What’s the Difference Between Prayer and Meditation?

holyofholies

by Michael Maciel

 
In the Pagan traditions, it was almost easier to pray because the One God was divided up into separate attributes, each one governing different aspects of life. So you knew which God to pray to, depending on what you were praying for.
 
Now we have one God, which in some sense is a little overwhelming because He/She/It is kinda hard to relate to, being the All and Everything.
 
That’s partly why the Church fronted Jesus and Mary—to bridge the gap between the cosmically ineffable and the relatable personal. Only with time, Jesus and Mary became just as remote as the Father God, due to the human tendency to put all things holy up on an impossibly high pedestal.
 
The New Age came in with its own solution, which was to say, “Well, you’re actually praying to yourself, anyway, so you don’t have to humble yourself to anyone or anything.” There was some remote truth in that, but it left people more confused than ever. How do you pray to yourself when it’s you who has the need? That approach was a non-starter.
 
The one thing that the Pagans have that I find most helpful is their keen sense of protocol. There are ways to properly approach a deity that involve a certain level of respect and deference—a certain formality. You never just ask for something. You must first offer a gift. You use certain words and you approach them at designated times. You have to build a relationship with the deity before you start asking for favors.
 
There was also the sense that if you disrespected a deity, you would incur its wrath. Things would not go well for you. Today, for example, if you take something from the volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, you had better leave a gift for Pele, the goddess of the mountain. If you don’t, she will punish you in some way.
 
Most of this was carried forward in Christianity right out of the Pagan playbook. The bread and the wine used in the Mass are the “offering.” And if by your sins you displease God, you will have hell to pay.
 
All of this simply underscores the primary assumption that prayer is the means by which we ask God for those things we either need or want. it assumes that there is a higher consciousness that is capable of delivering, that the universe is governed by a great, creative intelligence that exists within everything while at the same time is superior to it.
 
But the keyword is “consciousness,” which implies that when you speak to it, it HEARS you. So prayer, first and foremost, involves ways of communicating that ensure that your connection with the Infinite will be established in a way that something meaningful (and therefore powerful) can transpire between you and It.
 
Meditation is different. The primary purpose of meditation is to get information from the cosmic mind. This is why it’s never referred to as “worship,” whereas prayer is often synonymous with worship. Meditation is a technique, a mental skill, whereas prayer invokes the power of the heart. It’s the difference, basically, between going to church and going to the library.
 
Meditation should always start with a question. There is a Hindu ashram in Ceylon run by an American Hindu guru where they have an exercise that students are given at the intermediate level of their training. They pair up and one of them hides an object somewhere on campus and the other has to locate it by meditating on its whereabouts. The seeker has to demonstrate proficiency by getting up out of meditation and walking directly to where the object was hidden.
 
Obviously, this is a mental skill, but it’s a skill that is based on the reality that mind is universal—it does not originate in nor is it confined to the human skull.
 
The reason that you should always begin meditation with a question is that nature abhors a vacuum, and a question is a psychic vacuum—a space that needs to be filled. If you simply go in trying to quiet your mind, you will encounter difficulty, because you’re trying to force a vacuum, not create one naturally, which is what asking a question does. Of course, the question has to be genuine. You have to really want the answer. But…that’s not really correct, because wanting has very little to do with mind. Instead, you have to KNOW that the answer exists. If your question is real, the answer is real. All you have to do is let it come to you. That’s why meditation is sometimes referred to as “listening” to God.
 
One way to demonstrate this is to go to a place you are unfamiliar with and find a wall. Sit in front of the wall and ask the Universal Intelligence what’s on the other side of it. You know that something has to exist there because the wall isn’t the end of reality. Knowing this is actually the true meaning of “faith.” You don’t believe something is there—you KNOW it. It has to be, right? So what you want to know is what is there.
 
If you think about this, you can see that getting to the moon was a “wall.” Finding the cure for polio was a wall. Getting free of fossil fuels is a wall. Everyone knows that there’s an answer. They know it as much as they know anything. So they keep probing, which is to say, they keep asking the universe to yield up the necessary information, the missing links.
 
In the Temple at Jerusalem, there was a small room called the Holy of Holies. It held the most sacred objects of the people of Israel. No one could go in except the High Priest, and he could only go in once a year. The reason he went in was to seek guidance for his people. Now, there was no door to the Holy of Holies, only a veil—a heavy fabric curtain. Curtains keep us from seeing inside a room, but they cannot prevent us from hearing what’s being said within it.
 
The Holy of Holies is inside of us. It is that place where we have direct contact with the Divine, with God. The High Priest is also within us. He is that part of us that leads—the executive function of mind. He’s the one who says yes or no. By going in, he is saying “yes,” which is the expectation that we will receive the information we need. The “people” are all of the different aspects of our lives, both the inner and the outer. So, the information we get from our Holy of Holies should, by definition, benefit us entirely.
 
And the reason the High Priest only goes in once a year is that our contact with God is strengthened if we employ the cyclic powers of nature. The “year” period is only symbolic. What it really means is that the cycles we use have to be in sync with the cosmos, both the heavens and the Earth. All encounters with the Divine work better if they are an iterative event, not a one-off or sporadic or last-ditch plea. Meditation works best when we do it at the same time every day. When our timing is deliberate and consistent, we send a clearer (and therefore more powerful) message, and those who have the answers we seek will be more inclined to respond.
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One Mountain, Many Vantage Points

mountain

by Michael Maciel

For every spiritual process, there is a physical bodily function and structure. Our body truly is the microcosm of the macrocosm. It changes over time, that’s true, but over eons of time, vast stretches of time that might look insignificant in terms of the cosmos but on our scale seem like an eternity. It may not be “forever,” as the saying goes—it just feels like it.

