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, I-Tunes 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 502 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

BOOK REVIEW : Holy Bible : New International Edition, 1978.



How does the Bible come to take up a central position in the life of someone who doesn’t believe in the supernatural?

It began in my adolescence. Someone gave me a pocket-sized copy of the New Testament, and, out of curiosity, I read The Gospel According to Matthew. It had a profound effect on me. I don’t remember the details of my response at that time. What stays with me was that the line “…I will make you fishers of men” brought tears to my eyes.

I had a very troubled adolescence, the beginnings of a tendency toward depression and anxiety which would plague me up until my mid-forties. I felt both ashamed and afraid of the strength of my sexual desires, desires I lacked the confidence to act on anyway. I developed obsessional thoughts. I was afraid I might gouge out my own eyes or that I might kill a baby.

I wondered what life was all about. I wondered why, if what we most want is to love and be loved, we don’t all just love each other. Why do we pursue things like wealth or fame or power, which are such poor substitutes for love? But then my own capacity to love was eaten up by my fear and guilt.

The gospel of Matthew dropped into this context. Did the thoughts about gouging out my eyes come before I read “…if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away…”, or after? Before, I think, but it wasn’t a conscious part of the obsession.

There was something in this gospel which attracted me, but there was something which stuck into my flesh like a thorn. If the truth hurts, does that mean that what hurts is necessarily true?

I was afraid of my sexual desires. Into that context comes the line “…anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart…” But why would it matter to me that I was committing adultery in my heart? I wasn’t married and anyway I was agnostic about the existence of this God who disapproved of adultery.

I desperately wanted to be reassured that I was O.K. Here was a book telling me I was a sinner. But it was telling me this within the context of a poetically expressed vision of redemption.

Somehow I would need to learn how to resolve my inner conflicts, depressions and anxieties. Whether what I had read in that book would end up helping me with that was an open question.

My parents were Quakers. I was taken to the Quaker meeting house a few times and attended Sunday school there, and some form of religious education was a part of primary school in my time. I don’t remember much of that. It didn’t seem to change things much. I remained an agnostic. My parents were not really religious. Their attraction to the Quaker church, into which my mother was born, had more to do with their pacifist politics.

I read the gospels of Mark, Luke and John a bit later, around the same time I read Sigmund Freud’s A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, where, with some relief, I read about his patients who, like me, suffered from obsessive thoughts about committing terrible acts.

Jesus’ words continued to float around in my mind, but what context could they have in the absence of a belief in a supernatural God or an after-life? The promises of Heaven were no use to me, because I didn’t believe, but the ethical principles were not easy to dismiss. Who could tell me how to live a meaningful life? And who could tell me how to relieve my suffering?

What gradually dawned on me was the idea that there might be another way to conceive of God. I read a biography of the psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich - a student of Freud - who viewed God as a cosmic life energy. According to him, emotional and social problems are caused by blockages in the flow of this energy. This I could related to. I could see that my psychological suffering was associated with fear-based blockages in the free flow of the life energy in my body. Reich associated the free flow of the life energy in the individual with love of others and enthusiasm for productive work.

Wilhelm Reich

Later I would encounter the ideas of Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith, who also provided a non-supernatural definition of God, saying that “God is integrative meaning,” by which he means :

1. The tendency in nature for smaller less complex wholes to integrate and thus form larger more complex wholes - e.g. single-celled organisms forming a community of single-celled organisms and then growing a membrane so that they become a multi-cellular organism with the capacity for increased complexity through specialisation of those cells.

2. The ability of truth to integrate items of data into a coherent framework which allows for the reconciliation of previously conflicting ideas.

3. The fact that love manifests social meaning through the integration of individuals into a functioning community.

Jeremy Griffith

That was over 25 years ago. Only recently I became aware of Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, who looks for psychological insight in the Bible and defines God as “the Logos - the spoken word which brings habitable order out of chaos”. This is compatible with, but less all encompassing than, Griffith’s definition.

Somehow, over the years a framework of belief grew in me which has enabled me to integrate the meaning I finding in the Gospels with the fact that I still have seen no evidence for the existence of the supernatural.

