Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Untying the Knots - Violence & Religion

Violence & Religion

by the High Priest of Prickly Bog

 In the wake of the several recent needless bombings and shootings that have shaken our community, and the ongoing "war on terrorism" that we hear so much about, many people have begun questioning the connection between faith and violence. Last week, Bill Maher stated unequivocally (as is his way) that Islam is the most violent religion that there is. I have several friends who also feel this way, and appear to have the proof to support this claim.

 So let us examine this idea, without comparing an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth… without (for the time being) getting into historical or statistical references regarding the Crusades or other invasions of Christian western imperialist nations into Islamic territories… but by deconstructing what the word religion itself means. I suspect that we shall discover that it is a vague and meaningless term which doesn't really help us to understand the nature of violence, and the reason that it has troubled our poor embattled species since the beginning of time.

 I strongly recommend that anyone wanting to understand this subject more clearly reads a book called "The Evolution of God" by Robert Wright, wherein Mr. Wright does a wonderful job of cataloging how the belief in a supreme being germinates in both ancient and modern societies, over time, and develops distinctions which are unique to that particular faith because of the needs of the society from which it springs.

 He cites also many examples from the Bible and the Koran which reveal just how the layers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have constantly evolved and adapted into widely varying personalities— not just between the religions, but within each of them— depending upon the given moment that we look at them, and the relative situation of the power brokers within them. Let us suffice to say that not only is Islam not a homogenous whole whose exact nature can be agreed upon by all of its participants but, just like every other religion, it is a constantly writhing and churning set of beliefs that in any one generation may seem rather alien to the generation that precedes it, or follows it.

 We may arguably say the same thing about politics. What— after all— is a Republican? Is it Lincoln… or is it Joe McCarthy? What is a Democrat? Is it a hood-wearing Dixiecrat of the 1930s… or is it Obama? Perhaps it doesn't matter whether we call ourselves a Democrat or a Republican, a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim. Perhaps those who hurt other people do it because they like to hurt other people, and in order to assuage their natural guilt about doing so, they rationalize their behavior by inaccurately citing a chapter from their holy book or constitution.
 We have certainly seen Christianity go through its violent phases, and when we examine such things as the Crusades, Naziism, the Ku Klux Klan… we tend to understand that it was not the word of the supposed "Jesus" that imbued these movements with such horrific violence, but the nature and condition of the people who perpetrated these acts that were responsible for them.

 Firstly, there is very little historical proof that Jesus (if there ever was a Jesus) said half of the things he is claimed to have said. The same is actually true for the word of Mohammed, the vast majority of which has been conveyed down through the centuries via the spoken word. Anybody ever played the telephone game? Now imagine that being played over centuries… over millennia. Basically, whatever our religion, we end up believing in what we want to believe. And if we want to believe it is right to hurt others, then we can find that proof wherever we seek it.

 Secondly when we view societies through a socio-economic lens, it becomes very easy to predict where the violence is going to erupt, and against whom. Thinking that religion itself is responsible is actually giving it more credit than it should fairly claim. If the West were mostly Islamic, and the Middle East mostly Christian, the violence would still be coming from the same place.

 No, religion is not the cause of violence. It might be more accurate to say that violence is the cause of some people's religion.

 So what makes us violent?
 The answer to that is simple. Fear! And usually it is the fear of violence. So we might say that it is in fact violence that causes violence.

 We all have felt the need to be violent on some occasion; the need for vengeance. The need to repay a grievance that we feel was unjustly perpetrated upon us, or those for whom we care. But if you think of it this way— that vengeance is the flower of the seed of someone else's anger— then to commit ourselves to vengeance would be to fulfill the intent of our persecutors… even if by some miracle we could actually get revenge on them personally.

 But this is not usually the case. Usually we "get back" at someone else. Usually we punish our children for the sins of our parents. Usually we bomb the poor and innocent people in another country because someone else bombed the poor and innocent people in ours. Even when we get the right person, and we feel we have achieved justice, it is often not actually that particular incident that has motivated us to respond in a violent way, but something long ago forgotten. Some ancient wound that festers within. Or else why would simply stopping the violence of others, not be enough? Why would we then need to injure that person, to kill or maim or punish them in some more dramatic and painful way?

