Believing is Seeing

You choose your belief

I’d love to be wrong, I really would – but unfortunately this is all there is. That means belief in spirits, other realms, and even escaping the cycle of death and rebirth is all in your head. Their only real reality lies in the psychological impact those notions have upon you and your emotions.

To put it another way, it’s as if you had a red sweater but you imagine it’s blue – you do this because it makes you feel happier and you wear it more often that way.

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The ‘Good Enough’ Principle

I know, that doesn’t sound like a very ‘formal’ philosophical principle, but bear with me.

To exist means to stand out (from Latin “ex-” meaning ‘out of’ and “stare” meaning ‘to stand’), and so for a Thing to exist it must be different from all other Things. But how different? Just enough. In fact, any amount of difference is ‘difference enough’ for existence. (yes, there’s a circular tautology in there – you don’t have to like it).

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Reality is all …

Fill in the blank

When referring to the nature of Reality – what it’s made of – as soon as someone begins their statement “It’s all made of … ” the next word could be anything – gouda, gold, god, tao, apeiron, the force, consciousness, anything. The reason I know this is because I’ve understood what “all” means to our human brains.  The next word may as well be “all” for what it’s worth, and it would be a more honest answer because at least the speaker recognises the futility in putting a label on it.  In that light, anything you wish can be what it’s all made of – the significance lies in the fact that it is what you feel is closest to your understanding of what Reality is made of.  It becomes the context or raw material from which you make sense of the world.

My own personal struggle is trying to reconcile my modern scientific understanding of the physical world with the deeper insight of how my brain operates.  Sameness and Difference.  That is how my brain operates (and how I think we all operate at the most fundamental level).  My scientific mind interprets Sameness and Difference being ‘made of’ Transformation (in the mathematical and physical/mechanical sense) so to that part of me, “It’s all Transformation.”  But my spiritual inclination wants to say “It’s all Magic” or “It’s all Chi/Ki” or “It’s all The Force” and the two aren’t friends yet.

Trying to do something with Ki/The Force/Magic feels supremely silly and foolish because I know at the same time it’s all transformation – and transformation doesn’t behave in the way I want Magic/Ki/The Force to behave.  Magic then becomes merely my own will, and to get more banal than that seems impossible to imagine.  Sure, my ability to ‘will’ my arm to move may seem magical if we really ask ourselves how that works (the whole mind/body interaction), but my ‘will’ and thus my capacity to ‘do magic’ goes no further than my own body.  Then I have to get creative and make excuses for this ‘magic’: if I want a glass of water to appear before me, I have to “concentrate very hard” and “gather up all the strength of my willpower”, “channel” it and “release it out into the world” (i.e. I ask you to get me a glass of water), whereupon the “influence” of my magic extends outwards (you walk to the kitchen). Then my “energies will be returned back to me” (you’ve come back from the kitchen) and voilà! I have a glass of water!

Do you see how silly that is? I’m irrationalizing the rational!

However, there is a non-negligible aspect of magic when you do think of reality in those terms. There is an undeniable “power” to words that gives us pause. If my magic is my will, then I must become cautious of how I use it (what words I say out loud, what gestures and actions I use my body to effect).

But this perspective is also an open door to madness: every thought I provoke in you, every image you experience in your mind through the “descriptive power” of my words, become the very real effect, however subtle it may be.

But working of magic as none other than the cautious application of will sounds very much like Mindfulness doesn’t it?  Where one is highly conscious of one’s gestures, thoughts, and words.  Everything becomes deliberate and full of careful intent.

And thus the working of magic regains its respectability, as the phoenix of decorum rises from the ashes of folly.

So to close this with a quote I give you:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

On Enlightenment

I hesitate to say I was enlightened, but damn, it sure felt like it.

Since that moment nearly six years ago, my worldview hasn’t changed that much – I still don’t believe in a sentient supreme being, but I now definitely understand why people would feel inclined to call ‘it’ a god.  Because now I feel I get ‘it’ – I’ve seen ‘it’, I’ve felt ‘it’.  By ‘it’ I mean whatever humanity has experienced in these several hundred thousand years that has kept us coming back to the concept of something ‘divine’ and put a different name to ‘it’ for each of our cultures.  From my worldview I still see red as red and a car as a car – it’s just that my understanding of it all has broadened, deepened, expanded considerably.  The ‘ah-hah’ moment blew my mind and left me sitting in a state of stupor in the middle of the pavement half-way between my home and the office.  Thankfully nobody thought I’d had a stroke or called an ambulance.  But in that deluge of insight, my brain scurried and raced to sort and handle all the tumbling truths and incredible ‘fitting’ of a million pieces of a universal puzzle of my mind, and it was very nearly overloaded, so ‘walking’ was relegated to a far lower priority.  But after it all slowed down enough, I got up, and continued my walk to my workplace, and the day went on as usual (but let’s not kid ourselves here – I was far from being ‘ho-hum’ about what I’d just experienced! I was still shaking by the time I sat down at my desk).

