Friday, March 2, 2018

New Beginnings for GE

I am not a financial adviser and am essentially ignorant of stocks.  I am a professional "psychic" who reads Tarot cards in order to advise my clients, who include CEOs of some big companies, about their personal and business prospects.  The stock market is a new experiment for me.  I originally wrote this blog article for Seeking Alpha, who rejected it on the basis that it is "not relevant to finance and investing" and "not suitable for our audience."

About a year ago, at the recommendation of a friend, I began to explore the stock market using psychic predictions.  Although I did not have specific percentages, at the end of the year my predictions were overall correct in terms of rise or fall of a few stocks. 

Encouraged, I decided to pursue it further, although I felt uneasy because I normally use my empathic skills to tune in to my clients, and found it difficult to "connect" with a faceless corporation.  I need a voice or a face.

My friend provided me with a photo of John Flannery, who became my first test subject for this new approach a month ago.  Focusing on the photo, I pretended that Mr. Flannery was one of my psychic clients calling to ask me about the future of his business.  I placed the Tarot cards and they said he is a smart man, motivated, knows what he is doing.  The cards showed big personnel changes.  They also showed technological advances which would be profitable.  They showed short-term loss, with recovery by the end of the year.

I have done another Tarot reading today which reveals:  First card, the High Priestess, which usually refers to spirituality and God hearing our prayers.  I was puzzled as to what this could mean in a business context.  Googled Mr. Flannery's religion and found nothing.  However, further search indicated, "He says he is 'looking for the soul of the company again.'”  Ah yes, that fits!  And Flannery as Knight of Pentacles is in the beginning stages of accomplishing this.  He has the sincerity, will, hard work, motivation and focus.

Conflict in the foundation, and a dark cloud hangs over the company.  The previously shown personnel changes continue into the near future, with people being literally flung out the windows of corporate headquarters.  The cards show the Empress, a powerful woman, joining the company by summer, maybe to replace Beth Comstock, or maybe another board member.
The cards refer to advances in marine technology as a key turnaround in profits.  Auto technology is also featured, possibly related to breathalyzer equipment or enhanced safety using digital guidance and/or autonomous vehicles.  Some new product is available by Christmas.  The outcome of the reading is new beginnings and better teamwork, with significant recovery by the end of this year or early 2019. 

As stated previously, I am ignorant of stocks, but the one thing I do know is:  "Buy low, sell high."  GE is pretty darn low right now, and under the guidance of Mr. Flannery and the mysterious Empress, I predict it will improve significantly by the end of the year, at least to $20 if not more.

Saturday, February 3, 2018


I was invited to answer a question on Quora:  "How is consumerism related to the lack of spirituality?"  Good question!  I replied thus:

You may have heard the expression, “There’s a God-shaped hole in our heart” or, as St. Augustine put it, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

Blaise Pascal said, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

C.S. Lewis expressed it thus:  "Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions.  Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it -- made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.”

This concept is by no means limited to the Christian religion. Nearly all faith traditions have some variation thereof, the idea being that we exist for Divine Love and have a natural yearning to fill that void in our heart that nothing else can satisfy.

Consumerism reflects our attempts to obtain fulfillment by purchasing material goods. Advertisers exploit the emptiness by assuring us, “You will finally be happy once you own that car, big-screen t.v. or other electronic device, etc.,” and also by addressing our insecurities: “You’re not good enough the way you are. You need these fancy new clothes, shoes, jewelry, makeup, a makeover, plastic surgery…” But it’s never enough. Nothing is an adequate substitute for Love.

* * *

Fellow Quora participant Johnny Dee offered some very insightful commentary about incompleteness, wholeness, being, time and death, which brought to mind Heideggar's "Being and Time."  The discussion (the entire thread of which can be found here) then took an interesting tangent, however, into the realm of gnostic dualism when he said: 

I still maintain, though, we are not complete until we die. If we were complete, or Whole, there would be no reason to learn, to grow, to realize even more of our potential here as physical beings. At death, we remain One with all creation, or Whole, only we’re no longer encumbered by flesh.

* * *

I'm glad Mr. Dee brought this up, because it is an important topic worthy of revisiting.

"Encumbered by flesh"?!  Ah, once again that insidious old gnostic dualism, which has managed to infect nearly every spiritual tradition on earth, rears its ugly head.  As I've discussed in previous posts, this is the philosophy that spirit is good, matter is bad; the flesh is a prison from which the soul yearns to escape; physicality was a mistake, or maybe the creation of a demonic being intended to trap and enslave us in the material world.

All yoga traditions teach that taking birth as a human is a blessing because it is our opportunity to know God and/or attain enlightenment.  But paradoxically, many yogis regard the flesh as an obstacle to achieving that end despite being practitioners of a system which, especially in modern times, is centered around bodily physical activity (asana or poses).  They may even view yogic manipulations of the body and breath, including tantric sex, as the means of escape from the body, desiring to transcend the flesh so as to become "more spiritual" or "enlightened."

We in the classical tantric tradition as represented by Heart of Yoga do not, however, share that view.  In fact, just the opposite.

Many people, if they have heard of "tantric yoga" at all, are aware of it as "tantric sex," but that's only one aspect of this tradition.  In the broader sense tantra, literally "weaving together," is about integration of the physical and spiritual.

There are several possible approaches to Yoga - Union - depending on personality, philosophy and religious background, if any.  As a bhakti-tantrika and an Episcopalian, I'm really into devotion and therefore use the "God" language.  If that doesn't work for you, you can substitute "the Universe," "Consciousness," "Oneness" or whatever.

From my perspective, the physical world is a manifestation of divine consciousness where God experiences everything in and through us.  Therefore we present our body, breath, soul and all sensual pleasures - food, drink, beautiful fragrant flowers, the kiss of sunshine, the caress of the breeze, music, art, dance, sex, everything! - as an offering to the Divine.

Wiccans have a similar philosophy in which the Goddess says:  "For behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.  And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence within you."

