Control vs. Going With the Flow

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by Michael Maciel

You either control your own destiny or you let others control it for you.

Does the word “control” bother you? Sounds like hubris, doesn’t it, as if we have any say over what the universe does or doesn’t do. But, what’s the alternative? Going with the flow doesn’t seem to work, not when we’re in turbulent waters—our lives hardly resemble a slow-moving stream. They’re more like white water rapids punctuated by waterfalls and unexpected tributaries, some of which are dead ends. Going with the flow is a pipe dream, is it not?

The only time going with the flow makes sense is when we set our sights on a goal and then hand it over to God to direct us to it according to divine wisdom and right action. But unless we aim at something, there is no flow, only chaos.

The word “sin” comes from a Greek word, “harmartia.” Webster’s Dictionary defines it thus:

“Harmartia arose from the Greek verb hamartanein, meaning ‘to miss the mark’ or ‘to err.’ Aristotle introduced the term in the Poetics to describe the error of judgment which ultimately brings about the tragic hero’s downfall. As you can imagine, the word is most often found in literary criticism. However, news writers occasionally employ the word when discussing the unexplainable misfortune or missteps of übercelebrities regarded as immortal gods and goddesses before being felled by their own shortcomings.”

Perhaps the biggest mistake of all is to aim at nothing at all but rather to drift through life “going with the flow.” It’s very easy to get lost when we don’t know where we’re going. And knowing where we’re going is key to our success, both materially and spiritually. But knowing where we’re going is also problematic because we don’t always know. Aiming too high often leads to disappointment and despair, and aiming too low quickly leads to either overconfidence or boredom or both. How do we know what to aim for? The answer is we don’t. But just as some writers are blocked from writing a novel because of the sheer enormity of the project, so can we get discouraged if we think we have to get it right the first time.

The reality of goal-setting is that as we progress towards the thing we’re aiming at, the scenery changes. The topography of our understanding begins to reveal itself in unexpected ways. So, we have to adjust our course. We might start off in an inappropriate direction, but, as it turns out, that doesn’t matter nearly as much as simply getting started. Ever try to turn the steering wheel of a parked car that doesn’t have power steering? It’s nearly impossible. But get the car moving, even a little bit, and steering it becomes a lot easier. So, if you’re stuck, it doesn’t really matter which way you point yourself. Any direction will do. The point is to get in motion. Once you’re moving, it’s easy to change direction.

Let’s say you own a company and someone comes in and asks for a job. You ask them, “What can you do?” How the person answers will determine whether you hire them, right? Well, the same goes for asking God, “God, what is your will for me? What should I do with my life?” And God answers, “What can you do?” Or, maybe it’s “What do you want to do?” How you answer will determine whether your life is successful or not. Besides, how can it be successful if you don’t have a direction, a goal? What does success mean in the absence of a purpose? Nothing. So, God needs you to have a direction, one that comes from within you, not persuaded from without, one that comes straight out of your soul, before God can help you. That’s the deal. That’s how we grow spiritually. If we can’t come up with a meaningful goal for ourselves, we will have to suffer through a lot of random circumstances until we get tired of bumping into things, making one mistake after another. Establish a direction—any direction—and the universe kicks into gear. It wants nothing more than for us to succeed. That is, by definition, the love of God.

But what if you don’t know what you want? Maybe you want a lot of things and they’re not all that compatible. This is really not a dilemma. All you have to do is ask yourself not what you want but what you LOVE. That is what you actually want, whether you acknowledge it or not. We must all be true to our first love. And by “first,” I don’t necessarily mean what came first in your life but what comes up first when you ask yourself, “What do I love?” That’s your first love. And asking the question in this way also lets us avoid having to decide whether our wants are merely our base desires, the needs and addictions of the body. I mean, it’s pointless to ask a crack cocaine addict what he wants, right? You’ll get the same answer every time. The heart, however, the keeper and recorder of your first love, is above the needs and addictions of the body. It registers the desires of the soul. And, it’s never wrong, not when it comes to that. No amount of reasoning or justification can override it. Your first love may atrophy over long periods of time if you ignore it, but it will blossom if it’s exercised in the full light of day.

We must all be very serious about being true to our first love. It’s the one thing that we will have to account for when we die. Were we true to it, or did we waste our time pursuing someone else’s agenda? This is an all-important question, one we need to revisit frequently if our lives are to have meaning—in a cosmic sense, that is.

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What Is Truth?

pilot and jesus

by Michael Maciel

If we blanketly assume that our favorite beliefs are true, then we’re no better than the average fundamentalist. And being convinced that we have the corner on the market in the reality department renders us completely incapable of thinking critically.

It’s tempting to slide into fundamentalism when we are confronted with injustice. The world does seem to offer that up in a mandatory, all-you-can-eat buffet. When we see it, we just want it to stop. And we’re not too interested in figuring out WHY it’s happening. All we know is that something has gone terribly off the rails and that lots of innocent people are suffering because of it.

But, both Buddhism and Christianity have said that suffering is what we can expect. The fundamental truth of reality, Buddha asserts, is that all life is suffering, and Jesus voluntary submitting to torture and death on the Cross reiterates that claim in excruciating detail.

