Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Do I Believe In A Divine Deity?

I've been fascinated by religion and philosophy for ages. Despite feeling that I am largely an existentialist and have no a belief in a god or gods per say, I have been finding a spiritual path of sorts, largely through my practice of Yoga (and I completely admit to being a Yoga zealot), and readings in the Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Pagan and Sikh traditions. These traditions have left me feeling that I am free to explore my spiritual nature and I have taken aspects from each, as well as the western cannon of Philosophy and Psychology, to form the present day working document  of my beliefs. Certainly, I have given thought to the teachings of Christianity and Islam as well, however, I found their rigidity, vagueness, demands of obedience and leaps of faith to be too much for what I can accept from where I stand. There are wonderful teachings of peace and ideas of how to lead a spiritual life in Islam and Christianity, but the dogmatic nature of these faiths simply are not for me. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” This is how I see life - a subjective journey where change remains the only constant and, ultimately, all the elements for inner peace and internal chaos co-exist. It is how these elements arrange and manifest in the moment, and how we handle their manifestation that creates our reality and state of being. Nietzsche also wrote: “I teach you the Superman. Man is something that should be overcome.” While not intending to be elitist, I do believe in making life a journey of transformation, but understand that this may not look the same in the mind's of others. And so I try to live by the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

So, yes, all faiths allow one to seek a spiritual path through a belief system, senses of morality and sense of the divine; some with more guidance and restrictions than others.Bringing us to the ultimate part of all this - moving from the thought and action to the existence of things like a supreme conscious universal being- (G)god(s) and souls/spirits.

There is energy that runs through all things on the planet - Science shows us this: electrical synapses and currents in the brain cause us to experience everything that we experience. Movement is energy and, in order to posses energy to move, we eat, draw from the sun, etc., and we exert that energy back into other things which our exertions, music, sexual intercourse and pregnancy, body heat, etc. Energy is stimulated when we sing or chant "Om" - resinating vibrations throughout our system, knocking the gunk out of our internal structure and forcing vibrations strong enough to shatter glass and ripple water. Rocks, water - all things possess energy and conduct it. Energy runs through all things.

In the Yogic traditions, they have called this prana or kundalini, and Yogis seek  to manipulate the control of these things through the body (you may have heard of the Seven Chakras or Five Koshas) and to link them back out into the universe. There's something to be said about energy and how it may be manipulated to a noticeable effect. Certainly after doing a few moments of deep pranayama (big belly breaths) breathing with my Elementary and Middle-school  students in the past, even they could pick up on the noticeable drop in the classroom's energy levels from stressed  and hyper to serene. During Yoga and meditation, even a first time practitioner can notice a significant change in their bodies on an energy and, oftentimes, emotional level, and this can become the pursuit of one's life's meaning. Again, the co-existence of internal bliss and chaos are elements seeded within us all and of the nature of being fleeting. Thus, we may work to master our energy, however impermanence is the nature of all in life - we may experience orgasms beyond dreams and suffering that presses us to the brink of suicide - but both sensations, which are massive energetic manifestations, will not last forever.

Our mind is a chemical soup mixed with organic solids that, through the synapse, create all that we experience. The five senses, the cue for your heart to beat, all of those things are electrical signals. What alludes me in my sense of the divinity of this force lies in this energy's intelligence or potential consciousness beyond the self. We shed and gain new energy all of the time. Ultimately, there is a unification of thought and self maintained throughout all of this in life in our consciousness. The question is, when the brain dies with the body, does this prana, kundalini, life force, holy spirit or whetever you chose to lable it, disperse or remain largely intact, either moving into the cells of something newly created or mixing with other universal elements (god?) and continue an eternity of manifestation and altering form? 

Then there is breath. Breath, of course, sustains  life. Pranayama, Kapalabhati and Ujjayi are just three types of Yoga breathing in Yoga that, when practiced, have immediate affects on the body. Likewise there is mindfulness meditation through Buddhism and prayer in general in other faiths.The breath connects us to our selves and to one another. We all breathe the same air, and, odds are, the air that is in your lungs now, keeping you alive, consists of the breath of billions of others, past and present. Perhaps you have a few respiratory drops of Gandhi, Lady Gaga, Charlie Sheen, Hitler or Mother Theresa in you right now. I worked for years in a maximum security prison and shudder to think of the negativity I must have ingested, but I've also been in proximity to many incredible people, so I'm hoping it all balances out karmic-ally. When we breath in, that O2 enters our blood stream and circulates around our entire body, nurturing each cell, cleaning out cellular byproducts and then releases them with an exhalation out into the universe. So, you can see, that even Science shows that we are connected on a very deep level - penetrated down to the life of every cell in our body.The same principles, of course, include that which we eat and drink as well.

So, between the breath, and synaptic/electric charge that unites all things, the question remains as to the intellectual nature of this universal life force. This world/universe is an incredibly complex creation which, in my opinion, will never truly be explained in terms to how things came into being. I shy away from the notions of intelligent design, thinking more in the area of pure miraculous evolution and adaptations. I see our human selves to be creature capable of limitless potential and think a large part of that promise can be found through Yoga and working with Prana and Kundalini (enter, Feddy's "Superman"). This is a difficult sell as many do not understand Yoga, holding limited interpretations based on modern Yoga trends and magazines which seem to be more about work-outs, fashion and the odd feel good phrase (hey - I stated clearly that I'm a Yoga Zealot!), and, you are right: simply stretching ain't gonna bring the light. Yoga, for those interested in following this point up for their own interest, is truly a way of life (but not necessarily the way for all) and, is not just about a 1 hour class of stretching and breathing on a Yoga mat, followed by a Caramel Macchiato at the local Starbucks while cloaked in the latest of the Lululemon line. That can all be great and lead to happiness. It's just not what Yoga is about - nor is Yoga about Moksha Hot Yoga Inc., Birkram trying to copyright asanas and treating Yogi's like Gurmukh as a celebrity (went to two seesions this week with Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, and, while I'm very interested in pursuing Kundilini Yoga much further, I was sickened by the whole rock-star billing of the night. Not to insult Gurmukh's teachings as she has given much to Yoga and I'm certain she has her merits, but I thought her presentation was well below the standards I would expect from a seasoned guru of her stature. Again though, loved the practice)... and I personally love Starbucks - tall Americano...MMMMmmm!

