Consciousness, Judgementalism, Life, Love, Quality of Life

There is no Ordinary Escape from Judgementalism

Judgementalism destroyed my first marriage, killed her heart for me.  It was helped along by many other factors, of course, including one factor far more important than it: Irreconcilable differences.

But judgmentalism was perhaps the second most important factor, and one that had no excuse of being necessary.  She could have done without it, and so could have I.

Of course, it took a long time for me to see the significance to my marriage of judgmentalism.  I was in my late 30s when I at last got around to closely examining it, and that was in connection with a young woman I loved.

Love and judgementalism are mortal enemies.  Throw them in the same ring together and one or the other dies.  Some folks — usually an abused partner — believe both can thrive together, but that’s simply not true.  If you take care to closely observe the matter, you will see for yourself that where the one is, the other is not.

To be sure, you can take pleasure in someone while judging them.  It’s just that you cannot love them.  I mention that because so many of us mistake the pleasure we get from someone — along with our desire for more of it — mistake it for love.

Please note:  I speak here of unconditional love, which is fairly rare.  Unconditional love, in my  experience, is incompatible with judgementalism.  However, there are several kinds of love, and the others do indeed seem compatible.

Can judgementalism be brought to an end?  I do not think so.  At least, not through any ordinary means, for it seems to be a function of consciousness itself.  As long as we are conscious, we are judging people and things.

However, it seems to me we can greatly ameliorate judgmentalism by becoming acutely aware of it, and then refusing to take our judgments seriously when it is neither useful nor necessary to do so.

Questions?  Comments?

Attachment, Consciousness, Delusion, Enlightenment, God, God(s), Human Nature, Life, Mysticism, Satori, Self, Self-Integration, Self-Knowledge, Self-Realization, Spirituality, Transformative Experience

A Few Untidy Thoughts on Spiritual Enlightenment — What it is, and what it’s like to survive it.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of people who insufferably know what they’re talking about. Consequently, reasonable and open-minded skepticism is called for here.  On the other hand, the gods themselves enjoy inflicting heinous devastations upon those who disagree with me. 

(About a 10 minute read)


Like most folks familiar with the term “spiritual enlightenment” — or simply “enlightenment” to many of us —  I harbor some opinions about what it is, what can cause it, and what enlightened people are like.  If anything distinguishes me from nine in every ten folks on this issue, it’s that I’m not in the business of arguing my opinions, of trying to more than explain them.

That seems to me rare today — an age in which even the least proselytizing among us far too often channel the ugly self-assured certainty that most radio talk-show hosts use to mask their ignorance when wrestling with subjects too profound for them — that is, nearly every subject they tackle, except sometimes the latest weight loss product they pitch.

Now that I’ve foolishly indulged myself in ranting against something I myself will never be able to change about radio hosts, please allow me to foolishly indulge myself in discussing what it means to be spiritually enlightened.

But note: I’m being quite serious when I say I don’t know what I’m talking about.  My purpose here is not to sell conclusions and beliefs, but to provoke thought and — hopefully — beyond thought, mystery.

Continue reading “A Few Untidy Thoughts on Spiritual Enlightenment — What it is, and what it’s like to survive it.”

Consciousness, Delusion, Enlightenment, Mysticism, Satori, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Integration, Self-Knowledge, Spirituality, Transformative Experience, Wisdom

“The Most Tenacious Con is Self-Deception”

(About a 2 minute read)

“The most tenacious con is self-deception”, she said, echoing sages great and small down through the ages of human wisdom.  Which made me wonder: Has any sage ever been without at least a small measure of self-deception?

Of course, I am not asking here for choice and tasty bits of dogmatism or great and thrilling professions of chauvinism — even I would like to believe that my favorite sages were beyond self-deception, if only because believing so might give me a fixed star to guide myself by.  And yet, I cannot honestly believe such unless by faith — for how much do I really know of sages?

Were I to guess, I would guess even the buddhas might suffer some small measure of self-deception now and then.  After all, they almost certainly saw things from a subjective point of view, and are not such points of view necessarily deceptive?

But what about “self-deception” only in the narrower sense of being deceived by one’s own self?  Is that something all sages have suffered?

