Saturday, September 28, 2013

MINDFULNESS ACCORDING TO EPICTETUS

Epictetus (c55--135 CE) [pictured left as well as below left], who was born in Hierapolis in Phrygia (modern-day Turkey), was a Greek sage and Stoic philosopher of some renown. He was one of the last of the Stoics---even though he adhered very closely to the early Stoic tradition---and he was possibly the greatest of them all.

When only a boy he was made a slave in Rome, banished by the Roman emperor Domitian, but he managed to study under the great Roman stoic teacher Musonius Rufus. After being freed---we are not sure when or why that occurred---he went to Greece, to a little town in Epirus, where he opened his own school of philosophy. 

It seems that Epictetus wrote nothing himself, and we are indebted to one of his students, Flavius Arrian, for committing to writing the Encheiridion (‘Manual’), the work that represent Epictetus’ teachings, being lecture transcriptions of Epictetus. Sadly, most of Arrian’s writings, including those that purport to record the philosophy of Epictetus, are no longer extant. What is of interest is that the Encheiridion was much used in the Middle Ages as a guide to the principles of the Christian monastic life.

Now, Epictetus was not a mere theoretician or speculative philosopher, for he saw and wrote about things-as-they-really-are. As Epictetus rightly saw it, life is ever so often harsh and cruel, and there is much that happens to us that we have not actively or even passively brought about. Acceptance, he said, is the answer to all our problems and difficulties. As the Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti would often say, ‘In the acknowledgment of what is, there is the cessation of all conflict.’ Not only the cessation of conflict, but serenity, peace of mind, and freedom. Epictetus expressed it this way:

Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: some things are within our control, and some things are not.

Epictetus' idea of acceptance is well-expressed in this statement attributed to him: 'I do not obey God, I agree with Him.' In other words, we must accept things-as-they-really-are. One of the most important things to learn in life is this---events, in particular things that happen, are, in and of themselves, impersonal. They do not happen to us. They simply happen. Yes, we must take responsibility for making an appropriate response to events  for which we are responsible, but we are not responsible for the actions or opinions of others. Events don’t, or shouldn’t, hurt us. It is our perceptions of those events that hurts us. In that regard, Epictetus wrote, ‘We are not disturbed by things, but by the view we take of them,’ and ‘It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.’ He went even further, saying:

Does the tyrant say he will throw me into prison? He cannot imprison my spirit. Does he say that he will put me to death? He can only cut off my head.

Epictetus wrote much on the right disposition of the will---the will to live, the will to survive, the will to overcome, and the will to be happy. Will is the ability, that is, the power, to make a decision, and then do what is necessary to see things through, but no more power than that is required for the task. Will, and not so-called 'will power,' is the way to go. We must, however, learn to properly control our will, and use it wisely, if we wish to be masters of our own fate. 

Then there’s this gem of Epictetus, which says much about the nature and ‘purpose’ of both philosophy and life itself: ‘The essence of philosophy is that we should so live that our happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.’ Yes, Epictetus was an early apologist for living simply. One other thing---he never speculated on life after death; indeed he never dealt directly with the subject at all.

Here’s another wonderful thing about the man. He understood the power and workings of the human mind in a way that was very much ahead of his time. He wrote: ‘In all people, thought and action start from a single source, namely feeling.’ In saying that, Epictetus showed that he had more than a little understanding of the workings of the subconscious mind. You see, thought must be backed up by feeling for it to have any power. Thought and feeling blend together in forming conviction. Without conviction no thought (eg ideal, hope) can take hold in the subconscious mind, and it is only when the subconscious mind accepts one’s thought is there any chance of its actualization. Epictetus was an early exponent of self-image psychology and creative visualization. He wrote: ‘First say to yourself what you would be, and then do what you have to do.’

Epictetus also saw the inter-connectedness and interdependence of all things whilst resisting an overall monism. He also held that, despite our preconceptions (prolepsis) of good and evil, there was only one ultimate Power (‘God’) and that Power was All-Good and very near to us. Yes, the Power can be used by us and others for purposes that are either relative good or relative bad, but unity, not duality, is the name of the game. Unhappiness is due to opinions and beliefs that we hold---preconceptions that not only stand in objective contradiction to things-as-they-really-are but also prevent us from seeing things-as-they-really-are. Happiness comes from a mindful acceptance of things-as-they-really-are. And difficulties? Well, they are things ‘that show a person what they are.’ Further, ‘you are not free unless you are master of yourself.’ On the subject of what we now call mindfulness Epictetus wrote:

Open your eyes: see things for what they really are, thereby sparing yourself the pain of false attachments and avoidable devastation.

Over the years many writers and commentators have remarked upon the similarities between Stoicism and Buddhism. Both systems of thought espouse the view that pain and suffering are largely the result of attachment and not seeing things-as-they-really-are. Both systems of thought stress the importance of acceptance and non-resistance. Both systems of thought assert that happiness and freedom are attainable---even in a most imperfect and often harsh world that is not entirely or even substantially of our own making.

