Welcome to my blog---an eyes-open, no-holds-barred exploration of Western and Eastern spirituality, mindfulness, philosophy and literature. A member of the Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association, I lectured at the NSW Institute of Psychiatry to mental health workers for 14 years and also lectured for 16 years at the University of Technology, Sydney. My interests include the psychology of religion, transformative ritual, mythology and addiction recovery.
Here are two Bible verses that have always meant a lot to me, even though my understanding of the verses has changed considerably over the years. First, Psalm 46: 1, which says, ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’ Second, Isaiah 26:3, which says, ‘You [God] will keep them in perfect peace,whose minds are stayed on You …’
I do not believe in some anthropomorphic God ‘up there’ or ‘out there.’ Such a ‘God’---or rather an image of God---is nothing other than a human construct, and not a very good one at that. For me, God is the presence and power---the very ‘livingness’---of the Eternal Now as it unfolds unceasingly from one moment to the next. We live fully---indeed, we can only be said to be truly alive---when we live and move and have our being, that is, are fixed and focused, in the reality of the Now.
The verse from Psalms affirms that this God---if you choose to use that word at all---of which I speak is our ‘refuge’ and ‘strength’ and a ‘very present help in trouble.’ That is indeed the case. The only power that can be ours is that which is found in the reality of the present moment. That is the only ‘place’ in which we can find rest and peace and solace. It is the only ‘place’ wherein we can find help in time of trouble, for if we seek that help in the past or in the future we look in vain. Indeed, trouble really only occurs when we allow ourselves to dwell in either the past or the future. True peace and acceptance can only be found in the calm acknowledgment of the reality of the present moment. I have said as much on so many occasions.
The verse from Isaiah says pretty much the same thing, namely, that if we stay fixed and focused, and fully grounded, in the reality of the Eternal Now---that is, if our minds are fully and mindfully engaged in what is taking place in and around us now---we will know and enjoy ‘perfect peace,’ no matter what happens.
Everything---and I mean everything---is contained within ‘the Now.’ All duration – or time – is total and complete in the Now. There is an ‘eternal’ quality about the Now. It is forever new. The present moment has its unfolding in the Now. That is all we truly ‘possess,’ but it is more than sufficient.
May the peace and power of the Now be yours---now and always.
It’s not all that clear in the book The Wizard of Oz, but in subsequent Oz books the author L Frank Baum, having changed elements of the storyline more than once, made it unambiguously clear---the Emerald City really is green. There is no need for special green spectacles to be worn, to make it all look green!
The Emerald City, in the initial book, was not emerald (or green) at all. It was merely white, but each visitor to, and inhabitant of, the city was given green-tinted glasses which made everything appear green. They were told the glasses were necessary to shield them from the blindingly shiny green colour---the ‘brightness and glory’ of the city---but it was a hoax, as are most of the claims of conventional religion.(NOTE. In the 1939 movie the Emerald City really was green.)
I am not that old. I am only 57, but I well remember a time when Roman Catholics were prohibited by their church from reading the Bible in their homes or otherwise in private, and from attending any services (eg weddings or funerals) in Protestant churches. As recently as 2007 Pope Benedict XVI declared that Christian denominations other than his own were ‘not true churches.’ And Protestants, especially evangelicals, were---and still are---often no better, with their cries against ‘Popery.’ Most of the Baptist ministers I have known---including the one who was the celebrant at the marriage of my wife and I in 1980---took the view that Catholics weren’t really Christians. (I only mention Baptists because I was reared as one.)
The green glasses are like the dogmas that religious wizards insist their followers adopt so their ecclesiastical cities will look green and vital.
The joke is that the Emerald City really is made of emeralds; it really is green, quite naturally. Religion really is what it says it is--a place of treasures and marvels--but the humbug wizards who have got themselves put in charge of it--the priests and ministers--have no faith in the natural value of their city, so they require the unnecessary and artificial spectacles. They think that emeralds need the assistance of green glasses. ...
