Jun 30, 2010

On Dawkins and Yellow Walllpaper

The Huffington Post is running a series on the conflict between science and religion. I largely think this perceived divide is the false construct of the most dogmatic extremes at both ends -- religious fundamentalism and scientism. That said, there is no arguing that many avowed atheists with incredible antipathy towards religion and spirituality point to science as an absolute "truth" which disproves religion. Worse, the new trend among atheists is to define such beliefs as a form of mental illness. That view is typified and galvanized by books like Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. (See previous discussions here and here.)

Knowing a little something about mental illness, psychology professor Matt J. Rossano takes on the religion as delusion argument.

Calling religion delusional has become an increasingly popular strategy for its critics. To my ear, there's more to this than just a benign slight -- there's at least the hint of the pathological. Religion can be delusional, but to think it inherently so is to misunderstand both religion and delusion.

Having spent my entire professional career around psychologists, I'm all too aware of how clinicians cringe when diagnostic terms get tossed about willy-nilly. So let's begin with what the latest APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM IV-TR, p. 821) says about delusion:

A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture or subculture (e.g., it is not an article of religious faith).

Psychology is an even softer science than evolutionary biology so it isn't surprising that Dawkins would be unconcerned about bastardizing it. But the larger problem for the "religion as delusion" camp is that, as a matter of pure science, it's awfully hard to prove a negative. (Example: Before germ theory was proven by developments in microscopy and analysis, belief in bacterial causes of illness was also considered a delusion.)

Rossano continues:

First, religions largely traffic in beliefs that stand outside of easy evidentiary evaluation -- in other words, religious notions tend to be neither verifiable nor falsifiable. For example, most of the global religions have long-standing rituals designed to provide cleansing of the soul or forgiveness of sins. There's a far shorter history (if any at all) of rituals that protect one from bullets or other lethal projectiles. Rituals claiming to accomplish the latter are simply too easily refuted by evidence. What gets winnowed out of religions over time are those practices or notions that place too great a strain on credulity. The ideas that remain are stubbornly oblique to empirical analysis. It's very hard to prove or disprove whether a benevolent God exists, or that the universe has purpose, or that man has a spiritual as well as material nature. Whatever evidence one might raise on these questions is, at best, ambiguous and open to multiple interpretations. [Emphases mine]

As Deepak Chopra explains, it is not only a belief in God or the spiritual world that is subjective and impossible to evaluate empirically but inner life more broadly.

Children believe that their mothers love them. The proof they have is the same as the proof of God - a subjective feeling. The fact that God is subjective doesn't make the deity unreal, but it radically shifts the burden of proof. All subjective states are personal and therefore impossible to verify objectively. There is no way to tell if two people looking at a daffodil see the same shade of yellow, much less that they are referring to the same thing when they use the word "God." Even brain scans provide nothing more than a rough location for where such thoughts occur, nothing about their validity.

Skeptics make hay out of this situation. In his wildly popular book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins marshaled the force of science against God almost entirely by making one point over and over: God can't be objectively verified. He didn't seem to realize that the point itself is pointless. Beauty, truth, love, morality, ethics, and every other aspect of our inner life cannot be verified by science, either. Shifting the burden of proof to the inner world leaves scientific measurement behind, but it doesn't make beauty, truth, morality, and the rest false. If I find Picasso beautiful and you don't, our disagreement isn't a matter of who's right and who's wrong. Each person's consciousness is a domain of personal experience that relies on itself. Having a right to your own opinion, however bizarre, is the same as asserting your own awareness.

It is this core fallacy, propounded endlessly by dogmatic atheists, that shows them to be proponents of scientism; not science. Such scientism says that that which can't be empirically demonstrated is disproved. A genuinely scientific approach, on the other hand, would consider it unproven. Big difference.

In reading the above, what popped into my head was that staple of college lit classes, The Yellow Wallpaper. (Text can be found here.) The largely autobiographical short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman -- who, herself, suffered from post-pardum depression and was subjected to Weir Mitchell's "rest cure" -- graphically demonstrates how the cure was worse than the disease. The story, told in first person narrative, is a searing indictment of the best approach medical science of the time had to offer for the range of emotional and hormonal disruptions to which the "weaker sex" is prone. Confined for her "rest" to a room with hideous, faded, yellow wallpaper, she begins to decompensate. The wallpaper becomes a kind of giant Rorschach blot reflecting her devolution into madness. But this is not simply a story of progressive insanity. What drives the protagonist completely mad is not the post-pardum depression. The problem we find as the narrative unfolds is that creativity, love of beauty and nature, and sensitivity are all treated as part of her "pathology." She is colorful and imaginative but it is not her "fancies" that drive her inexorably into madness. Rather, it's the suppression of them. We see her soul crushed by the relentless empiricism, impatience, and intolerance, of her doctor husband.