Epictetus was also an early apologist for the art and science and practice of mindfulness. What does he say on the matter? Here's this gem, which reminds me of the Buddha's advice, 'When you walk, just walk, when you eat, just eat, when you sleep, just sleep, and when you sit, just sit,' and St Paul's 'This one thing I do' (Phil 3:13):

When you are going about any action, remind yourself what nature the action is. If you are going to bathe, picture to yourself the things which usually happen in the bath: some people splash the water, some push, some use abusive language, and others steal. Thus you will more safely go about this action if you say to yourself, ‘I will now go bathe, and keep my own mind in a state conformable to nature.’ And in the same manner with regard to every other action. For thus, if any hindrance arises in bathing, you will have it ready to say, ‘It was not only to bathe that I desired, but to keep my mind in a state conformable to nature; and I will not keep it if I am bothered at things that happen.

'Open your eyes: see things for what they really are,' says Epictetus. The result? You are then spared the pain of false attachments and avoidable devastation. False attachments take many forms, perhaps the worst being beliefs, misbeliefs, and delusions. We are in direct and immediate contact with what is real, but beliefs, misbeliefs, and delusions distort reality and obstruct our moment-to-moment experience and awareness of reality. That is why I rail against all the traditional religious belief systems, especially those of the three great (or not-so-great) monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, at least in their conventional, exoteric forms. Buddhism, at least in its early forms---still found in many parts of the world today---is not a belief system; indeed the historical Buddha also railed against beliefs, asserting that there was nothing to believe.

Open your eyes. See things for what they really are. Know. Understand. But don’t believe.


P.S. This is my 250th post on this blogsite. Heartiest thanks to my many loyal readers. IEJ.



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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

MINDFULNESS ACCORDING TO HERACLITUS

In an earlier post I discussed the ideas and teachings of the enigmatic Presocratic philosopher Heraclitus (c535--c475 BCE) [pictured], and sought to show how those ideas and teachings relate to the practice of mindfulness.

The Scottish-Australian philosopher John Anderson wrote of Heraclitus’ ‘wide awake approach to problems’, by which he meant that Heraclitus adopted and advocated a rigorously empirical and logical methodology in the pursuit of truth (that is, reality, or what is). Heraclitus was known as the ‘flux and fire’ philosopher. He wrote, ‘All things are flowing’, ‘There is nothing permanent except change,’ ‘No person ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and they're not the same person,’ and ‘The sun is new each day.’

Heraclitus also famously said, ‘Let us not conjecture at random about the greatest things. We must follow the common.’ In other words, if we would know the conditions of existence we must look for that which is ‘common’ to all things. This means, among other things, that we should reject supernatural, occult and all other unobservable explanations of the otherwise observable conditions of existence. ‘The things that can be seen, heard and learned are what I prize most,’ he writes. Indeed, Heraclitus eschewed all notions of the occult and the supernatural. He wrote, ‘this world [or world-order] did none of the gods or humans make; but it always was and is and shall be: an ever-living fire, kindling in measures and going out in measures.’ Note, especially, those words 'was and is and shall be.' The world is, was, and ever will be what is is now. There is only the now. That is why it is often referred to as being the 'eternal now.' That is the logos of Heraclitus. And what of time? 'Time is a child playing draughts; the kingdom is a child's.'

Such is the cosmology of Heraclitus and the other exalted thinkers of his day. How ancient, and yet how very modern! Everything---and I mean literally every thing---is in a constant state of flux. ‘A thing rests by changing,’ he wrote. ‘Everything flows and nothing abides, everything yields and nothing remains permanent.’ Whatever lives does so by the destruction of something else. Things wax and wane, and come and go. We, too. We come, and in a very short time we vanish from view. We go. Only life itself, in the form of change and the eternal now, remains. In the words of Heraclitus, 'all things are steered through all things.'

Here’s another gem from Heraclitus in the form of some not-so-new New Thought. It highlights the importance of keeping your thoughts pure and noble, for as you think so you are:

The soul is dyed the colour of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny---it is the light that guides your way.

Heraclitus also wrote that most people are ‘asleep,’ so to speak. Even in their waking moments most people are far from ‘awake,’ that is, mindfulness. Yes, many people ‘live’ their whole lives that way. One may as well be dead. There is little difference between the two states. Here’s what Heraclitus wrote:

Men are as forgetful and heedless
in their waking moments
of what is going on around them
as they are during their sleep.
Fools, although they hear,
are like deaf;
to them the adage applies
that whenever they are present
they are absent.
One should not act or speak
as if he were asleep.
The waking have one world in common;
sleepers have each a private world of his own.
Whatever we see when awake is death,
when asleep, dreams.

