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.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

A Non-Supernatural Interpretation of The Holy Trinity

Copyright: bernardojbp / 123RF Stock Photo

I don’t believe in the supernatural, but I have been greatly influenced by the ideas expressed by Jesus in the gospels. I’m a pantheist. For me God is a mythological or poetic way of referring to the creative principle of the universe which is intrinsic to all things, rather than extrinsic, i.e. supernatural - above nature. So I thought I would see if I can meet the challenge of interpreting a key aspect of Christian dogma - the Holy Trinity - in purely non-supernatural terms.

The Trinity consists of :

1. God the Father

2. God the Son

3. God the Holy Spirit (or Ghost)

God the Father

I’ve said that, for me, the term “God” is a poetic way of referring to the creative principle of the universe. Matter is structured energy and some forms of matter have a highly complex form of structure which allows them to grow and reproduce. And some of these highly complex forms have the capacity to use reason to aid their self management. Science is always advancing our knowledge of how this creative process of increasing organisation and complexity takes place. What is undeniable is that it does take place and thus there is a creative principle of some kind at work. This principle is one through which more complex wholes are formed from smaller and simpler wholes, e.g. our body is made up of cells, the cells are made up of molecules, the molecules are made up of atoms.

So all matter and all life comes about because of the agency of this creative principle. “God” created all things.

But what of we humans as individuals? Does the creative principle operate through us? A principle need not operate always by exactly the same means. What brings atoms together to form a molecule is not necessarily the same thing which brings a group of single-celled organisms together to form a community which may later become a single multi-cellular organism. The principle is a tendency for more complex organisations to develop where circumstances allow. The means by which that tendency is realised will change at each level of complexity reached. We humans can make a reasoned decision to come together as a cooperative group, whereas atoms don’t have the capacity of using reason as either a motivation or a means to an end in their formation of a molecule.

So how does the creative principle operate within us? Emotionally it is our capacity to feel love which motivates us to bond and cooperate with others and thus to become a part of a larger social whole. This is a biological process involving the production of the chemical messenger oxytocin. But our intellectual capacity for reason is also a manifestation of the creative principle. It is through this function that we are able to gain understanding of the world around us and bring into being new arrangements of matter which never existed before. Art and technology are expressions of the creative principle.

It has to be remembered that this principle is blind. It is improvisational not goal-directed. It creates an ecosystem the relative stability of which arises from balance. But it can give rise to something which upsets that balance and threatens the system. One of the perennial questions for religious people is : If God is all-powerful why does he allow evil? I think that this conception of the creative principle as God gives an explanation for this mystery. What do we mean by “all-powerful”? Do we mean “able to do anything which is possible” or do we expect this to also mean “able to do the impossible”? Someone who believes in a supernatural God will expect them to be able to do anything which can be imagined, but it may be possible to imagine many things which are impossible. If we don’t believe in the supernatural then “all-powerful” means able to do anything which is possible. If the universe is a deterministic system in which everything which happens is part of an interconnecting web of cause and effect and the creative principle is the process by which all of this happens then that process is “all-powerful”. And because this principle is blind it cannot predict or prevent the rise of destructive tendencies through its own agency. In fact destruction is an intrinsic part of its operation. Death for instance destroys one living being and thereby provides food to other living beings. As long as it occurs in a balanced way the system as a whole is maintained. What we identify as evil is usually destruction which does not seem to confer a benefit on the local system or the larger system. Generally we are thinking of human behaviour when you use the term. We don’t call a tsunami that kills hundreds of people “evil”. So how did human evil arise from the creative principle?

The creative principle gave rise to human intelligence and with this development a powerful new force came into play which had the power to unbalance the systems within which it arose. I’ve said that the creative principle is improvisatory rather than being orientated towards a more distant goal. Improvisation is characterised by spontaneous responsiveness to changes in the environment and therefore a system made up of improvisors is a system likely to maintain its sense of balance. On the other hand, if an individual sets their sights on some goal which is not directly based upon their current environment, then they are liable to act in a way which upsets the balance of the system. We can see this clearly in our time when our power is such that we can destroy whole ecosystems in order to achieve some economic purpose.

