My kind of God

I have been profoundly moved by religion my entire life. I have always believed in the “Good” even though I may not always have done it.

Sitting in quiet meditation I hear the sound of plainsong whether or not it is there. I long for peace, for a better place and better times. A time and place where there is no want but only happiness. Where there is infinite wisdom and none suffer.

If that sounds like the heaven of the Christians or the Nirvana of the Buddhists, then that should not seem so surprising. In a hostile universe, how many of us over how many thousands of years must have yearned for such wonders, as war and plague raged around them. As they struggle to force food from the barren earth during the seven years of biblical famine.

And so we conjure gods to assuage our fears. To send us manna from heaven. To vanquish our foes and knock down the walls of Jericho.

To give us peace. To put our minds in a place of pure ecstasy where we feel nothing but joy and security, wrapped like a baby curled up in swaddling clothes. Or in the comfort of the womb.

And such states can sometimes be reached although they are difficult to maintain. How very often have I felt that sense of warm certainty, where my mind and body seem to have ascended to a better plane. Where I appear to have broken through to a deeper realm somewhere outside the physical universe in which I normally dwell.

That is what I have sought all my life. Ascension, transcendence. Sublimation – a transition from the physical ream to some place of safety and unimaginable beauty.

I am a seeker and yet I get so often distracted from my path. Only a couple of days ago I bemoaned the parlous state of our world and expressed a wish for post scarcity to cure all our ills. But I veered dangerously into the world of politics and dissension and that is something a seeker must avoid. No good is to be found there, no field of joy.

As my fried Keith has so often said, humanity is an irrelevance and will pass like so many grains of sand scattered in the wind. We will be unlamented, our passing unnoticed in this reality of infinite space and time and possibility.

But sentience, mind. There may true reality perhaps be found. Or so I hope. So, in my better moods, I believe.

Will I sound childish and absurd if I own up to watching Star Trek since childhood? Will I be laughed at when I express a profound joy I experienced when watching this latest generation of bold travelers on Netflix last night? Perhaps, but I care little.

Sugary as it may be, the series portrays the Good and that is how and where I want to live. A bunch of men and women roam the universe and put it right. Gods by another name, although less powerful by far than the Minds of Ian Bank’s Culture. Let alone his Elders – those who have sublimed to some non physical and better realm.

How did I feel when I wrote Post Scarcity? Sad, depressed, negative and hopeless. Is peace ever obtained by conventional means? Will I feel more peaceful or make the world a better place by campaigning with the Greens to save the whales? Or by joining Amnesty International to campaign for political prisoners?

I think not alas.

To engage in the bitter struggles of the human world serves little purpose.

Where on this mortal plane should a seeker position himself? Where in this veil of tears should he dwell?

Within, deep within. Even as I write those words I feel a warmth spreading through my veins. My kind of god – simply the sort of feeling you meet when you go inwards. When you dwell on what is good and refuse to engage with what is bad.

25 Comments

  1. This is a good message, simple in essence but helpful as a reminder. More or less, I’ve come to a similar conclusion. Over these past few years, I’ve retreated from overt politics, avoided most news media, and have gotten off social media. I want to renegotiate my relationship to others and to myself.

    Whatever happiness and benefit that can be obtained, for myself and the world, will happen elsewhere and in other ways. Partisan politics and lesser-evilism, in particular, seems moot and uninspiring. But this change of attitude isn’t the desire to become a monk or a hermit. Rather, it’s a shift in focus and concern, a reconsideration of what is possible and worthy.

    One thought I keep coming back to is that politics is at best a result, not a cause. With that in mind, I’ve been contemplating what is the source of what makes change possible or rather the awareness that the world always is changing and there is nothing we can do to stop it. This is somewhere between a Buddhist and Taoist view of reality, although other traditions also influence me.

    This often brings me to thoughts of radical imagination. Not necessarily radical in the political sense. Etymologically, radical means of or relating to a ‘root’. To be radical is about getting to the roots of things, examining foundations and digging down to bedrock. It’s a looking for the source cause, the ground of being. It’s the taking a step back to first principles.

    This is similar to considering the deeper meaning of revolution. The original sense was that of an astrological cycle, the ever turning of the world and hence eternal return. A revolution was a coming back around. That is what the American Revolutionaries at first intended in their desire to a return to the rights of Englishmen and the rights of the Commons that had been lost/stolen.