The Christian parallel to this is, "I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship." (Romans 12:1-2)

As Krishna says in Chapter 9 of the Gita, "I am the oblation and the flame into which it is offered...  For I am the only enjoyer and the only God of all sacrifices."

The Vaishnava bhakti tradition as represented by ISKCON, whose meetings I attended in college, "gets" this concept to an extent, in that they offer their delicious vegetarian food and devotional songs, as well as any kind of labor or charitable service performed, to Krishna.  Tantrikas take it further.

Whereas ISKCON recognizes in theory the different relationships devotees can have with the Divine - as master, parent, best friend, child or lover - their doctrine teaches that we on earth are too impure to dare approach God, unworthy of real intimacy with Him.  Instead,  in the hope of improving our karma, we must follow a list of very strict rules having a good deal of overlap with fundy evangelical Christianity except for diet, which the latter religion lacks.  We can only pine for Him from afar, hoping someday to become worthy of incarnation as gopis (his girlfriends) in Krishna Loka.  This "longing" for the Lord is considered the highest possible spiritual experience for sinful earth-bound beings like us.

The Christian parallel to Krishna Loka is the heavenly Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the Bridegroom Christ.  This awaits us after death, whether immediately or following a stay in purgatory, which serves much the same function as reincarnation in the eastern tradition.  We need a clean wedding garment.

Bhakti-tantrikas are not content to yearn for God from afar and we don't want to wait for the wedding.   Madly in love, God-intoxicated, we will sneak out to meet the Beloved in the forest at night if that's what it takes.  We don't care if Swami Prabhupartypooper, the Fun Police or anybody else says it is forbidden and/or impossible, or if our reputation is ruined.  We are not worried about unworthiness because we trust the Beloved and throw ourselves utterly on His mercy.  Longing for the Lord is itself purifying, and in His embrace all dross is consumed in the holy fire of Divine Love.  We exist for this Love.  We do not believe that embodiment is an obstacle to Divine intimacy; rather it is the vehicle!  

Far from being an "encumberment," the flesh is a mountaintop temple where earth meets sky and heaven unites with creation.  In this holy place we consort with Divinity.  Our spouse is literally God's Love for us in the flesh.  That is why the tantra yoga that we practice, whether solo or with a partner, is called "whole body prayer."  Through pranayama, asana and bandha, we offer ourselves body and soul to the Lord, the Enjoyer, who created us for Love and whose touch takes away all sin, pain and sorrow.

The God-shaped hole in our heart is not a design flaw; it is the design.  And the material creation was not a mistake or a demonic trap; it was supposed to be a paradise.  That paradise still exists untarnished in our heart, in the center of our being: heaven, eternal, outside of time, nearer than our own heartbeat.

We don't need to wait until some distant future incarnation when we will finally be "enlightened" or "pure" enough.  As our teacher Mark Whitwell says, "It is not enlightenment that we need, but intimacy."  It is possible right here and now, and forever after.  We don't have to become a better person first; it's the other way around.  The more quality time we spend in Divine Communion, we will be purified by it, transformed into a clear channel for Love, light, peace, grace and Holy Wisdom to flow through us into the world and bless all beings.  And our communion while still here on earth prepares us to better appreciate whatever comes next.

In the event the atheists are correct that consciousness is just a function of the brain and death brings only oblivion, which cannot be ruled out empirically, all the more reason to make the most of the opportunity for Holy Communion here and now.  Ideally at the moment of death, being so prepared, we will step into that timeless, eternal dimension which we first explored while still embodied.  Love beckons.  Why wait?

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Trap of Positive Thinking

I finally decided to address this topic because it keeps coming up in conversations with friends and acquaintances on social media, as well as my counseling clients.  It is a New Age idea which has managed to pervade nearly every spiritual tradition today and is variously called "positive thinking," "law of attraction," "manifesting," "word of faith" or "prosperity gospel." I've heard variations on the theme from Hindus, Christians, pagans and sometimes even Buddhists, who ought to know better.  It's particularly popular among people who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious" and those who are fond of quantum physics and want to believe that the Copenhagen Interpretation works on a macroscopic level, i.e. that our thoughts control external events in the material world.  Except it doesn't, and they don't.  And that's actually a good thing, as I will explain later.

Now, it is true that our thoughts and perceptions do "create reality" in a certain sense, namely our subjective experience of reality.  We know from physics that the "material world" objectively is comprised of patterns of energy, and what we perceive as "solid objects" are mostly empty space.  Our human nervous system interacts with those energy patterns and our brain interprets and organizes the data to create a coherent world, which we call the "consensus reality" that is shared by most non-psychotic people.  Additionally, our thoughts and feelings do affect our subjective reality in so far as we label experiences as "good" or "bad" and then react to those experiences.  We can choose how we will label and respond to the events in our lives and decide to be happy or sad.  We can use affirmations to motivate ourselves like Al Franken in the delightful movie, "Stuart Saves His Family" as he looks into the mirror and says:  "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!"  But, that is not what the proponents of Positive Thinking are talking about.

Rather, it is "magical thinking," the belief that thinking, affirming or saying something can actually make it happen in the external world.  Regardless of the tradition or name, it's the same basic idea:  Positive thoughts attract good things into our life, while negative thoughts make bad things happen.  When we think positively, say the right affirmations, or quote certain Bible verses, God or the universe will reward us accordingly with good health, prosperity, and whatever else we desire.  The downside to this belief is that when we suffer from any kind of misfortune, we have no one to blame but ourselves, because we must have attracted it by our negative thinking.  Therefore, it is vitally important to "stay positive" at all times lest we invite disaster.  Every passing negative thought evokes fear, which can only be overcome by obsessively micro-managing what in yoga we call "the Monkey Mind," the normal internal chatter that nearly everyone experiences, a task akin to whack-a-mole.