There is a kind of matrix of love which exists in the realm of possibility. This is the Kingdom of Heaven. God is the creative principle of the universe which brings order out of chaos and is expressed in us as love, the force which brings order out of chaos in the social realm. God in Heaven is an imagined possibility, but an possibility having force to change lives through the power of faith in his existence. When order comes out of chaos in the natural or social world, that is God making “his” presence felt in the real world. This is organically arising order, not imposed order.

What are we? We are the creative principle of the universe as expressed within the limitations imposed by a physical body and an individual personality. The physical body and the individual personality are temporary. The creative principle of the universe, which inhabits this temporary form, is eternal. Mortality or eternal life? It depends on your perspective. Identify with the eternal whole of which you are a part, and you are eternal. Identify with your body or your personality and you are mortal. In practise it is a question of whether one identifies more with one’s body and ego or more with the process one is engaged in. A mother who forgets herself in caring for her child, in doing so participates in God because her identification is with the eternal creative process of life itself rather than with her temporary body or personality.

What is love? Love is our awareness that, at base, we are one, all limited parcels of a single creative principle. Love is God. Through love God is made manifest. We can picture God sitting on a cloud in the heaven of our imagination, but when we feel love for others, God is real and active in the world through us. There is nothing supernatural about that, it’s the product of natural evolution. Our capacity for love arose because the nurturing of children is beneficial to a species’ survival.

It is only now that I’ve read the Bible as a whole. The story of Adam and Eve in the Old Testament had been important to me because an interpretation of it plays such an important part in the work of Jeremy Griffith. I was a supporter of Griffith for a while. Now I’m a critic of his ideas. Once I realised I couldn’t agree with the central precept of his theory - that we have a genetically-encoded conscience which is critical of the rational mind’s experiments in understanding - I had to come up with an alternative way to view the internal battle between good and evil.

Adam and Eve, woodcut, Germany, 1514, Metropolitan Museum of Art

If our problems are due to a blockage in the free flow of the life energy, then compromised self-acceptance is central to that blockage. The self-accepting individual looks outward and participates unselfconsciously with others in pleasure and in problem solving. A lack of self-acceptance cause us to look obsessively inward or to interpret the world around us in the light of our need to service our wounded ego. Guilt is a spanner in the works.

Where does guilt come from initially? From a mistake unforgiven or a demand for improved behaviour we find ourselves unable to accommodate. In a world full of angry and selfish behaviour, guilt may often seem justified. But how did our propensity for anger and selfishness grow?

Idealism is the root of all evil. Somehow we arrived at the idea that we should make a strict division between good behaviour and bad behaviour and strive to promote the former and restrain the latter through both self-discipline and the imposition of social discipline on others. On the surface this seems reasonable, which is why our problems have persisted so long. The problem with it is that it tends to undermine self-acceptance. The individual pursuing self-discipline gradually accrues a feeling of guilt over his mistakes. And when he feels that others are being too strict in their demands for improved behaviour, he gets angry at the criticism. All of this begins small. We begin with give and take, with self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others. But overtime the love has trouble compensating for the corrosive effect of the idealism.

This is what the story of Adam and Eve is about. They eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, i.e. their experimenting minds arrive at the concept of idealism, and, as a result they become ashamed of their nakedness and clothe themselves. Nakedness is a symbol for honesty. In the absence of idealism we are happy to be honest, to let it all hang out, but once we feel that we may be judged for our imperfections we feel the need to cover our asses with a protective coat of lies. The devil is described as “the accuser” and also as “the father of lies”. Idealism accuses us of not being good enough and in so doing inspires us to lie. And the arrival of idealism also cast us out of Paradise, our unselfconscious existence in nature, and alienated us from God, because, when our self-acceptance is undermined it opens up a black hole in us which drains our ability to love others and thus to participate in God.

There is much in the early parts of the Old Testament which I had a hard time seeing in any kind of positive light. Why are these people killing all these cows and sheep and burning them? What good will that do? Who is this God who tells his followers to kill a man for gathering wood on the Sabbath? Why does he tell them to slaughter all those infants when they lay a town to waste?