 It is clearly an emotional response. It is because the thing that has injured us at the deepest level has not been stopped. It is replayed for us whenever a new incident reminds us of that suffering that we are constantly trying to subdue. It is a thorn in our side that drives us to repeat the same violence that we believe that we hate in others. But that we contain within our selves and refuse to acknowledge.

 Most murderers, bombers, terrorists, dictators and sociopaths are people who possess the highest moral convictions… and yet the lowest ability to forgive.

 So before we judge others who have committed horrible violent acts, and before we indemnify ourselves from any responsibility for the violence of the world, let us remember that every violent act committed is a seed that goes out into the world, like a dandelion weed, planting itself into the fertile ground of someone else's despair. We exist within a matrix where every event, every deed, every thing that exists affects every other on some level. If we add to the violence of the universe… then there is more violence in the universe, plain and simple, and we have to live in that universe.

 Perhaps sometimes violence is called for, but it is a measure of our weakness, not our strength. Let us use it then, only when it is absolutely necessary, and let us learn not to delight in it, or to rationalize it by blaming our religion or the religions of others. Let us realize that when others use it, it is also a measure of their weakness, and perhaps we will learn to fear them less. Let us understand that even though they claim it is condoned by their religion, many of their brethren would disagree. And let us repeat this mantra to ourselves, every day, so that hopefully it will one day become a part of the fabric of our universe— that we will attempt in every way possible to personally lessen the violence that is around us.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Untying the Knots - Life & Death

Life and Deathand our perception of reality
by The High Priest of Prickly Bog

As we get older, we all start having thoughts about approaching the latter part of our lives. This essay is inspired by some of the conversations I have had recently with friends and family. For me the subject is not so much about dying as it is about understanding reality to start with. My intent here is to replace the "scary" stereotype of death, and its comfortless and gloomy stigma, with a more balanced and satisfying evaluation of it's true nature.

I have broken this subject down into these following categories

1. How we perceive our life.
2. The judgements that we make about our reality.
3. So what are we frightened of.

1. How we perceive our life.

In order to think of death in the way that most people do, we are usually required to accept the material substantiality of life. Here we all are, our bodies are living solid objects, that breathe and think and have experiences. And although we think of our material bodies as real (along with all those other material things: our house, our car, our country, our army) we do not usually consider the experiences we have as quite as real or material. Love, art, thoughts, ideas and feelings… these things we consider conceptual, somehow… non-material. And we rarely acknowledge that without these conceptual processes we would not be able to experience that which we call material.
In addition, most of us believe strongly that there are such a things as good, and evil. And even though these are really conceptual ideas, we often treat them as if they belong in the "material" category.
This belief system tends to lock us into a view of life that is very concrete and brittle, and doesn't respond well to change. It doesn't allow us to think in a flexible way and live harmoniously with the flow of events that naturally surround us. We have the need to control things that we actually cannot control. We cling to the concepts that have been ingrained into us by our families or our culture, and we find it difficult to accept concepts that we are not familiar with.
For these reasons among others, death – which we cannot help but believe will change every material things that we cling to – is, to most of us anyway, a particularly uncomfortable thought. It doesn't help to know that, in the final reckoning, it is an experience that not one of us will escape.

How could it not be uncomfortable to believe that all these familiar concrete structures that are so much part of our existence will one day come tumbling down, and all the beliefs that we presently hold so dear may stand for nothing anymore? We wonder what will become of us after death. All we have ever known is life. What will we have to hold on to? We imagine a dark place with no material things. A place where we have lost everything and everyone, and where we will yearn for only one thing… to be back here. We imagine that the transition from life to death will be a painful and horrifying experience, or at best an unpleasant one. It is a scary proposition when you look at it that way.

But perhaps there is a different way to look at it.