The Christian version of magical thinking, "the prosperity gospel" or "word of faith," treats the Bible as if it were a Magic Book containing spell-like verses, e.g. Mark 11:22-24, which when recited with just the right kind and amount of faith, will get us whatever we want.  "...Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."   One problem with this is, as C.S. Lewis has pointed out, it doesn't actually work.  At least, it didn't work for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, nor has it consistently worked for anybody else in the last 2000 years.  So either He was lying, or something got translated wrong, or we are misunderstanding what He meant, or as the atheists say, it's all pure fantasy to begin with.
The other problem with "prosperity" theology is that it is heresy.  Now, I am by no means the Grand Inquisitor, this is not the Spanish Inquisition and I won't be torturing anybody by poking them with cushions in the comfy chair, but let's call a spade a spade.  The funny thing is, this heresy has become so popular that most Christians don't even question it.  In fact, mainstream Christians often accuse me of being "unbiblical" or a "not a real Christian" whenever I point out that it is an incorrect doctrine.  Even the President of the United States has adopted this theology and surrounded himself with pastors who promote it.  "God wants you to have that Mercedes Benz!  Amen!  Name it and claim it!"  Your ownership of the Benz is proof of your faith and being in a state of grace.  Whereas, if you're poor, clearly you are not blessed and you'd better straighten up and get right with the Lord.

Besides having no basis whatsoever in reality, magical thinking of whatever variety is a bad idea for a number of reasons, including:
1.  It is the ultimate "blame the victim" theory.  When things go wrong, people bear the additional burden of beating themselves up for "not being positive enough." This is particularly unhelpful for people suffering from depression.
2.  Obsessing over negative thoughts only gives them more power, creating anxiety and paranoia.
3.  It reinforces ego attachment to being happy when we get what we want, and sad when we don't, which as Buddhists know, is counterproductive.
4.  The constant internal battle to control one's thoughts requires a lot of energy that could be better spent doing something constructive, and besides, who is fighting with whom?
5.  It encourages almost narcissistic self-absorption in our own petty thoughts while the rest of the world is going to hell in a handbasket with wars, famine, etc.
6.  When positive thinking fails to manifest the desired outcome in the external world, we blame ourselves, resulting in a negative self-image; see #1 above.

I am sure at least one person will object, "But it does work!  It works for me.  I manifest what I want all the time" or, "God gives me whatever I pray for."  Well, if in fact this is true and you're not merely delusional or in denial, all I can say is, "good for you!"  However, for the vast majority of people, it's hit or miss.  Were this not the case, their lives would certainly be very different.  Everybody who manages to "stay positive" would have excellent health, the perfect mate and children, a job that they love and pays well, the car, the house and everything else they need or want.  I don't see that happening in the real world even among the most "positive" people I know.  And I used to be one of them, as discussed in a previous blog post, until I received my degree from the School of Hard Knocks.  It should also be pointed out that plenty of "negative," un-spiritual or even downright mean people are healthy, wealthy, and sleep like a baby on satin sheets laundered by their low-paid illegal immigrant servants.

So no, your thoughts do not create external reality.  What a relief!  But, what if you suffer from depression or persistent negative thoughts?  The first step is simply to stop beating yourself up.  As I tell my counseling clients:  "It is OK to feel whatever you are feeling at any given moment."  Really?!  Yes!  Contrary to what you've been told by the Positivity Police, your emotions, happy, sad, and everything in between, are a valid and rich part of the human experience.  As Khalil Gibran wrote, "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."  Thoughts and feelings come and go; no need to cling to them, push them away or obsess over them.  Are you sad now?  Give yourself permission to fully experience it.  Have a good cry if you want.  This too shall pass and you will be happy again in the future.  Are you happy now?  Be thankful, and enjoy it while it lasts, because it's temporary.  As the George Harrison song "Crackerbox Palace" says, "Some times are good, some times are bad, that's all a part of life."

The only lasting happiness is the deep inner Bliss that comes from a consistent spiritual practice, enabling us to connect with the Divine in the center of our being.  This is like the quiet depth of the ocean which remains undisturbed despite the storms and waves on the surface.   For the yogi or the mystic, this is always available regardless of what may be going on in the ups and downs of life's endless drama. 

People trapped in the Positive Thinking paradigm often ask me what to do about negative thoughts.  Well, as stated above, it's usually not necessary to "do" anything because the Monkey Mind is easily distracted and will soon move on to the next shiny object that grabs its attention.  But, if you are troubled by persistent or obsessive thoughts, it can be helpful to use a mantra, prayer or favorite scripture verse, just like we do during meditation.  Instead of focusing on the negative thought, which will only give it more power, mentally say your mantra.  E.g. for Hindus, "om namah Shivaya" or "Hare Krishna."  "As Above, So Below" is well known among pagans.  A popular one for Christians is the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." A good Bible verse is, "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."  If you repeat the prayer with sincere devotion, it will eventually echo in your heart at all times.  

Some Christians believe that the devil puts negative thoughts into their head, and are therefore particularly anxious whenever these arise.  There is no consistent agreement among theologians in this regard, but if there is a devil, this theory only gives him more power.  It may even be one of his greatest tricks because on top of the original negative thought, your mind is now occupied worrying about the devil and what you fear he may be doing.  Personally I think people give the devil way too much credit.  Psychology would suggest that human beings are more than capable of generating negative thoughts all on our own.  In any case, you are engaging in a battle which has already been won by Christ.  You could remind the devil of this, and tell him, "I rebuke you in the name of Jesus!"  However, again, you'd be wasting time arguing with the devil instead of talking to God.

Letting go of the attachment to positive or negative thinking, or really to our thoughts and desires in general, is so very freeing.