I think an issue here lies in knowing what a “self” is to a sage.  Do sages, such as the Buddha, or perhaps Jesus (so little is really known about him, but I suspect he was much like the Buddha in key ways), even have selves in quite the same sense as most of us?

You see, I think those great sages have transcended their selves — the selves they began with.  They have done so not so much by learning from books and others, but by directly experiencing what they took to be a superior reality — an experience that transformed them.  Thus, to me, the question comes down to whether they still possess some kind of self that is capable of being deceived.

Again, if I were to guess, I’d guess they do.

So far as I can see — and that’s not nearly far enough — even the Buddha himself did not dispense with his normal, everyday waking self.  He merely put it into perspective, so to speak. Imagine a king who has been receiving bad advice from his prime minister for ages until one day he realizes how bad it’s been.  That’s when the king begins putting the advice he receives into perspective.

I do not think sages can dismiss their prime ministers, so to speak.  Not without giving themselves a lobotomy — because the self seems to me to depend on the brain for its existence.  But if so, then the sages are stuck with selves, and the best they can do is learn exactly how the self deceives us so that they can put such deceptions into perspective.

Questions? Comments? Feeble attempts to link me to obscure revolutionary movements?  Shockingly less feeble attempts that actually do link me?  Immature professions of undying self-love?

Consciousness, Enlightenment, Human Nature, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Life, Mysticism, Quality of Life, Satori, Self, Self-Integration, Spirituality, Thinking

Constantly Living in the Present Moment: Is it Possible?

(About a 3 minute read)

Jiddu Krishnamurti would sometimes tell his friends the mildly shocking story of once riding in a car with five other people, all of whom were discussing the different states of consciousness — or awareness.  At some point during the discussion, the driver ran over a goat in the road — and no one else in the car besides Krishnamurti, not even the driver, noticed!

Of course, the story illustrates rather well how oblivious our normal, everyday consciousness or awareness can be to what’s going on.  We might resist the thought that we are as unaware as the story implies — and most days we probably are not nearly as unaware — but then one day comes the moment we run over the goat even  while discussing awareness.

All of the above talk might easily prompt a spiritually astute man like me to zone out and daydream most of the morning about how happy and alert he’d be if he could only constantly live in the moment like a decently enlightened individual — and not like one of those screwball bloggers who only post about living decently enlightened.  I mean, really enlightened.  Like, able to afford the robes and everything!

For living in the present is seriously described by many people — who can plausibly claim to have had at least some experience of it — in some quite positive terms, such as “liberating”, “free of unnecessary suffering”, “an experience of tremendous beauty”, and so forth.

Yet, it is important to reflect here that the people saying such things are always or almost always people who do not constantly live in the present, nor even claim to.    So it is an open question how feasible is it to constantly live in the present.

And here is where Krishnamurti told people a second story.  He and his companions were driving along a jungle road when they saw a tiger beside it.  The driver stopped the car and the tiger began prowling about it.  Krishnamurti himself was apparently enraptured by the sight of the tiger because  he rolled down his window to reach out and pet the wild carnivore!  Only his quick thinking friend saved him by snatching Krishnamurti’s hand back into the car.

Obviously, there is something to be said for — not living in the moment all the time — but at least taking a break from living in the moment in order to exercise some prudence or foresight.

But now there comes another question, one for which few humans are really qualified to answer.  Do profoundly enlightened people live constantly in the present, but in such a way as to somehow allow them to exercise such things as foresight?

My guess is “no”, given what is commonly known about the fundamental nature of both foresight and “enlightened consciousness”, but the question is a bit unfair because only a profoundly enlightened person would know for sure. The rest of us are reduced to the respected and  honored tradition of first taking a wild guess, and then ardently defending it with death threats and blades against all comers, foreign and domestic, in order to settle the truth of the matter.

On the other hand, I have the robes on order even as we speak, so I think it’s only fair you agree with me.

Questions?  Comments?  Pleas for relief funds for homeless millionaires?  Protests you are not running a scam?  Generous offers of sharing some tasty road-killed goat?

Please note:  This post was inspired by a discussion of mindfulness posted by the Millennial Philosopher here.