It is very frustrating to experience such world-rocking insight and not be able to communicate it.  I completely understand the drive one might have in ‘experiencing the word of god’ to tell others about it.  But sadly, and this is part of the greater insight, it is much more like Zen Buddhism where you cannot be told, you have to live it yourself.

So what is a person to do with their enlightenment?  Put it to workUse itLive it.  There is an old maxim which is very insulting: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.  Well, it should be the other way around: those who can, teach. Those who can’t, do.  That’s how Zen is taught – the student does precisely because in doing, one learns.  The challenge of teaching is knowing the right thing to do which will be conducive to learning.  And there is no one ‘great exercise’ that will allow every student to ‘get it’ – to achieve the universal insight that we call enlightenment.  Every person thinks differently, has different worldviews, and takes different pathways of thought. In an ‘all roads lead to Rome’ way, “The Truth” will be the same for everyone – but how you get there is different for everyone.

See that’s the thing about enlightenment – once you’ve experienced it, you see the other religions and realize they’re all saying the same thing – using different words:  Buddhism’s “Nirvana” is Christianity’s “Alpha and Omega” is Taoism’s “Wu” is Anaximander’s “Apeiron” is Vedic “Moksha”.  It’s all the same Truth – a truth as old as the universe itself (enlightenment is after all a deep understanding of the nature of Reality itself).

The act of seeing the parallels as they meet at infinity is why people describe enlightenment as the experience of ‘transcending’ reality – it’s a metaphor because in our mundane experience we must ‘step back’ or ‘step outside’ or ‘rise above’ a situation in order to see both sides – i.e. compare and hold things side by side – and so when one has the experience of seeing Reality as a whole, then one can only describe it as though one had ‘gone above’ or ‘outside’ or ‘beyond’ Reality in order to have done so.  But in reality, the experience of enlightenment doesn’t ‘take you’ anywhere – you’re still right where you are when you ‘left’ – be it meditating in your living room, or sitting abruptly on the pavement on your walk to work.

Enlightenment does not make you a better person.  Or it does but doesn’t. I mean I’m no better than anyone else – I’m not going to say “I’m enlightened, and you’re not” – it doesn’t work that way. I am still the same guy I was, and I still have my days.  I can still be a pain in the ass or drive my girlfriend up the wall because no matter how hard I try I’m just not in sync with her.  And there are still days where I just don’t wanna.  Enlightenment is not a way to flee your troubles – just like seeking out ‘greener pastures’ where you get there and realize you’ve brought all your ‘baggage’ with you – it doesn’t solve problems.  Instead it gives you the capacity to solve problems.  That’s a different thing isn’t it?  The old saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” – sure, but the guy still has to get off his ass and go fish.

The Deep Symbolism of the Mobius Strip

The Mobius Strip

If ever there was something which merited the name “God” in my eyes, it would be the Mobius Strip. But I don’t believe in a personal, let-alone sentient, god. I’d be far more inclined to call it “Tao” instead. Buddhists might call it “Om” (or “Aum”). Mathematicians should call it “i” (the square root of negative one), but there are even more examples in Mathematics (the involution, the half-rotation, inconsistency, contradiction, “not” or the symbol ¬). Electronics circuits represent it as the inverter whose ouput feeds back into its input. Philosophers might call it “contradiction” or more formally the “paradox of self-reference” epitomized in the Liar Paradox:

“This statement is False.”
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Ex Sistere

The etymology of the word “Existence” is described as follows (from Wikipedia):


Etymology

The word “existence” comes from the Latin word exsistere meaning “to appear”, “to arise”, “to become”, or “to be”, but literally, it means “to stand out” (ex- being the Latin prefix for “out” added to the Latin verb stare, meaning “to stand”).[6]


 

Imagine our Most Recent Common Ancestor – some ape-like humanoid quietly munching shoots in the lower branches of some African tree. Lazily, it looks out over the plains to watch the swaying grass. It blows in the wind. Nothing remarkable, no reason to worry. There’s ‘nothing’ there.

Suddenly, a tuft of tall grass moves in the opposite way than the rest. Something’s there! Whatever it is, our MRCA sounds the alarm. Whoops go up into the hot air, and the tribe moves into higher branches, scooping up the kids in the process.

And we were right. There was something there. A big cat – a sabre-toothed tiger or something.

 

We are conditioned to notice what stands-out from the background. What we can’t see isn’t there. And that’s wrong… ish. While it’s true that to us Existence is “what is different”, we mustn’t ignore everything else. The Taoists knew that.

The Chinese word “Wu” to the Taoists is sort-of ‘Nothing’, but it’s also ‘Everything’. It is that from which yin-yang is born. It is the empty ‘circle’ around the yin-yang symbol. It is Zero.

I posit that “Wu” is the before-Big-Bang, if I can call it that. So when we ask “Why is there something from nothing?” our notion of “nothing” is actually “Everything”… And while it doesn’t make answering it any easier, it does break us out of our animal-thinking and maybe sets us on a different path.