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 576 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

A Performance Review of Religion

Copyright: print2d / 123RF Stock Photo

Can we identify a purpose to religious belief and practice and assess for each individual believer the degree to which that purpose is being met at any particular time?

There are three key elements of religion - spiritual experience or perception, dogma and ritual.

What do we mean by the spiritual? Some may see this as something supernatural. I don’t believe in the supernatural. Spiritual perception is perception of connectedness. To recognise that acts of kindness and generosity to those around us are beneficial to us all because our lives are intimately connected is a key spiritual perception. When John Donne said “No man is an island” that was the key spiritual insight. An awareness of our connectedness gives us the wisdom to sow that which we wish to reap.

Jesus gave a particularly powerful expression of this spiritual perception when he said : Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” [Matthew 10:37] Clearly he doesn’t mean himself personally. He is speaking as a mouthpiece for universal love - the force he referred to poetically as “God” or “the Father.” Let’s leave aside the issue of whether he actually believed in universal love as something literally personified by a supernatural being. The point being made is that, whenever we make a division within humanity between “us” and “them” and place the interests of “us” above the interests of “them,” we participate in the generation of war and injustice. When the achievement of harmony and love within the whole becomes a secondary consideration then we set ourselves against what Jesus called “God.” This is not to say we shouldn’t love ourselves and our family and those of our own community. We can’t truly love anyone if we don’t love ourselves. But the more we truly love ourselves the more we love those around us, and if we love ourselves in our entirety then we become capable of loving also our enemies. This, as I see it, is the central perception of Jesus’s philosophy.

Dogma is rigid, unquestioning belief. An example of dogma might be the rules in the Old Testament about what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath. You are not supposed to ask why you can’t do something. You are simply supposed to show your respect by blind obedience.

Ritual can include praying to Mecca at certain times of the day, counting rosary beads or lighting candles, etc.

It can be very instructive to compare religion to obsessive compulsive disorder. In both there is a tendency for anxiety to lead to rigid thinking (dogma/obsessions) and rigid adherence to repetitious behaviour (compulsions/rituals). Obsessive compulsive disorder represents a loss of faith in ourselves and/or in the processes of life. We fear a threat which comes either from ourselves (“I might do something terrible”, “I might have forgotten to turn off the gas”) or from the world around us (“There are germs on everything”.) The state of health is one in which we have a reasonable level of faith in ourselves and a rational perception of external dangers which is free from exaggeration.

In religion adherence to dogma and ritual is evidence of a fear of God. This is generally not seen as a negative. It is considered a compliment to call someone “God-fearing.”

But you can’t love that which you fear. Fear produces one of two responses. We either fight back against that which we fear or we cower back away from it. We embrace that which we love. How can someone who fears their God embrace that God?

Just as anxiety and the obsessions and rituals it leads to are signs of the obsessive compulsive’s pathological lack of faith, so fear of God and the resultant tendency to cling tightly to dogma and ritual is evidence of poverty of spirit in the religious individual.

We can assess wealth of spirit by such characteristics as the ease with which someone can forgive trespasses against them and the inclusiveness of their circle of generosity. It isn’t about what one believes, but about what one feels in their heart and the behaviour which is an expression of that feeling. An atheist can be extremely rich in spirit.

If the aim of religion is to increase wealth of spirit then we can use these simple indicators to assess where religion is succeeding in this purpose and where it is failing. Of course, there are other factors which need to be taken into account. Circumstances unrelated to religion can eat away at our wealth of spirit. But we can make some assessment of the degree to which a person’s experience of religion serves to heal those other wounds or tear them open wider.

Belief in an after-life is often important to religious individuals. The tendency to place a heavy importance on this could also be considered evidence of poverty of spirit. It is all about needing something more for ourselves. If the meal of one’s life is truly rich and satisfying then there is no need to worry about whether or not there will be dessert. But, once again, we need to ask ourselves whether this belief in an after-life has the effect of increasing one’s capacity for forgiveness and widening the circle of one’s generosity. If heaven is a reward, we have to ask ourselves whether God would reward with eternal life those who don’t honour with love the world he created and the people with which he peopled it. To what degree does the belief act as an incentive to forgiving and generous behaviour towards others?

Those of us who wish to increase our wealth of spirit can use this method as a way of determining where to go for guidance. Those like myself who don’t believe in the supernatural might yet find philosophical beliefs or techniques in the systems of those who do which are useful in our quest. And some believers, recognising the shortcomings of their current strategy, may come to an atheist to learn something while not surrendering their beliefs in the supernatural.

While I don’t believe in the supernatural, I don’t think it is any less rational for someone to do so than it is for some physicists to believe in the multi-verse - a series of alternative universes which are as invisible to us as any religious person’s God. Arguing over the existence or non-existence of God is a distraction from the imperative to find ways to open up to our true creative potential as a species - something which requires both the courage to assimilate the truths revealed to us by science and the generosity of spirit to heal all human conflict and injustice.

Copyright: niserin / 123RF Stock Photo

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