My own approach to all this is to stay focused on God and leave everything in His hands.  When I wake up the first word on my lips is "Jesus."  I pray, "Lord, I give to You this day and always, all of my thoughts, words, deeds and feelings.  May You be glorified and may all beings be blessed."  If I had nightmares, I give them to Him.  If I have anxiety, I give it to Him.  I repeat the Jesus Prayer as needed and it keeps going in the background, to bring to attention at any time during the day.  If your mind is occupied with God there's no room for anything else.  And frankly, it's a helluva lot less work than the exhausting and ultimately futile struggle to micromanage every single thought that the Monkey Mind generates.  And then I get up and "Do what needs to be done," mindful that God is the only doer.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Wall: An Aging Yogini Reflects on Music, Meditation, Money and Mortality

I painted this picture in 1977, when I was 14 years old.  It was based on one of my favorite songs, "The Wall" by Kansas.  The painting had been packed away in a cardboard tube for years, all but forgotten, until "coincidentally" it was rediscovered last September just 2 weeks before Kansas came to play here at the Marina Civic Center.  We had finished renovations on the trailer and were in the process of moving when I found the box containing the tube.  Somebody, either my husband or his teenage son, had removed the contents of the tube to look at them and left them lying out in the open box, resulting in damage to the brittle old painting which was falling apart.  When I saw my damaged painting I burst into tears.  Other keepsakes from the tube included a couple of psychedelic concert posters from Haight Ashbury and the Hildebrandt painting "At the Grey Havens" from a 1978 Tolkien calendar.  All of these art pieces brought back poignant memories very relevant to the emotionally volatile perimenopausal state in which I find myself as I reflect back on my life.  Where did the years go?!

Born at the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation, I was too young to attend the concerts featured on those posters, which I collected later because I identified with the values and art of my older brother and sister flower children.  Gazing at the posters, I was suddenly struck by the passage of time and a deep sadness. What happened to our dreams?  It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, we were going to change the world, end the wars, bring about a new era of peace, love and harmony.  But the world did not want to change.  Instead, 40 years later, the world is now going to hell in a handbasket thanks to fundie religion and despotism at home and abroad, endless wars and the erosion of civil rights.  Here I am approaching menopause, while young women like my goddaughter and stepdaughter are in the midst of a battle that I thought we'd already won back when I was their age.

Life in the "real world" did not at all turn out the way I'd imagined in my youth.  I was spoiled by the charmed existence that was my childhood, had a life of luxury and lacked for nothing.  I was really into music and thought I might become a rock star, or else possibly marry one.  My parents were totally supportive of my dreams and creativity.  They never discouraged my ambitions even though I was not in fact very talented.  Believing that the arts were an important part of a person's education, they provided me with abundant art supplies and bought me guitars and lessons.  At one time I could actually play a few of my favorite Kansas songs on the guitar, albeit poorly and mostly for accompaniment.  I was better at singing than playing an instrument and later sang in choir after I joined the Episcopal Church and did play guitar at the folk mass.  While I never became a rock star, in more recent years I've been a star at karaoke.  I did sort of marry the ultimate Rock Star when I became a Third Order Sister and lived as a solitary for 14 years until unexpectedly meeting my partner in 2005.

We bought the tickets to the Kansas concert even though we really couldn't afford it, because we were thrilled that they were actually coming right here to our little town.  The guys were getting older and we didn't know whether or when that opportunity might happen again.  The VIP seats up front, available through the fan club, included various merchandise which I didn't care about, but also backstage passes and would have cost us $200 each.  I dearly wanted to see the guys again but it was absolutely out of our price range.  The last time I'd seen them in concert in South Florida, the after-show backstage meet and greet was free.  That seemed like just the other day but I realized it was actually 20 years ago!  As it turned out, the lineup had changed and Steve Walsh was now retired.  We couldn't help missing Steve even though the young man, Ronnie Platt, who took over for him did an excellent job and sounded exactly like him.  Our cheaper seats, along with generous "adult sippy cups" of wine and bottles of water, ended up costing a total of $100, a lot of money for somebody facing bankrupcty.

Ironically, my inability to afford the concert was at least in part due to the fact that in my youth I had bought into the antimaterialist philosophy expressed by the song:  "Gold and diamonds cast a spell/ It's not for me, I know it well/ The riches that I seek/ Are waiting on the other side/ There's more that I can measure/ In the treasure of the love that I can find" and others, like this one by Styx, which I also used to be able to play on guitar:  "Pieces of eight/ The search for the money tree/ Don't cash your freedoms in for gold/ Pieces of eight/ Can't buy you everything/ Don't let it turn your heart to stone."  When I was young, I thought money was not important, and believed that by being a spiritual person, the universe would ensure that my material needs would be met, which turned out not to be true.  While it is true that my poverty had other contributing factors including professional licensing changes, jobs being sent offshore, a faltering economy, and illness, as I have discussed elsewhere, it cannot be denied that I focused more on music and meditation than on career and money, and it is possible that my material situation would be better, had my priorities been different.

From age 13 on, I spent lots and lots of time doing yoga and meditation and sought the company of kindred souls.  One of my dreams was to establish a Music and Meditation Center, which I discussed with a famous musician friend who encouraged me, saying "I believe it will happen!"  Although my friend was in a position to do so, he was not serious about helping to make it happen, so that dream was put on hold for years.  My husband and I were on the verge of opening Lothlorien House as a yoga studio and retreat center a week or two before the Kansas concert.  Renovations were complete and I was in the process of investigating obtaining a license from ASCAP which (to my surprise!) was necessary in order to legally use music in our classes.  I had attempted to get permission from each of the artists to use the particular songs that I wanted.  My teacher Mark Whitwell granted permission to use all of his music, but I was turned down by everybody else except for George Harrison and Alanis Morissette's representatives, who kindly gave me their blessing.  Even the Jimi Hendrix folks refused, so I would need to pay for the license.  It turned out to be a moot point, however, because on the day of the Kansas concert, we discovered Black Mold in the trailer which necessitated moving back into Lothlorien House, and I burst into tears.

The Mold itself may have been partially responsible for my mood, along with hormones and existential malaise.  I choked back tears while trying to find something to wear and make myself halfway presentable for the concert.  I'd always been slim and fit and had put on a few pounds in the last year, all of which settled in my abs.  I would normally have worn my Rocker Chick outfit to a concert, skinny low-cut jeans with little spaghetti strap belly shirt with ZOSO or some other cool design on it, but my now enormous belly ruled that out.  I didn't have any nice, appropriate clothes that fit, and finally settled on a long tie-dyed t-shirt over top of Jeggings (jean leggings), with my Reef flip-flops.  I had a couple of pairs of nice heels but could not walk in them for any distance, certainly not across the parking lot to the Civic Center and up and down stairs.  My skin was awful due to immune deficiency aggravated by the Black Mold and required careful application of Bare Minerals just to hide the flaws.  I did not even bother with eye liner, mascara, etc.

