More Real Than Real

Why do we like fiction, myth, poetry? All of these things are considered “unreal” by our materially oriented culture, yet is is usually the most “unrealistic” films and books that top the sales charts. Something about the unreal seems real to us, and no amount of everyday life can take this feeling away. Storytelling and myth making are about as old as humanity itself, most societies still live by those stories that materialists would consider “myths” even today.

“Myth is what we call other people’s religion.” -Joseph Campbell

Obviously, something about the stories that do not, or could not, occur in our immediate experience is appealing to us. They seem to have an emotional impact that makes up for their lack of “reality” as it were. When I was young, I was more interested in what was going on in fantasy worlds than in my own life. Since we regard fantasy as the “unreal,” this preoccupation with the products of imagination is considered “escapism,” a term which thinly veils a negative judgement. In a society that only admits the existence of the physical world, anything beyond is considered impractical at best and delusional at worst.

In spite of strong cultural prejudices against us, the power of dreams, imagination, and myth still has an enormous impact on us. This extends beyond religion and fantasy, and into the myths of politics, education, and even sports. These myths tell us stories that are not literally true, but emotionally so. Things like inalienable rights and freedom are powerful myths. When I say myths, I don’t mean something that’s “false” (an unfortunate second meaning to the term), but something that’s truer than true. Myths give meaning to what is otherwise a random assortment of physical data.

Most societies have a guiding myth that they consider “true” called the “transcendent narrative.” This could be something like Shi’a Islam for Iran, the Mandate of Heaven for imperial China, and Catholicism for medieval Western Europe. With the displacement of Christianity by Scientific Materialism, the Modern West has lost its guiding myth. It is torn between Christianity, Materialism, and a loose assortment of New Age views.

Existentialism, Postmodernism, and Post-Structuralism represent the death of myth in the Western world. Each of them seeks to deconstruct those myths that our society has entertained, such as religion, progress, and discrete notions of identity. All of them are based in materialism and are born out attempt to be as objective as possible, even while criticizing objectivity. The desire for objectivity leads to the realization that objectivity is impossible because we carry prejudices with us. So the attempt emerges to be “objective” about those prejudices. Hence, Post-Modernism is the maximum degree of objectivity, and denounces objectivity.

We need myth because it represents a connection to other worlds where emotions, images and symbols gain a greater emotional charge. In these realms ideas are just as real as a table. Our rationality cannot dissect these inner worlds because it is based on physical circumstances. When this kind of reason attempts to sort out something as a virgin birth, it considers it ridiculous because things like that aren’t supposed to happen physically. It does not consider the great emotional and symbolic charge a myth like this has. Myths, like dreams, must be accepted on their own terms. They may contain things that seem absurd on a physical level, but aren’t on the symbolic plane where they originate.

It is this symbolic plane where the sense of meaning originates. Attempting to find meaning on the physical plane alone is doomed to failure because the physical is not complete unto itself, but rather draws from mental worlds it is deeply intertwined with. We need myths because we need a connection to these other worlds. To not be connected to them is to cut ourselves off from the better part of our vitality and emotion. Reason, while useful in a physical context, becomes tyrannical when sorting out other worlds. To destroy myth is to destroy ourselves.

True Spirituality

Here is a collection of Seth quotes that deal with the nature of what he calls “true spirituality.” His concept of this is quite different than most religions, and even contradicts most religions. True spirituality is spontaneous and does not involve doctrines, dogmas, or laws. It comes from an understanding of our nature as physical beings, not a denial of it as most religions preach.

You can learn more from watching the animals than you can from a guru or a minister — or from reading my book.

Dogmas that tell you to rise above your emotions can be misleading – even … dangerous.  Such theories are based on the concept that there is something innately…base or wrong in man’s emotional nature, while the soul is depicted as being calm, ‘perfect,’ passive and unfeeling.  Only the most lofty, blissful awareness is allowed.  Yet the soul is above all a fountain of energy, creativity, and action that shows its characteristics in life precisely through the ever-changing emotions. Trusted, your feelings will lead you to psychological and spiritual states of mystic understanding, calm and peacefulness.