    Still, I can find the world supremely frustrating and infuriating, far from the peace I long for. And I struggle to be a better version of myself. it’s hard to know what it all means and how it applies to one’s life. But I have an intuition about a different way of being based on a lifetime of faith. It’s not clear what this would mean in the world we find ourselves in.

    Even as I understand your reluctance toward the political, I’m not sure that is a fundamental issue, per se. In his own way, Jesus was being ‘political’ in directly challenging church and imperial authority, not to mention economic interests, a bit violently in fact in overturning the moneylenders’ tables. This demonstrates a full engagement with the world without fear of conflict and confrontation.

    On the other hand, the motivation behind his words and actions indicated an entirely different understanding. He didn’t seek to build a new system of ideology, politics, and governance. The Kingdom of God he sought was already around us. What he taught was a return of sort but toward what, in reality, had never been lost and could never be stolen.

    But it is interesting that the first Christians saw practical application of this insight through living and working in communitarian fashion. Their Heaven was not a mere foreign land to only be known in death. The expressed an entirely different kind of identity that is alien to our modern hyper-individualism. Salvation was not something had by an individual but envisioned and manifested as a community of faith.

    Maybe they had rediscovered some essential truths of the bicameral or bundled mind. That is what the Buddhists had come to in the centuries prior. It was a realization that what appeared to be an isolated ego was not the real nature of self and awareness. Maybe that is what the early Christians meant when speaking of humans as children of God, when speaking of the soul as a spark of God.

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    1. I must admit that ‘political’ just seems like a word to me. In a sense, everything is political. It’s based on the concept of the polis, closely related to the demos. It’s about a particular people as a public and a community, along with way of living together and relating as part of a collective identity. This relates to the broader understanding of ‘ideology’ as a holistic, totalizing, or encompassing worldview; or, more simply, what we take as shared reality (i.e., ideological realism).

      To that degree, politics can’t be escaped nor should one hope to do so. The only other option would be to live in wilderness isolation. But even then, one would never have survived infancy without others to have raised and protected one. We are inherently and fundamentally social creatures. That has everything to do with identity within our shared human nature, specifically related to the bicameral/bundled mind and animistic mind (i.e., a world alive with minds).

      I say that not as a challenge to your post. It’s just an observation that feels important to me. There is much misunderstanding about politics, similar to the misunderstanding of democracy. As I see it, democracy as an expression of the demos is not ‘politics’ in the narrowly constrained sense of conventional ideology and mainstream thought. Democracy, first and foremost, is about culture and community. We can never find peace and happiness within ourselves. It is only to be known and experienced in the in demos and polis, in the communal and extended self, in the living world and the Kingdom of God all around us.

      This is the full engagement of self and selves on all levels and in all aspects of being. It’s to be immersed and enmeshed, to know one belongs to others and is at home in this world, to belong to the place in which one lives. It’s a shared commitment and responsibility. But we live in a society where this is not recognized and respected, sometimes outright denied or attacked. To care about others is a challenge. Compassion is not only about feeling but about action. And there is no rule book to tell us what we should or must do.

      I’m reminded of an example like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a pacifist who felt morally compelled to join an assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler. He decided that potentially preventing the oppression, suffering, and death of millions was a greater good that maintaining the ideological purity of his beliefs. Yet it was far from an easy decision. He struggled with it. And in the end, the assassination attempt failed. So, for sacrificing his moral principles, he didn’t end up saving anyone, even if he left behind an inspiring example of the struggle against horrific wrongdoing as motivated by compassion.

      Was Jesus being political in righteously overturning the tables of the moneylenders? Was Bonhoeffer being political in seeking the death of one in the compassionate hope to save many others? In one of Gautama Buddha’s earlier lives, he was a Bodhisattva who chose to kill someone about to kill other Bodhisattvas in order to take on the karma that would have be incurred by that mass murder. Was that moral calculation in application of skillful means wrong? There is a traditional practice among certain tribes, from the Inuit to the Yoruba, of killing the rare individual who is psychopathic in defense of the community. Is that also wrong?