John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.

John is a physician, and perhaps—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.

As we view this story, a century later, it serves as a telling reminder of science as an evolving study; not a dispenser of unassailable truth. Neurosurgeon Weir Mitchell was wrong and even admitted that Gillman's story caused him to reevaluate his approach. Gillman's decision to trust her own intuition and inner drives over doctor's orders saved her sanity. She chucked the rest cure and went back to pursuing her passions. Her tragic, fictional heroine followed the regimen and lost her mind. The real genius of the story is in how it depicts the disastrous effects of man's scientific and medical certitude -- his dismissal and devaluation of her inner truth -- on his wife's life and health.

Dealing with a lot of the New Atheists is just as maddening. The smug certainty that they've got the real lock on truth and that anyone who perceives a world of spirit is loopy makes me... well... not want to deal with them. I have all these "notions" about how people are entitled to their own interpretations of the world around them... and within them.

Psychologist Stan Grof goes farther still, bristling at the limitations of psychology itself for dealing fairly with the experiential awareness afforded by entheogens and other shamanic practices. Whether or not one pursues a shamanic or mystical path, we need the freedom to explore our own consciousness, even when these experiences cannot be seen or understood by others. It's a path towards, not away from, sanity and wholeness. It's having our spirits crushed by the relentless invalidation of  dogmatic prescriptivism, whether religious or atheist, that can be ruinous.

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Jun 29, 2010

The Secret: Still More Fraud

Don't forget to check out the Primetime profile of James Arthur Ray tonight but in the meanwhile the verdict is in for David Schirmer. A tip of the hat to the Salty Droid for this bit of gouge from the land down under. Schirmer has been found guilty of financial malfeasance and been banned from doing... whatever it is he does... for life.

Former contributor to the popular self-help product The Secret, Mr David Gary Schirmer of Warrandyte, Victoria, has been permanently banned from providing financial services following an ASIC investigation.

ASIC found Mr Schirmer had failed to comply with financial services laws in relation to the promotion, operation and delivery of a trading and wealth creation program known as the ‘Platinum Super Traders’ (Platinum program). The Platinum program was operated by
Mr Schirmer and Platinum Super Traders Pty Ltd.

ASIC found that between August 2004 and December 2006 Mr Schirmer:
  • provided financial services on behalf of another person who carried on a financial services business while not being authorised to do so
  • engaged in conduct in relation to a financial product or financial service that was misleading or deceptive, or was likely to mislead or deceive
  • failed to act in accordance with representations made by him to participants in the 2005 and 2006 Platinum programs
  • made false statements to participants in the 2005 and 2006 Platinum programs, and
  • engaged in dishonest conduct.
ASIC found that rather than disclosing difficulties he was facing with aspects of the Platinum program, Mr Schirmer chose to deceive Platinum participants and deliberately prepared and provided them with a false document.

I guess the ASIC doesn't understand that giving clients a false document isn't so much fraud as it is creating the reality he desired, just like in the video clip from The Secret posted above.

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Jun 28, 2010

Primetime on Sweat Lodge Tragedy

Set your DVRs. I have. Tomorrow night's Primetime: Mind Games will feature James Arthur Ray and the sweat lodge that ended three lives.

What happens when the power of positive thinking takes a deadly turn? In October of last year, about 60 people, many established professionals, traveled to a ranch in Arizona for a five-day retreat that promised the way to personal fulfillment… and they were counting on their host, self-help guru James Arthur Ray, to make it all happen. But did Ray go too far in a special ceremony? Held in a closed tent with temperatures at times over 140 degrees, the ceremony is supposed to help unleash your mind’s power for a better life. Instead, three people died in aftermath of the “sweat lodge.” ABC News Correspondent Dan Harris reports on the spiritual retreat’s games and exercises leading up to the deaths, speaks to survivors of the “sweat lodge” and the mother of one woman who died, as well as those who continue to believe in the teachings of James Ray as he awaits a criminal trial on manslaughter charges. Ray denied being responsible for the deaths.