The emotions follow beliefs …. To refuse them is futile.  They are one of the means by which personally attuned consciousness knows itself.  They are not destructive.  One emotion is not good and another evil.  Emotions simply are.  They are the elements of the power of consciousness, filled with energy.  They merge into a powerful sea of being when left alone.  You cannot affirm one emotion and deny another without setting up barriers. (21;417)

It is very important that you understand the true innocence of all feelings, for each of them, if left alone and followed, will lead you back to the reality of love …. Trust no one who leads you away from the reality of yourself. Do not follow those who tell you that you must do penance, in whatever form.

“True spirituality is a thing of joy and of the earth, and has nothing to do with fake adult dignity. It has nothing to do with long words and sorrowful faces.” (NOPR)

“Many churchgoers who consider themselves quite religious do not understand the nature of love or affirmation as much as some bar patrons, who celebrate the nature of their bodies and enjoy the spontaneous transcendence as they let themselves go with the motion of their beings.”

So do not think you are being spiritual when you are being long faced, and do not think you are being spiritual when you berate yourself for your sins. The seasons within your system come and go. The sun falls upon your face whether you think you are a sinner or a saint. The vitality of the universe is creativity and joy and love, and that is spirituality. And that is what I shall tell the readers of my book.”

You can appreciate spirituality unless you appreciate your creature hood. It is not a matter of rising above your nature, but of evolving from the full understanding of it. There is a difference.

You will not attain spirituality and or even a happy life by denying the wisdom and experience of the flesh. You can learn more from watching the animals than you can from a guru or a minister — or from reading my book.

Change flexibly with the gracious dance of all being that is reflected in the universe of the body and mind. This does not include the crucifixion of the ego.

Each of your lives are miniature and yet gigantic episodes, mortal and immortal at once, providing experiences that you form meaningfully, opening up dimensions of reality available to no one else, for no one can view existence from your standpoint.

the third personality of Christ (Paul) will indeed be known as a great psychic, for it is He who will teach humanity to use those inner senses that alone make true spirituality possible.

They become part of All That Is — as they should — without dying as they are

(A student had been speaking of the Buddha religion and nirvana)
“Now each of you is a part of All That Is, highly individual and unique, like no other, and that like no otherness will never be taken from you. You will not melt into some great golden bliss in which your characteristics will disappear. You will not be gobbled by a supergod. On the other hand you will continue to exist; you will continue to be responsible for the way in which you use energy; you will expand in ways now impossible for you to understand. You will learn to command energy of which you now do not know. You will realize that you are more than you realize that you are now, but you will not lose the state of which you are now aware, and regardless of the fact of reincarnation and regardless of probable selves the unique self that you now call yourself has eternal validity even though the memories that you cannot now consciously recall will be yours in their entirety. And physical life in its reincarnational self is not some chaos thrust upon you, some evil from which you must shortly hope to escape. It is a particular reality in which you have chosen to know your existence, in which you have chosen to develop yourself, and it is indeed a system, again, like no other system, a unique and dear and beloved portion of reality in which you have decided to flourish for awhile. And in denying it, again, you deny the reality of experience.
In other terms, you will leave this system for others, but there will be a portion of you yet, no matter how many eons pass, that remembers a spring evening and a smell of autumn air; and those things will always be with you when you want them. You make your own flesh and your own world as now en masse you form the evening. These are creations of yours and of your kind. They are not prisons to be escaped from.” –Seth, Early Class Sessions – Book 3, May 18, 1971, p193

Christianity is to Materialism as Chronos is to Zeus

I’ve started to notice very strong similarities between these two “faiths” over the last couple of years. It really shouldn’t be surprising to me considering that the organized philosophy of Materialism clearly has its origins in the Western Enlightenment, but the two forces work so strongly to distance themselves from one another that their similarities are largely passed over. I guess you can tell they’re related because they deny vehemently that they even know each other. As someone living in the West who stands outside both Christianity and Materialism (but who is, admittedly, strongly influenced by both), it puts me in a good position to observe the behavior of these two philosophies as they develop in the modern world. Materialism of course, is ascendant right now to the extent that most materialists are unaware they have a philosophy at all and consider their views to be the “truth” (the number one defining characteristic of a religion).