How true all that is! All too often we go through the day ‘forgetful’ and ‘heedless,’ unaware of what is happening and going on around us. It is as if we were asleep---or worse, dead. Heraclitus calls such people ‘fools,’ for ‘whenever you are present / you are absent.’ In truth, we can hardly be said to be ‘present,’ for that requires an awareness of awareness---that is, an awareness or mindfulness of the content of one’s consciousness from one moment to the next. 

Here's some more good advice from Heraclitus on the subject of mindfulness, which Heraclitus refers to as the 'ground of being' ('God' according to the 20th century Christian existentialist theologian Paul Tillich):

Since mindfulness, of all things,

is the ground of being,
to speak one's true mind,
and to keep things known
in common, serves all being,
just as laws made clear
uphold the city,
yet with greater strength.
Of all pronouncements of the law
the one source is the Word
whereby we choose what helps
true mindfulness prevail. 


When we do not practise mindfulness in our daily lives we are, ‘whatever we see when awake is death,’ writes Heraclitus. Yes, death! Because whatever was the action---internal or external---of the then present but now gone moment has died on us. Yes, died on us. It is like watching a motion picture film; the picture is moving, but what is being screened is not happening now. It’s in the past.

Heraclitus also wrote that we do not learn what we should, largely because we go through life mindlessly. ‘Many do not understand such things as they encounter, nor do they learn by their experience, but they think they do.’ So, how are we to learn? Certainly not from books. ‘Knowing many things doesn’t teach insight,’ wrote Heraclitus. Insight comes only from awareness and observation---that is, mindfulness. That’s why it’s called ‘insight meditation.’ Heraclitus also urged people to ‘look within,’ saying, ‘I searched into myself,’ and ‘Those who love wisdom must investigate many things.’

Don’t spend your whole life as if you were asleep---or dead. Wake up! Live with awareness. Live with attention. Watch. Observe. Learn by your experience. Live!


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Saturday, September 21, 2013

BIBLE VERSES FOR SPIRITUAL MIND TREATMENT AND HEALING

'Man's mind belongs to a category of being essentially
different from matter and superior to it, however limitless
the dimensions of matter may be.' - Pope Pius XII.

I have had a long and happy association with the metaphysical churches, including Unity and Religious Science. Although I never joined it, I have also attended many services at Christian Science churches. As a spiritual psychologist, I use many of the ideas, teachings, and practices of these churches not only in my own life but also when counselling others. In recent years, many of these very same ideas, teachings, and practices have found their way---or way back---into more mainstream, if Pentecostal, forms of Christianity, including the Word of Faith movement. I am thinking of the writings of people such as Charles Capps.

Deep down, though, I am ever the skeptic, always aware of the dangers of magical thinking. When asked about Christian Science, in particular, I often joke and say, ‘It works well---when you’re not sick. It doesn’t work so well when you’re sick.’ I also happen to think that spiritual mind treatment works better for mental and psychological conditions than for physical ones, but as the latter are so often the result of psychological maladjustment there is in principle no reason why spiritual mind treatment should not work for all types of conditions and dysfunction of both mind and body.

So, I say this---spiritual mind treatment and healing can work wonders, especially in assisting you to stay well, happy, vibrant and alive. It's much easier to stay healthy and vibrant than to regain healthy and vitality when you have lost them through neglect or other means. If, at the end of the day, it all be no more than ‘mind over matter,’ or no better than placebo, then we are still dealing with a formidable power---and I happen to think that there is a lot more involved than just mind over matter.

Here are some verses from the Bible which encapsulate some important metaphysical and psychological principles for spiritual mind treatment and healing---ideas and teachings that you can use for good in your own life.

‘Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you’ (Mt 6:33)

The ‘kingdom of God’ is within you (Lk 17:21) ---within your own mind. Jesus used the words 'kingdom' and 'life' interchangeably. To him, they were one and same. The 'kingdom' is life---abundant life (cf Jn 10:10)---and life renewed, regenerated, resurrected, and redeemed. 

'The eternal God is your dwelling-place' (Deut 33:27). This is, of course, metaphorical language. God is the self-existent and self-sufficient eternal now, the omnipresence of life, and, most especially, the power of your own mind. ‘It is the Father’s [Divine Mind] good pleasure to give you the kingdom’ (Lk 12:32). In other words, it is your divine birthright. You already have within you---within your mind, that is---everything you will ever need to be happy, healthy, vital, whole, and alive.

'Righteousness,’ metaphysically interpreted, refers to right-thinking, and the right use of one’s mind and thoughts. 'We become what we habitually contemplate,' wrote George Russell. 'The future is your present thoughts grown up,' wrote Divine Science minister, lecturer, and author Dr Joseph Murphy. Thought power is always creative---for better or for worse---according to the nature, emotion, impulse, and conviction behind the thought. And what is 'thinking'? Well, the great Plato put it this way: 'Thinking is the talking of the soul with itself.' I like that.