Firstly, let us agree that it is the way we look at life that governs the way we look at death. And let us examine how we define what is real, what is material, what is conceptual.
Modern science tells us that light is nothing more than a series of vibratory patterns, which do not actually have any visual significance until our brain assigns a value to them. This is also true for sound. So in other words, things don't really look like anything, or sound like anything until we make a subjective evaluation every time we hear a piece of music or look at a work of art. Whoever it was that said, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," must have been a scientist.
What about the solid objects around us, then? Are tables and chairs nothing more than a subjective experience? Perhaps. Well, we know that atoms are more than ninety-nine per cent empty space, which means that every solid object made up of atoms must be equally empty. Things are definitely not what they seem.
On the other hand, if somebody takes a swing at my head with a baseball bat I will duck, because if it makes contact I'll definitely have an experience of it. Hmmm… the experience of pain is very real, but my definition of reality regarding the baseball bat itself has been called into question by this "ninety-nine percent empty" thing.

So the perception of the solidity of objects is really very dependent upon our experience of them. We need to be able to categorize the building blocks of our reality in order to deal with them every day. So we create a sort of easily digestible metaphor that simplifies the nature of reality. An operating system, if you will. A Mac OSX, or a Windows, which brings color and graphics to allow a bunch of numbers and codes and wavelengths to be experienced in a more "user friendly environment." Some scientists believe that even the core elements of an atom… the electrons, neutrons and protons, are not solid, but more wave-like in their structure. So perhaps there is no such thing as a solid object.
Yes the pain of being hit with a baseball bat is real, and so is the bat, and so are we… but not material in the way we usually think of it. It is easier for us to see a table than to see a collection of trillions of spinning atoms, and so we create a metaphor of solidity to explain the connection we feel with other things when we touch them. We humans love metaphors, and we have got into the habit of using them, not only to describe events that are hard to understand, but also to perceive every aspect of our lives, including our feelings and our experiences.

In light of these facts, is it so hard to believe that the way in which we look at things is what makes them seem the way they are. Each of us have our own metaphors, our own operating system (no two exactly alike), mostly as a result of how we have been programmed by our parents, our teachers, our friends – and our enemies – to view this life we're in. All the good experiences of life, and all the bad ones are nothing more than a carrot and a stick to drive us in the direction that we are going. A set of rules and restrictions that define the boundaries of an elaborate competition we are striving to win. Yes, it is a game of sorts. A game for which we can see no choice but to play.
But there is a choice.
It becomes easier to evaluate our choices when we can actually witness the game going on around us. There are many ways to do this. The School of Practical Philosophy teaches a method called the "reflective practice" which requires us to sit down and witness what is actually around us. It doesn't break down the metaphor of solidity, but it allows us to just accept what is… without infusing our reality with previously held judgments. It's amazing how different things start to look when we see them with a different eye. Of course other organizations have different meditations on similar subjects, the point being that there are plenty of ways to take ourselves (mentally) out of the game in order to be able to grasp the nature of our reality more clearly.
And if we do take the time to begin shedding some of these pre-existing beliefs we hold, and start to view each moment with an unbiased eye (or as much as that is possible), what we start to see… is that life – just like all the material reality it contains – is more than ninety-nine per cent empty space.
For some people, that in itself is a scary thought because, just like the idea of death, it topples all the structures of our belief, and appears to leave us with nothing to hold on to. But space is actually a great thing to have. It leaves us the room to think in the many different ways that it is necessary to think when reality hits us with its many different baseball bats. It lets us realize that we don't actually need anything to hold on to, that we will be safe floating within the fluid structure of our existence. It allows us the freedom of movement to be agile and navigate the zigs and zags of this game we suddenly realize that we have been playing all along, floating within the constantly changing reality around us. And as a result, we start to see that all the fears, and all the tribulations, and all the competitiveness that we have indulged in throughout our lives were just an unnecessary part of this game that we were led to believe was life.
To  have achieved that awareness is a liberating and blissful experience. No one can take anything from the permanent you. Only the temporary you will change, and that has been doing so all along. Take a look in the mirror. Death is nothing more than the loss of one particular metaphor. You will find many more.