One factor in our becoming out of balance must have been the arrival of idealism. The idea that we should strive to pursue good behaviour and avoid bad behaviour and put pressure on others to do likewise is an example of well-intentioned goal-orientated behaviour, but it brings with it the problem that demanding high standards of behaviour from ourselves or others has a tendency to undermine self-acceptance, which is required for us to have the psychological security to sustain loving cooperative behaviour.

This is not to say that goal-orientated thinking and behaviour is to be avoided. Rather it needs to be grounded in an holistic awareness of what is needed to maintain the stability of the system within which we hope to attain that goal.

I’ve said that the creative principle of the universe is blind, but that is only true up until the arrival of human reason. To the extent that we are conscious agents of this creative principle it is not blind - it sees with our eyes and reasons with our mind. To carry creation forward in a sustainable way, however, we need to be released from our propensity for evil behaviour.

Why do we say “God the Father”? Is this simply a reflection of the patriarchal nature of the societies in which mono-theism arose? It seems to me that it does also have a degree of appropriateness as a poetic expression when we consider that it is the male agency which provides the vital ingredient for the life within a woman to be realised. There had been goddesses before this which represented nature itself, but the creative principle is not synonymous with nature. Rather it is a key that unlocks nature’s potential. Of course, in reality it is neither male nor female, these distinctions having been one of its later products. The other thing we have to acknowledge is that, in the Jewish religion God was personified as a stern disciplinarian. So, while an acknowledgement of the creative principle of the universe lies at the heart of the God concept, many people have projected onto this figure various forms of neurotic feelings arising in their childhood.

God the Son

Jesus is viewed both as “the Son of God” and as God himself. If God is the creative principle of the universe then clearly Jesus was a product of this process. In this way he was the Son of God in the same way that we are all sons and daughters of God. But, if love and reason are the manifestations within the human species of the creative principle (i.e. God), then, to the degree that someone loves and is a truthful reasoner, they are the creative principle (i.e. God) in human form.

We may not think of Jesus as a rational man because he spoke poetically, but what he expressed in this way was an insightful description of human psychology and interpersonal relations. He was a untrained but highly skilled psychologist, which explains his reputation as a healer. It seems unlikely that he literally cured the blind, but that he “cast out demons” (i.e. healed people of mental distress) seems perfectly credible.

For the intelligent individual the biggest impediment to effective thinking is dishonesty. Only if we can be completely honest can we think effectively about ourselves, others and the world generally. In Jesus we find an honest thinker, and thus a person in whom the power of reason was strong.

We also have a loving individual, someone who showed unconditional acceptance of people, if not of their dishonesty. He talked honestly to people about their sinfulness (i.e. selfishness), but not in a condemning way. He told them that God forgave their sins because he realised that it was guilt about those sins which made them selfish. His aim was to return them to their capacity to love each other. He spoke harshly of the Scribes and Pharisees because he realised that they were too entrenched in their lies to liberate directly. The best he could do was to break the spell of authority they cast over those who could be helped.

Not only did Jesus speak poetically, but the stories which were handed down about him were mythologised before they reached the written page. Take the story of Lazarus. There may have been a man who was so depressed that he lay there doing nothing and his family said that it was as if he were dead. Jesus finds a way to release him from this state so that he becomes a happy productive member of society once more. The story travels down the grape vine and eventually you have Jesus literally raising a man from the dead.

What about his resurrection? Jesus would have been a very powerful presence, someone who changed those around him in a very profound way. At first the shock of his horrific death would have left his friends inoperable. But he still existed inside them. Who hasn’t experienced a sense that a dead friend or relative is still with them? With Jesus this effect must have been much more powerful. Maybe it was even so powerful that some experienced hallucinations of his physical appearance. What Jesus had given to them was still alive in them. It had a new life, one which made their own lives so meaningful that they did not fear death. What mattered to them was the creative principle. It had become their true self and it is eternal. Thus, for them, they had found the secret to eternal life.