‘You shall decree a thing, and it shall be established for you’ (Job 22:28)

‘There is no power but of God’ (Rom 13:1), ‘God’ being the ‘all in all’ (1 Cor 15:28), or the action of Mind (infinite Intelligence) upon Itself. 'I AM God and there is none else beside me' (Is 45:5). Thus, God is all there is, and thus all that we are. 'God thinks only one Word---Himself,' wrote the great Catholic archbishop Fulton J Sheen. 'Everything that exists is the realization and concretion of an idea existing in the Mind of God from all eternity. ... Every bird, every flower, every tree, has been made according to an idea existing in the Mind of God from all eternity.' Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore expressed it this way: 'God is the silent voice that speaks into visibility all the life there is.'

The power to change your life for the better lies in your own mind, and in the proper use of that mind and your thoughts. ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue’ (Prov 18:21). 'For as you think in your heart [that is, mind], so are you' (Prov 23:7). Thought is the real causative force in life. Indeed, everything owes its existence to an original act of pure, creative thought. Further, that to which we give our attention grows. 'To think is to create,' wrote the founder of Religious Science, Dr Ernest Holmes [pictured left]. 'Thought is the seed of action,' wrote the great Ralph Waldo Emerson. 'The ancestor of every action is a thought.'

One theory is that thought creates a 'mold' in the unconscious mind, into which your thought or idea is 'poured' and then accepted. Then, certain forces are set in motion in accordance with your thought or idea. In the Dhammapada, that great collection of sayings of the historical Buddha, we read this: 'All that we are is the result of what we have thought.' Then there's this gem, also from the Buddha: 'The mind is everything; what you think you become.' The Bible expresses it this way: 'As you sow, so shall you reap' (Gal 6:7). Never forget that.

You would all have heard of the law of cause and effect---that is, all things ('effects') are caused, and are themselves causes of further effects. Metaphysically, we are always becoming cause to our own effects. Also, different kinds of conditions can be expected to have different effects. Finally, things arise dependent on conditions and cease when those conditions cease. A single logic applies to all things, and to how they are related to each other.

Now, although there will always be some things you cannot ‘decree,’ there are many positive things you can ‘decree’ for yourself and others, and if you are prepared to ‘work’ (mentally and otherwise) for those things, then they may well be ‘established for you.’ There are many Bible verses on this theme, including this one: ‘Let the weak say, “I am strong”’ (Joel 3:10). The last mentioned verse encapsulates the nature and technique of affirmative prayer, the aim of which is always the same---to lift one's consciousness to the level of the answer, for the solution is already complete in God-Mind.

‘But the word is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it’ (Deut 30:14)

Your own ‘word’---spoken and deeply held thought---is creative. The Bible says, 'what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart [that is, mind]' (Mt 15:18). A word is simply a spoken or articulated thought. Everything---I mean, every thing---starts with a thought in the mind. According to the Bible, God spoke all things into existence, but first these things began as thoughts in the eternal Mind of God. 

'The world is the outpicturing of human thought,' wrote the well-known Divine Science minister, lecturer and author Dr Emmet Fox. 'Your life is conditioned by your own thoughts, not by the thoughts of anyone else. ... You can only express in experience your own true sense of what you really are.' So, let your word go forth, for it shall not return to you empty (cf Is 55:11).

That is the power of creation in the macrocosm. The rationale behind all spiritual mind treatment is this---that very same creative power is also available to each one of us in the microcosm. Why? Because the macrocosm and the microcosm are, in truth, one

But where, you may ask, do we 'go' to find and access that power? In our own individual minds, of course. There is no place else. Many philosophers postulate that all individual minds are simply an incarnation, expression, and agent of the One Absolute Mind. This is what Jesus really meant when he said, 'I and my Father are one' (Jn 10:30). It is a reference to the indwelling presence known as 'Our Father which art in heaven' (Mt 6:9). Now, even if our individual minds are not part or agents of one great Mind---I have an open mind on the matter---the fact remains that thought is creative according to the nature, emotion, impulse, and conviction behind the thought. 'All actions, good or bad, start with a thought,' wrote the much-loved minister and author Dr Norman Vincent Peale. 'We draw to ourselves exactly what we are.'

So, give voice to your desire, hope, or goal, and then ‘hold’ your desire, hope, or goal deeply in your mind (‘heart”). Here’s another relevantly applicable Bible verse: ‘It is true unto me according to the Word of God’ (Ps 119:25).