      These are the things I wonder about and struggle over. If in a different situation of great suffering and horror, what might I do? I honestly can’t say. What does it mean to be political or not? What does it mean to be in and of the world, to be engaged and to hold others with compassion? Can strong and even violent acts be compassionate when there is a greater good to be achieved? Who is to decide? What costs are too high to ignore, either in taking action or remaining in inaction? I keep the questions open without offering any final answer.

      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/dont-get-mad-get-even/

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  2. On another note, what are your practices of ‘spirituality’, self-development, psychonautic exploration, or whatever? That, of course, is where the rubber meets the road. Questions are as meaningless as answers without grounding in lived experience, mindful being, and compassionate relating.

    I’ve tried many practices over the years. And I’ve learned different things from many of them. My preferred practices have changed greatly over time. But the basic intention has remained the same. Most generally, mindfulness is an underlying principle to about any practice I’ve done, as intention is as or more important than any specific details of a practice.

    Meditation is the simplest method of learning mindfulness or rather unlearning unmindfulness. It might be akin to the Gnostic anamnesis or unforgetting, as revelatory gnosis or knowing. Rather than an action in the typical sense, it’s more along the lines of Taoist wu wei, as in non-doing or doing nothing. Or rather it’s a shift in perception of causal agency and the self-identity of the ‘doer’.

    But formal sitting meditation practice has lessened over time for me. My present favorite form of mindfulness is going for long walks or jogs, during which I repeat a mantra I’ve been using for many years, maybe going back to my late 20s. This often involves going barefoot in the open greenspaces all around this neighborhood or else running out on county gravel roads among farm fields.

    Open sky, fresh air, and sometimes sunshine. It really does help shift my mind and mood. The physical exertion helps as it shifts me into a more grounded and embodied experience of being in the world. The worries of the world do feel more distant and less relevant when outside in nature and surrounded by other lifeforms.

    Besides that, another practice I’ve taken up is more of an experimentation. It is the playing around with language, most specifically pronouns. Some Buddhist monks use third person to disengage from the ego-mind. Social science researchers also show using third person, in speaking of themselves as a superhero, helps children to maintain motivation and focus while better accomplishing tasks.

    In my own experimental practice, I’ve taken this a step further. I’ll use not only third person but in plural form (they) with past tense. I’ve tried different combinations of ways of speaking and this is what I found most effective in creating a different mindset. I use this as a method of self-talking, usually when walking. It’s not a way of talking I tend to use with other people, for obvious reasons. In formal writing as opposed to casual dialogue, I’ll sometimes speak of self in terms of ‘we’ or ‘one’.

    I’ve come to immense respect for the power of language. This originated with my study of linguistic relativity. It’s a fascinating field of research that overlaps with anthropology. It’s one of the fields that has helped to challenge the WEIRD bias in social science. But using what we’ve learned from that field, it’s also useful for challenging the WEIRD bias within oneself.

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    1. Everything you say and every step of the ground you have trodden resonates within me. We have travelled a very similar path. For me that path has led beyond learning, beyond philosophy and beyond conventional human concerns. Other than the basics needed for survival in this physical world.

      When I berate myself for my political post, it is in the sense that I eschew human society and want no more of it. I do not have the strength or determination to better the world we live in or to change society or even the smallest aspect of it. I should therefore restrict myself to my own feelings and my own journey towards peace. As for group mind, I am fascinated in the non-physical and long to “sublime” as Ian Banks put it.

      So yes, I am a hermit and always have been. I had no place in the world of commerce and should have found some more peaceful pursuit.

      I have spent much of the past 30 years reading everything I could get my hands on which seemed germane to my existential concerns. Comparative religion (Taoism and Zen Buddhism does it for me), philosophy and psychology. And much else besides. I have studied the basics of science as a layman, although was schooled primarily in the humanities and took my degree at Oxford in modern history.

      I have interpreted Wittgenstein as I choose and in particular his ladder. I have decided, having climbed to the top, to kick it away as useless. My studies have not brought me happiness, academic as I have always been. Nor have they brought me great wisdom.

      What counts for me now is experience and only that. I have done with all else. Hence my foolish foray into post scarcity simply annoys me. It causes me anger, sadness and frustration. Over the past three years of writing I have moved far away from polemic and do not intend to return. That post was a silly slip. The world will go to hell in a handcart and there is little any of us can do about it.

