Friday, 19 April 2013

Modern Man Under a Spell: Spirituality in the Material Age

It began as a feeling of uneasiness that something was off. Way off.  I was 25 and beginning to feel compelled to read more and more spiritual books, turning my back on the world of fiction which I’d loved.  For the next ten years, through ups and downs and riding some bumpy terrain, it was the spiritual books (and occasional experiences) that pulled me through.  A sense that we are more than just a bunch of random atoms that have somehow cleverly learned how to work together to form a human being - that somehow we are supposed to have evolved over the years from a bloody fish.  That if there is no God, there is certainly a positive and loving force that holds us all.  That we are all connected.  A spiritual epiphany was to follow, when reading the second of Neal Donald Walsh’s trilogy ‘Conversations With God’.  I suddenly realised, with tears streaming down my face, that I’d come home.  A friend who I told about this, said he thought there was one book out there for each of us, one book alone that could speak to our souls.  (I have now added two more books to this list, however!)
All this was in the backdrop.  I thought I had to do the same as everyone else, keep the day job and then do all this searching in my spare time.  But now, as though waking from a dream, I’m realising that we don’t have to dance to another’s tune, even if that ‘other’ is a huge, slick, consumer-driven, society.  We can quietly slip off the beaten path and find our own way.
I look around me, and feel a huge sense that mankind has really lost his way.  I am confined to a house made of bricks on a street lined with lights that prevents me from marvelling at the stars at night before I go to sleep.  This house keeps me from much interaction with neighbours.  It’s a cage that has not been successful in trying to tame me.  It tries to lull me into thinking thoughts concerning stability, permanence, to lull me away from the true nature of existence.
Inside this house there lies a thing called a television, a big, black, commanding, monolith standing in the corner of the living room.  We switch it on to amuse ourselves, watching fictionalised accounts of how we should live, or the ‘news’ whereby we are told what to think.  Television tells us in no uncertain terms “life outside, BAD!  Scary!  Stay indoors.  (As I write this, because of the Boston bombings in the US, people of Boston are currently being advised to do just that.) Bill Hicks, that brilliant comedian who is now sadly no longer with us, had a cool take on this.  What if we had a positive news story for a change?  Wouldn’t it be great if you turned on your TV and saw a newscaster say this: 
"Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration – that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There's no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we're the imagination of ourselves.
Here's Tom with the weather!"
Because what Bill knew, is what Buddha knew on an experiential level (heck Bill might have known it on an experiential level too, he took enough mushrooms, apparently!) and what all the great gurus have been trying to tell us for years.  “We are all one”.  Simple.  We all think we are individual because our consciousness has been funneled into our bodies, thus giving us the illusion of separation – but it is just that, an illusion.  The vast sea of consciousness is collective.  Allegedly.  (Incidentally it makes for interesting reading, checking out the etymology of the word guru on wikipedia, if you feel so inclined:
But we get it drilled into us from a young age that safety, permanence, mortgages, job security, all these things are important.  So we swap actually living our lives for this illusion of safety.  What is a life well lived?  It is YOUR life so only you can know.  As Jeff Brown (author of Ascending with Both Feet on the Ground among other books) would say, ‘don’t hand your tools to anyone else’.  So many people are just surviving – many have little choice.  You may have had to listen to well-meaning parents or guardians when growing up, but they probably simply tried to hammer into you the story they were told by their parents, or what they have learned through fear of life. 
“Take the safe job.” 
“Life is hard.” 
“Don’t take a risk.”
“What’s that you say?  You hate your job? EVERYONE but for the very lucky, hate their jobs!  That’s just the way life is!” 
Every time you hear that barrel load of crap, you just run for the hills, OK?  It’s all rubbish.  It is based on a fear-based system, in which we are taught to believe it’s a dog-eat-dog world and everything you do had better be self-serving coz their ain’t no-one else going to help you. 
“Toughen up!  Only the strong survive!”
All of this is simply what they were told, and they are unthinkingly passing this on, believing it to be true.  The weak are often the most difficult to be around, or the most cruel, because it is harder sometimes to be openhearted that it is to close your heart.  We think closing our hearts makes us strong.  It doesn’t.  It just makes our world more lonely.  Expansion is key.  Opening up, taking risks.  Allowing your heart to embrace compassion.  Yes, it is painful, but not so bad when you know this world is but one aspect of existence.  Life can be hard, yes. But we can find ourselves in much greater emotional pain if we don’t try to follow what our hearts and souls are trying to communicate to us.
And here’s another gem:  Did you ever hear how what we all need is a “good war, so that young men will be able to get out all their anger in a ‘healthy’ way and it will pull us together as a country?!”  I grew up with batshit logic like that!  If you too grew up with similar and felt it was crazy, then at least you’re not alone.  As the Indian spiritual philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti said: 
“It's no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
And is our society sick?  As I write this, we are bulldozing  vast swathes of rainforest to make dams to create electricity – literally killing the lungs of our planet.  We have crimes of hatred for different skin colour, or simply for supporting a different football team.  We cram our children’s brains with facts, but do nothing to prepare them fully for developing their own psyches in an increasingly fractured world.   
Many of us go out to work in a firm we couldn’t care less about.  We knee-jerk react en masse to news stories, stories which allow us to feel a sense of justification to be angry at others instead of taking a look at our own ego-based issues and problems.  We never go within to find any answers, even though that is the first place we all should go.  We create genetically modified food - why, when nature is so abundant? (1) 
We spray our crops with poison and wonder why we all get sick – we even put some industrial ingredients in our food (2)
We spend weekends listlessly milling about in vast shopping malls, great big churches dedicated to the empty pleasures of consumerism, buying stuff which in a couple of weeks will have been forgotten about.  We kill animals – huge amounts of them (according to in 2011 we slaughtered over 958 million in the UK alone), for food when the vast majority of us could very well easily eat only a vegetarian diet.  And we don’t kill them without often inflicting great suffering.
And, as I write this, our country is a bit strapped for cash, and so it is trying to claw it back -- not from the rich (which would be more humane and logical) but from the disabled (or so it seems). (3)
We try to anaesthetize ourselves from an internal pain we can’t quite find the reason for, and huge amounts of us take antidepressants because Western medicine doesn’t have a clue about what to do when your head feels a bit broken inside apart from ticking boxes and putting you into a category.  And we drink.  Oh how we can drink here in England!  As a nation of barely functioning alcoholics, we're doing really well.  What is it we're doing?  Sleepwalking our way through the part of existence we should be enjoying, the bit when we're not working.  Why?
What then, is missing?  So many don’t know.  They don’t know that’s what they’re missing is our birthright, a divine connection with God, with Mother Earth, with Nature (because yes, we really can communicate with Nature herself, with animals and other creatures, too).  And often we are overlooking our own souls, smothering their voices, believing we have to conform to rules which stifle our hearts.
Many turn to God out of desperation.  Life has kicked the hell out of them and they are willing to surrender to anything at that point.  Don’t be those people.  Surrender only to a path to God that resonates with your heart.  That cool guru, Osho had this to say:
“My work is hard because the first thing is that I would like you to be uprooted from your misery, then only can my work start. This is a prerequisite, an absolutely necessary requisite. It cannot be avoided. It cannot be put aside, it has to be fulfilled. First you have to become a little happier, you have to learn to be a little more love-full, joyful; your life has to have the color of a little happiness.

