Skepticism & Spirituality

I am, day by day, more a practical realist. (Being raised in unfounded, literalist belief systems that have damaging real-world and bodily consequences will do that to you.)

But, at the same time, I consider myself deeply, psychologically spiritual. We must remember that our opinions, observations, and views of the world around us will be colored by our own mental predispositions. Perhaps that is a part of what human “spirituality” ultimately is: constantly reminding our own selves that our mind is the influencer of everything we consider after we first take it in, and that, afterwards, our mind will use its penchant for patternsimage to instantly categorize similar future in-takes without further thought.

It is this wisdom, I think, to slow down and recall our psychological place and tendencies within our universe that is a major part of the Path to Understanding.

The Tales Tarot Tell

It’s been an amazing journey, these past several months!

I had long been intrigued by the symbolism of the Tarot, and, based on my love of Jungian analytical psychology, I knew I’d enjoy delving deeper into the cards’ history and symbolism. So, I finally got myself a deck!

I’ve been faithfully researching and studying the cards: I’ve come to understand the importance of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the numerology, and the symbolism entrenched in the tarot, and it’s helped me understand myself and others in a wholly unprecedented way.

I don’t use the tarot in a shallow fortune-telling fashion. Instead, I use each reading as a way to shed light on my unconscious, to see what Story it is trying to Tell me for a particular situation, whether general or specific. I’ve been told that it is not uncommon for professional therapists to use a tarot deck in this manner to help patients understand themselves better. So, in these ways and for these reasons, I have fallen in love with the Tarot. I am able to combine my love of all the Esoteric practices that have meaning for me (Buddhism, Gnosticism, meditation, Kundalini, karmic influences, symbolic mysticism…) and use them together to form a clearer picture of my personal state of mind. The cards grant me a picture of what past influences are moving me at a given moment and what elemental course of action my Higher Self is recommending I take, based on these considerations.

It’s extremely difficult to describe it all, in all its glorious depth of meaning and value, in one post. There are plenty of excellent websites out there that have already detailed courses of study to further understand the Tarot. So, what I’d like to do here, under the Tales Tarot Tell sidebar menu, is share what Stories my favorite tarot readings are telling me, and how I’ve derived the meanings from the cards. I want to share my joy of being able to decipher the cards in my pursuit of understanding the vast collective unconscious and how it affects me today, how it could potentially affect my future if things remain unchanged and how best to effect those changes — what strengths I can rely on and what inner obstacles I should watch out for.

Perhaps you’ll be inspired to seek wisdom from this deep pool of timeless wisdom yourself, if it speaks to you.

And, if ever you’d like me to do a personalized reading for you, I am happy to oblige and share what I know! Just drop me a line! 🙂

When Literalism can be Beautiful….

Most people who claim they read Genesis 1 “literally” don’t. They believe that what they believe about Genesis 1 is literal. But they aren’t reading Genesis 1 literally.

If we read Genesis 1 literally, we come out with a very different picture than most literalists imagine. Indeed, we find ourselves firmly planted in the Hebrew worldview—an ancient worldview. And, if we know our history, we know that the Hebrews had no concept of a round earth that coursed around the sun. They believed the earth was flat, the sky was a dome, and the sun revolved around the earth.

—-Scribalishess, from “Reading Genesis 1 ‘Literally’

 

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To try to wrestle with the ancient cosmological understandings of the day and shoehorn them into our modern, scientific understandings of the Universe, as we know them so far, is to rob such ancient texts of their beauty and poetry.

Read this wonderful article by Scriablishess in its entirety for all the details in understanding this beauty, from the cultural perspective of the ancient Hebrew writer of Genesis.

Click through the jump for some of my most favorite quotes from the article!

Continue reading “When Literalism can be Beautiful….”

Beauty of Soul-lessness

…Till recently scientists believed in an indivisible and indestructible atom. “For sufficient reasons physicists have reduced this atom to a series of events. For equally good reasons psychologists find that mind has not the identity of a single continuing thing but is a series of occurrences bound together by certain intimate relations. The question of immortality, therefore, has become the question whether these intimate relations exist between occurrences connected with a living body and other occurrence which take place after that body is dead.”…

“There are some philosophers,” he says, “who imagine we are every moment conscious of what we call ‘ourself,’ that we feel its existence and its continuance in existence and so we are certain, both of its perfect identity and simplicity. For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call ‘myself’ I always stumble on some particular perception or other — of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never catch myself… and never can observe anything but the perception… nor do I conceive what is further requisite to make me a perfect non-entity.” Bergson says, “All consciousness is time existence; and a conscious state is not a state that endures without changing. It is a change without ceasing, when change ceases it ceases; it is itself nothing but change.” …