We can take great comfort in the fact that the physical vehicle we have is somewhat stable, that the myths and spiritual practices we have inherited from the distant past are as applicable now as they were then. The story of the Hero’s Journey is eternal. The Crucifixion and Resurrection experiences are eternal. And not just eternal but universal. Everyone, regardless of sex, race, or religion, goes through them in exactly the same way, even though their individual experience, seen through the lens of their life history, makes each event seem unique.

When we focus our attention on the Divine, the same effects produced in the cells of our brain are exactly the same as those in everyone else’s brain. When we practice pranayama (spiritual breathing exercises) we are affected in exactly the same way the ancient Hindu masters were when they invented those techniques. And when we voluntarily submit ourselves to the suffering of the world and do so with joy and gratitude for the magnificent gift of life, we experience the same elevation of spirit that every other human being who ever lived experienced—in exactly the same way. The only thing about it that changes is our unique, individual perspective.

There is only one mountain but it can be viewed from an infinite number of vantage points.

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The Psychology of Winning

nascar

by Michael Maciel

Second place is just the first loser. – NASCAR adage

Yeah, competition is tricky that way, isn’t it. Unless you stake everything, and I mean everything on winning, you’re likely to lose. Second place is not an option. That’s part of what makes racing such an intense event.

Having raced in my youth, I have often contemplated the fear and excitement of ski racing. It can be simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. It’s like an initiation or, more correctly speaking, a rite of passage. It tested my courage to the absolute limit. Recently, I watched a horrific fatal accident in an online video where a ski racer crashed into a safety net alongside a downhill course at what looked like 80 to 90 mph. The net tore his body in the most grotesque way and he bled to death where he lay. It affected me in ways that I didn’t know I was capable of being affected. It was one of those things you cannot unsee and I felt something change in me at a fundamental level.

Immediately after I watched the video of this horrible accident, I found myself in a peculiar state of mind. It was, you might say, the complete opposite of sympathy. It was a coping mechanism, and I imagined it might be similar to what soldiers in combat must feel at times, although I don’t know that for sure because I’ve never been in that situation. The feeling I had was not merely one of steeling myself against the horror of what had happened to this man. It was worse than that. I found myself despising him. He had not only failed, he had failed in a way that was totally unacceptable. And for that, I had to turn my back on his pain and his demise.

Of course, what I was really rejecting was my own fear. I was using his failure as an object of my contempt so that it would not undermine the fragile buoyancy of my carefully cultivated courage. It shocked me to feel this way, but in the moment, it felt like the most powerful thing I could do. To do otherwise would defeat me, both in the sense of everything I had accomplished in the past and everything I would attempt to do in the future. I couldn’t let my confidence be undermined by his misfortune. I had to reject him utterly.

There has been a lot of talk lately about zero-sum games and how destructive they can be. And in most social situations, that’s true. Finding solutions to human problems in ways that let everyone prosper are far better than thinking that if one party is to win, the other party has to lose. That has caused more trouble on this planet than any other concept. But, can you not think of a situation where absolute victory is the only option? Are claims made upon us by other people or other countries always legitimate? Must we always take their desires into consideration before we act? Sometimes, we have to say no, and we have to say it irrevocably. Whether we say it to ourselves when we want to do something selfish that we know will hurt others or we say it to someone who wants to harm us for no good reason other than they just simply want to, the act of our saying no has to be solid. We have to draw a line and the line has to hold. We have to hold it. Sometimes, there is no retreat. When our back is up against a wall, our will to survive must be unconflicted. Learning how to do this is what sports are all about. They test our mettle in ways that don’t require us to fight for our lives but rather give us ways to practice our resolve in the safety of a controlled environment.

The kinds of extreme sports like NASCAR and ski racing are surrogates for these kinds of life-and-death decisions. They test our courage, and they have potentially deadly consequences for failure that are every bit as real as those encountered in violent confrontations. Some may argue against the usefulness of such contests or even the validity of testing oneself in ways that seem so irresponsible. But the attempt to become courageous is meaningless unless the risks involved are real. And the benefits that accrue to one’s character as a result of forthrightly facing those risks cannot be overstated. They elevate you to new heights of self-awareness and confidence. They change your life.

So I can see why NASCAR drivers find second place to be despicable—”the first loser.” It’s almost a necessary state of mind to have in order to win. It’s because, I think, that we need something to run away from while we are running towards our goals, something so frightening that we will avoid it at all costs. We need a hell to push us from behind as much as we need to be drawn forwards by our goals. Because if we don’t have that, any setback, especially a serious one like the gruesome death of a fellow competitor or even of one’s comrade-in-arms on the field of battle, will likely dissuade us too easily from the victory we seek. Failure has to be made so hateful that we will fiercely strive to avoid it.

This sentiment, if carried to its extreme, would be the death of compassion, that’s for sure. It would be the ugly cruelty of Sparta, not the beautiful strength of Athens. But in the intensity of the moment, especially when you’re “next up,” ruthlessness becomes your only salvation. You have to push away any shred of possibility of failure. And just pushing it away isn’t enough, because it might spring back repeatedly until it eventually destroys your courage and puts you down. Rather, you have to kill it outright and kill it so thoroughly that it will never raise its demonic head again. You kill it and you bury it in an unmarked grave.