God the Holy Spirit (or Ghost)

The word “holy” means “whole” or “of the whole” and the spirit of something is its essence. What is the essence of the whole? Truth. When we assemble facts coherently into an understandable whole we are perceiving the truth. The truth is the essence of that whole. And in the social sphere, truth holds the potential for cohesion. If we each believe something different we will be divided, but if we can all perceive the truth then it will provide us with a solid foundation for a loving cooperative society. Truth has the capacity to set us free. Science is our main tool for exposing the truth - it is the quest to lay bare the holy spirit. Sometimes the term “Holy Ghost” is used. Like a ghost, truth has an existence separate from the material phenomena it describes, but that existence is of a non-material nature.

The Three are One

How can three things be distinct and yet be one? That is the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus was an expression of the creative principle. Think of an animal. Take a dog. If I point at the dog and say “That is life” I am telling the truth. The dog is an example of life. Life and the dog are the same, but the word “dog” and the word “life” are not synonymous. Life refers to something more extensive than the dog, but it still does refer to the dog as well.

If Jesus was an expression of the creative principle of the universe who spoke truthfully, then when he spoke he spoke for the creative principle of the universe. He was an accurate mouthpiece for the principle. He spoke for God. When he spoke it was God speaking.

Only if he spoke the truth was his voice the voice of God. Truth is the holy spirit. If truth is the defining factor in the voice of a man being the voice of God, then God is Truth. Once again, in the factor of human speech God and Truth are the same thing, but they are not synonymous, because God describes something broader than truth. Truth is God in the same way that a dog is life.

God (the creative principle) is Jesus and Truth (but not just Jesus and Truth).

Jesus is God and Truth (in action) (but not just God or Truth, because he is also a human being).

Truth is God (in one form) and is a defining quality of Jesus (but not just God and Jesus).

The unity of the trinity is a key symbol because it forces us to acknowledge the interconnectedness of all things.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

BOOK REVIEW : Big Dreams : The Science of Dreaming & The Origins of Religion by Kelly Bulkeley

Can dreams have a meaning and purpose beyond that of our brains taking the garbage out each night? In this book, Kelly Bulkeley makes the case that the content of dreams is a worthy subject for scientific study. It is not necessarily easy to study something so personal and subjective, but with a combination of EEGs and fMRIs etc., which can give us insight into which parts of the brain are active during particular kinds of dreams, and dream databases, which gather descriptions of dreams from a wide range of individuals and organise them so they can be searched by keywords, it is possible to obtain some objective data to analyse.

As the title suggests, Bulkley’s ultimate aim is to look at the relationship between dreaming and religion, but, because both of these topics may be viewed as questionable areas for scientific study, he takes his time and works his way up to them progressively, beginning with an account of the role that sleep plays in the lives of animals generally and humans specifically. (We learn that dolphins sleep with one half of their brain at a time - one eye always open for possible dangers, and that bottle nose dolphin mothers and calfs remain awake and in visual contact for over two months straight after the calf’s birth.)

The outline of the book follows the example of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica in that each chapter begins with a question followed by a brief account of an answer to that question which runs counter to that which Bulkeley will be making in the chapter itself. He then makes his detailed counter-argument and ends with a brief summary explaining why he thinks his answer is the more valid one.

A key idea which is introduced in the second section of the book, in which Bulkeley moves on to the topic of dreams themselves, is that dreaming is a form of play. In play we experiment freely with ideas and forms of behaviour in a safe environment. He explains that patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder have a tendency to experience rigidly repetitious nightmares reliving their trauma and that the process of recovery can be charted in the freeing up of the dream process. We can see in this a reflection of waking culture in which creativity and health arise from the ability to improvise rather than be restricted by fixed stereotypical forms of thought or expression.

After setting the scene with the first two sections of the book which deal with the topics of sleep and dreams generally, he moves on to his main subject - “big dreams.” The term comes from Carl Jung. A “big dream” is one which is very memorable and leaves a significant emotional reaction after waking. These dreams are relatively rare, so to study them is a “black swan” approach. The argument here is similar to that of William James when, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, he argued that the best way to increase our understanding of religious experiences was to examine the more extraordinary examples in which defining qualities were exaggerated and thus could be more easily observed.