As an archetype, the Crucifixion represents the worst possible thing happening to the best possible person – a “limit case,” as it were. Jesus has done nothing wrong, and yet he suffers betrayal, condemnation, and a record-breaking messy death. The message is clear: We will all suffer and die, regardless of what we do. The best option we have in the face of life’s brutality is to bear up under it nobly and with an unwavering commitment to the highest ideal we can conceive.

However, the immediacy of the problem of injustice warrants immediate action, or so it seems. But, the sheer amount of the world’s suffering elicits more of an emotional reaction than a rational analysis. All we know is that something has to be done NOW—we can talk about it later. So, we fly into action before we really know what the problem is. We want to fix the effect without understanding its cause. Therefore, we are more likely to make the problem worse than make it better.

All too often, our vehement response to injustice and suffering is little more than an attempt to refute what Buddha and Jesus told us—a message simply too bleak to accept. But, we, in our techno-pride, think that we can fix the evils of the world and bring about a Heaven on Earth—a utopian dream where everyone is equal and deserves to have as much prosperity as anyone else, where we should all contribute as much as we can and only take what we absolutely need. The drawback of this utopian vision is that not everyone will agree on it, nor will they ever. The only way utopia is possible, then, is to kill everyone who disagrees with its version of the Truth.

Dissent, and you die.

Acquiring real truth, therefore, depends on a diversity of opinions, a plurality of worldviews, and an open society in which they can contend with each other in the public forum, without the threat of retaliatory violence. The irony is that both sides believe they’re right, while at the same time, they share essentially the same values as their opponents. We all want a better world, one in which we suffer the least and achieve the most; we want to belong, but we also want to excel—to go where no one has gone before; we want to fit in, and yet we want to stand out.

The tension within this opposition will create an environment where both sides will be compelled to question their own assumptions about reality and begin to imagine alternatives, perhaps even the alternative presented by the other side.

Faith isn’t believing that something is true, it’s believing that there is such a thing as truth and that that truth will always be more than our mind can comprehend. Yes, you can believe in truth without knowing what it is. That’s faith. And, living in that space, anything is possible. We begin to see the world not as an assortment of things but as an infinite field of creative possibilities—eternal life.

It would be foolish to say that we make up the truth as we go along. If that were true, then hell would be just as accessible as heaven, depending on how much mind control you possessed. But having mind control includes being free of rule-bound, fundamentalist thinking. If science has taught us anything, it’s that reality is in a constant state of flux, that matter is actually bounded energy in continuous motion, and that nothing is solid at all. If we are to meet reality on its terms, we’re going to have to be flexible in our expectations.

A large part of our experience of reality occurs in our connections with each other, also by the way we intuitively know that at some level we all share the same mind. We are social beings, meaning, in a sense, that together we comprise one organism and that our minds have evolved as individualized extensions of it. We know this because connection sustains us but isolation makes us crazy. To deny another’s viewpoint is to sever your connection with him. You don’t have to agree with it but you DO have to respect it—respect it for its own sake—because eventually your turn will come, and you will want precedence to work in your favor.

The connection between us is analogous to the brain and its billions of neurons, all of which have a distinct existence but live together in vast networks. Some say that it’s our connections that facilitate consciousness by means of their networks—no network, no consciousness. But, this is not to say that consciousness is the product of neural networking in the brain—no one really knows that for sure. But whether those networks act as a generator of mind or an antenna to receive it, reality seems to show up in and through our internal and external network connections. And if it’s reality we’re talking about, those connections are everywhere.

If this is true, it puts to rest the idea of “your truth, my truth,” which is a popular notion these days. I’m proposing a different model: Truth emerges. It comes from what opens up when we talk with each other about our differences. The tension between our polar oppositions forces open the door of possibility, and new solutions present themselves, solutions that could not have come any other way. Therefore, we should never try to eliminate diversity of opinion, lest we close the doors of opportunity on everyone. Stifle one person and you stifle them all.

It does no good to talk about “oneness” without first acknowledging and honoring differences. Any attempt at oneness made without first respecting the other can only be a zero-sum game. Someone will have to die. That was the lesson we were supposed to learn at the end of the Second World War, the lessons of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. Both were attempting to create a utopia—one based on racial superiority and the other on social equity. They were different in their approaches but identical in their methods—they killed everyone who dared to criticize the utopian party line. In a world that demands that everyone be the same, those who are different must be eliminated.

So, it’s important that we understand the nature of truth. It emerges, it unfolds, it is always expanding beyond our capacity to understand it. What is it expanding into? Itself. It will do, in a grand paradox sort of way, as the poet T.S. Elliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

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Lenten Meditations—Week 1

 

queenofheaven

 

Thursday:

FOR THE EARTH IS NOW IN THE ASHES OF RUIN, THE SINS COMMITTED SINCE OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST WAS ON EARTH IN A HUMAN BODY.

THE RENAISSANCE OF WAR AND PESTILENCE AND UNBELIEF. O FATHER, WE LOOK FORWARD TO THE FULLNESS OF THE ATONEMENT THAT THE LORD WILL OBTAIN FOR US, AS WE AGAIN GO THROUGH THE GREAT REALITY OF THE JOURNEY TO CALVARY.

Friday:

WE LOOK NOW UPON THE GREATNESS OF THE WORLD, CREATION OF GOD THE FATHER.