When we arrived at the Civic Center I felt envy and despair as I saw what the other women were wearing.  Some of the younger women looked great in their skinny jeans and rockin' halter tops like I always wore up until recently, while others sported elegant little black dresses that revealed their shapely and smoothly shaven legs.  They sauntered along gracefully in high heels in which I would have walked like a cow.  The women my own age were dressed more conservatively, in normal adult clothing that resembled nothing in my closet, their hair and makeup done appropriately.  Thanks to a lifetime yoga practice I looked younger and more fit than my peers, but nonetheless felt like a frumpy aging hippy in teenager's clothing.  The concert, which would probably be our last in the foreseeable future, was excellent.  I sobbed all the way home.

The melancholy improved after moving out of the moldy trailer and back into Lothlorien House, but some degree of existential malaise has persisted, in part due to the death of the dream.  The Retreat Center had been so close to being realized, and now I don't even have a place to teach yoga.  I did finally get a great job/contract in which I am being paid reasonably well for my services as a Spiritual Advisor, but it's too late to avert bankruptcy or fund my eventual retirement, because as an independent contractor, every penny I manage to put aside goes to taxes.  I'm not getting any younger and have become weary of this world.  The time is approaching when, like Galadriel, I must board the ship at the Grey Havens and sail beyond the western sea to Valinor, the Undying Land - if indeed it exists.  And that is something of a crucial issue.

For while my worldly dreams failed to materialize, yoga did.  In 2011, after 35 years of spiritual practice, the Wall came down!  At the time when I did the painting, the wall was still completely solid.  The painting depicted me sitting in meditation when rays of sunshine would eventually knock loose a few of the bricks and let in some light.  The picture was prophetic.  As I continued my yoga practice over the years, I experienced more and more love, light, bliss and silent ecstasy, until finally the meditative state burst forth into my ordinary waking consciousness and since then I have experienced the presence of God on a continual basis.  "And though it's always been with me/ I must tear down the wall and let it be/ All I am/ And all that I was ever meant to be/ In harmony/ Shining true and smiling back/ At all who wait to cross/ There is no loss."

Is there no loss?  Time is passing more and more quickly, and as I reach this point in my life where mortality is right around the corner, was it worth it?  The Westminster Catechism states, "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever," and Yogananda affirms, "Man has come on earth solely to learn to know God... He will acknowledge your love by fulfilling His promise to you throughout eternity," and likewise Sivananda, "The goal of life is God-realisation."  The most famous Kansas song, "Carry on Wayward Son" says, "Now your life's no longer empty/ surely heaven waits for you."  

Except there is no "wait," because heaven is not just a literal place we go when we die, although it may be that as well.  Heaven and hell can be right here, now.  Many people are in hell on earth, the hell of loneliness, despair, poverty, starvation, illness, abuse.  For me "heaven" is being in the presence of God, at Home in the Love and Bliss in the center of our being, the deep stillness impervious to the inevitable storms on the surface of life.  No longer drowning, I can ride the waves fearlessly.  Life's drama goes on but I'm just an actor playing my role, enjoying the laughter and tears with enthusiastic non-attachment.  I expect that Love will only continue in greater fullness after the movie is over.  I have no fear of "hell," which for me would be separation from God, because He promised "I will never leave nor forsake you."

It could be argued that if the yogic/christian model is accurate, then maybe I should have spent more time and energy on practical matters like career, being socially respectable, and/or trying to make the world a better place (whether it wants to or not), because I will have eternity to enjoy the presence of God.  Perhaps it would have been enough to simply be on good terms with God, try to live a productive life and let heaven wait for later.  I could have accomplished more from a worldly standpoint had I spent less time singing, playing guitar, dancing, writing songs and poetry, painting, praying, yoga and meditation, and God knows I could have made a hell of a lot more money to invest in research projects and/or given to charity.

If, on the other hand, the materialists are correct and consciousness in all its aspects, including the subjective experience of God, is a product of the brain that will cease when we die, then what is the value of spirituality?  Ironically, a finite existence makes our spiritual practice all the more urgent!  Martin Heidegger said that our awareness of mortality enables authentic existence.  If indeed this short life is our only opportunity to experience God/ Being/ Consciousness/ Bliss/ Love by means of our amazing monkey-brain, then I have lost nothing by so doing and teaching others, and expressing That through music, dance and art.  If indeed all we are is ashes to ashes, "dust in the wind," I do not fear oblivion.  When it's over, it's over.  But while I am still here, I will be an embodiment of Love in this world.  

As a character in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia says:  "I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia."  Then when it is time for me to board the ship at the Grey Havens, to cross the western sea or the river Styx, I will depart knowing that I have made the most of my limited time here on earth and be prepared to meet whatever awaits, whether that be Infinite Love or simply Nothingness.  Meanwhile, before the final curtain falls, I intend to clean the dust off my Ibanez and resume working on that metalized version of "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" that I began many, many years ago.  I want to get back on stage at karaoke and sing "Dream On" and dance ballet during the long intro.  And teach yoga.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Our Doctrine

The Community of Francis and Clare, Lothlorien House is a place where people come together to transcend dogma and experience the heart of religious life through sacrament and spiritual practices.

The creation-centered tradition passed down to us from Saints Francis and Clare, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, and in modern times by Matthew Fox, emphasizing original blessing and the goodness of God's creation, is inherently sacramental in nature.

The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer defines sacrament as:  "The outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace."

The sacraments, such as the bread and wine of Communion and the water of baptism, are more than mere symbols.  Rather, these Divine gifts allow us to tangibly receive spiritual grace in and through the physical creation.  When we participate in the sacraments, and lift our voices in thanks and praise, we become bodily vessels of grace in the world.  Likewise, practices such as  yoga, meditation, dance, chanting and contemplative prayer can be thought of as "sacramental" in that we use our body and breath as a vehicle for spiritual realization and expression.

