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, 25 April 2017

BOOK REVIEW : You Can Stop Masturbation... And End Any Addictions By Reading Simple Stories and Charts by Sesan Oguntade

I was given a free copy of this book to review. I can only do so from the perspective of a happy non-Christian masturbator. For all I know there may be countless individuals who felt that masturbation was a problem for them and who have been rescued from an addiction to it by God and Sesan Oguntade’s book. I look forward to reading about this in their five star reviews of it.

Why would God want someone to give up masturbating? This book is written from a Christian view point and the Gospels don’t record Jesus’ thoughts on masturbation. Some believe that, in the Old Testament, Onan incurred the wrath of God through masturbation, because “he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother” Genesis 38:9 but it is unclear whether he masturbated or practised the withdrawal technique of contraception. Clearly the point of the story is that God killed him because he refused to father a child with his brother’s wife. If there were a divine death sentence against masturbation we would see a lot of evidence of it given the popularity of the practice. And, while you will find repeated prohibitions in The Old Testament against sex with animals, something which is widely frowned upon these days, I don’t think you will find a verse saying “Thou shalt not masturbate.”

He does make a reasonable point however when he directs us to Matthew 5:27-30 :

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

The argument is that masturbation is unlikely to be engaged in without accompanying fantasies or visual aids and that Jesus has said that it would be better to blind or cripple yourself than to be in the thrall of lust in such a way. (Actually Oguntade weakens his own case by quoting from some kind of Gospel for Dummies version which doesn’t explicitly mention the eye-gouging or hand-lopping bit.)

Personally I’m not terribly fond of that passage in Matthew. It seems too much like an advocacy of sexual repression and it seems to me that when we repress our sexual feelings we also repress our capacity to feel love for others in non-sexual situations. Is it such a problem that a man walks down the street with a stream of thought which runs like this : “what a lovely day… oh, I like that car, I wouldn’t mind having one like that… wow! what a sexy woman, I wouldn’t mind making love to her… mmmm, I could really go for a slice of that cheesecake in the bakery window…”? Lust becomes a problem when it takes hold of our heart and propels us to do something which is against our own best interests and the best interests of others, but this is less likely to happen if we get into the habit of feeling and enjoying our free-floating sexual desires without compulsively acting upon them. It is when we try to dam these feelings up and then the dam breaks that bad decisions get made and people get hurt.

Oguntade talks a lot about the problem of drug addiction. I think it is dishonest to write a book about masturbation and try to associate it with the obvious dangers of drug addiction. Most of us don’t think that masturbation is a problem, so the challenge of explaining why we should view it as a problem is something that should be tackled head on rather than getting us primed with talk of people ruining their lives with drugs and then expecting us to view masturbation in the same light without any evidence that it harms anyone’s life. When we look at the expert non-religious testimony on masturbation we find that there is evidence that, by inducing orgasms, it is beneficial to both the body and the psyche.

In discussing the importance of sexual morality, the author talks about the problem of sexually transmitted diseases without acknowledging that masturbation is a help not a hindrance in the fight against such diseases. If everyone with such a disease gave up having sex with others and masturbated instead it would contain the spread. This is an especial serious problem in his native Africa.

Oguntade, who lives in Nigeria, grew up in extreme poverty and found in Jesus the prospect of a way to achieve a successful life through helping others. I think Oguntade’s intentions are good. When he says : “I want to be part of the first resurrection (Revelation 20:5). I do not only desire to be part of it. I want to be a vessel in the hands of God to draw millions along with me,” I believe that he wants this and has faith that it is possible, but the success of a self-help book cannot rest on faith and good intentions. (And if helps if the author can write well and avoid saying things like “…the first steps to solving a problem is to first admit there is a problem in the first place…”) He says that he “believes that the solution to ANY problem lies in the WORD OF GOD.” Any problem? Try looking in the Bible for an answer next time your computer is infected with a virus. I’m sure that faith in God has often given people the sense of reassurance necessary to keep going through adversity, but we need a realistic knowledge of ourselves and our world if we want to find practical solutions to the problems which face us each day.

He does give some advice which seems sound enough for someone trying to break a habit they are unhappy with. Get rid of things which make it easier to indulge in the habit and avoid those people who encourage it. (If you want to break a dope habit, throw out your bong and don’t go to a party with your doper friends, would be an example unrelated to masturbation.) Create a pin-up board on which to pin any pictures, quotes or articles which help to inspire you. Cultivate a positive habit to replace a negative habit. But most of what he has to suggest hangs upon accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour and studying the Bible. 