‘He sent forth his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions’ (Ps 107:20)

Like Jesus, send forth your word. ‘All power is given unto me [that means you] in heaven and on earth’ (Mt 28:18). Your word (‘thought’) must, however, be backed up by both conviction and feeling. Your creative thought needs to be emotionalized---that is, both felt and believed---before it can be accepted by your mind and later come forth as the answer or solution to your ‘prayer.’ ‘Unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone’ (Jn 12:24). 'It shall be done unto you as you believe' (Mt 9:29). 'As you believe, so is it done unto you' (Mt 8:13). In addition, there must be a state of expectancy in your mind: 'Whatever you ask in prayer [that refers to your desire or wish], believe that you receive it, and you will' (Mk 11:24). Dr Joseph Murphy put it this way: 'Whatever you think, feel and believe to be true, your subconscious mind will bring to pass---good or bad.'

One other important thing---your conscious and subconscious mind need to be in unison for anything positive to happen. That is the real, inner meaning of the Bible verse, ‘If two of you agree about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven’ (Mt 18:19). The reference to ‘two of you’ refer to your conscious and subconscious mind. When they agree, the creative power (Father ‘in heaven,’ or ‘within’) is then able to bring your desire to pass.

‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me’ (Jn 12:32)

Your ‘I’ is your inner centre of awareness---your core-self. ‘Earth,’ metaphysically interpreted, refers to your present, perhaps limited, state of consciousness, and present lack. It is the realm of all things worldly, physical, and temporal. ‘Heaven’ is the realm of perfect and spiritual ideas (eg perfect health and vitality, true joy, peace, serenity, and abundance)---a ‘kingdom’ not of this world’ (Jn 18:36). 

These spiritual (that is, non-material) ideas---a veritable ‘table of plenty’---are implanted in your DNA and are part and parcel of your phylogenetic heritage. For example, you could never be healthy unless there were the perfect idea (or 'form') of health built into you---into every cell, tissue, and organ of your mind and body. It’s as simple as that. This truth is common to all of the world’s major religions and religious philosophies. For example, Swami Vivekananda [pictured above left], whose teachings have greatly impacted my own life, said, ‘Vedanta not only insists that the ideal is practical, but that it has been so all the time; and this ideal, this Reality, is our own nature.’

So, in the words of the great Plato, 'take charge of your thoughts; you can do what you will with them.' Lift up your ‘I’ from the earth, that is, from everything that is holding you back in your life. Then, if you do what is necessary to bring it to pass, you will ‘draw all men’ [that is, thoughts and aspirations] unto you. Here’s another important Bible verse: ‘Yet a little while I am with you, and then I go unto him that send me’ (Jn 7:33). Stay with your condition (the mental state of lack, limitation, etc) for only ‘a little while,’ then ascend in consciousness to the ‘Father within,’ more particularly, the perfect spiritual image of what you seek to create. Concentrate upon, and contemplate, whatever it is you seek (eg perfect health, freedom from the bondage of addiction, etc).

‘He calls those things which are not as though they were’ (Rom 4:17)

This Bible verse encapsulates the essence and technique of all spiritual mind treatment. You treat the spiritual man or woman. You see things as you would like them to be, for, in truth, those things already exist, in you, as perfect ideas implanted in your DNA and your phylogenetic heritage. All you need to do, metaphysically, is to achieve, by inducing in yourself, a greater capacity to recognize the present existence of what you seek. 

The Christian preacher and teacher Charles Capps makes this very important point in his little book God's Creative Power for Healing

'This is God's method of calling things that are not as though they were until they are. There are some who have misunderstood this principle, and they call things that are, as though they are not. In other words, they deny what exists. The power is in calling for healing and health by mixing faith with God's Word.' [Emphasis in the original]

The Bible recognizes that there is, implanted in our DNA, a blueprint for every part of our body and mind: ‘My substance was not hid from you, when I was made in secret, and consciously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in your book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them’ (Ps 139:15-16). In other words, the infinite Intelligence that created you, according to a spiritual ‘blueprint,’ and fashioned all your cells, tissues, and organs, according to the detail of that blueprint, indwells every part of you, and is therefore capable of refashioning those cells, tissues, and organs when they become damaged, injured, or diseased in any way. ‘The Spirit of God has made you, and the breath of the Almighty gives you life’ (Job 33:4). So, 'attend to my words ... they are life ... and health [that is, medicine] to all their flesh' (Prov 4:20-22).

Now, whether treating yourself or others, the technique is the same---you do not deal with the material or physical man or woman, rather you say (speak the word) that the spiritual person is perfect, healthy, and whole. You envision that state of affairs---seeing yourself as you would like to be---for in truth what is sought and conceived is always available, and presently existing, in and through the perfect ‘forms’ that were instantiated in you when you were in the womb, and through the power of creative consciousness. To a very large extent, what you 'see' is what you'll be. Here's another Bible verse that sets out this wonderful technique for spiritual mind treatment: 

'Every valley [any state of lack, limitation, etc] shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill [any obstacle] shall be made low, and the crooked [any entanglement, disorder, or other difficulty] shall be made straight, and the rough plains [difficult, hard times] smooth' (Is 40:4). 