Some people will find this objectionable. Even the idea of winning goes against their sense of fairness and cooperation. They distrust competition in all of its forms and think that it might even be the source of all evil. But life is neither fair nor cooperative. It is brutal and unforgiving. Nature itself seems hellbent on our destruction. Eventually, it defeats us all, usually in painful, messy ways. As French philosopher Jacques Derrida said when he was dying of cancer, “This is all going to end—and very badly.”

It’s because of this existential predicament we find ourselves in that we must value strength and resilience over safety and comfort. It’s not that we can’t have those things, but we must never sacrifice the careful cultivation of courage to the fantasy of an idyllic life where peace and love have somehow magically replaced all forms of suffering. That’s simply not going to happen. In a billion years, maybe, but not anytime soon.

And it’s not only war and extreme sports that provide us with the hard choices that can strengthen our character. It’s every moral choice that we have to make. It’s every moment that we are confronted with the choice of either doing the right thing or doing what’s expedient, to retreat into the tranquilized obviousness of what we already know or to venture courageously into the unknown and risk everything for the opportunity to know a greater truth. It’s in these small moments that we grow into the person we can be. It’s not to the cheers of an adoring crowd at the finish line that we make our greatest strides towards our yet-to-be-realized potential but in our most private decisions, the ones we make when no one is watching.

 

 

 

 

 

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Write it down!

by Michael Maciel

notes

Do you keep a spiritual journal? Many esoteric schools require their students to write down their spiritual experiences in a personal notebook. There is something about putting pen to paper that has the power to organize our thoughts in ways that merely thinking about them cannot. It’s a way to bring our experiences of God into focus, giving them a higher resolution, which makes them better lenses through which we can see which of our activities are spiritually beneficial and which of them are not. When we are better able to understand ourselves and how we live in the world, we start making better decisions, and our spiritual lives begin to radically improve.

We understand that in order to gain the full benefit of spiritual experience, we have to LIVE it. But in order to do that well, we must first learn to articulate it, at least to ourselves. Because thinking and writing are self-reflective — they help us discover exactly what it is that we know. Our spiritual experiences are difficult to describe, but in describing them, we give shape and form to what in most cases we can only feel. And by giving them shape and form, we are better able to integrate the deep subconscious stirrings they represent.

Writing in our spiritual notebook can also be a form of prayer. Perhaps you have done the exercise of writing to someone close to you who has died. It gives us the opportunity to say things that were left unsaid. By telling the truth, we tap into our deeper emotions in a way that allows them to express in healthy ways. Writing a letter to God can be just as healing. The only prerequisite is honesty. If you’re mad at God, tell Him. And I think it’s appropriate to use the masculine pronoun in this case, because it’s almost always the Father that has hurt us, right?

In writing down our thoughts and feelings, it’s important to not hold back. Our spiritual notebooks have to be for our eyes ONLY. This gives us the freedom to explore areas that are no one else’s business but our own. It’s not that we are trying to hide or keep secrets, it’s that our inner thoughts are PRIVATE. Privacy and secrecy are two different things. There is a practical reason as well. If we expose that which is still in its early stages of development to the harsh light of public opinion, it will die before it has had a chance to be born.

The ability to maintain and respect our own privacy is a benchmark on the spiritual path. One must become sovereign in their person, both inwardly and outwardly, before real spiritual development can begin. This goes way beyond words and ideas – establishing boundaries is an energetic process, not a conceptual one. However, we must first have the concept before we can move the energy, and sound concepts bring sound results. This is why writing them down is so important in our spiritual lives, because writing is a form of truth-telling, and there’s nothing like telling the truth to find out where we really stand. It’s not what we want to believe but what we actually believe that counts. And we cannot discover our innermost beliefs unless we articulate them in a way that makes them physical. So, write them down!

 

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The Biology of Gender

ovum

by Michael Maciel

Authority is a masculine trait, whether it manifests in a man or a woman. And obedience is a feminine trait, whether it manifests in a woman or a man. It is the TRAIT, not the body, that defines us. Some of the most humbly obedient people who ever lived were men, and some of the smartest, most courageous leaders among us have been women.

But obedience shouts loudest in a woman during childbirth. And she is strongest when she lets go to the process but endangers herself when she rebels against it. Her mind naturally accepts subordination to the law of her body, because when the baby starts to come, it cannot be stopped. It’s as though her body has been invaded and occupied by another, and she has nothing to do but surrender to it. But when it is born, the foreigner captures her heart and becomes her entire focus. She then lives as two, not as one. The world fills up with child — HER child. And she would die, if necessary, to protect it.

ramA man, on the other hand, cannot duplicate himself except by impregnating a woman. His mind, therefore, is not prone to submit to his body but to hunt for someone who will. And in order to be the first to find her, he must learn to plan and to strengthen his will so that he can execute his plan. He learns to present himself so that he will be more desirable to her than all the other males who are also seeking her. He learns to strategize. He learns to fight off contenders. And like any good hunter, he perfects his aim. He learns to narrow his focus and to stay on target. He doesn’t know this consciously, but his body does. His body needs to procreate as much as it needs to breathe—only the tempo differs. And he is willing to die to achieve his goal.

The limbic system didn’t atrophy when the prefrontal cortex started to bloom. We carry these primitive instincts within us. They are the platform upon which our body and mind are built. Just as we keep everything we learned in elementary school, middle school, and high school, so do we keep all of the evolutionary stages we have gone through over the past several million years. And in the same way that what we learned in those early years of our schooling was “how to learn,” that foundation is more sophisticated than the facts we learned as we went along.

