Do mystics like science? How much science are they interested in?

I am a mystic and I love science. All fields (formal, natural and social) interest me, but particularly physics, astrophysics, astronomy, biology, anthropology, archeology, psychology, sociology, history, ecology, geology, oceanography, meteorology, economics, systems theory, etc. as well as applied sciences like medicine and computer science.

How can you determine spiritual progress?

Thank you for the question.

We could simplify (or refine) all of this into the one primary indicator of spiritual progress: the scope and skillfulness of our compassion. That is really what is reflected in different descriptions of both insight and growth among various traditions. Is our compassion deepening and distilling? Is our love expanding to embrace more and more within and without? Is our ability to translate that affection into helpful, healing, creative and supportive action becoming more fluid, unselfconscious and efficacious? Then our journey has been profitable in a spiritual sense. Everything outside of this is, I think, secondary…in orbit around this central theme.

I hope this was helpful.

What are some misunderstanding that people have about mysticism?

Thank you for the question. Here are some misunderstandings I’ve encountered about mysticism:

1. **It’s “New Age.”** Nope…mysticism has existed in various forms all around the world for thousands of years.

2. **It’s about magick, or alchemy, or conversing with spirits.** Nope…it’s about inviting innate spiritual perception-cognition and wisdom that every person has within themselves.

3. **It’s not part of any religion.** Nope…some flavor of mysticism exists in every spiritual tradition: Sufism (Islam); contemplative Christianity; Kabbalah (Judaism); Wicca; Hinduism; Buddhism; etc.

4. **It’s “of the Devil.”** Nope…it’s the esoteric basis for every form of compassion-centered spirituality — and indeed every formal religion.

5. **Only special people can be mystics.** Nope…there are tools and practices available to anyone and everyone to activate mystical awareness — there are just some techniques that are more suitable to one person than another.

My 2 cents.

"Nature taken in its abstract sense, cannot be “unconscious,” as it is the emanation from, and thus an aspect (on the manifested plane) of the ABSOLUTE Consciousness". Does this answer the question of

Thank you for the question Otto. I feel the challenge here is that we humans tend to project our conceptions of consciousness into such inquiries and definitions, when really whatever consciousness exists beyond our own ordinary consciousness is either a) completely beyond our ability to comprehend or categorize, or b) only intuitable in brief flashes of insight. So when we infer various qualities of consciousness against the backdrop of the Absolute — or within the context of its emanations — we immediately begin confining what we mean by “consciousness” to a pretty limited (and thus likely inaccurate) semantic container. Trying to then communicate this with what we assume to be commonly agreed-upon terms can often muddy the water further (at least in my experience). So we may indeed be able to sketch out some assumptions about essential or fundamental qualities of consciousness expressed in, say, the felt experience of perpetual unfolding of Divine Being in our material plane, but I suspect we will always have to hold these insights lightly, acknowledging they are just fingers pointing at the moon, and not the moon itself. That said, understanding this is IMO a worthwhile pursuit…if one that can only be answered satisfactorily via deep meditation.

My 2 cents.

Are religions the manifestation of the human tendency to live in denial?

Thanks for the question Carl.

I would separate “religion” into two distinct categories or aspects, both of which can be found in almost all religions:

1) The esoteric, the mystical, the spiritual, the enigmatic, the intuitive, the acquiescent

2) The exoteric, the institutional, the dogmatic, the hierarchical, the rationalizing, the dominating

If there is a “spiritual” dimension of existence (even if it is exclusively part of our interiority), then aspect #1 is really just the sensitivity to, interest in, and exploration of that dimension. I would call this kind of religion an “openness to the infinite,” or spiritual curiosity if you will. I think most mystical traditions (Sufism, contemplative Christianity, Toaism, Kabbalah, Hindu mysticism, much of historical Buddhism, etc.) fall mainly in this category, and actually end up in conflict with traditions that emphasize the second aspect. This aspect of religion does not “live in denial,” because it is constantly questioning along deeper and deeper lines of inquiry. If you spend time with any of the great mystical traditions, it quickly becomes evident that they are attempting to penetrate truths beneath the surface of more superficial, materialistic presentations of reality.

The second aspect is all about control, power, orthodoxy, tribalism, and so on — also very common characteristics of human institutions. It is aspect #2 that tends to slip into greater and greater cognitive dissonance as it attempts to maintain its primacy over other social structures and centers of gravity in society — it perpetuates denial as a primary feature of its striving for dominance.

My 2 cents

If spiritual counselors, teachers, and mystics all tell me that “suffering” is a catalyst for a spiritual “awakening”, then why isn’t it comfortable for these experts to re-frame this as a spiritual “

Some possibilities (as pure speculation):

1) Perhaps they’ve overstated their case. Suffering ***may*** be an opportunity for growth. It also may be just plain old run-of-the-mill suffering that every human being has to deal with as a feature of life on Earth, or it may indicate some underlying condition that requires conventional medical treatment, or it may simply indicate situational conditions that can and should be remedied, or it may be the consequence of arbitrary events that have no intrinsic meaning at all. But shoehorning ALL suffering into the context of being an “awakening catalyst” is a bit…well…presumptuous IMO. Thus assigning some external spiritual agency to such conditions or events would, I think, be uncomfortable…since it wouldn’t make a lot of sense in these other instances.

2) They may not have specific discernment into your situation, but are instead stating a general principle, and are trying to avoid influencing you to externalize your own agency. In Western commercialized cultures, it has become second nature to give away our own agency in favor of external solutions. “The Devil made me do it” is really no different than believing wearing a particular brand of clothing or cologne/perfume will result in finding the perfect romantic partner. In the context of healing arts (inclusive of conventional medicine), when a client refuses to take responsibility for their own well-being and prefers to project healing power onto their physician, practitioner, drug, supplement, magical object or whatever…then the healing process has been sabotaged. No real healing will take place (other than the placebo that results from the client’s investment in the external solution). This is a real problem right now in capitalist society. So perhaps — consciously or unconsciously — the folks you are consulting are trying to steer you away from this particular addiction to externalization.

3) In the U.S. at least, one of the consequences of the widespread abuse of “New Age” approaches to wellness has been a mistrust of externalized spiritual agency of any kind. There have been too many abuses by gurus, mediums, psychics and the like asserting knowledge of spiritual causality purely for personal profit or celebrity. Thus attributing anything to a conscious spiritual intervention smacks of “woo-woo” in a bad way for most people who have either been conned or deceived…or who are aware of these deceptive practices that have occurred in the past. Personally, I don’t have a problem framing things this way when it is warranted, though I am still very cautious about leaping to that conclusion too quickly.

4) You and the folks you are consulting with may just be misunderstanding each other.

My 2 cents.

What are the pros and cons of the perennial philosophy?

Thanks for the question Jeff.

The pros are the real possibility of intuiting nuanced unities among all spiritual traditions, which in turn lead to a deeper appreciation of both spiritual substrata (ground of being, gnosis, sophia, etc.), and the metathemes that have informed humanity’s spiritual and moral journeys — and indeed influenced cultural developments — for millenia. The cons are, as Thomas Merton succinctly surmised, that undisciplined Perrenialism can become “loose and irresponsible syncretism which, on the basis of purely superficial resemblances and without serious study of qualitative differences, proceeds to identify all religions and all religious experiences with one another….”

My 2 cents.

What are the best nondual statements from Jesus?

Thanks for the question Pete. A number of verses come to mind, but to appreciate why they express nonduality may require some contemplation. First, I would recommend comparing parallel verses of what Jesus says about “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” across the gospels (i.e. Matthew 5:3/Luke 6:20; Matthew 19:14/Mark 10:13–14; etc.). and then just carefully examine what all Jesus says regarding that kingdom. That will be an eye-opener for some folks, and certainly speaks to nondual themes.

I would then turn to the Gospel of John, beginning with this:

John 17:20–23

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

And then some of the rest…

John 6:35–40

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

John 7:16–18

“My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”

John 8:3–11

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

John 10:34–36

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

John 12:24–25

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

John 15:4–5

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”


These are some of the easier verses. There are others that require a bit more time and openness to grok and fully receive within a nondual context. For example, John 11:9 “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.” Or John 13:20 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” IMO, both of these verses have not been adequately interpreted by most scholars, because they speak to a deeper, more unitive truth than is apparent on the surface (and even seems confusing).

My 2 cents.

How would Aquinas answer the objection 'Who caused God?'?

Basically Aquinas argues from the position that — logically, intuitively, observationally, analogically — there can't be an infinite regress of causes, and he does this along several lines of reasoning. In essence, in order for God to be God, that prime mover can’t have a preceding cause. It would negate the primacy (and thus the divinity) of that mover. To appreciate both the context and the details of his arguments, it would be helpful to read the entirely of his discussion on the existence of God at the beginning of Summa Theologiae. You can read that online here: The existence of God (Prima Pars, Q. 2)

Let's say we form a word for an object given by our perception. The object can be animate or inanimate. Do you think the word refers to the actual thing or our idea/concept of the thing?

Great question — thanks Danijel.

So here’s my take….

1) Some words are purely representational and symbolic.

2) Some words — or bodies of words — may actually embody the essence-of-a-thing, or “the thing as-it-is.”

3) And some words or bodies of words may actually create a thing.

In my view these three different operations of language are usually unconscious — humans don’t, in general, actively navigate the world around them via consciously ‘code-switching’ between these operations. Some may try to do this…usually those who have spent their lives intending to either a) understand and appreciate their own consciousness and agency in the world in an intuitive and introspective way, or b) have been educated about a particular approach to consciousness and agency in a systematic way. Still, extensive mastery of language in this context is IMO extremely rare.

Some examples will probably be helpful here. The first case — pure representation — is fairly easy to grasp and likely needs no examples (it seems as though the question itself is predicated on this assumption). The second case, embodying essence, is perhaps a fundamental function of consciousness itself, as evident in an infant’s gurgling as it is in a poet’s gift or a mystic’s insights. We see this in the phonemes “ma,” “muh” and “meh” which are an almost universal component of all the words referring “mother” or “motherly” in any language. How is this possible, unless there is some basic, essential unity-of-association between a given sound and its particular representation (or evocation) in our emotional experience…? In other words, in some instances a given word touches upon “the thing as-it-is” — at least in the context of universal human experience and response.

Poetic and mystical examples follow along similar lines, with kindred or identical sounds, words and phrases in many different languages (which do not share common linguistic roots) evoking similar meanings, contexts or experiences. Atman, alma, anda, pneuma, arima, anima, anam, jan (жан), neshama (נֶפֶשׁ) all relate to spirit or soul, for example. Likewise, metaphors that relate to happiness as a “rising up” experience are cross-cultural, near universals, as are idioms expressing anger or frustration that relate to being enclosed and trying to get out. Some linguistic theorists surmise that such universals reflect our common neurophysiology, or parallel developments in culture, and these are certainly viable explanations. Some behavioral scientists have even suggested that “moral grammar” — and the culture that arises around it — is itself a feature of our biology. Another explanation is that there are universal patterns, structures, energies and processes that occur on a quantum level across all of biology and consciousness — again, just a theory. And, adding to the mix, there are also intuitions of a unitive principle behind all consciousness and spirit. These theories are themselves representations from one perspective. From another perspective they are sussing out a shared ground — of being, becoming, evolving, a common cascade of interdependencies, and so on; that is, they are embodying essence. Personally, I’m willing to bet that all of these theories offer a piece of the puzzle (that is, that all of them have some degree of descriptive accuracy).

Lastly, we come to creative language. On one level, this idea is as simple as one person writing fiction, and another “experiencing” that story as a felt reality in their own mind. On another level, there is the suggestion that language itself has formative and projective capacity on human development and activity (Sapir-Whorf, etc.) — movements like “nonviolent communication” have been heavily influenced by this line of thinking. And on yet another level, there is the concept of logos within various Christian and Hermetic traditions, and the panentheism across various other traditions, that link mind and language and unfolding reality in interpenetrating ways. Even certain schools of philosophy have addressed the possibility of the projective capacity of mind on reality (from various forms of dualism all the way up to quantum consciousness), and here language can become a component of that projection as well. I’m covering a lot of ground here that probably requires more detailed elaboration, but the basic idea is that “a word” is much more than a description of a concept — it has its own substance, its own energy, its own essence, which links it more directly to the creation of other phenomena.

So this is a fascinating question, with substantial capacity for ever-broadening exploration. The danger, I think, is trying to reduce language and thought to mere representation, when there may be a lot more going on….

My 2 cents.

Comment by Danijel Starcevic: "Really interesting perspective, especially the part about the “ projective capacity of mind on reality”, with language being a component of that projection. Are there any modern scientific inquiries into this?"

LOL. No. At least not mainstream stuff. Bohm’s “implicate order,” Sheldrake’s “morphic resonance” and László's “Akashic field” theory are about as close as you’ll likely get to actual science along these lines — and the implications for language are mostly my own, even in those instances. Interesting reading though. :-) Most of what I’m referencing is more esoteric in nature. Can it be directly experienced? Sure. Can it be replicated in a double-blind experiment? Not so much. I’m wondering if “the observer effect” actually has an impact on this — trying to measure something that reacts to the measurement instrument. Just a thought….

