Friday, May 30, 2014

YOU ARE THE PONTIFF OF YOUR UNIVERSE

‘Man is good, and tells the secret of his goodness in the language of thought.’ Who said that? Well, it was Venerable Fulton J Sheen [pictured], now on the way to Catholic sainthood.

There will be many today, even in the Catholic world, who have never heard of Fulton J Sheen. That is sad, because he towered over the Catholic world in the West for a fair bit of last century. Yes, he shone like a blazing comet, and he was without doubt the greatest Catholic evangelist of last century. Possessing an unforgettable voice, and a gifted wordsmith, he made Catholics proud to be Catholics. Oh, how the Catholic Church needs a Fulton Sheen today! But there never will be another Fulton Sheen. He was a divine original.

Sheen, who was at the helm of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for some 16 years, wrote dozens of books---many still in print---and was a master communicator. For years he broadcast his message on radio and TV. He even won an Emmy Award. In fact, he won two of them, for ‘Most Outstanding Television Personality.’ He jokingly called himself ‘Uncle Fultie’ in an affectionate nod to his very good friend comedian Milton Berle who was sometimes known as ‘Uncle Miltie.’ Millions wouldn’t be familiar with Milton Berle either. Oh, dear. Anyway, it happened like this. When Sheen won an Emmy, Berle quipped, ‘He's got better writers---Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!’ Shortly thereafter Sheen opened his program by saying ‘Good evening, this is Uncle Fultie.’ Sheen was good at self-deprecation. His sense of humour, though corny at times, was always endearing.

Above: Fulton Sheen ... with his good friend Milton Berle
Below left: Sheen at his Holy Hour of adoration

However, Sheen’s perennial attacks on both communism and psychiatry reveal that he was a reactionary. As respects psychiatry, he saw it as a real threat to the church. Not so his erstwhile Protestant friend Norman Vincent Peale who saw Christianity and psychiatry as very compatible. Peale embraced psychiatry. Sheen shunned it. In that respect Dr Peale was much more ahead of his times even though he too was a reactionary in many ways. Yes, it always seemed to me that Sheen was forever fighting for a rear guard action against change and by the time of his death in 1979 he had become in many ways irrelevant. He became an increasingly nostalgic figure, associated with a bygone era when the Catholic Church, and the United States, were at their strongest.

Sheen’s cause for canonization for sainthood was officially opened in 2002. In June 2012 Pope Benedict XVI officially recognized a decree from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints stating that he lived a life of ‘heroic virtue’---a major step towards beatification---so he is now referred to as ‘Venerable.’ More recently (March 2014), a team of medical experts convened by the Vatican reported there was no natural explanation for the survival of a child delivered stillborn and whose heart did not start beating until 61 minutes after his birth. The survival of the child, James Fulton Engstrom, now three years old and developing normally, was credited by his parents to a miracle attributable to the intercession of the long-dead Archbishop Sheen. The child’s mother and father prayed to Sheen to heal their son.


The case will now move on to a select number of cardinals and bishops, and then finally to Pope Francis who will have to decide whether or not to affirm that God performed a miracle through the intercession of the late archbishop. An amazing story. Ever the skeptic, but ever with an open mind unlike many skeptics, I simply don’t know what to make of all this. We live in a fascinating world, and there is so much we don’t know and can’t explain. Life is a mystery---and, in the words of Fulton Sheen, life is worth living. For the uninitiated, that was the name of Sheen's TV program as well as the title of a series of his more well-known books. Here is a clip from a 1966 episode of his TV program, this one being on the subject of 'The Death of God':

video

Sheen was very knowledgeable in theology and philosophy, and was very well qualified academically. His theology reveals a great debt to Platonism and Neoplatonism. Sheen would refer to Plato’s question, ‘If there is only one God, what does He think about, for if He is an intelligent being He must think of something?’ He gave this as an answer in his book The Divine Romance:

God does not think one thought, or one word, one minute and another the next. Thoughts are not born to die, and do not die to be reborn, in the mind of God. All present to Him at once. In Him there is only one Word. He has no need of another. That Thought or Word is infinite and equal to Himself, hence a Person unique and absolute, first-born of the spirit of God; a Word which tells what God is, a Word from which all human words have been derived, and of which created things are but merely the broken syllables or letters; a Word which is the source of all the wisdom in the world.


Then there are these gems:

God has two pictures of us: one is what we are, and the other is what we ought to be.

Everything that exists is the realization and concretion of an idea existing in the Mind of God from all eternity.

All art is an imitation of the Divine Artist who, from all eternity, possessed in His Divine Mind the archetypal ideas according to which He made the world in time.

Every bird, every flower, every tree, has been made according to an idea existing in the Mind of God from all eternity.

