Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Varieties of Spiritual Experience

Even from when I was very young, I always felt I had a sort of instinctual spirituality. My zealously religious mother drilled into me the existence of The One God. At night she read chapters of the Mosaic Law to put me to sleep. (There's an insomnia cure if I've ever heard one!)

It was easy to merge this indoctrination with my own natural spirituality as a child. I considered the two to be one in the same. It wasn't until my teen years, when my own sense of right and wrong started to rub against Biblical teaching, that I noticed anything was amiss. Still, I clung to my childhood teachings. At first, I separated "the church" from my sense of "god". But even that fell away, and more recently I have felt my own individual spirit soar, no longer tied to the doctrine of well-meaning, but hopelessly misunderstanding ancestors.

It is hard to explain what I mean by natural spirituality. It is a feeling of being connected to more than just your biological self. Some, I think, have a greater capacity for this experience than others, in the same way that some of us are better chefs or runners or drawers. Trying to fit this natural sense of spirit into Christianity only stifled it.

Any time I tried to express my ideas to someone "experienced" in the church, I received the sympathetic nod of "How cute" and "You have no idea what you're talking about". Of course I already knew that I knew what I was talking about. What I learned from them was that they had very little to teach me. They did very little thinking and spiritual feeling/experiencing themselves. Even the most "experienced" of church folk could do little more than point to chapter and verse to answer my quest-tions.

So, I left: spiritually, mentally and physically. It was scary at first to think that there was no spiritual light for me to look towards if I got lost. But there was yet another spiritual truth for me to discover, a golden nugget of truth:
The man who is ceaselessly questioning, who has no authority  who does not follow any tradition, any book or teacher, becomes a light unto himself. -J. Krishnamurti
And so I did. I became a light to myself. Not that I put myself up as some kind of authority. Not that I think I don't need anyone or that I'm better than anyone else. I greatly value the experience of others willing to share their experience (not their "knowledge" of the "truth", specifically "god's" truth from the Bible). I can decide for myself what is true or not about each experience.

The thing is, when I was seeped in religion, I was always seeking, but never really finding. Always repenting for sin, but never really feeling like I had arrived. Now, that I have let go of religion, I realize that I had everything I needed all along. Ironic. The search was over. There was never a need to search for what I already had.
[This] is all that matters -- your life, yourself, your pettiness, your shallowness, your brutality, your violence, your greed, your ambition, your daily agony and endless sorrow -- that is what you have to understand and nobody on earth or in heaven is going to save you from it but yourself. -J. Krishnamurti
(I realize this is only one spiritual experience and the title implies a "variety". This was more for the literary reference than to capture the effective content of the article. And thanks to William James for the borrowed title and spiritual insights.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Evolution to Enilghtenment

I do not pretend to be a zen master or teacher. I use the term "enlightnment" here as general movement toward a more natural experience of living/existing. It occurs to me that so many individuals live miserably in the dark. There isn't one person who wouldn't grab paradise if it was offered to them. And, yet, there it is, everyday, going on right in front of them. Free for the experiencing.

A common zen comparision is the Magic Eye art. At first glance, the magice eye appears to be nothing more than an organization of random patches of color. But once your eyes focus in the right way, a 3D picture appears that you didn't see before. Paradise is the same way. Once you see reality with the correct perspective, you relaize you have been surrounded by paradise all along.

Meditation brought this progression of perspectives to me:

Everything is horrible
This worldview is hardlined focused on everything that is wrong with the world. You've seen these people, I'm sure. These are the individuals who are freaking out in public because they didn't get "extra pickle" or they're slamming their breaks in front of you because they perceived a personal slight when you cut them off. What a sad way to live, trying to make others miserable because they're miserable. Anger fuels more anger. This is their punishment, living in anger.

Everything is going to be okay

This belief settles for the understanding that while the state of the world may not be up to par, it will be someday. Typically, this is the view held by religious (or newly religious) people. While this is a definite improvement over the previous worldview. It still falls shorts. These individuals live in fear and anticipation of a better life. They are missing what is right in front of them.
Everything is okay

These individuals are often of the slightly more evolved religious persuasion. They have moved from understanding that "god" will take care of "his" creation, to "god" is taking care of things right now. The anticipation of a better life is removed. It is slightly less fearful and allows reality to exist as it is, without additional improvements.
Everything is

This worldview moves away from the perception that circumstances are "good" or "bad". Instead, things just are. They exist. Reality doesn't require labels: good, bad or okay. Take a deep breath. This is reality. It is. The removal of labels is the cessation of fear. Fear is the cognitive separation of what should be from what shouldn't. Not only can these individuals allow reality to exist as it is, but they don't even allow for the possibility for it to be anything other than what it is. 
The removal of "everything" is the acknowledgement that the individual is not separate from the rest of reality. It is the understanding of non-duality. I am everything, and everything is me. Separateness between me and my lover, brother, stranger, inanimate objects is the illusion. The removal of illusion is the ultimate release from fear and anxiety. There is no separation between me and you because we are one. There is no jealousy. There is no suffering. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Poly-norm vs. poly-nilla

Recently, all this talk about "poly normativity" has me feeling a bit left out. I'll admit it, when it comes to sexuality, I'm a bit ... well, vanilla. But I like that. I have nothing against kink, or queer folk. In fact, I've learned a lot about my own sexuality from both these communities.