WE LOOK OUT UPON THE UNIVERSE WITH EYES UNBLINKING AND FACES UNBLANCHED.

TO IGNORE TRUTH NO LONGER, AND FEAR NO FACT.

WE ARE READY AT ALL TIMES TO RECAST ALL OUR OPINIONS TO THE GLORY OF GOD.

WE ARE READY TO ENTER THE CRUCIBLE OF PURIFICATION TO EXPERIENCE NEW GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT.

NOT BUILDING HOPE ON HOPE ALONE, BUT HOPE ON A FIRMER FOUNDATION.

Saturday:

TO FORGIVE WITHOUT SEEKING FORGIVENESS, TO LOVE AND KEEP AFFECTION IN THE FACE OF MISUNDERSTANDING, I VOW TO SET MY THOUGHTS UPON THINGS I VALUE AND SPEND MY STRENGTH IN THE FULFILLMENT OF NOBLE PURPOSE, TO REVERENCE THE REVERENCES OF OTHERS RATHER THAN WHAT THEY REVERE.

Sunday:

MAY THE FAITH THAT MAKES FAITHFUL, THE HOPE THAT ENDURES AND THE LOVE THAT TRIUMPHS, BE WITH US ALWAYS. AMEN, AMEN, AMEN.

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Daily Meditations for a Mystical Lent

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Lent is the time of the Solar Year that leads up to the Spring Equinox, when the spiritual body of the Earth begins to slough off the accumulated negativity of the previous year in preparation for the influx of the resurrected Christ energy, the great impulse of the spiritual life force as it is given once again by the Solar Christos, the Son/Sun of God.

It is a time of purification and sacrifice, wherein old patterns of behavior, ways of thinking, and emotional reactions come up for review, are judged, and then integrated into consciousness, lest they continue for another cycle and become even more entrenched in our way of being.

The following meditations are designed to facilitate this process of spiritual renewal.

Each morning, meditate on the following:

“O glorious Father, reveal within me the mystery of our Holy Mother Mary.”

And at noon every day, meditate on this:

“O Thou great Master Jesus—channel of light.”
Mary is our connection to the Great Mother, the Divine Feminine, the Womb Consciousness out of which all life comes.

Each of us carries within us the memory of the time we spent in our mother’s womb, when we slipped in and out of the pure bliss of God consciousness and slowly became aware of our new physical existence. This process takes many weeks until finally the silver cord that connects spirit and body become fully formed, and we await the moment of our birth when the connection is made complete.

To connect with Mary is to reenter that state of womb consciousness, where all we had were the memories of our soul, our personalized portion of the Akasha that travels with us from life to life. It is on the soul that the essence of all of our life experience is recorded—the patterns that not only determine the quality of our character but also the basic functions of our human body.

It is here in this ever-active source of intelligence that we now turn our attention, knowing that all of our willfulness and misconceptions, our prejudices and reactive emotional patterns, our habits of mind and attention will now come up for review. It is what we will go through when we die, only now we are doing it consciously and deliberately while we are still alive, and we do it each year during this period we call Lent.

The proper attitude as we enter these dark chambers of our inner being is one of remorse, not because we are inherently sinful but because we have made mistakes, mistakes that we now want to bring into the light of Christ so that they may be corrected, healed, and integrated. Because unless we learn from our misdeeds, we are doomed to repeat them. But if we simply try to “cast them out,” that, too, is failing to derive the lessons we need to learn if we are to grow.

The Son/Sun of God is the Great Christos, the Word by Whom and through Whom everything that was made was made. Its light fills every cubic centimeter of this Solar System. It contains within itself the intelligence and creative impulse that sustains all life. It is more real than our physical bodies and closer than our hands and feet. It is the Great Other, which is just another way of saying that it is transcendent to us. But, at the same time, it is our very being because we are extensions of it, and to it, we will someday return.

This evening, the evening of Ash Wednesday, we will spend in quiet prayer and meditation. Each day thereafter, until the final week of Lent, we will observe the same morning and noon meditations, and each day will have its own unique evening meditation.

 

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Blessed Are the Self-Restrained

self restraint

by Michael Maciel

The trick to living in society is to be predictable. It helps when people can look at you and be able to tell instantly if they can trust you, at least to a minimal degree.

By conforming, we communicate to those around us that we are willing to cooperate and to join them in making sure everything works to everyone’s benefit.

But if we’re too much of a conformist, no one will respect us. Our desire to get along has to be there, for sure, but it is absolutely essential that, for the sake of mutual civility, we put everyone on notice that our cooperation is strictly VOLUNTARY. They have to know that we are “going along to get along,” not going along because we are afraid not to.

I have often been amazed at how much damage a 5 mph collision can cause to today’s automobiles and how expensive it is to get them fixed. For a while, I thought we should all drive the equivalent of bumper cars, the kind you see at an amusement park. There would be far less damage and far fewer costs.

But then I realized that if cars were built that way, everyone would drive them as if they were bumper cars. There would be total mayhem on the roads. If someone was blocking your path, you would simply push them out of the way. Road rage would become shoving matches with drivers bashing into each other, until one of them conceded the right of way.