Again, it's calling things that are not as though they were---until they are.

'Every plant, which my heavenly Father has not planted, shall be rooted up' (Mt 15:13)

Spiritual mind treatment proceeds as follows. As God is life and all there is, and that life is our life right now, there is therefore no place for anything unlike God. Thus, there is no place for anything that is foreign to God, or in objective contradiction to God (eg illness, lack, and limitation of all kinds). 


In spiritual mind treatment we affirm that everything that contradicts God is passing from us and at the same time we reject opposite and fallacious assertions. We are the 'image of God' (Gen 1:27), and the activity of God-ness is the activity in each of us---right now. Therefore, what is true of God is also true of us---right now. In short, illness, lack, and limitation are 'plants' that the 'heavenly Father' (Life perceived as an indwelling Presence) has not planted, so let all such plants be uprooted---right now! In the words of Swami Vivekananda: 'The greatest sin is to think yourself weak. No one is stronger. ... Deny evil, create none. Stand up and say, "I am the master---the master of all."'

‘Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity’ (Hab 1:13). In traditional evangelical Christianity it is said that Jesus Christ, by his death and resurrection, conquered sin and bought for us a ‘robe of righteousness,’ such that, although we are all said to be dead in sins, if we repent and accept Jesus as saviour and lord, God then sees us clothed in a robe of righteousness. We wear this robe, and God sees us so robed. Another interpretation of the foregoing is that when God looks at the person (you or me), God sees only Christ (God’s Son) in all his perfection, Christ himself being the robe of God’s own righteousness.

What all this means, metaphysically, is quite simple---we need to see ourselves as God’s perfect son or daughter, clothed in a robe of right-thinking, health, and wholeness. The truth is, there are always two ‘images’ of ourselves. One image is of us as we presently are, in all our imperfection, and the other image is of us as we could be, or as we would like to be. Now, if we want to change for the better, we need to envision ourselves as we would like to be---indeed, as we are in Truth. If, for example, we are sick in some way, or in bondage to some condition or state of consciousness, we should see ourselves as healthy or as free, as the case may be, for, in the words of the old Oriental maxim, ‘what we think upon grows.’ 
 
'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom [table of plenty] prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ (Mt 25:34).

And so it is.



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MINDFULNESS IN THE BIBLE




Friday, September 13, 2013

HANSEL AND GRETEL---OR THE STORY OF YOU AND ME

Fairy tales are a sub-genre of the artistic and literary genre known as ‘fantasy,’ the latter being a genre in which life---or at least some aspect of life---is depicted in an ‘unnatural’ (ugh) and highly imaginative manner. The problematic word ‘unnatural’ does not mean ‘unrealistic’ or ‘supernatural’ (whatever that means), but, in fantasies, imagination, wonder and fancy all play very important roles.

Now, most fairy tales are not about 'fairies' at all, although as Theosophist John Algeo has pointed out they are very much about faerie. The latter has two meanings: first, the land of fairies, and second, enchantment. The second meaning is more applicable.

Perhaps the most important thing about fairy tales, apart from the sheer enjoyment that comes from reading or listening to them, or watching them on film, is this---fairy tales are mythological in nature, and their inner or more esoteric meaning is cloaked in allegory, parable and symbolism. Nearly all fairy tales are encoded spiritual and moral lessons (‘road maps’) of great importance---just like the parables of Jesus in the New Testament---and they almost invariably incorporate more than a few fragments (‘gems’) of the Ancient Wisdom, with the spiritual ideas and themes being portrayed in a highly figurative and literary manner. On the surface, or exterior, they largely present as stories for children---Kinder und Hausmärchen (‘Children’s and Household Tales’), in the words of the Brothers Grimm---but their inner or ‘true’ significance is hidden (that is, ‘occult’).

If there is one theme or underlying message contained in the great religions of the world it is this---we come from God (the ‘Great I AM’), we belong to God, we are never truly separate from God, and we are all on our way back to God. Of course, not all the world’s religions use the word ‘God,’ or express this idea theistically, but that is largely immaterial. The idea is still there. Fairy tales graphically depict the Platonic/Neoplatonic---and theosophical---idea of involution and evolution of the soul, or, in the language of the great American mythographer Joseph Campbell, the 'hero's journey' of self-discovery through trial, tribulation and adversity. 

Now, most of you will be familiar with the fairy tale ‘Hansel and Gretel.’ The story goes like this. Near a forest a woodcutter lives with his wife and his two children, Hansel and Gretel. The children’s mother has died, the woodcutter’s wife being their stepmother. They are all very poor---indeed, they were starving, so the two children go out in search of food. Actually, it is the stepmother who suggests that they take the two children out into the forest and lose them. Hansel, the boy, overhears the plan, and collects pebbles, so that he can lay a trail to find his way back. He is successful in so doing. For the second ‘trip’ the two children take with them one slice of bread along, which they use to mark a path back to their home by leaving crumbs along the way, but the crumbs are eaten by the birds, with the result that the two children find themselves lost in the forest. After a while, they come upon a little house made of gingerbread---as a result of the assistance of a white bird who guides the children to the house. (Some wonderful symbolism, there!) Hansel breaks off a piece to eat.