Most churches talk about God.  At CFC Lothlorien we practice the Presence of "God-at-home-with-us," Immanuel.

Our non-denominational Liturgy encourages a shared experience of the Divine free from concerns about doctrinal divisions. We teach spiritual practices to enable everyone to connect with the sacred in their own heart and home as a part of daily life, in the context of their own personal religious tradition.

Read more about The Community of Francis and Clare from our founder, Father Scott Baldwin of All Saints Episcopal Church in San Francisco, California.

Our particular mission here at Lothlorien House is to provide instruction in classical hatha yoga as whole-body prayer:

"Hatha yoga is intimacy with all ordinary conditions, which spontaneously reveals and enables us to feel the source of all conditions.  No matter what language of faith and devotion is used to express the beautiful ideals of “source" or “God” or “absolute reality” hatha yoga is the universal means of them all."  Mark Whitwell, Heart of Yoga

You may ask, what is our doctrine?  The simplest answer would be, "We don't have one."  Because our members come from many different religious traditions, doctrinal opinions will vary widely depending upon whom you ask.  We do not require belief in certain doctrines as a prerequisite for participation in our Liturgy, sacraments and practices.  Now, obviously a church would seem to presuppose, at the very least, a belief in God.  But Who or What is God?  And who is Jesus Christ?

If you ask Sister Jamie, as an Episcopalian and a yogini, she will tell you, "God is Love, the Love that holds the universe together.  Jesus is the embodiment of that Love - and so are we."  

That is the informal answer.  If you want a more "technical" answer she will direct you to the catechisms of the Church, or the writings of the theologians, or the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  It is useful to study the classical writings of people who have addressed this question at great length and in considerable detail throughout history.  But, ultimately it is a deeply personal question that everyone must answer for him or her self.

You have probably heard the popular statement, "It's not about religion, it's about relationship."  We would agree with that.  Religion is a man-made construct.  God is not limited by our human understanding, but can be known through Love.

Moreover, we would suggest that direct experience trumps dogma.  If you know God, as opposed to merely knowing about God, there is no need to cling to limiting doctrines.  Although it can be intellectually entertaining to argue about abstract theological concepts which by their very nature can neither be proven nor disproven, such argumentation is not essential or even desirable in our spiritual life.  Rather, we are simply called to love God and to love our neighbor as ourself.

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said: 

"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness...  Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion." 

It is easier to describe what is not our doctrine:  

We do not believe that the Bible is a science text, or that it was literally dictated word for word by God, or that scripture can be properly understood outside of the historical and sociocultural context in which it was written.  

We do not believe that God created people for eternal torment, or sends people to hell for believing the wrong doctrines, or belonging to the wrong religion, or having the misfortune to be born in a time or place where they did not hear about Jesus.  

We do not believe that any particular religion, or nation, or political party owns God.

We uphold the First Amendment: freedom of religion, freedom from religion, and the separation of church and state.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Letting God Out of the Box: Reflections on Frank Schaeffer's New Book, "Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God"

I wanted to write a formal “review” of this book, but initially couldn’t think of anything to say other than, “Fabulous book!  Everybody should read it.”  On second thought, while I absolutely love the book, I predict that most atheists and Christians will probably hate it, and I’m not here to try to convince anybody.  The book is not a theological treatise and presents neither an argument nor an apology.  Rather, it is a personal, candid and heartfelt discussion of the author’s journey of faith, seeking to “give love, create beauty and find peace” in the face of limiting and dehumanizing dogmas.  The intimate writing style, as if we were sitting and having a conversation with the author, invites honest reflection on our own journey, and in response to that invitation, the words came pouring out!  So, I hope you will indulge me, before I return to reviewing the book.  While I am no longer an atheist and God is not per se a “belief” for me, I can very much relate to what Mr. Schaeffer has written.

I became an atheist around age 11 or 12 as a result of having attended evangelical private schools which completely turned me off to Christ.  From my perspective today, being totally in Love, it’s difficult to imagine how anyone could manage to make Jesus unappealing, but they did.  In addition, I was a big fan of science from a very early age, thanks in large part to the t.v. show “Star Trek,” which I began watching with my father when I was just a toddler.  I had already concluded that the religious world-view was at odds with a factual explanation of how the universe works.  Now, I could have lived with that, if religion as it was presented had been attractive for any other reason, which it was not. 

My childhood understanding of “Christianity” could essentially be summarized as: “Everything that is fun is bad,” and God was a mean old man on His throne up in the sky, ready to send us to hell for the slightest infraction, even though He had already allowed His own son to be tortured to death on our behalf to somehow appease His righteous wrath over the predictable sins of creatures whom He had endowed with free will.  It seemed to me that, being omniscient, He should have known what would happen. Moreover, He would send starving people in Africa to hell merely for not believing in Jesus, Whom they had never heard of, and it was our parents’ fault for not giving more money to the church’s missionary projects, and by implication, our fault for not nagging them sufficiently to do so.  I had other theological doubts, but the last straw was when they told us that rock music was from the devil, which I knew in my heart of hearts could not possibly be true.  So, I threw out the Babe with the bathwater, but I felt like Something was missing.  I began to study Zen and yoga.

My atheism continued until my first year of college in Florida, when I ate magic mushrooms which grew at cow farms near my school in the springtime.  That experience of infinite Love, Being, Consciousness and Bliss demonstrated Something beyond a shadow of a doubt.  As an atheist I was inclined to believe that It was a phenomenon created by my own brain, but it must have been a part of the brain that was previously inaccessible to me.  It was Beauty and Perfection completely beyond anything that I could ever dream or imagine despite my best efforts.  People commonly called this “seeing God,” but I was reluctant to call It “God” because It bore no resemblance to the angry old man in the sky.  One of my companions, when asked if he had seen God, replied, “No, but I saw where He lives!”  Thereafter, I was motivated to study yoga/ meditation more seriously and in greater depth, and my practice really began to bear fruit.