How should I go about thinking for myself and not just regurgitating ideas I learn from other people?

Without knowing more about your personality, experiences, aptitudes and interests, it is difficult to offer anything but the most generic advice. Keeping that in mind, here is what I would encourage you to do to help formulate your own opinions about things:

1) Drastically reduce social media immersion, 24/7 mass media stimulation, and entertainment media immersion. In other words, limit your interaction with these media to an hour or two each day…max. Maybe even take a “media vacation” 1–2 days each week (on weekends, etc.). This also includes music and podcast consumption (even as “background” noise). The objective here is to give your mind a rest…and some spaciousness.

2) Wean yourself off of regular MJ use. It’s going to interfere mightily with your ideation, introspection and reflection capacities, as well as your ability to emotionally mature. Occasional recreation is not what I would be concerned about — it’s daily use (or several times a week) of the latest high-THC varieties that tends to create serious problems over time.

3) Learn to meditate. This takes time and discipline — and experimentation with different techniques — but it will help you focus inward and gain more internal reliance, rather than orienting all thoughts and emotions to external inputs. It will also help you manage anxiety and depression. If you can develop a healthy, regular habit of daily mediation, this will vastly enhance your abilities to navigate ideas, formulate your own thoughts, and intuit what is most important to you.

4) Consume carefully. What you eat, what you read, what you watch, what you listen to (music, podcasts, whatever), whom you spend time around…even what you spend time thinking or fantasizing about. Garbage in, garbage out. What you reinforce with constant exposure and focus will become your mind’s primary orientation, locus of energy, and interest…but you get to control this if you choose.

5) Spend regular time alone in Nature. Here again, this is about spaciousness. Creating space and time for different aspects of your being to expand, find their own level, and prompt you into an authentic relationship with your own interiority.

I hope this was helpful! :-)

When we fail to grow spiritually for one of many reasons, is it because of the lure of the world?

Thanks for the question.

As with many activities that aim for positive outcomes, distraction is probably the biggest hindrance — a distraction that redirects our energies away from spiritual growth into something else. The subtlety, however, is in just how many forms of distraction there are. Some examples:

1) Gratifying our own ego to feel more important, ethical, disciplined…or indeed “spiritual.”

2) Worrying and obsessing over our spiritual purity, progress, efficacy, etc., to a degree where anxiety and guilt are our predominant emotions.

3) Becoming inflexible, legalistic and black-and-white regarding our certainties: not allowing for nuance, subjective differences, alternate explanations, gradations of truth, etc.

4) Looking for external signs and affirmation that we are “on the right path;” things like synchronicity, affluence, open doors, manifestations of personal will, etc.

5) Becoming preoccupied with future outcomes instead of experiencing the joy of the present moment.

6) Grounding all reasoning, emotions, choices, activities and imagination in an “I/Me/Mine” orientation of self-absorption…with only a veneer of consideration for anyone or anything else.

7) Resisting a felt reality of authentic compassion for self and others, and instead just going through the motions of what generosity, caring and kindness are “supposed” to look like.

8-) Looking outward, instead of inward, for answers.

9) Getting caught up in what everyone else is doing in order to feel comforted and accepted — then rationalizing that it serves a noble end.

10) Operating in “head time” rather than “heart time” or “spirit time;” that is, confusing busyness with carefully considered action, or quickly consuming mass media with gaining wisdom, or rushing to protest injustice with more discerning activism.

11) Forgetting our Divine purpose, and substituting it with the convenient passions-of-the-moment.

So we could attribute some number of these distractions to “the lure of the world,” sure. But would that be an accurate description? Would it really get at the heart of the impedance to what we believe to be spiritual progress…? I think you can probably see the trap here. Our conceptions of what spirituality is “supposed” to look like are just as problematic as other distractions that we attribute to an external cause. Everything that hinders us is a distraction…it is simply a matter of identifying the distractions for what they are, and moving beyond them…letting them go.

Along these lines, I would encourage you to read C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. He dances neatly through many subtleties of distraction that we often overlook.

My 2 cents.

How did Spinoza reconcile his faith in Christ with his philosophy of God?

Thank you for the question Roberto.

So getting to the heart of any answer to the question posed (“How did Spinoza [reconcile] his faith in Christ with his philosophy of God?” ) IMO will require reading through at least a few portions of his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. This work is much more accessible than his Ethics, and clearly spells out his views on both the nature and role of faith, the place that Jesus Christ holds with respect to knowledge of God, and indeed the “flexibility” of what remains — namely the specifics of revealed knowledge. This last part, which speaks to Spinoza’s philosophy of God, is the most critical to appreciate IMO — with respect to Spinoza’s thought, and to answering the OP’s question. Spinoza’s overarching message in Theologico-Politicus is that the details of any individual philosophy about the nature of the Divine are completely and overwhelmingly overrun by what scripture instructs us to do: namely, to be obedient to God in our love for others, regardless of our personal justification for doing so. This is Spinoza’s chief contribution to discussions of spiritual relationship with the Divine, and IMO deserves our full attention. His point is really just a variation on what Christ taught: that all the rules and justifications and dogma of religious orthodoxy are just chaff to be burned up in the fires of agape. To be kind and charitable and fiercely outspoken — often in self-sacrificial ways — for the good of others is the expression of God’s essence that embodies genuine obedience — that is, as opposed to following a rigid set of rules. At the same time, how a believer chooses to understand, evaluate and execute this mandate is really entirely up to them — according to the culture within which they live, their native intelligence and abilities, and (and here I am extending Spinoza’s logic rather than summarizing his POV) their level of spiritual and psychosocial development. That is how Spinoza explains the different individual expressions of faith and different collective religious dogmas, and why he dismisses their importance in anything but a facilitative sense. Again, though, all he is really doing here is reiterating and extending Christ’s central message.

In conclusion, then, there is nothing to reconcile: Spinoza’s view of Christ as the preeminent communicator of God’s essence — that is, the perfect expression of the Mind of God in word and deed — does not at all contradict, undermine or interfere with Spinoza’s view of God. They are, in fact, in complete harmony with each other — both regarding Spinoza’s view of God’s expression of essence or nature in Christ, and in the variability of philosophical viewpoints that serve that expression. Human philosophy is, for Spinoza, only superficially divergent from revealed knowledge — because both are bounded my human imagination and interpretation, and both are a superficial layering over the core tenets of salvation: to reify compassionate affection and joy in relationship with others as evidence of God/Christ/holy spirit-in-us. And so, when Spinoza elaborates in Ethics on God as “a substance consisting of infinite attributes,” and that human thought and intuition are an extension of the Mind of God as modes of one such attribute (thought), he is really just elaborating on all things in existence being a continuum of Divine essence. In this sense, all the previous discussion here (about Christ, revelation, faith, salvation, etc.) can be framed within the context of the myriad extensions and attributes (or expressions of essence, if you will) of the Divine interacting with each other according to their Divine nature. Human consciousness then becomes a veneer layered on top of this dynamic interplay, a partial component seeking to understand the whole. And, once that whole is understood according to the capacities available to us — once the veneer is removed to expose the essential unity of a Creation that is the cause of itself — this produces boundless joy for us. And the logos of Christ? It is a powerful nudge in that very direction.

So there is no contradiction or even tension the nature of Christ and the philosophy of God for Spinoza, there is only imperfect understanding that gradually gives way to an inherent harmony. Again, though, I would spend some quality time with Tractatus Theologico-Politicus to further appreciate Spinoza’s perspectives around theology in this regard.

My 2 cents.

What are the signs that someone is self-aware?

Signs of self-awareness…hmmm. Good question.

First I would say that self-awareness in isolation from other qualities isn’t necessarily a good thing — or even all that helpful. Someone who has not come to peace with their own very accurate perception of themselves may expend tremendous amounts of energy attempting to hide aspects of themselves from others, or be defensive or insecure about them, or struggle with their observations to such a degree that they are in constant anxiety and self-doubt. So unless self-awareness is accompanied by humility, openness, self-control, self-efficacy, authenticity, compassion for self, maturity, acceptance and a host of other factors, the “telltales” of its existence may hold little import.

With that said, here are some signs I think are fairly common for folks with self-awareness that has evolved in conjunction with other critical and complimentary traits:

1) Realistic, honest and open assessment of own strengths and limitations — without either catastrophizing failings at one extreme, or overestimating competency at the other extreme. This, in turn, inherently improves self-efficacy.

2) Ability to describe one’s own mistakes by accurately identifying cognitive errors, mistaken perceptions or misinterpreted information. In other words, to be able to recognize not only the error one has made, but also how it happened via internal mistakes.

3) In my experience an ability to laugh at oneself is frequently concomitant with mature self-awareness.

4) The most effective and potent forms of self-awareness seem to require stepping back from the immediacy of a given situation — emotions, ideations, physical responses, etc. — rather than being swept up in it. This can manifest as both reflective metacognition and detached observation of internal events.

5) Genuine humility.

6) An ease with adjusting course when others point out weaknesses and strengths.

7) A knack for both avoiding overcommitment and neglecting the application of skills and talents; a balanced and insightful application of effort.

My 2 cents.

How do you keep yourself motivated to meditate?

Thanks or the question. My thoughts on this…

1) Meditation does not nourish all of our being — just certain parts. Finding other activities and disciplines that nourish other dimensions of our life will energize routines we attempt in unrelated areas. This is a principle of Integral Lifework — it may seem counterintuitive, but it works.

2) There are many different forms of meditation. One may appeal to you more than another — or be more helpful for you. Check out “resources” in the link above for some freely available descriptions and sample practices (for example, from the book Essential Mysticism).

3) Creating a structure, routine and regular designated space around meditation can be extremely helpful. If you practice at the same time each day, and always in the same physical space, this will have a reinforcing effect on your practice (it will often create a momentum that carries you forward).

4) There may be something — a barrier within — that is disrupting your ability to meditate or continue meditating. There may be fear, or difficult internal material to confront, or confusion and disorientation. Engaging barriers and working through them with patience and compassion can be very healing…regardless of the resulting impact on your mediation practice. Sometimes this requires the assistance of a counsellor, coach, therapist or support group.

5) Meditating with others in an established group (or one that you create yourself) can offer a huge advantage — accountability, routine, social connections, support and encouragement, etc.

My 2 cents.

What should be humanity's primary goal in the long term?

Thank you for the question. For our overarching goal, I think we should aim to embody skillful compassion at all levels of human organization — as a species, as cultures and nations, as communities, as individuals. In other words, to have compassion for ourselves, for one another, for the Earth and all its wonderful forms of life, and in our interactions with species and places beyond the Earth’s sphere…and to exercise that compassion with increasing predictive efficacy. This latter aspect of the imperative — the skillfulness and effectiveness part — is what knowledge, technology, artistic expression, wisdom, discernment and so on can aid us with. But the primary imperative itself — to love — can only be achieved through individual and collective emotional commitment to nourishing and amplifying our existing prosocial traits; this must become the focus of human beings that subjugates all others. And right now, mainly because of our dominant forms of political economy and the prevailing cultural zeitgeist, we are failing at this imperative. We are not quieting our most corrosive and repulsive antisocial traits, but instead glorifying them. This choice — which is essentially a moral one — has been with us from the beginning of recorded history and likely (considering what modern primate research has revealed) long before. I suspect it will persist until the human species is extinct — which is likely to occur much sooner if we don’t change our course.

My 2 cents.

Is the awakened state subject to regression into identifying with thought, or is the realisation strong enough that this would be a considered "bleeding" of the ego into consciousness?

Thanks for the question.

Part 1: “Is the awakened state subject to regression into identifying with thought…” Yes — quite often until the old habits of reflexive identification soften and dissipate. Integration and equilibrium of nondual peak experiences can take time, during which we can encounter a fair amount of cognitive dissonance. This process can also happen more quickly — and with less dissonance and conflict — though in my experience and observation, the “sudden and overwhelming” awakening can actually result in a weaker (more susceptible to disruption and regression) form of insight/aha…despite testimony to the contrary. In either instance, contextualization in an established tradition (Zen, Christian mysticism, Shamanism, Sufism, etc.) can help to stabilize and integrate the peak experience(s), but in some ways these traditions can also become “short-cuts” that layer cultural memes on top of an ineffable what is; that is, they distance us from the experience, invoking representations that ultimately interfere with emergent truths. Regardless, traditions can offer insulation from disruption and regression; the question then becomes: what if I attempt to operate outside of that comfy, affinitive bubble (i.e. return to a hellish work commute and an oppressive boss)? Or what if I’m really tired or sick, etc.?

Part 2: “or is the realisation strong enough that this would be a considered "bleeding" of the ego into consciousness?” Some intense peak experiences can sustain an inner reordering for a time — an intrinsic momentum, if you will — especially if they aren’t challenged by strong emotional triggers, rutted cognitive behavioral habits, or incompatible environments. But they won’t “guarantee” stabilization and integration. Translating such a shift into supportive habits, actions and interactions takes time, and ego is always happy to rear its ugly head in disruptive ways along the way. Essentially, this becomes a choice of what we decide to reinforce. Much like the Cherokee Legend - Two Wolves.