Materialism has its roots in “rational” investigation into the physical world during the Enlightenment in Europe. The early scientists such as Newton believed they were peering into the mind of God. Nowadays, Materialists uphold human reason and the scientific method as the best or only path to meaningful knowledge. Scripture and intuition have been cast aside as primitive superstition. This development is not an entirely bad thing, but there is a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Materialism likes to imagine itself as an ahistorical phenomena discovered rather than developed, a timeless truth discovered by enlightened minds. This of course is essential the the entire project. The creed of Materialism absolutely depends on the “discovery” of “objective” knowledge independent of all human “bias.”


Any historian worth their salt would know that the Scientific Revolution and “Enlightenment” of 16th and 17th Century Europe were based on much older strands of thought in European history. Christianity has always considered itself the religion of the logos, or “reason” (the root of our word “logic”) despite having a rather uneasy relationship with its secular application at times. The tradition of independent reasoning is very old in Europe, and existed in the middle ages. Medieval figures like William of Occam (Of “Occam’s Razor” fame) St. Thomas Aquinas wrote extensively about Aristotelian logic. Christianity itself being baptized in Greek philosopher. There were also substantial (sometimes ignored, or alternatively, exaggerated) Muslim contributions to this history, especially through Averroes (Ibn Rushd) of Muslim Spain. However, the Muslim world did not develop organized materialism, probably due to the theological rejection of independent reasoning as valid in the 10th century. It is telling that Averroes was greatly studied in Europe, but almost completely forgotten by his co-coreligionists. Suffice to say, the reverence of reason in early modern Europe did not just simply fall out of the sky on to Newtons head.

When I mention this history to materialists, I usually get a reaction along the lines of skepticism that logic ever played a roll in the Christian Religion. They view Christianity as completely illogical, and I have a tough time explaining to them that logic is based on experience and cannot create new knowledge. Christianity was entirely logical and consistent for its time period. Materialists usually consider themselves the standard bearers of reason in the modern world, something they inherited from their Christian predecessors (whether they are aware of it or not). As said above, the earliest scientists were convinced they were peering into the mind of God by using reason discover the “laws” by which the universe operated. The attempt to discover these “laws” is still very much with us today without the God component. Such an outlook is more difficult in the Muslim world (because God can change his mind) or in the East (because nature doesn’t have immutable “laws”). I am not saying that Muslim or Eastern philosophy is inferior. On the contrary, I find both fascinating and enlightening in different ways. This piece is more about why reason-worshiping materialism arose out Christianity specifically.

Materialism is basically Christianity without God or any kind of spiritual realm. They both largely share metaphysics, ethics, and even myths. While it remains to be seen what Materialism and Christianity will look like in the future, for the last few centuries they have been joined at the hip. You could even tell both of their creation stories at the same time by being vague. “A long time ago, a material, intelligible, and lawful universe began in a flash of light. Over time, simple life forms appeared. Over time they become more and more sophisticated until humanity appeared. Humanity is unique among the animals for having consciousness, reason, and civilization. Humanity’s goal is to overcome our limited natures through progress towards an end point we can scarcely imagine.”

Granted, one could take nit-pick that narrative from either a Christian or Materialist perspective, but overall their stories have been largely the same. It’s just that the later denies a mind had any part to play in the beginning. Each of them speak about one world and one physical universe where everything takes place. Christianity flinches at the idea of other worlds with life. Materialism flinches at the idea of extra-material dimensions. Materialism’s initial story of “mindless” evolution followed Aristotle’s and the Church’s great chain of being to a T, until it decapitated it. For many years biology thought that animals were mindless automatons and that only humans had higher reasoning. This is simply a re-expression of the idea that only human beings have souls. Darwin himself thought evolution was teleological, and believed that humanity was its apex. Certainly a downgrade from “made in the image of God,” but the same idea is at play. The notion of some kind of progress is central to Materialism as to Christianity. Both share the idea, along with the other Abraham faiths, that the universe is going somewhere. They imply that humanity as a whole is moving towards something greater. Unlike the cyclical Eastern religions, Materialism is a progressive faith, but progressing towards what?