God has one Idea, and that Idea is the totality of all Truth. Thoughts are not born to die to be reborn in the Mind of God.

God the father is related to God the Son as the Eternal Thinker is related to His Eternal Thought.

I have often read that Sheen’s writings reveal the influence of New Thought, and many New Thoughters claim Sheen as one of their own. True, any of the gems set out above could have been written by a New Thought writer, but the link is more indirect. Sheen was not a New Thoughter although there are certainly some similarities in language and thought-form. Just as Sheen’s theology discloses a debt to Neoplatonism so does New Thought. New Thought is in many ways a revival of Neoplatonism. So was Sheen’s theology---at least in some respects. They both drank from the same fountain, but Sheen was forever the Catholic traditionalist. (It seemed even more so, as the years rolled on.) However, strange though it may seem, perhaps the best way of describing Sheen is to say that he was a Catholic evangelical---perhaps the very first one. Yes, there is such a thing---and Sheen was the greatest one of them all. Dr Billy Graham [pictured left, with Sheen] approved of him, and loved him dearly. He described Sheen as ‘a man whose love for Christ continued to grow until the end of his life.’

I still love listening to Fulton Sheen. I still read his books. When my life was its lowest ebb---some 20 years ago---his writings gave me hope. Almost totally destroyed by years of alcoholism, I these words of Sheen, and they gave me hope that I could get better:

Man is the pontiff of the universe, the ‘bridge builder’ between matter and spirit, suspended between one foundation on earth and the other in heaven.

Man has his feet in the mud of the earth, his wings in the skies.

There are two ways of knowing how good God is. One is never to lose Him; the other is to lose Him and find Him again.


I found Him again. And, as Sheen himself said, ‘Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.’ In my darkest hours, broken in body and spirit, separated from my family because of my drinking, and not knowing whether I would ever be able to continue in my chosen profession, these words of Sheen meant the most to me, and I read them over and over again:

The cross reveals that unless there is a Good Friday in our lives, there will never be an Easter Sunday. Unless there is a crown of thorns, there will never be the halo of light. Unless there is the scourged body, there will never be a glorified one. Death to the lower self is the condition of resurrection to the higher self. The world says to us, as it said to Him on the cross: ‘Come down, and we will believe!’ But if He came down, He never would have saved us. It is human to come down; it is divine to hang there.

‘Death to the lower self is the condition of resurrection to the higher self.’ That is the only thing I write about on this blog of mine. It is the only thing (I think) we need to know and understand … and most of all experience. It is the real miracle---to die to your lower, false self and to be resurrected into newness of life so as to become the living embodiment of that other ‘picture’ of you which the Eternal Thinker has in His Mind … namely, the person you ought to be and in Truth really are.

I will finish with Sheen’s traditional sign-off. God love you.




Thursday, May 22, 2014

LET NOTHING DISTURB YOU

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things,
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

This little poem of Saint Teresa of Ávila [pictured below] was found in her breviary after her death. Some refer to it as 'Saint Teresa's bookmark.’ Saint Teresa is one of the best-loved saints in Catholic Christianity as well as being a spiritual figure of universal appeal. She was, and remains, a giant in the Christian mystical tradition for which I have great respect.

Now, when the word ‘mystic’ is used, some people think of gurus, swamis, transcendental (or at least ‘altered’) states of expanded consciousness, and all sorts of supernaturalism. Not so. As I’ve said elsewhere, mysticism is not essentially about ‘mystical experiences’---experiences come and go---but is focused on the lasting experience of a greater reality, leading to a transforming union with that reality. For me, that reality is not something ‘out-of-this-world,’ but the extraordinary in the ordinary.

A mystic is a person who is aware of their innate oneness with all life and, in particular, with the stream of life and the sacred ‘essence’ of life. That essence can be sensed in a beautiful sunset or flower, the birth of a baby, and even in the loss of someone dear to us. Yes, even the ‘dark night of the soul’ experience can be a mystical experience. The mystic not only knows that all life is one, they feel and sense its oneness in the deepest part of their being.

Church window at the Convent of St Teresa

Saint Teresa’s verse really speaks for itself. Such good advice isn’t it? We trouble ourselves over so many things, yet all things are transient, temporary and ephemeral, all things pass away (including us). Yes, all things … except One, namely, God. Who or what is God? Well, the word is not the thing, as Krishnamurti would say. The word ‘God’ is just that—a word. The reality behind that word is the important thing. That reality exists even if you do not believe in a traditional God or in any god at all for that matter. What is that reality? Well, for one thing, it is the stream of life itself which marches on inexorably---the stream of which in which all things, including us, live and move and have their being. Things come and go, and wax and wane, but life itself is eternal and unceasing. It alone remains when all other things disappear from view. It is more than enough. That life is all about us, and in us. It existed before we came into this world, and it will exist long after we have left this world. All we have to do in this life is to experience the reality of our being-ness as it truly is. Curiously, and almost paradoxically, the only way we can experience the very essence of life is from one moment to the next. Yes, life---also known as truth or reality---can only be experienced and known from moment to moment. It is something dynamic. It is never static.

