Original Fiction

Truth and lies – do you know the difference?

“That won’t do.”  Lord James Barksdale, better known as Jack, stood beside her.  He shook his carefully cropped head of jet-black hair and looked her straight in the eye.  By the thin shaft of the crescent moon, his craggy face looked cold as steel.  “Talk like that will set tongues wagging.   Believe me, Miss Adams, you do not want that.”

“I said nothing untrue.”

“Truth and lies.  Such a fine line.  Might you know the diference, cousin?  I am most certain that I do not.”

“Lies are never justified, my lord.  Herr Kant, a highly respected gentleman from Königsberg,says we have a moral obligation to our fellow men to tell the truth.”

“Does he?”  Lord James grinned.  “Does Herr Kant also suggest the truth is always justified whatever the consequences?”

______

Something is either true or not – right?

At least that’s how we behave.  We even have machines to tell us when someone is telling a lie.  That’s assuming that telling a lie is other than not telling the truth.

Semantics you say?

I’m not so sure.  While researching for my new novel – Lords and Lies – (excerpt above), I discovered that contrary to popular belief, there’s no agreement on what is truth – indeed finding one is a central aim of  philosophy.

As you can imagine, there’s quite a bit on the subject.  Luckily, Lord James and his cousin, Miss Adams, live in the 18th century.   So they only have to worry about ‘truth’ as it was conceived of then.

Before Herr Kant of Königsberg, there were two routes to an 18th century truth (both inspired by Descartes):

(1)          Rationalism – finding truth by rational deduction – in other words truth is determined solely through reason (Leibniz).

(2)          Empiricism – finding truth by observation and experience – in other words what you see is what you get (Hume).

Kant believed both Leibniz and Hume were wrong.  Thus he  articulated a third approach – a sort of middle ground.

For Kant, truth came in two varieties (1) those which were a priori true (i.e.  all bachelors are unmarried) and (2) those which required  empirical testing  (i.e. all bachelors are unfulfilled).

Not so easy –  but Kant believed that once you had determined that which was true from that which was not  – then as my heroine points out – one has a categorical  impertative (i.e. moral obligation) to tell the truth.

Now comes the really tricky bit – as  Lord James points out.

For example, assume that a Nazi demands to know if you are hiding Jews in your cellar   If you tell the truth, everyone knows what will happen and it won’t be pretty.  But if you don’t tell the truth, then you’ll have failed to meet your moral obligation.

So what if you decide (poker-faced) to refuse to respond?

Truth or lie?

That’s what Lord James and Miss Adams will have to decide.

Ethics

The Unexpected Benefits of Shame

In his highly readable book, A Blissful Journey,  Geshe Kelsand Gyatos suggests that instead of being a punishment, shame  restrains us from doing that which the person that we wish (or ought to wish) ourselves to be ought not to do.

In this context shame is not a painful conclusion, but a joyous opportunity.

For Buddhists, shame is the frontline defence against inappropriate actions.  Such actions not only produce negative karma (locking you into the painful cycle of rebirth) but also lead to difficult rebirths.

But even non-Buddhists find inappropriate actions to be trouble.  Folks tend to get annoyed when one steals, murders, and cheats.   Likewise, they shy away from those who frequently lose their temper and fail to honour their commitments.  Indeed, during the course of a single day, you are confronted with a whole host of activities that someone considers inappropriate. If you wished to comply with all of them, you might as well just stay home.

The reality of life is that we cannot always abide by an external set of rules when deciding what we should or should not do.

Yet assuming that you want to be ethical, what standard might you use?

I suggest using your own ‘sense of shame’.

Assume that you wished to use your mobile phone in a place where it was prohibited.  You might be tempted to do it anyway – especially if you were (1) in a hurry, (2) pretty sure it wouldn’t harm anyone , and (3) fairly certain you wouldn’t be caught.  If – prior to giving way to temptation – you considered how you’d feel if you were caught, you’d have your answer.

If you’d feel embarrassed or guilty, then deep down you know that you ought not do it.  This is regardless of the logical arguments you might make to the contrary.

However, if you truly wouldn’t be fussed, then you might as well give it a try.