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The lower brain is in many ways far more intelligent than our conscious mind. The cerebellum even has more neurons than the cortex. After all, it runs our body. It regulates the heart. It takes care of our liver. It knows everything about us and how to keep us alive. Just imagine if we had to do all those things consciously!

The body knows far more than we do, and it has a built-in, primary agenda, just like every other life form on this planet. And that primary agenda is PROCREATION. That is what forms the basis of our instinctual self, the one that resides in the lower brain, the one that runs our body. The entire biosphere vibrates with this primary agenda. It’s even more powerful than our fear of danger. How many people are willing to risk their lives for sex?

The background of the procreative intelligence is inescapable. Why? Because if it weren’t the most powerful instinct, the one that absolutely cannot be ignored, no life would have evolved. It would have simply gotten distracted by something more interesting and died off without progeny. Procreation is nature’s life insurance policy. It’s what got us here, and it’s what will keep us here.

But now we have the cortical cap, the higher brain with all of its marvelous functions, including self-awareness. It grew out of the lower brain like cauliflower grows out of its stem. With it, we have learned to reflect on our actions, to ask why this and why that. We can abstract commonalities from an array of seemingly separate objects and events, and with those abstractions, we can surmise nature’s underlying principles, rhythms, and seasons. Hence the modern age.

But the lower brain is still there. It is much older and wiser than we are. It knows how to keep the species running. And even though we think we can outrun it, everywhere we think we get to, we find it already there waiting for us. Smiling. No matter how hard we try, we simply cannot build a civilization that is hermetically sealed from nature. There is always a snake in the Garden.

Humans are binary beings. We have two sexes. It is that way for a reason, and that reason is procreation. If it wasn’t a good mechanism, it would never have evolved as far as it has. And just as childbirth forms the brain and sensibilities of women, so does the procreative urge form the brain and sensibilities of men. We think differently, we feel differently, and we have different reasons for being. This doesn’t mean that one of us is smarter than the other or that one of us is more valuable, existentially speaking. How could that be? That would be like saying that inhaling is more valuable than exhaling, or that the day is more valuable than the night.

What it does mean is that we have fundamentally different ways of looking at the world. And as long as we ignore that fact, we will never be able to communicate with each other. Nor will we be able to fully appreciate the unique gifts we each have. We might be able to venture into the other’s territory from time to time and explore what it’s like to live there, but our body will eventually call us back. We will always be tethered to it, as long as we are alive. The best we can hope for is a symbiosis, a melding of consciousness, to live so completely in tune with the other that we function as one, each one giving the other what the other lacks. And as we do, we find that instead of becoming a unisex, androgynous creature, we become more comfortable in the gender of our sex, because we each have the other’s back. It is then that trust becomes the highest moral virtue.

Now I know that monogamous, heterosexual relationships aren’t necessarily the gold standard in our culture anymore. But while they aren’t considered the ONLY way, they are still the foundation of a viable society. Most people agree that a two-parent family, one man and one woman, are necessary to fulfill the needs of little boys and little girls. This doesn’t mean that gay families can’t be happy and healthy or that communal, extended families aren’t better than the so-called “nuclear” families. It just means that without the biologically determined baseline of the family formed by the need for procreation, no social system can long survive. It is the core pattern for human life—all life, really. It is the “Holy Family.”

So the important thing to remember is that men and women think differently, because the unconscious, biological underpinnings of our psyches have different orientations based on the respective roles that each plays in the reproductive process. That process is hardwired into the oldest parts of the human brain. It is our “operating system, 1.0.” This doesn’t mean that it controls everything that we think or are capable of experiencing. But no matter how high we fly, we will always be pulled back to earth, at least as long as we inhabit this mortal flesh. Our most noble agendas and exalted philosophies will always speak to us in its language, the language of gender and procreation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Understand Your Symbols

symbol graphic

by Michael Maciel

According to Joseph Campbell, proper symbols activate subconscious powers that directly affect our consciousness. We might not be able to articulate what they mean, but we can definitely feel the energies they unleash.

There are two types of symbols (there might be more, but let’s start with these two):

1) pictorial symbols, such as Christ on the Cross or the Blessed Mother with the baby Jesus

2) diagrammatic symbols, such as the circle, triangle, and square

(There is a subclass of diagrammatic symbols used in astrology, but this is more of a shorthand notation that combines basic elements to describe the relationships of powers.)

Pictorial symbols tell stories. Christ on the Cross is the iconic description of Buddha’s proclamation that “all life is suffering.” In the Judeo-Christian interpretation, it is the culmination of the story of Abraham and Isaac, where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son. This story has deep psychological and evolutionary significance. It describes the very nature of sacrifice itself, how it emerged as a result of self-awareness and the knowledge that each of us will someday die, a realization that separates us from the rest of the Animal Kingdom. We are the only animals who can bargain with the future by denying ourselves immediate gains in order to secure long-term benefits. In this way, we sort of invented the future, something no other species seems to have done. (Peterson)

The Mother and Child symbol is profoundly archetypal. More than simply extolling the sanctity of motherhood, this icon posits an orientation towards human life that has led to everything we have come to know of as civilization. Whereas animals are limited to a world of pre-existing conditions, we humans have the ability to see the world as infinite possibility, and we continually live into it. We are not content to merely exist – we must transcend! Everywhere we look, we see what might be, not simply what is. Out of the chaos of the womb of nature, we have called forth our highest ideals – cities, ships, beauty, and adventure. Each new generation enters the world with hope and the expectation of a better life. This is not a philosophy but an orientation – our True North. We subvert it to our very great peril.