Now I, too, like to read the Bible, but I read it as a document created by humans in which can be found both wisdom and delusion. In Numbers 15:32-35, we are told that God wanted a man stoned to death simply for gathering wood on the Sabbath. And in 1 Samuel 15:2, we are told that he ordered his people to “put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” belonging to the tribe called the Amalekites. What kind of God wants infants and animals to die for the supposed sins committed by adults? We created this God in our own image. If you feel compelled to commit an atrocity then fool yourself and others that God demanded it. And yet there are those with love rather than hate in their heart, and when they tell me that God is love I am prepared to listen and believe : “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” 1 John 4:16 So my advice to those who chose to read the Bible is to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Reading it uncritically would be unwise.

A Bible-based self-help book needs to have plenty of quotes from the Bible and this is no exception, but the use of quotes often seems superficial. We will need faith in Jesus to succeed, says the author, so here is a quote from the Bible about someone who had faith that Jesus could cure their physical ailment and it happened. We need to accept the error of our ways and return to the true path. Here is a quote about the prodigal son doing that. By contrast, a more appropriate use of a Bible quote to help someone struggling with an addiction might be : “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:24 This fleshes out the Alcoholics Anonymous advice to take one day at a time.

Of course there are also quotes which go to the heart of the author’s dogmatic allegiance which is to a very rigid form of dualism in which the body and the spirt are seen to be necessarily at war with each other. (Actually he says there are three parts - spirit, soul and body - but doesn’t explain the difference between the spirit and the soul.) This is worthy of closer examination. “‘Watch and pray, lest you fall into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.’” Matthew 26:41 This is Jesus speaking to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane about whether they will be able to stay awake through the night with him. This is appropriate. Their spirit - their enthusiasm to stay awake with him - is high, but their flesh is weak - they are tired and that tiredness in their flesh is likely to take precedence over their emotional enthusiasm. But this quote is often used inappropriately. When we give in to lust we may say “My spirit is willing but my flesh is weak.” But in this case, unlike when we are tired, it is the flesh which is strong in its desire and the spirit which is weaker and takes the back seat.

But we should look even deeper than that since this is a book about bodily pleasure. What does the body, in itself, want? It’s primary desires are simple - food, warmth, a modicum of sexual pleasure. So why do are we prone to exaggerated desires - gluttony, lust, power over others, etc. The exaggerating factor comes not from the body but from the psyche. The desire for orgasm comes from the body, but if we feel the need to sniff bicycle seats or be humiliated or tied up or to whip someone in order to experience orgasm then it is some imperative in the psyche which is being responded to.

The spirit and the flesh are different elements but they are not separate, nor are they at war. All spiritual experiences are experiences of the flesh. When we are moved to tears we feel the water well-up in the flesh of our tear ducts and run down the flesh of our face. When we feel awe we experience it as a tingling in our flesh. And if we are called upon to clothe the naked and feed the hungry it is in order to bring comfort to their flesh. The spiritual realm is the realm of immaterial relationships and principles, but it would have no existence without the medium of the flesh. The flesh is the instrument, the spirt the music.

The author doesn’t see it this way. He says, “Anything that belongs and acts out the characteristics of the earth is not normal and usually is contrary to the characteristics of God.”

I think this actually goes to the heart of the problem. The author talks about the story of Adam disobeying instructions and sinning against God and thus bringing spiritual death upon himself and humanity. The “sin” was to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If the intrinsic desires of the flesh - for warmth, food and sensual pleasure - only become a problem when they are exaggerated by something in the psyche, then perhaps this mythological story addresses the issue of how this problem in the psyche originated. We developed some system of morality - “knowledge of good and evil” - which had the unforeseen side-effect of giving us a dark, i.e. “sinful”, side to our psyche. “Sin” could be defined as “rebellion against God” but it could also be thought of as “defiance of moral criticism”. It’s a kind of “shut up with all your bloody thou shalt nots!” We need some kind of principles to guide us in our behaviour with each other, but if those principles are too idealistic - to strict - they produce rebellion rather than obedience. This is because they undermine self-acceptance. The insecure ego can only behave defensively, i.e. selfishly. Attempts by religion to solve this problem have always been compromised by the fact that they are a product of the problem they are trying to solve. The battle is within the mind, between ideals and resistance to the oppressiveness of those ideals. The flesh is not a combatant. It’s the battleground. Selfishness, i.e. “sin”, is not good for us, because it compromises our capacity to thrive as a community, but it’s origin is in excessive tightness of moral restrictions. If to love our neighbour as ourself is the primary objective, then getting hung up on whether we or they like to masturbate to porn would seem to be counterproductive, whereas an addiction to heroine, crack or ice is going to be a major obstacle to that objective which needs to be tackled head on.