While pursuing my degree in Philosophy, I studied theology and comparative religions and hung out with people of different faiths, including Buddhists, Sufis and Hindus.  I began to realize that my childhood fundamentalist education had been quite limiting, and maybe God really wasn’t so bad after all.  My Hare Krishna friends presented God as friendly, fun, beautiful and cool.  Like Christianity, the Hindu religion also imposed a fairly strict moral code which, if violated, could send you to a bad reincarnation for many offenses including illicit sex (anything outside of marriage, and contraception within marriage!), drinking alcohol, or eating meat.  Nevertheless, their positive input inspired me to again consider the possibility of a Personal God.

Years later in southern California I rediscovered Jesus thanks to Jon, (ironically!) a rock musician, one of the coolest people I’d ever met.  I was surprised to learn he was quietly a mystical Christian, and he also practiced meditation.  Through Jon I met some loudly Christian metal musicians and began attending Calvary Chapel, mostly because a lot of my friends went there.  The music was great and it seemed pretty hip, although I soon learned that in reality their doctrine was rather fundie.   Among other things, apparently gay people were going to hell and while rock music was not, after all, satanic, yoga was and I needed to immediately stop doing it lest demons take over my body.

Shortly after my conversion, I ran into an old childhood friend Pete who, it turns out, had been a Christian all along but I never suspected it, because he smoked pot and listened to Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden.  We were discussing my newfound faith and he asked, “So – do you believe the Bible is the literal Word of God?”  “Yes!” I said, as per my indoctrination.  Pete smiled, raised one eyebrow, and asked, “And you’ve actually read it?”  “Yes.”  I had, indeed, been forced to read it quite thoroughly and to memorize parts of it, as a child.  “Ok,” he said, “then what do you do when scripture says something that you just know in your heart, cannot possibly be right?  Do you blindly believe it, or do you use the mind that God gave you?”  “Is this a trick question?!” I wondered, because as far as I knew, we really didn't have a choice.

Encouraged again to trust my heart over propaganda, I kept doing kriya yoga and meditation, where with increasing consistency I encountered that Love, Bliss, Beauty and awesome unity that the humble fungi had revealed to me many years before.  Having given it much prayer and after visiting a variety of churches, eventually I found myself quite at home in the Episcopal Church due to its Liturgy and sacraments, “all the pageantry, none of the guilt,” a strong tradition of spiritual practices, ecumenism and support of vocations, and so comfortable with paradox, ambiguity and diversity even to have a couple of atheist priests among its clergy.  I enjoyed a beautiful, wonderful, ecstatic relationship with God for many years thereafter.

I tried being an atheist again in 2010 when I was mad at God.  He had allowed my mother, a saintly woman with pure childlike faith who never doubted, “Whatsoever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive,” to die a horribly painful, slow, agonizing death involving loss of limbs, sanity and dignity, which dragged out for years despite her own prayers and those of myself, my sisters in the convent, and all our faithful friends and family.   When He didn’t heal Mom and her condition worsened, we prayed for a quick, merciful death, and that didn’t happen, either.  So I decided, clearly this God thing was all a lie, a fantasy. 

I told myself that we were, after all, just clothed monkeys with guns, who threw verbal feces at each other; monkeys who made art and music for no purpose whatsoever, and bombs to blow each other to smithereens, breeding mindlessly and without restraint, to the point that we were depleting our finite resources, destroying our habitat and drowning in our own waste.  We were really just walking, breathing bags of skin containing chemicals, like biological batteries which can recharge to a limited extent by taking in nutrients until entropy finally catches up, the bag starts to leak, the chemical reactions cease and we’re gone.  Unlike batteries, these bags of chemicals were seemingly conscious and capable of reproduction, but to what end – to bring more bags of conscious chemicals into a universe with no God, no Love, no Beauty, no meaning, only eternal darkness and despair?

I tried, but it didn’t work.  It was just too awkward, like when you’re mad at somebody and trying to ignore them, but you keep running into them at the grocery store.  It was no longer a matter of “belief” for me, because I didn’t so much “believe” in God, as I experienced God.  No matter what else might be happening in the external world, when I did my yoga, I experienced that incredible Love, Being, Consciousness, Bliss that had become more Real to me than anything.  Now, when I was mad at Him about Mom, I just avoided doing my spiritual practice for a while, but that couldn’t last.  It was like cutting off your nose to spite your face.  Anyway, God would sneak in when I looked at the moon and stars, or listened to Om roaring in my ear as I surfed in the tube of a wave, or felt the kiss of the sun on my cheek.  I don’t know why He let Mom suffer so, but in our Episcopal mythology of the Incarnation, He suffers with us.

In my darker moods, especially now that I am perimenopausal, I do sometimes flirt with nihilism, but it’s become more difficult.  The yoga I started in 1976 made big promises, and in 2011 it finally delivered.   A few minutes after I began doing Heart of Yoga, a seemingly minor refinement of the breathing technique that I had just learned from Mark Whitwell, my entire reality changed.  The Love, unity and clarity that I had first glimpsed with the help of the fungi, and subsequently experienced with increasing consistency during my daily meditations over the years, suddenly burst forth and took over my everyday consciousness.  This is what yoga is supposed to do, but I was nonetheless surprised when it happened.  Since then I have experienced the Presence of God essentially all the time, closer than my own heartbeat, and Love pouring through me.

Maybe it is just “all in my head,” a new trick my brain learned from an improbable symbiosis between fungi, cows and humans, reinforced by years of practice.  It makes no difference.  Whether God is “real,” or whether we are just pitiful monkeys who, in between flinging feces at each other, make up stories to console ourselves in the face of a dark, empty and meaningless universe, either way, what else is left, but to be that Love in the world?!  I teach people yoga to allow them to experience for themselves the gospel that God is Love, and I join my voice with others in the hope of making the world a better, more humane place before the darkness swallows us all up.  And this brings us back to Frank Schaeffer’s delightful book.   

This book resonated with me on many levels, although I am no longer an atheist and I find the word “believe” problematic.  It is probably a “niche” book, but perhaps a niche whose population is growing as more and more people begin to question their childhood faith and search for deeper meaning.  If you love Jesus but hate religion; if you believe in a God Who is bigger than the Bible; if you are confused about the difference between science and religion and/or you’ve been told you must choose between them, this book is for you! 