“Primetime: Mind Games” airs TUESDAY, JUNE 29 (10:01-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. David Sloan is executive producer.

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Jun 27, 2010

John Major Jenkins on the Mayan Calendar

This interview with John Major Jenkins, author of Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, is lucid, sober, and free of hyperbole. Listen, in particular, to his explanation of the role of prophecy; something I'll probably be talking about more in the near future.

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Jun 23, 2010

Abused Son of Pedophile Priest Speaks

José Raul Gonzalez, who grew up in one of the illicit, secret families kept by Rev Marcial Maciel Degollado, discussed here, is suing the Legionaries of Christ. He and the case were profiled on Nightline last night. A second video of just the Gonzalez interview can be found here. It's... um... gut-wrenching.

A prominent Catholic priest, praised by Pope John Paul II as "an efficacious guide to youth," Father Marcial Maciel, sexually abused not only young seminarians under his control but also abused his own children, according to a lawsuit filed today in Connecticut by a man who claims to be Maciel's son.

In an interview to be broadcast Monday evening on ABC News Nightline, the priest's son, Raul Gonzalez, 30, says he thought his father worked for the CIA or an international oil company, until he saw the priest's picture in a 1997 magazine article detailing allegations of sexual abuse.

"My mom said, 'Is that you?' and my dad said, 'No, it's not me' and my mom said, 'Yeah, it's you,'" recalled Gonzalez in the interview, conducted by Jason Berry, an investigative journalist who first reported on widespread sexual abuse by Maciel at the Legion of Christ and writes for the National Catholic Reporter.

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Jun 21, 2010

A Song of the Sun for the Solstice

Astronomers have captured the vibrational frequencies associated with the sun's coronal loops and produced a music video.

Astronomers at the University of Sheffield have managed to record for the first time the eerie musical harmonies produced by the magnetic field in the outer atmosphere of the sun.

They found that huge magnetic loops that have been observed coiling away from the outer layer of the sun's atmosphere, known as coronal loops, vibrate like strings on a musical instrument.

In other cases they behave more like soundwaves as they travel through a wind instrument.

Using satellite images of these loops, which can be over 60,000 miles long, the scientists were able to recreate the sound by turning the visible vibrations into noises and speeding up the frequency so it is audible to the human ear.

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Jun 20, 2010

Touchdown Jesus: Styrofoam and Idolatry

I don't care if it rains or freezes
'Long as I have my plastic Jesus...

Well maybe you should! Storms and plastic Jesuses (Jesi... ???) don't seem to be getting on so well.

Why did God smite the Solid Rock Church of Monroe, Ohio? Many have been speculating on the lightening strike that set fire to the 62 foot statue known to many as Touchdown Jesus. (Note the position of the giant arms.) Some are confused that a symbol of devotion could have been so directly targeted by a lightening strike and are struggling to make meaning of the event. Jim Woodford of Springboro writes:

Over the years, much has also been said about signs from above. Consider then that in the Sermon on the Mount, the Bible states that Jesus says, “Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen by them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father, who is in heaven.”

Perhaps there is a sign in this lightning strike, what many would call an act of God.

The electronic sign outside the church proclaims, “He will be back.” There is much room for religious double entendre in this message, but one also has to wonder if the “He” is Touchdown Jesus or will He be back with another lightning strike?

Oh, Jim... You're really over-thinking this. It's so much simpler than that. See, this is what I mean when I say that a great many Christians who like to spout scripture don't even comprehend, let alone keep, the commandments. God was pretty clear!

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments.

Graven images, people! God doesn't care for them. But the second commandment is probably the most ignored of all the commandments; even more than the adultery and the coveting. Right now, thousands are flocking to see a statue of Jesus in Argentina that weeps blood. Weep for their lost souls.

Think about it. This was a double whammy. Ahem? The fourth commandment?

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

But instead, what do all those good Christians do on Sundays? Football. And what graven image did God choose to make headlines with? The one they call Touchdown Jesus.

Some, including church pastor Lawrence Bishop aren't reading any real significance into it.

"I don't see anything spiritual about this," he said. "The frame was made of steel, and lightning hits steel. It could have been a horse or a donkey; if it was made with steel, it was going to get struck by lightning. But what that statue expressed can't be destroyed."

He's about had it with people blaming God for tragedies.

Move along, folks, nothing to see here.

I don't know. It looks like a pretty direct hit to me.

A pond surrounding the statue that used to be full of fish is now filled with remnants of the structure, made of fiber glass and foam. All the fish are either dead or dying, Mascarella said.