Similarly, it seems as though the most dangerous stretches of road, such as those that have steep drop-offs but no guard rails, are paradoxically the safest, because the obviousness of the danger commands everyone’s attention and keeps them on their toes. There are so many areas of social life where the danger is equally obvious. Danger and civility go hand-in-hand. Either, without the other, can only lead to incivility.

If we want to be well-respected as an individual, we too must possess a degree of imminent danger, either by virtue of our personal abilities or by virtue of our alliances. Because unless there are real consequences for violating our personal boundaries, those boundaries will steadily erode, and no one, not even ourselves, will honor our right to exist as a free and autonomous individual within the social sphere.

LOVE

We become a fully integrated person when we use love as our primary mode of being, but we use it with extreme prejudice, as they say in the military, meaning that we give of ourselves freely and abundantly but take NO crap in the process. This is the hallmark of an adult social being.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use patience and forbearance in the face of verbal or physical abuse or that we don’t need to exercise mature self-restraint by keeping our egos (and our tongues) in check. But unless it’s obvious to those who want to violate our personal space that there will be serious costs if they do, then no amount of love will change their minds. If love is to be the ground we stand on, then that ground must be solid. Otherwise, no one benefits by our presence. We might as well not even be there. Weakness is never a virtue.

Our strength has to be real in order to be effective. It doesn’t have to be unleashed, it only has to be obvious. And, of course, “strength” is not limited to physical force. In fact, physical force is the least effective of our long term recourses to abuse. The highest form of strength is moral strength—the strength of our convictions. It’s not enough, however, to simply know what is right. We have to BE what is right. Our righteousness has to exude from us so strongly that no reasonable person would challenge it, at least not casually. This kind of strength is impossible to fake. It has to be genuine. It has to be pure. And purity is forged in the fires of self-restraint.

Conformity is part of that fiery process. We have to voluntarily submit ourselves to something greater than ourselves, such as a civil society, before we can become an autonomous person, one whose strength comes from within and does not rely on physical force to win the day.

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In God We Trust

trust

by Michael Maciel

When it comes to cultural icons, the story of George Washington never telling a lie is a perfect example of how symbolic narratives can be used to shape the moral strivings of a nation such as ours.
 
As with all symbolic stories, this one is not meant to be taken literally, because, as we all know, everyone lies, at least some of the time. Rather than being about George himself, this symbolic story is about how we as a people value honesty, the way we recognize it as the glue that binds our culture, and thus our prosperity, together.
 
This principle of honesty is also implied in the motto, “In God We Trust.” You have probably heard that the subconscious mind sees and hears differently from the conscious mind. If we say, “I am not sick,” the sub hears only the words “I” and “sick.” It doesn’t compute the words “am not.” Likewise, in the phrase, “In God we trust,” the sub hears only “God” and “trust.” And just as it tends to equate the words “I” and “sick,” it will equate the words “God” and “trust,” which places trust at the very top of our conceptual hierarchy of values.
 
The story of eBay illustrates how important a concept this is. When eBay first started out, no one thought it would work. They thought that you would send me a bad check and I would send you junk. In fact, there was a slew of companies that acted on that skepticism and offered to guarantee our purchases for ten percent of the cost. But they all quickly went out of business. Why? Because…
 
NO ONE CHEATED.
 
The motto “In God We Trust” isn’t an attempt to Christianize or religify the government. No. It’s a rather secular understanding that in order for a society to thrive and prosper, business contracts have to mean something. They have to be enforceable. There has to be a court system that will back individuals when their contracts are broken.
 
This conceptual value was so ardently upheld in the early days of our country that a person’s word alone was enough to seal a deal. A man’s word was his bond, as the saying goes. And everyone took that very, very seriously.
 
Today, not so much. But the trust still lingers, as was demonstrated by eBay’s business model being wildly successful. People, by and large, will do what they agree to do, at least in matters of business, because trust is a value we can all agree on, even if we don’t always perfectly live up to it in practice.
 
How do we know this? Because when we don’t honor our agreements, we know that we’re violating a principle. It feels wrong. It’s when we see people cheating without compunction that we know that a society is sick. Just look at those countries where corruption has taken over. When trust is intact, economies flourish. But when trust is broken, corruption takes over, and everyone, except for a few at the top, sinks into desperate poverty.
 
So, it’s not as though George was a perfectly honest man, it’s that symbolically (being the “father” of our nation) he represents one of the CORE PRINCIPLES that has made our economy, and therefore our society, one of the most affluent in the history of the world. Where trust abounds, everyone does well. 

 

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Dear Jeff Ludwig…

00 fool
Hi, Jeff,
In a recent Facebook comment, you said, “…we tend to have an inflated view of our opinions, as though they were the Truth.” It was in response to a meme that I posted:
“Opinions enslave us, truths set us free.”
In The Fool card of the Tarot, we see a person about to step off a cliff. Only a fool would do that, right? Any worldly-minded rationalist would never step out on anything he could not see or validate by touch. He would thoroughly test his hypothetical next step with all the logic and experience he could bring to bear. Otherwise, it’s just too big a risk. And only a fool would bet the farm on something he could not substantiate ahead of time. That’s the way of the world.
The Fool is about to take a leap of faith, because he knows that part of the process of getting to the truth is “assumption.” We have to take on an idea and live as though it were true. We have to step out on it. Only then can we see if it will support our weight. It’s similar to the word “platform,” which we use to describe our political party’s position on a given issue—it’s where we stand.
 