Suddenly, the door flies open and an old woman (‘witch’) comes out and invites them in. She feeds them mountains of pancakes and fruit, and then tucks them into bed to sleep. (Note that word---‘sleep.’) What Hansel and Gretel don’t realise is the old woman is fattening them up so she can use them in her favourite dish---‘roasted child.’ Now the two children are prisoners---Hansel is put into a stable---and the old woman keeps feeding them. However, when she asks Hansel to put his finger through the bars of the stable to see how fat he is getting, Hansel holds out a piece of dry bone instead.

Finally, the children escape and push the old woman into the oven. The house dissolves into pearls and precious stones. (Again, wonderful symbolism, there.) The two children fill their pockets with jewels and food and use the trail of bread crumbs to find their way back home. They come to a great expanse of water---and a white duck carries them over it. (Again, wonderful symbolism, there.) Eventually, on the other side, they recognize their surroundings and return rich to their father’s house. Their father welcomes them home, and informs them that their stepmother has died in the meantime. (Wonderful! Note, some commentators suggest that the stepmother and the witch are at least metaphorically one-and-the-same person, because the stepmother dies when the children have killed the witch. Maybe.) They all live happily ever after.

Well, what a great story of involution and evolution! The woodcutter’s house is the spiritual or divine world or realm from which we all come, and to which we all ultimately return. The presence in the story of the stepmother----notice how in fairy tales these stepmothers are never nice---indicates, symbolically, that we have here a material existence into which the human soul (Gretel) and the human spirit (Hansel) have descended. (Note. In ancient symobology the ‘soul’ [that is, the mind including the spiritual or divine 'image' in the mind of our creation and perfectibility) is always female, and the human ‘spirit’ [or ‘life force’] in us is always masculine. That’s just the way it is.) We have the descent into a physical body, and later the ascent again to the spiritual or divine realm---the source from which we all come and to which we all eventually return. We see that so often in fairy tales as well as other secret or sacred literature. We have a white bird---a clear sign of divine guidance (cf the Holy Spirit). The gingerbread house looks so lovely, you want to eat it. The gingerbread house is like the land of Oz (cf The Wizard of Oz), that is, that strange, colourful, wonderful, yet also frightening, world in which we now find ourselves, but it is not the ‘real’ world. It is not our ‘true’ home.

Anyway, soul and spirit enter the physical body---the gingerbread house---but, like us, they experience it (that is, life on earth) as a veritable prison-house in which bad things can and do happen. (Isn’t that life?) Yes, we are in slavery, in bondage, and largely to our false selves which we mistakenly take to be the ‘real’ person each of us is. The old woman, or witch, symbolically represents all those negative, retarding forces that seek to overwhelm, indeed destroy, the human spirit (Hansel). Things like addictions, bad habits, obsessions, compulsions, and attachments and cravings of all kinds. Notice, too, the symbol of the dry bone, which represents all those negative forces that are blind to our true spirit. I think the dry bone especially symbolizes dry, intellectuality, that is forever incapable of discerning or knowing spiritual truths. I firmly espouse the use of reason in solving human problems, but there is something terribly sad and inadequate about dry reason and intellectuality without spiritual wisdom. The fire, and its lighting, symbolically represents some special event or impulse in which the soul awakens---and finds freedom. Spiritual riches---precious stones and jewels---are ours, but first we must cross the Great Water (that is, death). Soul and spirit are carried across the water, and on the far side there is---home.

The ‘message’ of Hansel and Gretel? Seek only what is truly real. See through illusion and delusion. Stay awake. Press on---no matter what happens to you. You will get ‘there’ in the end—no matter how far you stray from the ‘path.’


Note. For those who may be interested, here is a recent address of mine on fairy tales and their ‘inner’ meaning.



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Saturday, September 7, 2013

PERFECT PEACE CAN BE YOURS---YES, INDEED!

‘Thou wilt keep in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on Thee’ (Isaiah 26:3)

Deep down, we all crave peace of mind. Call it serenity, tranquillity, equanimity, or imperturbability, we certainly know when we don’t have it. Wanting to be happy all the time is, well, silly, and quite superficial, but peace of mind is an altogether different thing.

This verse from the Hebrew Bible contains a valuable formula for obtaining, and maintaining (‘keeping’), peace of mind. It says that God will keep us in perfect peace if our mind is ‘stayed’ on God.