It's hard to miss the symbolism. I will make you fishers of men... Not!

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Jun 19, 2010

Zecharia Sitchin and the Search for Alien DNA

Ninety year old linguist Zecharia Sitchin is going for broke; staking his reputation and entire body of work on a proposed DNA test.

Needless to say, Sitchin's ideas - like those of another ancient-astronaut author, Erich von Däniken - have been roundly scorned by the scientific community. But now Sitchin is asking that very community to help him with the mystery of Queen Puabi.

Puabi's remains were unearthed from a tomb in present-day Iraq during the 1920s and 1930s, roughly the same time frame as the discovery and study of Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt. Forensic experts at London's Natural History Museum determined that Puabi was about 40 years old when she died, and probably reigned as queen in her own right during the First Dynasty of Ur. Sitchin contends she was something more than a queen - specifically, that she was a "nin," a Sumerian term which he takes to mean "goddess."

He suggests that Puabi was an ancient demigod, genetically related to the visitors from Nibiru. What if these aliens tinkered with our DNA to enhance our intelligence - the biblical tree of knowledge of good and evil - but held back the genetic fruit from the tree of eternal life? Does the story of Adam and Eve actually refer to the aliens' tinkering? The way Sitchin sees it, the ancient myths suggest that "whoever created us deliberately held back from us a certain thing - fruit, genes, DNA, whatever - not to give us health, longevity, and the immortality that they had. So what was it?"

I'm a little surprised at his all or nothing approach but he's right that whether he positions himself that way or not it's how it will be taken in the increasingly blinkered scientific community. I, for one, don't share a number of Sitchin's conclusions but that doesn't mean we throw out the baby with the bathwater. There's no denying that many of his once ridiculed theories have been validated by newer scientific discoveries; such as elliptical planetary orbits. Some of these are discussed in the article and quoted interview. Sitchin is provocative and whether he's one hundred percent accurate or not is besides the point. He's done what innovators are supposed to do. He's raised very compelling questions and lent insight into the mysteries of ancient civilizations.

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Jun 17, 2010

Dateline on the Sweat Lodge Tragedy

There aren't a lot of new revelations in this Dateline segment on the James Arthur Ray event that killed three people last fall  but the interviews add a little more insight into Ray's behavior and personality. Dateline talks to survivors of the incident and grieving family members. Not for the first time, I'm stunned at this man's self-absorption and obliviousness to the needs of people around him; people who paid a lot of money for his time and attention. This was particularly serious because it came at a time when he was playing with fire... literally.

I am also reminded once again that what James Arthur Ray does has nothing to do with spiritual development. Despite all the nonsensical "law of attraction" and pseudo-physics trappings, Ray's entire message comes down to this: push yourself harder. It doesn't take any great esoteric knowledge to get a bunch of type A personalities to "play full on." Ray just introduced a whole new level of recklessness. He drove them to not only push past their self-imposed limits but to ignore serious physical and emotional concerns... such as the inability to withstand very high temperatures, dehydration, and a lack of available oxygen, common to most living organisms.

One of the key issues that will probably be at issue during Ray's trial is whether or not he pressured people to stay in the sweat lodge when their survival instincts told them to get out. Accounts from survivors that he said things like "You're better than that" and "You can overcome this. It's mind over matter," when they headed for the exit, look bad.

It's been evident for some time that Ray was being reckless with the physical and emotional safety of his students. One of the more disturbing revelations in the police interview with former Ray follower Martha Stern is her description of how a pregnant event participant was treated at an earlier seminar.

Martha: It's not a woman and it's an (Inaudible) thing, when you're running all this male energy people are not paying attention to what's going on with their bodies. Their [sic] not listening to their intuition, their [sic] not following their female side, the female intuition and their [sic] not following that. And if their female intuition is saying, okay, this is really not a good idea, we don't need to be here right now or this is, we have had enough and it's time to go home. I'm thinking (Inaudible) that, because "you need to push through".

Det. Poling: Right.

Martha: "You're a wimp if you don't",  kind of thing.

Det. Poling: Right. And I don't know, does he tell you that? Does he say you have to push through or you're a failure?