2. The judgements that we make about our reality.

Most of us have spent a lot of time thinking about what we believe to be right, and what we believe to be wrong, we have had those concepts forced into our brains since early childhood by well meaning adults – and, of course, a moral code is a very necessary thing in life for many reasons. But an inflexible morality can become problematic when the reasons for our belief in what is right and wrong are unclear or confused with other subconscious reasons, such as personal advantage or denial of painful memories.
When our judgments are locked dogmatically we tend to believe that right and wrong are constants, that the opposite of what is right must by definition be wrong. But that means we have actually stopped using our judgment. We have given ourselves permission to no longer have to think about it any more. It's all settled, and that's all there is to it!
Trouble is, that like everything else in reality, what's right and what's wrong are very subjective viewpoints, and judgment is a thing that needs to be flexible. It needs to be updated regularly, and exercised and tested as new situations call for it. No two people in the world will agree on everything, and most people disagree on most things. Dogmatic and inflexible judgment is most likely to result in the demonization of others, and quite often in the demonization of ourselves.

Certainly most people are aware of how the dogmatic moralities of certain religious groups around the world cause them to demonize other groups. But demonize ourselves? Why would we do that?
Well, we don't do it consciously of course, but we all do it to some extent. We all have that little voice inside us that was implanted by some moral authority way back there somewhere in our past, who either approves or disapproves of every little thing we do. And needless to say, there are some things we do that are found wanting by that measure. These may be things that we do regularly, but feel conflicted about. We don't want to stop doing them, but somewhere deep inside we believe it is wrong to do them. So somewhere inside, that little voice… which is ultimately our own voice, is making negative judgments about us.
But the trouble is, that by judging our own actions in a negative light, we make it more difficult for ourselves to engage thoughts about our past mistakes. We will often glance quickly at our failures, and turn away just as quickly, because we are worried that if we examine our past too carefully, we might see something that we have a negative judgment about. We might even say this to ourselves, "What I did wasn't so bad… no worse than what others have done," but in doing so, we don't allow ourselves to delve deeper into what we really believe we are capable of. We compare ourselves with the people around us in order to justify behavior that we otherwise may not feel comfortable with. And in this way we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. As a result we get into a spiral of making the same mistakes over and over again, and denying to ourselves that we have a problem with it.
How helpful would it be if we could disconnect ourselves from this outside world of judgment, that has impregnated us so deeply that now our inner world is also saturated with judgment? Worse still… it is unconscious judgment. We don't realize we are doing it half the time, and even when we do, we don't realize why we are doing it. And we don't realize that it keeps us from thinking about things in a fresh and undogmatic way?
Of course, disconnecting from our judgment is a lot easier said than done. We have all had a lifetime of judging things in a certain way, and we know that any real inner change takes a lot of practice and hard work. But perhaps the work is worth the payoff. There is a feeling of bliss in discovering that we don't have to be the arbiter of what is right and what is wrong all the time (that in itself is a terribly hard job – with very little payoff). And now we won't have to hide things from ourselves any more. It is a lot easier to know who we are when we don't make judgments about ourselves. We can free up the internal flow of information and get to know ourselves a little better.
Perhaps we have done things that we don't really want to acknowledge – even to ourselves, but that's okay… so has everyone else. And anyway,we don't have to tell anybody else… just admit it to ourselves – we are playing to a very sympathetic audience. But acknowledging those things allows us to get over the stigma of our own judgment and move on.
There is another advantage to this: if we can learn not to judge ourselves so strictly, we may find that we are not judging others as much either. We may discover that other people are not as bad as we sometimes like to think. Just like us, they are going through their own troubles. And seeing others as much more like ourselves helps to make the world a better place, at least according to our perception of it. And after all, what is reality but our perception of it?

So what all this got to do with death?

Well, I am not suggesting these things from a perspective of morality, or because it makes us "nice people" to behave in such a way. In fact, I am suggesting that we stop thinking about morality altogether, as it tends to make us more judgmental. I am simply attempting to determine the most expedient way in which to perceive reality with greater clarity. The judgments we have are games that the mind has created to distract us from the reality of life and death. Our purpose here is to attain greater flexibility about life and death. My Auntie Koko was a midwife who used to teach her patients a series of yoga exercises during their pregnancy. She believed that greater flexibility ensured a less traumatic birthing procedure. I believe that greater flexibility also ensures a less traumatic dying procedure.
And by flexibility I don't mean playing games with the truth. I don't mean magical thinking. This is not a religious belief system. Quite the opposite, it is about adhering faithfully to the truth… especially the truth we try to hide from ourselves. Remember, life is all about constant change, constant movement. Death is the movement from one state to another. If we cannot let go of the beliefs that hold us here, then death must be traumatic. Whereas if we are flexible about how we see things in life, then there is no reason we should not move naturally and comfortably from one state of consciousness to another.
Letting go of the beliefs we have often entails letting go of the feelings we hold deep inside of us. But we cannot let go of the feelings and the thoughts that we refuse to acknowledge. I know it seems almost contradictory to say it, but thinking the thought is letting it go. Feeling the feeling does allow it to escape. When we don't allow ourselves to feel the painful feelings within us, they are trapped within, and that is when they can do a lot of damage.
So how do we know which thoughts those are? 
That's easy, they're the ones we don't want to think about. 

By freeing ourselves mentally of all the unnecessary burdens that we always believed that we had to carry on our backs, we can allow ourselves to move from one state to another in a more elegant and natural manner.

3. So what are we frightened of?

So this then would be the crux of the whole problem. As F.D.R. once put it, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Why should the state that we move into, be any worse… or any better for that matter, than the one in which we find ourselves? If we are responsible for the metaphor that is our own life, then in death we are simply exchanging one metaphor for another. The reality behind these metaphors doesn't need to change. The only thing that changes is the way in which we look at it – the metaphor… the operating system. If life is nowhere near as "substantial" as it would appear to be, perhaps the idea of the structures of our reality toppling down around us, is also not as substantial as it would at first seem.
Why should it be that life and death are these two completely opposite forms? Just like good and evil, and pretty much every other thing in creation, they are most probably just subjective ways of viewing the same thing from a different viewpoint. It is our own misplaced judgment that draws lines between them. It is no one else but we who create the horrors and the beauty of life. If we could only acknowledge that, then perhaps we would be better equipped to change the things that we can change, to accept the things that we cannot, and most importantly to know the difference between the two.


Each person's subjectivity is, by definition, different from every other person's. We create our own heaven and hell, and if we're being fair about it, life is never fully either one or the other. It makes sense to assume that death will be pretty much the same in that way. It also makes sense to assume that, just like life, death will be yet another temporary form of existence.
Even the term death, therefore, seems to be a misnomer. Just another life, then. Not reincarnation, not the transubstantiation of souls… but perspective change.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Untying the Knots - Spirit in the Sound

The Spirit is in the Sound... or is it?

by The High Priest of Prickly Bog

Recently I received this e-mail from a friend. We all get these things from time to time.Perhaps some of you have sent them on without really paying too much attention, or deciding whether you agree with it or not. Normally I don't forward anything I don't believe in, but I felt this needed a response. I have edited out names and spelling mistakes, of which there were many.

For all divine souls

An interesting fact
it is a fact that the chakras of our body have the same amount of petals as the sanskrit alphabet. that is why every word of the mantra has a special energy...

Dr. Howard Steingeril, an american scientist, collected Mantras, Hymns and invocations from all over the world and tested their strength in his Physiology Laboratory..

Hindus' Gayathri Mantra produced 110,000 sound waves per second. This was the highest and was found to be the most powerful hymn in the world.

Through the combination of sound or sound waves of a particular frequency, the Mantra is claimed capable of developing specific spiritual potentialities.

The Hamburg university initiated research into the efficacy of the Gayathri Mantra both on the mental and physical plane of CREATION...

