Advice, Attached Love, Attachment, Clinging, Human Nature, Life, Living, Love, Lovers, Meditation, Quality of Life, Resilience, Spirituality, The Art of Living Well, Well Being

The Good News and the Bad News About Love

(About a 1 minute read)

The bad news is that you cannot love without risking almost certain pain now and then.  Even the most skillful and conscientious lover will now and then inadvertently hurt you. Even the greatest loves will someday come to an end — and often tragically (that is, in the ancient sense of tragedy — due to a flaw in human nature).

The good news is most — but never all — of the suffering most of us experience when loving someone comes from clinging unnecessarily to someone in an attempt to preserve the pleasures or avoid the pains of loving them.  If you can see this, and see it very clearly, you will put an end to the clinging, and with it, most of the suffering.

You need not do anything else.  You need only see it.  Once seen, your mind will reflexively avoid clinging like it would reflexively avoid a snake in the grass.

That is not something you should believe.  No matter how strongly you believe that, belief will not bring about an end to the suffering.  You must see it, instead.  You must watch it happening.  You much watch the whole process of clinging producing suffering — and no one can watch it for you.  No one can change a thing merely by telling you about it.

The way to watch it is through meditation.   Not introspection. Not contemplation.  Meditation.

Just my two cents.

Andrea Dinardo, Anxiety, Emotions, Eudaimonia, Fear, Free Spirit, Happiness, Health, Human Nature, Life, Living, Meditation, Mental and Emotional Health, Nature, Quality of Life, Resilience, Spirituality, The Art of Living Well, Well Being, Wilderness

The Power of Nature to Combat Anxiety, Dread, and Fear

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul discusses how spending time in nature — and especially spending time meditating in nature — can combat anxiety, dread, and fear.

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THE CRITICS EXPLODE! “Paul Sunstone knows no more about nature than Rupert Snider, the Denver tourist, once knew about the ravenous hunger of bears fresh out of hibernation.  To the horror of his tour group, Snider tried to pet a black bear in the spring of ’98.  The last he saw of his arm up to the elbow was its being carried off in the mouth of a mamma bear on her way back to share it with her cubs.  To the horror of his readers, Paul Sunstone has written yet another one of is eternally ignorant nature posts. The world would be a better place if a bear could be persuaded to make off with both his typing fingers.”  — Gus “Gunning Gus” Johnson, The Blog Critic’s Column, “Leper’s Gulch Gazette”, Leper’s Gulch, Colorado, USA.

Continue reading “The Power of Nature to Combat Anxiety, Dread, and Fear”

Belief, Buddhahood, Buddhism, Christianity, Consciousness, Cultural Traits, Culture, Enlightenment, Ideas, Islam, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Knowledge, Meditation, Memes, Mysticism, Religion, Religious Ideologies, Satori, Self-Integration, Spirituality, Transformative Experience, Zen

“Help! She’s Going About It All Wrong!”

SUMMARY:  The importance of having the right beliefs in order to attain spiritual enlightenment is grossly over-emphasized both in Western and Middle Eastern cultures.

(About a 5 minute read)

I have a friend who, in my esteemed opinion (esteemed by me, at least), is going about it all wrong.  By “it”, I mean spiritual enlightenment, of course.  She’s going about it all wrong.

Not that I myself am an authority on spiritual enlightenment.  The closest I ever came to it was that time I saw Terri’s breasts in the moonlight.  My friend — who is not Terri — has never shown me her breasts despite incessant hours of begging on my part and hence, I don’t know yet if she’s a reincarnation of the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin, or not. But even if she is, she’s going about it all wrong.

Continue reading ““Help! She’s Going About It All Wrong!””

Allies, Attachment, Consciousness, Death, Dying, Enlightenment, Fear, Friends, Human Nature, Impermance, Life, Living, Lovers, Meaning, Meditation, Mysticism, Quality of Life, Relationships, Religion, Satori, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Integration, Self-Knowledge, Spirituality, Transformative Experience

The Fear of Death and Dying

Disclaimer: The following opinions are my own — I am usually wrong about most things — and so you should examine these issues for yourself. On the other hand, only a boring, bumbling, berkle-snozer would disagree with me about anything.​

(About a 5 minute read)

It is my esteemed and noble opinion that the fear of death is a major factor in how folks experience life, and a major motive behind much of human behavior.

