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.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

How Do We Reassure?

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Our central problem as a species is lack of faith.

This may seem like a strange thing to say given that many of our problems are so intensely wrapped up in religion. But is religious dogma a product of faith or lack of it? Of course it depends on which definition of faith you use. Faith can be defined as “belief in God or in the doctrines of religion.” In that sense, religion is faith. But the less specific, more essential, definition of faith is “confidence or trust in a person or thing.”

A dogma is not a belief system in which we have confidence and trust. In fact it is a belief system in which we lack confidence and trust to such a degree that we dare not expose it to the critique of reason.

It is the fear which characterises the absence of faith which drives us to cling to dogma.

Now I’m not suggesting that blind faith is a good idea. In the social sphere it might be dangerous to have faith that everyone is trustworthy. And to have faith that our problems will be solved without us lifting a finger is not going to be very practical.

But faith isn’t always conjured up out of thin air. We can inspire faith in each other through our behaviour. What we feel is still faith, but it is grounded in a modicum of evidence. Similarly, we have faith in the scientific method as a means of enquiry. Good results have given us reason to have confidence and trust in the process.

If fear is what causes us to lose faith in each other and in free thought and to cling to dogmas and to our embattled ego structures, then the big question is : “How do we bring a deep sense of reassurance to ourselves and each other and thus inspire the kind of faith which enables us to open up to truth, to freedom and to each other?”

The hardest knot to untie is that of fear-based religion. Just as it is difficult, if not impossible, to prove or disprove the existence of a god, so it is just as big a challenge to try to prove that that god or gods are not going to punish you if you think for yourself, act as you chose and embrace your fellows regardless of their behaviour.

What has got me thinking about this issue recently is the problem of Islamic refugees. On the one hand sympathy would lead us to want to provide refuge to anyone fleeing from a war torn country. On the other hand, if someone’s religious beliefs include the ideas the women must be subservient to men and that homosexuals cannot be tolerated, it becomes problematic to let large numbers of them into countries which have had to go through their own long struggle to establish the equality of the sexes and to let go of fear of homosexuality.

This kind of dogmatic fear-based belief system is clearly a blight on the human race, because it prevents us from being able to actually help each other with our problems.

Simply insisting that someone let go of their fear-based beliefs is clearly not going to work. This would be like tugging on a child’s security blanket. They will only hang on tighter.

What is fear of God?

Many of us believe that we may be punished by God if we do something we have been taught is wrong. In this sense, God appears to be operating as an externalisation of our conscience. We learn that certain things are right and other things are wrong. Internally, the punishment for breaching these principles is to feel guilty. Externally, as a child we may have been punished for misbehaviour by a parent.

It would be interesting to know if there is a strong correlation between the nature of our parents and our personal concept of God. It stands to reason that parents who believe that God will punish their children severely for misbehaviour are likely to feel motivated to punish those children severely preemptively on the basis of the belief that being hit with a stick as a child is preferable to being sent to Hell after death. Thus authoritarian religions no doubt operate as negative feedback loops.

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One thing I’m sure of. If the insides of our minds were exposed for all to see, the hold of dogmatic religion would end. We would all see how it fails to achieve what it claims to achieve. We would see that those who claim the greatest holiness are among the most depraved, because this is what fear-based repression does to us. And the young would lose all respect for their elders. Their respect would hopefully be replace by sympathy.

So how do we reassure?

“A ‘guru’ doesn’t necessarily teach at all. Some remain speechless for years, others communicate very cryptically. All reassure by example. They are people who have been into the forbidden areas and who have survived unscathed.” 

Keith Johnstone, Impro : Improvisation and the Theatre

I think we are all in a similar position to the depraved religious leaders. They are just deeper in the shit than the rest of us. It’s handy to imagine their situation in order to grow more comfortable with our own. What makes us most insecure is the suspicion that we are alone with our depravity. Realise that we are all, to a greater or lesser degree, in the same boat, and it is actually reassuring.

Recently I’ve been writing a bit about how political correctness seems to be getting out of control. I think this is a symptom of this dilemma. The more ashamed we feel of how hateful, scared and depraved we are the more we feel the need to take the pressure off by being hypercritical of others.

This is the end point of the development of the human condition. It began with the arrival of the idealism thought virus - the concept of good and evil. Idealism undermined out unconditional self-acceptance, our capacity for unselfish love. Loss of self-acceptance made us selfish and frustrated and aggressive. We developed all sorts of forms of self-restraint - law, ethics, religion. We developed channels for our aggression - sport, war, etc. And we found ways to transcend - art, music, etc. And we developed ways to heal - e.g. meditation and psychoanalysis.

To the degree that we practiced repression of the feelings of fear, hatred and depravity produced in us by our encounters with idealism (or other forms of criticism or rejection which undermined our sense of acceptance), they have accumulated.

The Christian and the Islamic religions both have the concept of a Judgement Day in which our true natures are revealed. One need not believe in the dogmas to see in this a perceptiveness about the larger situation. At some point, repression as a strategy was going to become ineffective. The more we battle with what we are containing within us the harder it is to deal with the external challenges of life. And since these religions are based around systems of morality and fear of judgement, it makes sense that they would give expression to such a fear through the concept of a day on which God would pronounce his judgement of us and bring punishment.

What needs to be remembered is that what concerns us is not our essential nature, but that part of us which is a product of exposure to idealism. If we are filled with hate, it is not because we were born that way, but because we have had our self-acceptance undermined. If we are depraved, it is because our loving nature has been warped by exposure to idealism and other forms of intolerance. These are thoughts and feelings only. Thoughts ask only to be thought. Feelings ask only to be felt. It is in accepting them - in thinking them - in feeling them - that we will be free of them. The truth about how we think and how we feel will set us free. And what makes this easier is that it is a universal experience. Some of us may be in the shit deeper than others, but we are all in it plenty deep, and that should be a source of great reassurance. This is where Johnstone’s concept about the ‘guru’ comes in. Anyone who calmly talks of this in a way which shows that it is something over which to rejoice, rather than something over which to despair or feel ashamed, helps others to emerge from the darkness into the light. 

The world is full of cultures of rejection and social control - from conservative religion to political correctness - but these can only lead towards disintegration. A counter-culture spreading a message of acceptance of ourselves and each other warts and all would be characterised so obviously by the joy, creativity and practicality that come from loving community that it could not be too long before it would have to be recognised as the realisation of the old religious dogma’s promise of paradise on earth.

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