Be honest, my Christian friends:  Do you ever feel embarrassed for the God of the Old Testament?  What do you do with the “unpleasant” bits of scripture, like (just to mention a few), the several occasions where God tells his people to kill their neighbors, including pregnant women and little babies, but keep the virgin girls as booty?  Or the incident when God sent bears to maul 42 children for making fun of the prophet Elisha’s bald head?  Likewise, perhaps you find dubious the doctrine of hell, whereby God would condemn mortal beings to eternal torment even for merely having incorrect beliefs.  On a recent episode of “The Simpsons,” Bart and Lisa use an iRunes app to open a portal into a school in hell, where they see a young man writing something over and over on the blackboard; Bart asks, “Hey, pal, what are you in here for?”  “The heresy of Docetism, the belief that Jesus' body was just an illusion.” 

Frank poses the question, “Can you imagine me consigning Lucy [his granddaughter] to oblivion because she had wrong ideas about me?  Can you imagine me burning her forever because she didn’t believe in me, forgot my name, called me the wrong name, thought I had six arms… or brought me fruit when I asked for a lamb?... I am not a good man and yet can you imagine anything that would cut [his grandchildren] off from my love?” 

Faced with such issues, we have a choice.  We can do mental contortions in attempt to invent clever explanations and apologies for God, as Frank’s evangelist mother did in the previous book (Sex, Mom and God), but the results are unlikely to be satisfactory.  Alternatively, we can let go of dogma and trust God to be God.  Let God out of the box!  As we are told in the Chronicles of Narnia, “He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion."

Some of my other progressive Christian friends try to modify the religion to be more in line with scientific and historical “reality,” which involves eliminating doctrines about miracles, the virgin birth, the Trinity, even throwing out the entire book of John (my favorite gospel!), and/or re-defining the “historical Jesus” as a mere man, which IMO is kind of like neutering the lion.   Mr. Schaeffer takes a different approach.  He is not very concerned about doctrines per se.  Rather, he comes from the Orthodox apophatic tradition, which says that God is beyond doctrine and cannot be defined by the intellect, but only experienced.

The title of the book, “Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God” is, as my husband and many other people have pointed out, contradictory per the definition of “atheist.”  From the apophatic standpoint, “believes” could perhaps better be replaced by “experiences,” but I am sure the author was very aware of the contradiction and purposely chose the ironic and thought-provoking title.  Frank is an “atheist” in the sense that he believes in the scientific explanation of the material universe which, I think it is safe to say, most educated people do.  As I have explained previously in my blog, there is no contradiction once we understand that science and religion are two separate spheres or dimensions of human existence which serve completely different functions.  This brings us to the central premise of the book, which is that we humans are multidimensional creatures who experience reality on different levels. 

One of my very educated and intelligent friends told me, “Religion is silly!  I choose science.”  But, the question is, “Choose it for what?”  The purpose of science is to objectively explain the nature and workings of the physical universe, which it does quite well, as far as it goes.  Now, my friend would say, “Science fully describes reality, because the physical universe is all there is!”  The problem with this assertion, of course, is that any such statements about Ultimate Reality are necessarily metaphysical in nature and therefore can neither be confirmed nor denied by physical science.  It would be a circular argument akin to the fundie dogma, “The Bible is the only and complete word of God.  How do we know?  Because the Bible says so!”   

In any case, the purely physical approach is inadequate to express the entirety of our human experience.  For example, according to science, “love” is simply evolution using your hormones to trick you into breeding, passing on your DNA and caring for your offspring so that they, too, can pass on their DNA.  The magical feeling you share with your spouse that makes you believe he or she is the most beautiful, wonderful person on earth can be objectively explained by chemicals in your brain; however, it can only be enjoyed subjectively.  Love, like Beauty, belongs to another dimension of human existence:  the subjective realm of art, music, poetry, mythology and religion, the purpose of which is not explanation, but inspiration.  There are different kinds of “truth.”  It’s not either-or.  To choose science “instead of” religion is like choosing dinner instead of dessert when you could have both; you will certainly survive although you may become bored.  Choosing religion instead of science may seem delicious, but it’s not a balanced diet in terms of your physical health.

When challenged by his atheist friends, “Frank, God’s only in your head!”, he answers, “Yeah, whatever.  What isn’t?”  This is very true because, as Frank points out, ultimately the “physical world” as such is a perceptual construct of the human mind and senses, whereas we know from physics that what we perceive as solid objects actually consist of mostly empty space.  He says towards the end of the book, “My hope is that a trillionth of a second before the Big Bang the energy animating the mystery of matter being created out of nothing was love.”  I believe that, and it’s the same Love that holds the universe together, which I experience in the center of my being.

So, we are multidimensional creatures and in at least one of those dimensions, we can experience God.  Religion is merely the sociocultural context which frames that personal experience.   Being freed from dogma, what happens to our faith?   It is a huge relief to realize that God does not need to be defined, defended or explained.  We can enjoy religious mythology when we stop trying to pretend it is something that it isn’t.  If there is a God, He cannot be confined to the man-made box that is religion.     

Frank makes the case that following Jesus is not about believing certain doctrines, but rather, how does our experience of the sacred affect our life?   It should move us to express divine Love through our actions.  He discusses at some length the humanism of Jesus, and even suggests that the Enlightenment was a Christian heresy, the results of which can be seen in “godless” countries like Denmark today where most of the population is atheist, and yet their social policies are more consistent with Jesus’ teachings than our own “Christian” nation.   They take care of their widows and orphans, provide universal healthcare and education, and enforce laws preventing the powerful from preying on the weak.  On a personal level, letting God out of the box has made our faith stronger, our joy deeper, enabling us to give love and create beauty, and in so doing, to find peace.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Reviews from Yoga Students

My yoga students have requested a venue where they can give reviews.  So, here you go!  Feel free to use the Comments section, below.  Your feedback is appreciated.  Namaste.