Astrology

The Astro-Art of Wisdom

Regardless of what the dictionary says, I believe that ‘wisdom’ requires more than knowledge and understanding.  Wisdom requires using your imagination to literally push knowledge and understanding beyond itself into the realm of experience.

This can be accomplished through looking at life through the eyes of an artist.  Artists communicate through symbols.  Artists evoke moods and emotions using pictures and words.  Artists connect us with’something’ that breathes fresh air into otherwise stale lives.

Neptune may very well represent that ‘something’.  Neptune is the astrological symbol of the deep unity with all things into which artists tap.  It’s rumoured that great sculptors connect with the imprisoned energy of a stone.  With their tools and skills, they free that energy for all to enjoy.

The artist’s tools and skills are represented by the Saturn function as that symbolises one’s ability to plan and achieve.

Thus Neptune and Saturn might well be the two most important astrological signposts toward your attainment of wisdom.   By putting Saturn and Neptune together you can make manifest something that jumpstarts your innermost Self to life.

If, like me, you have close Saturn/Neptune contacts, you can work with them through the energies they represent.  For example, I have a Mercury/Saturn/Neptune conjunction in Libra.  Libran outlets through which I might gain wisdom are relationships (all types), law (I am a lawyer), social connections, and artistic endeavours (I’m pursuing a degree in creative writing at Oxford University).

Even if you have no Saturn/Neptune contacts in your natal chart, at some point they’ll come by transit.   Prepare for this golden opportunity by learning how to best exploit what you already have.

Philosophy

Oslo & a sense of community vs. me

Travel is a big eye-opener.

It’s a lifesaver too.

If we sit in one place too long, just like jelly in a mould we congeal and harden. We get to thinking that the world we see out of our window is all there is to see. This is the way things are. This is the way things have to be.

Of course that’s not true and at some level, we know it. But it takes something like a trip abroad to jolt us out of our purple haze.

My recent weekend in Oslo did just that. It not only was great fun, but it reconfirmed the world does not revolve around Oxford. Indeed, it got me thinking again that life might be a whole lot more interesting someplace else.

During an hour spent dawdling over a beer in an outdoor café, I watched a variety of people stroll by. Although their manner and dress wasn’t drastically different from that found on the streets of Oxford, there was something as fresh about them as the breeze off the fjord. Perhaps it was the way they regarded their companions – not as recipients of their own wisdom, but as individuals in their own right with something worthwhile to say.

This got me thinking about the way life used to be here (in both the US and the UK) even just twenty years ago. In those bad old days, while strolling the city streets, we used actually converse directly with our friends & acquaintances rather than remotely via a shiny gadget glued to our ear. What we took away from such personal interchange was much more than just  information. It was a sense of belonging to a community – i.e. something bigger – and perhaps even more important – than me!

This then got me thinking (and I bet I’m not the only one), that while progress may be necessary (and perhaps even welcome), it does have its drawbacks. Yet when like flies caught in a spider’s web, we’re enmeshed in the thick of it, that’s pretty hard to see.

The solution?  Peel yourself out of your mould and take a trip abroad. The open your ears and eyes and enjoy.

Literature

Lightness of Being/ Nietzsche’s idea of ‘eternal return’

The Ouroboros, a dragon that bites its tail, i...
Image via Wikipedia

Milan Kundera opens his celebrated novel, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by examining Nietzsche’s idea of ‘eternal return’.

What, asks Kundera, might it mean if everything we do, think, and say recurs ad infinitum – ad nauseum – throughout the eternal black holes of time and space?

What if, contrary to the dogma of most religions, life weren’t a dress rehearsal?  What if the mistakes we make in the here and now were never going to be made ‘right’ on some dim, distant redemption day?

Would the knowledge that you had no second chance weigh you down like a butterfly pinned to a collector’s board?  Or would it make you savor life, like Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche believed, as if it were a precious, precocious art form?

I’m a firm believer that what one says about something (especially if it’s controversial in any way) tells more about them than about that which they have commented upon.

Keeping that in mind, on the question of ‘eternal return’ I throw in my towel with Existentialism.   I accept that the question Kundera and Nietzsche have raised is not whether God (in whatever shape or form) really exists, but why it is that one chooses to believe either way.

