Category Archives: Debate

Becoming the Student, Choosing to Learn (Ctrl+Shift)

“The chief aim of education should be to help the growing soul to draw out that in itself which is best and make it perfect for a noble use.” – Sri Aurobindo

goodhealth-phrenology

Learning can sometimes mean putting down a long-held worldview in exchange for a new one. Learning is literally the act of changing your mind.

There are many models in modern psychology and education used to illustrate what we learn and how we learn — how fast or to what degree. According to integral theory, we (our selves and our consciousness) are comprised of various lines of development. Cognitive, moral, aesthetic, emotional, sexual, musical, athletic, spiritual, etc. These lines radiate out from the center of our being in all directions, and we unfold along these lines in stages — stages we can’t force, stages we can’t skip.

We push along into these newer and more inclusive stages when we are good and ready, when we have reached a tipping point between the old way of thinking or knowing and the new way of looking at the world. These new ways of understanding transcend and include the previous stages. They are inclusive of more perspectives, more methods. But we only lean forward into them when we are so tired and frustrated that it seems we have no choices left, and must somehow get “above it all.” We’ve done all there is to do, read all there is to read, met everyone there is to meet, and understood everything there is to know at the current stage.

If change is so necessary and so great, then why does it feel like death? We fear change, and we only surrender to change when we are finally ready to die to ourselves and be born anew from the flames.

Author and New Thought pioneer, H. Emilie Cady wrote in her classic Lessons in Truth, “Be assured, no matter what anyone else says to you or thinks, that the seeming failure does not mean loss of power. It means that you are to let go of the lesser in order that you may grasp the whole in which the lesser is included.”

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Namastasis: Recognizing the Good in All

Space Gazing

It’s time to call bullshit on those who say that we’re better off without religion.

It is, after all, the religious (not religion itself) that “contribute to the world” so much war, bloodshed, oppression, hatred and intolerance. However, the religious have also brought love, non-violence, art, ethics, freedom and social service to the world in large numbers.

Going forward, we must put an end to generalizations – statements like “religious people believe …” or “organized religion does …” and take into account all the religious institutions doing meaningful, compassionate, transformational and inclusive work in their communities.

While all religions solve for a different set of problems — sin (Christianity), pride (Islam), exile (Judaism), attachment (Buddhism) — we musn’t set out with a problem as our main concern and we musn’t assume that “problems” are the only thing we all have in common.

If interfaith relations are to succeed, we must identify and shine a light on the positive traits in religious life, because interfaith relations still have, it turns out, a long way to go.

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Richard Rohr and the Two Halves of Life

Richard-Rohr-at-2010-Greenbelt-by-Alex-Baker

(presented in Straub Park on Sunday, July 21, in response to Max’s Father’s Day talk, which is forthcoming)

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan friar, author and scholar. He was ordained in 1970  in the Roman Catholic Church and is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM.

In Rohr’s recent book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, he identifies two segments of life — the first half, in which we “build our container,” and the second, in which we “find the contents” to fill our container.

Rohr’s first half of life has much to do with learning to follow prescribed laws, be they ethical structures, physical laws like gravity, etc. and has everything to do with studying (or worse yet, mimicking) existing traditions.

The second half of our lives then, is when we perfect the art of winnowing, of extracting the grain from the chaff. It’s when we practice the art of spiritual discernment, or separating the essentials from the nonessentials. It is when we find our grace — when we surrender and awaken to spirit. When we realize that we’ve been Spirit all along.

We do a lot of studying, reading and learning in the first half of life, while we’re building that container. But we rarely go back and reinterpret those lessons from a second-half-of-life perspective to see which structures we really need and which we can let go of. It’s quite possible that the scaffolding has been on the building long enough, that the training wheels can be uncoupled from the tires. And when we step into ourselves — getting current in that way — we may find that letting go of those crutches or braces allows for a new range of motion or a new method of feeling or intuition.

We may even find that we no longer need or believe the things that were shown to us as children. Or that our own wisdom may actually contradict some of what we think we know.

It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Continue reading


Entertaining the Idea of Life

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I understand that some of us just get old and tired. Some of us simply wind down and no longer need to hunt for our food or find a mate – our attraction to colors and scents becomes dulled and our desires fade.

But while you sit there at your screen, I want you to know that new and life-enriching experiences are bursting around you like champagne corks and fireworks as most of us sit, medicated and complacent.

