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, 23 October 2016

Can We Find Anything Useful in Christianity?

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There are many who criticise the supernatural beliefs of the religious. I prefer to take a different approach. What useful and valid ideas are there in a religion which don’t depend on such supernatural beliefs? If we don’t believe in the supernatural, we may be tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater, denying ourselves something profoundly useful because it is presented in a framework which also includes supernatural beliefs. And to take what is not supernatural out and test its effectiveness to bring benefit undercuts the argument that any benefit the religion may confer is evidence for the reality of the supernatural agency or agencies which are believed to lie behind it.

If we look at the philosophy expressed by Jesus in the gospels in isolation from any supernatural belief and outside the context of any particular form of Christian dogma, it centres around the concept of sin as humanity’s central problem and love as its solution.

What is meant by “sin”? This is another word for selfishness. Take the example of gluttony. To enjoy eating is natural and healthy, but if we take more than our share and/or more than is health for us, then selfishness is taking precedence over the interests of others and over our own larger self-interest. Selfishness is not simply self-interest. We are all motivated by self-interest. Our behaviour is driven by our perception of what will maximise our pleasure or minimise our suffering. Selfishness is when our present needs are so powerful that they override our wider self-interest.

What causes selfishness? Selfishness is the natural self-directedness of the suffering or threatened individual. If you hit your thumb with a hammer you will have trouble thinking about anything other than your thumb.

While physical suffering can certainly make us self-directed for the period that it continues, it is not the central source of selfishness. The central generator of human selfishness (i.e. “sin”) is guilt. This is because guilt has the ability to form a negative feedback loop. If we feel guilty about our selfish behaviour then the guilt increases our suffering and thus our selfishness.

It was from this dilemma that Jesus wanted to deliver us. This selfishness generating sense of guilt is what alienates us from our basic loving nature.

What is love? Love is something which allows individuals to communicate and cooperate in a way which brings into existence a larger whole. It is that which allows a group of individuals to operate as a family or, on a larger scale, a community. Loving communication is characterised by openness, honesty, spontaneity and generosity. So clearly selfishness is a barrier to love.

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Jesus gave a name to the ultimate possible form of loving community - “the Kingdom of Heaven”. He saw this as something which exists both within and without the individual. It exists within us as our capacity to feel love and around us in the ways in which love is expressed and the potential that exists for it to be expressed further. The terms “Heaven” and “Hell” do not require a belief in the supernatural to be meaningful. It is illuminating to read each as referring to an imagined potential. Heaven is how the world could be if our natural capacity for love is set free and Hell is a vision of the world of suffering which the guilt-driven double bind inflicts upon us. If we look around at the suffering in the world from war, poverty, preventable disease, mental illness, etc., then we can see that Hell is already with us and that there is the potential for it to get far worse.

Love is driven by pleasure. The pleasure-giving chemical Oxytocin is released into our blood-stream when we engage in loving behaviour, thus rewarding and reinforcing it. Negative emotions such as fear or guilt block this from happening. If we view “God” as a personification of love (amongst other things) then the concept that “God forgives our sins” is a way of acknowledging that what is needed to move away from destructive forms of behaviour is to let go of guilt and fear and reconnect with our love of ourselves and, from that basis, our love of others.

While selfishness is the state in which we thinking mainly of ourselves, bliss is the state in which we forget ourselves. We can see this by thinking about the experience of orgasm. The French refer to it as “le petit mort”  or “the little death” because, in the moment of ecstasy, the ego (the conscious thinking self) is temporarily lost or forgotten. This is a good example because it challenges the puritanical stream of Christianity which saw suffering as being good for the soul and pleasure being harmful. Such a philosophy will tend to make the individual more dependent on belief in a supernatural afterlife by encouraging them to make their current life wretched, but it is unlikely to make them any less self-obsessed, and thus any more loving. Sexual lust is viewed as a sin for the same reason that gluttony is. If someone’s appetite for something is so great that it overrides their concern for the interests of others then it is a form of selfishness which stands as a barrier to love. But healthy erotic desires only turn into lust when we repress them for some reason, often because we have been encouraged to feel guilty about them. Sexual intercourse which consists of the affectionate sharing of pleasurable feelings is rightly described as “making love” (it is accompanied by the release of Oxytocin into the bloodstream). Even where sexual activity may take less healthy forms, repression is generally not the solution. Remove feelings of guilt and behaviour naturally moves in a healthier direction without the need for self-denial.

Creative activity is another example of love at work. While we are caught up in a problem solving exercise or in the creation of a work of art, our attention may be directed towards something outside ourselves to the extent that we forget about ourselves entirely. Only when we are finished do we realise that we are hungry or cold or tired.

The irony is that many turn away from Christianity because all the talk of sin makes them feel more guilty. It seems as if Jesus’ attempt to free us from Hell and admit us to Heaven has largely backfired. But this set of powerful symbols and stories, which has entered so deeply into the collective consciousness of our culture, still holds the potential to guide our transformation if we find the key to unlock it’s potential to do so.

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