Jordan Peterson helped me to see these things in a different light - to see the Old Testament as an account of how our concept of God evolved. We have a habit of approaching some problems by doing things and then asking ourselves why we are doing them afterwards. So we performed the idea of sacrifice before we came to really understand the practical nature of sacrifice. i.e. making a bargain with the future in the way that we sacrifice a few years at college in order to get a high paying job as a lawyer. Burning something valuable to us so that the universe could smell it seems primitive to us now, but we have the benefit of hindsight.

Jordan Peterson

As I came to the end of the Old Testament it occurred to me that it was really a story about the importance of maintaining integrity, personal and social. Some of the laws may seem unreasonable now, but the aim was to find a codified way to mediate conflicts and thus maintain the integrity of the society. If there were a prejudice prevalent at the time, that would be reflected in the laws. Most of us don’t believe in slavery, so owning slaves is against the law in our countries. At the time the books of the Old Testament was written, owning slaves was considered acceptable, so laws are about how to treat slaves. This is a problem for those who believe in a supernatural God who could have got Moses to tell people to release their slaves. It is not a problem for someone who sees the Bible as a human document recording our search for the divine.

If the Old Testament is treated like a novel in which integrity is presented as an all-too human figure, then it makes more sense. A jealous God sending out armies to attack cities and slaughter their inhabitants seems unworthy of worship, but if we see the moral of the story being - “If you don’t maintain your personal integrity and the integrity of your society, both will be laid waste utterly!” - then it makes sense. God is blood-thirsty and vengeful only because he is a fictional character representing realities which we ignore at our peril. He is also loving, because if we work with reality, we are liable to be blessed. A farmer who diligently tends to his fields is liable to prosper and eat well; one who sits under a tree drinking and forgets to sow his seeds is liable to starve. In this scenario, God’s nature is determined by our behaviour not by God’s will.

One of the ways individuals and societies come a cropper in the Old Testament is by worshipping idols. If God is a representation of integrity, to worship an idol is to value something else more highly than we value our integrity, to “sell our soul” for riches, fame, power, or whatever. When we do that, it doesn’t end well.

The emphasis in the Old Testament is on laws and the need to obey them. It is lots of “thou shalt not” and not much “it would be a good idea if we”. A stranger could come to your door fatally wounded and looking for help. If you turned them away and closed the door on them, you wouldn’t be breaking any of the Ten Commandments.

With Jesus we get the articulation of a positive way to live. Love your neighbour as yourself. Be non-judgemental. Be humble. Be generous. Be honest. Value human relationships over wealth.

His message was that “the Kingdom of Heaven” is close to us - the potential matrix of love is all around us and inside us, just waiting to be made manifest - and that we should repent of our sins. Sin is a religious word for selfishness. We are selfish because our compromised self-acceptance turns us inward so that we view the social world from the perspective of our need to reinforce our wounded ego. Feeling guilty about being selfish doesn’t help. If just makes us more selfish. The Greek word which is translated as “repent” apparently means, more literally, have a change of consciousness. He was telling us to change our consciousness in such a way that we could open up the Kingdom of Heaven. He assured us that God would forgive our sins. If God is the love which manifests when the guilt which blocks it is removed, then of course the sin is of no importance once the floodgates are opened.

What of the Book of Revelations? I don’t pretend that I can make sense of its complex symbolism. I’m no Jordan Peterson. But this is the gist of it as I see it. The social world is built on lies and delusions. The apocalypse, or revelation, is what happens when this becomes apparent because humanity arrives at a framework of understanding which exposes all others. This is the point at which the little boy points out that the emperor is naked. Jeremy Griffith thinks he has that framework of understanding. He’s wrong. But it is on its way. Wherever there is earnest dialogue amongst the informed, it is coming into being.

Copyright: rolffimages / 123RF Stock Photo

What about the judgement and the “lake of fire”?

One of the things that happened on my journey was that I faced a crisis where the bottom dropped out of everything for me. I lost all faith in myself. I ended up strapped to a hospital bed begging doctors and nurses to kill me because I felt that the whole of human history, all the suffering of the countless millions and the effort they had put in, was all going to come to nothing, to be rendered worthless, all because of my weakness.