This is where mindfulness---in effect, a secular and everyday (indeed, moment to moment) form of the mystic's 'prayer of quiet'---comes into the picture. The regular practice of mindfulness helps you to appreciate the transience and ephemeral nature of all things on the one hand and the permanence of the stream of life itself on the other. As we pay mindful attention ('choiceless awareness') to life unfolding from one moment to the next we become increasingly knowingly aware of, and acute to, the ongoing rhythm of life, its ebb and flow, its highs and lows. (We are knowingly aware when we are aware that we are aware.) We learn to cling to nothing, for all that we cling to will eventually pass away. True, we enjoy, even cherish, those brief, ephemeral moments of love and happiness we have with our loved ones and friends. Those moments are all the more precious when we come to understand that they will not last. But we must be prepared to let them go when it is time so to do.

I said above that Saint Teresa’s verse speaks for itself. Well, almost. There’s one line which seems---at least to me---to be a bit cryptic and seemingly misplaced. The line is, ‘Patience obtains all things.’ What has patience got to do with the main ideas of the poem, namely, that all things pass, God never changes, God alone suffices, so let nothing disturb or frighten you? There is another English word that also begins with the letter ‘p’ that comes close to what Saint Teresa meant by the word ‘patience.’ That word is perseverance, and here is something the mystic said about that matter in some sound advice she gave to her sisters:

... I say that it is very important – it is everything to have a strong and firm resolution, not to stop till we arrive at the water [union with God], come what may, or whatever may be the consequence, or whatever it may cost us. No matter who complains, whether I reach there or die on the way, or have not courage to endure the troubles which I may meet with, or though the world should sink under us ... (The Way of Perfection, Chapter XXI)

Patience. Perseverance. Resolution. No, we are not talking about so-called will power, which is nothing more than the imposition of one desire over all others, thus subjugating the latter. We are talking about something closer to courage and fortitude---guts, some call it. Life is tough, damn hard, and bloody unfair at times. We all know that to be the case. Bad things do indeed happen to good people, assuming for the moment that any of us are truly good. Patience---‘stick-at-it-ness’---obtains all things. What does Teresa mean by ‘all things’? Material things? Riches of a financial kind? No, nothing like that. Those things tend only to result in further disturbance and fear. The words ‘all things’ refer to ‘all things that truly matter’---that is, spiritual riches, enlightenment, God. (Note, in that respect, that the very next line says, ‘Whoever has God lacks nothing.’ Get the point?) Saint Teresa, as I see it, is saying that if we persevere, and are diligent, single-minded and strong, we will come to know that God---our True Self, the very ground of our being---is One. All is One. The One is all. The One becomes the many. We are one of the many. May we come to know that the many are One.

We are truly patient when we know and understand in the very depth of our being that all things pass except life itself. We are truly patient when we so detach ourselves from the everyday ups and downs of life that we are capable of seeing what some have called ‘the larger view,’ namely, the endless stream of life itself of which we are ever a part. We are truly patient when we are prepared to let go of all that holds us back, including all those little ‘false selves’ with which we so closely identify. We then experience a deep sense of life fulfilling itself. Yes, our joys will all come to an end, as will our sufferings. Those we love will eventually vanish from view. Even this world as we now know it will come to an end. God---or, if you wish, life, truth, and love---alone remains … and suffices.

Here’s another word for the type of patience to which Teresa refers---lightness. Yes, if we would travel far, we must travel light. That advice was given to me many decades ago by a bishop when I was confirmed in the Anglican faith. I wish I had heeded that good advice when I first received it. I might not have suffered as much, nor caused as much suffering to others, as I did.

I will finish with another little verse that I like:

GOD AND I
I walked with God, God walked with me,
But which was God, and which was me?
And thus I found, the Truth profound,
I live in God, God lives with me.  Anon.



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Friday, May 16, 2014

IT’S POSSIBLE TO DO THE IMPOSSIBLE!

‘The things which are impossible with men
are possible with God.’ Lk 18:27.

This post is about personal transformation and recovery, but I am not suggesting some method or technique. (I don’t believe in them.) Nor am I some fundamentalist or evangelical Christian who’s out to convert you---far from it. What I am suggesting is a transformative spiritual, and not just psychological, idea---an idea which, if accepted in your consciousness, and actualized, can and will change your life forever. Maybe that sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. So, please read on, if you’re at all interested.