To me, the need for any form of escapism from the joys and sorrows of life as experienced is rooted in fear, resentment, and bad conscience.  Be honest.  How far wrong can anyone go if he or she is prepared to live with the result of his or her choices throughout eternity?  In my view, to take action as if you’ve anything less than total commitment to life as experienced is a cop-out to the fullest degree.

Kundera reminds us that Nietzsche believed the idea of ‘eternal return’ to be the heaviest of burdens.  If we can’t or won’t carry that burden, then it only makes sense we’ll invent some way to cast off the significance of our lives leaving us light as a bird, free to fly straight to heaven.  Do not pass ‘Go’ – do not collect $200.  Who cares?  It’s only a game…

“The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.  Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.”

Isn’t the real question then not as Hamlet suggests ‘to be or not to be’, but instead ‘when and where are we committed to being’?

Kundera frames our dilemma nicely.

“What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?  Parmenides posed this very question in the sixth century before Christ.  He saw the world divided into pairs of opposites: light/darkness, fineness/coarseness, warmth/cold, being/non-being.  One half of the opposition he called positive (light, fineness, warmth, being), the other negative.  We might find this division into positive and negative poles childishly simple except for one difficulty: which one is positive, weight or lightness?”

I choose weight.  Which do you choose and more revealing – why?

Astrology

Today is a Two of Swords Day – Prepare to see things as they really are.

With the sun in Gemini (where we learn that dichotomies like dark/light and good/bad – are but two sides of the same coin) and (2) the moon in Libra (where we often find ourselves in a stalemate) today is a Two of Swords day.

On a divinatory level, the Two of Swords suggests we’re trying to preserve the status quo at all costs.  But if only we’d look close enough, we’d see we’re clutching at straws – for the sands beneath our feet are shifting as surely as day slips into night and back again into day.

For the Kabbalist, today’s energy is grounded in the second sephira, Chokmah otherwise known as Wisdom.  Each phase of evolution commences with an unstable force proceeding through organisation to find equilibrium.  Yet once this balance is achieved, no further progress is possible without first overturning the apple cart to make room for change.

That for which we strive on a Two of Swords day is no less earth-shattering than the knowledge acquired by Adam and Eve upon taking that fateful bite from the apple.  Without knowing dark we how can we know light?  Without knowing bad how can we know good?

Try describing black without mentioning white.  It’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to do.  Yet unless you’re to live in the stalemate of the Two of Swords this is precisely what you must do.

On a Two of Swords day you have an opportunity to take off your blindfold and read the writing on the wall.  Maybe everyone but you knows your job is at risk, your partner is unfaithful, or your best friend is spreading lies.  Someplace in your life, something isn’t working and you’ve chosen not to know.

Today you can take the first step toward fixing that something so that it does.

Philosophy

Making the Most of Meaningful Coincidence

JUNG & SYNCHRONICITY – Making the Most of Meaningful Coincidence

© 2007

by Debra Moolenaar

The more Barbara reflected on a 12th century saint’s words – ‘being a feather on the breath of God’ – the more real feathers she’d find.  One day while walking a labyrinth and grappling with whether to take her vows in a religious order, Barbara found a special feather, – a dark curved one with wispy white fronds.  When she picked it up, a small voice inside told her to ‘be a feather’.   Barbara left the order and moved to New Mexico, where her connection between feathers and spiritual inspiration grew ever stronger.

Although there’s no apparent cause and effect link between Barbara’s finding feathers and receiving spiritual guidance, we sense it’s more than an inconsequential coincidence.  Caught up in the meaningful collision of apparently unconnected events, we feel something otherworldly at work – the God-like hand of fate.  So what are we to make of it?

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung believed that certain coincidences carry meaning.  He coined the term Synchronicity to refer to a series of thoughts and external experiences that, although isolated in time and space, appear to be connected in a ‘meaningful way’.  Not all coincidences are synchronistic.  Some – like the book you need jumping off the shelf and landing at your feet – are just fun to relate.  But real synchronistic experiences hold your attention much longer.  Their significance can take years to play out.

Jung believed synchronistic experiences mirror deep psychological processes that further ‘individuation’ – the process by which we gain understanding of our place in the world.  In Jungian thought, society’s mass-mindedness creates a ‘collective’ repository of emotionally loaded wish-fantasies that are hard to resist.  Consider the steadily growing number of worldwide reports of Mary (‘Mother Mary’ or ‘Blessed Virgin Mary’) apparitions.  Jung wouldn’t be surprised.   Increasingly complex technological advances threaten to annihilate our spiritual heritage.   Yet according to Jung, our spirituality is the very thing that makes us individuals.