Diagrammatic symbols do not tell stories. Instead, they evoke the movement of psychic energies – the powers of mind – the same forces that SPEAK stories into being. They represent the forces of nature as they manifest within the human psyche, not just the Laws of Thermodynamics but the Laws of Creation as well. They are the mechanics of volition, the very proof of sentient life.

The foundational diagrammatic symbols are three in number: the circle, the triangle, and the square. Not only are they the basic building blocks of all other symbols, they describe the nature of reality itself, from the microcosm to the macrocosm. They are visual depictions of universal laws. Let’s briefly touch on each one:

1) the circle: The easiest way to connect with a symbol is on the gut level. The circle reveals itself in the way it makes us feel. Simply standing in the middle of one can make us feel centered, focused, and empowered. Standing under one, such as a rotunda, feels like it draws us upwards into the infinite. The sky itself, bounded by a circular horizon, IS the cosmos, the dome of heaven. When we expand our circle, we feel exaltation. When we condense it, we discover the spiritual nature of Fire. And everywhere we live in the midst of invisible circles – sound waves, heat waves, electromagnetic waves. Circles are the generators of Life.

2) the triangle: It’s easy to feel the energy of a circle when we stand in one or see one above us. But there are few tangible representations of the triangle in the world of nature, except at the microscopic level. The best way to visualize triangularity is to stand with two other people. As sentient beings, we are the agents of creation. We live into the possibility that surrounds us, both physically and psychically. When we stand in a triangle with two other people, we are simultaneously all three stages of the creative act – we are cause, we are medium, and we are effect. We are both creator and created. We are the Holy Family (in its geometric interpretation) – Father, Mother, Child. As such, the triangle symbolizes relationship in its universal creative activity. It is the abstract, invisible pattern through which we live our lives.

3) the square: The circle and the triangle seem wild in their never-ending movements – revolutions, evolutions, and relational flows. But the square feels like what happens when these energies come in for a landing. The mind, having drawn all the lines and connected all of the dots, fixes itself on the outcome and anchors itself to it. The square is the energy of tethering, of stability, and consolidation, without which nothing can advance, either in the world of solidity or the world of ideas. We need a starting point and a destination, a launching pad and a landing field. Nothing can begin unless it has first ended – Alpha and Omega and the Cross of Christ. Stability constitutes the foundation of our lives. We must rally our energies to a fixed platform before we can establish a firm foothold from which we can further expand our base of operations. Our growth is both iterative and cyclical – the upward trajectory of our lives is punctuated by periods of rest and consolidation. Inner and outer structures are constructed layer by layer, piece by piece. And firm foundations provide strong dwellings. This principle is true for individuals, cultures, and civilizations. Violating it will inevitably lead to disaster.

Much more can be said about both kinds of symbols, the pictorial and the diagrammatic. This article is merely a synopsis and an incomplete one at that. You can find more in my book, World Priest, Bringing Heaven to Earth, available through Amazon. Thanks for reading!

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Whose Truth Is True?

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by Michael Maciel

We live in an age of relativism. Once it was discovered that any experience can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways, all beliefs in “universal truths” were dismissed as irrelevant. Context became the sole determinator of meaning. What’s more, any attempt to assert a universal truth became merely a way to dominate others. Truth systems began to be seen as tools of the oppressor. Religion became the “opiate of the masses” designed to make them more controllable. The old value systems were thrown out and people were left to formulate their own. Welcome to the 20th Century.

One of the most misinterpreted quotes in history is Nietzsche’s “God is dead.” This wasn’t a victory cry; it was a warning. He predicted almost fifty years in advance that relativistic thinking would dominate Western philosophy, and he was right. He also predicted that the result of such thinking would result in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people. In this, he was also right, because Marxist Ideology (and its offspring, Postmodernism) would decimate the world with two global wars, the Maoist Revolution, and Stalin’s genocidal purge of Soviet Russia. Millions of people—hundreds of millions—died!

Nietzsche’s prediction prompted the poet, Yeats, to proclaim:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

And to Yeats’ question, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” the answer is clear: postmodern, relativistic, “truthless” thinking.

The Postmodernist’s rationale seems to suggest that there are an infinite number of word combinations, therefore none of them can be privileged over any others. But not all combinations have meaning, and of those that do have meaning, not all of them are meaning-ful.

So, when I hear otherwise spiritually intelligent people try to equate various spiritual philosophies in the name of “fairness” or egalitarianism, I have to say something, because I know that they have come under the sway of relativistic, postmodern thinking. And what I have to say is this:

In the science of spiritual development, there are certain rules and methods that have been proven—over vast periods of time—to work. These rules and methods are used in every spiritual discipline, regardless of religion or locale:

Attention
Concentration
Meditation
Contemplation
Realization

These DO NOT vary and they are always taught in the order listed here. They are so fundamental that they can easily apply to almost any other discipline as well, such as archery or music.

During the process of learning these skills, certain experiences will inevitably occur. These, too, are universal and come in a definite order. They are referred to as “initiations.” But they’re not the type of initiations commonly used in fraternities or Masonic Lodges. They are not “rites of passage.”

The initiations I’m talking about are transition points from one stage of consciousness to another.

They are as solid and predictable as the bodily changes we go through—losing our baby teeth, going through puberty, reaching the age of majority, becoming an adult, etc. Just as every human being goes through these stages of development, so does every person on the spiritual path go through a definite series of initiations, known to many as “The Hero’s Journey.”

These transition events can only occur when a person is ready, but the skills listed above hasten the process of development (along with learning to overcome challenges, studying sacred symbols and texts, and developing a sensitivity to the sacred and to the arts).