How much of a factor and motive, you might ask? Ernest Becker, the psychiatrist who authored, The Denial of Death, thought it unconsciously drove most of human experience and behavior. And here the word “unconsciously” is key to understanding the fear of death.

I do not agree with all of Becker’s ideas, but I am in complete agreement with him about the fear of death being very largely a hidden, unconscious fear. Ask ten people if they fear death, eight or nine will not be aware of themselves fearing it.

Continue reading “The Fear of Death and Dying”

Buddhism, Christianity, Consciousness, Enlightenment, Hinduism, Human Nature, Ideas, Islam, Judaism, Life, Meditation, Mysticism, Myth, Nontheism, Quality of Life, Religion, Satori, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Integration, Self-Knowledge, Spirituality, Taoism, Transformative Experience, Wisdom, Zen

Why Fools Point at the Moon

(About a 7 minute read)

It is a charming, ancient conceit that fools are secretly the wisest among us.  Everyone has heard that somewhere or another.  It is pervasive not merely in Europe — home to the court fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear — but worldwide.

Every culture seems to recognize the truth of it.  In Europe, fools are fixtures at the court of kings.  In the far East, they are sages.  In Africa, they are sometimes deities who wear multi-colored hats.  And among the Native American nations, they are Raven and Coyote. Jung would recognize the fool as an archetype of what he believed was the “collective human subconscious”.

But why do humans so often think wisdom is a property of fools?  It is easy to see why we ascribe it to wise men and women, but why specifically to fools?  What does the fool actually represent to us?

Continue reading “Why Fools Point at the Moon”

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.”

Attachment, Authenticity, Consciousness, Free Spirit, Happiness, Human Nature, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Meditation, Oppression, People, Quality of Life, Relationships, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Integration, Self-Realization, Spirituality

One Reason We Oppress Ourselves

In some conversations, topics change so fast that the conversation itself is more than a wee bit like a time-lapse movie in which a whole 24 hour day rushes past you in just a few minutes.  Such conversations can be fun or exasperating, depending on your mood.  Yesterday evening, I was very much in the mood, and my friends Ami and Karina were obliging me with a rush of ideas.  Here’s a snippet of that conversation:

At some point near the middle of the conversation, Karina stated that, “Ben Franklin never said, ‘Some people are dead at 25, but not buried until 75’, even though that proverb is often attributed to him”.

Karina’s remark prompted Ami to say, “I think we often limit ourselves by saying something is uncharacteristic of us”.

And, naturally, that got me thinking about black raspberry ice cream.

Of course, on the surface, Karina’s statement, Ami’s remark, and my thought might appear to have nothing to do with each other.  Indeed, I must admit I can see how people other than Karina, Ami, and I might be put in danger of being driven insane trying to figure out the link between them.

But the three of us are in no danger — if only because we each are already so thoroughly maxed when it comes to insanity that we cannot be driven any further in the direction of it.   In fact, the link between Karina’s statement, Ami’s remark, and my thought is actually a tight one.  And the rest of this blog post will drive you just as bonkers as the three of us already are safely reveal to you how very tight that link is.

My small hometown didn’t have a proper ice cream store until I was about ten or eleven years old.  Until then, the only places you could find ice cream were in the two grocery stores, and they sold only the most popular flavors: Vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.   This cruel and intolerable situation was relieved when an ice cream shop obviously devoted to saving my childhood opened up near the edge of town and began selling about a dozen flavors of frozen joy.

However, when I made my very first trip to the store, I was confronted with a seemingly insurmountable problem: I had not expected such a multitude of choices; I was completely overwhelmed; and I could not make up my mind which flavor to buy.  In the end, my mother rescued me by suggesting the black raspberry.

Never before in my life was I so convinced my mother was a genius than the moment I laid tongue to the black raspberry.  The flavor seized me and I was instantly enthralled to it.   In fact, I liked it so much that I never risked trying any of the other flavors the shop sold due to my mere suspicion they couldn’t possibly be as pleasurable as the black raspberry.  My relationship with the ice cream ran even deeper than that, however.