And I'll come out and say, that I fit the "poly normal" model. That is, I live with my husband and my two children and see another partner on the side. I didn't plan for it to be that way. I hadn't planned to be polyamorous at all, nor did I even know such a thing was an actual "thing" until almost  two years ago.

I became poly because I met someone I really, really liked. And what a shame it would be to let that person just disappear from my life because I was married. And why should I break up my happy family, and leave my loving husband to be with my new love interest? So, when both gentlemen agreed that I could be with them both ... well, happy day for me! I defaulted to poly status because I found like minded people calling themselves the same thing. But what I really am is happy.

What I hear polynormativity saying is that's not enough. I have to arrange my life and relationships around being the very pinnacle of sexual extremism. So, it's not okay to be poly and vanilla?

Yes, I agree that the media is packaging polyamory into an alluring product in order to sell, sell, sell. Poly is not a fun, edgy, sexual playground for bored white folks. At least, it's not meant to be. But, really? That's what the media does. Sorry sister, if it's out there, the media is going to do what they can to take advantage of it. But that doesn't mean that being "polynormal" is the downfall of polyamory.

Sexgeek writes:
At its most basic, I’d say some people’s poly looks good to the mainstream, and some people’s doesn’t. The mainstream loves to think of itself as edgy, sexy and cool. The mainstream likes to co-opt whatever fresh trendy thing it can in order to convince itself that it’s doing something new and exciting, because that sells magazines, event tickets, whatever. The mainstream likes to do all this while erecting as many barriers as it can against real, fundamental value shifts that might topple the structure of How the World Works. In this case, that structure is the primacy of the couple.
First of all, I've never desired to be edgy or cool. Not in my entire life. In fact, most of the PTA moms are surprised to discover just how geeked out I can get about certain things (which shall remain nameless). Secondly, I'm not after approval (or disapproval, for that matter) from anyone.

Polyamory is a strong force for shifting the shitty, centuries-old vales of our religion-driven society. Let's take a look at those poly-driven value shifts:
  1. Loving people according to how each individual and relationship functions best. 
  2. Viewing relationships as having no chronological structure. No beginning or ending. No real purpose or value outside of the mutual satisfaction of the individuals involved. 
  3. Owning up to your own emotions as your own issues to deal with, and not your partner's job to protect you from. 
  4. Communicating your needs to your partners and not relying on an reliquary relationship framework to tell you what roles you must play.

There are probably more, I'm sure. But having adopted these into my mind frame, am I still not reformed enough to be poly? What's so wrong with being vanilla anyway? I'm fairly convinced I will never be attracted to women, or want to engage in BDSM, sex parties or romps with more than one person at a time. But that's just me. I happen to like being vanilla.

I agree that the media will always screw up whatever is going right in the world. And there will always be bandwagon-jumpers flocking to American Idol-esque fads. But is the poly community really willing to shut out sincere poly-nillas just because we're not freaky enough, just because we happen to fit the polynormal media image? Isn't vanilla a choice too?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Evolving the Self: Thoughts on Wall-E

So, watching Wall-E with my kids I had a few thoughts. In the movie it's apparent that some of the robots (the more highly evolved one?) develop thoughts and feelings beyond their "directive" while others clearly do not.

For example, Auto, the ship's auto pilot, is unable to change his "directive" once the probe returns with plant life. It's most obvious of course at the end of the film when Eve has to repair Wall-E from the damage he suffered trying to get the people back to Earth. He doesn't remember Eve, or anything other than his primary function to compact garbage into cubes. It's not until a little Disney magic happens in the form of static electricity that he remembers and returns to his more conscious self.

So, my question is: Is humanity resigned to function in this same way? By that I mean, are there only a precious few of us capable/willing to move beyond the basic functions of living? Are all humans capable of evolving to Ken's higher levels or are only a few able? If everyone is capable, what keeps them from moving forward? If only a few are capable, what makes them that way? What do they have that the rest don't?

Let's say that Wall-E developed his unique personality from all the hundreds of years he spent functioning alone. His programming took on a life of it's own much like the various programs/characters in The Matrix, where programs/characters fight each other, take other programs hostage, develope their own purpose/functioning. The Oracle said: "What do all men with power want? More power." 

Now Eve, it is suggested in the film, was "turned" by Wall-E's quirky personality. She becomes more individual while in his trove of discarded treasures, most distinctly while watching a lighter burn. Was this paticular E.V.E. (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) unit special in some way, already susceptible to evolving independent thoughts and emotions? Would the movie have turned out differently if a less susceptible E.V.E. unit arrived in Wall-E's district? Or was it simply one enlightened being leading another toward a new space of existing? Is that the only way to evolve?

My guess is you will say that the answer lies somewhere in between. Susceptibility and a "mover" working together to move a single soul toward the light/truth. Though logic dictates that it must be at least possible to "move" without an outside teacher. Otherwise no one would ever progress. Those individuals probably had some kind of higher susceptibility in the first place, like Buddha. 

So, if some individuals have higher susceptibility, then it must be possible for others to have a much lower susceptibility making it all but impossible to "move." To answer my original question: while theoretically everyone is capable of evolving, only a certain percentage are susceptible enough to be guided to higher levels, some needing more guidance than others depending on their own level of susceptibility. (Oh, I think I've overdone it on the Ken Wilbur!)