The Emerald City is green! There is no need for special green spectacles to ‘make’ it look green. That reminds me of studying Philosophy as an undergraduate. The lecturer would say, ‘The sky is blue. The sky does not become any bluer because you believe it to be blue. Further, the proposition---the sky is blue---does not become any truer because you believe it to be true.’ As already mentioned, Baum changed the storyline of Oz such that, after the Emerald City was conquered by General Jinjur and her Army of Revolt, the use of green spectacles was discontinued, for the city itself is green (seeThe Marvelous Land of Oz). I love that. They came to realise that there was absolutely no need for the green spectacles. More and more people are coming to realise that the special green spectacles dispensed by organized religion are not only unnecessary, they actually distort reality. Good stuff! Bring it on!
Yes, the world really is green---and note that word ‘green.’ We don’t need any special glasses to see that. Beliefs and dogmas are thought coverings or veils (āvarnas). That is how Shakyamuni Buddha referred to them. These thought coverings or veils do not reveal reality, indeed they distort reality. How? Well, they prevent us from knowing and experiencing things as they really are in all their directness and immediacy. Belief is conditioning. Knowledge is experiential. Bugger beliefs and dogmas!
Beliefs and dogmas are a menace to society---and a total, impenetrable barrier to true knowledge and wisdom. Beliefs and dogmas are always someone else's 'version' of reality---the result of someone else's conditioned mind, mental habits and fragmentary thinking, that is, the past. There is nothing of any value to believe, and there is nothing to be gained by believing anything or anyone. Just observe. Then you will know---and understand.
Beliefs and dogmas, being 'mechanical' in nature, and constructed entirely of past thoughts, are for spiritual cripples---that is, those who can't, or won't, think for themselves. In that regard, I have always found helpful these words attributed to the Buddha: 'Do not believe, for if you believe, you will never know. If you really want to know, don't believe.' The current president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Rev. Peter Morales, has stated:
Religion is not about what you or I or Baptists or Catholics or Jews or Muslims or Hindus believe. I would even go a giant step further: Belief is the enemy of religion. Let me repeat that: Belief is the enemy of religion. [Emphasis in the original]
Morales goes on to say that any religion that is focused on belief is 'a dangerous corruption of true religion.' True religion, according to Morales, is 'about what we love, not about what we think.' It's 'about what you and I hold sacred.' The Unitarian Universalist movement, says Morales, offers religion beyond belief, 'religion that transcends culture, race and class ... religion where we can grow spiritually, a religion where we can forge deep and lasting relationships, a religion where we can join hands to help heal a broken world.' That is the kind of religion - or metareligion - that I embrace.
The great thing about mindfulness is that it ensures that there are no barriers between you---the person that you are---and external reality. That’s right---no barriers. So, forget all about beliefs, dogmas, priests, mediators, gurus and anything else that seeks to interpose itself between you and reality and your direct, immediate and unmediated moment-to-moment experience of reality. Beware of all ‘humbug.’ Eschew it! The Emerald City is green. It really is! Let us rejoice in that fact---and come alive!
The Biblical story of Jacob and Esau---like so many other Bible stories---contains some wonderful 'advice' on how we can overcome problems and difficulties and realise our true potential. What a shame that so many Christians fail to understand that these stories were never meant to be taken literally---or only literally. Most of the stories in the Bible have an 'inner', metaphysical meaning.
The Bible says that the struggle between Jacob and Esau began right from their conception and birth:
Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If all is well, why am I like this?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord.And the Lord said to her: ‘Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body;One people shall be stronger than the other,And the older shall serve the younger.’ So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. (Gen 25:21-26 [NKJV])
Although fraternal twins, Jacob (the younger brother) and Esau were very different in appearance and personality. Esau (meaning ‘red’, ‘hairy’, ‘rough’, ‘shaggy’) was a ‘hairy man’ while Jacob was a ‘smooth-skinned man’ (Gen 27:11 [NKJV]). Jacob (meaning‘one who takes by the heel’, ‘one who leaves behind’, ‘supplanter’), who God later renamed as Israel (meaning ‘one who struggles with God’), was the second-born of the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah (see Gen 25:24-26), and the grandson of Abraham and Sarah. Jacob, who was a quiet and peaceful man, a ‘thinker,’ a shepherd, in stark contrast to his slightly older brother Esau, was born quickly after Esau, who was often irresponsible and foolhardy. We are told that his hand clutched his brother’s foot, meaning that the mind is meant to control the body, to exercise dominion over the physical (Esau).