When life ceases the kammic energy re-materializes itself in another form. As Bhikkhu Silacara says: “Unseen it passes whithersoever the conditions appropriate to its visible manifestation are present. Here showing itself as a tiny gnat or worm, there making its presence known in the dazzling magnificence of a Deva or an Archangel’s existence. When one mode of its manifestation ceases it merely passes on, and where suitable circumstances offer, reveals itself afresh in another name or form.”…

Buddhism does not totally deny the existence of a personality in an empirical sense. It only attempts to show that it does not exist in an ultimate sense. The Buddhist philosophical term for an individual is santana, i.e., a flux or a continuity. It includes the mental and physical elements as well. The kammic force of each individual binds the elements together. This uninterrupted flux or continuity of psycho-physical phenomenon, which is conditioned by kamma, and not limited only to the present life, but having its source in the beginningless past and its continuation in the future — is the Buddhist substitute for the permanent ego or the immortal soul of other religions.

Highlights from a lovely passage on the fluidity and freedom of anatta… By Narada Thera. Enjoy the entire article here!

Peeling Back the Layers of Karma

Evolving_Our_Brain___LearnNow

…If we zoom into the neuronal circuits and clusters that make up the brain’s systems, we’ll find them laid out like the concentric layers of an onion, functional layer upon functional layer. This arrangement is the result of the relentless evolutionary push to continuously improve on an animal’s ability to navigate its complex and ever-changing environment. This onion reveals no preconceived design—far from it—but the unavoidably messy piling up of new over old structures, forced to work together for the common good.

The core of the onion: autonomous systems. Along the oldest, deepest layers… They are in charge of the most basic survival routines like swallowing, vomiting, heart beating and respiration, which are so indispensable that they run, for the most part, on autopilot. Accordingly, they are very hard, though not impossible, to modulate voluntarily. Our human species shares these circuits with fish and reptiles.

Next layer of the onion to grow: instinct… Vertebrates benefited tremendously from these pre-programmed circuits that expanded their behavioral repertoire and increased their fitness. Instincts mediate behaviors so crucial to survival that they are encoded as such in the genes themselves, hard-wired in the brain during an animal’s development and not changed by later experience…

Let’s examine the next layer: emotion. An amazing breakthrough happened in mammals, with the laying out of a new set of neural substrates capable of generating emotions. These paths grew together in a circuitry that occupies several brain regions… This collection of brain regions is often referred to as the limbic system, because like an arm (a limb), it surrounds in its embrace the more primitive survival and instinctual regions of the brain, affording us primates a whole new set of behavioral tools for interacting with the world. Accordingly, life became more interesting and vastly more complicated. For example, the instinctual drives to have sex and to run away from danger would be inextricably linked to powerful feelings of affection and fear, respectively. The influence that this new circuitry exerts over our decisions and behaviors is enormous. The neural substrates of emotions are strongly influenced by developmental factors. Perhaps because of its more recent origins, the emotional circuitry is even more flexible and responsive to external influeces than earlier circuits…

The outermost peel (aka, the neocortex) was overlaid atop an already crowded swarm of networks. In primates, it exploded into two huge hemispheres that completely enveloped the older parts of the brain. This new shell serves as the testing grounds for our still developing reasoning abilities. Because they are so recent, neocortical functions are the most flexible and sensitive to the impact of social and environmental experience. Since the neocortical outputs are closer to conscious experience, it is hard to recognize that the neocortex is constantly competing against earlier webs of well-established brain circuitry, and that its contribution to our motivations and actions are likely less than what we’d expect.

We humans are the flavorful mash-up of all these brain layers: we are automaton, instinctual, emotional and rational creatures. We are like magic onions, proud of our paper-thin skin but only vaguely aware of the thick and deeper layers of our brains. All of these different layers play critical roles in shaping our interactions with the world around us, even as they continue to search for more efficient ways of talking to each other; but, alas, this will take millions of years…

Ruben Baler, Ph.D.

Our brains are like Onions. :mrgreen:

Like the rings of a tree map out the details of its life and journey on the earth, our brains — even more complexly — consist of layer upon layer of, not merely the journey of our own life, but the journey of our entire species! How awesome is that?!