Consciousness, Culture, Enlightenment, Knowledge, Learning, Meditation, Mysticism, Neuroscience, Nontheism, Religion, Satori, Self, Self-Integration, Spirituality, Thinking, Transformative Experience

Can Knowledge Bring About a Mystical Experience?

(About a 5 minute read)

It is a truth near universally recognized that you cannot become a superb mechanic unless — as a minimum requirement — you have a girlie calendar in your garage first acquire a great deal of knowledge.  Moreover, that knowledge needs to be of two sorts.

In no particular order, you must both learn the sort of stuff you can learn from instructors and books, and you must also learn the sort of stuff you can only learn hands-on, by doing something — sometimes over and over again.  The ancient Greeks called the first kind of knowledge logos, and the second kind, gnosis.  We tend to call them “knowledge” and “know-how”.

The question arises, however, whether you need one, the other, or both kinds of knowledge in order to become a superb mystic?

Put differently, must you be of any particular religious tradition or school in order to attain to a mystical experience, the sine qua non of which is a perception of all things being in some sense or way one?  Must you follow any specific teachings or practices?  And do teachings and practices even help?  Or are they really mere ways of idling away the hours before your boy or girl calendar arrives in the mail you attain to a mystical experience?

I suspect many good folks would say “yes” to most of those questions.  Perhaps it is even a cultural assumption — at least in the West — that knowledge is key here.  Especially, book or scriptural knowledge, because we in the West are so accustomed to seeing the bible as key to our spiritual development.  So if we start pursuing a mystical path, we naturally think in terms of how learning all the right things will help us.

But is that assumption borne out by the evidence?  I actually think not.  At least, not nearly so much as we might assume.

For the past forty years, I’ve been an amateur collector of mystical experiences.  When I guess someone might have had one, I prompt them a bit to tell me about it, and they sometimes do.   And something I’ve noticed: A fair number of people have been stumped what caused the experience, for they can recall having done nothing to bring it about.

Again, awhile back, a group of researchers solicited over 2000 accounts of mystical experiences and found that about 20% of them came from nontheists — atheists and agnostics.  Presumably, many of those fine folks had done nothing intentionally to bring about their experiences, although some might have.

It seems to me likely then that any kind of knowledge might not be as key to having a mystical experience as we might at first suppose.  But if that’s true, then it raises a fascinating question.

What, if anything, does the fact knowledge has relatively little to do with mystical experiences tell us about the experiences themselves?

I think it underscores or emphasizes how fundamentally mystical experiences are shifts in perception, rather than gestalt-like experiences.  By “gestalt”  I mean an event in which what you know “comes together at once” to create a new understanding of something.

Of course, that is sometimes called “a new perception” of something, but that’s not what I mean by perception here.  “Perception” in this context is the frame of our sensory fields.  For instance, we see, taste, touch, and feel thirst.  Each of those is a sensory field.  Perception frames them in the sense that it provides or adds to them certain characteristics that are not the things we see, taste, etc.

An example would be our sense that what we are seeing at the moment is real.  That perception of realness is not a property of the thing itself, but rather a property or characteristic of our sensory field of sight.  Again, we perceive things as being us or not us.  That once more is a characteristic of our perceptual frames.

A mystical experience can be seen as an abrupt shift from how we normally perceive things to a different way of perceiving things.   One of the frames that is lost during that shift is our perception of the world as divided between us and not us.

So now we might ask: Do we need to know much for such a shift to come about?

I think not.  For one thing, the neural sciences have now revealed that mystical experiences involve at least a reduction in activity in the parietal brain lobe, most likely an increase in activity in the thalamus, and perhaps a change in dopamine levels, among other things.  Those are things that could be influenced by some kind of conscious or subconscious knowledge, but they don’t necessarily need to be.

Again, there are no techniques of bringing about a mystical experience that guarantee you will have one, but Eastern meditative techniques have been relatively successful.  These, however, do not generally depend on more than the knowledge of how to practice them.

Last, some traditions, such as Zen, are full of stories of people who attain to mystical experiences without need of scriptures, or much need of instruction.  So I think it’s pretty clear that, for those and other reasons, knowledge is not much use in bringing about a mystical experience.