Allegorically, and metaphysically, Jacob and Esau are the ‘twins’---or opposing ‘forces,’ ‘elements’ or ‘tendencies’---struggling within each one of us. Jacob [Hebrew ‘Yakub,’ name derived from the root ‘Yak’ or ‘One’, cf the monotheistic idea of the oneness of God or Life] represents our higher nature, our intellect, as well as book knowledge (as opposed to true ‘wisdom’), whereas Esau represents our physical nature, material power, materialistic thinking, that is, worldly things.
When 'Esau' is dominant in our life, the body, and the things of the body, prevail over the mind. However, when 'Jacob' is dominant in our life, the mind is dominant over the body, but there is still a long way to go as respects our inner development.The mental or intellectual (‘Jacob’) must still become the spiritual (‘Israel’). That is why Jacob must depart on his (inner, spiritual) journey for Haran (which represents an exalted state of consciousness).
Esau foolishly sold his birthright to Jacob for a pottage of lentils (see Gen 25:29-34).The Esau part of us is only concerned with physical things---the body, lust, material possessions, and so forth. The physical side of us is depicted as a glutton, interested primarily in filling one’s stomach. Esau didn’t care about his birthright; he said it made no difference anyway, as he was about to die of hunger anyway.The symbolism is pretty clear. In addition, by means of a deceptive scheme set up by Rebekah, Jacob next managed to get Esau's blessing from the nearly-blind Isaac, then completing the transfer of the rights of the firstborn from Esau to Jacob (Gen 27:1-40).
Esau's response was a plan to kill Jacob. That is the world’s typical response to any opposition or difficulty. That is the way of the gangster---and the ‘bankster.’ It is the way of the so-called ‘big end of town.’ Don’t mess with us, or we will fix you up ‘nice and proper.’ (I hear those words said---in various ways---quite often. I hear those words, or similar words, spoken by the 'biggies' in law firms, insurance companies, banks, and so forth. Yes, I really do.) The 'Esau consciousness'---so prevalent in our materialistic, consumeristic world today---knows only how to destroy that which threatens it.That’s why we have endless wars and violence as well as many other social and economic problems (such as the 'Global Financial Crisis')---and also problems in our own personal lives. Yes, we---including me---act from an Esau consciousness more often than we care to think. Let’s not be self-righteous about all of this.
The Esau consciousness or mindset must be supplanted by the Jacob consciousness (that is, mental or intellectual dominion). However, the 'Jacob consciousness' is not the end-of-it. It will not bring us any lasting peace of mind. No, not at all. The Bible---indeed, all sacred scripture---depicts another, more exalted state of consciousness---namely, the 'Israel consciousness.' This state of mind or mindset is one of spiritual consciousness and spiritual dominion. What do I mean by that? By ‘spiritual’, I mean non-material, non-physical. I am speaking of wisdom as opposed to book knowledge---the wisdom that ‘knows’ that you are one with all other life, that you are life, and that you can never be less than life, the wisdom that ‘knows’ that you can overcome any problems and difficulties life presents provided you are prepared to be relieved of the bondage of self.
One of the most well-known stories of the Bible is Jacob's ‘stairway to heaven’ dream (also known as ‘Jacob's ladder’).It occurred while Jacob was fleeing the wrath of Esau, his brother.He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.There above the ladder stood the Lord, who said, ‘I Am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.’
Jacob’s ladder symbolises the Jacob mentality ascending step by step to an exalted spiritual consciousness, in which there is a conscious awareness of the Omnipresence and Allness of God---that is, that there is only life, and all life is one, divine, sacred and holy. You can call 'It' the 'Eternal Now,' if you like.