Now, even though I’ve quoted a verse from the Bible, I want you to know that I am not a Biblical literalist. Indeed, I abhor those 'black letter' Christians who always interpret the Bible literally. For many decades now I have studied the Bible, as well as other sacred scriptures, with a view to ascertaining their deeper, ‘inner’ meaning. You see, I happen to think that, for the most part, sacred scripture was never intended to be interpreted literally. Take the Bible, for instance. Much of its contents are written in mythological, figurative, metaphorical, symbolical, allegorical, and spiritual language. True, there are actual, historical events recorded in many parts of the Bible but even many of them were never intended to be taken literally, or only literally. Yes, the Bible is full of myths, legends, fables, folk tales, morality tales, symbols, parables, allegories, and archetypal ideas, and must be interpreted and applied in that manner in the light of reason, contemporary knowledge, and a knowledge of metaphysics and sacred language.


Take, for example, the verse set out above. It’s from Luke’s Gospel. Now, read the verse carefully. For starters, the verse does not say, ‘God can do the impossible.’ After all, that would make no sense at all. If God---whoever or whatever God is---can do the impossible, then it’s not impossible … at least not insofar as God is concerned. No, the verse does not say that God can do the impossible. It simply says that the things that are impossible with ‘men’ are possible with God. Now, what does the word ‘men’ mean in this verse? You may think that’s a silly question, but it’s not. Yes, the word ‘men’ can be interpreted literally to mean men (and, of course, women and children as well), but the word often has a deeper, ‘inner’ meaning as well in many sacred writings. In Biblical metaphysics the word ‘men’ often means thoughts---your thoughts, my thoughts, and especially those of a conditioned, almost non-thinking kind.

There is another Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) expression worth noting---‘men of Israel.’ Now, the expression ‘men of Israel’ can and often does refer to positive and spiritual thoughts and aspirations, that is, thoughts, ideas and sentiments that are spiritually enlightened, and not materialistic or carnal (that is, negatively selfish). Spiritually enlightened thoughts, ideas and sentiments are invariably loving, kind, compassionate, generous, and uplifting. They work for the betterment and improvement of not just the person who entertains them but also others as well. The unqualified expression ‘men’ is ordinarily used in the Bible to refer to thoughts, ideas and sentiments that are negative and selfish and often highly self-destructive, an example being a thought of resentment, hostility, or jealousy toward some other person. All such ‘men’ are the result of conditioned thinking on our part. I will have more to say about what I mean by conditioned thinking in the very next paragraph.


To me, the Bible verse quoted from Luke’s Gospel is saying that there will always be things that, according to our ordinary thoughts and ordinary thinking, will be impossible, but those things are possible when we ‘plug into’ a Power-not-ourselves. Now, our ordinary thoughts and thinking entail nothing other mechanical, reflexive thinking where we react---as opposed to rationally respond---to what happens to us from our conditioned thoughts. These thoughts are sometimes referred to as our ‘false selves,’ which are all those little ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ in our mind and daily thinking that we have formed, acquired and molded over our whole lifetime. (Note. Don’t let the word ‘false,’ in this context mislead you. These selves do exist as image in our mind. I am not saying they are unreal. It is simply the case that these inner experiences of mind do not represent our true identity. The latter is the person we are in the world.)

There’s more to it. Our conditioned mind, from which arise our so-called conditioned thinking, consists of all of our various likes, dislikes, attachments, aversions, beliefs, opinions, prejudices, and so on. Over time, these false selves (‘men’), which lie behind every feeling and emotion, harden into mindsets such as habits, addictions (whether to drugs, people, a certain lifestyle, or whatever), obsessions, and compulsions of innumerable kinds, and most people are in bondage to one or more of these things which we experience as strong feelings and emotions. When any of these false selves are active, they are always experienced as feelings and emotions.

As I’ve often said in my posts, these false selves, many of which struggle with each other for dominance in our mind, thinking, and daily life activity, but none of which are the real person each one of us is, have no power in and of themselves. Why? Because they are nothing other than mental images in our mind. To use metaphysical language, these false selves---and we have literally hundreds and hundreds of them inside our mind---are ‘men.’ No wonder the Bible verse speaks of things being ‘impossible with [these] men’! The trouble is that as and when we choose to identify the person we are---the latter being our true identity---with one or more of these false selves, mistakenly believing them to be the real person we are, we give these ‘men’ in our mind and life activity a certain pseudo-power that is invariably negative in both nature and effect.