As artists, we are awakened in the middle of the night, scrambling for our journals or sketchbooks as the lyrics, dialogue, melodies and images bloom in our heads like lightning. There are times that we would sell or pawn everything we owned for access to a studio or the equipment necessary to help us give flesh to our vision. And, as entertainers, we are here at the club, theater or concert hall, having rehearsed the show a thousand times or more. Having set up the lights and microphones and amplifiers and promoted tonight’s performance out of our own pocket, hearts beating wildly, hoping you saw the handbills, waiting for you to arrive.

Yet, the rest of us remain on our couches, sleepily re-focusing our eyes between commercial breaks. You might even be at the bar right now, with a band, songwriter or poet performing directly behind you, and your eyes are still glued to the screen.

It’s not entirely our fault. We are continually shown, told and reminded every second of every day what a dangerous, filthy, contagious and most importantly — evil — world we live in. And for all the tools, medicine and miracles we have created, our progress has also increased our loneliness and isolation, and heightened the degree and intensity of our need for distraction.

It’s not new. Technology has always unfolded alongside the aspects of self, culture and nature. The advances of modern architecture once made it possible to house the public theatre and for the best playwrights to showcase their work, the harnessing of radio waves gave us weekly dramatic cliffhanger serials, the cathode ray gave us daily televangelism and MTV, and now the mobile internet makes it possible to stay plugged-in, turned on and marketed-to at all times.

I grew up before we had the world’s knowledge base and creative storehouses at our fingertips. If you wanted to read a book, you needed to check it out from the library, and then return it before it was due. If it was out of print, most times you were out of luck. If you wanted to see a film, you needed to buy a ticket while it was being shown at a theater. If you missed it, you rarely saw that film again, unless it was shown on TV, and even then there was no pause button. We had no VHS tapes. We had no Netflix.

I am in no way implying that things were better when I was young, nor am I saying that we need to deprive ourselves of technology in order to have a meaningful life. Technology is, after all, how I am able to speak to some of you now. But we are alive at a time when so much “art” and “innovation” has been allowed to flourish at an overwhelming rate — with no filter and no editors, with no institutions, patrons or benefactors required. For this, our development (at all stages and on all levels) is being stunted by distraction and the consumption of junk. If we expect to grow, develop, adapt and unfold according to our highest potential, we must find a balance between the alternating states of rest and activity, contemplation and action. The sweeping pendulum of prayerful devotion and real-life service or experience surely leads to real wisdom, even illumination. But we seem to be on our knees, stalled in constant prayer, in front of our television screens and computer monitors, drooling and frozen, too frightened to touch the screen or engage in the world around us. Too tightly wound by the stimuli and frequencies of everyday life.

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The Real Problem With Religion

We’ve hit a glass ceiling.

We’re stalled on the interstate without a map. And the map has yet to be drawn.

We’re told that each institutionalized religion is the only path to salvation, righteousness, prosperity, truth, wisdom, peace, etc. ad nauseum.

But when we start to personally unfold into new stages of growth (within and without), when we start to become a more mature version of ourselves, we sometimes find that our religion doesn’t provide a mature form of spirituality. It’s like having an appliance crap out on you the day after your 5-year warranty expires.

ERROR: We apologize, we are no longer offering support (technical, emotional, or spiritual) for versions 5.X (and above) of the “Your Self” hardware. If you’d like to be notified when this support becomes available, join the club.

Religion itself suffers from a form of philosophical retardation, permanently stunted at a level of adolescence, unable to position itself in relationship to others – unable to take second- and third-person perspectives.

According to Bishop John Shelby Spong, “the church doesn’t like for people to grow up, because you can’t control grown-ups.”

Here’s what Integral theorist, Ken Wilber has to say on the subject:

Everybody is born at square one. There will always be people at [all stages of consciousness] and that is fine. An enlightened society would always make room for that by recognizing that stages in development are also stations in life. And somebody can stop at any of those stations (of Spirit’s own unfolding) and they deserve honor and respect at whatever station they are at.

click image to enlarge

stages-of-consciousness-integral

But the earlier stations — archaic to magic to mythic — involve stages that, nonetheless, are ones that humanity’s leading edge passed through in its infancy, childhood, and adolescence. But because religion alone is the repository of the myths created during those times, religion alone is the institution in today’s world that gives legitimacy to those earlier stages and stations for men and women. And religion alone owns that 70% of the world’s population at those stages.

All of which is good and beautiful. But precisely because of its ownership of the pre-rational heritage of humanity (and the pre-rational corpus of the great myths), religion alone can help its followers move from the pre-rational, mythic-membership, ethnocentric version of its message to the rational, worldcentric versions of its own message. … This, surely, is the great role for religion in the modern and postmodern world.