The Jacob mentality is still to become ‘Israel’ but it is well on its way. The great hymn, ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’, by Sarah Flower Adams---a Unitarian---was inspired by the story of Jacob’s ladder. Whether we know it or not, we are all seeking some kind of ladder to lead us to ‘God,’ whatever we understand ‘God’ to be. (May I suggest that you simply see ‘It’ as the ‘Other,’ as the ‘Power-not-oneself.’) Yes, no matter what our circumstances may be, no matter how many mistakes we’ve made in our lives, we can still ‘ascend’ Jacob’s ladder, with us at one end and God, as we understand God, at the 'top'---although I am not referering to higher and lower levels of reality. What is that ladder?It is the thing we call meditation or prayer.
Perhaps the most mysterious incident in the Bible’s account of Jacob's life is the nightlong battle described in the closing verses of the 32nd chapter of Genesis.Jacob is preparing for his encounter with Esau the next day.We are told that ‘a man wrestled with him until dawn.’ Jacob is injured in the struggle, but is undefeated. At daybreak, Jacob's combatant pleads with him to let him go. Jacob says: ‘I will not let you until you bless me.’ The man accedes and confers upon him the name Israel, ‘because you have struggled with the divine and with men, and you have prevailed.’ (Israel---yisrael in the Hebrew---means ‘the one who prevails over the divine’).
Ultimately, when Jacob fully lets go and surrenders to the will of God---that is, accepts life on life’s own terms with the calm acceptance and knowledge that whatever is, is best---God (or the ‘Power-not-oneself’) takes over and Israel makes peace between Esau and Jacob.
Jacob becomes lame after his spiritual overcoming. He could never walk in earthly things with the same step again. So it is with each of us when we grow spiritually and move away from the earthly and material things of life. Yes, we will walk with a 'limp' of sorts---the proof that we have fought and overcome a mighty battle against the 'self' and all that would hold us in bondage and captivity. Yes, there is a 'price' to be paid for true freedom from the bondage of self and the silly but dangerous things of the world.
It was---and will be for each of us as well---a long and difficult struggle till dawn, but in the end we can indeed triumph over our lower selves, indeed over the very notion of ‘self’ itself.The result---if we really want it, more than anything else? Well, for one thing, fear---even if it be present---will lose its grip and power over us, and we will come to know peace and serenity, and we will be able to accept life on its terms … and be happy! And, in the words of an old hymn, 'the things of earth will grow strangely dim.' Amen.
Chaskalson, who is one of the world's foremost proponents of the use of mindfulness in workplace settings, offers a practical and theoretical guide to the benefits of MBSR in the workplace. He describes the latest neuroscience research into the effects of mindfulness training and details an eight-week mindfulness training course.
Chaskalson makes the point---and also provides evidentiary material to support his view---that business success and other ‘economic imperatives’ are not only not inconsistent with human wellbeing, they are totally consistent, even synergistically interrelated. I only wish more entrepreneurs were of that mindset. Too many of them are concerned only with the so-called ‘bottom line,’ failing to realise that their bottom line would significantly improve if they wisely invested in the human wellbeing of their employees.
Researchers studied 83 patients who had a physician-documented case of asthma and randomised participants to receive either mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), or a control of a healthy living course.
MBSR featured 8 weekly sessions lasting 2.5 hours each, with one 6-hour session in the sixth week.
At 12 months, those in the intervention group had a clinically significant improvement in asthma-related quality of life compared with the controls, with an increase in scores of 0.72 and 0.06 respectively. Perceived stress scores had also decreased by 4.3 in the intervention group, compared with an increase of 0.2 in the controls.
Study lead Dr Lori Pbert, professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said, ‘From clinical perspective, these findings are comparable to quality of life improvements in trials of widely prescribed asthma medications, including inhaled corticosteroids and an anti-IgE antibody.'
NOTE. Asthma is a serious chronic disease of the lungs. Asthma should be managed pursuant to a physician-approved asthma action plan, with the plan being reviewed at least every 6 months or after a severe asthma attack. For more information on asthma, here is the website of National Asthma Council Australia.