Statistically, synchronicity shouldn’t happen.  Although modern society encourages us to be ‘normal’ or ‘average’, we can use our synchronistic experiences to assert our individuality.  Jung believed real life to be made of individuals – not averages.  He also said that it’s by thinking outside the box that we’ll find our personal worth.

Like dreams, synchronistic experiences naturally occur when our unconscious is trying to tell us something.  Archetypes – the building blocks of the unconscious – are the key to understanding the message.  Jung described archetypes as concentrations of psychic energy that manifest as particular themes and motifs – like the spiral found in seashells.  Such motifs appear widely across history and cultures.   The unconscious connects us with the archetypes, and the archetypes trigger synchronistic experiences.

Synchronistic experiences always involve an archetype.  Consider the case of the golden beetle.  While Jung’s client was relating a dream in which she’d received a gift of a golden scarab (a large dung beetle held sacred in ancient Egypt), Jung heard a gentle tapping on the window.  He opened it and caught a beetle whose gold-green color was the same as that of the golden scarab his client had described.   When Jung related that the scarab was a classic rebirth symbol depicting the archetype of self-transformation – exactly the issue with which she’d been struggling, the client was shocked enough to break down her resistance to therapy.

Archetypes often depict universal life events such as birth, puberty, marriage, parenthood, and death.  They also depict the classic character types associated with those events.  Confronting archetypes through synchronistic experience alerts us to personal issues of which we might not otherwise have been aware.

Archetypes have been with us forever.  They speak to our hearts, and we intuitively understand.  As the result, archetypal themes underlie most myth, literature, and cinema classics like the box-office hit ‘Star Wars’, which was based on the archetype of the Hero’s journey.  Myth is a great starting point when looking for the meaning behind a synchronistic experience.

We can also extract meaning from synchronistic experiences through Jung’s technique of ‘amplification’.  For example, with Barbara’s experience, we’d  examine the associations others have had with feathers.  Throughout history, feathers have been used by shamans and priests.  They’ve long symbolized the sacred power of the archetype of the healer.  Feathers are also believed to be mystical signs,  carrying messages and opportunities.  As scraps of synchronicity in the flow of universal meaning, feathers have comforted us and renew our hope for the future.

The more in touch we are with our unconscious, the more likely that we’ll notice synchronistic events and be spiritually and psychologically transformed by them.  This certainly seems to have been Barbara’s experience.

On a bright summer’s morning a year ago, Barbara crossed the border into New Mexico and pulled into the first rest stop.   She was exhausted.  When upon opening the car door she found a raven’s feather, at last she was certain she’d made the right decision.


Astrology

Body & Soul – Harnessing the Renaissance Magic of Marsilio Ficino

BODY & SOUL – Harnessing the Renaissance Magic of Marsilio Ficino

by Debra Moolenaar

© 2006

Open your life to soul.  Take control of your thoughts and emotions.  Align them with the heavens, and you could you literally realign the energies surrounding you here on earth.  By changing your frame of mind, you’ll make different choices.   You can beat those empty feelings that fuel compulsions like excessive eating, drinking, or shopping.

If you’re seeking happiness, Renaissance astrologer and magician Marsilio Ficino believed that happiness comes with the good things in life – health, wealth, position, and power – to name a few.  But having them isn’t enough. They must be desired, acquired, and used with wisdom.

Do this, he says, through natural magic.  Because soul works through symbols and images, you absorb planetary rays through food, music, talismans, and medicines that correspond to, or vibrate in sympathy with, the planetary energies you need. Imagine two violins.  Sympathetic vibration occurs when two strings are tuned to the same pitch.  When one is plucked, the other will sing out in ‘in sympathy’.  Take care of soul and it will take care of you. In this regard, soul is a quality rather than a quantity. It’s an intensity of experience. It’s best to speak of ‘soul’, rather than of ‘a soul’.  Other words for soul might include daemon or muse.