Bulkeley divides these big dreams into four kinds - aggressive, sexual, gravitational and mystical. His contention is that our ability to experience these kinds of dreams has arisen via natural selection because each of them may convey upon the dreamer a survival advantage. Aggressive nightmares in which we may have to battle against or run from frightening creatures can act as an emotional preparation for dealing with real life dangers. Sexual dreams may help to increase our breeding potential by whetting our appetite for sex and allowing us to mentally rehearse sexual activities. Gravitational dreams - such as nightmares about falling - may have helped our tree-dwelling ancestors to maintain a necessary habit of wariness about the danger of falling out of the tree at night, but they may also act as a metaphor for failure of any kind, thus encouraging wariness generally.

It is with the evolutionary advantage of mystical dreams - such as dreams of flying and visitations from people who are dead - that we get to the heart of the thesis which will feed into the examination of religion. Here the evolutionary advantage is that such dreams stimulate our capacity for hope and imagination. These kinds of dreams may have been the origin of religious beliefs in other plains of existence and the survival of the soul beyond the body, but this is not the only effect that they can have. Bulkeley gives an example of a composer who had a dream about musical composition which continued to inspire him over 25 years after he had it. Perhaps the same lack of inhibitions which allows us to have very “inappropriate” sexual dreams can also set free our creative intuition.

When he gets to the topic of religious dreams in the final section of the book, he discusses four different kinds - those involving : demonic seduction, prophetic vision, ritual healing, and contemplative practice. Here again he takes a leaf out of William James’ book and points out that we can only study what happens in the mind of the individual having a religious experience, we cannot, on the basis of such a study, say anything about the existence or non-existence of the supernatural beings with whom the individual claims to have had contact.

Bulkeley’s approach in this part of the book is not to try to assess in any particular case whether a dream or approach to dreaming had a beneficial effect, but rather to look at whether the idea that it could is credible scientifically. 

When it comes to dreams of demonic seduction he uses a similar approach to that he used with aggressive nightmares and sexual dreams generally. Just as sexual dreams can prepare us to breed successfully, dreams about demonic seduction can prepare us to be suitably wary about the dangers which may occur in the breeding process.

The essential argument with prophetic dreams is that our mind has access to a lot of information about the important things going on in our lives and the dreaming process is one in which our mind is freed up to play around with the possibilities inherent in that information, so it is possible that we might make a better prediction of what lies ahead for us during a dream than we have while awake. This may not happen very often at all, but the fact that it can and that correct predictions are remembered while incorrect ones are forgotten, could explain why we have developed a cultural belief in the existence of dream prophecy.

The concept of dream incubation is central to the discussion of ritual healing through dreams. Many cultures believe that dreams can have a healing influence and there are practices and locations which can help to bring on such healing dreams. Sleep itself is central to the health of the body and the mind, so anything which reassures the individual and thus helps them to sleep more deeply and restfully is going to help the healing process, but the other factor Bulkeley discusses is the placebo effect. There are certain kinds of physical or mental ailment which have been shown to improve significantly simply because the sufferer believed that they would. If we combine these two factors then it is possible that someone going through a process of dream incubation may experience a noticeable improvement in their health because of a reassuring belief in the process, and a feature of that experience may be hopeful dreams or dreams which give good advice (making use of information absorbed but not previously activated). Once again, he is not saying that it works, but that it could conceivably work in some instances.

In the chapter on contemplative practice the emphasis is on pointing out the link between what happens in the brain during dreaming and what happens during meditation. There is also a discussion of lucid dreaming, in which the dreamer can become aware of the fact that they are dreaming and engage in all of the forms of conscious thinking which are accessible in the waking state. Thus dreaming can be a gateway to exploring alternate states of consciousness.

And for anyone who thinks he is too much of a dreamer, Bulkeley makes the following point :

“Dreaming is not opposed to skepticism. On the contrary, dreaming gives birth to skeptical consciousness. When people awaken from a dream (particularly a big dream), they immediately face a profound metaphysical question, one that has puzzled philosophers for ages: How does the reality of the dream relate to the reality of the waking world? This question echoes throughout human life as a conceptual template for critical thought and reflection.”