Who or what is this God? Some theological construct? A person, albeit a supra-normal (whatever that means) one? No, not at all. I know many, many people who call themselves atheists---and that they are, at least when one applies traditional theistic definitions of ‘God’---who have perfect peace. They know God, even though they choose not to use that term---and that is their prerogative.

The word ‘God’ is not the 'thing,' rather it directs us to the reality to which the word 'God' refers. What is that reality, I hear you ask? Well, this is it---God is simply a word that some people choose to use (and others choose not to use) to refer to the medium in which all things live, move, and have their being. Time and space---spacetime, to be more correct---are other words that refer to more-or-less the same 'thing.' They, too, are mediums---or rather the medium---in which all things exist and subsist. No wonder mystics have referred to God as the Eternal Now. Yes, God is the All in all. God is not a ‘thing,’ nor a ‘person,’ as we ordinarily use those words. Got that? God is not a thing, but rather ‘No-Thing’ or ‘No-Thing-ness.’

Now, some or all of the foregoing may be hard to understand but, when you think about it, it makes much more sense than believing in a so-called personal God. Actually, the God to which I refer is both personal and impersonal. It is impersonal in the sense of being general, universal, all-embracing, non-discriminating, and infinite, but it ‘becomes’---for want of a better word---personal in and as you and me and all other persons and things as well as being personal to all who are at-one with its indwelling presence, power, and activity.

So many people have a terrible concept of God---anything but the truth. The true nature of the divine, as pure and ever-perfect Be-ing, is revealed in these Bible verses from the third chapter of the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible:

13 Then Moses said to God, ‘Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?’

14 And God said to Moses, ‘I AM THAT I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’’

The words 'I AM' refer to the subject---note that word, 'subject,' not object---of all existence. The Bible says that I AM is God. So, God (that is, the very essence and being-ness of life itself) becomes what God has said that which God is---'I AM THAT I AM.' That is the name by which God is called---at least in the Hebrew Bible and in metaphysics---and it describes the Presence or Power of God (being the spiritual or divine 'image' of each person's creation) declaring Itself---to Itself. This is the Self-knowingness of God, and we, too, can be conscious (or rather self-conscious) of that very same I AM Presence and Power that is the ground of our being, indeed, the ground of all Be-ing. It is the All-in-all. 

Yes, God---pure Be-ing or existence--is the one form-less, essence-less, self-existent, self-knowing, self-giving, absolute, indestructible, and abundant existence that forever takes form, that is, incarnates, as you, me, and everything else, but which is never even for a moment absorbed by the innumerable objects of its Self-expression. In other words, God---if you choose to use the word at all---is the life that is the subject of true existence, the very life that lies within, and otherwise manifests itself through and as objects, being all persons and things---the very livingness, or rather Self-livingness, of life itself. Put perhaps more simply, you are I AM in expression---as you. In the words of the renowned Unity minister and author Eric Butterworth, you are an 'eachness' within the ALL-ness of God. Yes, 'Thou art That.' Whether or not you are aware of it, you are divine and one with this 'God-ness,' being the point---and just one of an infinite number of such points---at which the Great I AM reproduces and experiences Itself. Amazing!

Back to our Bible text. What is meant by the word ‘perfect,’ in the expression ‘perfect peace’? Well, peace is perfect when it is true, real, and substantial, as opposed to being false or insubstantial. Material things, and even intangible things such as status and reputation, are false and insubstantial because they are ‘grounded’—actually, they are not even ‘grounded’ in any real sense---in our false selves that clamour for attention and the approval of others. Peace is ‘perfect’ when it is grounded in the eternal and infinite; this peace is imperturbable, for it subsists at all times and under all events. The great Swami Vivekananda described this state of mind as 'eternal calmness which cannot be ruffled, the balance of mind which is never disturbed, whatever happens.'


Now, if you want perfect peace in your mind, then keep your mind ‘stayed’ in the Eternal Now, that is, in the medium in which all things live, move, and have their being. Keep your mind grounded in the consciousness of the moment, from one moment to the next. For me, mindfulness is the best form of prayer and meditation. It is the primary means by which I stay grounded in the Eternal Now---God, if you like. You don't need to believe in someone else’s concept of God---not even mine, for heaven’s sake. You don't need to use the word God, or think in theistic terms, at all. All you have to do is to stay mindfully aware of, and alert to, the content (both internal and external) of the present moment at all times or at least as much and as often as you can. Angels---assuming there are any---can do no better. 

And how do you know when you are living mindfully? The answer is simple---you are living mindfully when you are no longer fretting about or fighting the past, or fearing the future. You are able to accept, with calm contentment and total equanimity, whatever is. Perfect peace, just like perfect love, drives out all fear, anxiety, anger, and resentment (cf 1 Jn 4:18). Indeed, there is simply no room in a mindset of perfect peace for any negative thoughts or emotions.


The photos in this post were taken by my son
Peter while on vacation in Baja California, Mexico