Ficino (1433-1499) was the consummate Renaissance man. He was a physician, musician, priest, astrologer, mystic, and vegetarian.  As the protégée of Cosimo de Medici, one of the most powerful men in Renaissance Europe, Ficino’s work had a profound effect on the direction of the Italian Renaissance and on European thought in general.

But Ficino was more than a scholar and philosopher.  He was also an accomplished magician. He didn’t just contemplate the good life, but made it happen with help from soul.  Because Ficino believed that the good life lies in a ‘well-tempered’ life – lived in harmony with the heavens, by following his lead, your goal is to become ‘as celestial as possible’ through soul.

Cultivating soul is like getting a liberal arts education.  It isn’t about making money, but about developing personal values.  When you move through life from this deeper place with insight into your personal nature, all else falls in line.

Your good life starts with the idea that the universe moves in ordered cosmic harmony according to a divine plan.  If, as Ficino believed, soul, with help from the planets and all things celestial, sows the seeds of this divine plan into the material world through archetypal energies resembling rays, then wisdom, your key to happiness, comes from absorbing as many different rays as possible.

It’s the quality of objects – the shapes, sounds, colours that speak to soul.  There’s a psychological element too.  For example, if you want to cultivate solar energies, you use sun-related paintings, sculpture, jewellery, household furnishings, clothes, or even houseplants to keep solar attributes in the forefront of your mind.

In Ficino’s solar system, there were only seven planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto had yet to be discovered).  To thrive, soul needs exposure to each.  You shouldn’t ignore the more challenging ones like Mars and Saturn and concentrate solely on the easy ones like Venus and Jupiter.  Remember the goal is to lead a balanced well-tempered life.  One way to accomplish this might be to focus on the planetary energies associated with each day of the week.  The connection between the planets’ names and the days of the week is ancient. It appears in many languages.  For example, Sunday is the Sun’s day, Monday the Moon’s day, Tuesday is Mar’s day, Wednesday is Mercury’s day, Thursday is Jupiter’s day, Friday is Venus’ day, and Saturday belongs to Saturn.

The Sun symbolizes the qualities – insight and imagination – that are uniquely human. Thus solar energy is associated with consciousness, rational thought, and the pursuit of truth and honour.  The Sun’s healing powers are unrivalled.  To cultivate solar energies, avoid all things sad and dusky.  Instead, take care to warm your heart with cordial and joyful things.  Overexposure to the sun can dry you out, so use it with caution.

Cultivate solar energies through solemn music, all things gold coloured, nutmeg, heliotrope, myrrh, honey, crocus, corn, cinnamon, aloes, lions, swans, beetles, and chickens. Visualize a king on a throne in a yellow garment, along with a raven and the form of the sun.

Light is prized above all else.  ‘Nothing recalls the nature of goodness more than light.’ Plato compared the Sun to God himself, and Ficino agreed, teaching that man could best know the virtue and divinity of God through the light of the Sun.

You can learn to make informed choices about which specific energies you want. For example, if you were tired or disappointed, you’d call upon Jupiter and the Sun to give you a lift. If you were annoyed, you’d ask Venus to tame your anger.  You could also invoke particular planetary powers to assist with current astrological transits.

Some planets work well together while others do not. For example, the bright beneficial power of the Sun and Jupiter mix easily to good effect.  But Saturn and Jupiter are natural enemies and counterbalance each other.  Everything in moderation! All the planets have both positive and negative effects.  It’s important to avoid too much of a good thing.

The Moon’s endless monthly cycles of death and rebirth are clearly visible to the naked eye. In earlier times, farmers would plant when she was waxing and harvest when she was waning. Along with Venus, the Moon signifies the procreative force and is associated with the human body and all natural processes.  Observe the lunar cycle. It’s an important guide to auspicious rhythms – especially when performing magic and healing.  Because of her associations with birth, the Moon is the key to making ideas and fantasies become real. Knowing ‘when’ to do something is as important as knowing ‘what’ to do.

The lunar cycle reminds you to hounour your downtime.  Just as there’s a time to sow and reap, there’s a time to lay fallow.  How can anything survive running at top speed twenty-four hours a day – seven days a week?  Instead, live in sync with the Moon’s cycles, beginning projects with the new moon, harvesting them with the full moon, and winding down with the waning moon.  You’re ready to start again!  Cultivate lunar energies through things that are white, moist, green, silver, as well as through crystal, pearls, and silver marcasite.  Visualize a beautiful girl seated on a dragon or a bull.  She has horns on her head, and serpents above her head and under her feet.