      My practice is to go within. And to listen to the sound of birds, the howling of the wind and the susurration of the waves. My meditation is not formal. It is merely quiet contemplation as I walk along beaches and through woodland. Or sit in my chair in the garden and enjoy a few moments of stillness.
      Like you I have suffered many years of depression and even now the blackness can descend, triggered by some pointless worldly concern.

      As to psychedelics, I have found them profoundly helpful, although travelling abroad to engage with them is a little inconvenient.
      They have brought deep insight and moments of the greatest peace.

      Writing has become an ever more important part of my practice. I use it to explain myself to myself and putting my thoughts onto paper has been enormously helpful.

      My realisation is that I must abandon all that I have done before and concentrate from hereon on what is loosely described as “spiritual”. I don’t really like that touchy feely word but it serves a purpose.

      I know what I believe in beyond any shadow of a doubt. The “Good” as I put it in the above post. My route to the good is to experience it for myself. Through thought, through quiet and yes, from time to time the occasional ascent into a different world, a visit beyond the doors of perception.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Apparently, I should be reading Ian Banks. I know of him, but for some reason I’ve never read anything by him. I’ll have to remedy that shortcoming. Thanks for bringing him up! There has been a growing desire in me to return to fiction, so as to get out of my head and engage with other aspects that might be more satisfying. This has been on my mind lately, but I feel undecided and not sure where to go from here. Even much of my recent writings feel dissatisfying to me and I’m not sure why I write what I do. I feel like I’m standing at a fork in a road and having no map to see which direction to go.

        So, I get what you’re saying. The life of a hermit at one time did appeal to me. Right out of high school, I had no desire to be a part of this society. I actually planned on learning wilderness survival to that end. But the weakness of the human heart caused me to grow lonely and so I sought refuge in my childhood hometown where my closest childhood friend still lived, where both of my brothers had returned to as well. And I have remained here ever since. It’s my niche in the world, my safe place amidst uncertainty and danger. It’s good to be around close friends and family, those who are familiar and trustworthy, a small-scale community to fall back on if need be. It is what one depends upon when one lacks all other worldly resources.

        That said, I am a man of simplicity in most, if not all, ways. I’ve never felt drawn to pursue higher education and career, much less wealth and fame, or even basic social respectability. I’ve always worked entry level jobs and make just enough to get by. That might have more to do with decades of crippling depression, though, than with any principled embrace of poverty. Whatever the cause, it is the personality that has developed in me. I simply find no appeal at all within the capitalist system. I’ve never felt motivated by external incentives. If I have food and I’m not homeless, then that is good enough for me.

        My time and freedom is of too great of value to me. I’ll sell my body for paid labor because I see no other option available, but my mind is not for sale. That is why I work as a parking ramp cashier. Even when working, I have plenty of free time to read a book or listen to something, and I don’t have to bring work home with me. Otherwise, I have no clear opinion about my place in the world. I’ve gone back and forth about my relationship to reading and writing. I’ve long had an intellectual bent, but I’ve gone periods of time when I left it behind. There was one year where I stopped reading and writing entirely. I can’t say it helped exactly, although I suppose it was a useful experimentation.

        It’s interesting that you considered the post-scarcity post to be polemical. I can see why you say that, but I hadn’t thought of it that way. I took it as a happy dream and radical vision, a simple expression of an ancient human impulse toward a better world. My tendency would be, in seeking beyond the polemical, to dive into the heart of that impulse. What is the essence of it, the archetypal force behind it? Then how does one express that genuine human reality, to touch upon a shared sense of goodness? Nothing is inherently polemical or non-polemical for it depends on our intention and our approach to it, so it seems to me. But I can’t claim to be an expert on the matter of avoiding the polemical.

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      2. I intend to “escape ” by writing fiction. I am not sure that I have the imagination but if it proves that I have then I will create my own world and live in it. Stories have a way of becoming one’s reality and I intend to write about the sort of world I would like to live in and the sort of people I would like to meet. I think you will love Ian Banks! Start with the Culture – you will want to emigrate.

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      3. I do find myself strongly pulled toward the description of your experience and worldview, the expression of your desire for something else. Amidst so much cynicism, your sincerity is a breath of fresh air. I’ve always been a sucker for sincerity. That is what I grew up with in the Unity Church, as many of the people I knew there were extremely well-intentioned people with genuine concern and compassion for others.