My 2 cents.

If God is omnipresent, then what is special about being in the presence of god?

1. As a meditative koan: If air is everywhere, what’s so special about your personal ability to breathe it?

2. As a psychological reality: A person in a crowd of people can still feel alone — unless they have a meaningful relationship with one or more those people.

3. Conscious awareness of a thing is not the same as the “reality” of a thing. For example, a person dozing in a hammock in a tree full of venomous snakes may not feel afraid or threatened in any way…if they aren’t aware of the snakes. The moment they become aware of the snakes in the tree will generally be the moment the personal relevance of those snakes hits home for them. So in this sense, personal awareness evokes personal relevance, regardless of the underlying conditions of a given situation.

4. “Being in the presence of God” has a specific meaning in most mystical theistic traditions. In Sufi Islam, contemplative or neoplatonist Christianity, and Jewish mysticism the experiences of intimate union with the Divine have a profound, transformative effect on self-identity and consciousness. Likewise personal awakening to the Brahman/atman in Hinduism is a transformative insight even though the condition preexisted the realization. So in these traditions the abstract concept of existing within a creation permeated by the Divine does not hold even the tiniest candle to the personal experience of “tasting God.”

5. Among many religious practices it is not uncommon for certain rituals, venerated places or ancient relics to evoke a “nearness” to the Divine in ways that a practitioner may believe are otherwise inaccessible to them. In certain traditions that emphasize a distancing of believers from their gods, and a reliance on certain processes sanctioned by that religious institution, the Divine remains hidden behind a veil controlled by the spiritual elite within that institution. This seems to play an important role in elevating clergy and adepts to positions of power or authority.

6. Physicists and other scientists routinely report that witnessing the results of experiments that validate their theories about the forces and subatomic components of the Universe is an awe-inspiring experience. But why? If they know that the existence of a Higgs boson is necessary to fulfill the standard model, why does actually detecting evidence of the particle create such excitement and wonder? Because it validates a deeper understanding of truth…a more complete grasp of what is. In the same way, a person whose belief is subjectively validated by a personal encounter with Divine Presence will feel a similar sense of awe and wonder.

These are just a few of potential examples of why theoretical omnipresence and a personal experience of Divine Presence are not the same thing.

My 2 cents.

How do I get the image of God as imposing and angry out of my mind?

There are a number of ways to approach this — and some will be better suited to who you are (your personality and experiences) than others. For example, you could:

1. Explore the source of your assumptions, and then challenging those assumptions, using the downward arrow technique or other cognitive approach. This can be done with the help of a therapist, or using a CBT workbook, etc.

2. Introspective meditation on the nature of the Divine, the nature of your relationship with the Divine, the nature of your own spiritual Self, etc.

3. Reading love-centric literature about the Divine, such as the poems of Hafiz, or the Gospel of John, etc. There is a fellow named Daniel Ladinsky who has compiled some of the best of these from different traditions in Love Poems from God.

4. Begin a gratitude practice that focuses on all the good in your life, in yourself and in the world. There is a sample outline of this practice in my book Essential Mysticism, which you can peruse online for free here: Integral Lifework —Essential Mysticism

5. All of the above.

I hope this was helpful.

What is the relationship between mysticism and philosophy?

I think they are inseparable on a fundamental level, but represent divergent processes and emphases in their methodology. In the Western tradition before Aristotle, mysticism and philosophy felt synonymous. Aristotle is probably the first to tease the two apart — or at least isolate different processes and categories of exploration. But within Aristotle’s differentiations we see the seeds of what later became empiricism, rationalism, and the full-throated speculations of metaphysics. In other words, we see a drifting apart of that which is observable, that which is logically reasoned out, and that which is understood at a deeper level of experiential insight. Later, we would see Thomas Aquinas wrestle with this very same drifting apart, but he would try to honor all trajectories…while also integrating them. It is this tension — along with its attempted resolution — that we can observe repeated in the Western tradition as a fairly contiguous thread through Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Tielhard de Chardin, William James and many others. At the same time, we find thinkers like Bacon, Nietzsche, Russel, Husserl and Wittgenstein steering away from such integration or reconciliation— or even deferent consideration of the intuitive or speculative at all — in favor of the concrete, observable and analytical. Still, I suppose we could say that in the Western canon carries a drumbeat of mysticism forward well into 20th Century philosophy, before postmodernism began to more systematically snuff it out. Since then, however, we have seen a resurgence of the integration among the integralizing crowd (Gebser, Wilber, Rosenstock-Huessy) — and one that for me appears very promising. In fact, this is where I live philosophically, and how I arrived at my own multidialectical synthesis and Sector Theory.

In the Eastern traditions, this process of divergence didn’t occur in the same way — in fact, to my eye the Cartesian divisions never really happened at all, and mysticism and philosophy remained intertwined in a much more persistent and harmonious way up into modern times. There were still sages who focused more on the pragmatic than the esoteric (such as Confucius), but like Plato they apparently didn’t feel the need to distance themselves from mystical perceptions and conceptions. In this light, it is somewhat ironic that it is popular in the West to approach Buddhism or Yoga as a “philosophy of life,” or view meditation as a way to simply recondition the mind into healthier cognitive habits, while ignoring or minimizing the spiritual/mystical/metaphysical elements of these practices and traditions. This is just what we do in Western culture…whereas many Eastern cultures do not appear to have the same (IMO unhealthy) compulsion.

In any case, I feel like I have meandered a bit, but hopefully touched on why mystical and philosophical processes are really aiming toward the same end: understanding self and mind, understanding the world, understanding the nature of reality and truth, developing both knowledge and wisdom about what is. Depending on the school of thought — or mystical practice — these are all just different input streams to fortify human understanding, and deserving of our careful consideration.

My 2 cents.

Can spiritual awakening lead to success in business?

Maybe sometimes, at which point most of that person’s awakening will dissipate or retreat, mainly because of the demands of our current political economy and business culture. In other words, success in business generally leads to spiritual regression.

It is a bit like asking: “Will my spiritual awakening make me a better salesman?”

Well, let’s take that example. Awakening generally leads to greater compassion for self and others, more insight into skillful healing and wholeness, and less attachment to material possessions and ego accomplishments. So how would an “awakened” salesman act? They probably would try to help people — to do what is authentically best for their customers, without considering their own self-enrichment. Consider these scenarios:

“Is this a good TV?”

“Well, not really, but it’s the only one we have in stock.”


“Can your alternative therapy heal my cancer?”

“Actually no. You are going to die. But I can be a compassionate presence for you as you die….”

And so on. If what is genuinely beneficial to a customer just happens to coincide with what a business has to offer, then there is a possibility of awakening facilitating temporary success. Otherwise, it just runs counter to capitalist instincts.

You see the problem? Being a kind, compassionate, insightful and healing presence can bless others with well-being and skillful aid…but it doesn’t fit into the better bottom line landscape very well. Add to this that most people really don’t know how to handle affluence and material success without becoming corrupted by it (see Paul Piff’s research on this), and tying business acumen to spiritual awakening is sort of a fundamentally unwise idea.

My 2 cents.

What did you realize - expressed in one sentence - upon spiritual awakening?

“That there is a continuum of insight, burrowing through seemingly endless layers of constructs (one of which is “spiritual awakening”), to mediate encounters with an immediate, nondual rawness of being — an immersion which then tends to be integrated, after-the-fact, by either a) rationalizing the experience to fit with cultural conditioning and language, b) accepting it as what is (roughly, an emergent mystery, navigated and boundarized within the limitations of consciousness), c) interpreting it as an essence or ground from which everything else arises, d) allowing it to infuse us with surprising depths of humility and compassion, e) accepting its stimulation of gnosis and sophia within, f) some combination of all of the above…usually one that relies on discernment, and a specific quality of letting go, to to bear fruit in our lives.”

What are the practical advantages of mysticism?

At least in part, I have engaged in my personal mystical discipline for practical reasons, and it has yielded practical results.

These would include:

1. Much greater clarity about how my inner life is unfolding, what is important to me, what generates forward progress, what aligns with my values hierarchy, etc. — thus improving the ease and concision of knowing, decision-making and day-to-day prioritization of thoughts, relationships, efforts, etc.

2. A broader contextual awareness of the world around me — a multidimensional answer to the causal relationships and “whys” of existence, wellness, society, technology, economy, creativity, knowledge, etc. Appreciating this richer, more holistic interplay has improved efficacy across all of my activities, and helped construct mutual support among them, resulting in both enhanced efficiencies and noticeable multidimensional growth.

3. An improved ability to help others — whether through encouragement and emotional support, counsel regarding personal challenges, insight into situational conundrums, or intuitions about self-knowledge and values-related conflicts.

4. There is more, but ultimately these consequences tend to culminate in a personal directedness, focus and acquiescent contentment that enhances joy and harmony in my own life, and encourages (to some humble degree) the same qualities in the lives of those with whom I have relationship.

My 2 cents.

What was your enlightenment experience like?

It’s still going on. I suspect it will never end. There also seem to be many facets and dimensions to it, only some of which are approachable with words. I wrote about one phase of my experience here: Poetry by T.Collins Logan. See the second poem, “Today’s Libation.” That poem brushes up against many aspects of a persistent unfolding/awakening — and my attempts to express it. I could just as easily answer this question with “a deep and abiding silence,” or “a dense and seemingly endless cascade of aha moments,” or “being arrested by an intense clarity of what agape really is…that is, precisely what it looks like, and why it is the only remaining imperative, after the fires of gnosis have burned everything else away.” I think there are probably as many different expressions of this journey as their are stages in the journey…and my insight thus far is that those stages are infinite. Here is something I wrote after some spiritual adventures earlier in my life that I think captures a central theme in my own awakening (from my book The Vital Mystic):

The Cliff

With all of my being I scrambled and trembled and strove
climbing ever higher
but the most detailed maps, the most disciplined techniques
and the careful advice of sages widely revered
did not avail me – for I could not reach my goal, or even
comprehend it
until, one day, with unexpected insight
I just let go
and began an endless falling into God

— My 2 cents.

Can wisdom be mechanized and proceduralized, and if so, what are some of the issues involved in doing so?

IMO wisdom cannot be mechanized — at least not the spirit of what wisdom is really all about (i.e. multifaceted efficacy). It can be “proceduralized” to a limited degree, in that certain input streams, aptitudes and processing techniques can be encouraged that tend to permit available wisdom to percolate up through our intentions and actions (for example, certain types of meditation). But there is no guaranteed approach in my experience. In this sense we could equate characteristics of wisdom with compassion, in that there are ways to inspire or induce those characteristics (or mimic them), but that a rigid enforcement of authentic compassionate responses is really not a practical or “procedural” possibility. Further, the difference between imitations and the real thing are fairly pronounced.

With that said, I once formulated a “pathway” to wisdom that looked something like this:

data/observation → education/information/contextualization → insight/knowledge → compassionate/inclusive intentionality (i.e. “for the good of All”) → application/testing/efficacy → experiential feedback → ongoing practice + fine-tuning → additional multidimensional input streams (emotional + somatic + spiritual + analytical intelligence) → discernment → consistent operationalization + values alignment→ wisdom.

As you can see, this isn’t really a formula or procedure as much as a loose container for a combination of felt experiences, moments of insight, careful attention to consequences and conditions, and continuous adjustment; it is therefore inherently both multidimensional and emergent.

My 2 cents.

From Quora question:

Can an enlightened being feel pride?

LOL. Not if they want to remain enlightened, engage the world around them from an awakened state…or operationalize their insight. Pride indicates regression. I suppose it can and does arise in some vulnerable context (beings being beings), but it won’t have any staying power — there is nothing for it to latch onto. The moment the ego is invoked to be deliberately fed with pride, the I/Me/Mine rises up to obscure the unadorned reality that initially attenuated it. So perhaps we could say this is a case of greater/lesser, rather than either/or. But the lessening can be fairly complete, as a matter of consequential maturation. We might even say that experiencing pride is a good barometer of that maturation process.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Is there a necessary connection between meditation and morality? Is enlightenment linked to goodness? Is there a possibility that an enlightened person still do bad things?

A difficult question to answer — because there isn’t really a universal or absolute correlation between any of the events, qualities or outcomes described in the question. The answer to all three is really: “Sometimes.” Sometimes, with the right kind of meditation, for a person who is receptive and genuine in their intentions, morality is nudged in a more mature direction by meditation alone. In my Integral Lifework system, however, most often meditative practice would only address one or two of thirteen dimensions that require our attention, care and nurturing — and without engaging all the other dimensions as well, moral growth is a lot less likely. And even then, there will still be many moments of choice when a person must intend to grow, change and integrate their transformational experiences — rather than ignore, reject or suppress them (which can indeed happen) — so that moral maturity is emergent. In the same way, a person’s awakening to unitive consciousness/love-consciousness will sometimes inspire them to be kinder and more considerate of others as an organic consequence — to, in effect, develop skillfulness in their compassion — and sometimes, depending on their inherent character, require more deliberate cultivation. But here again there will be choices about whether an intentionality anchored in “the good of All” is acceptable, embraceable, or actualizeable. Again a person’s native propensities inform what is most likely: are they naturally prosocial? Do they have a mental illness? Are they perceptive? On the autism spectrum? Abused as a child? There are a lot of factors in play, and consistent focus over time is another hurdle in this regard. Once again multiple dimensions of a person come into play. But very often, at each stage in the processes of interior development and exterior operationalization, if a person turns away from the difficult realizations they are facing, they sometimes can and do act out in destructive ways towards themselves or others. So at any point along their journey, the option to drop out, act out, or backslide is always present — and usually less inadvertent that previously, because awareness and awakeness has increased. Here again, though, a choice. Over and over…so many choices. In my experience, most folks (myself included) will shy away from embracing really difficult ahas at one point or other…delaying or denying…and that itself can lead to difficult periods in which all three aspects of the question seem like a disconnected or arbitrary struggle — with lots of negative consequences. But…well…this only sometimes becomes a serious derailment or journey’s end.