As an example of what these transitions look like, the first is when a person suddenly feels that the world he is accustomed to living in is somehow false, that there is something “behind” it, that what is perceived by the five senses is but the veneer of a deeper reality. This is the experience that sets people on the spiritual path.

Anyone who has had enough interest to read my description of these things thus far has almost certainly experienced this first initiation. However, it’s not too difficult to find people in your life who have not. Many people are strict materialists and regard this kind of discussion as meaningless.

Other transition events follow. The next is traditionally called “The First Threshold” where the seeker begins to venture into the world beyond the senses. This world “calls” to him. There, he or she will experience phenomena that will attest to the reality of this strange new world. In mystic circles, these phenomena are called the “illumination” and “Self-realization.” They are the direct encounter with the light of life and the underlying oneness of all Creation.

But before the aspirant crosses this threshold, there is a point of resistance—a dweller—which is the mundane part of his consciousness that tries to persuade him not to go any further. In mythology, this dweller is depicted in many forms, but always as a demon of some sort, or a dragon, which must be overcome. It’s a universal archetype. In reality, the dweller is not a being but our own mind that resists losing itself to something greater than itself.

After this comes the Second Threshold. The aspirant has seen the true nature of her being but has not yet integrated it into her personality. Therefore, she feels like two people—a rather schizophrenic condition. There is “me” and then there is the “real me.” Since she still has the worldly patterns of thought within her, she will then enter into a period of purification, a trial by fire whereby the new consciousness will emerge out of the old (the Phoenix motif). But in the meantime, she will suffer greatly. Many who enter this stage will experience a terrible depression called the “dark night of the soul.” It is the great darkness before the dawn that always comes at this point in the process of spiritual awakening.

This process is as old as humanity itself. It has left its footprints in the symbolism and mythologies of the most ancient civilizations. From the Sarcophagus in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid to the caves of the Greek Mystery Schools, the theme of death and rebirth repeats itself, echoing the Mystery of the Sun and its diurnal cycle of death and renewal and its rebirth out of the three days of darkness at the Winter Solstice. Everywhere the cycle is repeated, from a seed dying seed so that new life can emerge from the chaos of the soil to the mysteries of gestation and birth. All undergo the same archetype, beginning with the call to venture into the unknown, having to endure trials and ultimate death, culminating in the victory of resurrection into the light. It has always been and will always be the same path—the Path of Initiation, the Hero’s Journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Wise Approach to Politics

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by Michael Maciel

It’s a challenge these days not to get sucked up into the negativity that dominates the current political news stream, especially for those of us trying to live a spiritual life and to keep our consciousness out of the fray. Nothing drags us down faster than a steady diet of anger and despair.

In looking for a way to cope with this seemingly crazy and getting crazier by the minute world, we tend to withdraw from it and take refuge in a carefully cultivated garden of positive thinking, a place where we can envision nothing but good, a place where we don’t have to judge people, even when they are hellbent on destroying the planet. We are still in the world, but we don’t want to add more negativity, so we carefully avoid taking a stand against anyone or anything. Instead, we concentrate on what we are for, not what we are against.

This is a logical and laudable approach. It’s logical because you can’t purify dirty water by pouring more dirty water into it, and it’s laudable because it takes tenacity and dedication to maintain a healthy frame of mind when everyone else is coming unhinged before our very eyes.

There is, however, a missing piece to this puzzle.

Our job as spiritual servants is akin to what doctors do. We treat people for various ailments and we work for the general good by promoting public health. I remember the story of Dr. John Snow, the physician who in mid-19th Century London set out to discover the cause of cholera. He started by mapping the locations of the homes of those stricken and then looked to see if there were any commonalities. He quickly saw that most of the homes were clustered around the Broad Street water pump. There was no indoor plumbing in those days, so everyone got their water from public wells such as the one on Broad Street, and this particular well was contaminated with human waste.

All doctors have patients, but Snow’s patient was the entire city of London. His discovery led to a more scientific approach to public health, and it began with identifying the source of the problem, which made it clear what had to be done. Subsequently, the wells of London were overhauled and water treatment came into being. Cholera is now a thing of the past, at least in the industrialized world.

As spiritual people, we are loathe to look for faults in others. We have been told not to judge, to keep ourselves blameless, so that the rest of the world will benefit by our energy and our example. Good plan. But if we regard ourselves as spiritual physicians, which is what I’m asking you to consider now, then we have to take a more scientific approach. We have to be able to diagnose a disease before we can treat it properly.

Diagnosis is different from finding blame. And it’s quite possible that this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Because how often do we avoid taking responsibility for the problems in our world by blaming them on others? It’s a common ploy, is it not? It’s much more likely that Jesus was simply saying that we have to look at how we ourselves are contributing to the problem and not just look for others to blame.

In Dr. Snow’s situation, he too was part of the problem, if only by virtue of his ignorance of how cholera was spread. But once he found out, he was able to instigate wholesale changes in the civic infrastructure of a major metropolitan area. He judged the source of the problem, and he judged rightly. He mapped out what was actually happening and then drew his deductions from the data.

How might we do the same? Well, first of all, we must not be reluctant to identify problems. The diseases we deal with are spiritual diseases, things like fear, greed, lust, selfishness, and apathy. We look for telltale signs, such as weakness, lack of energy, fuzzy thinking, and hardness of heart, all of which are symptoms of a troubled soul. And whether we’re dealing with an individual, a family, or an entire nation, our method is the same: diagnosis, treatment, recovery. Just like a physician.