Most of know how something can become, not just a thing we like, but a part of us.  It’s a curious trait of our species that we can self-identify with just about anything, whether that be some tangible object like a car, a favorite sweater, or a flavor of ice cream; or it be some intangible thing like a political ideology, an idea, a religion, or even the roles we play in life of someone’s son, daughter, friend, wife, husband, etc.  That is, we frequently — indeed, we routinely — define ourselves as in part this or that thing.  Sometimes we say, “Those shoes are so me!” — and mean it.  I did exactly that with black raspberry ice cream.  I not only liked it, but I came to think of it as a part of what made me — me.

In one the most poignant tragedies of my childhood, the ice cream shop went out of business in a couple of years, and black raspberry disappeared from my town and my life.  I became a bitter, disillusioned addict in withdrawal, wandering the asphalt streets, haunting the graveled alleys of my town, living only for the memories I somehow managed to survive the closing.  But the story doesn’t end there.

A few years later while at uni I came across black raspberry again.  At first I was delighted to find it being sold in a campus shop.   That delight passed quickly though.  I discovered that my tastes had changed.  The flavor no longer grabbed me.  Indeed, it seemed surpassed by chocolate or even vanilla now.

Yet — once I rediscovered it — I kept ordering it!  Then one day, while licking a scoop of it, I had a moment when it all became clear to me: Though I no longer much cared for the flavor, I had self identified with it, and giving it up was just a bit frightening to me — as if it would mean giving up part of myself!

For reasons I don’t know, that day’s insight has never dulled in my mind.  It’s as fresh to me today as it was when it first jumped into my head.  So, the other evening, when Ami said, “I think we often limit ourselves by saying something is uncharacteristic of us”, pretty much my first thought was how well her remark tied into my experience of for a while limiting myself to black raspberry at uni even though I had by then become bored with it.

Of course, Karina’s remark that, “Some people die at 25, but are buried at 75”, also struck a chord with me.  The problem of unnecessarily limiting ourselves as a consequence of self-identification would be a very minor one if we only did it with a few things here and there, and those things were relatively unimportant to our quality of life.  But we do it routinely, and with myriads of things.  If we are not careful, we become one of those nearly ossified people who — perhaps even by an early age — has more or less ceased to develop and grow in any significant degree or way.

Yet, why does it happen?  Why do we oppress ourselves in that way?

I believe the best way to answer those questions is to make a study of the human self.  And by the “self”, I mean the psychological self, for each of us is not just a physical self, a body, but a psychological self, and it is our psychological self that identifies with things.  What, then, is the nature of this psychological self?

It seems to me that it is no mere accident that the psychological self identifies with things, but that it is its very nature to identify with things.  It can be thought of as always seeking to define itself in terms of its relationships to the things — both tangible and intangible — of this world.  It is important to recognize that it can perform that identification both positively and negatively.  That is, we can define ourselves positively — like I did — as being in some part and way my fondness for black raspberry ice cream.  But it is conceivable that I could have under other circumstances (say, I was repelled by the taste of it) defined myself negatively as being in some part and way a person who doesn’t like black raspberry ice cream.  For instance, a great many people identify themselves as not just “a progressive”, but also as “not a conservative” too.  So, I think the first thing to recognize about the psychological self is that it is always seeking to identify itself in terms of its relationships with things.

A second thing to recognize is that it is always trying to maintain and preserve those relationships.  That is, it can be thought of as wanting them to stay fixed pretty much just the way they are.  Typically change is threatening to the psychological self unless — and this is key — the change in question amounts merely to an aggrandizement of it.

To illustrate, suppose you took up studying Hinduism and quickly came to think of yourself as “someone who is studying to become a Hindu”.  It is doubtful in those circumstances that you would feel threatened by learning more and more about Hinduism.  After all, what you are learning does not contradict your image of yourself as “someone studying to become a Hindu”.  Instead, it expands on that image, it aggrandizes it.

But now suppose you pick up a book on Islam and you come across a passage in which the author asserts that Islam is the one true religion, and that all other religions are false, including Hinduism.  Now you might feel threatened because the author’s view contradicts your image of yourself.  The psychological self readily embraces new things and changes that aggrandize it, but just as readily rejects new things and changes that diminish it.

But if all this talk of the psychological self happens to be true — and that’s something for you to decide — then why does the self behave as it does?

I believe the psychological self is essentially a defense mechanism.  More precisely, it functions to identify or define that which we should defend in order to survive.  This might not be so easily seen if all you’re thinking of is the self identifying with a scoop of ice cream.  A scoop of ice cream is certainly not all that important to our survival.  Why would we need to identify with it?  But the self identifies with much else, and much that is key to our survival.