A platform is also elevated—it’s an improved vantage point. By assuming that our best conception of the truth is, in fact, true, we raise ourselves above the conventional wisdom—what “everyone knows.” From our new vantage point, we can see more of the intellectual landscape—the higher our point of view gets, the farther we can see. We can see the next platform. But it’s only because we took a stand that we are now able to gain a greater perspective. If we had never stepped out on our assumption, we could never have grown beyond it.
 
We have to get used to the idea that we will never know the whole truth. It’s simply too big. There will always be the greater part of reality that we are simply not equipped to perceive.
 
But we must continually strive to know as much of the truth as we are able, or at least to know enough to make our lives the very best they can be—not only for ourselves but for the people we live with, and not only for now but for the indefinite future. What’s true for me, in the largest sense, must also be true for you. Otherwise, it’s not the truth. And if it’s only true for today but not tomorrow, then that’s not the truth either. It’s like gravity, or arithmetic, or anything else we have all agreed upon and now take for granted. Because, in the final analysis, truth is what works.
 
Our conceptual framework is always under construction. It is the “house” we live in. We have to be mindful of its foundation, that we build on solid rock, not on shifting sands. And given that we can never be entirely sure of what reality is, that solid rock can only be our knowing.
 
Knowing, in religious terms, is faith. But it’s not the faith that believes; it’s the faith that KNOWS. If you’re in a strange building and you come to a wall you have never seen before, and there aren’t any windows in the wall, you don’t think to yourself, “Well, I guess that’s the end of reality,” do you? No. Any sane person KNOWS that there is something on the other side of the wall, even if they don’t know what it is. They don’t believe it, they KNOW it. So it is with reality. We KNOW that there is always more to it than we can conceive. That’s the true meaning of “faith.”
 
Choose the highest conception of reality you can imagine, and then STAND on it. It’s the only way to grow. When you finally understand it, and you have reached the point where you have realized it (made it real in your life), then you will be able to transcend it. Then you can enter into the next phase of your ever-expanding view of the Universe.
Sincerely,
Michael Maciel
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Are We Spiritual or Physical—notes on the Incarnation

14 temperance

by Michael Maciel

The New Age Movement has been criticized (justifiably, in my opinion) of being unable to think critically. Too much is believed simply because people want to believe it, not because it’s true.

The Holy Order of MANS would not be classified as a New Age group today, even though it identified itself as such in the beginning, because the term has taken on a much broader, mostly negative connotation. Much of what passes for New Age is merely imaginative and not related to reality—not at any level.

In order to think critically, we have to be willing to question our most fundamental presuppositions, which most of us have been doing for a while now. But there is still the tendency to adopt a rather anti-intellectual stance when it comes to the Teachings, a kind of prejudice against the mind, since the Self is, after all, “more than the mind of man can conceive.”

This prejudice manifests itself whenever we are faced with new information that pertains to consciousness and the reality of who and what we are. Understandably, we tend to be wary of neuroscience, biology, and psychology because these relatively new fields seem to push aside metaphysics, placing the center of our existence solely within our physical body.

Having seen the Self, however, we know that we are not our body, that we are a “spiritual being having a physical experience.” But our Western Esoteric Judeo-Christian Tradition has a much more sophisticated, nuanced, and (dare I say) intellectual take on this subject.

Saying that we are a “spiritual being having a human experience” is a holdover from a previous war—the war against scientific materialism, which said that there is no such thing as a “spiritual” reality. The advent of Eastern Philosophy in the West, championed by such people as Swami Vivekananda, Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant, and others, reasserted what Christian scholars and mystics had been saying all along but had been steadily beaten down by the Industrial Revolution and the scientific materialism that made it possible. Notions of “heaven” and “soul” became more and more untenable among the intelligentsia, and gradually religion of all denominations was demoted to mere superstition.

Then came the New Age Movement, bolstered by out-of-body experiences made possible in large part by psychedelic drugs, and the war against scientific materialism flared up again. Only this time it came in a non-scholarly, populist form based on a new kind of experiential, “faith-based” fervor that sought direct experiences over intellectual understanding. And as populist movements are wont to do, it devalued intellectualism, even though some of its most outstanding proponents, such as Aldous Huxley (The Doors of Perception) and Alan Watts were some of the most astute intellectuals of their day.

There were others, however, who taught a non-intellectual approach, and they drew much larger crowds, such as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Transcendental Meditation) and Swami Prabhupada (Hare Krishna Movement), who eschewed intellectualism in favor of ecstatic bliss. They were the Eastern equivalents of the West’s charismatic leaders, those whom we would later identify more with Christian Fundamentalism than Catholicism, Protestantism, or Orthodoxy.

It is the fundamentalist style of the New Age Movement that today’s more critical thinkers find objectionable. They see it as anti-intellectual, anti-science, and prone to political populism (rarely, if ever, a good thing) both of the Right and the Left. It is always those who believe that they are doing God’s will who are the most dangerous, whether their god is spiritual or material (political) in nature. They are the ones who have proven throughout history to be the most destructive to civilization.