Martha: No, he wouldn't say that, he wouldn't say that in that way. I do remember being at Leadership I with Ryan and Stephanie Swanson, they haven't been on, in the course for some time, but she was pregnant at the time, and she was on my team and she was probably like first trimester, it's that time when you're exhausted all the time. And here she is doing this event, she is exhausted. And we have some assignment that we had to do and her husband who was a very driven guy was on the another team was giving her a hard time about she wasn't pulling her weight or whatever. And there were two women on my team myself included and we were like you know what, she needs to take a little break now. We're gonna do this and she can go back and lie down. And James said well no, she needs to work through whatever she needs to work through and (Inaudible), James she's pregnant. Well yea but she has to find a way to work with that. And I was like okay, you know, you jackass. That was one of those jackass moments.

When a seminar leader is that ignorant about health and safety requirements, it's only a matter of time before someone gets killed. There are some things you don't just "work through."

As previously discussed, a sweat lodge is not meant to be a test of endurance. It's a spiritual cleanse. Even the hotter "warrior sweats" are not nearly as hot, long, or crowded, as Ray's. And like many of the native practices Ray has so badly aped, they're for warriors. Not businessmen who fancy themselves to be some sort of notional "spiritual warriors." Warriors. People who are already rigorously trained to put their lives on the line to protect their communities. Ray has proven himself to be not terribly interested in helping the community or the world. He's about helping himself get rich and many of his remaining followers are also about "commanding the universe" to serve their ego wants. That is neither the path of a warrior nor the path of a spiritual seeker.

But such is the muddled, mixed message that typifies Ray's work. Dateline includes this segment from  his appearance on Oprah. Says Ray:

Not what can I get but what can I give and how can I serve. And when you're in that moment the universe lines up behind you and it's at your command.

So are you supposed to be serving the universe or ordering it around? The moment you go from that surrendered place that allows you to consciously merge with the universe to one in which you are so in your ego that you start "commanding" things, that sense of limitless unity is gone. We can either become conscious of our oneness with all that is or delude ourselves into thinking we're the king of the world. We can't do both. One is the experience of mystical awareness. The other is just grandiosity.

But grandiosity is the defining feature of James Ray's teachings. We're talking about a man who literally played God -- instructing people to die and stay dead so no one else would die -- in an exercise during the event. That he exhibits grandiosity is really one of the kinder things you could say about him. Honestly, the more we learn about his behavior during seminars -- two of which have racked up a body count -- the more clear it becomes that he is an ego spinning dangerously out of control. How else would you describe someone who told the mother of a young woman who died on his watch that it was the most awful thing that ever happened to him?! (Segment 5 in the player above.) That's a rather remarkable display of narcissism. As these and other interviews go public, the more his egomania becomes apparent and the more it appears his practices were coercive, cultish, and downright scary.

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Jun 16, 2010

Birth of a New Humanity

Video of Drunvalo's recent webcast is has been posted on YouTube. Enjoy!

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Jun 15, 2010

When Self Help Isn't Helpful

The backlash against "positive thinking" continues. Psychologist Jeffrey Hull weighs in on the lack of utility in the shiny, happy help.

A client walks into my office, flings down her hefty shoulder bag with a scowl, and flops on to the sofa. Reaching into the overstuffed bag, she pulls out a small stack of brightly colored self-help books, all of which have the trendy word "Happy" in the title, and tosses them on my coffee table. "Ok, Dr. J, I've read all these new books on happiness. I've tried out their five steps, completed their six practices and read about their endless studies of happy people--all to no avail. Why am I still miserable? What's wrong with me?!"

Tough question. But a good one, and by no means the first time I've heard it. With the emergence of the field known as "positive psychology" (a.k.a. the study of happiness), the self-help industry has decidedly tilted away from personal and spiritual growth and begun churning out a surfeit of "don't worry, be happy" kinds of books. Most of these surely intend to make us feel better; however, they are simply book-length motivational speeches. They do well in today's quick-fix, pop-a-pill approach to dealing with life's upheavals but there is one problem: I don't think they work. In truth, it's worse than that. We read them at our peril. In the guise of "self-help," I find that, in many cases, they actually hurt--reinforcing the exact opposite of what they intend: unhappiness. Why?

Unfortunately, many people respond exactly as Hull's client has. They blame themselves rather than considering the possibility that something is "wrong" with the books. Motivational speakers are, after all, very good at sounding certain. So, in addition to whatever discomfort leads people to the bookstore for help, they now have the added misery of being made to feel like they've failed at the very "simple" process of completely turning their lives around. Worse still, some of these people are battling serious emotional and/or physical illnesses for which they now feel they are to blame because they "created" them and can't seem to uncreate them by following "seven steps" or some other simple formula.