I am reminded here of the time Jiddu Krishnamurti met a tiger.  He and a few friends were traveling in a car through a forest in India when they came upon a tiger in the road.  The driver stopped the car, and the tiger began to prowl about it.  Krishnamurti’s window was open, and as the tiger passed beneath it, Krishnamurti — who at that moment happened to be in a meditative state in which he was selfless — spontaneously moved to reach out and pet the tiger.

Even Krishnamurti himself later admitted that it was fortunate one of his friends immediately leaped to pull back his arm and then roll up the window.  The incident illustrates the importance of the psychological self.   Without it, we would not defend ourselves against many — perhaps even the overwhelming majority of — the threats and dangers we face in life.  We might still have our defensive reflexes — such as reflexively ducking when an object is thrown at our head, or throwing our arms up when a tiger is actually charging us — but we would lack an ability to imagine threats to us: To see in the non-charging tiger who is at the moment merely passing peacefully beneath our window a potential threat to our selves.   In order to conceive of something as a threat to us, we must first and perhaps foremost have some notion of an “us”.  That is, some notion of a self.   By identifying and defining what is us, the psychological self functions as a key component of our self defense.

To be sure, its functioning is by no means perfect.  For one thing, it so quite often causes us to defend when no defense is actually needed.   I think nearly everyone knows at least one or two touchy people who have some nonessential image of themselves that they nevertheless defend as vigorously as if their lives depended on it.  I once knew a woman who so self identified with the brand of cigarettes she smoked that I one day inadvertently brought her nearly to tears by saying nothing more threatening to her than, “I have never been able to stand the taste of cigarettes, including your brand.”  From what she said to me next, it was as if I’d slapped her.

The psychological self, then, by functioning to define our self images creates the self that we will strive to preserve and maintain, while allowing that self to change only in ways that aggrandize it.  Although this is a vital, albeit imperfect, component of our defense against dangers to us,  it can turn on us oppressively if we are unskillful in coping with it. When that happens, we can become as inflexible in our views, attitudes, routines and behaviors as stone, rendering us ridged, insensitive, and uncreative when meeting the challenges of life, and unable to seize upon those challenges in order to develop ourselves in new, perhaps unforeseen ways.  In short, we become the tyrant of our own lives, our own oppressor.

Your thoughts?

Jiddu Krishnamurti, Love, Meditation, Observation, Spirituality

Jiddu Krishnamurti on How to Observe Thought

I must love the very thing I am studying. If you want to understand a child, you must love and not condemn him. You must play with him, watch his movements, his idiosyncrasies, his ways of behavior; but if you merely condemn, resist or blame him, there is no comprehension of the child. Similarly, to understand what is, one must observe what one thinks, feels and does from moment to moment. That is the actual.

Jiddu Krishnmurti

Agape, Consciousness, Enlightenment, Goals, Happiness, Human Nature, Love, Meaning, Meditation, Mysticism, Nature, Observation, Purpose, Quality of Life, Religion, Satori, Self, Self-Integration, Spiritual Alienation, Spirituality, Thinking, Transformative Experience

Can Meditation Align Our Mind with Love?

The Purpose of Meditation?

Years ago, before I knew much about it, I thought the very purpose of meditation was to see deeply into yourself and the nature of the world.  Thus, I thought meditation competed with the sciences in so far as the sciences are about seeing into yourself and/or the nature of the world.  And that was a reason not to meditate.

That is, I used to dismiss mediation because I thought of it as a crude or primitive science. And why study a crude and primitive science for insights when you can read an up to date textbook for the same thing?

Today, I still don’t know much about meditation except — perhaps — that seeing deeply into yourself and the nature of the world is by far not its purpose.

In fact, meditation seems to lack any purpose.   In that respect, it is precisely like nature in that it does not actually come with a purpose.  Instead, the only purposes it has are the purposes we humans assign to it.  We can say its purpose is to produce insights into ourselves and the world, but that is our purpose and not its purpose.  We can say its purpose is to cleanse or refresh the mind, but — again — that is our purpose and not its purpose.  Indeed, we are free to give it any number of purposes — but none of those purposes belong to it anymore than the purposes we ascribe to nature are properties of nature.

One Kind of Meditation

Now, I am not an expert meditator.  Instead, I am a rank amateur with an opinion.  Which is enough to get me in some jurisdictions tax exempt status as a clergyman.   So, please take this description of my technique for what it’s worth — that is, as an opinion and not as an expert opinion.

To me, even if to no one else, meditation is ideally about seeing without someone who sees, observing without an observer.   In short, it’s radically different from normal perception — which always involves a division of the world into the one who sees and the thing that is seen.

However, that ideal can no more be brought about by mediation than a breeze can be brought about at will.  So I don’t try to accomplish or achieve that ideal anymore than I would try to accomplish or achieve bringing about a breeze.  Instead, I begin a meditation by watching what is happening.

I watch what is happening in my mind and the world.  Of course, there is a division between what I am watching and me, the watcher.   The presence of that division means I am not actually meditating — because in genuine meditation there is no distinction between the watcher and the watched.

And that is how I begin a meditation.  Simply by observing the perceptual division between the observer and the observed.  From there, things tend to take their own course.

What That Kind of Meditation is Not

So far as I am concerned, there is no genuine meditation so long as there is a division between me and what I observe.  That’s why I don’t try to force my mind to be still by concentration.  Concentration is an act of an observer upon a thing observed: It is a “me” imposing something upon a “mind”.  And so long as I am acting as an agent upon something, I am not one with the thing I am acting upon.

Nor is there genuine meditation so long as there is judgment or purpose.  Both judgment and purpose — which seem to arise out of each other — imply an agent who does the judging or sets the purpose.  And that agent is apart from what it acts upon.

What That Kind of Meditation Can Be

I have noticed some of the best meditations in my life seem to correspond with the times in my life when I am in love.  At those times, meditation often comes naturally.   But the kind of love I speak of here is not based on desire.  It seems based more on non-judgmental and purposeless acceptance.

I do not think my technique of meditation can bring about that love any more than willing can bring about a breeze.  At best, it merely opens the windows so that a breeze — if one arises — can come in.  That is, my technique seems to align the mind to the nature of that love — and thus open the windows to it.  But — paradoxically — to make aligning the mind the purpose of the meditation is to defeat it.

Abrahamic Faiths, Belief, Christianity, Delusion, Faith, God(s), Ideologies, Islam, Judaism, Judeo-Christian Tradition, Knowledge, Late Night Thoughts, Love, Meditation, Observation, Religion, Satori, Spirituality, Thinking, Transformative Experience

Worshiping Idols

I am not a very profound man, but I am sometimes curious.  Of course, I used to say much the same thing to my ex wives when I wanted sex, “I am not a very penetrating man, but I am sometimes horny.”

Unfortunately, that did not amuse either one of them.

Tonight, besides recalling some of the more alarming ways in which I have in my time successfully — but unintentionally — brought about the destruction of two marriages, I have been thinking about idols.  If I understand the concept correctly, an idol is something that we worship instead of worshiping god.

Moreover, it is said we do not always know we are worshiping an idol when we are worshiping an idol, and not god.

I understand that last point — that point about not knowing — very well because both my ex wives were quite fond of pointing out to me (and sometimes to their friends, to the neighbors, to our community, and to the local newspaper and TV stations) how much there is about life (and the marriage bed) that I don’t know.

Now, it seems to me that, when people talk of idols, they most often mean statues, paintings, or other representations of their gods.  However, can a notion or an idea also be a representation, an image, that is worshiped in place of god?

If it can — if an idea can be an idol — then worshiping an idol might be at times a bit like loving — not your wife — but merely your idea of your wife.

For some reason, all that has been said so far reminds me of my friend Michael.  Michael is much more intellectual even than I am.  In fact, he is so oriented towards ideas, so oriented towards thought and thinking, that I used to joke to him, “Michael, you are so intellectual that surely you must at one time or another have been convinced you lost your virginity when you read the chapter on sex in your biology textbook.”

To give him credit, Michael would shoot back, “What do you mean “at one time”?  You are talking about my first love, Paul.  Please show her some respect!”

Michael is both more intellectual than me and smarter than me, but there is a way — a sense in which — he is more likely to worship idols than me.  That is, Michael is a bit more likely than me to love the idea of a thing more than the thing itself.

