This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, iBooks in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 593 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Deciphering the Jesus Fairy Tale - Part 2 : Faith

Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!" Matthew 8:24-27, NIV, 1984.

We don't live in a Harry Potter world where an individual can command the elements and they will obey, so, assuming that this story had its origins in a real event, what kind of event might it have been?

To make sense of this we need to consider what Jesus may have meant by "faith". He says that his disciples have "little faith" and also that they are afraid. Whatever he means by "faith" it is something which would counter fear.

Faith is often viewed, both by religious believers and by critics of religious belief, as a belief in the existence of something of which we have no factual evidence. This is one kind of faith. Sometimes it counters fear. For instance a fearful person may temper their anxiety by clinging to the belief that they have a guardian angel. On the other hand this kind of faith can itself be a source of fear. The existence of a devil and a place of eternal punishment after death are also matters of faith of this kind.

But faith need not be a belief in the existence of something. It can be a belief in the effectiveness of a process. Most of us have faith in science. This doesn't mean that we believe that every conclusion a scientist comes to will necessarily prove correct. But we believe that the progress of science is toward a better understanding of the universe. Superstition made us fearful of the world. Science is the response. The fearless confrontation with and examination of reality. Such fearlessness requires faith that we can meet the challenge. And this, I believe, is the kind of faith to which Jesus was referring.

Of course he wasn't specifically talking about science. But he was talking about what is open to us if we can learn not to be afraid. If reality itself or life in all its potentialities can be viewed as a sea then the faith Jesus was referring to is the courage that allows us to cast ourselves out onto that body of water. To open up to all that there is in life and the world around us, rather than allowing fear to blight our life or drag us from the glory of creation into the pointlessness of conflict with our fellows.

Because at the root of all anger or conflict is fear. Fear that we may lose something if we do not strike back against that which inspires it in us. Of course it may not be the person who angers us whom we fear, but there is something about them or something they express which makes us anxious.

If we are full of insecurities and fears, our inner life and our outer life is liable to be stormy. We will be at war within ourselves and we will be prone to getting into conflict with those around us. The root cause of most of our insecurities and fears is a lack of self-acceptance. Our sense of our own worth is fragile and this leaves us fearful of aspects of our own psyche and makes us vulnerable to be upset by things which others do or say.

The presence of a person who accepts us unconditionally has a soothing impact on us. We know that nothing we are liable to do or say will trouble them or make them think less of us. When conflict breaks out, the presence of such a person, a person who has no allegiance to one side or the other, can have a calming influence. Deep down we know that our anger is a sign of weakness, and if someone is genuinely unmoved by it we are liable to defer to their inner strength.

The storm which threatened Jesus' disciples was no doubt of the psychological rather then meteorological variety. This story is a record, albeit in mythological form, of Jesus' ability to resolve conflict amongst his disciples.

If by "God" Jesus meant the creative principle of the universe, then he was talking about faith in a process, not in the existence of something. We might have faith in nature. This need not mean that we believe that fruit trees will grow spontaneously in the desert or that a tiger will not try to eat us. It just means that we trust to nature to provide for our needs as long as we appropriately acknowledge its limitations and its dangers. So to have faith in God, for Jesus, meant to approach life fearlessly, in recognition that the world is full of things and processes and people who will help us if we live in such a way.

To understand the nature of this concept of faith and see its wisdom we could consider the decisions we make in our lives as wagers not unlike the wager that Blaise Pascal proposed concerning the existence or non-existence of God.

First it should be pointed out that faith is no replacement for reason. If we jump off of a tall building we are most likely going to die no matter how much faith we have that we can fly. Faith should only come into the question after we have determined that a positive outcome is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

  1. We don't believe we will succeed, so decide not to try.
  2. We don't believe we will succeed, but we try anyway.
  3. We believe that we will succeed, but we fail.
  4. We believe that we will succeed, and we do.

We'll interpret a decision not to try as a failure. And, in the second case, our belief that we will fail is not a good basis for success and is liable to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. So we will assume that that is also a fail.

So the results would look like this :

  1. Fear Fail
  2. Fear Fail
  3. Faith Fail
  4. Faith Success

If jumping 50 cars on a motorcycle was the thing which was being attempted, then 1. would probably be the most sensible choice, as there is little to be gained by success and everything to be lost by failure. But when we apply this wager to the everyday decisions of our lives, we find that we might as well have faith that things will go well. If we do find ourselves in a number 3. situation we know that we have lost nothing by having faith. We would have failed anyway. And faith almost always is a prerequisite to success.

To pick a practical example. We may fear to speak to strangers. You never know who's a serial killer these days, we may tell ourselves. Of course the statistical likelihood of meeting a serial killer is quite small. What we don't know is how our life might have been transformed for the better by friendships we may have made, or even ideas exchanged in casual conversation, with all those strangers. The same could be applied if we are afraid of flying. We might eliminate the possibility that we will die in a plane crash, but we also deprive ourself of the rich experiences which might await us in other countries.

Is the existence of God necessarily a matter of faith?

For many it is. For Jesus it was not. God is raw undivided reality unobscured by the abstraction of rational thought, the preconceptions of received dogma or the fracturing effect of the embattled ego.

