enlightened state of being, that is the Absolute.

This end state, the impersonal experience of remaining "absolutely self-less while being relatively present" (to use the words of Robert Thurman, the Dalai Lama's friend and one-time student) is, I believe, the experience and the state of enlightenment that all wisdom traditions and religions speak of and aim for. “What manner of man,” Jesus taught, “can add one cubit to his stature by taking thought?” And, less so, it should be added, to the extent that one is carried away by the thinking of and the dentification with this seemingly real but false “self”. One cannot anything to one's "stature" or state of being by taking or being taken away by thought, one's awareness and connection with the Divine Unity, with the Absolute can only be lessened. Remember, Jesus also said, “Of my self, I am nothing. . .”

The Christian mystics also speak and always spoke of a 'Mystic Union' - the experience of “union with God” or the Absolute that Carl Jung wrote of and called “the thirst of our being for Wholeness” - even if these mystics, the not-so-famous and the famous-alike, the St. Johns of the Cross, the Joans of Arc and the Meisters Eckhart who were variously imprisoned, martyred at the discretion of the Church or forced to recant in the West, unlike the experience of mystics in the Orthodox tradition where the mystics of the Church, high and low , were and are equally reverenced along with the Bishops, the Fathers of the Church and the Saints. All these mystics spoke of and variously described this experience of the Mystic Union, this enlightenment and communion with the Divine, with God, with the Ground of Being.

I understand that Andrew Cohen, the modern teacher who speaks and writes of enlightenment for our times in terms of conscious or "evolutionary enlightenment", makes a great distinction between these two approaches and experiences - the bottom-up approach and experience versus the sudden, spontaneous spiritual awakening that he seems to have experienced by all accounts. Indeed he, like the Bhudda, teaches that the end goal is when all beings experience this liberation from the ego together, a concept he aptly calls "autonomy in communion".

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Awakening from Paranoia to Metanoia: Part One

A Course in Miracles teaches that we are always doing one of two things: We either project Fear, or we extend Love.

Fear and Love represent two very different states of being, or levels of our consciousness. We project fear from our egos - from the sense of individuality, separateness and "anxious apartness" we feel and project to the world outside when we attach to the restless stream of undisciplined thoughts that can continuously course of their own volition through our minds - from this false, egoic sense of 'self' that we mistake as being our identity, that we take as being who we are. Love, on the other hand, is a different, deeper state of consciousness, a psychic state of quiet and stillness of mind in which the restless stream of thought stops moving, if only for a moment. All then seems and feels to be "well with the world."

Fear is a learned, habitual way of thinking into which we are conditioned or trained, if you like, by our interactions with others, our culture and the perceived, sensory 'world'. Love is our natural state of being - like the love a child and a mother, a mother and a child. It is Providence, provided from within, but which is grown "out of" as we are conditioned by parents, educators, our culture and our own sense perceptions of a world which is "out there" and not "within".

All wisdom traditions and religions speak to this dual aspect of humanity. "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8) ; and, as such, a double-minded person is liable to act or react in any manner depending upon the state of being which is manifested within. From the state of Fear, or paranoia - a state in which one is separated in thought from clear consciousness (from the Greek, 'para' meaning 'with', and 'nous', the 'mind') - one projects Fear. From the state of Love, or metanoia - a state in which one is above ordinary, restless thought and thus beyond any separation in consciousness ( from the Greek, 'meta' meaning 'above', and 'nous', the 'mind') one extends Love.

Religious experience (from the Latin, 're' meaning 'again', and 'ligare', 'to tie' or 'unite'), transcendence of 'self' and spiritual experience, or spiritual awakening, all speak of the shift from the state of habitual, conditioned consciousness to the state of natural, unconditioned, unitive consciousness 'beyond' the mentations of the mind. Spiritual awakening is, thus, the journey or restoration from paranoia to metanoia.

The study of Yoga, which means religion in the East, is the practice of disciplining the thought- waves of the mind, according to the Hindu yogi master and expositor, Patanjali - the practice of going to that state of being 'above' thought. Commentators have said that this is the full teaching of Yoga, and the rest of Patanjali's 200-odd aphorisms are explanations of this one central truth. In Bhuddist terms, this is the exposition of the dharma.

"Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you. . . . Purify your hearts, you double-minded," James, the brother of Jesus, taught (James 4:8). In his epistle, James clearly intended that in purifying one's heart, one had to take courage - from the Latin cour - which means the "heart". Spiritual awakening is this journey from the restless, fearful thought-waves of the undisciplined, self-absorbed mind, from paranoia and the projection of Fear, to the still, disciplined abiding in the heart, above thought - to metanoia and the extension of Love. All wisdom traditions speak of this journey from egoic paranoia to selfless metanoia.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Virtuous Action through Spiritual Awakening

That patience is a virtue is conventional wisdom; yet the ego is virtueless. The self-absorbed, self-centered mind fixated in the stories we are always apt to be telling ourselves is utterly incapable of virtue, or patience for that matter. Our false 'self' - that restless and relentlessly wandering stream of thought that can carry us away at any time to the heights of pleasure or the depths of despair and suffering - the undisciplined movement of our 'thought-stuff' is virtueless.

All virtue lies in the undisturbed, discerning awareness of our depth. To know the stillness of tranquility - the inner peace that surpasses all understanding - to rest in this void and avoid nothing, neither labeling, judging nor blaming things, people or circumstances whether real or fancied - is to become capable of manifesting one's virtue, to awaken spiritually and thus become capable of undertaking truly virtuous action

Actions may from time-to-time appear to be virtuous to the onlooker, but unless they are inspired by and carried out from the inner place of one's virtue, tranquility and awakened awareness, they are not virtuous - even if the benefit to others is great. To one's own Being, to one's authentic Self they will still lack virtue. Such seemingly virtuous actions will still be self-reinforcing and one will still be swept away by the thoughts of the ego that say, "Look at me . . . Now I am being virtuous . . . Look how patient I am being . . . . Look at all the virtuous action I am undertaking for others." All for naught.

One who lacks inner stillness and discernment, lacks the capacity for virtuous action.

On the Road to Spiritual Awakening and Consciousness

On the road in quest of spiritual awakening, I've been contemplating and studying the question of what spirituality is, what consciousness is and what 'reality' itself is, for the last few years now - diligently studying it.

I really feel that I know, not only with my reasoning, rational understanding and analytical ability, but more importantly in the depth of my intuitive, supra-rational, non-cognitive mind and being that all paths and branches of knowledge lead to the same conclusion: It's all consciousness . . . reality, spirituality, the psyche . . . it's all one. This entire experience, this existence, what we inhabit, is all one pure and undivided, non-dual, utterly entangled interbeing . . . a unitive Meta-Consciousness... Physics, metaphysics, theology and psychology all, I believe, point to this same ageless truth.

If you haven't read Gary Zhukav's "The Dancing Wu Li Masters", I highly recommend it.

At page 31, Zhukav juxtaposes the views of Carl Jung (to many, if not most, the greatest Western psychologist, therapeutic analyst and expositor of the workings of humanity's psyche yet) and Wolfgang Pauli, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. In doing so, Zhukav comes to a most startling, and liberating conclusion - a conclusion that most fair-minded, scientific readers will be hard-pressed to refute I believe, if they press on and give Zhukav's layman's analysis of the great advances of 20th century physics - relativity and quantum theories - a considered and concerted study.

Quoting Jung and then Pauli, Zhukav writes:

"According to quantum mechanics there is no such thing as objectivity. We cannot eliminate ourselves from the picture. We are a part of nature, and when we study nature there is no way around the fact that nature is studying itself. Physics has become a branch of psychology, or perhaps the other way round.

Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, wrote:
The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves.
Jung's friend, the Nobel Prize winning physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, put it this way:
From an inner center the psyche seems to move outward, in the sense of an extraversion, into the physical world . . ."
Then Zhukav weaves these two threads neatly together to a startling and liberating conclusion - a conclusion that is upheld as one peruses his history of modern physics from its Newtonian, pre-relativistic roots, through Einsteinian relativistic theory and quantum theory, ending with brilliant conclusions on Bell's theorem and the work of David Bohm (a physicist who likely missed out on the big "prizes" of phsysics, due to both McCarthyism and his metaphysical forays into the experience of consciousness with his friend, the enlightened spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti).

Zhukav, examining the insights of Jung and Pauli, concludes:
"If these men are correct, then physics is the study of the structure of consciousness" (emphasis added).
Thoughts anyone?