Now, what is this Power-not-ourselves which supposedly can do what is impossible to ‘men’? Well, your Power-not-yourself may be different from mine. Even atheists have a Power-not-themselves. It may, for example, for them be a source of inward power under the guise of the person they are, in contradistinction to all those little, and often extremely negative and self-destructive, ‘men’ (and ‘women’ and ‘children’) of which I’ve spoken. You don’t have to call this Power God or Jesus or Buddha or anything like that. You don’t have to refer to it as a ‘Higher Power’ or ‘Higher [or True] Self’ as some people do, but that sort of terminology is OK if it means something to you. All you have to do is to accept---I mean, really accept, affirm, and internalize---the following important spiritual truth:

The ‘men’ (that is, the ‘false selves’) within my mind have no power to do anything positive or beneficial … whether for me or for others. These ‘men’ cannot be changed or reformed by themselves. However, they can be dissolved by the transformative power of ‘not-self’ (that is, a Power-not-oneself) which is infinitely greater than all these ‘men’ combined.

What, exactly, do I mean by the word 'spiritual,' when I refer to a 'spiritual truth'? Something is 'spiritual' when it goes beyond both the physical and the psycholgical. Some problems can be resolved only by recourse to a 'higher' (that means, 'other than self,' or 'not-self,' as opposed to some supposed higher level or order) power or principle. For example, just try getting one of these ‘men’ to remove himself from the centre of his own endeavours. It’s impossible. As William Temple said, ‘no effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own endeavour.’ Now, that’s a spiritual problem. It goes beyond the physical and even beyond what is ordinarily termed the psychological as well. We need a spiritual solution to solve the problem of the false selves and their consequences---all manner of pride, selfishness, self-centredness, self-absorption, self-interest, willfulness, and self-will run riot. These all result in feelings of self-inadequacy, self-consciousness, frustration, powerlessness, separateness.

To solve a problem of the spiritual kind---the type of problem outlined above---you need a spiritual solution. To rely upon ordinary conditioned thoughts and thinking in an attempt to rid yourself (that is, the person that you are) from the problem is doomed to failure. You need to find a Power-not-oneself---for only such a Power can relieve you of the bondage of self. There is, in Christian theology, an expression for this Power---it’s called the ‘grace of God,’ and this grace is said to be sanctifying in its effect---that is, it purifies. That’s what we need---to be made pure and free from the bondage of self. Again, never mind the fancy words or expressions. As the Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti [pictured left] used to say over and over again, ‘The word is not the thing.’ The reality behind the word or the expression is all that matters.

Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Humanist, atheist, or other, we all need to be set free from the bondage of our conditioned thinking which is a veritable prison-house for us. We need get out of own way by dying to self and rising to newness of life. In order for that to happen we must undergo a spiritual transformation---a psychological mutation of great depth and intensity---but no effort of ourself can remove that self from the centre of its own endeavour. We need to rely upon---and humbly surrender to---a Power-not-ourselves. Only then are we truly able to experience the necessary ego-deflation at great depth.

Yes, the things that are impossible with the ‘men-selves’ in your mind are possible with a Power-not-oneself.

Now, that’s a transformative spiritual idea!


The photos (other than that of Krishnamurti)
were taken in Japan by the author.


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Monday, May 12, 2014

WHY NOT EXPERIENCE REALITY WITHOUT THINKING? NOW, THAT’S A GOOD IDEA!

‘Well, what are you, Ian? A realist or an idealist?’ a philosopher colleague of mind asked of me recently.

My reply, which I thought would phase him at least a little … except that it didn’t … was as follows: ‘I am both.’

This reminds me of something the American pastor Dr Norman Vincent Peale [pictured left] once said in a sermon in his church in New York City. He said, ‘I have been accused of belonging to both the fundamentalists and the modernists and that is a fact, I do.’

As I see it now, realism and idealism need each other, and involve each other. Each is made complete by the other. Indeed, there is, as I see it, no fundamental difference between them, strange as that may seem. Idealism is essentially a philosophy of becoming and coming-into-being whereas realism proceeds on the assumption that things have already come into being. Each of the two schools of thought complements the other in an overall philosophy. However, all that is for another day.

When it comes to teaching the law I use realism and empiricism, and stress to my students the principle of non-constitutive relations, that is, nothing is constituted by or is dependent upon, nor can it be defined or explained by reference to, the relations it has to other things. So, we have the person who holds the book in his hand, we have the thing held (viz the book), and we have something else as well---the act of holding. However, when it comes to explaining the workings of the human mind, and matters pertaining to the human spirit (eg faith, hope, and love), I tend to be an idealist.

Now, the realist or empiricist---well, at least some of them---will say that when it comes to the mental function we call cognition, we are talking about a relation between a subject and an object term, namely, a relation between the mind and its objects. So, we have the person who knows (or believes, thinks, remembers, or perceives) and the thing known (or believed, thought, remembered, or perceived), the latter existing independently of the knower (or mind). Well, I think all that is true as far as it goes, and I also think it’s very helpful---indeed, essential for a true understanding of what we are---to separate the person each one of us is from objects and creations of the mind. The latter include, most importantly, all of those hundreds of ‘selves’ that we create in our mind and which we mistakenly take to be the real person we are. (For a further explanation of that matter please see this recent post of mine.) However, I don’t think this realist account tells the whole story. Worse still, I think it is quite misleading and in some ways untrue. Let me explain.

Let’s focus on what actually happens in the human mind itself. You know, we don’t really understand thought or consciousness and what’s involved. There are various ideas on the matter, and some important discoveries have been made on the subject in recent years, but much that pertains to thought and consciousness remains a mystery. Be that as it may, this is how I see it---at least as respects thought and thinking. The idea in our mind that there is some ‘thinker’ or ‘thinking self’ within the mind is fallacious. There is no such thinker or thinking self---at least there is no thinker apart from the thoughts. There are only thoughts, and thinking, and it is the thinking that creates the mental construct, so to speak, of a notional (but not actual) thinker. The latter is, well, illusory in the sense that it has no separate, independent, and permanent existence apart from our thoughts or the person each one of us is. Yes, the thoughts come first, not the thinker. It is the thoughts, or more exactly the process of thinking, that creates the thinker. Actually, the thinker (that is, ‘thinking self’ in our mind) and the thinking are a ‘joint phenomenon,’ as the Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti [pictured above right] used to say. They are not two separate processes or entities. Indeed, the so-called thinker/thinking self is not an entity at all in any real sense.

Now, some of you will say to me, ‘Well, Ellis-Jones, assuming for the moment that is the case, so what?’

My response is this. If the thinker in our mind is created by the process of thinking in our mind, a separation in thinking has taken place in our mind. We have the thinker---note, I am not talking about you, the person, being the thinker, but rather ‘something’ supposedly existent in your mind---and the thinking or thoughts. Yes, a separation has taken place in our mind, and it is an artificial one. This separation, although illusory in the sense outlined above, is nevertheless a division in our mind and thinking which is regrettable in a couple of respects. First, the separation or division is perhaps the major cause of our losing immediacy and directness in our moment-to-moment experience of life, Secondly, the separation or division is a cause of our developing what can only be described as a false or artificial personality---a personality that prevents us from seeing ourselves as we really are, and others as they really are. This separation or division has a momentum all of its own and spills over into our society and world at large. As I say, it is all most regrettable.


The bottom line is that there is no ‘watcher/watching self’ or ‘perceiver/perceiving self’ in your mind. There is just the thing watched or perceived together with our sensory perceptions of that object, with the object being the objective or causal condition (that is, ‘cause’). Well, is there anything we can do about this? There certainly is. First, try to understand that what I’ve described above---although seemingly counter-intuitive to perhaps many of you---is actually the case. The understanding and insight gained will help to free you from the bondage of separation or duality in our cognitive processes, and that will assist you in being able to see things as-they-really-are with directness and immediacy. You will then be able to penetrate the core of reality, and that is a wonderful thing. Krishnamurti wrote:

‘When you look at a flower, when you just see it, at that moment is there an entity who sees? Or is there only seeing? Seeing the flower makes you say [i.e. think], “How nice it is! I want it.’ So the “I” comes into being through desire, fear, ambition [all thought], which follow in the wake of seeing. It is these that create the “I” and the “I” is non-existent without them.’

In truth, there are only the following three ‘relational’ elements in order for a stimulus to be perceived: first, the sense-object (or simply the object in question); secondly, a sense organ; and thirdly, attention or consciousness. (It is more-or-less the same with our thoughts and thinking, except we have no sense-object and sense-organ involved as such.) Now, in order for there to be an immediacy and directness about our moment-to-moment experience of life, those three occurrences need to occur more-or-less simultaneously---that is, no separation. If those three events are not simultaneously experienced---and that will happen if we engage in thinking, analysis, comparison, interpretation, or judgment in connection with the object in question (be it external or internal)---then the chances are that what will be experienced will be nothing but ... the past! Yes, the reality of the immediate experience will subside. Indeed, it will die! Any consciousness of it will be in the form of an after-thought or memory, as we glance back to re-experience, and (sadly, yes) evaluate, a past experience.


There is, of course, a time for thinking, introspection, analysis, comparison, interpretation, and judgment. I certainly affirm the need for rationality. The trouble is, we think far too much, and we end up forfeiting our otherwise direct and immediate connection with the flow of life.

Now, go out there and look---really look, and just look, doing nothing but look---at a rose or some other flower. Don’t start thinking about the flower. Don’t start comparing the flower with other flowers you have seen. Don’t judge or otherwise assess the beauty of the flower. Just look at it---without there being any separation. Perceive the flower here and now. See it as it really is---as a new moment. That moment will never come again. Yes, this presence—indeed, omnipresence---of life is the whole of reality. It is all here and now, and it is all that there is. Life, you see, is not cumulative. It is from moment to moment---both being as well as becoming. Don’t let your experience of life die on you---not even for a moment. ‘Accept the offer of newness in the now,’ to borrow a wonderful line from the American spiritual teacher and writer Vernon Howard.

None of this will come easily to many of you, but may I suggest---only suggest---that you start to live this way … if only as an experiment. You may be pleasantly surprised at the change … as you come to see---really see---things as-they-really-are ... perhaps for the very first time.


The photos of flowers were taken by the author.


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Friday, May 9, 2014

POSITIVE THINKING, NEGATIVE THINKING AND MINDFULNESS

In the course of living I have changed my views about a lot of things. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have a huge amount of respect for the ideas of the late Dr Norman Vincent Peale [pictured left, and below], pastor, professional speaker, lecturer, broadcaster, counsellor, nonprofit leader, publisher, editor, syndicated newspaper columnist and the celebrated author of numeous best-selling books on personal development and spirituality including his 1952 all-time classic The Power of Positive Thinking. I also have a great deal of both respect and love for the man himself whom I heard speak in Sydney, Australia on two separate occasions. If I had to choose between the two, I would say---and indeed do say---that positive thinking is much better than negative thinking … any day of the week.

You know, although Dr Peale has been dead for over 20 years, he continues to be attacked by, among others, fundamentalist and evangelical Christians and some in the psychology business. The attacks are cruel, vicious, unfair ... and unrelenting. Dr Peale was attacked during his lifetime as well, but he out-loved his critics and carried on regardless. That’s one of the reasons I still love him, and I have derived for many decades now much benefit and inspiration from his books, sermons, and addresses. Most people don't know this, but Peale was many decades ahead of the times with his emphasis on the relationship between psychology and religious experience, and he was one of the first people---if not the very first---to combine depth psychology with religion. In 1937 Peale, in conjunction with the psychiatrist Dr Smiley Blanton, established at his New York City church a religio-psychiatric clinic. This was America's first service combining religion and psychiatry for the sake of mental health. It is known today as the Blanton-Peale Institute. I could say many more positive things about Dr Peale. The bottom line is this---Peale helped millions of people all around the world during his long lifetime, and his books on the subjects of bereavement and spiritual healing are especially worth reading even today.

Another reason I loved him---and still do---is that he saw an inner greatness in human beings, and sought to draw that out. He said this: ‘I would like to be remembered as loving people … and believing in people’s potential. They are greater than they think they are.’ I also love this saying of his: ‘There is a spiritual giant within you, which is always struggling to burst its way out of the prison you have made for it.’ 

Sadly, it’s those sorts of statements, which show that Peale took a ‘high’ view of man, that result in the spewing of so much venom against him and his ideas from Christian evangelicals. Actually, Peale
was a conservative evangelical for the most part, but he tended not to use, that is, write and speak in, the language of the conservative evangelical. 

There is much, much more that the conservative Christians dislike about Peale, including the fact that he was a Freemason, and the fact that he borrowed some ideas, thought-forms and language from New Thought in his sincere attempt to explain, and help people apply, the principles of Christianity. They also attack him for what they see as a more general religious syncretism in his writings and sermons. They dismiss his method of affirmative prayer as nothing other than auto-suggestion. They attack him for preaching both a 'theology of man' and a 'gospel of success,' for his public acceptance and non-condemnation of homosexuality, for appearing to question the truth of certain fundamental (in their view) Christian teachings, for combining religion and pop psychology, and for his having a 'high regard' (Peale's words) for psychiatry. They attack him for allegedly preaching universalism. They somewhat hypocritically attack him for his conservative politics and stances he took on some contentious issues, even though their own politics are almost invariably ultra-conservative. They accuse him of being a bigot---something he definitely wasn't (in that regard, please see this link)---even though they themselves are pretty good at being bigots. They go so far as to attack others who were his friends or who endorsed him or his books, including the Southern Baptist ordained minister and evangelist Dr Billy Graham. Guilt by association, that is---and very unfair. There is no end to it. Even Dr Peale's Wikipedia profile has been sabotaged by these narrow-minded people with an axe to grind so as to accentuate the negative and eliminate, or at least downplay almost to the point of nothingness, the positive about the man and his many achievements. Damn the lot of them, who do this sort of thing, I say. For the most part, they are being grossly unfair to Peale, and they have misinterpreted (I suspect deliberately in the majority of cases) his ideas and writings.

However, here’s where I have come to differ from Dr Peale and his ‘doctrine of positive thinking.’ Dr Peale used to say that whenever a negative thought enters into your consciousness, you should immediately replace that thought with a positive one. Sounds good advice, doesn’t it? However, I have come to the view that, ordinarily, the best thing to do is this---simply watch and observe your thoughts and feelings---a feeling being a felt thought, and the direct result of thought---with passive detachment. That is an integral part of mindfulness, you know. Do not feel any pressure or compulsion to change your thoughts or feelings. That takes time and effort---and thought substitution breaks what would otherwise be your direct and immediate moment-to-moment experience of life. No, simply watch and observe the negative thought or feeling dispassionately. In and of themselves, these thoughts have no 'content' and therefore no power to hurt you, so don’t give them any power they don’t deserve by even seeking to change them. Thought is simply a function of consciousness (or mind), with the latter being the total field in which thought functions.

Believed thought is a different matter. Believed thought is thought you have accepted as true irrespective of whether or not it actually is true. Belief adds 'content' to our thoughts and feelings and thus gives them a certain power they otherwise would not have. Believed thought is a matter you do need to be concerned with, for that sort of thought can have biochemical effects on the cells on your body. If you doubt that, I can only suggest you read Bruce Lipton's book The Biology of Belief.

Now, when a negative thought or emotion enters into your consciousness, don’t deny its existence or seek to override or counteract the thought or feeling with a positive one. Again, that is giving the thought or feeling more attention, recognition, and power than it rightly deserves. Observe and briefly note its existence, but spend no time---not even a nanosecond---evaluating, labelling, judging, or condemning that thought. Simply let the thought or feeling go.

In saying all of the above, I wish to stress that I am not advocating negative thinking. As I said above, other things being equal, positive thinking is ‘better’ than negative thinking, but at the end of the day, both types of thinking are just that---thinking---and thoughts and feelings have no power---I repeat, no power---in and of themselves to hurt you. End of story.

In fairness to Dr Peale---well, someone needs to be fair to him---I should mention that in many of his books he spoke about simply 'dropping' negative, unhealthy thoughts as opposed to actively replacing them with positive thoughts. This 'dropping' of unhealthy thoughts, as part of what Peale would refer to as 'emptying the mind,' is much closer to the mindfulness approach. (I recall Krishnamurti referring to meditation as the 'emptying of the mind,' and writing that the mind is empty 'when thought is not.') Peale also wrote about the need for daily practice of what he referred to as 'creative silence.' This again is something quite similar to mindfulness. He also wrote often about the psychological and spiritual principles of indirectness and non-resistance, and the need to stop struggling and let go. Finally, it should also be kept in mind that Peale tended to use the words 'positive thinking' to mean faith in God and Jesus Christ. He saw those things as synonymous, and made that perfectly clear in, for example, his 1980 book The Positive Power of Jesus Christ---a book which gives clear and unambiguous expression to his underlying conservative evangelical faith.

Some psychologists have attacked Peale’s doctrine of positive thinking on the ground that what is needed is ‘realistic thinking,’ not positive thinking. Well, these people have read little, or most selectively, of Peale, for he often stressed the point that that true positive thinking is realistic thinking. He wrote, ‘Positive thinking is realistic thinking … The positive thinker does not refuse to recognize the negative; he or she refuses to dwell on it. Positive thinking is a form of thought which habitually looks for the best results from the worst conditions.’ In his 1976 book The Positive Principle Today Peale wrote that positive thinking is 'a totality of sound thinking, dealing forthrightly and creatively with the facts of human existence. The positive thinker sees all difficulties and sees them straight. Nor he is abashed by them, nor does he seek an "escapist" out from them. ... The positive thinker is aware that only when the mind is cool, and under strong mental control, will it produce those dispassionate, rational, and intellectual concepts that lead to sound and viable solutions.' In other words, positive thinking---'tough-minded optimism,' Peale called it---is anything but wishful, fanciful thinking. It is, according to Peale, only through a 'sound intellectual process' that we can find solid, rational answers to our probems.

Now, there is definitely a place for a positive mental attitude. For example, when you are seeking to solve a problem, and are considering all the options, and evaluating your strengths and weaknesses as well as and the challenges, threats, and opportunities before you, I strongly recommend that you think positively---that is, optimistically but also realistically---about yourself and all the issues involved. However, when it comes to living out your moment-to-moment existence, and responding (as opposed to reacting) to the external and internal stimuli that constitute our ever-changing consciousness and experience of life, the best advice I can give you is simply to look, watch, and observe with choicless awareness and passive detachment.

Negative thoughts and feelings? Bah! Humbug!


Note. For those who are interested, here is a link to an address I delivered some years ago at the Sydney Unitarian Church, and here is another link to a book of quotations of Dr Peale which I compiled and then presented to Dr Peale's widow, the late Ruth Stafford Peale, to whom I spoke at length when I was on a trip in New York. I also met with the Peales' daughter Elizabeth Peale Allen who now chairs Guideposts, the Christian faith-based non-profit organization founded in 1945 by Dr and Mrs Peale.



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