Consider an analogy. Substantial research has shown that as our culture becomes more and more obsessed with physical appearance and vaults "thin" (downright skinny if you're a woman) and "fit" into iconic territory, incidences of poor self-esteem, low self-worth and even depression associated with physical appearance, in young people particularly, have exploded. As the bookshelves, magazine racks and now Internet sites clog with pictures of sculpted, muscular, six-pack-toting fellows and elegant stick-figure females, the importance we ascribe to beauty and a slim physique actually seems to increase suffering for one reason: Most of us never measure up.

I submit that the same dynamic holds sway in the kingdom of happiness. In a world where the real process of living is more cyclical and replete with constant shifts and upheaval, anchoring ourselves in "happy-land" may be a laudable goal, but its achievement, at least for any length of time, contradicts nature's ways. Just as the beauty of any rose is doomed to fade, so too the bloom of happiness is transient, and any attachment to it being permanent is bound to set up a clinging, anxious longing. Buddhists are clearly onto something. Attachment to and idealization of all things "happy" may actually bring on the very thing we most try to avoid: suffering.

Precisely. Happiness, health, wealth, and perfect relationships are the new impossible standards spiritual seekers are now supposed to compare themsevles to. As James Arthur Ray put it in these choice quotes:

Maybe you, like me, are tired of the so-called "spiritual individual" who is sick and broke all the time, or the "mystic hopeful" who can't carry on an intelligent conversation about real life.

. . .

Likewise, there are others who qualify as a creative genius, and they're physically sick all the time. That's not real wealth!

Then there are those who claim to be really "spiritual," and they're always financially broke. That's not wealth either!

Think about it. By Ray's standard, Stephen Hawking is a cautionary tale.

I was reflecting this morning on the absurdity of some of James Ray's "teachings." Because he knows "how the universe works," Ray likes to talk in quantum physics analogies. Here, he explains how wealth is created... or not.

The observer effect basically states this: At the foundation of this entire universe, in the quantum domain, you get what you're looking for. Always. Always. Let me tell you something. If your financial abundance today is in the wave state, that's why it's not in your wallet.

As anyone who's ever tried to stare quantum waves into hard cash has discovered, it's not as simple as he makes it sound. There are many reasons for this, but among the more obvious is that even the greatest minds in physics are still lacking a "theory of everything." Even that loser Stephen Hawking knows that. I was reminded of this this morning when I read this:

Lord Rees told The Sunday Times: ‘A “true” fundamental theory of the universe may exist but could be just too hard for human brains to grasp.

'Just as a fish may be barely aware of the medium in which it lives and swims, so the microstructure of empty space could be far too complex for unaided human brains.’

Lord Rees’s prediction has been prompted by the failure of scientists to reconcile the forces that govern the behaviour of the cosmos with those that rule the ‘microworld’ of atoms and particles.

So if brilliant physicists are still struggling to reconcile quantum theory with the physical world, how is it that James Arthur Ray has it so sorted out?

The problem with books like The Secret and its many imitators is that they promise simplistic solutions to complex problems. They lay out paradigms that are impossible, impracticable, and completely unproven. Being happy all the time is not a natural state. Nor is a constant state of perfect health, wealth, and relationships. And a cat in a box cannot be simultaneously dead and alive.

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Jun 10, 2010

DMT - The Spirit Molecule

Several interviews from DMT - The Spirit Molecule have been released on YouTube. This new film from Rick Strassman et al. explores the research and potential of DMT, an entheogen that has long been used by indigenous shamans. As I recently posted here, the naturally occurring DMT in our brains may be a key to ascension.

Particularly insightful, Daniel Pinchbeck describes the sixties experimentation with hallucinogens as a "failed attempt at a mass, cultural voyage of initiation" because there were no "wisdom traditions" to form a context for the experience. Now that there is more information available from shamanic systems, he speculates that it may be possible to complete that initiation.

My husband and I just watched the documentary Hofmann's Potion on the discovery of and early experimentation with LSD. One of the things that becomes clear from those interviews is how little many of the early researchers knew about just what they were dealing with. Foisted on the public, largely by the egocentric Timothy Leary, with no safety parameters and no cultural enforcement of respect for this gateway into another dimension, it was misused and abused. The consequences were fairly disastrous. Many years ago I had a conversation with shamanic healer Christina Pratt about such  use of hallucinogens. She described it as "free-wheeling through non-ordinary reality." The danger, she told me, was that because that world is so closely linked to this one, the damage an unguided person, with no clear intention, can do there can also adversely affect this reality.