Mars is the God of War. He signifies anger, violence, bitterness, and all types of aggression.  But he also signifies courage and, according to Ficino, he fortifies the soul.  Cultivate Mars through materials that are fiery or red, red brass, sulphurous things, iron, and bloodstone.  Visualize a man armed and crowned.

Mercury is a natural-born interpreter and, in ancient myth, he was the god of communication. He knows there are multiple meanings behind even the simplest of objects, and his job is to connect you with them.  Mercury’s quick and bright, so if you need insight, turn to him. But he’s also duplicitous.  Functioning as the trickster, he forces you to see things differently.  For example with dreams, images of one thing prompt understanding of something completely different.  Mercury stimulates your curiosity – but doesn’t deliver answers.  He leaves that to you.  Cultivate mercurial energies through tin, silver (especially quicksilver), silver marcasite, agate, glass (especially yellow mixed with green-emerald), clever animals such as monkeys and dogs, and people who are eloquent, sharp, and versatile.  Visualize a winged man wearing a crested cap and multi-colour robe.  He has eagle’s feet and is seated on a throne holding a reed in his right hand, a cock in his left.

Jupiter is the mind and spirit of the universe supporting all civilized aspects of humanity including culture, religion, philosophy, and law.  Ficino called Jupiter the ‘helping father’ because he transforms our imaginative visions into the realities of collective living.  Jupiter brings joie de vivre and carefree enjoyment of life, strengthening and moderating all things with which he associates.  He’s always beneficial and brings luck in all matters. Jupiter can make Venus more sweet, and Saturn less sour.  Ficino often spoke of using Jupiter in conjunction with other planets to counteract, temper, or magnify them.  Cultivate Jupiter’s power with jacinth, crystal, wine, sugar, white honey, peppermint, peacocks, and the colours of sapphire, rich purple, gold mixed with silver, and green.  Visualize a man crowned, sitting on an eagle or dragon, and wearing a gold robe.

Venus is the Goddess of Love, and Ficino suggested there are two kinds of love, human and divine; Venus expresses both.  Like Plato, Ficino believed that the sight of sensuous bodily beauty arouses an appreciation of divine beauty.  Thus Venus is not just to be admired, but to be used for spiritual growth as well.  Along with the Moon, Venus signifies the natural and procreative force.  She presides over the lush green fertility of spring.  She confers a prosperous life making you fruitful and happy.  But Venus has a dark side as well. So many myths caution against the dangers of staying wrapped in her seductive pleasures for too long, that you should take these warnings to heart.  Cultivate Venus through corneolus (a flesh-like stone thought to stop the flow of blood), coral, turtles, turtledoves, pigeons, and through all things gay, festive, and pleasurable.  Modesty forbade Ficino from revealing a full list of correspondences.  Visualize a young woman dressed in yellow and white, holding apples and flowers in her hand.

Saturn is associated with death and misfortune and, because he constrains movement, you’ll naturally meet him when ill or depressed.  Dark moods and melancholy aren’t usually welcome, yet Ficino believed they were vital to provide time and space for contemplation.  In Ficino’s world, Saturn marked the boundaries of the solar system thus reminding you that all things on earth must come to an end. As the highest and most exalted of the planets, Saturn encourages you to move beyond the material world to higher ground – to the heavens and the true home of soul.  Because Saturn is rooted in tradition and he’s a natural builder, you can call upon him when facing hard work or serious study.  As the ruler of stability and perseverance, he can give you the strength to achieve your goals.  Cultivate Saturnian energies through all things earthy, dusky, and leaden, as well as through smoky jasper, lodestone, cameo, solemn music, sapphire, and gold.  Visualize an old man dressed in a dusky robe, sitting on a high throne or dragon.  His head is covered with a dark linen cloth and he’s raising his hands above his head, holding a sickle or some fish.

What happens once you’ve become ‘as celestial as possible’?  How do you use your gifts and achievements wisely?  You could start by envisioning yourself, as did Ficino and his contemporaries, as an integral part of a comprehensive totality, and focusing your efforts not just for yourself, but for the greater good of all and the glory of God.