As it seems to always happen—spiritual ideologies tend to spill over into political ideologies, and vice versa. They tend to mirror each other, because politics is based on values, and values are based on beliefs. In these unfortunate days of extreme political polarization, both the Right and the Left have become more like fundamentalist religious movements than legitimate political movements. They are based on beliefs and are, therefore, not subject to rational debate. There is no possibility for either side to convince the other because dialogue itself is forbidden. Neither side will even discuss alternative viewpoints to the ones they have deemed self-evidently true. One has only to look at the current debates centered around political correctness and free speech to see that rational debate has succumbed to irrational stand-offs.

As a community of illumined and realized spiritually-minded people, we must be careful not to fall into the fundamentalist ways of thinking that have derailed countless spiritual communities in the past. We must instead embrace new knowledge as it evolves and never shy away from enlightened debate. If anything characterizes this New Age we find ourselves in, it is change. And it’s not even change itself that characterizes our times but the rate of change. What used to take years or decades to be discovered now happens on a monthly basis. Never before has humanity experienced an accelerated rate of change as we are experiencing now. It’s important, therefore, that we keep an open yet critical mind, especially when it comes to our own beliefs. What’s true today may not be true tomorrow, and what seems self-evident to us now may turn out to be our most profound blindspot.

This is not to say that everything is up for grabs, that there is no such thing as universal and timeless truths. But such truths tend not to lend themselves to populist political movements, nor do they fit well into fundamentalist religious (or spiritual) ideologies. What makes an ideology? Any time we believe that every problem has a single cause and that every question has a single answer, we become ideologically possessed.

This is why victim-consciousness is so pernicious and dangerous—the belief that all human affairs are based on an oppressor/oppressed narrative. This is why blaming all of life’s inequities on the “patriarchy” or “white male privilege” can only be, in the long run, completely destructive to our free and open civil society. Not because our system is perfect (far from it) but because any argument that declares power to be the sole determinator of social justice is doomed to failure, because civilizations do not thrive by power but by cooperation and mutual trust. Trust is our highest social ideal. Without it, there is only war.

If anything distinguishes the Western Judeo-Christian Philosophy from the East, it is our emphasis on the sovereignty of the individual, which means that each person must take responsibility for the spiritual health of the world. The concept of the sovereignty of the individual is not as much about individual rights as it is about individual responsibility. It is the duty of each individual to give him or herself to the good of the whole and to do that voluntarily. It is this last part—voluntarily—that forms the basis of individual rights. One cannot be responsible unless he has the right to choose. Otherwise, it’s just slavery. Rights and responsibilities are inextricably intertwined.

There really is no idea that is more spiritual than this. Not here, not in this earthly realm. Christianity is, after all, centered around one simple yet inscrutable truth—the Incarnation—not of one man at one time in history, but of every person at all times. It’s about bringing heaven down to Earth. It’s about the full embodiment of God in the Flesh—the atonement, the redemption, the Way.

We must never turn our backs on the physical part of our existence. To do so is to over-react to the false claims of scientific materialism. It is a throwback to the populist belief in extremes, which says that if your opponent believes one thing, it is your sworn duty to go as far as possible to the opposite extreme. When in the entire history of our human race has this worked out well?

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Notes on the Book of Revelation

book of revelation

by Michael Maciel

The Letter to the Church of Ephesus has to do with the life-giving function of the desire nature. We have to look to the real reason we are doing what we are doing—what is motivating us? Earth is a training ground for the Spirit of the Law. It is not enough to know how and what we do—we must learn the nature of the ultimate end of our actions—our “works.”

Example: working on a piece of furniture, a cabinetmaker proceeds automatically, performing each step according to his training, for he has done this many times before. His original intent at the outset of his career was to create functional works of art that people could appreciate while they used them. The desire for beauty, harmony, and symmetry, and the appreciation of these, motivated him beyond the need to make a living, impress his friends, or perfect his craft. This was his “first love.”

Slowly, the demands of commerce shifted his attention to concerns about economy and efficiency, and the ideal began to give way to the expedient. Economy and efficiency are themselves aspects of beauty and harmony, and are worthy goals, but, for our cabinetmaker, they were not his “calling.”

In the highest sense, our “first love” is our soul’s love for God. In our everyday experience, God “wears” the world like a mask, so the world is the face of God for us. Included in the concept “the world” are all of our intentions and affections regarding it. For the cabinetmaker, his art is the face of God for him—he sees God as the perfection inherent within, behind, and the motivation for his art. His work, therefore, is his prayer, his devotion, and his yoga—his method for achieving oneness with God who, for him, wears the mask of craftsmanship.

If this cabinetmaker loses his vision of the face of God by succumbing to the everyday demands of efficiency and economy, and these become the sole motivation for his craft, then his desire nature (symbolized in the B of R as the Church of Ephesus) has become corrupted. The angel, the unrelenting spiritual pressure of his calling, then comes to straighten him out.

The Twentieth Century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein used the phrase “being in the world” to describe how Being and in-the-world-ness are inseparable. This implies that the face of God, as I’m describing it here in the example of the cabinetmaker, is the world—for us. How this translates in the current spiritual vernacular is that our actions are our prayers. God, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, is saying, “Your actions speak so loudly that I can’t hear a word [or prayer] you say.”

“To him who overcomes will the Spirit give to him to eat of the Tree of Life.”