Spiritual Awakening? Who Cares? . . . YAWN . . . zzzz-zzzz-zzzz . . .

I was really caught by an Associated Press article on what (AP) called YAWNs (Gen-Xers and Ys that are 'Young and Wealthy but Normal'). People in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are OK financially (wealthy, is a relative term), "socially aware, concerned about the environment and given less to consuming than to giving money to charity." They are identified as people "who want nothing less than to change the world and save the planet."

I was born at the beginning of 1961, right on the cusp between the 'boomers and Gen X. I saw....but I was too young to take part in, the "tune in, turn on and drop out" social revolution of the '60s. And I didn't even hear about Gen X until I was in my early 20s, and then only from the little brothers and sisters of the people I was partying with.

My graduating class - as if I graduated, at least 'on time' - was fed the "sex, drugs & rock 'n roll" ethos that the '60s mantra of "peace, love and understanding" had to a large degree devolved to by the time we made it on the scene. And while the majority of the cohort that came of age in the '60s morphed into the yuppies and 'boomers we are all all-to-overly-familiar with, while a smaller band of counter-revolutionaries stayed on in the San Francisco-area to kickstart Silicon Valley, the internet and this whole digital revolution thing, I was stuck for many years chasing them one way or the other, being blown this way and that in the winds of change with a whole bulging lump of 'boomers queing up in line in front of me. It was damn near enough to knock the wind right out of me, or at least out of my sails.

When by my late 20s I realized I had missed the whole party and had shown up only in time for its dreg ends - when the remaining partygoers were getting woozy and sick of it all, and the true lights of the party had long moved on to more inspirational or materially rewarding endeavours - I too morphed. I went back to university part-time, then law school and in one career move went from blue-collar factory worker to pin-striped corporate lawyer - just in time to see the dot-com bubble burst. I had more material stuff than ever - was wealthy, I guess - but I was running on empty and sure didn't feel "normal" whatever that is. For people around my age - post-boomers, pre-busters, or perhaps of any age - I think "normal" is always a moving target. Chasing "normal" must inevitably cause suffering in the end, is my experience.

Now . . . Finally . . . I discover the truth . . I'm a YAWN! I may not be wealthy in the conventional sense, but I've always been sort of unconventional. But, I live in the West, ergo I am wealthy by default.

(Note: it's hard to starve to death in Canada - or even in America, for that matter - unless by choice, handicap or disability you slip through the social safety net. You might not have all that crap you would think makes people, especially those 'wealthy', most privileged 'boomers happy, but you won't starve to death.)

And that's the point of the (AP) article: All of our STUFF can't make us happy! It hasn't for the 'boomers, the most privilege generation a culture or the world has ever seen. By and large, they're not happy - just chasing more stuff and desperately trying to hold on to what they've already got. Turns out the Beatles were right - Money Can't Buy (Me, you, or any of us) Love! It just buys or rents a bunch of crap - stuff that we don't really need, and can't hold on to in the end anyway!

Stanford University sociologist, David Grusky, says recent history has demonstrated that we pendulum back and forth between materialist and anti-materialist cultural phases. But this time it might be different. "Society tends to follow cycles" according to Grusky, "with anti-materialist periods like the hippie movement generating a pro-materialist reaction - the yuppie period, and so on."

But perhaps . . . just perhaps . . . this time the pendulum will not swing back. Perhaps, we have come to a place culturally where materialism (a) is no longer desirable, and more pointedly (b) is no longer sustainable - what with global warming, species going extinct at a rate not seen since the last really big meteor hit the Earth, 'boomers, yuppies and Gens of all type (X, Y, Z & ?) no longer able to even borrow a buck to continue the feeding frenzy, and with global food riots breaking out as we finally turn to burning what should be their food in our oversized-luxury cars and SUV's that are melting the icecaps. Look what is happening as India and now China chase their very own "American Dream" in a belatedly unfashionable fashion.

"It is a cultural and demographic 'perfect storm'", Grusky says. A storm that "may well push us decisively toward an extreme form of post-materialism in the upcoming period." Let us hope so. Let us hope that we are entering into a cultural storm that will propel ever more of us to a spiritual awakening and a clear, conscious awareness of who we really are in the depths of our being.