My 2 cents.

Is it possible to love everyone?

This is a challenging question, IMO, mainly because there is such a diversity of conceptions and attitudes about “love” in modern culture. In ancient Greece, they used several different words for love in different contexts, but in modern English our distinctions get a bit muddied. I have spent the past thirty years or so meditating on this issue and writing about it — and still find it difficult to reduce down to simplified definitions. Which means that answering this question will require laying some groundwork first….

What spiritual traditions are talking about when they use the phrase “loving everyone” is really three distinctly different components:

1) The first is having a certain perspective about all human beings (including ourselves) that recognizes human frailty, bad choices, imperfections and weaknesses in everyone, and nevertheless accepts, forgives and is kind to all. This is really more of a behavioral and intellectual discipline that is grounded in humility and functional compassion regarding the well-being of ourselves and others.

2) The second is a felt experience of affection that occurs through spiritual practice; this is difficult to describe without personally encountering it, but imagine feeling the same depth of love you might feel for your own child, a favorite sibling or your closest friend, but for everyone and everything at once. This is a profound apprehension that can happen spontaneously in peak experiences of consciousness, or as the result of disciplined mystical activation practices (see my book Essential Mysticism for elaboration of this process, online for free here: Essential Mysticism); in fact that is what many spiritual practices in various traditions seek to induce.

3) The third aspect of “loving everyone” is inherent to the ideas of discernment, skillfulness, and understanding the relationship dynamics in play. In other words, whether we are exercising disciplined humility (#1), or experiencing an aha moment of universal love (#2), we will want to know whether our behavior and decisions have efficacy with respect to loving others — that is, that they have the desired trajectory, interplay and consequences. This also means developing some metrics around this objective, and understanding what “unskillful” love (such as codependence) looks like.

In the highest order of what I call the unitive principle — that is, a mature and skillful universal loving kindness — all three of these facets of “loving everyone” are developed and refined. In fact, that process never ends…it is a dynamic and fluid interaction within and without. But there is an important conditionality to this journey: it is dependent on our level of moral development (or ego development, if you will). We will not be able to operate beyond our level of moral maturity — at least not for sustained periods of time without the possibility of burn-out. This is because love-consciousness has everything to do with our personal identity and attachment to that identity, as well as how expansive or inclusive our identity becomes. This is a much more complicated topic, but here is a chart that shows the progression of moral development and its correlation to both identity and our ability to “love everyone” in skillful and sustainable ways:

Integral Lifework Developmental Correlations

I hope this was helpful.

The dharma seems to unfold by itself in an awakened mind. What do you think?

Perhaps the critical modifier in this question is “seems.”

It seems as though most everything is mainly “seeming” to us humans. That seems to be our lot — with our limited perceptions and often predictable cognitive and emotional patterns. Further, it seems there is a differentiation between “what seems,” and “what is,” so that we value them differently.

At the same time, we also have tremendous capacity to project our conclusions about “what seems” onto our conceptions about “what is” and vice versa, and there is ongoing debate about whether such projection actually changes “what is,” or is just more seeming.

From another perspective, is this “seeming” actually an undifferentiated part of “what is,” or is it somehow independent from it? Some have concluded that both of these — as well as the questions evoked by the relationship — are constructs abstracted from the ultimate ground from which all of them have arisen, so that the constructs may be different in character or quality, but not in substance.

But can “what is” actually be perceived in an unadorned way, via some special faculty of our consciousness? And can our consciousness then encounter the ultimate ground beyond both “what is” and “what seems?”

If we define “awakening” as being somehow involved in these patterns of discovery, revelation and exploration, then perhaps we could also say that echoes or representations of the dharma filter into this process as a perceived “unfolding.” This might be our subjective experience of our consciousness brushing up against an ultimate ground, and of our hearts, minds and being effectively undergoing a transformative influence — into a more active embodying of those echoes and representations. Or…we could simply be recognizing how we have always been part of the dharma, with nothing really changing except our awareness.

But is our perception accurate in either case? Or is it just more “seeming?” Are we imitating dharma, becoming part of dharma, recognizing the imminence of dharma within and without, reinforcing an invented “dharma construct,” or something else…? Have we clarified an important differentiation, or relinquished that differentiation in our acquiescence? Have we “arrived” somewhere, or have we simply “let go?” Have we created and rationalized a more elaborate set of constructs, or have all constructs been annihilated in the crucible of unadorned perception?

From Quora

Is it harder for a rational logical formally educated mind to achieve spiritual awakening?

I think focusing this question a bit more in terms of time and place would be helpful. For example, we could say:

1. In the postmodern era among Western societies, it has become vogue to remain skeptical and even cynical about anything that lacks an emperical basis. In fact, we could say that over-emphasis (in education, but also culturally) on reductionist analysis and purely rational justifications would make it much more challenging to allow other input streams. In particular, anything smacking of “spirituality” seems to have garnered a reflexive disdain for those who gravitate toward empiricism, so that an almost irrational skepticism becomes an insurmountable obstacle.

2. In many Eastern cultures the exploration of ontological questions does not exclude spirituality or non-rational experiences and inputs. In fact various philosophical traditions are as much “spiritual” as they are “rational,” and do not prioritize one input stream over another in the course of self-examination of interpretation of peak experiences. Such a culture (and educational milieux), therefore, does not feel the need to reflexively dismiss the non-empirical in the same manner that Western culture seems to cultivate.

These are gross generalizations, but hopefully you can weave between the obvious extremes here.

My 2 cents.

Given that we can't know for absolute certainty, what are your personal theories regarding the story (legend) (truth) of Christian figure of Jesus?

I don’t mean to be entirely dismissive, but for me this question verges on absurd. Not that I haven’t encountered it before — in fact my first interactions with Christians who were striving to convert me centered around the various approaches to evidence or “proofs” concerning the person of Jesus and his miraculous acts. In the context of many Christian believers I met, it was these proofs that justified their beliefs…and so I think they assumed that the copious amounts of what they considered persuasive evidence would rock my world (though for some I suspect this was more about reinforcing their own self-justifications). But there was always something…well…that felt like a serious falling short on this particular road to any meaningful conclusions about Jesus and the Divine. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it…and so I shrugged off this rationalistic approach, along with many of these overeager evangelists.

Time passed.

Then one day - at the encouragement of a friend - I decided to read the Gospel of John. And the more I read it, the more a lot of things began to fall into place for me — in terms of understanding the early Christian message, and also understanding myself and what was really important to me. This has to do with what I would call “the felt reality of truth.” To know something in one’s bones in a non-rational but nevertheless profoundly persuasive way. I didn’t know Rumi at that time, but he spoke to this experience artfully:

“Intellect is good and desirable to the extent it brings you to the King's door. Once you have reached His door, then divorce the intellect! From this time on, the intellect will be to your loss and a brigand. When you reach Him, entrust yourself to Him! You have no business with the how and the wherefore. Know that the intellect's cleverness all belongs to the vestibule. Even if it possesses the knowledge of Plato, it is still outside of the palace.”

And of course the non-rational gravity well that the Gospel of John describes is all about agape — Divine love. Something Rumi and Hafiz also expounded upon extensively, and their writing would later me into “a felt reality of truth” in much the same way that the Gospel of John did. Some other Christian and Jewish texts have had a similar effect — Psalms, Ecclesiastes, The Shepherd of Hermes, The Gospel of Thomas - but the Gospel of John really grabbed me in a way that was meaningful…and enduring. Because it spoke to my heart in a language that my heart knew, but my mind…well…it didn’t really understand anything at all.

In any case, this message of love “rang true” in ways that invited relationship with the Divine. And so I embarked on a journey to intimately know “the enigma in the mirror;” to explore and eventually embrace a deep and abiding love affair with God. And without the Jesus described in the Gospel of John — without the words and deeds attributed to him in that book — I would not have experienced this transformation. I would certainly still be a spiritual person, indeed I would be a mystical person, and perhaps even a person who learned over time how to be more compassionate and kind to others…but I would not have become devoted to love itself. And I don’t think I would have been as empowered in this journey (in a spiritual sense) to seek the good of All.

So for my experience of faith (and I do not mean belief, but Faith as an Intentionally Cultivated Quality of Character), this Quora question is a mighty distraction from what I feel is essential - from what I now discern to be important and vital in my own religious experience. And, further, I would say that I “know” (in the sense of gnosis and sophia) the spiritual truth of love as an “absolute certainty.” How do I know? Because I was willing to practice, as best I could, the mindset, attitude and relating to others that the story of Jesus conveys — and because I was willing to invite holy spirit to assist me in these interior and exterior efforts.

In this context - the context of experiential certainty of transformative power - “personal theories” about Jesus of Nazareth are intellectual exercises, distractions that do little more than inflame egos into defending or assailing them. Perhaps, as the question poses, such theories can form the basis of a “rational discussion” that appeals to some - perhaps to a fruitful dialectic. But for me it is like trying to explain what it feels like to jump naked off of a cliff into an icy lake…using math, when it really should be poetry.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

Why is spiritual awakening often mentioned happening in a single instant?

I would say that “old habits die hard,” and so we try to create new habits. This applies to mental habits, physical habits, spiritual habits, emotional habits - all kinds of habits. So we study and meditate and exercise and learn how to identify our emotions and how all of these impulses and patterns arise in ourselves. Through certain practices over time - and also sometimes spontaneously - we arrive at “aha” moments, peak experiences or insights that strip away the seeming rigidity and force of all these habits. We recognize what they are, and where they are coming from, and for a time they are intrinsically de-energized. At which point there is no more trying, there just is.

However…and this is I think what you may be referring to…there is tremendous momentum behind all of the old habits. What our body desires, what our mind desires, what our heart desires, what our spirit desires…all of the energy may dissipate in an awakening, while the impulses and habits have nevertheless remained available just beneath the surface. Like rabbits sitting on a lawn at night, seemingly still, but ready to bolt into action once we reengage ordinary, routine attention. And what happens then? Many possibilities. Without continuing the practices that led to our aha, the force of our old habits may slowly return. Or, as we get older, we may forget our earlier appreciation or understanding. Or we might try to cling to the aha experience in a nostalgic or needy sort of way - like we are holding our breath - which is also unhelpful. Or we may find ourselves in an environment that reinforces - even demands - reassertion of all of those previous rabbit-habits. And these situations can and do interfere with what we might call “integration” of the aha experience into daily life. So although devotees of various traditions often tend to shy away from it, we could even say that awakening is itself subject to impermanence. And then the rabbits start running all over the place again - not like they were before, because we are conscious of them now, but nonetheless with renewed energy.

However - and this is a fairly hefty contradiction to what I’ve just said - waking up to a new way of seeing and being does change us in permanent ways. The extent of that change depends, I think, on the readiness of the person - both developmentally and in terms of the innate structures they have available. Which again is why ongoing practice is important. For some (perhaps most) it is also fruitful to have a supportive community with whom to share and mutually encourage the “integration” process, as well as a mature tradition that can inform and contextualize our journey. But the point is that changes or consequences of a peak experience persist, whether or not we consciously recognize, energize or integrate hem. It’s just that they may not feel particularly helpful or beneficial - they can even exacerbate suffering. Knowledge and insight without acceptance can be oppressive rather than liberating.

But all of this discussion is really just a shadow-projection on the cave wall until we leave the cave. And so we return to disciplined practice, because this anchors us and invites stillness. Then, when the helpful awareness arises that our witness consciousness is itself just one more of those rabbits…well, when we’re done laughing, we will have the momentum and energy of our actively cultivated habit-disciplines to help us retain a little courage and compassion amid the hilarity, so that we can accept and integrate…and not forget.

My 2 cents.

What would you choose to happen to you after death if you had a choice?

I’d like to have all of the following options available, which I could try out and then revisit after sampling them:

1. Have my consciousness re-enter my younger self with the knowledge and wisdom of an older man - mainly to correct all of the bad choices I made in my youth, but also to re-experience some of the coolest moments.

2. Go to angel training camp so I can learn how to skillfully aid mortals in enlightening themselves.

3. Become a deity on my own planet so that I could experiment with different forms of consciousness and life…you know, just for fun.

4. Become an unfettered consciousness that can travel faster-than-light all around the Universe to observe and explore.

5. Hang out for a while with all my favorite historical peeps, in whatever form they have inhabited the next life.

6. Have my consciousness be extinguished while giving all of my life force back to the Earth, secure in the knowledge that it will amplify love and light in the world.

7. Enter the next phase of the Great Journey - in whatever dimension, manifestation and role that may be - carrying all I have learned and experienced with me.

8. Become a ghost that haunts the Earth, disrupting the commercial spectacle until capitalism is finally abandoned and I can rest in peace.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Are you a spiritual hypocrite?


I got a good laugh from this one, because OF COURSE I am a hypocrite - on spiritual and countless other levels in nearly all of my habits. I think it is part of being human. For example:

1. I detest conspicuous consumerism and rail against it constantly…while also consuming beyond what I really need (that is, for the pleasure of consuming).

2. I believe that compassion is the truest expression of spiritual development - and that I have cultivated manifestations of my spiritual Self - but I make choices that are not compassionate all the time.

3. I decry the irrational stupidity of conservative Americans for their self-contradictory choices and reflexive groupthink…while at the same time I will sometimes defend contradictory progressive values without carefully thinking them through.

4. I encourage my clients and students (in meditation, coaching, etc.) to let go of animalistic reflexes in favor of conscious, skillful self-nourishment…but I feed my inner primitive wolf quite often with my own reptilian frustration and impatience.

5. I am confident that the Universe advances along its given trajectory with or without the involvement of my will…but I can still be willful or try to control outcomes in a way that contradicts that belief.

At the same time, I also do TRY to overcome this rampant hypocrisy by adjusting my thoughts, behaviors and responses to align more with my professed values, and avoid situations that would entice me to undermine them more easily. And of course this is like a game of Whac-A-Mole. Ha. But really I think this should flow effortlessly out of my way of being, not in response to conscious discipline. And so for now I must just accept that I haven’t progressed as far as I sometimes wish that I have…and try not to judge myself (or anyone else) too harshly for being a raging hypocrite.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Does the Western literature lag behind in mysticism? If yes, why? If no, what are some Western magnum opuses that bring mysticism into prominence?

As you can see by my bio, I myself write about mysticism, and I live in the West.
However, IMO there are three distinctly separate threads of mysticism that have arisen in the West, and it is important to distinguish them:

1. Egoic. Mysticism schools that have some useful information, but tend to amplify the ego and enhance personal power and abilities. These include things like Theosophy, the work of Alistair Crowley and George Gurdjieff, certain New Age literature like The Secret, and esoteric and alchemical practices found among secret organizations (Free Masons, etc.).

2. Contemplative. Mysticism schools that grew out of the Christian and Neoplatonist traditions, but (surprisingly, in my view) have not propagated much throughout Western culture except in very small enclaves, denominations or esoteric schools. This would include the works of the Gnostics, Hermeticists, Neoplatonists, Christian contemplatives (Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhardt, St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Jakob Böhme, Thomas Traherne, Thomas Merton, The Cloud of Unknowing, etc.), the Eastern Orthodox Desert Fathers (see the Philokalia), the practices of the Quakers, and some recently revitalized threads found in New Age literature (the writings of Kryon or Richard Bach, for example, or Meditations on the Tarot - A Journey into Christian Hermeticism).

3. Intellectual-Philosophical. This is where we find mainly a left-brained exploration of mystically influenced thought. Here we find the works of folks like Teilhard de Chardin, the German idealists (Fichte, Schelling, Hegel), William James, J. Krishnamurti, Aldus Huxley, Jean Gebser, Joseph Campbell and many others.

As to why these are not more popular, recognized or known - that is likely the result of several factors. Mainly it is because the dominant religious institutions in the West tend towards exoteric ritual and encourage dependence on authority. This is in stark contrast to Eastern religions like Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism, which - although they can and do succumb to similar institutional failings - tend to emphasize individual practice, development and “paths to enlightenment” in ways that never really have caught on in the West (other than through cults, self-appointed gurus and expensive weekend retreats). In the West, religion is also often much more commoditized and consumerized as a consequence of the ascendence of capitalism.

As for a magnum opus, I recommend Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism as a useful starting point. You can also read some of my works on mysticism, downloadable for free here: Integral Lifework Books & CDs.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

How does one cope with a spiritual crisis or a dark night of the soul?

Some thoughts:

1. Make sure all other dimensions of your being are fully nourished - relationships, learning, creativity and self-expression, healing from past trauma, physical exercise and a good diet, intimacy, affinity groups that share your other interests and passions, and so forth.

2. Read St. John of the Cross’ exploration of THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL. Read both Book I and Book II. Meditate on them. Re-read them. Meditate some more.

3. Have compassion for yourself - be patient, forgiving, and accepting.

4. Let go. Relinquish any clinging to both what you have been and what you expect to become.

5. Read Lao Tzu’s Te-Tao Ching (I like the Robert Hendricks translation)

6. Find support and refuge in a like-minded spiritual community, keeping in mind that the community may not be where, who or what you expect. It may be Sufi or Baha’i; it may be a Buddhist sangha; it may be a Hindu temple; it may be a Christian congregation of an unfamiliar denomination; it may be a Wiccan discussion group; it may be some secular humanists at a Unitarian Universalist church…Be open, check stuff out, and abandon your prejudices.

7. Spend some time with Daniel Ladinsky’s renderings of Hafez.

8. Find an authentic, client-centered spiritual mentor, coach or therapist to help walk you through your experience and provide nonjudgmental support. However…don’t become dependent on them for guidance, but continue to look within.

9. Be careful not to push yourself too far, too quickly. Take a break from spiritual work if necessary; give yourself space and time to process and integrate new insights and information.

10. Read the Bhagavad Gita.

11. Begin to actualize the change in direction you now perceive to be most spiritually authentic. This also doesn’t need to be rushed…but it very likely does need to happen. The most fruitful and facilitative changes in circumstances will arise of their own accord…if we open the door to that process.

12. Disruption of routine is a normal consequence of spiritual crisis…but it is also important to watch out for distractions, old defenses, denial and destructive impulses, any of which can derail positive consequences.
13. Read Lex Hixon’s Mother of the Buddhas.

14. Allow yourself to grieve. There is real loss along this path.

15. Remember that we are never fully aware of where we are in our spiritual journey - and in any case we aren’t where we think we are. However, two helpful metrics I have found are these: How sincere is my felt experience of compassionate affection right now? How sincere and present is my expression of that compassionate affection - towards my own being, in my interactions with those around me, and in consideration of All That Is?

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

How do religious anarchists reconcile their religion and political views?

Most religions of the world (theistic or non-theistic) teach very similar principles with respect to civil authority: don’t make waves, follow the law, be a good citizen, and practice your faith on a personal and interpersonal level, rather than a political one. In fact, nearly all of them advise against overt political involvement (with respect to applying particular spiritual principles, for example), since politics is about worldly or illusionary power, and religious traditions are “supposed” to be about spiritual or ontological concerns. However, many also encourage compassionate action that could be expressed in one’s voting, or proposing legislation, or working to elect a candidate who seems to embody compassionate values.

Now in reality most wisdom traditions eventually get coopted by dogmatic “orthodoxy” and highly political institutions. This is where the worldly and political overtake spiritual, interpersonal and ontological concerns. It is in this context that the spiritual instruction of a given tradition will apply most directly to politics: that is, the politics of one’s own religious institution. Beyond that, the larger political sphere has little or no intersect with spiritual practices and beliefs (in terms of it competing with them), because it is not focused on the interpersonal. So, because the basis of your question assumes that there is a competing intersection, that is really where the disconnect resides.

In my own life, my personal beliefs and spiritual practice will continue regardless of the political environment I happen to live in. However, my investment in left-libertarian political solutions is grounded in my spirituality and informed by my personal beliefs. For me, moving away from individualistic materialism, conspicuous consumption, and corporate exploitation and enslavement is a spiritual as well as pragmatic imperative. Because I care about the well-being of my fellow humans, I would prefer they retain their personal and collective agency and liberty - and have relief from suffering - and the skillfulness with which I approach aiding others in this way is informed by my spiritual beliefs.

From Quora post:

Could someone into Christianic monasticism/mysticism tell of what I describe below?

It is known by some Greek orthodox people as ”άκτιστο θείο φώς”/ non-material-divine-light. Most likely there's a feeling of God, and likely an out of body experience/altered state of consciousness.

Thank you for the A2A Chrysovalantis.

Encountering light, working with light, entering light, being filled with light…these kinds of experienced are referenced in the literature of nearly all mystical traditions - theist and non-theist. Sometimes the light is associated with God, sometimes with a particular Buddha, sometimes with life-force energy, sometimes with the unmanifest aspects of the Divine, sometimes with one’s own soul, sometimes with angels or spirits, sometimes with a particular region in a spiritual realm, sometimes with a particular form of consciousness or peak experience. It’s everywhere. Among the gnostic Christians there seems to have been a major interest with one’s own “light,” as well as the light of Christ, and the gospel of John is replete with references to light as a manifestation of the logos, then stating directly in 1 John 1 that “God is light.” The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 5, pretty much spends that whole chapter discussing light, and I would encourage you to read it and meditate upon it. Also, throughout the Bible we find encounters with the Divine - and agents of the Divine - as often accompanied by a blindingly bright light. So again, it is everywhere.

Regardless of mystical tradition, entering the light, dwelling in the light, and/or allowing the light to dwell in you is more than a metaphor. It is part of an initiation and an ongoing practice. And the many forms of meditation or prayer that invite these conditions are central to mystical practice.

My 2 cents.

How would you describe your first real spiritual awakening experience?

Here’s the funny thing about this question: it presumes an “unawakened” is the natural or normal state of human beings. In my case - and for many others I have known - something like the opposite occurred. When I was a child, I was not in school or any structured environment in a regular way until about age 11. This meant I spent most of my youth - from my earliest years - in trees and woods, on beaches, exploring abandoned buildings, and interacting with wild animals and environments. My contact with other people - and other children - was fairly regular, but I could not understand the ordered, constrained, narrowly focused way they went through the world. For me, although I did not call it “spiritual” at the time, the entire experience of life was overflowing with a spiritual dimension. It was normal to sense the life flowing in tree, or pick up on someone’s unspoken intent, or communicate on an emotional level with animals, or even perceive a unifying Presence or individual spiritual intelligences in the world around me. These were my “normal” as a child, and the family I lived with at that point completely understood and accepted this as “normal” as well.

But then, when I moved to a new place, to live with different members of my family, I was put in school and had structure imposed on me in ways I had never tolerated well before. Along with that structure came a strong dismissal of my “spiritual” perceptions and experiences by both my teachers, my new immediate family and my peers. While a few people were curious, most thought I was just “weird.” It was like I spoke a different language. I was then introduced to many disciplines and interests I hadn’t known about before: I learned about electrical theory, acoustic theory, biology and mathematics. I learned how to operate complex audiovisual equipment, how to build hi fidelity electronics, how to domesticate and train horses, how to repair and rebuild a bicycle, how to fix simple combustion engines, how to garden and maximize produce yields, how to build and race go-carts, how to shoot a rifle well, and so on. And all of these took place in an environment where Nature was fairly domesticated, ordered or pretty overrun with human activity. In essence, the wildness - and the spirituality - of my earlier life was replaced with mechanization, rational empiricism and practical analytical skills. It was like a part of my mind “awoke” that I didn’t know was there…and that was really hungry.

I would say that, up until about age seventeen, about the only connection I retained with my earlier relationship with Nature was through reading. A lot. Looking back, I think it was that more “aware” part of me that was trying to stay alive by reading poetry, fantasy, and esoteric fiction. But even in my reading, I eventually veered into philosophy and books about science, so that even that one pressure relief valve wasn’t available anymore. Which is why it probably made sense that an encounter I had at seventeen felt like such a powerful “reawakening,” when I felt the Presence again as I knelt in the ocean at night, arms and heart open wide. But it was just that: a reawakening of a connection I had felt in my youth…not a new experience. It was familiar ground that had been drummed out of me in the years of formal education and living around hyperrational skeptics. Sadly, it would take me almost twenty additional years to arrive back at the level of spiritual awareness and nourishment I had so effortlessly experienced as a younger person. I don’t regret learning how to think critically…it comes in very handy. But I do regret that I was forced to abandon an equally viable mode of being just because it wasn’t accepted or recognized in a materialistic, empirical, mechanistic culture.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Should I stop meditating?

I started experiencing what I was told to be kundalini awakening. My interest in meditation was simply for relaxing and better luck to possibly win the lottery and not any kind of enlightenment. So should I stop meditation because I am supposedly experiencing kundalini awakening?

It is hard to provide feedback on this without knowing all of the details of your situation. However, here are some general guidelines:

1. Meditation - or any such discipline - is most fruitful when it is a voluntary choice, rather than a compulsion or a duty.

2. Focusing on material gain or improving your “luck” is not the purpose of any form of meditation that will be beneficial to you over the long term. If you believe that, you have been misinformed.

3. In my experience, kundalini awakening is not “reversible.” If it’s already begun, it’s impacts will continue even if you stop meditating, you just won’t be consciously engaging in the process. It is, however, possible to repress your own growth and actualization…which is rarely a good idea.

4. If you are experiencing extreme physical discomfort and agitation during or after meditation - or if you feel like your emotions or mentation are becoming “out of control” in some way - then by all means cease meditating. These are indications of improper technique, pushing yourself too hard, or not applying the fruits of meditation to your life in incremental ways.

5. It is possible to do real harm to yourself by not meditating in a productive manner. You can harm your body, mind, heart and spirit. This is why many schools of meditation require a mentor or teacher with years of experience, an authentic in-person relationship to guide the process, and a spiritual tradition that is grounded in centuries of practice. It sounds like you have gotten involved in something fairly unhealthy or gimmicky that doesn’t conform to these best practices.

My 2 cents.

From Quora question:

What's the difference between a lunatic and a mystic?

Some thoughts on this:

It is quite easy for a mystic to lose their mind and become a lunatic. It is less easy for a mentally deranged person who can’t recover their faculties to practice mystical disciplines.

- A lunatic and a mystic may experience similar peak experiences in a given instant, but the mystic has some idea about how to integrate and interpret them.

- A mystic can differentiate the inventions of imagination and apophenia from spiritual perception-cognition, but a lunatic likely cannot.

- A mystic appreciates the difference between emotional intuitions and impulses, and authentic gnosis. A lunatic may not have access to gnosis at all - and even if they do, they may not recognize it.

- A mystic’s intentionality will tend to center around prosocial behaviors and outcomes - that which is beneficial for the good of all. A lunatic is less predictable in this regard.

My 2 cents.

From Quora question:

What is the best environment for meditation?

A couple of thoughts to echo some of what has already been said and add a thing or two…

- As few distractions as possible - a “safe place” where you won’t be interrupted by abrupt sounds, interactions, electronic devices, etc. This is especially useful when you begin meditation practice…it helps with focus and discipline.

- Natural environments outdoors are great - if you can be alone and undisturbed.

- Creating a “consecrated space” that you revisit each day can reinforce disciplined practice. There is something about returning to the same physical location (and same body position, meditation routine, etc.) that helps strengthen meditation.

- A consistent length of time. This turns out to be quite helpful. Even if you aren’t meditating for the entire duration, knowing that you have a set period to be meditating anchors one’s practice.

- A clear intention for your practice. Why are you meditating? What is the point? Knowing this before you begin (and recalling it to mind afterwards) are useful and productive bookends.

For other suggestions, I recommend reading this book online for free: Integral Lifework: Essential Mysticism

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

What specific beliefs in a religion would tend to indicate that its other beliefs are misguided?

Interestingly, individual beliefs really aren’t that indicative of anything but the viability of the individual belief itself. Believing that a purple rhinoceros mated with the moon to produce the Earth’s sky doesn’t mean that some other belief is, purely by association, misguided or faulty. That is a bit of a classic “composition fallacy,” and can quickly lead to converse errors. Of more import, IMO, are the values, virtues and resulting ethos that a coherent and cohesive body of beliefs consistently support and inspire. That is, for me it is more about the aims of a hierarchy of beliefs - and whether that hierarchy constructively reinforces and enables those aims.

But first, why are coherence and cohesion important? Only in that, over time, if the belief and values hierarchies are rife with contradictions, inaccuracies, fallacies, etc. we can observe this will likely encourage an authoritative, dogmatic orthodoxy - one that seeks to remedy an otherwise ever-enlarging cognitive dissonance, and often becomes institutionalized. In other words, in response to an inherent instability in those hierarchies, its proponents can become more and more rigid, legalistic and controlling of each other, and in increasingly harmful ways. It is an understandable human reflex - though not a particularly attractive one - to avoid questioning if those questions can quickly undress core beliefs or undermine the structure and interdependence of a given set of values - especially if this then destabilizes social cohesion or personal status.

Also, the issue of emphasis is important. I’ve used the term hierarchy to specifically call this out. There are core values and core beliefs that are often intimately related, and tend to be grounded in human relationships and interdependence. For example, if I love my father and observe that - in our family at least - his role is to protect my family and materially provide for them, then it is much easier to cultivate a core belief that he is somehow deserving of that role, and that a “father” is in fact defined by these responsibilities. In this way values and virtues like loyalty, respect, obedience, self-sacrifice and so forth can quickly fall into place as consequences of those core assumptions and experiences. Once this is then observed and agreed upon within a community, supportive beliefs and values - and their cohesive and coherent hierarchy - can become generalized and self-perpetuating.

But what if, at some point, I ask my father where the sky came from, and he tells me about the purple rhino? If I accept the story, it is incorporated into my belief hierarchy…but far down the chain. It’s veracity is dependent on a very large tree of branching beliefs that are rooted in my love for my father and acceptance of his role in my life. Believing in the purple rhino - misguided as it may be - in no way dilutes the importance and operational basis of all the beliefs that came before it. It would only become problematic if I then inverted the belief and values hierarchy, and placed ritual and dogma regarding the purple rhino (or some other core belief or value not grounded in relationship) above my love for my father. This inversion is warned against in most religions. For example, that is the essence of the teaching in 1 John 4 “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” And of course warnings against dogmatic inversions is a central theme of the New Testament narrative as a whole. More importantly, if a given belief or value isn’t facilitative of a given core set, it’s going to become vestigial or be entirely discarded…eventually. We might call this “pruning the belief tree.”

Circling back to the central question, then, I would recast it in the terms I’ve just described. Are the hierarchies consistent and coherent? Do they align with subjective and observed experiences? Do they facilitate core beliefs and values that have arisen from - and are intrinsic to - human relationship? Viewed as a whole, does a given belief and values system actualize and sustain itself, synthesizing outcomes that reinforce and amplify core beliefs and core values in its final ethos? If not, then there will be “misguided” consequences.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

What could St Thomas Aquinas have seen in his mystical experience?

Some possibilities….

“mihi videtur ut palea” or roughly “to me it seems as chaff”

If these were really Aquinas’ words in answer to Reginald’s question, then in the Christian tradition those words say it all: Aquinas didn’t just believe that he had wasted his time in his writing and philosophizing, he believed he had done evil in the eyes of his God. “Chaff” would have been a metaphor for all that was despicable, self-centered, prideful, deceitful, worldly and vain. It would have elicited a gasp from anyone who esteemed Aquinas’ work and heard him utter those words, you can be sure.

To illustrate, here are some excerpts (emphasis added):

From Job 21:

“How often is it that the lamp of the wicked is put out? That their calamity comes upon them? That God distributes pains in his anger? That they are like straw before the wind,
and like chaff that the storm carries away? You say, ‘God stores up their iniquity for their children.’ Let him pay it out to them, that they may know it.”

From Psalms 1:

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

From Jeremiah 23 (paraphrased):

“So declares the Lord: Am I a God at hand, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth? I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has chaff in common with wheat? Is not my word like fire, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the LORD.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them.”

From Amos 8:

“Hear this, you who trample on the needy
and bring the poor of the land to an end,
saying, “When will the new moon be over,
that we may sell grain?
And the Sabbath,
that we may offer wheat for sale,
that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great
and deal deceitfully with false balances,
that we may buy the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals
and sell the chaff of the wheat?”

From Luke 3:

“As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So what event had occurred that would inspire such repudiation and rejection of his life’s work? Others have speculated it was a mystical insight, a sense of disappointment or exasperation, a stroke that disabled him - and certainly any of these could be the case. However, I suspect the answer could be much simpler: it might just be spiritual maturity. Perhaps Aquinas was simply growing up and seeing his own intellectual musings for what they were: a distraction from the holy of holies; a noisy gong or clanging cymbal; an intellectualization of the Divine. Not that they weren’t a useful exercise in themselves - for both Aquinas and those who later appreciated his writings - but they were a stage of development he suddenly felt compelled to leave behind.

As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes: “The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

I suspect that Aquinas simply (though intensely and abruptly) realized what these words meant…it seems in an enduring and meaningful way.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

What is kundalini awakening?

Hi Pete - thanks for the A2A.

I only know you through your posts and questions here on Quora, so I’ll assume you want some substance here, and not just something formulaic or trite. That said, I appreciate what both Achintya Idam and Alex Zendo have written, as there posts resonate with my own experiences. Here’s what I would add:

As I mentioned in my post here T Collins Logan's answer to What is the real power of pranayama and meditation?, we should take special care with physiologically-enhanced approaches to state changes. For some people, there can be real damage done if we are not careful, disciplined, diligent and informed.

I would describe “awakening” in this context as an ongoing process with many components (a continuous series of “awakenings”), rather than a single event. Yes, there are occurrences that have a more lasting impact or a greater sense of breakthrough, but I sincerely wonder whether we should give more attention to any of those. Each expansion of (inward-outward) awareness has its own value and edification, and informs us regarding a specific plane of relating (mind-to-body, self-to-other, ego-to-Self, Self-to-Universe, etc.). Also, to be aware in such depth and breadth is not always a blessing; sometimes it is a burden. Again, this is yet another reason to exercise care and patience - though this is equally true of any form of meditation.

As with all processes of spiritual consciousness and peak experience, knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If we do not rapidly and persistently translate the consequences of rising kundalini into love-conscious action in all of our relationships, goals and planning, then we are basically engaging in a form of spiritual masturbation. For some practitioners (and indeed even some traditions) this is an okay state of affairs. In my view, it is akin to alleviating one’s own suffering and not caring about the suffering of others - it is essentially endorsing a selfish and petty spiritual practice.

The energization of higher-order spiritual consciousness (in this context, the kundalini rising through the sahasrara/crown chakra) is a turning point which cannot be reversed. This is a critical concept to appreciate IMO. Once this energization has taken place, there is no turning back without willful denial and a consequent, often persisting experience of cognitive dissonance. Now it is also true that without adequate preparation, the experience may be misunderstood (and either trivialized or exaggerated), but with care, discipline and diligence it can be transformative.

Lastly I wanted to speak to gratitude. A kundalini awakening evokes powerful emotions, insights and understanding that are essentially ineffable. Our human tendency is to then contextualize those within a) our personal knowledge base; b) the teachings of the tradition within which we practice; c) neurophysiological explanations that appeal to our analytical mind; or d) some other equally ill-fitting window dressing. If we can resist this impulse, and allow ourselves to endure the unknowable without such supports and security, then I believe both we as practitioners will benefit immensely and in unanticipated ways, and those around us will also benefit to a greater degree. I think of this as akin to feeling perpetual gratitude without a specific locus; a praying-without-ceasing as a substantive felt connection without a reflexively or dogmatically confined object.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

Would a psychologist understand enlightenment experience in a patient or would it be perceived as irrelevant garden variety delusion?

First and foremost in any therapeutic relationship is pursuing what is most beneficial for the client. The therapist’s spiritual beliefs and practices are separate from this - though of course they may influence therapeutic choices. What is more relevant is whether the client’s beliefs and practices are beneficial to them, or causing distress. And even if they are causing distress, the objective would be to alleviate that distress rather than reform a client’s entire belief system or dismiss it as delusion. That would be pretty irresponsible. A skilled therapist can even utilize the spiritual convictions of a client (along with other techniques that have proved efficacious) to help a client through what they perceive as a spiritual crisis - and this can happen whether the therapist shares those beliefs or not. Again, this is about what is beneficial to the client. Now of course this would also be true of delusion…but again the delusion need not be contradicted or dismissed out-of-hand, and only requires attention if it is interfering with well-being or day-to-day functioning. To give an example let’s say a client says, “I’m totally in love with this person but because they don’t want anything to do with me I just want to kill myself.” Okay well their earnest emotional conviction has everything to do with why they are suffering, but a solution has a lot more to do with how to manage emotional impulses and suicidal ideation than negating that belief (or treating it as unreal, delusional or suspect). In fact, for some personality and cognitive disorders, if a therapist betrays even the slightest skepticism about the validity of a client’s emotional state - if they so much as hint that it isn’t real or important, and that the client needs to accept this - then the therapeutic relationship will be finished. Kaput.

So I suppose my point is that it doesn’t matter - at all - if a psychologist understands, appreciates or recognizes an enlightenment experience in someone they are treating. What matter are outcomes. And so all that a therapist should be concerned with is how the enlightenment experience is impacting their client. Is it having a positive, constructive and enriching effect? That’s great! Is it having a debilitating, paralyzing, depressive or anxiety-producing effect? That’s not great, and the question becomes how to help a client manage their responses to the experience. It’s really that simple.

Now in my own work I of course have encountered this issue often. I have taught courses in meditation, helped people through spiritual crises, and generally encourage a deepening of spiritual experience. But what if a person’s spiritual journey is destroying their relationships, their health, their happiness, their means of support, etc.? Unless such destruction was the deliberate objective the client expressed when they sought my help, then my job is to help restore balance. That is one reason why the emphasis in Integral Lifework (what I teach and coach) is nurturing all thirteen dimensions of self. Spirituality is only one dimension, and all dimensions need to support and harmonize with all the others. Overemphasizing one or more of these is just as injurious as neglecting one or more.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

Is mankind's overall failure to know God actually a failure of imagination?

I think the failure of imagination occurs after ineffable encounters with the Divine, when we try to shoehorn that experience into existing language and concepts, subjugating it to our own ego and intellect. If instead we accept the tenuousness of an initial knowing (in the sense of gnosis), and let go of our compulsion to process, contextualize or communicate the experience definitively, then we can rest lightly in nondiscursive awareness…and in fact deepen it over time. We could say that imagination is involved here, as close kin to the willing suspension of conclusiveness; to be curious and open regarding spiritual perception-cognition demands a frame of mind not unlike imagination. What is possible? What is not possible? The creative mind can tolerate ambiguity, possibility and uncertainty here, whereas the mechanistic mind cannot. However, the term “imagination” hints at perceptions and constructions well beyond the intuitive - even into the realm of apophenia and self-delusion - so I would shy away from using that word. Instead, I might say such failure is one of genuine openness, willingness and humility when exploring nondiscursive, contentless or contextless states.

(From Quora question:

Why do large portions of Abrahamic-religions followers dismiss the eastern "inward" technologies and embrace the western outward?

I think this question has many answer which work in concert to annihilate reliance on the “inward.” These include:

1. It is easier to control people when they are not self-reliant but dependent on external authority and exoteric rituals, and religious institutions often end up being all about hierarchy and control. I’m quite certain this is why early Christian orthodoxy was so eager to purge the gnostic movement, for example, and why mysticism in general is often belittled (or forgotten) by mainstream Abrahamic institutions.

2. After the enlightenment it became increasingly unpopular to give any weight to non-emperical information of any kind - including introspection, intuition, contemplation or spiritual “ahas.” By the time postmodernism came into play, it was unpopular to include “spirit” in discourse at all. All of this has led to a Cartesian reductionism that excises the esoteric heart (and practices) of all religion.

3. Commercialism and commoditization have further eroded self-reliance and inward-looking discernment in service to profit: it is much easier to persuade people to buy things when they believe solutions to all of their needs are external rather than internal. In this way the profit motive has also infected religion as a cultural meme.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

The Sex Appeal of A Bullying Hater

After watching the second Presidential debate last night I finally realized what makes Trump attractive to so many people. There are countless ways to describe the phenomenon, but I think a lot of the language is either inaccessible to modern sensibilities, or perhaps too casually dismissed by them. Culturally, probably as a consequence of postmodern skepticism and doubt, we have simply forgotten what certain kinds of evil look and sound like – and why they can be so seductive. And I think this is one reason why nearly half the U.S. electorate has fallen under Trump’s spell. Allow me to illustrate what I mean with some quotes from a previous time – a time when it was still considered “politically correct” to view the world in terms of good and evil, or darkness and light.

From Proverbs 6 (

A worthless person, a wicked man,
goes about with crooked speech,
winks with his eyes, signals with his feet,
points with his finger,
with perverted heart devises evil,
continually sowing discord

There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.

From Proverbs 18 (

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion.
When wickedness comes, contempt comes also,
and with dishonor comes disgrace.

A fool’s lips walk into a fight,
and his mouth invites a beating.
A fool’s mouth is his ruin,
and his lips are a snare to his soul.

A rich man’s wealth is his strong city,
and like a high wall in his imagination.
Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty,
but humility comes before honor.

From Matthew 12 (

“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

In modern parlance, we tend to view destructive forces and habits more psychologically. In Trump's case, that he is obsessed with enlarging his own ego, or that he has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or that he is stuck in an early stage of social and moral development, or that his inherited wealth has allowed him to maintain various self-aggrandizing delusions, or that emotional abuse at an early age has made him mean and vindictive, or simply that he has spent so much of his life satisfying his most base and animalistic impulses that he is now wantonly compelled to keep doing so. And these may be ways to frame parts of his behavior – and indeed they may have contributed to Trump’s corrupted condition, opening the door to the deeper currents in play. But I think there is clearly also a spiritual archetype involved that should not be ignored. There is real “evil” at work here – not just a bad-boy persona run amok, but a force intent on perpetuating and amplifying chaos, destruction and death by any means possible. And a bullying hater with daddy issues is a perfect collaborator and vehicle for this agenda.

This is, I sincerely believe, one reason why so many people are drawn to Trump. He has the age-old allure of the Rapacious One – exciting us with his passionate vitriolic invective, distracting us away from his faults and failings by aggressively attacking those around him, casually shrugging off the hurt he has done to others, dissembling and deceiving as easily as breathing, stirring up fear and resentment to serve his own ends, surrounding himself with people who are hungry for hate and blame, and doggedly propping up his own self-importance. Anyone can be drawn into this glamor, but particularly those who lack discernment, or who have numbed themselves to the darker impulses of human nature. As an embodied archetype, their have been many "Donald Trumps" throughout history, always striving for the same aims: To pull as many people as possible down into a maelstrom of vicious loathing and spite, to excite them with prideful arrogance and a writhing lust for vengeance, and to saw away at the foundations of civil society itself in order to amass more self-serving praise, attention, mammon and power. In the sense that “pride goes before a fall,” Trump is greedily herding as many followers as possible off that cliff with him.

From Proverbs 24 (

Be not envious of evil men,
nor desire to be with them,
for their hearts devise violence,
and their lips talk of trouble.

A wise man is full of strength,
and a man of knowledge enhances his might,
for by wise guidance you can wage your war,
and in abundance of counselors there is victory.
Wisdom is too high for a fool;
in the gate he does not open his mouth.
Whoever plans to do evil
will be called a schemer.
The devising of folly is sin,
and the scoffer is an abomination to mankind.

From John 8 (

“Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Folks, the Donald Trump archetype is what seductive evil looks like. Plain and simple. We have either just forgotten how to see it clearly, have softened our convictions about the persistence of such archetypes, or we are deluding ourselves…almost as much as we are being deceived. There is perhaps no clearer evidence of this than a widespread pattern: The same people who devoutly suspect Hilary Clinton of nefarious dealings and a lust for power will embrace Donald Trump who transparently and boastfully celebrates these same traits in himself. In recognizing this – and, in particular, perceiving the bent and deceitful will of Donald Trump so clearly during last night’s debate – I felt additional shards of worry pierce my well-being. Remember how easy it was to laugh off this absurd buffoon when he first started running for POTUS? Remember the chagrined disbelief when Trump won the Republican nomination? Remember being stupefied – and perhaps even a little impressed – by how effortlessly Trump continued to dodge all criticism and accountability? Or the growing incredulity as his polling numbers remained so high and his supporters so loyal, despite one revelation after another about his casual cruelty, brutish appetites and banal character? This is one way such evil succeeds – by encouraging our skepticism that it has any real influence or chance of winning; by glossing over all incompetence, ignorance and discrediting facts with pompous bluster…while maintaining the illusion of strength as it thrashes past the finish line. When I shared my reflections with my wife Mollie this morning, she said “I thought evil would be smarter.” Indeed, didn’t we all?

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

In terms of our response, I think we can return to the same wisdom traditions for insight. We can stand up to evil, call it out for what it is, and press it back into the dark crevices from which it sprang. Those skilled to do so can also radically embrace the Shadow - healing and integrating its pain with compassionate affection. In either case, drawing courage from the Light, we are no longer swayed by fear.

From Proverbs 24 (

If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength is small.
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?

From John 11 (

"Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him."

My 2 cents.

“Faith” as an Intentionally Cultivated Quality of Character

Wedding Celebration!
Let's explore a concept of “faith” that seems to be missing from most popular discourse. Before we begin, why is this important? For me it's important because when I discuss any idea, I want to fully appreciate the words used to define it. Relying on reflexive cultural vernacular or tropish shorthand to describe a multidimensional experience or concept isn’t just sloppy, it’s disrespectful to consciousness. Why? Because if we fill our headspace with watery, half-formed pablum – whether it's the grandiose distortions of combative political rhetoric, the caustic brevity of texted or tweeted communications, the excremental deceptions of commercialistic manipulation, or any particular ideology’s hifalutin propaganda – that is all we will be able to offer back into the world. We will add nothing but the burden of our consuming and excreting, a regurgitation so shallow it can barely convey self-referential egotism. So why not actively participate in this amazing process called the Universe? Why not give back some paltry morsel of wonder by actually engaging our consciousness, nourishing it with nuance and complexity, and holding back those oversimplified regurgitations? Even though I myself all too often violate the principle of meaningful consciousness, I earnestly yearn for a revivification of discourse and language that stimulates greater depth and breadth of understanding – more gritty and wholesome substance to chew through, savor and carefully ingest. This, then, is my attempt to explore the concept of “faith” in just such a manner. My only caveat: as a consequence of honoring consciousness, this post may require a slower, more concentrated read.

Okay…what is “faith?” Here is how Merriam-Webster defines it:

1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty
b (1) : fidelity to one's promises
__(2) : sincerity of intentions
2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God
__(2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof
__(2) : complete trust
3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs

In countless interactions over the years – and ongoing Internet exchanges – “faith” has almost universally been reduced to some sort of belief. Many Christians often seem to explicitly intend definition 2 a (1), “belief and trust in and loyalty to God,” and implicitly definition 2 a (2), “belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion.” For Atheists, “faith” most often seems to mean 2 b, “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” From perusing debates between Atheists and Christians (on Quora for example) both parties appear to be exhibiting a similar flavor of “faith,” that of definition 3: “something that is believed especially with strong conviction.” However, in my view, none of these approaches to “faith” are the real deal. In the same way that Tang, Cheez Whiz, Crab Sticks, Wonder Bread, Maple-Flavored Syrup and Chicken Nuggets are unhealthy imitations of food, these popular conceptions that infer belief from faith (or rigidly equate the two) are heavily diluted echoes of the genuine article, full of ideological flavorings and non-thought fillers.

Now before we go any further, it seems pertinent to confess my perspectival bias: I am a big fan of the New Testament, have studied Christian scripture for many years, and love digging into the Greek texts for nuggets of wisdom that English translators may have missed (or understated) over the centuries. I also grew up mainly in the U.S., with a brief sojourn in Germany during my late teens, and so I am understandably mired in Western cultural memes. And although I believe it is possible to break free from the prejudices inculcated through these experiences, they have also provided some useful tools and resources. So I'll be relying on those to explore the meaning of “faith.” If this bias leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, please bear with me…there may still be some paltry morsels to be found.

Clearly a lot has been written about “faith,” and over the centuries. We have Thomas Aquinas artfully describing faith as a virtue of the mind; a supernatural cognition that reinforces itself through the knowledge it acquires; a habit of thought “which makes the intellect assent to things that are not apparent.” We have the fideism of Tertullian, Erasmus, Martin Luther, Pascal, Hamann, and possibly Kierkegaard, who actively dissociate faith from reason, insisting that faith can be productively nonrational – or indeed practically superior to theoretical thought – in its passionate convictions. We have William James’ similar exploration of religious belief as a leap in the dark that provides access to a “vital good” - a good otherwise inaccessible without taking this pragmatic risk. We have Bertrand Russell’s fervent skepticism and dismissal of all such risk-taking without sufficient evidence, asserting that all “faith” is purely emotionally based. We have the empiricism of Locke, who finds faith complimentary to reason – as long as that faith is proportionate to evidence, and a broad enough variety of evidence is allowed. We have Hegel’s immediate knowledge of the Absolute, the certainty that “my spirit knows itself, it knows its essence,” which develops from the subjective to higher and higher levels of objective knowledge. We have Eric Fromm’s differentiation of rational faith from irrational faith, which we will explore further later on. We have John Hick’s insistence that faith is a contextualization (“interpretation”) of felt realities in a given cultural milieu; a personal experience of God rather than a reaction to propositional evidence. We have James Fowler’s six psychological stages of faith development, which center around the source, shape, scope and stability of one’s evolving convictions over time. We have the modern tug-of-war between Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christian apologists like John Lennox, where the central knot of inquiry sets blind trust that defies all evidence against evidence-based belief that has sufficient warrant/credibility. This is just a smattering, of course, but still, among many of these explorations of faith, the concept of belief remains extraordinarily central. And this, I think, is a fatal amplification.

To understand why, let’s start with the Greek. The word most consistently translated to “faith” in the New Testament is πίστις (pistis), which is derived from πείθω (Peithó), the Greek goddess of persuasion and seduction. Peithó (called Suada in ancient Rome) was an attendant and possibly daughter to Aphrodite, and among ancient Greek authors was consistently associated with the divine force of love – the persuasion by which the human heart is moved, enchanted, transfixed and ultimately won over. In fact, she is described as “the Lady of the bridal chamber,” “handmaiden of marriage” and “friend of marriage” (Nonnus), not because of sexual desire (this would be Pothos’s domain), but because “wise Peithó” holds the keys “to love’s true sanctities” (Pindar) and guides all forms of love – Erotes – into fruition (Nonnus). Either despite or because of her wiliness, Peithó deserves “holy reverence” for the sweetness and charm she empowers in speech (Aeschylus). And this last from Nonnus’ Dionysiaca:

“And there came running thirsty at midday Aura herself, seeking if anywhere she could find raindrops from Zeus, or some fountain, or the stream of a river pouring from the hills; and Eros cast a mist over her eyelids. But when she saw the deceitful fountain of Bacchos, Peitho dispersed the shadowy cloud from her eyelids, and called out to Aura like a herald of her marriage: ‘Maiden, come this way! Take into your lips the stream of this nuptial fountain, and into your bosom a lover.’ Gladly the maiden saw it, and throwing herself down before the fountain drew in the liquid of Bacchos with open lips. When she had drunk, the girl exclaimed: ‘Naiads, what marvel is this? Whence comes this balmy water? Who made this bubbling drink…Certainly after drinking this I can run no more. No, my feat are heavy, sweet sleep bewitches me, nothing comes from my lips but a soft stammering sound.’ She spoke, and went stumbling on her way. She moved this way and that way with erring motions, her brow shook with throbbing temples, her head leaned and lay on her shoulder, she fell asleep on the ground beside a tall branching tree, and entrusted to the bare earth her maidenhood unguarded.”

To be clear, then, though the goddess Peithó offered the Greeks a doorway into the loves of marriage, her means are not always fair, rational or even truthful. But without submitting to her persuasion and guidance – and indeed the bridal chamber itself – we would never come to understand or even recognize what the many mysteries of love (or the many varieties of Erotes) are about. In this context it is important to recognize that it is our love, our understanding, our response to Peithó’s seduction and persuasion that moves us past an initial choice to a deepening fruition. Is pistis offering us a similar doorway via similar means? As an interesting correlation, perhaps the Gnostic (Valentinian) scriptures allude to such a process in the Bridal Chamber sacrament: for Gnostics, this was where redemption occurred, perhaps because this is where a unity of spirit, light, love and truth could be experientially validated. More abstractly, the sentiment of William James in The Will to Believe offers some parallel experiential variables: “He who refuses to embrace a unique opportunity loses the prize as surely as if he tried and failed;” and later “We cannot escape the issue by remaining skeptical and waiting for more light, because, although we do avoid error in that way if religion be untrue, we lose the good, if it be true, just as certainly as if we positively chose to disbelieve. It is as if a man should hesitate indefinitely to ask a certain woman to marry him because he was not perfectly sure that she would prove an angel after he brought her home. Would he not cut himself off from that particular angel-possibility as decisively as if he went and married someone else?” Here again, marriage is a handy metaphor for James, just as it was for Hafiz:

"I want both of us
To start talking about this great love
As if you, I, and the Sun were all married
And living in a tiny room,

Helping each other to cook,
Do the wash,
Weave and sew,
Care for our beautiful

We all leave each morning
To labor on the earth's field.
No one does not lift a great pack.

I want both of us to start singing like two
Travelling minstrels
About this extraordinary existence
We share,

As if
You, I, and God were all married
And living in
A tiny

And of course New Testament itself alludes to the profound mystery in Ephesians 5:

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church."

To introduce a more personal experience into the mix, I would recall my own baptism at age nineteen. The act itself was a sort of emotional catharsis, a relief that I was finally making a decision after nearly two years on the fence exploring Christian scripture and community. And of course I was expecting something of spiritual significance to occur – this was after all an invitation for holy spirit to take up residence within me. But, although my senses did seem more heightened during the ceremony, there was no heavenly vision, no doves descending, no infusion of blazing gnosis. I initially accepted this because baptism in the Church of Christ was mainly about contrition, humility and acknowledgement of my separation from God were it not for the gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And I did feel these conditions acutely. Nevertheless, I was just the tiniest bit disappointed.

That is, until I went to change my clothes. My baptismal gown was a simple white robe, easily removed as I reached for a towel. The changing room itself had a large mirror on one wall, and as I finished drying off I looked over at the reflection of my naked body. In that instant, a force of insight as abrupt, thunderous and intense as a symphony erupting in a silent hall made itself known: this was not me, this was just flesh; a vessel, but not my primary identity. I felt this truth deeply. I studied the familiar lines, tones and shapes with a mixture of sadness, chagrin and acquiescence. It would be the first of many moments of letting go in my spiritual journey. And then, when my gaze met itself in the mirror, I encountered a hint of something even more alien, harsh and unyielding. I didn’t have words for it at that time, but now I would call it a subsuming suchness; a constructive negation. I was not ready for that encounter – in fact I would not be able to fully endure or integrate it for twenty more years – and so I suppressed it.

The insights about my temporal flesh I could accept, the possible glimpse of annihilative absolutes I could not, but the vehicle that delivered these conceptions was the same baptismal act. A simple intentional ceremony immediately manifested unanticipated, potentially far-reaching consequences. This correlation of personal choice and encompassing outcome – of disciplined volition followed by new insight – repeated itself countless times over the years. And those acts have not always had spiritual inspiration. Sometimes an aha-evoking moment was prompted by lust; sometimes by physical discipline or routine; sometimes by emotional anguish; sometimes by extreme stress; sometimes by deep depression; sometimes by willfully striving for some end and failing; sometimes by an unexpected surge of compassionate affection. By any measure, it seems to me this pattern of consciousness is endemic to human experience and growth, and that intentionality isn’t always predictive. As Rumi reminds us:

“Intellect is good and desirable to the extent it brings you to the King's door. Once you have reached His door, then divorce the intellect! From this time on, the intellect will be to your loss and a brigand. When you reach Him, entrust yourself to Him! You have no business with the how and the wherefore. Know that the intellect's cleverness all belongs to the vestibule. Even if it possesses the knowledge of Plato, it is still outside of the palace.”

But wait! Such choices that lead to new awareness and deepening understanding are still “leaps in the dark,” aren’t they? There can never be adequate preparation or certainty around them, just a hope of outcomes that plots across a continuum of motivations (some rational, some impulsive, some felt, some intuited). And couldn’t these “leaps in the dark” simply be inviting all sorts of post-rationalized justifications, rather than stimulating substantive ahas? Mightn’t all the insight and wisdom we construct be an artificial narrative to help organize our experience? A reflexive will to meaning? If so, then any insistence on objectively conclusive causality – as independent from subjective felt experience or various forms of intuition – will likely create an endless, arduous and fruitless tension. In terms of pistis, must we then return to a fideism where faith and reason are inherently antagonistic? Well I honestly think this tension only arises when we restrict our discussion of faith to the impulse of belief. In fact I think this conflation or association is fundamentally disruptive to comprehending the dynamics of faith’s processes. For the sake of brevity and sanity, let’s depart from that assumption altogether.

How do we do that? For one thing, we can remind ourselves of other modern definitions of faith, and of other translations and usages of pistis over the centuries. Take Merriam-Webster’s primary definition, for example: allegiance to duty or person; fidelity to one’s promises; sincerity of intentions. Setting aside the prescriptive vs. descriptive debates in lexicology, this primary definition of “faith” has nothing to do with belief. Instead, it describes a quality of character, a mode of being and doing, a deliberate intentionality – none of which necessarily needs to be associated with particular beliefs. Erich Fromm touched on this in his writing, describing “rational faith” as “a character trait pervading the whole personality, rather than a specific belief,” insisting also that such faith does not require a specific object. Contrasting it with “irrational faith” (which he viewed as an “emotional submission to authority”), Fromm asserted rational faith to be an essential component nonreligious as well as the religious thought, writing in The Art of Loving: “at every step from the conception of a rational vision to the formulation of a theory, faith is necessary: faith in the vision as a rationally valid aim to pursue, faith in the hypothesis as a likely and plausible proposition, and faith in the final theory, at least until a general consensus about its validity has been reached. This faith is rooted in one’s own experience, in the confidence in one’s power of thought, observation and judgment.” And when we look into pistis in the New Testament and other early literature, we encounter kindred conceptions of faith that are more aspects of character than dependent on belief: faithfulness, trust, trustworthiness, to be entrusted, to put one’s trust in, to give credence to, allegiance, loyalty, confidence and so forth. All of these are choices, volitions, responses and relationships with a consistent underlying theme: a stick-to-it-ive flavor of trust and hope. In fact Christians were described in the early literature as “those who trust” and “those who hope.” But what inspires this quality of hope and trust, if not belief…?

Closing the Circle

This is, I suspect, where the argument quickly breaks down for those who hesitate to look deeper, as it is so easy to fall back on the faith=belief misconception. After all, the majority of interpretations of the word “faith” – in modern contexts as well as the New Testament – do involve a kind of wishful thinking about speculative possibilities. Yet even as Christians acknowledge that belief needs to be active rather than passive (recalling the admonition of James 2: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!”), what motivates the activity of faith expressed in good works? It is, I think, the same question as before: what inspires hope and trust? The answer has been consistent within the New Testament and across centuries of theology; to summarize it with an oft-used metaphor: how does a child come to trust its parent? In part it is a confidence born of observed reliability and the power dynamics inherent to a parent-child relationship – this is true; but more than this it is the child’s deeply grokked intuition that they are understood, appreciated and loved. As a five-year-old, when a parent asks us to trust their judgment and instruction, we do so not because we always discern the rightness of their insights, but because they have demonstrated that a substantial focus of their existence is to care for us, nurture us, encourage us, protect us…love us. Because they have gently held us at our lowest and most desperate moments, we trust them to lift us up. In the same way, the Christian’s initial venture into “trusting God” is a consequence of appreciating the loving, gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ – we are persuaded by this demonstration of God’s depth of love that we can take the risk. Thus our choice to “leap in the dark” is grounded in a trust and hope inspired by God’s compassionate affection for our well-being – not our fear, not blind obedience, not compulsory acceptance or Fromm’s “irrational faith.” It is a consequence of agape, that divine force of love that bears copious fruit in the hearts, minds and deeds of “those who trust.” And if this trust isn’t inspired by love…well, then it probably isn’t authentic faith.

For the Greeks, it was Peithó who opened the door to love’s true sanctities; for Christians, it is pistis that shepherds forth the many expressions of a charitable character. In both cases, there is a dance of human and divine – a Greek goddess for the former, and holy spirit for the latter. In both cases, a divine intervention and inspiration to love is answered by a human heart, mind and will responding in kind. Beyond the initial persuasion to trust and invite love in, the fruits of that decision – an indwelling “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” – amplify themselves in word and deed. And this becomes an active, engaged, disciplined response, deliberately and persistently cultivated by “those who have their powers of discernment trained through constant practice,” and love’s expression becomes more effortless. This is the child’s growing up, learning to operate from a love that extends beyond parental dependency to an ever-enlarging sphere of love-consciousness. This is a journey of persistence, devotion and a single-mindedness of focus. That stick-to-it-iveness again. And while this may still be a co-creative effort, the emphasis of responsibility and accountability shifts to the faithful as they mature.

In a sense, I believe pistis ultimately becomes a stripping away of distractions, a distillation of effort, so that there is nothing else left but the fire – the consciousness of consciousness – which is the highest order of love; the Godhead beyond being-in-itself; the Absolute. And this, in turn, continuously manifests as integrity of mind, heart, spirit, being and will – all working in unison, dancing to the same music, filled and energized by the same flame. For me this is the essence of loving skillfully, of demonstrating coherent faith through compassionate action, of developing spiritual reliability and trustworthiness. The Christian demonstrates their faithfulness by welcoming and maintaining agape’s residence at the core of all sincere intentions, all confidence and credence, all allegiances and loyalties, all trust, and all beliefs. For any belief (or faith, or trust, or fidelity, or commitment) that does not flow from love is empty and pointless – a gong clanging soundlessly in the void. But with sufficient love…well, we can eventually develop the courage to accept that disconcerting enigma in the mirror, and embrace any absolutes reflecting back at us.

This kind of “faith” has an entirely different sense, flavor and feel than the pablum vernacular form so prevalent in modern discourse. This faith is grounded in reciprocal affections and trust, clarified intentions and observable actions. Again, a straightforward way of describing and evaluating this construction is an intentionally cultivated quality of character. And such faith has distinct benefits as well, because its practice (or praxis, if you will) evokes and reinforces those ahas mentioned previously. We might even call these fruits “faith-wisdom” (Pistis Sophia!), which is experientially validated and has obvious pragmatic utility, but more importantly harmonizes our thoughts and actions around the very love that inspires and nurtures us. For this and the more commonly asserted benefits (answered prayers, etc.) again mere belief seems insufficient – there must be a deeper conviction-in-action, bound to a deeper connectedness of being; there must be agape as the ever-present cofactor, the beacon that draws the angels nigh. For what is Divine pneuma if not an expression of purest and highest love?

Lastly, as a useful contrast, I’ll leave you with religious belief that eventually becomes devoid of faith altogether. From Eric Fromm’s The Art of Loving:

“It follows that the belief in power (in the sense of domination) and the use of power are the reverse of faith. To believe in power that exists is identical with disbelief in the growth of potentialities which are as yet unrealized. It is a prediction of the future based solely on the manifest present; but it turns out to be a grave miscalculation, profoundly irrational in its oversight of the human potentialities and human growth. There is no rational faith in power. There is submission to it or, on the part of those who have it, the wish to keep it. While to many power seems to be the most real of all things, the history of man has proved it to be the most unstable of all human achievements. Because of the fact that faith and power are mutually exclusive, all religions and political systems which originally are built on rational faith become corrupt and eventually lose what strength they have, if they rely on power or ally themselves with it.”

T.Collins Logan, 8/28/2016