Only a small minority of us have a problem with masturbation which is comparable with alcoholism or drug addiction. Sure there are people who find themselves making improper use of a stick of salami in a Walmart washroom or who rub their genitals raw through an anxiety-driven obsession, but most of us simply rub one out and get on with our day.

If we want to assess whether some habit of ours is an addiction we should probably ask ourselves :

1. Does it lead us to do significant harm to others?
2. Are we consciously doing significant harm to our own health?
3. Are we willing to compromise our integrity to get what we want?
4. Does it act as a significant impediment to achieving what we want to achieve in our life?

If the answer to all these questions is “No” I don’t think we need consider it an addiction.

The author asks : “Do you enjoy watching Porno films either on the internet or on television? Do you hang around in the company of friends when they discuss filthy issues?” I answer both of these questions with an enthusiastic “Yes!” The author continues : “If you do all of these, you are polluting your mind and you can be sure that a good act or behavior cannot come out from such a dirty mind!”

Think about what he is saying. Just because I spend twenty minutes masturbating over some pornography, that means that I can’t follow that up with two hours working at a soup kitchen, helping those less fortunate than myself? One kind of action need not exclude another kind of action. What makes a difference is how we think about what we do. It is true that if I felt ashamed of masturbating over pornography, that sense of shame might drain away a good deal of my enthusiasm to help others.

This is another reason why I feel that idealism is a major problem. When we try to make ourselves perfect what we end up doing is to exaggerate the power of those aspects of the psyche we would like to be rid of. A person who feels no shame about masturbation can enjoy it, get the satisfaction they crave, and then be fully available to interact cooperatively and creatively with others, but for the person who wishes to rid themselves of masturbation, their life may become centred mainly around their battle with this natural impulse.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

BOOK REVIEW : How Soon Is Now? : From Personal Initiation to Global Transformation by Daniel Pinchbeck

Can the human  race survive? That is the question addressed by this book.

I’m not sure when I started thinking that we were doomed. Perhaps some time in the 1980s. It seemed obvious to me. We have an economic system dependent on ever-increasing levels of growth, which means ever-increasing consumption of material goods and energy, the production of which are eating away at our ecological life-support systems. Even before there was much attention being given to climate change, it was clear that we were headed toward a metaphorical cliff, and the fact that very few people, at the time, seemed to want to acknowledge it made it seem as if a solution was unlikely. Then, as now, I tried not to think about it too much, but it hung like a black cloud over my head.

Pinchbeck, after much inner-exploration with psychedelic drugs, has come to the belief that we have unconsciously brought this crisis upon ourselves as a way to motivate ourselves through the process of a dramatic metamorphosis as a species - that it is our initiation by crisis into existence as a specie organism - a fully-integrated global society. A similar idea has been expressed by Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman in their book Spontaneous Evolution (Hay House, 2009), which he credits as an influence.

One of the problems with the ecological crisis (not to mention associated humanitarian and economic crises) is that they inspire feelings of fear and guilt in many of us. Fear and guilt can be paralysing emotions. How are we to be motivated to act? Those who would motivate us flood us with scary facts, but these just make us feel more frightened, guilty and hopeless, and so we turn off and seek some form of comfort in more materialism or superficial escapism.

What we need more than scary facts is hope. We need a vision of how something can be done. And Pinchbeck does a great job of outlining such a vision. Of course he can only sketch in the broad outlines of what is possible. He’s not a specialist in energy systems or farming or economics. He has to point us in the direction of those who can help us in these areas.

This is a consistently fascinating book. Pinchbeck’s hyperactive mind and personal, indeed sometimes confessional, approach ensure that. But I didn’t find it an easy book to approach. There is a bitter comfort in putting things in the “too hard” basket. I start to read that I should give up eating meat and minimise buying new products and a large part of me says, “Let the planet burn. Let the innocent people die. I’m not going outside my comfort zone.” And I don’t even drive a car. What is the response likely to be from those who live far outside the bounds of ecological limits? I’m reminded of Matthew 19:24 “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” There’s no room for excess baggage aboard the specie individual.