Let us hope these winds of change will allow us to see, with compassion, what we have done to the world we will inevitalby leave behind us - a damaged world that not only our children and grandchildren will have to try to save, restore, redeem and live in, but a world that will have to sustain the children and grandchildren of our brothers and sisters in Africa, the Middle East, India, Asia and all across the so-called 'developing world" (the children and grandchildren of all those who have not been able to enjoy, but have only been plagued, victimized and deluded by, the West's myopic frolic with materialism).

It is liberating (and I mean that in all of that powerful word's finest sense) to see that people of my generation - perhaps it should be called Generation ? - are starting to realize that the cupboard is bare, but need not be. "The green thing is just a part of it" consumer trends expert, Pam Danziger, says. "Our closets are full. Our attics are full. Our garages are full. Enough already."

"Go into your dark closet and pray or meditate on that," an ancient Rebbe would have said. If you have room that is! Hopefully, if anyone of us takes the time to do so, he or she will come out of that dark closet self-transcendent, and spiritually awake to the winds of change that may herald a "perfect storm".

Spiritual awakening? Self-transcendence? . . . Who Cares? . . . YAWN . . . zzzz-zzzz-zzzz . . .

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The 'Depth' of Spritual Experience: Part One

There are two things which I "take seriously without any reservations" - books and freedom. Both have proven to be vitally important on my quest for spiritual awakening, awareness and self-transcendence. Imagine my delight a couple of years ago when I passed a local church and out front of the minister's adjoining home I saw a table piled high with books and a sign that said, "Feel Free to Take Us Home." I left with an armload of dog-eared, well-read volumes that, judging by the titles, must have accompanied the minister around the world - from England to West Africa, to where they were neatly stacked awaiting me, here in suburban Ontario.

Amongst the books I scooped up was a two-volume set of Paul Tillich's collected sermons. As I didn't (and still don't) have any religious affiliation, nor any formal religious or theological education, Tillich's name wasn't familiar to me then. I later learned that Tillich was perhaps the greatest Protestant theologian of the 20th century - if not the top, certainly amongst the top handful. Tillich was encouraged to emigrate from Nazi Germany on the brink of World War II by Reinhold Neibuhr, a fellow German theologian and author of the "Serenity Prayer," with which I was eminently familiar by that time. Tillich went on to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York, Neibuhr's academic home, and then for many years at the University of Chicago. He authored a number of renowned works, including A History of Christian Thought and The Courage To Be, and was featured for his work on the cover of Time magazine in 1959.

When I opened the first of the two-volume set, The Shaking of the Foundations, one sermon about "The Depths of Existence"stood out particularly. Its words were a powerful affirmation of all that I had been learning. My own foundations had been shaken by the proverbial mid-life crisis, and I had been forced to look within to find the depths of my own existence. To my shock, I found that I had very little idea of who or what I was at the core of my being, nor much idea of my place in the grand scheme of things. At a very early age I had rejected all notions of a God, of an anthropomorphic 'superman' in an imaginary heaven, as the superstitious foolishness of people who were unable or unwilling to understand the world, the universe and the scientific basis of their lives and being. I had great 'faith' in science, but didn't even know what science and the limitations of science really were.

The following passages from Tillich's "Depth of Existence" sermon put into words that I did not then know how to express all that I had discovered as a result of my existential crisis - that I was the person with the prejudiced mind who had been unwilling to examine or understand areas of consciousness, being and existence which I had willfully blinded myself to. I had been prejudiced, by my upbringing and culture, to what I only perceived others' notions and ideas of God were. I found that I had to cast aside all those notions of what others thought, and look within my own being to come to an understanding of who I was, before looking at any bigger picture.

In "The Depth of Existence", Tillich writes:

"The wisdom of all ages and of all continents speaks about the road to our depth. It has been described in innumerably different ways. But all those who have been concerned - mystics and priests, poets and philosophers, simple people and educated people - with that road, through confession, lonely self-scrutiny, internal or external catastrophes, prayer, (and) contemplation, have witnessed to the same experience. They have found that they were not what they believed themselves to be, even after a deeper level had appeared to them below the vanishing surface. That deeper level became surface, when a still deeper level was discovered, this happening again and again, as long as their very lives, as long as they kept on the road to their depth. . . . The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservations. Perhaps in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about Him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not. He who knows about depth knows about God."