It’s true that all people are God Beings. But it’s also true that many of them have given up. They have become weary of life and distrustful of the world. It has made them cynical and all-too-willing to bring the whole thing to a halt. Maybe it’s because they endured some unimaginable trauma, or maybe they have just become resentful whenever they see others doing better than they are. Who knows. But such people cannot be allowed to destroy everything the rest of us have worked so hard to establish, such as the freedom to speak the truth as we see it, the right to live wherever we want as long as it’s within our means, and the right to worship how we see fit. These are important achievements that we do not want to abandon. We have to bring everything we know to the table and use the tools God gave us for the good of all.

Identifying a problem doesn’t have to give life to it. As long as you remain detached, you can make an accurate diagnosis. Then, you can develop a reasonable course of action. Remember, when Jesus prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, he said, “I pray not that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil.” He wants us here. He wants us to engage. He wants us to BE physicians. Diagnosis is a vital part of our work, though it’s usually called “discernment.” We have to be able to make an accurate assessment of the problems of the world before we can treat them effectively. Our spiritual efforts work the same as any other form of energy: specify where you want the energy to go, focus the energy, apply the energy. It’s the same good ‘ole fashioned occultism that grandma used to use. Let’s not be shy about it.

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Male-Female Symbolism

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by Michael Maciel

In mythic stories, such as the ones we find in the Bible, different characters symbolize different aspects of ourselves. When we read about Jesus, for example, every character in the story represents aspects of our personality, both conscious and unconscious. The relative importance of the characters in the story, the actions they carry out, and the relationships they have with the other characters, all describe our inner strengths and weaknesses, the places where our inner aspects work together well and where they are at war with each other.

tarot-cardsWithin this symbolic method of storytelling, male characters represent the conscious mind, whereas female characters represent the subconscious mind. This is part of the basic framework of Tarot symbology, as we are all well aware of. Nothing new here. What isn’t so obvious is the WHY part—why are male characters used to symbolize the conscious mind, and why are female characters used to symbolize the subconscious mind?

This is a complicated subject, so I’m going to give the outline version, so to speak, for the sake of brevity.

Basic premise: we ALL have both male and female aspects, so this is NOT about literal men and women, except in those cases where people are spiritually asleep and need to live out the drama of the mysteries in their daily lives. They are compelled to do this so they can learn the lesson by acting it out physically. The more we deny the opposite gender within ourselves, the more we are obligated to play out the game in physical terms.

Point of Inquiry: what is women’s role in society and their hierarchical relationship to men. HOW does the symbolic drama play out in real life? Is there anything generic about human psychology that reflects this forced subjugation of women in the social hierarchy, given their role as the subconscious mind in the larger narrative?

OsirisReasonable assumption: this framework, this grand symbolic narrative, describes an aspect of psychology that is SUBTLE, meaning that it’s not obvious, nor is it understood to the extent that we can adequately articulate what we know about it.

Simple version: we know that we are either spiritually awake or asleep. Being spiritually awake implies that we have at least some UNDERSTANDING of our purpose in this life, that there are soul-development issues at work, and that we need to approach our living with these in mind. We have to have some kind of PLAN, a cognitive schematic that points the way towards the realization of our highest potential.

This usually includes a set of IDEALS that not only benefit us as individuals but benefits our society as well. Another way to put it—the Rule of Law, moral and ethical codes, and clearly defined roles in the social hierarchy. This last point—clearly defined roles—is the leading edge of the current evolutionary advance and is, therefore, the most contested.

These ideals come from the subconscious. They are as yet unarticulated “dreams” of a higher, more harmonious life that exists only as a potential, just as a woman’s womb is the possibility for the realization of the potential of the entire human race. Everything that is good and perfect WILL COME FROM HER.

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Understanding Patriarchy involves the following:

  1. our lives must be guided by our connection to the past.
  2. we must be fully awake to our current conditions (conscious mind, science, logic).
  3. everything we say (logos) and do (policy) must support our vision for the future.

Roughly speaking, these are Tradition, Civil Law, and the Arts. Together, they form an overall PLAN, a Grand Narrative—the New Jerusalem, the Body of Christ, the Church.

The vision comes from DREAM, the domain of the subconscious. Dreams take everything we have learned and extract the value out of the “big data” collected by the conscious mind. The subconscious is fundamentally GOOD, meaning that it is always projecting itself into the MOST optimal future for the race. It is not trying to orchestrate its own demise. Nothing in Nature suggests that it is self-destructive.

BUT HERE’S THE RUB: While the subconscious is the domain of the Great Unknown out of which comes both visions and nightmares, it does not function well in the light of day. Conscious intrusion only interferes with its processes. The subconscious, while superb at synthesizing, is not so good at taking the initiative. It gathers—it does not hunt. As Ernest Holmes put it, “It knows HOW to do; it does not know WHAT to do.”

long hair

Artists are the portal in a civilization through which the Dream emerges. But, practically speaking, artists don’t make good leaders. Neither are they good at enforcing public policy or drafting laws. Laws get in the way of the creative process, which is always venturing out into the unknown, into lands that have no laws or have laws that are different. The subconscious (creative expression) MUST NOT BE CONTROLLED. Its hair must be allowed to grow uncut, as Saint Paul put it.

Laws (and the visions they are designed to support, inasmuch as those visions can be articulated) must be continually adapted to changing conditions in the physical world. Laws have the tendency, however, to spiral out of control. They get burdensome if they are allowed to expand too far into their logical ramifications. In Paul’s analysis, “men [the conscious mind] must cut their hair” if they are to be responsible leaders (administrators) of the Church (organized humanity).