The world "holy" comes from the same root word as the word "whole". Something which is "holy" is something which is undivided. When William Blake said "Everything that lives is holy" he was acknowledging that every living thing is an undivided whole and indivisibly connected to the whole of nature. The universe, the totality of all things, is also an undivided whole. That is what God is. That is what God means.

In our wounded paranoid state, this reality can become a mirror in which we see reflected the human face of an individual who shares our own prejudices or an embodiment of the torturing conscience programmed into us by our society. None of this has anything to do with the nature of God. And much of what Jesus had to say about God was aimed at destroying such misconceptions. He stuck with the use of terms like "He" and "Father" because he had to start with the language people were used to using when talking about God, but he also explained to them that "Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father." John 16:25, NIV, 1984.

Rational thought is a crucial tool for developing understanding of reality. But it is not rational thought which tells us whether or not something exists. It is direct experience which does that. If I hold an orange in my hand I know that it exists because I can see it, feel it, smell it, taste it. Rational thought combined with such direct sensory experience can help me to discover more about the orange. I can learn that it is good for me because it contains high quantities of Vitamin C. But I cannot use reason to prove the existence of the orange, because the a priori establishment via sensory perception that the orange exists it the primary datum for the reasoning process about its nature. In other words we have to decide whether something exists before we can begin to use reason to tell us anything about it.

And rational thought is an abstraction. It does not deal directly with reality. It deals with ideas about reality. It requires language. The word "orange" is not itself an orange. Its meaning for us is determined largely by our sensory experience of the real thing. And this is where we run into problems with the word "God". Because the direct sensory experience of the reality to which we assigned the label "God" is not as easily accessible to us, because of our neurosis, as direct sensory experience of a piece of fruit.

To perceive reality as an integrated whole we have to be able to temporarily turn off that part of our thinking which divides. If we are thinking in terms of us and them, good and evil, inside and outside, up and down, alive and dead, etc., we cannot perceive a reality in which there are no such divisions. Some see God when they take hallucinogenic drugs, because these drugs prevent the mind from maintaining its conceptual divisions. Others are able to achieve direct sensory experience of God through meditation, because meditation involves the cessation of all rational thought. And there are those who see God when rational thought is broken down by psychosis. And it is likely that as children, before we learned to think rationally and divide the world into separate bits, we lived in an awareness of God.

Keith Johnstone tells this story :

A Psychotic Girl

I once had a close rapport with a teenager who seemed 'mad' when she was with other people, but relatively normal when she was with me. I treated her rather as I would a Mask – that is to say, I was gentle, and I didn't try to impose my reality on her. One thing that amazed me was her perceptiveness about other people – it was as if she was a body-language expert. She described things about them which she read from their movement and postures that I later found to be true, although this was at the beginning of a summer school and none of us had ever met before.

I'm remembering her now because of an interaction she had with a very gentle, motherly schoolteacher. I had to leave for a few minutes, so I gave the teenager my watch and said she could use it to see I was away only a very short time, and that the schoolteacher would look after her. We were in a beautiful garden (where the teenager had just seen God) and the teacher picked a flower and said : 'Look at the pretty flower, Betty.'

Betty, filled with spiritual radiance, said, 'All the flowers are beautiful.'

'Ah,' said the teacher, blocking her, 'but this flower is especially beautiful.'

Betty rolled on the ground screaming, and it took a while to calm her. Nobody seemed to notice that she was screaming 'Can't you see? Can't you see!'

In the gentlest possible way, this teacher had been very violent. She was insisting on categorising, and on selecting. Actually it is crazy to insist that one flower is especially beautiful in a whole garden of flowers, but the teacher is allowed to do this, and is not perceived by sane people as violent. Grown-ups are expect to distort the perceptions of the child in this way. Since then I've noticed such behaviour constantly, but it took the mad girl to open my eyes to it.

Impro : Improvisation and the Theatre, Keith Johnstone, Eyre Methuen, 1981.

At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Matthew 11:25, NIV

This is not to say that we should abandon rational thought, only that we need to take a holiday from it occasionally if we are to remain in contact with reality. This is something which Einstein understood : “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” No doubt it was this approach which allowed Einstein to transcend the boundaries placed on our understanding of physics by the limitations of mechanistic enquiry. I'm sure we have all met individuals who are intellectually brilliant but seem to be emotionally dead inside, incapable of weeping in the face of beauty for instance. Rational thought is a essential tool, but it can also be used as a neurotic defence by the emotionally wounded. The mind has a built-in capacity for holistic thought, for integrating pieces of information into a meaningful picture of the whole, but any form of internal conflict disrupts this ability, therefore the most effective thinker will be one who is not just intellectually skilled but emotionally healthy.

If God is the creative principle of the universe then the task of science is to unveil God. To flee from that unveiling is to lack faith. Some fearfully cling to fairy story descriptions of the nature of the world written thousands of years ago. Others angrily deny the existence of God.

We are caught up in a storm. But some of us have faith that reason will prevail, that a clear understanding of our current situation, humble, free from dogma, free from judgement, can provide an island of calm on which refugees from the sinking boats of irrational superstition and rationalistic denial can all find refuge.

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