Now, all this talk of idols, to my mind, seems to raise an important question: How come that scamp Michael gets laid more often than I ever did? How can a belief be thought of as having the same relationship to reality as a map has to its terrain?

The fact I would ask such an abstract question in the very middle of a conversation that, it turns out, is largely about getting laid has perhaps offered you a fresh and disturbing insight into why that scamp Michael gets laid much more often that I ever did — even when I was married.  Nevertheless, I think we should be asking that question because that question might shed some light on precisely how an idea can be an idol.

So, then, how can a belief be thought of as having the same relationship to reality as a map has to its terrain?  Please allow me to suggest:

A map can be thought of as a way of stating (or symbolizing) the notion that “x is the case”.  For Example: “The map shows the tree is 500 feet from the house.”

A belief can be thought of as a proposition stating (or symbolizing) the notion that “x is the case”.  For Example: “I believe the tree is 500 feet from the house.”

Therefore, there seem to be at least some similarities between maps and beliefs.

But if those statements are true — if a belief can have the same relationship to reality that a map has to its terrain — then doesn’t that explain to us how it is possible for an idea to be an idol?  And doesn’t it explain that to us even if it does not explain to us the even more vital question — the question that is fully capable of driving men mad — the question of how it is the scamp Michael gets laid much more than I ever did?

Let’s review our reasoning here:

  • Images can at times be idols
  • Beliefs can be images
  • Therefore, beliefs can be idols
  • Hence, it is opposed to both reason and nature that the scamp Michael gets laid much more often than I ever did.

Yup.  We have a sound argument there.

Yet, if it is true that beliefs can be idols, then many, many questions come to mind.  Many genuinely serious questions.  Among those serious questions is a nagging one: When we worship god how do we know we are worshiping god and not just our beliefs about god?

That is, suppose, when I am worshiping god, I am also thinking of god (i.e. I have a concept of god, a concept of what I am worshiping). If that is the case, then am I not worshiping my belief rather than my god?  Am I not worshiping the map, rather than the terrain?

In asking those questions at this hour of the night, I am perhaps strangely reminded of something I wrote a few days ago: “It is in the night that our thoughts can become our hunters by pursuing us.”

What if  it really is the case that, when we worship god, with a concept of god in mind as we worship god, we are not really worshiping god then, but an idol?  What if that is really true?  What if the logic here is sound? And what if we took the thought seriously.   Really took it seriously.

Would that thought not become the hunter, then? W0uld it not pursue us with other thoughts?  Thoughts such as:

Can I worship god without experiencing god? Can I worship the terrain without experiencing the terrain?

Is it possible that so long as we worship an image of god, rather than god, we will not experience god?

Some long time ago, after a day spent foolishly sitting in the rain beside a lake, I wrote a short little poem to commemorate what an absolute idiot I was to have sat all that day in the light rain and drizzle.  I recently posted the poem to this blog, but here it is again — because I think it says something about how it might be possible through meditation to experience a thing without, however, experiencing an idea of it.  The poem is called, “Meditation” — That is, I thought it was somehow much better to call it, “Meditation”, than to call it, “An Idiot Sitting in the Rain”:

You sit in the evening
The rain on your face
Watching thoughts rise
And watching thoughts fall
And you don’t know the names
Of the things that you see
But you know what to do
Or not do.

“But you know what to do or not do.”  It might be said by some folks that, obviously, I didn’t know enough back then to come in out of the rain.  But I recall I was pretty happy right where I was that day. For one thing, that was long before I learned the scamp Michael was getting laid much more often than I ever did.

I am not a very profound man because I am perhaps too often a thinker, and thoughts of something are never all that profound when compared to experiencing the thing itself.   Nevertheless, I am curious what you make of all this?  For instance:

  • Can beliefs be idols? If so, how?  If not, why not?
  • Is it possible for a strong man to be driven into blubbering madness by a mere scamp?
  • Can meditation open a way to worshiping without idolatry? Why or why not?
  • Does it not offend both reason and nature that the scamp Michael has gotten laid much more often than I ever did?
Late Night Thoughts, Meditation, Mental and Emotional Health, Quotes, Spirituality, Thinking

On Learning to be Satisfied with Less by Rick

“Learning to be satisfied with less should probably be extended to our thoughts, too.”

Rick, a homeless gentleman out of Chicago and now living in Southern California.