When we keep our consciousness of our “first love” intact and not give in to the temptation to place the necessities of the world in first place, then the fruits of our activities will nourish us—life will feed us instead of devour us. The Tree of Life lives “in the midst of the paradise of God”, that state of Being (in Wittgenstein’s sense of the word) wherein all separation ceases. The world appears to us as immediately present and alive, its beingness emanating from within all things. This kind of Presence nullifies time, so we live in the eternal Now. When we consolidate our awareness of the Now, and it completely displaces the illusion of separation, we experience what Jesus called “eternal life”, and we become one with God.

The word “eternal” does not mean “a long time.” It has nothing to do with time. It is that state that pre-exists time, the same as the word “omnipresence” pre-exists space. To say that God is eternal and omnipresent means that God is “outside” the realm of time and space—time and space are epiphenomena of Being. They are effects of the existent forces of Being, the same way the spokes of a spinning wheel sometimes appear stationary. What we call “time” is a strobe-effect created by the brain, a digitalization of the “seamless garment” of reality.

When theologians claim that God is transcendent or “outside” of creation, it is the denial that these effects are real. The spokes aren’t really stationary—they only appear that way because of our perspective and the interplay of light. In the same way, time and space are “illusions”, because they are not ontologically primary—they are the result of certain intra-actions of Being. These intra-actions are what are being referred to in Hinduism when the creation is described as the “dream” of Vishnu, or in Western theology as God’s Self-contemplation. They are “the many that proceed out of the one”, the “ten thousand things” of Chinese philosophy, and the “jeweled net of Indra” where the light of every gem is reflected in every other.

Just as science calls a reflection an illusion or “virtual” reality, so do metaphysicians call the “world” unreal. It exists, all right, but only as the result of a deeper, underlying reality. It is this deeper, underlying reality that Wittgenstein calls Being. It is so foundational that it precedes our ability to conceive of It—It cannot be named or objectified. It is the Nameless One of our Western Tradition—the reason that Judaism prohibits speaking the name of Jehovah. The moment we name It, it is no longer “It”, but only a description of It. A photograph of a mountain is not the mountain.

When those same theologians claim that God is also immanent or “within” the creation, they are pointing to the fact that the phenomena we call time and space are the effects of Being. God is “behind” the effects, the same as an actor is behind a mask—a persona. The prefix meta- (as in metaphysics) means in back of or behind of. It implies that the physical world is an effect of underlying causes that are not physical in nature, such as Idea, Mind, Truth, Reality, etc., which are all aspects of Being. This places Being in the driver’s seat. When we thoroughly identify with Being and become one with It, we become, like Jesus, “in the world but not of it”—we are both immanent and transcendent. To be “of” something is to be at the effect of it, a derivative of it, or to come from it.

In metaphysics, words such as Mind, Truth, Idea, etc. are not regarded as products of the human mind. They are rather seen as the generators of the human mind. Consciousness is not a product of the brain, as most scientists assert, but the creator of it. The brain evolved into being, because Consciousness needed a way to experience this part of its own spectrum, or as one person said, “A physicist is the universe’s way of looking at itself.”

All of this points to the fact that Being and Wittgenstein’s notion of in-the-world-ness are inseparable, that the way to God Realization is through the phenomenon we call “our lives.” And the prime motivating factor of our lives is what The Book of Revelation calls our “first love,” that part of our lives that calls to us at the deepest desire level, the face of God, the mask that Eternity wears so that we can recognize It in ourselves.

We live our lives in a state of dynamic balance—every external action must reconcile, eventually, with our deepest convictions. When we act out our lives from the consciousness of our “first love”, which is our primary conviction, all of the outer conditions will conform, eventually, to the fulfillment of our calling. If we place too much emphasis on those outer conditions, and we get caught up in their demands to the detriment of our “first love,” our soul-ledger gets out of whack and has to be “justified.” St. Paul first used this word when he addressed the early Christian Community of Corinth, because, being traders, he knew they understood the language of debt and balanced ledgers. “The wages of sin is death,” he said. Our vitality suffers when we deny the inseparableness of our everyday lives and the Spirit within.

This inseparableness is the underlying message of the death of Jesus on the cross. The living Being is nailed to the cross of matter, affixed to it, so that the two become one. The image of Jesus on the cross is the central symbol of Christianity, and for good reason. It signifies the transformation of matter by its willing submission to Being—its “first love.” Five hundred years before Jesus, Buddha rejected the philosophy that the body and this world were irredeemable. He said that the wise man walks the Middle Path between total renunciation and total participation. The story of Jesus expands this theme, using terms like the Body of Christ, the Redemption, and Salvation to describe the transformative effect of Spirit upon its epiphenomenon—matter.

Beneath every intention lies the intention of God. Even the desire to commit murder has its roots in the intention to rid oneself of negativity, a misguided and insane attempt at purity. We project those aspects of ourselves that we cannot tolerate out onto our “enemies,” and we kill them, thinking that by doing so we rid ourselves of our sins.

The message of the Angel in its address to the Church of Ephesus has this quality to it: the real enemy is us. The road to spiritual perfection, therefore, is a road that leads within. Nothing is wrong “out there.” We need only to be true to our “first love,” and the vicissitudes of life will raise us up instead of dragging us down. Like Jesus, we will rise up out of the grave of our darkest hour and ascend into heaven, because our eyes are fixed on God, that part of our lives that calls to us from within—our “first love.” This is the desire at the root of all our desires, even those that appear to destroy us.