(excerpted from Integral Spirituality)

If “religion” continues to be defined as the tactile and social side of spirituality — rooted in dogma, doctrine and myth — and as long as those myths continue to be told (and interpreted) from magic and pre-rational levels of development, there will be no forms of religion at the higher stages (rational, collaborative or pluralistic).

All interfaith dialogue will hit a dead end, religious fundamentalism will remain the status quo, holy wars will continue to be waged, and we will continue to seek (to sometimes extreme ends) that which we already are and have always been.

UPDATE: Some of the Abrahamic traditions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) do have maps of the higher stages provided by Christian Mysticism, Kabbalah and Sufism, respectively. But, they are for the most part denied or attacked by the institutional and patriarchal forms of these religions.

Yes, new myths need to be written from these higher stages of unfolding. New stories need to be told from a level of consciousness that includes the highest number of perspectives. But more importantly, current mythology and doctrine needs to be interpreted, understood and possibly re-cast from these higher stages. That is what will shatter the glass ceiling.

It’s time to change this system from within. And here’s what you can do about it:

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Creating a Cohesive Worldview (Part 2: The Map and The Territory)

Fox Xoft, "Map of the Before Life"

Too often, we confuse “spirituality” with “religion,” or the words are used interchangeably, without any thought given to their subjective meaning. Is spirituality the interior personal experience, and religion the sacred doctrine or holy law? Does spirituality become religion when we try to share it with another person or pass it on to another generation? Could they be two subtly different ways of describing the same experience?

Religion is not only our shared set of values, or the way we create meaning in the world, or our method of contemplating the universe (Oneness, Brahman or God). Religion is made of many perspectives in many locations, and is the key to co-creating a multi-dimensional worldview. Religion is a map that is continually being drawn from the inside. And while it was Alfred Korzybski who coined the term “the map is not the territory,” Korzybski himself knew that our “knowledge of the world is limited both by the human nervous system and by the structure of language.”

For the sake of analogy, let’s briefly consider a full, rich, complete and conscious life to be both – the exterior and the interior, the media and the message, the sheet music and the song itself. We must make this distinction, as some people have the map firmly in hand (some even know it by heart), but have never once planted their feet on the ground. And some people have lived in a place their entire life but never truly know where they are in orientation to others.

If religion, then, is our spiritual map of the world – a man-made rendering co-created by a collective consciousness, yet always falling short of the ineffable whole of the Cosmos – then which maps (or parts of them) should we keep, and which should we discard? Where are the unexplored places that we should continue to chart on our own?

Consider the ancient cartographer’s parchment with those dark and dangerous areas illustrated with inky shadows and fanged sea monsters (“Here there be dragons!”). Those areas remained ominous and unknown until some brave and courageous (and most times, well-funded) soul ventured into the darkness and provided detailed reports of the seas, deserts and caves. Are there any of these dragons left today?

Or what about the bright and colorful Rand McNally road atlases? As children, they kept many of us active in the backseat during cross-country road trips with their arterial red and blue highways stretching across each page. But, the states were sorted alphabetically, not spatially or intuitively, and occasionally you’d hit some road construction that wasn’t on the map. Then, you’d have to pull out a pencil and chart your own course. How do we sort, classify and organize the maps we use today?

From these subtle changes in roadways, borders and territories to huge shifts in actual landmass, the world has changed dramatically since these maps were drawn, and continues to change faster every day. Google Maps now provides a modern, interactive, up-to-the-minute rendering of the entire planet, delivered to the screens in our vehicles and the devices in our pockets. Every shadow and corner of the world is now available on a display at your fingertips.

Which spiritual maps (or religious worldviews) are we holding onto out of sentimentality or posterity? Which sections of these interior maps and mythologies can be left behind, and which are just as true and relevant today as the day they were written? Continue reading


Creating a Cohesive Worldview (Part One: Either/Or)

“What can we do when things are hard to describe? We start by sketching out the roughest shapes to serve as scaffolds for the rest; it doesn’t matter very much if some of those forms turn out partially wrong … In the final filling-in, discard whichever first ideas no longer fit.

That’s what we do in real life, with puzzles that seem very hard. It’s much the same for shattered pots as for the cogs of great machines. Until you’ve seen some of the rest, you can’t make sense of any part.”

– Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind


We are born. We are taught to communicate. And most of us are immediately asked to choose a side.

We’re told by people that we love and respect that we are either liberal or conservative, left-brained or right-brained, introverted or extroverted, left- or right-handed. Either/or. We’re sometimes told that these traits are predetermined – by the stars or by destiny. That the universe is a magical, vibrating world of opposites, and that we hang in the balance. We’re told that this duality is our reality. But this is not the whole truth.