When the bottom drops out of your world and you find yourself naked in the face of the unknown, it feels a lot like hell. So I don’t see it as a matter of judgement and condemnation. The warning is to follow the path of truth, so that there is always something dependable under your feet. But if I can come back from hell, anyone can.

“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged accord to what they had done as recorded in the books.” Revelations 20:12

If we achieve a full understanding of our psychology and how it relates to the rest of the natural world, it stands to reason this will change our attitude to people who are now dead. Some will be revealed to be closer to the truth and others further from the truth than we had generally believed. I think this is the kind of judgement being described, but we shouldn’t underestimate how disturbing this may be for many of us. Our ego gets very bound up with our beliefs and to find that we were wrong in a very profound way is disturbing.

I would like to believe that, if this massive shake-up is on the way, carrying with it the likelihood of intense and widespread existential crisis, maybe the ideas which helped me to repair the damage brought on by my own crisis of this sort, expressed in my book How to Be Free, will also be a help to some others.

Of course there is so much more which is worth saying about the Bible, but this will have to do for the time being. 

Friday, 4 August 2017

BOOK REVIEW : DMT - The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman, M.D.


What if we could trace the biochemistry of mystical or religious experiences? Materialists might see this as a way to explain away such events as aberrations arising from physiological disfunction, much as they sometimes tend to see depression as nothing more than a shortage of serotonin, as if the happiness of a dog were produced by a sufficient amount of tail-wagging. This would be no more rational than to think that our understanding of how the eye works lessons the size and magnificence of the galaxies we can see with it. The reality of such experiences can best be assessed by the effect they have on the lives of the experiencers. This says nothing about whether anything experienced as existing in an external physical sense actually has that independent existence. Think of it this way. If you read Hamlet, you are reading a work of fiction, but the play actually exists as a coherent creation which has the power to effect how you live your life. If someone has an experience which is far richer and more powerful than that, but of which there is no identifiable author, then that is something real, the mysterious nature of which is not so easy to explain away.

N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a powerful, fast-acting psychedelic drug, the active ingredient in the ayahuasca brew used by Amazonian tribes for their shamanistic rituals. It is very similar in structure to serotonin, and occurs naturally in many plants and animals, including humans. Between 1990 and 1995, Dr. Rick Strassman administered this drug intravenously to 60 volunteers. This was the first psychedelic drug research on human volunteers to be performed in the United States in over 20 years. While the avowed aim of the research was to test the physical effects of the drug at different dosages, Strassman was hoping to explore his theory that such altered states of consciousness as near-death experiences, dreams and psychotic hallucinations might be mediated by the body’s production of DMT. He calls the substance “the spirit molecule” and believes that it may be produced by the pineal gland. (In 2013 researchers reported finding DMT in the pineal gland of rodents.) DMT is very fast acting when injected. The trip would begin almost instantly and be completely over in half an hour.

Some of Strassman’s volunteers did describe mystical states or something akin to a near-death experience. But the hardest thing to explain was that a significant number had encounters with alien beings, some of whom performed probes or other surgical procedures on them. The similarity to reports of alien abduction couldn’t be ignored. Strassman initially tried to use the conventional psychoanalytic approach to dreams, looking for some symbolic relationship between the drug experience and the key current issues in the volunteers life. This was not productive. The volunteers insisted that these were not dreams, but something more real than everyday reality. So Strassman was forced to adopt the strategy of viewing these creatures as something which might actually exist in some sense. The best hypothesis he has been able to come up with is that they are the inhabitants of some kind of parallel universe or some realm of dark matter. This is a troubling idea, especially since one poor man was pack raped by alien alligators in this DMT realm.

Not surprisingly the most interesting part of this book is the account of the psychedelic experiences of the volunteers. The book as a whole is tantalising and fascinating but a little unsatisfying, because there is still so little data on which to assess Strassman’s hypotheses. This is hardly his fault. He explains in great detail how hard it was to organise his study, how many things went wrong and why he wasn’t able to go on to further studies. By honestly and clearly describing the struggles, the risks and the mistakes, along with his inspirational vision of what could be in the future if enough people support psychedelic research, he has provided an indispensable resource.