Speaking of Christina, and of cultural initiations, her most recent broadcast, mentioned here, is probably her most fascinating and poignant show ever... and that is saying something. I listened to the podcast last night. Everyone should listen to it. She describes our core problem, individually and collectively, as having no formal initiation into adulthood. Most of us are children in adult bodies reacting to adult situations like children. Hear. Hear. Speaking as an "Adult Child" (of an Alcoholic) I can absolutely attest to this being the central drama of my entire life.

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Jun 7, 2010

Geoff Stray on 2012

Fascinating, fascinating, interview with Geoff Stray, author of Beyond 2012. Stray has spent years collating myths relating to 2012 and some of the more empirical evidence of planetary alignments and shifts. He also finds remarkable correlation in the individual experiences of those have used sacred plants or had near death experiences who have received information about 2012.

His discoveries seem to support Drunvalo Melchizedek's belief in a leap in consciousness associated with the pole reversal around that 2012 reference point. Stray explains research pointing to shifts in the magnetosphere triggering an increase in DMT production. In other words the magnetic shift would allow us to collectively "pierce the veil." Along those lines he points to a Maori myth which was, he believes improperly translated as saying "the curtain will fall." He points to a more accurate translation of "the veil will dissolve." This, in particular, jumps out at me because that is also the original meaning of the world apocalypse. From the Greek Apokálypsis meaning "revealing what is hidden," "lifting the veil," or simply, "revelation."

A good, brief summary of Sray's work can also be found here.

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Jun 5, 2010

The Oil Spill and Apocalyptic Prophecy

A public official in Louisiana compared the oil spill now reaching the shores to Biblical prophecy.

With its arrival on the Panhandle, oil from the BP disaster has now reached the shores of four Gulf states - Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in addition to Florida - turning their marshlands into death zones for wildlife and staining beaches rust and crimson.

One official said the affliction brings to mind the plagues and punishments of the Bible.

"In Revelations it says the water will turn to blood," said P.J. Hahn, director of coastal zone management for Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish. "That's what it looks like out here - like the Gulf is bleeding. This is going to choke the life out of everything."

Indeed it does say that: Revelation 8: 8-9:

And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.

Elsewhere around the web people are invoking Hopi Prophecy:

"This is the Seventh Sign: You will hear of the sea turning black, and many living things dying because of it."

White Feather, a Hopi of the ancient Bear Clan.

Just something to contemplate.

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Jun 3, 2010

The Dark Side of Positive Thinking

Neo meets the Oracle ~ The Matrix

This article on the perils of positive thinking really jumped out at me. I've noted before the growing backlash against the self-help movement and its relentless feel good message. There is much to relate to in the author's failed attempts at self-improvement. Like so many of us, he learned that there are no panaceas.

Most interesting are comments from the author of a soon to be released book on the pitfalls and limitations of the self-help industry.

Worse still, as British author and academic Dr. Neel Burton argues in The Art of Failure: An Anti Self-Help Guide, these well-meaning efforts at self-improvement might actually amount to the psychological equivalent of self-inflicted wounds. “These books prevent us from knowing ourselves, and what we get in the end is basically a nervous breakdown,” Burton says. “We know that in the Untied States, for example, ten per cent of the population is on anti-depressants and a significantly higher proportion of the population is on other psychotropic medication. Why is that?”

The answer, Burton believes, lies in the fact that the average self-improvement treatise encourages the belief that personal happiness is the product of sculpted abs, nicer clothes, or more personal wealth. Those are dangerous distractions, he argues, from the true source of human happiness, our relationships with others. “We don’t pay enough attention to our human relationships, and we don’t treat our human relationships with the respect and consideration that they deserve. We’d be much happier if we focused more on them, on our relationships with our friends, our family, and our partners.”

Ultimately, Burton says, the true path to happiness doesn’t lie in thinking positively or mimicking the seven habits of highly effective people but instead in cultivating a greater self-awareness. He believes that our estrangement from that awareness, and our increasingly manic obsession with all things us, represent a departure from our natural instincts as human beings. “In traditional cultures, people lived in very close knit communities. They knew each other, and they didn’t really focus on themselves so much. The focus on life was on the survival community and not on their own individuality. Modern society is very different from that. There’s a huge emphasis on me; my goals, my life, my death. That puts a lot of pressure on people, and it’s not the kind of pressure that we’re evolved to cope with. That’s the source of many of our problems."