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THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE: It is very likely that the next avatar for the human race will be female. From what we know, the Egyptian goddess, Isis, preceded Jesus, and so the next Lord of Earth will probably be a woman.

I have been attending a local church, The Gnostic Sanctuary, that worships the Divine Feminine. It is run by a woman, Rosamonde Miller, and the altar is adorned with Feminine iconography, including the Black Madonna. But the liturgy doesn’t focus so much on the Feminine as it does on RELATIONSHIP. Heading into an era where the Feminine is coming back into the foreground does not mean an abandonment of the male or the sole supremacy of the female. It means that a workable solution to the male/female dyad must now be sought in earnest.

Frank Forest and Lief Meadows have a blue AND a red eternal flame on their altar. When I first saw it, I resisted, thinking it was a violation of the “norm.” But now I see the wisdom in it. And in a silly, overly practical way, I also thought, “These full-sized votives are expensive, so now we’re going to have to buy TWO of them???” But this just shows that we will, in fact, have to double up on our investment in our pursuit of the Sacred Marriage. It can no longer be business as usual. The subconscious is being flooded with light, and like it or not, “that which was hidden will be SHOUTED from the rooftops.” And isn’t that what’s happening now in the domain of male and female relationship?

 

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Symbols—derive the abstract from the concrete

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by Michael Maciel

The circle with a dot in the center is one of the oldest symbols for God. It dates back thousands of years and maybe longer. No one really knows. And since our best understanding of what this symbol means comes from our scientific knowledge that has only been known for about three hundred years, the very fact that the Ancients used it at all is nothing less than extraordinary.

Some interpreters claim that it symbolizes the Sun, which the ancient Egyptians regarded as God. But the Sun has no dot, not any that are visible to the naked eye. Others have said that the Sun represents waking consciousness, but the Eye of Horus does a much better job of depicting this idea. The best interpretations, however, are those that see this symbol an archetypal form, one that is universal and scalable to an almost infinite degree. These interpretations have only become obvious during our current scientific age.

dotWe now know that nearly everything in the universe shares this basic architecture – a central point around which rotates a coherent structure. Galaxies, solar systems, cyclonic storms, vortex streets, cells, atoms – all of these are essentially identical in their appearance. And it’s not as though the form itself is the most real aspect but rather that it reveals the forces that cause the form to show itself. It’s as though whenever anything moves in this universe, it starts to spin.

So the circle with a dot in the center turns out to be more of a snapshot of an activity than a static form. Buried within its image is the knowledge that those things that appear are not what’s real but only footprints left in the sand indicating that something more real has passed this way. After all, which is more real – the form or the energies that shape the form?

socratesThen there’s the ancient maxim “Man, Know Thyself.” This little bit of instruction didn’t spring unbidden out of thin air. It was the answer to more fundamental questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? In other words, what is God? What is the nature of reality? What is human being? The answers to all of these questions were contained within this one symbol. The implication of it was pointed at in yet another saying: As Above, So Below. This was the idea of the scalability of Being. No matter how small or how large the scale, reality is the same. And this remains true for us as human beings, as well. Whether we see ourselves as individuals or as social beings, our lives follow certain patterns, and these patterns are true in the moment, the day, the year, and an entire lifetime. In other words, our lives are cyclical, and the cycles seem to repeat themselves over time.

Now, there’s another interpretation of the symbol of the circle with a dot in the center. This one is more psychological. It has to do with the way we interact with reality. It’s less about what we are and more about how we are being. In this interpretation, we can look at this in terms of consciousness. The point in the middle of the circle is what we know. It’s not just those things, ideas, and experiences of which we are conscious, it’s also what we can articulate. This is the world, both internal and external, that we can name. If we lay out in the sun and our skin gets hot and starts to turn red, we know exactly what’s happening and why it’s happening. We not only understand the experience, we can explain it in terms that anyone can grasp.

But then there are those things that we can all experience but that we have a lot more trouble articulating. Color is one example. When we say the word “blue,” we know what we mean by it, but we can only assume that others are experiencing it the way we are. Art is like this, too. We can look at a painting in the Louvre, for instance, and be deeply moved by it along with untold thousands of other people who have been similarly moved throughout history by the very same painting. But can we say why in such a way that will match what anyone else has to say about it? Not likely. Therefore, the space in between the dot and the circumference of the circle represents that which we know but cannot articulate.

Then there’s the circumference. This is the border between what we know and the unknowable. Outside of the circle, whatever exists is beyond our reach. It is the unknown. We have no way to relate to it. And yet, even though we are separated from it by our inability to conceive of it, this doesn’t mean that we aren’t still affected by it. We can be totally oblivious of a radioactive substance and still suffer its effects. Someone close to us may have plans that we are not yet aware of but that will affect our lives profoundly. So much in life is this way. So much of reality is this way. We are subject to unknown causes whose effects are every bit as real as those we can see.

This symbol of the circle with a dot in the center is a rather complete map of our being. It includes everything that we as conscious beings experience, whether we know it or not. As a symbol, it doesn’t try to explain God as a thing but rather as a be-ing. God, you might say, is what’s happening, not what’s happened. God is the potential for everything that can happen, not a historical figure who created the universe and then left on vacation. We might not know what lies on the outside of our perimeter, but we can sense that it is there. We don’t have to know what the potential is in order to feel in awe of its presence. It might be wonderful; it might be terrible. Who knows? But it’s as real as everything we can lay our hands on, either physically or intellectually.

 

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