Jiddu Krishnamurti, by the way, was adamant on that point.  He routinely went even further to state that too much knowledge hindered or prevented mystical experiences.  One of his key points was that, if you set off in pursuit of a specific experience, you were likely to find it soon or later, but it would turn out to be a construct of your knowledge.

So there might be a way in which knowledge is not only unnecessary, but actually detrimental.  But where does that leave us?

In a word, calendars!  Krishnamurti had a beautiful metaphor.  Imagine you are inside your house (i.e your mind) and wish for a breeze to come in (i.e. a mystical experience). What can you do to make that breeze happen?  Nothing, of course.

You simply can’t force a breeze to rise.  However,  you can open your windows and doors.  That is, you can remove the obstacles to a breeze coming in, should one arise.

Rumi also said much the same thing: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

Behavioral Genetics, Belief, Consciousness, Cultural Change, Culture, Deity, Enlightenment, Evolution, God, God(s), Human Nature, Mysticism, Neuroscience, Religion, Religious Ideologies, Thinking

Rationalism and the Immanent Death of All Religions

(About an 11 minute read)

When I was growing up, there were arguably few good fantasy novels.  Lord of the Rings was yet to become popular in my home town, but I didn’t feel I was missing anything because science fiction attracted me like no other genre.  Hardcore science fiction.

No unicorns, no dragons — and usually no gods.  Just stuff based on the science or scientific speculations of the day.  Issac Asimov and Author C.  Clark.  In fact, I believe it might have been in Clarke’s book, The Deep Range, where I for the first time came across the notion that rational science was replacing irrational religion in the hearts and minds of all the world’s peoples.

I simply assumed Clarke had a point.  After all, he surely knew more about it than me.  A few years later, I carried the idea with me to university, where I signed up for my first course in comparative religious studies at least half convince religion would be taught as part of the history department within twenty years or so.

I have since then been thoroughly disabused of that notion.  I was actually a bit surprised the other day when someone brought it up again.

Granted, there are plenty of reasons to believe that religion is on the decline in the industrialized world.  Numerous surveys seem to demonstrate that beyond doubt.  For instance,  a 2016 Norwegian study found that 39% of Norwegians “do not believe in God”,  while a 2015 Dutch Government survey found that 50.1% of the population were “non-religious”.   And even in the US, which remains the most religious industrialized nation, younger people are notably less religious than their elders.

Yet, to me these studies are very difficult to interpret for at least two reasons.  They don’t always seem to have clear enough categories, and they often seem to have too few categories.

I’m out of my league in any language but English, so I haven’t studied the non-English language studies, but  I’m suspicious of categories that get translated as “non-religious” or are based on questions that get translated as, “Do you believe in God?”

“Non-religious” can mean so many different things to different people.  I would describe myself as “non-religious” meaning not an adherent of any organized religion, but I’m also a bit of a mystic, and to some people, that’s quite religious.

Beyond that, there are usually not enough categories to these surveys to satisfy my insatiable appetite to categorize things.  Don’t believe in god?  Fine, but do you consider yourself,  an atheist, an agnostic, someone who believes in spirits, ghosts, etc, a Christian atheist (big in the Netherlands), a believer in a “transcendent reality”,  or do you perhaps feel “there just must be something out there”, etc.

But putting aside my uniformed suspicions about the studies I’ve seen, I think there are at least two compelling reasons to suppose religion will survive rational science so long as we’re Homo sapiens.  Both reasons are rooted in the origin and nature of religions.

Now, anytime you speak about the origin and nature of religions some folks are bound to bring up the traditional ideas about that.  Religions began as proto-sciences that tried to explain nature, such as thunder, in terms of supernatural beings.  Thunder becomes a thunder god, in that view.

Freud thought religions began as a desire for a father figure that turned into a god.  Feuerbach, following some ancient Greeks, thought religion began as an idealization of a great man, such as a notable leader, following his death.  Others have argued that religion was begun by people seeking a sense of purpose or meaning in life.  And so on.

I myself would not actually argue against any of those traditional notions.  For all I know, they and many other such notions at least played some role in getting religion off to a start.  But I do think there are two more influential candidates.

There is general agreement these days among cognitive scientists that religion involves the architecture of the brain.  That is, religion is based in our genes, and most likely evolved early in our history.  Beyond that, there is much debate and a handful of theories about exactly what our brain’s architecture has to do with religion.

For reasons of space,  I’ll stick to the one theory I favor.  According to its view, we evolved functional brain modules, such as modules allowing us to think of others as having beliefs, desires, and intentions (Theory of Mind), organize events into stories or narratives (Etiology), or that predispose us to respond to danger signs in ways that might save our lives if the danger is actually real (Agent Detection).  Depending upon who you consult, there are up to two dozen or so such modules.

One way these modules might come together is this:  You’re sitting around a campfire one night, partying over an antelope carcass, when you hear a rustle in the bushes and perhaps even an indistinct growl that you might only be imagining.  You startle, the hair on your neck rises, and chills run down your spine.  “Something is out there!”

That’s Agent Detection speaking.  The rustle could be from a breeze or a harmless small animal.  The growl might only be imagined.  But the key thing here is that you react with fright just as you would if it were known to be a lion.

A few minutes later, you and your buddies pick up your spears to investigate.  Can’t very well get to sleep with a possible lion that close in.  But you find nothing.

This is repeated a few times during the night.  Each time you find nothing, but then it happens the next night, and so on.  Sooner or later, your best story-teller cooks up a narrative (Etiology)  in which a malevolent spirit is “out there”,  prowling around your camp,  perhaps waiting for the moment to strike.  But your sense of Agent Detection predisposes you think there must be something there.  Being a spirit, you cannot see him, but you don’t need to — what else could explain something making noises that have no body behind them?

Last, as time goes on, you start ascribing more and more beliefs, desires, and intentions to the spirit (Theory of Mind), until one day you have perhaps a god.  Or maybe not, maybe you and your buddies are devout spiritualists without any recognizable deities.  Whatever the case, you’ve now got something “religious”, in at least some sense of the word.

If the above is true, then we now have one deep root of human religiosity.   A root so firmly grounded in our brain’s architecture that it must be genetically based.  A clear implication is that, having evolved it, we would need to evolve out of it to be entirely free of its influence on us.  Until or unless we do that, we will be born with a predisposition to some kind of religiosity.

But is there another root, as equally well grounded?  It seems curious to me that a second root of human religiosity seems so often ignored.  Even if one dismisses mystical experiences as “rare hallucinations”, that would not actually demonstrate they were of little or no influence on the world’s religions.  Indeed, they seem core to at least Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Taoism, and a significant theme in others, such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Now, there seem to be about 12-16 different kinds of experiences that are commonly called, “mystical”,  so I should take special care here to clearly distinguish what I mean by the word.  I mean only one quite specific kind of experience, which I call “the mystical experience”,  for lack of being inspired to come up with any other name for it.

The problem here is that, while it is easy to come up with words to describe the  content of that experience, it is impossible to come up with words capable of communicating that content to anyone but people who have had the experience.

Buddhists sometimes describe nirvana as a “cessation of suffering”,  and Christian mystics describe their experiences as “experiences of God”,  but neither phrase is able to communicate what those things mean to anyone other than the people who use them.  The problem is the nature of words themselves.  Words are symbols that ultimately depend on shared experiences to communicate much of anything.  If you had a barn, and I had never seen anything like it,  you would be reduced to describing your barn in terms of what I had seen.  “It’s like your mud hut, Paul, only much, much bigger.”

However, I have had some luck describing mystical experiences as involving a dissolution of subject/object perception, replaced by a perception of all things being in some sense one.  The key is to grasp that subject/object perception is perceiving the world in such a way that you divide the things you perceive into self and non-self.

That is, I not only see the tree in my yard, but I see the tree as “not me”.   That’s the normal, everyday mode of waking consciousness.  But if and when that breaks down and you perceive — if only for a moment or two — the tree and you as unified by some sense of oneness, then you’re having a mystical experience.  The sine qua non of those experiences is that breakdown into oneness.

In addition to that, there is much other content typical of a mystical experience, but it’s much harder for most us to understand how mundane joy differs from mystical bliss, than it is for us to understand we have suddenly lost or abandoned our sense of things being either “me” or “not me”.

Hence, I am only concerned with that one kind of mystical experience, but that’s not to say there are no other kinds — most of them probably more interesting than the mystical experience.

As I said, Christian mystics tend to interpret their experiences as experiences of the Christian God, but so too do most people around the world, and through-out the ages (except they aren’t usually talking about the Christian god).  Not the Buddha, of course, nor Lao Tzu, but so many others use “god” or virtual synonyms for god.  So, although there are an appreciable number of atheists and agnostics who have had mystical experiences, it’s easy to see how the experience could create a sense of deity.

Mystical experiences seem to be as deeply rooted in our genes as the other kind of experiences.  The neural sciences have revealed that they are associated with at the very least changes in the activity levels of the parietal lobe and the thalamus.   There seems to be evidence that they might also have something to do with “brain chemicals” like dopamine.  So, I think despite our understand of them is still quite limited we do now know enough to safely say they are genetically rooted in us.

Of course, the implication is that “god won’t go away anytime soon”.   But I think that can be more clearly seen when we consider that the sciences have no means for disproving the notion god might be behind, or the ultimate cause of, such experiences.

Even if we knew everything about their natural causes, we would have no means of knowing anything about whether or not there were supernatural causes to them also.

Now, if all of the above is true enough, then I think its safe to say the imminent death of all religions is not exactly “around the next corner”.  We would most likely need to evolve so far as to become a new species — with a new kind of brain — for that to happen.  So, while people may shift from one form of religiosity to another, I think most of us will retain some kind of religiosity.

I hope the future brings us ever more benign forms of religiosity.

Consciousness, Enlightenment, Mysticism, Spirituality, Teresums

The Horrors of “Higher Consciousness”

(About a 3 minute read)

Like most sensible Americans, I believe the state of higher consciousness that so many mystics talk about can be attained by listening for a solid 24 hours to tapes of Rush Limbaugh played backwards.

Now, I have never actually seen any science to either prove or disprove my belief, but I am a true American, and so I know reality is merely a rumor. I am also a virtuous American, and so I abhor rumor-mongers, such as scientists. Hence, I don’t need to see any science: I hold my beliefs intuitively true by virtue that they feel right to me.

But what feels wrong — very wrong — to me is the term, “higher consciousness”. A perfectly horrifying term if you look at it my way, by which I mean the proper way.

And why is my way the proper way? My chief reason is it annoys Teresesums a carefully guarded secret. Beyond that, all my reasons boil down to this one complaint: Higher consciousness is so radically different from ordinary consciousness we should be aghast merely to hear the term.

First, ordinary consciousness crucially involves an awareness of ourselves and the world as divided into us and not us. Higher consciousness does not.

Second, ordinary consciousness involves conceptual or symbolic thought, while higher consciousness does not. Thought and no thought. How can you not get more different than that?

Next, ordinary consciousness involves judging and comparing things, while higher consciousness does not, since it does not involved thought, which is necessary to such judging and comparing.

Moreover, ordinary consciousness involves defensiveness, while higher consciousness does not, since the self that one would defend is absent from it. We would reflexively duck a rabbit if it were thrown at us, but we would not defend ourselves against most other kinds of threats — especially those that required thinking things through in a foresighted manner.

Last, ordinary consciousness has a largely focused awareness, while higher consciousness does not. This one reminds me of a story. I was with a group of eight or so people one night when, for no apparent reason, seven of them spontaneously asked one of them seven different questions almost at once. There was only the briefest interval between each question.

He calmly replied to six of the seven people, and he did so in the order in which they had asked their questions. Our hostess that night was a student of Zen and she told us that her teacher had said, if someone can respond under those circumstances to seven out of seven people, in the order in which they asked the question, it was evidence they had attained spiritual enlightenment — or higher consciousness, in this case.

The point is, I don’t think that sort of thing would be likely, or even possible, for someone in an ordinary, focused state of consciousness.

I believe I have now proven to any reasonable Americans, by which I mean all two dozen of them, that the term, “higher consciousness” should be held in the most abject distaste possible. In its stead, I propose “higher awareness”.

But naturally, I do not demand that the term be replaced.

Comments? Questions? Derisive snorts? Declarations of political solidarity with our cousins, the bonobo?