        Underneath it all, sincerity is what drives me. Sincerity is simply human truth, something one knows in feeling it. We might struggle to communicate well and act wisely, but sincerity goes to our intentions. And, yes, intentions do matter… even if the road to hell is paved with them. It’s better to fail for the right reasons than to succeed for the wrong ones. But the tricky part is that this requires both awareness and humility. To put it in the woo-woo language of A Course In Miracles: Let Go and Let God.

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  3. Sage and resonating words, expertly scribed as usual.

    I too have come to a similar conclusion over the last few days.

    What is it that we want to focus our energy on, on things that we can positively change the here and now, or things that are ultimately beyond our control which may not come to pass.

    We should choose the former not the latter.

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    1. I think so my friend and if I had a wife who was slightly less wedded to suburban life and England, like you I would head for less populated parts where I could live a simple life under the sun, living off nature. Foraging, preparing natural food, living in a place less polluted by our species. Alas, for me the coast of South East Kent is going to have to suffice!

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  4. It seems like your path is that of meditation and contemplation. But I think truly spiritual people can also be called toward a more active life. In India, of course, this is called “karma-yoga,” the yoga of (apparently) selfless action. In my path, Christianity, it’s simply a desire to align one’s own will with God’s will.

    Joan of Arc? Not exactly apolitical!

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    1. Yes. I have never been able to deal with other people. I am more of a silent monk. It is not that I do not like people, simply that I prefer solitude and silence. I strongly wish for a better world ~ a world where people act out the Beatitudes.

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      1. I know what you mean. Hence I used to write polemic against the state of the world – my idea of exercising a social consciousness I suppose. These days I try to look at the good rather than the bad. Spread a message of peace and hope, if you like. That is my “contribution” – writing in solitude about my hopes for better people and a better world. You never know, perhaps bit by bit is helps!

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  5. I guess my perspective is that I like sugar but not too much sugarcoating. A doctor cannot heal if she or he does not identify the illness. Emile Durkheim used a similar metaphor about society in general. So if I do dwell on the ‘malaise’ a bit too much, it is with the intention of restoring equilibrium in the overall system… like you, in my own little way.

    Btw, I watched Star Trek every day after school as a kid. Often two episodes back to back as it was broadcast on a US and a Cdn channel! I also like the classic Doctor Who… catching up on those now. Hartnell rocks! 👽👩‍🚀🪐

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    1. Sci~Fi for me has, or can have, a deeply spiritual element. I was always expecting Capt. Kirk and his chums to discover some benevolent godlike entity, and on occasions they ‘sort of’ did. As you say, we are not so far apart. My god is just more of a technological one!

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      1. Yes, I understand your perspective. And I agree that man(kind) and machine could merge in a positive way. But I think, as a believer in evil, that the opposite could also happen. A nefarious man-machine to eternally vex the benevolent one. And so it goes…

        I actually have a very rough draft of a sci-fi novel where these two entities exist in the distant future and send their contrary influences back through time to affect individuals in the here and now.

        But alas, my fiction writing skills are in severe need of development, unlike yours!

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      2. Ha! Well I’m no so sure about my skills but I must try a few more chapters. And yes indeed great evil could also occur. But then of course the Christians still have their Satan and he still seems to dominate much if the material world!

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      3. Of course, evil is like the virus. It respects no one!

        With all due respect, I get the impression that something about Xity has pissed you off in the past and this has tainted your current view.

        So if I’m right…get over it!

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      4. Ah! No, really not. I am passionate about so many things relating to the Western Church. Choral music, evensong at Canterbury Cathedral, the art, the magnificent architecture. I think I am, to use that ghastly phrase, a “cultural Christian”. I can think if little which gives me as much pleasure as sitting reading the morning or evening prayer in one of our beautiful local Norman churches. Preferably on my own, with the wind howling outside. I have no quarrel with anyone who has literal belief. It must be very comforting. Its just that I have never had it.

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      5. Yes, I do remember you mentioning your listening to choral music. Well, you are an intriguing character, to be sure. Perhaps that’s partly why you write so well.

        Please forgive me for my cheap psychoanalytic tactics. I tapped your knee and it responded appropriately… neither overly nor underly.

        So I will have to study you more and try some other kind of lure (“fishers of men” metaphor)!

        I’ll just add that philosophically, I believe practically everything comes down to belief. 🤓

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