Regarding the way to happiness, Ficino wrote In a letter to Cosimo de Medici, “…for thus our soul becomes most like to God, who is wisdom itself.  According to Plato, in this likeness consists the highest state of happiness.”


Philosophy

Playing God – Religious Experience in the 21st Century

At the turn of the last century, the famous philosopher and scientist William James asserted

“….the mother sea and fountain-head of all religions lies in the mystical experience of the individual”.

James believed that the key to understanding such experience, was to be found in the manner in which our eyes and minds, together, created our world.  Quite simply, for James the varieties of religious and mystical experience were dependent on the varieties of human nature, which in turn, were dependent on the nature of consciousness itself.

Has much changed in the 21st century where we embrace anything from artificial intelligence to ‘uploaded consciousness’ – the transfer of the human mind to an artificial substrate? I suggest that it has.  We have now moved beyond human to post-human.

In the post human matrix, consciousness is a function of the entire organism – not just the brain.  As any holistic practitioner will tell you,  our minds and bodies act together; it is impossible to know the whole of something from the sum of its parts.   Interesting enough, but in and of itself, not earth shattering news.

The important point is that in the post human matrix, we now control both our minds and our bodies. We began with pacemakers and artificial joints.  We now use a myriad of drugs to control our emotions.   Soon enough, we will have computer implants that will seamlessly perform as another brain hemisphere.  In other words, in the post human matrix, man controls his experience – religious or otherwise.

Assuming we control our experience of God, does this mean that in essence, we control God?  In some sense, I believe it does.

James believed that just as a novelist plays ‘God’ by taking his fictional characters to the heart of their consciousness through interaction with their world, we do the same through our interpretation of own experience of our own world.  Our minds are the essence of our humanity.  We participate in reality.  We make our own truth.   This has always been matter of perception.    But now we control our perception.

In this way, I suggest that the post human experience will make redundant our most fundamental assumption that God is superior to man, and that man is in turn superior to nature.  The Rationalists eliminated God and the Post humanists are eliminating humans.  After that, there’s nothing left but nature.

The funny thing is – and I suggest James would agree – that all these distinctions were man-made in the first place.

Philosophy

Selling Spirituality – where on the package does it say no pain – no gain?

Without qualification we accept that a personal sense of self (an ‘I’ that does things and a ‘me’ to whom things are done) is essential for a healthy, happy every-day kind of life.

Yet throughout history mystics from all religions have sought the opposite experience of ‘no-self’ to grasp the ultimate truth – a reality so vastly different from that otherwise experienced that the only way to describe it, is to describe what it is not.

Today, it’s more fashionable than ever to pursue such spiritual enlightenment in any number of well-marketed ways.  Wander through the appropriate section in your local bookstore and you’ll see what I mean.  Although consumers of spirituality may not know exactly what it is that they seek, they are certain that once they’ve found it they’ll have achieved an infinite love and bliss they couldn’t have afforded to miss.

But what if it isn’t like that?

I’ve just read Suzanne Segal’s biography Collision with the Infinite – A life Beyond the Personal Self.  In it she relates that rather than being joyful, the experience of ‘selflessness’ engenders such fear, loneliness, and profound disorientation that she was marked by society as pathologically ‘disordered’ or even insane.

I find it stunning in such a psychologically and spiritually progressive society as our own, that after her enlightenment it took Suzanne over twelve years and ten therapists to find anyone who remotely understood what she was going through.

As she so eloquently puts it:

“People have always looked for things they can navigate by, signs that point the way and tell them when they have arrived at their destination.  The interpretations of spiritual experiences have been managed or organised by this need to navigate and thereby lost their validity.”

Does this suggest we ought not to seek spiritual enlightenment?  I think not.  But what it might mean is that before we start down any path, we ought to find out more about it than what’s promised on the tin.

Suzanne started her own quest though transcendental meditation.  Years after she’d stopped practicing, she got more than she bargained for.  Ultimately, she found the answers she’d been seeking.  But the process was long and hard and above-all painful both for herself and for those around her who cared.  As the saying goes (and Suzanne discovered), ‘no pain no gain’.

%d bloggers like this: