September 8, 2016

The Answer to the Same Old Argument.


Sometimes change is easy. We begin using a better product, or change our hair style making life a bit easier. But sometimes change is hard, like when we want to stop a destructive habit. Making life changes is a very personal decision, but we don't live in vacuum. There are always those who have an opinion about the choices we make. Family, friends, co-workers, sometimes even strangers or enemies all feel the need to weigh in on our choices and decisions that facilitate change in our lives. At the end of the day, however, we alone are responsible for those changes, and for the subsequent consequences, either good or bad.

If you have been a reader of my musings, or a follower on social media, you may be questioning my apparent decision to leave religion behind. "But Hendel," you may say, "you were such a strong believer! I really looked up to you as a bulwark of scriptual knowledge and wisdom!" Well, maybe you wouldn't say that, but regardless, I feel I must at least address this change. In fact, I have been addressing this trajectory of my life for a while. Back when I was part of a God-fearing congregation I was questioned heavily about my fascination with Star Wars, Jedi philosophy, and the practice of yoga - all of which have given me much pleasure, by the way. In my mind, I saw no interference or contradiction between the faith I was walking at the time and those philosophies that may appear to have had roots in Far Eastern philosophy. Mindfulness and Buddhism are not religions, I said, because there was no deity to which to give worship. For me, it was that simple. Quickly jumping to the end of the story - I am no longer in that, or any other, congregation due to, in part, for the lack of respect and regard for the actual scriptures and doctrines of love and compassion commanded (demanded) by the Torah and Apostolic Scriptures (aka the Bible), not to mention the complete and utter lack of respect and compassion for me and my family as a member of that community. 

As I have continued since that time, I have studied and read much about religion - different strands and reforms of Christianity and Judaism, the history of various religions both here and abroad, and the social implications, influences, and impacts of the what is sometimes referred to as the Judeo-Christian traditions. I have found myself gravitating steadily toward Far Eastern philosophies more and more as I have become increasingly dissatisfied and disheartened by the knowledge I have gained. (Note: this does not mean that I disrespect, in any way, anyone who currently or in the past claims Jewish or Christian faith as their own.) I fruitlessly wish that I could have had more information about the faith traditions I was saying 'yes' to prior to that decision; however, my personal religious experiences have been nothing but a benefit during my studies in religion as an academic. I have have to affirm that, for me, the study of mindfulness, with its roots in Buddhism, has brought me much peace, joy, happiness, and a path to continued growth and freedom (that was not found in any other flavor of religion). So much so that I am hopeful to be accepted for post-graduate work in a Mindfulness Training masters program. 

That was a very long lead-in to what I truly wanted to share, which ironically, isn't even my own creation. It does, however, echo the very logic and argument in defense of mindfulness practice that I have given multiple times to various curious souls who have expressed concern for my eternal soul and salvation. I would like to share with you an excerpt from a little book written by Gerry Stribling entitled Buddhism for Dudes; A Jarhead's Field Guide to Mindfulness (published by Wisdom Publishing, 2015). This small tome with a snarky name is a quick and entertaining read, and I recommend it. Read the following and I trust you will make your own determination. 

IS BUDDHISM A RELIGION OR NOT? 
Now, the notion that the Buddha was not divine confused the heck out of me when I first took up residence at a Buddhist temple in Asia. I hung out exclusively in the company of monds for months, during which time I saw a lot of what looked to me a heck of a lot like religious rituals. Several times a day monks would chant what seemed to be prayers, and they frequently behaved toward statues in a way that any Orthodox Rabbi would call 'bowing down to false idols.' 
Dozens of Buddha statues sat around the temple's campus, but the main one, the big guy in the shrine was humungous - at least triple life-sized, and covered in gold. In many parts of Asia, you can't turn around without seeing a Buddha image - a little Buddha here, a big Buddha there, even Buddhas carved out of entire mountains. Every shop in Sri Lanka and Thailand has its own little shrine, and every home has one, too. You'll encounter roadside Buddha shrines wherever you go. The Buddha is everywhere.
One night at the temple I had the chance to ask some fairly hot-shot Buddhist theologians about what the monks were up to during their services. Revealing my confusion, I asked, "If the Buddha was just a dude and not a god, then why do people bow down and pray to his image? What does all that worship have to do with Buddhism?" 
Buddhism, I was informed, is not a religion. It is a moral philosophy. Buddhist 'worship' isn't really worship, chanting isn't the same as prayer, and Buddha images are ubiquitous because we need to be reminded that there is a code of conduct to live by, and that this guy figured it out. When Buddhists sit before the Buddha's image they are reminded of the inner peace that they should enjoy if they live meditative, compassionate, and moral lives. The Buddha said that there was no reason to venerate him personally. His message is what's important.  
By chanting we repeat the Buddha's message in order to remind ourselves of what we already know. Bowing and holding one's hands together in a prayerful way are Asian traditions. You see people make these gestures all the time over much of Asia, as well as any yoga class you might care to attend. To greet someone with a bow and your hands together is almost like shaking hands in the West, only there is an added element of reverence and respect. Showing respect is not worshiping. It's also more sanitary than shaking hands. 
Most of us need ritual and tradition, even some form of 'worship,' if you want to call it that, whether we get it from religion or not. When it comes to ritual and tradition, NASCAR and the NFL and a standing tee time with your foursome might meet that need. But for those of you who do especially derive comfort from participating in religious rituals, the good news is that some Buddhist traditions meet the 'old-time religion' requirement that many people seem to need in order to feel like they are a part of something bigger. In the Buddhist world you can 'go to church' every day if you like, and on the full moon of every month there is a religious holiday to celebrate. 
...If you're a Judeo-Christian type of guy, you might think that embracing Buddha's wisdom constitutes a negation of your present beliefs. Does studying the Dharma and following the Buddhist path actually make you a traitor to your religion? Well, the Buddha never took a stand on whether there's a central intelligence in command of the universe - a God, so to speak, with a capital G - because, he said, he wasn't concerned about that. But you have to look at that statement in context. As a dude and not a god, he couldn't claim to know anything more about metaphysical stuff than anyone else. The Buddha also said that everything should be questioned, including what he himself said. That's because, to quote an old country-and-western song, "You've got to walk that lonesome valley...You've got to walk it by yourself...Oh, nobody else can walk it for you..." 
Nowhere in the Buddhist world did people impose the Buddha's philosophy on other people, and those who spread the Dharma throughout Asia tended to respect the deities and beliefs of those to whom they preached. Buddha's take on religion is that if the religion teaches peace and compassion, then by all means follow it. If it teaches hatred, then (as they say in Jersey) 'fuhgeddaboudit.' 
You're responsible for your own life. You have to make good choices to obtain wisdom on your own. And you can only gain real wisdom through personal experience. If you put your faith in what others say instead of what you have learned for yourself, then you are a patsy. 
So here's my take on the whole can-a-Christian-be-a-Buddhist issue. There is nothing about Buddhism in its most essential form that contradicts anything espoused by any other religion. The idea that Buddhism is an 'atheistic religion' doesn't stem from some 'there is no God' core belief. Buddhism just doesn't go there. Studying the Dharma is about gaining wisdom about how to get the most out of your life, about Being All That You Can Be. You can be Christian or Jewish and Buddhist at the same time. Lots of people are. Just bear in mind that Buddhism recommends skepticism about anything that other people tell you is true. If God has touched your life in some way, that's proof enough of His existence because it comes from your own experience.

I really like how Stribling expresses the very things that I have said myself. No one should have to defend their beliefs and/or practices, nor feel judged for their personal spirituality. No one's spiritual practice, whatever that looks like, should make anyone else ever feel so spiritually threatened (or arrogantly superior) that they need to intervene with the intent to manipulate or control. To do so is disrespectful and unloving - I know, it happened to me. Now, if they are asking, then feel free to share your beliefs - perfectly acceptable.

So, that is what I wanted to share. A little piece of my history and a little religious information all rolled up into one. And, just for fun, I will leave you with one more thought, directly from the non-divine Buddha himself:

Believe nothing,
no matter where you read it 
or who has said it,
not even if I have said it,
unless it agrees with your own reason
and your own common sense.

September 5, 2016

Who, or what, do you believe in?

This simple question has been bouncing around in my brain for the past day or so after it was posed by a social media friend. The question begs an answer, and several friends came forward quickly and claimed their beliefs confidently. I, on the other hand, considered it less of an opportunity to proclaim my lack of doubt in a deity and more of something to chew on it for a bit.

What do I believe? In my history I have worn many labels. When I wanted to raise my children in the church, I took on the label of a Christian, even without fully knowing all that the label entailed. After a decade of wearing that label, I removed that one and took on another – Messianic Jew. Another set of rules, another group of people all wearing the label proudly, and another decade. And in that wearing of the label was buried my beliefs. The strange thing is that not all individuals who wear a particular label actually believe the same things. My fledgling beliefs and curiosity about religious dogma and practice were swallowed up by the expectations and doctrines of a religious label. Those expectations, dogma, and rules became what I called my beliefs, and I affirmed them right along with the others.

I have worn the label of conservative, charismatic, and choir member. I have also worn the labels of observant, kosher, and fundamentalist. But, I have also worn another label that I believe is a side effect of any religious affiliation – arrogant. Now, don’t take that the wrong way, I am not saying that all people who belong to a religion are arrogant; what I am saying is that all religions tell their followers that their doctrine and belief system is the way, the right way, and their follows accept this as truth. They believe that they are pleasing in the sight of God because they are following what they believe are God’s commands and desires by following a belief system. They are arrogant that they are “right” with their deity, and they believe that others can be right, also, if they believe likewise. Frankly, there is nothing wrong with that…except when they are told that they must go and share the ‘rightness’ of their doctrine and recruit new members.

So, the question remains – what do I believe? Do I believe in a deity? Do I believe in multiple deities? Do I believe they exist and can actually play an active role in the outcome of my life, or the lives of those I know? Can a supernatural being make choices for me, speak to me in that ‘still, small voice,’ or provide in times of need? What do I believe when I affirm I have had blessings and others are still crying out for relief? Am I better at pleasing my deity than those who I see hurting? Can I trumpet praises to God for working in my life while others are so obviously ‘unblessed.’ Do I have the answer for them? Can I expect a reward of living forever by pleasing this deity? So many unanswered questions. I have had so many unanswered questions in my religious journey. (Frankly, I have heard all the prepared and given answers, and I find them unsatisfactory because they rely on blind faith and/or mystical experience, which is always subjective.)

After leaving religious dogma, I claimed the abstract label of ‘None.’ As in, “none of that, please and thank you.” I no longer want to bear the judgment of any labels by those who are not wearing my particular religious label. I have studied enough to know that I choose not to participate in any religious organization ever again. That is not to say that everyone who studies religion comes away with the same answer, but that is my experience. And, I think I am closer to an answer to the nagging question, and I perceive it to be a work in progress. I don’t feel I have to prove anything to anyone, nor is anyone who is judging me or my spiritual endeavors authoritative, in my view. I am the driver of my own spiritual quest. (Now, how about that for arrogant!) I am my own clergy and congregation – a congregation of one.

What I do believe:

I believe that all people are suffering. This suffering is caused by cravings, desires, and competition. I believe that there can be freedom from this suffering in this life. And I believe that there are things I can do to facilitate, for myself, this freedom from suffering.

If this sounds familiar to you, you may have studied Far Eastern philosophy; this is my paraphrase of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. So, have I exchanged one religious label for another? Not really. Since eastern philosophy, or the practice of mindfulness (to coin the modern term) is not a religion. There is no deity to worship. There are no tithes to give. There are no purity laws to determine ‘who’s in and who is not.’ It is a practice - a simple, ongoing path to freedom from suffering.

Many have found this path, and many have written about it. Many who have left Christian labels behind have found it, and many Jews practice and help others find it, as well. For me, it is mindfulness and meditation, it is yoga and centering, and it is awareness and emptiness. It is unconditional, connected, and upholds social justice. It is everything some have feared – it gives complete control and responsibility of a spiritual journey to each individual and no one else.

I believe in the present moment, and I believe this very moment is all that is certain. As we have all heard many times: yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not guaranteed. I believe this, and we must become present in the very moment we are living now. Not lament and regret the past, nor wish for some promised pearly gates. No need to fear the flames of hell, for greed and judgment make hell right here and now. I believe anxiety and depression are rooted in suffering either by worrying about the future or struggling to accept the past. By embracing the present moment, one can train the mind and body to live fully – to be fully alive. But it takes determination, awareness, and honesty. Not to strive, but to be.

I believe I just want to be.

I believe I can be present, alive, and free from suffering in this very moment.

Yes, that is what I believe.

I will leave you with some thoughts from Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Master and spiritual leader, who explains freedom:
"The basic condition of happiness is freedom. If there is something on your mind that you keep thinking about, then you are caught and have no freedom. If you are caught in sorrow and regret about the past, or if you are anxious about what will happen to you in the future, then you are not really free to enjoy the many wonders of life that are available in here and now. The blue sky, the beautiful trees, the lovely faces of the children, the flowers, and the birds can nourish and heal us in the present moment. 
Many people in our society are not happy, even though the conditions for their happiness already exist. Their 'habit energy' is always pushing them ahead, preventing them from being happy in the hear and now. But with a little bit of training, we can all learn to recognize this energy every time it comes up. Why wait to be happy? When you walk, it is possible to walk in such a way that every step becomes nourishing and healing. This is not difficult. 
Whether you are a businessperson walking across the office, a congressperson walking up the Capitol steps, or a police officer out on the streets, it is always possible to practice mindful walking and enjoy every step you take. If you know the art of mindful walking, then you will be fully present in the hear and now. You can make yourself available to life and life becomes available to you. 
Every one of us has the tendency to run. We have run all our lives, and we continue to run into the future where we think that some happiness may be waiting. We have received the habit of running from our parents and ancestors. When we learn to recognize our habit of running, we can use mindful breathing, and simply smile at this habit and say, "hello, my dear old friend, I know you are there." And then you are free from this habit energy. You don't have to fight it. There is no fighting in this practice. There is only recognition and awareness of what is going on. When the habit energy of running manifests itself, you just smile and come back to your mindful breathing. Then you are free from it, and you continue to breathe in, breathe out, and enjoy the present moment."


May 28, 2016

Guest post: Which period of history are we referring to?


written by Charles Foltz

Since both Liz and I have been addressed in the exchanges here, I think I should make my own comments regarding the meme in question. I've reread it several times and come away with the opinion that it is a valid question, especially now at this time of remembering the sacrifices of service people. The meme deals with the nation as a whole, not the limited acts of organizations or individuals who are genuine and concerned with others suffering. There are numbers of wonderful feeling people in our nation, but they are often overshadowed by the policies and actions of government that lead us all into representing a much darker picture than we are willing to own up to. Over time, we have created a romantic image of our nation that is not very accurate as to our conduct.


This romantic image has been created and reinforced by numerous institutions (schools, churches, veterans groups, etc.) so we can view ourselves as acceptable no matter how distasteful some events really are in the question of patriotism. Many a patriot has fought and died for the idea of America, not the actual nation. I lived with the training of Marines some years ago, and have a pretty good idea of why we do this kind of thing. During world conflicts, it is essential to make an enemy seem devilish in order to get troops to kill each other. But many current day conflicts have had no basis in a real threat to the nation, and young people have been coerced into believing they are protecting hearth and home to be part of the military. The sad truth is that we have often helped to create some of these conflicts in order to gain footholds in other countries and provide profitable business opportunities to, what we use to call, the military-industrial complex (nothing more than a description of big business). I have lost friends to this camouflaged ideal of sacrifice, and I have counseled with troops that have come home damaged and sometimes disrespected for having been part of a now disparaged conflict.


If one cannot see the necessity to reveal the true underside of international politics and our (meaning nation) involvement in it due to a select few of ensconced congresspeople and ultra-wealthy business owners, then even those wonderful personal responses of genuine patriots becomes discredited in the world psyche! One of the reasons for our declining image here within our borders is due to overpowering patriarchal control in social relations that separates people due to race, religion, color, etc. It has gone so far as to keeping alive the misinterpreted belief structure of evangelical pulpits using scripture to keep people in the role of OTHER (LGBTQ, Black, Latino, Asian, etc.). This is not the glue of a proud cohesive nation that deserves to be recognized for accomplishments; it is the mythology that gives us an attitude that we need to police the rest of the world, and that they should see how righteous we are. This is un-adulterated bunk! Our coming generations need to know the true history so they can take the steps to remake the nation in the pattern that we all wish it could be.

May 7, 2016

Dear President Monson

This is a guest post from my companion, whom I couldn't be more honored to share life with.
A former member of the LDS Church, he has sent this letter to the current president and prophet, Thomas Monson.
The journey continues..

.


President Monson,

I have chosen Mother’s Day to write to you, because it highlights my concern over the existence of patriarchy within the structure of the church. While my life was very enhanced from joining the church in my fourteenth year, serving an honorable mission and marrying within the temple, with an increase of study from “all the good books” and scholarly study in the birthplace of all Christian religion, the recent published position of the church hierarchy has caused me, and apparently many others, to wonder about the true ‘inspiration’ that created the LDS church.

My testimony was definitely from my own mystical experience and I bore it many times to convince others to consider our version of the ‘truth’ about an eternal plan and a loving deity. So I take full responsibility for anything I might have ignorantly presented to unknowledgeable investigators, such as random contacts, friends, co-workers and family.

The point here is to recognize that by “following the prophet” I paid little attention to the policies that were at the basis of the LDS organization. This is just the point where religion ‘becomes’ the life of its members. They measure all aspects of life through their devotion to the proposition that the church knows what is best for them, so they relinquish responsibility for promoting its policies as coming from God. Obedience is necessary if an organization is going to survive and prosper, but that obedience needs to be honored by the organization in return. The most recent public issues about the LDS policies regarding people of sexual differences do not appear to be honoring the faith of the membership or adhering to the teachings of scripture (ancient and modern).

Further, the idea of prophethood also comes into question when one bearing it is expected to absolutely reflect a congruency between commands of the past and how they relate to commands of the present in order to be recognized as a mouthpiece for God. Singling out people as unacceptable because of their very unchangeable nature of who and how to love is not in alignment with the longheld teaching of the Bible or the Book of Mormon. Prophets of the past were very consistent in the warnings they brought forth as a mouthpiece of deity, so why this current inconsistency if our prophets are as genuine as those of the ancient world?

My question is kind of rhetorical, because my studies of the beginnings of Christianity have confirmed that it was only a sect of Judaism that became identified as separate from the old Torah laws by men centuries later that desired to create their own religious context. To make this happen they even had to bring their deity to earth by inventing a ‘messiah’ (political deliverer) as a mysterious offspring of deity who was both man and god. Today’s religious fervor is the far end result of this manipulation as I have sadly discovered too late for raising my four children and my deceased spouse of 42 years. If I had known then as I do now, they would have been free to be their true natures and not feeling constrained as sinners to measure up to a system of personal and group judgment.

What all this means is that even statistical studies today show that people without religious training are better at living ‘Christ-like’ lives in how they treat their fellow humans than do the churchgoers. This is only due to the fact that real goodness is already within most of humanity, and churches feel they have to convince people otherwise in order to ‘guide’ them back to God and Heaven. Sorry to disappoint, but that is the most agregious falsehood that has ever been fostered in this world!

My personal experience of knowing people of color and different sexual orientation has shown me that they are all worthy as a marvelous product of their Creator! Even the biblical story of Sodom is so misinterpreted that it has become a false excuse to accuse LGBTQ people of being the reason for God’s wrath in destroying them. There are no realistic references in scripture to support it either. This is a man-made prejudice to bring about supremacy of one type of person over another, period! Not very Christian in my view!

The long experience of believing in the ‘truth’ of LDS doctrine has led me to understand that it is no different than any other religious effort to teach one thing; JUDGMENT! My examination of world history has shown that if religion had been left out of the mix, human-kind might have developed a true “heaven on earth” that would have surrounded our first image of deity; women. Instead this engraining of patriarchy and organizational judgment has introduced discord among societies to such a degree that it can be blamed for most of the misogyny, death and destruction that has been our lot. What part of “Judge not that ye be not judged” don’t pulpits understand? This is definitely a rhetorical question, because at least some of them do understand it and use it to further their own dominion.

What I suggest should not be hard for LDS people to grasp as it is reflected in their modern scripture. Example: “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature of almost all MEN, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” (D&C 121:39) Here we see that this ‘wisdom’ was available, so acting otherwise is evidence of manipulation and non-inspiration by those so doing and judging.

I spent over 50 plus years as a true believer, teacher, missionary, father and husband within this comfortable established dogma. When my spouse passed away a few years ago, my new companion and I traveled and studied the sources of religions, especially Christianity, and we were surprised, but not shocked to see the LDS church pressured into revealing it’s underpinnings of questionable policies that do not reflect the teaching of their ‘Christ’, nor their God!

So, President Monson, consider this my resignation letter as I lift this yoke of judgment from my neck and really begin to appreciate my fellow beings out of my own heart’s inspiration for the rest of my days in this imperfect world! Whether or not you see this or expunge my records is of no consequence to me. Every time you include me in your statistical counts of church growth you will only be increasing the lie, and if karma does exist, bring more guilt upon your head!

The Tibetan Buddhists have a line in their holy book that says, “There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way!” So stop trying too fool people into thinking they are bad so you can make them good. They already possess all they need to progress!

Very sincerely,

Charles Arthur Foltz

Formerly of the Marysville Washington Stake,
Lake Stevens First Ward

Some of our friends will understand and some won't, but my hope is that someone will put their devotions aside long enough to explore beyond the frailties of MEN!

April 2, 2016

Just Be Real.


When I was a child, I had a large mirror attached to my closet door in my bedroom. Since I spent a lot of time in my bedroom (obvious introvert), I apparently spent a lot of time looking at myself. Well, that is what I was told anyway. My parents decided to take the mirror out of my room, stating that they didn’t want me to be vain about my appearance. I have considered this my whole life…was I vain? Was my reflection an object of curiosity? Was I trying to develop a self-image? Since I was very small, the questions remain. Self-image is an interesting thing. For myself, the image I see in my mind’s eye seems to stay at right about age 20 – energetic, rather fearless, and ready to take on the world. I most certainly am not that person, but somehow that is who I expect to see in selfies.

In my view, how we see ourselves is directly related to the reflection we see through others. How people react to me, or how they might describe me, becomes my reality and identity. Besides the mirror, how else would we know ourselves? And perhaps that is why we crave social interaction – we truly seek to know who we truly are. How do others see us? What kind of impressions do we make? And further, do those impressions match my desires for myself and who I want to be perceived? If we lived as hermits with no interaction at all, how would we perceive ourselves? If the only voice we heard was our own, what type of identity would we develop?

As I continue to study and deeply consider the influence of religion, I have come to the conclusion that Christianity, most especially evangelicalism and Calvinist-inspired doctrine, has convinced followers to develop behaviors and thought patterns that match the image of a Christian. On the surface, that sounds alright – a moral, grateful, generous person. I think the longer the person works at ‘putting on the garment of praise’ and ‘putting on the armor of God’ the more the person, the real person, gets pushed to the shadows. Christians are told how to think, how to act, how to speak, and how to socialize. Women are told they are subordinate, while men are pushed into leadership and protective roles. Week after week they are exhorted to be that ‘new man,’ not like those others who don’t follow Jesus. They are told what to avoid, lest it cause less-than-holy influence, or worse – attention from the devil. They are told what to read, what movies to watch, and what places to avoid. They are told what kind of ‘identity’ to develop; it is this behavior and appearance that determines whether they are saved from fiery hell or not. Moreover, this identity, as a child of God, is much preferable to the human nature, that one that is full of original sin.

My point is not to bash Christianity, or any religion, but to highlight this pushing of the real self to the background. The real person is hidden, obscured by the effort to be the Christian they perceive is what God and Jesus is desiring. Understandably so – you must be a good believer in order to garner the reward of afterlife bliss. But, didn’t God make humans in the first place? And didn’t he say his creation was ‘good’?  I guess I am questioning a much larger theological issue here (the human condition), and I am fully aware that there are no satisfactory answers. However, how can one have a relationship – a true, honest relationship – with one whose identity is Jesus? I don’t mean to be crass, but I would prefer a relationship with a real person, not someone who has adopted the Christian behaviors and speech patterns of a preacher. And no, I don’t think you are a good person just because of your religious beliefs, and I don’t choose friends because of their assumed identities or church affiliation, but because they are real and honest with themselves and others.

From my vantage point, Christianity has been getting a lot of bad press lately – hateful speech, discrimination, judgement, exclusion, elitism – none of this is in keeping with the message of Jesus, much less God.(at least the God I have been familiar with my whole life). I had a friend once tell me that they never wanted to judge anyone because the bible said that if one judges, they, too, will be judged. However, I say that religion teaches and reinforces a comparison of the ‘saved’ and the ‘lost,’ the churched and unchurched…no escaping judgement there. It is impossible. The saved will always want to change the status of the so-called lost, as it is seen as a lesser state – just not as good, righteous, or acceptable. In all actuality, that friend was very wise in their statement; however, I believe for a Christian, especially an evangelical, to be non-judgmental may be a challenge (at best) and impossible task (at worst).

In my household we read a lot of religious texts, from all the world’s religious and philosophical thought. I find this one particularly useful, especially in light of this discussion. Try not to focus on the source as much as the message, as I think this could have been said by any wise thinker from any tradition.

“So tantra (technique) is not concerned with your so-called morality. Really, to emphasize morality is mean, degrading; it is inhuman. If someone comes to me and I say, “Leave anger first, leave sex first, leave this and that,” then I am inhuman. What I am saying is impossible. And that impossibility will make that man feel inwardly mean. He will begin to feel inferior; he will be degraded inside in his own eyes. If he tries the impossible, he is going to be a failure. And when he is a failure he will be convinced he is a sinner. 
The preachers have convinced the whole world that “you are sinners.” This is good for them, because unless you are convinced, their profession cannot continue. You must be sinners; only then can churches, temples, and mosques continue to prosper. Your being in sin is their success. Your guilt is the base of all the highest churches. The more guilty you are, the more churches will go on rising higher and higher. They are built on your guilt, on your sin, on your inferiority complex. Thus they have created an inferior humanity.”
(Osho. The Book of the Secrets: Discourses on "Vigyana Bhairava Tantra" New York: Harper & Row, 1974. Print., 13)

I am not saying one shouldn’t be Christian, or any other religion, for that matter. What I am saying is that in order to have real relationships one must be willing to be their real self, not an assumed identity. Be real, be vulnerable, be available…but most of all, be ready to admit that relationship is not all about you and what you want or need. Relationship is about giving and receiving honestly. And I believe that when you give honestly of yourself, the very things you want and need will be given unto you.

Y’know, I told my kids when they were young that if they were always concerned with themselves and what they wanted, no one else needed to. I think this is a valuable lesson for a lot of adults, as well.

April 1, 2016

A Deep Think

What is good?
…that which has merit, is desirable, or pleasing?

Who wants to be good, to have value?
As a mostly-perfectionist, I want to be good. I am not sure why, I just have a drive to be good – good as this elusive, nebulous judgment that just cannot be nailed down.
I want to be a good student. And by good, I mean to get the best marks every time – not just because, but because I put forth the effort required for high marks.
I want to be a good friend. The type of friend that gives comfort, refreshment, and support.
I want to be a good daughter, and always make my parents proud.
I want to be a good mother, loving and supporting my children as they strive for value.
I want to be good partner, meshing into the mythical oneness that is the pinnacle of human experience.

I am constantly striving for good…for the good. In my appearance, I want to look as good as I possibly can. In my home, I want it to be as good as we can afford – as comfortable, tidy, and welcoming – as good as possible. Even in my hobbies, I want to be good.
I have to ask myself where this desire for good comes from, because it is glaringly obvious that a lot of people don’t feel this same drive for goodness. Sometimes I wonder if it is even considered.


Religion can perhaps relieve this striving. Check off a list of religious obligations – pray, read the sacred texts, believe a certain way, act according to the social boundaries – and then you can consider yourself good. You can even be so good that you can look around and judge others who are not good – such as those who love differently than you, or need differently. Self-righteousness or self-goodness can feel good, I guess. But is that really good?

Social hierarchy can lead one to believe they are good. The privilege of not being in the oppressed class can lead some to feel that it is actually a good thing to be mean or cruel to those not privileged. Sure, even hating others because they are different can feel good, or at least it would appear. But is this really good?

Money can trick people into feeling good. Having enough is one thing, but having so much that you can do whatever you like, say whatever you like, or act however you like because you are able to buy your way out of situations probably feels good, but that is definitely not good, in my view.

And does being good, being considered good, even have value? And if so, why?
What good is it to be honest when telling half-truths and affirming myths seems to be the norm?
What good is it to treat others with respect when none is reciprocated or even expected?
What good is it to support those who sound good, but behave in selfish ways that hurt others?
What good is it to strive for cleanliness, modesty, or attractiveness if it is only used against the one striving? The more a person tries to look good, the more they make themselves into an object for the eyes of others. How can that be good?

What good is it to be compassionate toward others, to care about their life situation and experience, if those intentions are twisted and convoluted by others due to jealously, resentment, or competition?
I want to believe that there is value in being good, and that by being good, I have value. By adding goodness to my surroundings and community through my actions, I add goodness to humanity. But is that selfish? Or am I just talking in circles?

I guess I want everyone to be good, to have good intentions toward others, to be able to see what is good and what is only making the appearance of good for selfish purposes.


So, how about this…
if you are hurting people with your self-righteousness, that is not good.
Or, if you hurt people or lie in order to get your way, that is not good.
Or, if you consider yourself good but use people, mistreat people, or ignore the needs of others in deference to yourself, that is not good.

And what happens when we all act selfishly? Or ignorantly? Or with apathy? Is that good? Does it result in good? Does it spread goodness? Does it add value?

I struggle to find value, purpose, and the good in life.
I sought for value in religion, but all I found was self-righteousness disguised as value.
I sought for value in academics, but all I found was criticism disguised as value.
I sought for value in producing nice things, but all it left me with was a lot of stuff, but not value.
I sought for value in employment, but I quickly discovered that I was just a number easily forgotten.

So what gives value? What is good?

And that is a good question.



February 1, 2016

Subject Set of One

I am an HSP, a highly sensitive person. I am also what is called an empath. This is my experience. I take on these labels readily because it helps me understand my self and explains why I react in certain ways. I don't expect other sensitives or empaths to share my experience, and I don't consider myself an expert, other than through my own experience - this is the story of a subject-set of one. This is also my response to the many online articles and self-tests that may or may not determine whether one is highly sensitive or empathic. It has become rather vogue or faddish, it would seem, to label oneself these things. I understand - we are all in search of self-identity and self-awareness. You may see yourself in my description and experiences, perhaps not. It is my hope that my personal experience of 50 years will shed some light on the life of a sensitive-empath.

Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, nor a scholar on this subject matter. I encourage all to do their own research and come to educated conclusions. I will give some suggestions at the end of this post. (The Wiki link below has more scholarly reading than online sources, if you are so inclined.)

First of all, I want to clarify the difference between the two terms sensitive and empath. 

HSP is the term (popularized in the mid-1990s) describing a person who is aware of the subtleties in their environment and can be easily overwhelmed or overstimulated in certain situations, such as crowds, emotionally charged situations, or have a extraordinary sensitivity to sounds, smells, touch or textures, or tastes. This is not to be confused with a sensory disorder - HSPs are simply extremely aware and regularly deal with over-stimulation through avoidance or adaptation. They also can do what has been termed 'sponging' of the emotional state of those close-by, even strangers. This is where it can get tricky, because Empaths are those who intuitively know the emotional state of those close-by, and in some cases, those far from them. I like the succinct wiki definition: "being an empath is when you are affected by other people's energies, and have an innate ability to intuitively feel and perceive others. Your life is unconsciously influenced by others' desires, wishes, thoughts, and moods. Being an empath is much more than being highly sensitive and it is not just limited to emotions." 

Exactly.

I do believe that sensitivity is passed from parent to child, I have observed that all three of my children exhibit sensitivity, albeit different in all three, and in varying degrees. I also believe that my own mother was a sensitive in the above definition.



As you can see from above, there is definitely some overlap, which can make it quite confusing. In my opinion, the major difference would be the level of compassion. An empath is definitely compelled to feel, and even take on, the burdens, pains, and drama/trauma of others, where as an sensitive mostly aware and may sponge those feelings of others, but may not feel quite so compelled to action. This is not a measurement of the goodness or righteousness of a person, it just is what it is. The focus of the sensitive is the awareness of the feelings around them (or stimulation), while the empath's focus is on where is it and what needs to be done to alleviate the suffering.

I was not aware of my own situation in such terms for the majority of my life, however, I have always lived by my intuition. I not only feel my own feelings, and those around me, but I know things.

Kind of like the old term ESP (extra-sensory perception) from back in the day - I 'see' people. I see their heart, I feel their spirit. I know immediately if they are lying, or being manipulative. 

I oftentimes know when someone is thinking about me, or is about to send me a message. I also can predict what a person will say within a conversation, or how they will react to certain things.

I can always see all sides of an argument, and the motivations of those involved - and further, I have compassion for all sides, too.

I am hyper-sensitive of all the details of a space, whether it be at home, a restaurant, or classroom  - and I know what needs to be done to make everyone the most comfortable. A sensitive will insist on straightening the crooked picture hanging on the wall; an empath will feel all the people in the room and understand the nature of relationships.

I instantly know if someone is being confrontational with me, even if just for sport, and it sends me in a spin. When I am angry at someone, I cannot say things that will hurt their spirit, as I don't want to implant 'recordings' in their psyche that will repeat later. I am only confrontational if I absolutely have to be, and it makes me pretty angry if I have to go there. (That is not to say that I haven't hurt people - I know I have. It is just that I live with their hurt every day - their hurt is my hurt, too. And worse, I caused it. This is exactly why I don't try to hurt anyone.)

I believe people of all ages are ageless inside of themselves, thus deal equally and respectfully with all ages. Babies are attracted to me, and I to them - we 'see' into each other. Children feel the protector in me, and I will have complete strangers share intimate things about themselves or their lives with me. 

I feel love and compassion for people, especially those who I have had close relationship with; they are forever with me, even if the relationships have been long extinguished. The exception would only be those who have decided to be hurtful to others due to greed or selfishness, especially repeatedly. And even then, I cannot hate them. I strongly believe that everyone has a right to their opinion and I will defend that right even when I don't agree.

As far as my sensitive side, I hear everything. A pencil of the students around me rasping on their notepads, the clock ticking, and the person walking down the hall. I hear the cars go by on the street and the conversations or television shows of the neighbors. Other people can hear these things, too, but for them it is not a distraction or even noted. I can hear the chewing of the people in the next restaurant booth, or the conversations happening back in the kitchen. Yeah, they are all acknowledged in some way in my crazy brain. Just recently, I was glad a couple of sweet ladies decided to leave the restaurant because one of them kept playing with her car keys in her pocket. They were sitting three booths away from us.