Our compass orientation need not point us in only four directions. In three-dimensional space, we’re not limited to only 360 degrees. Are there not an infinite number of grays, colors, dimensions, subtle gradations and subjective ethical and cultural nuances between the concepts of black and white – or good and evil?

Haridas Chaudhuri writes in The Evolution of Integral Consciousness, “One devious root of war-mindedness is the dualistic logic of the arrogant intellect – the logic of either/or. Dualistic logic says: Either communism or democracy, either socialism or capitalism, is the ultimate truth, and thus creates an irreconcilable opposition between them, diving the world into two warring camps sworn to destroy each other.”

We are also taught that we are innately masculine or feminine. We are not told that there are both masculine and feminine qualities in each of us that will be appropriate at certain times and in certain moments. We are not taught how to easily switch from barking orders (“being the rock”) to nurturing flexibility (“being the tree”) and back again. But there is a time and a place for each. We are never explicitly shown how to change our mind, but every moment as a conscious human being – living among other conscious beings – demands it.

Even before we’re born, people start asking, “Is it a boy or a girl?” But, what if we are both? What if we are a girl on the outside and a boy on the inside? And what of the hermaphroditic, the transgendered, the bisexual, the polyamorous? Sexuality and gender roles exist along a full biological, psychological and sociological spectrum, and the idea of simple one male/one female binary pairs is a learned one. Perhaps the fact that we’re learning untrue (or partially true) things about gender might explain why there is so much confusion and trauma around human sexuality (not to mention sexual ethics).

Brain vs Heart

Even our worldviews – our philosophies and religions – are separated into “Eastern” and “Western.” We may be told that Eastern religions are all about Zen and the Tao and “formless emptiness” and are based in concepts like “detachment” and “discipline.” We may be told that Western religions are all about monotheism and hierarchy and are based on things like “compassion” and “reason.” But in actuality, some religions have sprung forth on one hemisphere and migrated to another over time. In actuality, all religions are a product of a certain time, place and culture. In actuality, there is nothing more unreasonable than seeing only part (or one half) of the bigger picture.

One of our primary tasks should be to unify eastern and western thought into a global philosophy that satisfies both detachment and compassion, both discipline and creativity, hierarchy and holarchy. Yes, we need to honor and uphold the need for ceremony and ritual as well as the deep social roots of our individual cultures and our learned roles within them. But we also need to bring science and religion into alignment as aspects of the same universe – convincing both that not only is there room for the other, but that neither can stand on their own.

A modern approach to religion should not only be inclusive of the mostly partial truths found throughout the world’s wisdom, but also shouldn’t rely on a solitary book, philosophy or teacher. It should continually adapt and evolve, co-creating and recognizing new mythologies (from Star Wars to Shakespeare to Dharma Bums). It should be written by the people who live it, breathe it, and believe it.

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The Case for Christ Consciousness

“The most important Gospel you’ll ever read is the one that you write.” – Reverend Russell Heiland

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Maybe it’s because Christmas is approaching or possibly because I’ve neglected this topic for too long — tip-toeing around the various masculine forms of spirituality — but today, I want to talk about Jesus.

What I don’t want to do is discuss his love life or his blood line. I don’t want to get into the metaphysics of the Trinity or the virgin birth, or his death and resurrection (we’ll save that for Easter), and I definitely don’t want to talk about original sin. That, we can leave checked at the door. Permanently.

I would, however, love to talk at length about what Jesus — this middle eastern man with a rebel spirit and pathological contempt for authority — was able to accomplish in his short life. But there’s one problem. And it’s a pretty big one. Jesus’ life may not have happened at all. At least, not the way we might think.

Did Jesus Exist?

There’s a curious 40-70 year span that occurs between Jesus’ death and the time that the apostles and their descendants were “inspired” to write the Gospels. That, combined with the fact that more than half of the Gospels weren’t even written by men alive during Jesus’ time, gives one cause for wonder. I, myself, wonder if I would trust the acquaintances of my friends (even if I considered them “disciples”) to correctly quote me two generations later about something as important as what I believed to be the “good news,” the living Word of God.

There’s also the ancient and familiar origins of the Jesus myth itself. The story of Jesus was not new to people at the time. In fact, Jesus’ life story has so many elements in common with other (and pre-existing) Mediterranean and Middle Eastern god-man hybrids — like the Persian story of Mithras (whose birth was attended by three shepherds), the Egyptian legend of Osiris (who was assassinated by conspirators, defeated death and returned to rule the afterlife), the Greek Dionysus (who celebrated a “last supper” with twelve trusted associates before his execution) and Zoroaster (also from Persia, who was “born of a virgin mother” and come to “crush the forces of evil”). Even the Hindu deity Krishna (thought to have lived anywhere from 3228 to 3rd Century BCE) is thought to be the inspiration for the Jesus myth (his father was a carpenter, his birth was marked by the appearance of a star, he healed the sick and the lame).

Any (or all) of these stories could prove to be the inspiration for the Jesus mythology, but not vice versa. In fact, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) wrote, “This, in our day, is the Christian religion, not as having been unknown in former times, but as having recently received that name.”

So, if Jesus’ life was simply a more effective re-telling of re-hashed pagan and Occident stories and legends, then why does he matter? And, if we could separate the mythology of Jesus — of which so much has been added to after his “death” — from the message or teachings of Jesus, what might distinguish him, philosophically, from the hordes of other virgin-born messiahs of the day?

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The Sacred Mushroom: John Allegro and the Fertility Cults

“[This book] demands the serious consideration of theologians, mythologists, and students of religion. No account of the history of the Church, both West and East, can afford to leave the poor despicable fungus unconsidered, nor the role that entheogens in general have played in the evolution of European civilization.” — Professor Carl A. P. Ruck, Boston University

Our friends at Palehorse Design recently created a piece entitled, “Mushroom Cult” (pictured above) as part of a gallery exhibition here in St. Petersburg, and as usual, we can’t stop thinking about it.

The work is inspired by John Marco Allegro‘s controversial book, The Sacred Mushroom and The Cross: A Study of the Nature and Origins of Christianity Within the Fertility Cults of the Ancient Near East — a book that when first published in 1970, was thought “dangerous” to Christianity. Many scholars of the time even thought that Allegro’s theories and discoveries had the potential to change Christianity forever.

However, Allegro came under serious criticism for claiming to aim this book at the lay reader, but at the same time reaching above the average student’s head with a take on ancient (or dead) languages that very few could actually verify (Allegro was one of a handful of individuals allowed into the tombs of Judea to study the original Dead Sea Scrolls). He was also accused of confusing and combining Sumerian words, but as recent as 2006, new evidence was shown to support his theories and there is a call to reconsider his most polarizing work.

The idea is this:

By studying the development of language in relation to the development of myths, religions, and cultic practices in world cultures, Allegro believed he could prove, through etymology, that the roots of Christianity, as of many other religions, lay in fertility cults. And that cult practices, such as ingesting visionary plants (or “psychedelics”) to perceive the mind of God, persisted into the early Christian era, and to some unspecified extent into the 13th century with reoccurrences in the 18th century and mid-20th century. He interprets the Plaincourault chapel’s fresco to be an accurate depiction of the ritual ingestion of Amanita muscaria as the Eucharist (note: this is hard to deny when you see it in context, and the tradition of the red and white garment continues even today). Allegro argued that Jesus never existed and was a mythological creation of early Christians under the influence of psychoactive mushroom extracts such as psylocibin.

In Allegro’s words:

“The main factor that has made these new discoveries possible has been the realization that many of the most secret names of the mushroom go back to ancient Sumerian . . . For the first time it becomes possible to decipher the names of gods, mythological characters, classical and biblical, and plant names.”

What did Allegro find in the caves of Jerusalem and why did the Catholic Church make him out to be a heretic?

Is this a hoax on Allegro’s part or a cover-up by the church?

Or should Allegro simply have separated his claims about Jewish nature cults and the claims about the lack of evidence for a historical Jesus?

BONUS: After the jump, watch the entire film The Pharmacratic Inquisition, below. Thanks to Gnostic Media.

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The Collaborative Future of Literacy: Howard Rheingold [video]

I had the pleasure of meeting Howard Rheingold at South by Southwest in March, 2012, where we discussed the importance of mindfulness in online communities. Here is a TED talk he did way back in 2005, where he presents his ideas on leaps in literacy (including the modern forms of “collaborative” or “peer-to-peer” literacy), predicts the computing power of the smartphone, and touches on two important social concepts — The Prisoner’s Dilemma and “the tragedy of the commons.”

Highlights:

“From [newly] literate populations, new forms of collective action emerged in the spheres of knowledge, religion and politics. We saw scientific revolutions, the protestant reformation, constitutional democracies, possible where they had not been possible before. Not created by the printing press, but enabled by the collective action that emerges from literacy.”

“Humans will inevitably despoil any common pool resource in which they cannot be restrained,” but are proven to “escape by creating institutions for collective action.”

What do you think the next leap in collective literacy will look like? Are we witnessing it now?

More:

Howard Rheingold – Net Smart: How to Thrive Online
Garrett Hardin – The Tragedy of the Commons
Elinor Ostrom – Design Principles for Common Pool Resource Institutions