The GAYATHRI MANTRA is broadcast daily for 15 minutes from 7 P.M. onwards over Radio Paramaribo,Surinam, South America for the past two years, and in Amsterdam, Holland for the last six months…

Hmmm… it is interesting, but being an amateur student of sound, I tend to think that neither a mantra nor a prayer can have an intrinsic frequency. It would be the voice reciting it that has the frequency. And no voice has a frequency of 110 khz (110,000 cycles per second). The highest that human ears can hear is 20khz, so even assuming that there could be inaudible effects on the body of some faster frequencies, 110khz stretches the imagination. And as far as I know there are no radios, even in Holland, that can reproduce 110khz. And if there was one, we would need new loudspeaker technology in order to hear it, because even the best, most expensive speakers do not go that high.

Not only that, but the idea that there would be a consistent frequency for a series of words is not feasible. One frequency means one note (One very high, inaudible note, in this case). Even if you were to say every word at the same pitch, the act of verbalizing the vowels and consonants would change the frequencies of the harmonics at the very least, if not the entire tone. Which brings me to the point that in nature, we never hear a single frequency, even when listening to a consistent tone.

Unless we are listening to a pure sine wave generated by a synthesizer, the quality of each instrument or voice is dictated by the harmonics inherent within it. Harmonics are simply all the frequencies that go into making a single note. A note played on one piano may sound different from the same note played on another piano. This is because the harmonics are slightly different. On a harpsichord the harmonics would be very different… therefore a very different sound to that note. There are many factors that go into creating a sound, including the ambience of the room in which it is generated. The human voice is perhaps the most complex of all instruments and will, even without trying, create the greatest variety of sounds and frequencies. My point being– no prayer or hymn simply produces one frequency every time.

Look, I have a firm belief in the connection between spirituality and science. I believe that the material of our world is made up of frequencies more akin to sound and light than to the solid objects that they represent themselves as. But reality is reality. Straying too far from what we know to be true is not going to lead us to that spiritual godhead that we seek. Follow the truth and not ignorant beliefs. The clues are all around us, and science IS the friend of the true seeker. So let's not invent shit, that makes educated people think that we are nuts.

Perhaps there is some truth to the origins of this story, (I cannot fathom it personally) but like a game of rumors it has gone through so many evolutions that it no longer makes sense in the real world. If we're going to repeat a story that we've heard, let's make sure that we understand it clearly before doing so. There is no dishonor in withholding judgment until we can check the facts. Unfortunately most humans will believe anything as long as it "proves" what they want it to.

But the road to spiritual enlightenment is not so easy. It requires a hard look at what IS, not what we want it to be. Let us all get into the habit of reserving judgment, and believing that even what we know that we know might be subject to change as and when more data comes in. And if we don't understand something completely, let's not go blabbing it all over town as if god personally told it to us. Let's just stay calm, research it, and increase our knowledge of what IS. And please remember, just because you read it in an e-mail, or on the internet, doesn't make it true.

For me, acknowledging reality and the universe, the way they actually are, is the first step on the road to becoming one with reality and the universe.

For those interested in some real science that draws connections with spirituality, I highly recommend a book called, "Stalking the Wild Pendulum," by Itzhak Bentov.
Or check him out on YouTube: http://youtu.be/pM_nCFugdkw

Some information from the web:
Normal human hearing is pretty good, ranging from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. Of course, for humans to actually perceive 20 Hz or 20,000 Hz, the intensity of sound would have to be rather unbearable and, indeed, dangerously loud! Nonetheless, normal human hearing is totally adequate for human speech perception (which is arguably second in line to perceiving warning sounds indicative of immediate impending danger).
However, despite being perched at the top of the food chain, human hearing pales in comparison to many other animals, primates, and fish. For example, despite similar low frequency abilities, the high frequency hearing of many breeds of dog can reach 45,000 Hz, cats can hear up to 64,000 Hz (although they don’t care), rats hear up to 76,000 Hz, bats are amazing at 110,000 Hz, beluga whales can perceive 123,000 Hz, and porpoises can hear up to 150,000 Hz (see http://www.lsu.edu/deafness/ HearingRange.html). So clearly, being at the top of the food chain appears to have little correlation with our limited ability to hear.