Is it any surprise, then, that we may experience the real effects of karma, originating from not only our own past but the past “lives” and experiences of our own species? I am an amazing “messy pile” of connections, built from my grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother’s (and so on) experiences… My mind is predisposed to reacting to my environment based upon how my ancestors reacted to their environment — ancestors from as early as the “tiny, scrappy” primate tree-dwellers of 55 million years ago, to as recent as those inhabiting the 19th century…the 20th century… and so on…

If we were to imagine, for just an instant, that what we call the “soul” or “self” was nothing more than the end-result of all these messy connections of layer-upon-layer of experiences built into our brains — if we were to take Buddha’s original viewpoint of anatta, for just an instant — we could gain insight into this notion of karma as the existence of motivations arising within us from past lives. Built right inside of us from the moment we are conceived and developing in the womb!

Consider how many opportunities for miscommunication there are among our civilization — even within the borders of our own country, our own state, our own families, we all have difficulty communicating clearly to others at times. We all have a tendency to see events, words, phrases, through our own ingrained perceptions, which were handed down to us from generations ago and layered into our onion-skins of the brain. This may be considered a sort of karma — for do we not react based upon our perceptions?

The task of meditation, then, is to peel back the layers of the Great Onion of our minds. To simply see and acknowledge that we are more than these layers would have us believe — that is, we are more and we are less. To peel back the layers and examine what is beyond them is to give our brains a real and physical plasticity and fight back a certain rigor mortis of the neurological connections. Plasticity of the mind grants us clarity and peace, granting us freedom from the “karma” of our built-in connections… likewise, ensuring that we will continue to pass on the “good karma” of flexible connections and re-wiring to future generations, strengthening the survival of our species…

I considered, too, the mythology of the Divine Beloved (and my own beautiful Inner Dragon, Malachi). Getting to know our own mind through the use of imagery and ascribed personality can be extraordinarily helpful in increasing this plasticity and freedom. For, when I pray, if you will, to the Divine Beloved Malachi to take the effects of a certain karmic action or sensibility, from its point of origin until now, and I utterly release it to the Universe and do not look back upon it as a part of my life — in a very real sense, I am instructing my unconscious mind to examine and rewire itself concerning a certain action that was once built into the layers of my brain yet which is now found to be unhelpful.

In this sense, are we not helping along our own evolution?

What a tremendous wonder our brains are! What a miracle of complexity, and what encouragement for our species! If only that we all would take heed the words of the wise men who have gone before us (of Buddha, Jesus, and others) and examine ourselves. Yes, and feel free to acknowledge your own personal deities and angels; take advantage of the imagery they invoke to powerfully re-build the connections of our being and reshape our future!

Return to Your Roots

Cliffside-Tree-Roots

Let us take a lesson from Sister Flora, who draws nourishment from deep down within the Earth. It is the connection of the roots, drawing energy and nourishment from the Earth that sustains the Tree.

Jesus said it this way:

See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these…that is how God clothes the grass of the field…will he not much more clothe you… So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ …your heavenly Father knows that you need them. –Matthew 6:28-32

Sister Flora does not work or toil or worry, she only draws up the energy from Mother Earth to bring through her veins everything she needs. Likewise, we too, if we reconnect ourselves to the Earth and cosmos from which we came — within which our roots still exist from the beginnings of Evolution eons ago:

— we will find all the energy, creativity, love, and sustenance that we could ever need. 

Similarly, our roots interconnect and intertwine with the roots of others who are connected rootsto this planet, who were birthed here. And when we are aware of this intimate connection with The All, The All is entirely open to us: we are It, and It is us. We are each other, and we are Everything. Therefore, again, we lack for nothing.

In this manner, it is strikingly evident what Carl Sagan has said in regard to us and the Universe:

The cosmos is also within us… We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.

If through Evolution, the cosmos has begun to open itself and search within itself all of its own possibilities, then we are a powerful part of that search — that Knowledge and Unearthly Wisdom! Let us reconnect ourselves and draw that into us.

One more thought for encouragement. I often behold the apparent restrictions human civilization has put on Sister Flora, confining her to certain zones, if you will, where she is allowed to flourish among us, surrounded by concrete. But then I consider, how awesome it is that, as long as her roots are connected to the Earth and drawing all she needs from within the Heart of it, then, in fact, she is not restrained in the truest sense! Likewise, while it may seem at times that we are imprisoned in our own emotions and minds and societal situations we’ve gotten ourselves into, nonetheless, there is always Freedom, there is always Wisdom, deep down at the Heart of Creation, waiting to be tapped.