What is at the basis of this stubbornness? When faced with a challenge, sometimes we grasp it enthusiastically and sometimes we put our head in the sand. I don’t want it to be implied that I’m not a good person. That isn’t what Pinchbeck is saying, but it is how it feels. And how it feels is what matters to motivation. Why does it give us pleasure to do things which deep down we may feel we shouldn’t? Why does the rich celebrity who travels to Africa and sees people living in poverty (and does some charity work there), nevertheless live in a ridiculously ornate mansion? In our insecure state there is a kind of relief to be found in defying what our conscience tells us we should do. This is also the lure of the forbidden. Are we going to squirm in humiliation beneath the bully who says “You mustn’t!” or are we going to feel the power and release of screaming “I will!” To my mind this is the key impasse to the realisation of the kind of plan that Pinchbeck puts forward. His emphasis on the spiritual underpinnings of the transformation acknowledge this, but I think that there are aspects of this psychological dimension that need to be understood more clearly.

The cultivation of unconditional self-acceptance will need to provide the grounding for change. A fully self-accepting individual need not experience a call for a change in their lifestyle as a condemnation. It is through unconditional self-acceptance that we unleash our capacity for the love of others and thus provide a basis for true community. Without this there is a danger that a spreading cultural imperative to adopt an ecological lifestyle might manifest itself in a toxic culture of eco-shaming, equivalent to some of the examples we see today where political correctness has taken a particularly hostile form - decentralised authoritarianism in which individuals take out the frustration of self-imposed discipline by victimising anyone who doesn’t do likewise, or doesn’t appear to be doing likewise. A healing evolution has to be motivated by warm and generous feelings.

I suspect that some may be very nervous about Pinchbeck’s references to Marx and calls for a post-capitalist economic system. The problem is that we’ve seen capitalism bring us rapid technological development and an increase in material comfort for a larger proportion of the world’s population. And we’ve seen an alternative - communism - produce most of the worst horrors of the 20th Century. Capitalism’s success was riding on temporary trends. Now it’s in trouble. Can we transition to something which suits our needs better while avoiding the catastrophe that was communism? Again, I think a lot hinges on the psychological. Has capitalism worked well because it accommodates our selfishness, allowing that selfishness to be the motive engine that drives it, or is our selfishness a product of capitalism? Are we encouraged to want more and compete more because the system doesn’t foster a sense of community which would be counter-productive to it? Of course the two are not mutually exclusive, but I think new economics will be more likely to succeed if the insecurity of ego which lies at the heart of our selfishness is healed.

Pinchbeck also examines the subject of sexuality. Is our materialistic consumption partly fed by pervasive disappointment in our erotic lives? Are we meant to be monogamous? I think this is an important subject to look at. It’s been a troubled area for Pinchbeck himself. But when we repress any aspect of our being we also end up repressing our capacity for openness, honesty, spontaneity and generosity - our capacity for love. So if we are going to have a community which functions more smoothly and productiveness, it needs to be one which knows what to do about erotic desires as an alternative to repressing them. There is unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all answer to this, something which Pinchbeck acknowledges.

When it comes to spirituality, Pinchbeck really throws it all in. He even touches on reincarnation, clairvoyance, tele-kinesis and astral travel. (David Icke’s lizard men get a mention to.) This may lose him credibility in the eyes of many, but he does provide a lot of food for thought for the open-minded. Do these things seem more credible to someone who has taken ayahuasca? Maybe. Since I’m not prepared to take some of these things with a handful of magic mushrooms, I’ll take them with a grain of salt, but it is important to acknowledge that he is only presenting these things as “maybes” and the fact that he has a very open minded on these subjects doesn’t diminish the importance of the bulk of what he has to say. I think he is right that we will need something similar to the religious spirit - a shared vision of something greater than ourselves to unite and motivate us.

He places a lot of importance on the media as a possible way of generating fast change. If new trends spread like wild-fire across television and social media, why not the enthusiasm for this rescue mission along with all the information we will need to bring it about? And look at how the propaganda effort turned around U.S. society to fight World War II. It has to be said though that it is easier to appeal to our hedonism, our paranoia about germs crawling around our bathroom or our latent aggression and xenophobia, than it is to genuinely inspire us toward a community effort. We need autonomous individuals, not sheep, but with that caveat aside I think he is right that both mass and social media can provide us with the network we need to share practical skills and information as well as the kind of vision Pinchbeck provides us with in his book - one of a bright future that yet may be.