So much of The Secret and its ilk is all about separating yourself from people and making yourself better and more successful than everybody else. So little is on cultivating human relationships or uplifting humanity as a whole. I'm still at a loss, for instance, to understand how Rhonda Byrne's advice to "not observe" fat people as a weight loss plan advances the human condition. Yes, I do keep coming back to that example... because it's heinous.

And then there's James Arthur Ray who has so perfected self absorption that he's repeatedly failed to notice serious injury and death among students in his own seminars.

I can't help thinking that someone who knows so well "how the universe works" could come up with loftier ways to apply that knowledge than the endless pursuit of personal wealth and success.  But James Arthur Ray, like most motivational speakers, is focused on "top achievers" and how to become one. My new favorite Ray category: the "higher, upper echelon of people on this planet." How does that advance a community or the world? It separates us from them... as if the world weren't already sharply divided between haves and have nots.

Hat tip to the Salty Droid for this quote from a police interview with former James Arthur Ray follower Martha Stern. (I recommend downloading the pdf and reading the whole thing... because wow.)

Many Messengers of the Light thought they had some higher purpose :: that they were going to help shape a new and better world. But James was having none of that :: after The Secret he significantly raised the prices of his events … and he broke up the old club.

From Martha Stem’s Police Interview ::

Because of The Secret he actually did a call with us, and my husband probably has that recorded where he said you know where he disbanded the fraternity, he got rid of the (Inaudible) we are not going to do any of that stuff anymore. We’re not, he says, because I can’t, all it would take is a picture of us walking around in white robes to show up on Oprah and you know the whole thing will be done. And I’m like okay what, I thought this was something that was supposed to be important, we were all on the same page here, we are trying to make a better world for people and that’s really not what we’re about, so good bye.

I'm not even going to try to make sense of the hodge-podge of world traditions repackaged around pop themes that make up James Ray's "philosophy." I just find it fascinating how quickly and easily he discards those practices when they no longer fit the image he wants to present; shedding all interest in improving the world with a wardrobe change. It's all style over substance. What apparently became clear to Martha Stern was that Ray had no real interest in helping the world beyond James Arthur Ray and that he was teaching that narcissism as a way of life.

This is not to say being self-focused is bad in and of itself and I should distinguish again between the self and the ego. As I said here, expecting the universe to be your personal "catalog" or "genie" is pure ego indulgence. Self examination, however, is also an integral part of spiritual growth. But that kind of inward focus is ruthlessly suppressed in the self-help movement. From Lisa Nichols not wanting to hear anyone's "story" to Bob Proctor's advice that you put on cheerful music to drown out your bad mood, the association of personal growth with "staying positive" is stultifying.

I'm currently reading the excellent, but sadly out of print, Beyond the Ashes. In it Rabbi Gershom describes his frustration at getting any spirituality group to allow him to do a seminar on the many cases of Holocaust reincarnates he was encountering.

Then in 1984 I was invited to speak on Jewish mysticism at the annual Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship (SFF) retreat at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. SFF is an eclectic group of spiritually oriented people who are interested in psychic phenomena, and most believe in reincarnation. Here, I thought, would be a receptive audience for these case histories that I had been gathering. So I suggested "Cases of Holocaust Reincarnation" as my topic.

I was turned down flat. The SFF representative explained that the theme of the retreat would be "I Am the Light," and they wanted to focus on uplifting, positive material because that's what people expected. The Holocaust was just too heavy and depressing, and might upset people, even if I were talking about reincarnation. Couldn't I do something more inspiring, like a Sabbath liturgy?

Not surprisingly, when Gershom was finally able to get something published on the topic, he was flooded with requests from people who were troubled by past life memories of horrible deaths in Nazi Germany. The need for healing on this issue was, and is, very real. And true healing cannot happen without acknowledgment of painful issues and emotions that conflict with the "love and light" focus of so much pop spirituality. The human condition is one of darkness as well as light.

Ironically, as Dr. Burton shared with me during our interview, the idea of embracing our flaws rather than trying to bench press them out of existence, is a form of wisdom as old as society itself. Inscribed on the Temple of Apollo, the revered site where leaders of the ancient Greek world would consult the Oracle of Delphi on any matter of significance, is one particularly important phrase: “know thyself.” To bend an old cliché, when it comes to the self-improvement industry truer words have never since been spoken.

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