Yoga consists of Eight limbs (written by Mara Carrico):

In Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is calledashtanga, which literally means "eight limbs" (ashta=eight,anga=limb). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one's health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.
The first limb, yama, deals with one's ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The five yamas are:
Ahimsa: nonviolence
Satya: truthfulness
Asteya: nonstealing
Brahmacharya: continence
Aparigraha: noncovetousness
Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice.
The five niyamas are:
Saucha: cleanliness
Samtosa: contentment
Tapas: heat; spiritual austerities
Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one's self
Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God

Asanas, the postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third limb. In the yogic view, the body is a temple of spirit, the care of which is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation.
Generally translated as breath control, this fourth stage consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. As implied by the literal translation of pranayama, "life force extension," yogis believe that it not only rejuvenates the body but actually extends life itself. You can practicepranayama as an isolated technique (i.e., simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or integrate it into your daily hatha yoga routine.
These first four stages of Patanjali's ashtanga yoga concentrate on refining our personalities, gaining mastery over the body, and developing an energetic awareness of ourselves, all of which prepares us for the second half of this journey, which deals with the senses, the mind, and attaining a higher state of consciousness.
Pratyahara, the fifth limb, means withdrawal or sensory transcendence. It is during this stage that we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. Keenly aware of, yet cultivating a detachment from, our senses, we direct our attention internally. The practice of pratyahara provides us with an opportunity to step back and take a look at ourselves. This withdrawal allows us to objectively observe our cravings: habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and which likely interfere with our inner growth.
As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of pratyahara creates the setting fordharana, or concentration. Having relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself. No easy task! In the practice of concentration, which precedes meditation, we learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object: a specific energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound. We, of course, have already begun to develop our powers of concentration in the previous three stages of posture, breath control, and withdrawal of the senses. In asana and pranayama, although we pay attention to our actions, our attention travels. Our focus constantly shifts as we fine-tune the many nuances of any particular posture or breathing technique. In pratyahara we become self-observant; now, in dharana, we focus our attention on a single point. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation.
Meditation or contemplation, the seventh stage of ashtanga, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be one and the same, a fine line of distinction exists between these two stages. Where dharana practices one-pointed attention, dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all. The strength and stamina it takes to reach this state of stillness is quite impressive. But don't give up. While this may seem a difficult if not impossible task, remember that yoga is a process. Even though we may not attain the "picture perfect" pose, or the ideal state of consciousness, we benefit at every stage of our progress.
Patanjali describes this eighth and final stage of ashtanga as a state of ecstasy. At this stage, the meditator merges with his or her point of focus and transcends the Self altogether. The meditator comes to realize a profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all living things. With this realization comes the "peace that passeth all understanding"; the experience of bliss and being at one with the Universe. On the surface, this may seem to be a rather lofty, "holier than thou" kind of goal. However, if we pause to examine what we really want to get out of life, would not joy, fulfillment, and freedom somehow find their way onto our list of hopes, wishes, and desires? What Patanjali has described as the completion of the yogic path is what, deep down, all human beings aspire to: peace. We also might give some thought to the fact that this ultimate stage of yoga—enlightenment—can neither be bought nor possessed. It can only be experienced, the price of which is the continual devotion of the aspirant.

In the end, as Pascal's Wager states: "It does not matter whether or not I believe God exists". This rings true as what I think and feel is prone to change and the impacts of my thoughts simply lend themselves to the impermanence of all things - speaking from my Existentialist mind. Again, I echo what Nietzsche wrote: “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” In the end, I endeavour to nurture that connection within myself, to those around me and with the greater universe as a whole in a positive manner. No matter our path, it is our intent that truly defines us. As Guru Nanak stated: "Owing to ignorance of the rope the rope appears to be a snake; owing to ignorance of the Self the transient state arises of the individualized, limited, phenomenal aspect of the Self." As we look inside we may see several different things. The important thing is that we find a way to make this looking viable and fruitful. In closing, to support Guru Nanak's thoughts, here are the first few lines from Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras - the bases of the sutures that sew and stitch together that sense of self and universal discovery, while liberating one's self from our thoughts, connecting to the divine self in the Yogic tradition. In yoga it is the direct experience from practice, which educates our beliefs. Our beliefs must conform to experiential "reality", not the other way around. When our extrinsic view of the world corresponds to how it truly is-as-it-is (swarupa-sunyam), then the view and reality are synched in a profound mutuality acting as mutual synergists. Something clicks, a palpable shift occurs, and one experiences harmony, true happiness, and peace. Through body/mind integration, love, beauty, and wisdom manifests through the yogi in action .

1.1 Now, instruction in Union.
1.2. Union is restraining the thought-streams natural to the mind.
1.3. Then the seer dwells in his own nature.
1.4. Otherwise he is of the same form as the thought-streams.
1.5. The thought-streams are five-fold, painful and not painful.

Om Shanti


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