This is the life of this sensitive-empath. Yes, one can be both. I am highly sensitive, but not to the same extent that I am an empath. Frankly, I think both work together, and placed inside the personality of an INFJ, that is some kind of powerful intuition. And a lot of input to sort through constantly.

This ability to know makes people uncomfortable. So, I spend my life pretending I don't know things. I let them tell me. Often they don't, and for the bulk of my life, this caused quite a bit of problems. People don't often want to be 'seen.' I can understand that. I don't have any idea what it would feel like to have someone 'see' me in that way. I have never been in the presence of another empath. But, if I was, we would both know it! 

Dr. Aron has spent many years now researching sensitives, and has written this wonderful book about the subject. It actually was our first exposure to this understanding of sensitive people, and it was a huge help in the journey to understanding. I am extremely fortunate to have a partner who is completely committed to helping me navigate through my world without over-stimulation. For a sensitive, much less an empath, this is extremely important. However, even before I knew anything about sensitives, I had adopted some adaptations to help cope. I eliminated television watching, especially the news, I started being very choosy about the movies and entertainment I would watch, and I attempted to protect myself in a religious context. Some of those things were beneficial, some not so much. Sensitives often adopt behaviors, such as that of introverts, in order to cope with over-stimulation. That is not to say that they don't like to socialize or be in stimulating situations, but that they need to allow time before and after the stimulation to not only debrief, but recharge and ground themselves again (somewhat similar to introverts). Enduring over-stimulation on a constant basis causes fatigue, illness, or melancholy/depression in body and mind, somewhat like a two-year old that has just had enough. 

A couple of things that Dr. Aron uses as indicators are difficulty in decision-making and the tendency towards addiction. I don't seem to have those two tendencies, however I can see where she is deriving those conclusions. When one has so much informational input, it may be difficult in deciding the best course or choice. Similarly, unconsciously seeking comfort could lead one down a road of addiction, especially alcohol or other sedative-type drugs. While I am not technically addicted, I spent many years using sleep aids in order to make the world go away. Perhaps my upbringing contributed to my awareness of both of those issues - my parents were excellent decision-makers and modeled the behavior clearly and often, however there was alcoholism in my family, as well. I knew that I never wanted to go down that path, hence a stubborn moderation of my own use of recreational drugs. Thankfully, I have been pretty successful in both those areas as I am efficient with decision-making and am not an alcoholic! 

So, how does this play out in my life on a daily basis? Well, I have very few close friends, but the ones I have are very aware and used to dealing with my 'knowing' and 'feeling.' I have lost a good many friends over the years, and it is usually due to their discomfort or misunderstanding (I don't think I am an easy friend to have - I expect so much of them because I expect so much of myself.) Sometimes I feel compelled to confront concerning dishonesty - that never goes over well, and is such a bummer. Or if a friend is stubbornly holds an identity of themselves that differs from how I 'see' them. That kind of naked honesty is always difficult, and typically the relationship just goes away, or it is easier to just not be close friends. I have a lot of acquaintances, and that is OK, too.

I have to be careful with facebook or other social media, because my sensitive self can get pretty bruised up if I am on there too much. I tend to post things about social issues close to my heart like gender equality and charity/compassion for the underprivileged. I often hide those posts or people who post a lot of manipulative religious or political messages because I see the motivation behind them, and it is not always healthy or true (to my way of thinking). All this is a way to protect myself from over-stimulation and emotional battering.

I am a student, which can be quite a challenge (as noted above) - I sense everything! I sense the self-doubt of myself and other students, or worse the over-confidence that sometimes doesn't go well. I have deep compassion for struggling students, and often end up with those in my study groups. I hold myself to a very high standard, and often develop respectful and interesting relationships with my profs (since they are closer to my age than the rest of the students). Yes, I sense and 'see' the profs, too. The classroom is a cacophony of input for me, and is usually a real challenge.

Actually, life itself is a challenge for a sensitive/empath person in ways that others don't seem to have to deal with. Just having a conversation with someone can be an exercise of juggling what they are saying, what you feel they are 'feeling,' and how you 'know' they are perceiving what you are saying. But, if you have a sensitive/empath in your life, you can feel comforted that they may know and understand you in ways others just can't.  It has been called a gift, and oftentimes I feel like it is a curse, but mostly I call it my superpower. Just like any superhero, their powers are both within and outside their control. I often wonder what it would feel like not to feel, but then I realize how awful it would be if I suddenly couldn't feel others around me. It would be like a Jedi suddenly stripped of force-sensitivity, or Superman in the presence of kryptonite. I rely on my ability to feel in order to move through life, as I know it.

I hope this has helped clarify things a bit, even if it is only my lay-person perspective. I am open to comments and discourse concerning these things, if you so choose. As promised, below are a few links you may find helpful if you are looking for more information.









Everything happens for a reason.
Everything.
The good, the bad, the indifferent.
They all have a purpose.

Never forget who you are.
Never forget what you serve.

And no matter what happens,
keep your face turned to the light.