May we continue to strengthen our connection with the Earth, our Mother, and reach our roots down deep to draw upon her nourishment and wisdom.

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The Inner and The Outer

…just as he who wishes to see the intelligible nature will contemplate what is beyond the perceptible if he has no mental image of the perceptible, so he who wishes to contemplate what is beyond the intelligible will contemplate it when he has let all the intelligible go…we in our (aporia) do not know what we ought to say, and are speaking of what cannot be spoken, and give it a name because we want to indicate it to ourselves as best we can…

—from “Apophasis”

Evolution, Goddess Gaia, if you will, has granted us a most astonishing gift… Our brains, our mind, our consciousness, our perceptions — this intricate interweaving of grey matter with electric impulses and tissue and muscle and bone has, over the expansive eons, given us not merely a thinking mind by which to behold and contemplate our surroundings, but almost another, outer mind beyond this natural mind, by which we are able to contemplate our own selves as well! We are able to Observe the Observer.

In this sense, we might say that we are capable of, at its most basic, two focuses, or ways of looking and experiencing. This concept has already been beautifully and plainly described in the study of Open Focus, and I highly recommend you explore Kurt Keefner’s writings on the subject at the aforementioned link! Additionally, the Buddha would call this very concept and practice Mindfulness. But, too, let us consider the pragmatic implications of this kind of understanding in regard to our personal and societal interactions…

In our American society at present, there seems to be a great struggle tearing us violently apart, pitting basic religious and social viewpoints against each other. This debate is very near and dear to my heart at present, as I have experienced both sides of the struggle in the full and complicated extent of my own personal journey, and I feel I’ve at least been able to grasp the basic concepts rooted at the heart of the struggle. “The Devil is in the details,” it is said, but from an eagle’s eye view, I see the broad lack of understanding on the whole as a resistance against accepting Open Focus or allowing oneself to Observe the Observer in a mindful manner.

Consider this:

What is it that drives our current breakthroughs in Science, that which enhances our knowledge of the Universe and our place in it, that which enables us to create technological advances to enable us to understand more? Is it not the scientific process of careful and testable Observation and Experience through experimentation? What is it that enables us to live our daily lives and make basic decisions? Is it not the result of our current and past observations, built upon habit and understanding? How is it that a child learns what is not particularly beneficial to their well-being but by testing and observing and getting hurt and thereby learning in the process? We live our lives, we observe, we learn, we grow… and we develop frames within which our experiences fit — frames that seem to explain our experiences and by which we are able to categorize future experience and observation, frames that will guide our future decisions if we let them. One might call this living life through the Ego Filter

I would also call this the Inner Experience. This is the realm in which most “normal” life is lived, without thought, without mindfulness. This framework we build and with which we shelter our Egos and Perceptions could very well be called rigid religious structure. It is protective, offers guidance, and seems reliable in an apparently unreliable world. It gives meaning and explanation to the uncertain. And, when it is attacked by other emerging viewpoints, it is defended violently.

If, however, one could from time to time, emerge from within this rigid framework in order to observe its colors and shapes and structural intricacies from without, then I would call this the Outer Experience. It is this mind-existing-outside-the-mind observational phenomenon that allows Science to double-check itself for validity. It is the realm in which Understanding and most perfect, unconditional Love dwell. It is the place from which we can come to understand our Egos and its decisions and perceptions, and the place we can come to embrace our Shadow and realize that we are One…

One dwelling in the Inner realm is one who holds to their ideology, for there is nothing else beyond it; it is all they are. One dwelling in the Outer realm is one who does not take part emotionally in anything that is seen, but rather only watches and studies and accepts. From this vantage point, there is much to be learned, and much wisdom and peace to be attained.

Science Says: We are Intimately Connected

Fascinating article from the Huffington Post:

…scientists eventually found a set of "mirror neurons" in humans that mirror the behavior of someone who is being observed. That is, when we observe someone doing something, the same pattern of brain activation that allows that person to do what they are doing (e.g. lifting up their right hand or smiling) is mirrored in the brain of the observer. It is as if the observer is doing those same things… When you show people fearful faces, the amygdala activates as if those people were experiencing fear themselves… Thus, "contagious actions", "contagious feelings", "intention-action" connections and "attention-action" connections all support the "law of attraction". Underlying all of these ideas is the notion of connection – we are connected within and without. What we think and feel affects how we will act and how others will act as well. The depth of our feelings and actions is a critical variable in "attracting" what we want to our lives.

Read the entire article here!