Then go into the search for truth and you will be moving in the right direction, because then no lie can ever deceive you. You are no more interested in lies, because you are no more interested in consolation and comfort. Now you are ready to know the naked truth as it is. And to be a seeker of truth is the greatest thing in life. Okay!”
The sheer magic of things like the fact we are alive, of the fact that scientists still can’t tell us how consciousness works, of marvelling at the sights of nature, all of these are often forgotten as we trudge along in a collective fog, often pharmaceutically induced.  Just trying to get through another day.  Just... trying.
And so, perhaps after many years of feeling comfortable yet dull, of not taking risks, of perhaps feeling like we have lost a bit of our own souls somewhere down the line because our joy is missing -- of not attempting to develop our own characters or simply even just becoming aware of our full potential, we go and cark it. :)
Does this sound like a life worth living to you?
This passes for normality on a planet teeming with mystery, spinning around a sun in a galaxy with 200 to 400 billion stars, a galaxy that is one of perhaps 100 or 200 billion (maybe more).  To me what passes for society is a real waste of a huge exploration into human consciousness. 
I want to go within and I want to find my tribe of other people doing the same. I want to take risks, to allow my own intuition to be my guide.     And I want the freedom to be able to travel where I please, to dwell under the stars if I so wish, but definitely not to stay put in one house until the day I die.  I want people to be able to live a nomadic existence without stigma. 
To me, so many of life’s problems would melt away if we all turned, en masse, to a more spiritual way of life.  Sitting together of an evening and really talking.  Allowing someone you love to reveal their pain, and you, in turn, revealing yours.  To gently hold a sacred space for that pain to be let out.  And to allow both men and women to cry, because crying is such a beautiful release and we shouldn’t deny anyone that.  To sit together and sing songs or share poems that speak to the soul. To give thanks towards something greater than ourselves and feel a sense of awe of the sheer magic of existence.
We can start by simply paying attention to our souls.  Carl Jung, that ‘modern day shaman’ and behemoth of a psychoanalyst, spent years in search of his which culminated in his astonishing work, The Red Book.  If he spent years in search of his, that alone should be good reason to keep hold of yours and pay attention to it if it’s not happy – and, if it isn’t, be prepared to have to do whatever needs doing to go in search of it, even at the risk of total ridicule.  The payoff for that is much greater than we can ever know, it’s a real step towards healing.  This is YOUR life you are weaving – your song to contribute to this strange, collective and beautiful madness.  So sing it.  And switch the TV off!  


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