 

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Oneness in Gender and Politics

eyes

by Michael Maciel

The best analogy for “Oneness,” I believe, is our apparently “dualistic” visual apparatus (our eyes) and the way they work together to give depth to our perception. One eye is not enough. It takes two, not one, and the two must be separate entities.

If we were to say that two eyes are a problem (in that they lock us into a world of duality) we would have to concoct a story such as having one eye in the front of our head and another in the back, giving us two separate worldviews. That would be dualistic. But our eyes work together by looking in the same direction. The distance between them is what makes stereoscopic vision possible.

In this analogy of having two eyes instead of one, 3D perception is what constitutes “Oneness.” Two separate views of the world are combined, one slightly offset from the other, producing a world that is far more real to us than anything one eye could provide. One eye gives us facts; two eyes give us a feel for what we’re seeing.

Too often, we try to realize Oneness by obliterating duality, when it is duality itself that makes Oneness possible. This is paradoxical, I know, but true. The eyes see best when both are strong. If we cover one eye, we flatten our understanding. We see half a world.

Philosophically speaking, the attempt to obliterate duality is the hallmark of Postmodernism, which says that all perceptions are subjective and are therefore capable of being interpreted in an infinite number of ways. This is actually true, and the Postmodern worldview has given us many valuable things, such as critical thinking and social justice.

But Postmodernism goes too far by claiming that there are no over-arching truths, no grand narratives (except its own), and no universal moral compass. It is, in effect, the “death of God.” Ironically, this too had its beneficial effects on our collective thinking, in that it helped us distinguish the God of religion from the God of spirituality. However, this made it far too easy to slip into relativism, to make the mistake of believing that all truth is subjective, which is solipsism—the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist, which is as dualistic as one can possibly get.

All of the dual aspects of our existence give three-dimensional richness to our perception of reality. They make our lives more real. What are they? Masculine/feminine, rational/intuitive, liberal/conservative, religion/science, work/play, facts/feelings—these are not separate entities, eternally at odds with one another, as though each were vying for moral superiority or greater socio-economic value. Rather, they are two perspectives, each being, by absolute necessity, separate and distinct from the other.

Trying to blur the lines between masculine and feminine, for example, is like trying to surgically combine two eyes into one. The unique qualities of each are lost in the overlay. But these strengths are also diminished whenever each tries to go it alone without the partnership and respectful cooperation of the other. This is also true in our relationship to ourselves—our own inner masculine and feminine. This is not to say that gender lacks a certain amount of fluidity, just that homogeneity is neither desirable nor helpful.

The reality of the Masculine Ideal and the reality of the Feminine Ideal cannot be realized except in their relationship to each other. It is the relationship that constitutes Oneness, not the erasure of gender differences. Relationship does not mean assimilation—one gender neither devours nor dominates the other.

Similarly, our intuitive abilities are greatly improved when we master concentration. Learning how to direct our attention strengthens our conscious mind, making it easier to think clearly. It also enables us to quiet our thoughts, which then enables us to hear the “still, small voice within.” Each aspect, when fully and independently developed, is better adapted to work with its counterpart. Oneness becomes their offspring.

Where Oneness is needed most today is in our American political scene. Republicans and Democrats are convinced that each other is evil. The mistake is not in their differences of opinions but in identifying with their respective positions. “It’s not that I embrace Liberalism, I AM a liberal.” Such a belief is irrational and turns what should be a perspective into an ideology. The more we identify with a group, the more we become entrenched in its worldview. Pretty soon, it becomes impossible for us to even consider an alternative perspective.

Oneness in politics (as it is in gender) cannot be achieved by blending conservatism and liberalism into a single way of thinking. Oneness can only be achieved through cooperation—each working with the other without either of them betraying their own fundamental platforms. Just as procreation requires two sexes, so does the sustainability of the body politic. One party speaks for the status quo; the other speaks for change. One voice protects the state; the other voice protects the people. Both perspectives are essential.

The world is in a continual state of flux—conditions change rapidly. So our politics also have to change in order to meet each new set of challenges. And to do that, we need the two parties to work together. They don’t have to agree on everything, because that would be inappropriate—they have fundamentally different agendas after all. Because sometimes policies need to be more conservative and sometimes more liberal. Every situation requires a unique blend.

So, the upshot of this is that Oneness and Duality exist together. You can’t really have one without the other. And if you think that duality is something that has to be overcome, you only make Oneness that much harder to realize. Each has its purpose. Oneness is not an escape from duality. Oneness is what we experience when we embrace more than one perspective.

Can you honor the differences between the sexes without insisting that men become more feminine and women more masculine? And can you do that without making one existentially more valuable than the other? And, can you convincingly argue both sides of the current political debate? Can you accept that the other side might love their country every bit as much as you do? Can you acknowledge that both sides of the political spectrum are not only valid but intrinsic to democracy? We speak of balance. We endorse it. But we tend to see ourselves as the ones who are doing all the balancing. It’s the other side who are out of balance, not us. And in that, we are alike.

Look at both sides of…everything. Use both eyes, not just one.

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