Despite the idea that there is not any transcendent principle to reality, progress towards great ideals (just like Christianity’s “heaven on earth”) has been central to Materialism. The philosophy has promised and continues to promise a future of rational enlightenment, economic well being (the only well-being that matters in its outlook), and even notions of transcendence. It even has doomsday prophets. The snag that Materialism runs into is that if only matter exists, all human knowledge and aspiration is merely the delusional opinions of clumps of matter gone mad. This realization is the origin of Post-Modernism, which involves a deconstruction of all ideas and myths including language itself. Post-Modernism, ironically, boils down to the myth that all knowledge is simply opinion because there is no transcendent myth, just matter. All of these ideas are rooted in the idea that there is only one material universe we all share.

These issues are deeply tied in with Materialism political thought. Materialism, in spite of itself, largely retains a Christian outlook on morality. Most of the materialists I know are staunch liberals. They favor raising up the poor and downtrodden (the “meek” you could say) through charity and government action. They are fierce defenders of “reason,” human rights, and egalitarianism (all concepts deeply rooted in Christian theology). There is a lot of talk about being on the “right” side of history (divine providence for secularists). One must wonder where they get such notions of virtue if virtue itself is nothing but hot air. Charity is a waste of precious resources, and equality can only be a fact by virtue of a shared connection to a transcendent principle (i.e. God). We are about the evils of extremism, violence, tyranny, sexism, racism, classism, homophobia and all manner of nasty things by people who think negative feelings are just a chemical reaction devoid of deeper meaning. This is the meaning of the phrase “God is dead.” If our civilization killed the God that gave us our morality, ideals, and encouraged love for the weak and oppressed, why do we still cling to those things as if he exists and will reward us for doing so? What is the value in altruism if your fellow human beings are just other mangy apes competing for limited resources? If we do indeed live in a materialist cosmos, the highest virtue is selfishness. I am convinced that most talk about morality from leftist atheist philosophers is the attempt to preserve a largely Christian morality from the implications of their own philosophy.

In ancient Rome, Christianity arose in the city and pushed the older “pagan” religions to the countryside (paganus means rural). Now the same story is repeating itself. Materialism arises in the cities of the West and pushes Christianity to the countryside. But, just like its forebear, Materialism has taken a great deal from the previous faith: its metaphysics, its morality, and in some cases even its holidays. If you live in the West, stepping outside Materialism is like walking into foreign land. Suddenly self evident truths become dogmas, and there is an overwhelming feeling of being surrounded by unconscious fundamentalists. Its influence is everywhere, even in people that don’t otherwise identify as materialists. Ken Ham tries to prove Genesis by appealing to an “objective world.” I certainly have materialist beliefs. I think everyone who lives in the West does to an extent. It isn’t an entirely bad worldview, and offers a lot of good ideas. The problem is it considers above all other worldviews, and it propagates a unique brand of fundamentalism whose ramifications on human well being we may not be entirely aware of yet.

Supreme Mysticism

Kabir belongs to that small group of supreme mystics amongst whom St. Augustine, Ruysbroeck, and the Sufi poet Jalalu’ddin Rumi are perhaps the chief who have achieved that which we might call the synthetic vision of God. These have resolved the perpetual opposition between the personal and impersonal, the transcendent and immanent, static and dynamic aspects of the Divine Nature; between the Absolute of philosophy and the “sure true Friend” of devotional religion. They have done this, not by taking these apparently incompatible concepts one after the other; but by ascending to a height of spiritual intuition at which they are, as Ruysbroeck said, “melted and merged in the Unity,” and perceived as the completing opposites of a perfect Whole. -Evelyn Underhill

I’m piggybacking this post on to my previous one. I believe this quote from Evelyn Underhill needs more attention. There’s too much sophomoric mysticism out there that says we have to give up one side of God or another in order to reach him. I for one can’t imagine God would give up any aspects of its being whatsoever, so in my vision the only way to find God is, as the Corpus Heremticum might say “bring together in yourself all opposites of quality.”

The Playfulness of Mysticism
















Here’s a list of opposites that rationalists of either the religious or scientific stripe imply that we have to choose between. The rationalist position if that something is true, anything mutually exclusive with it must be false. Mystics on the other hand are aware that apparently mutually exclusive concepts actually represent deep unities, and they move in and out of one another with the greatest of ease. Paradox is not something that bothers mystics. This mystery is something to be lived, not figured out. Am I a unique individual? Am I the infinite Godhead? Am I smoke an mirrors? Why not all three and them some? Trying to separate “truth” and “falsehood” is necessary at some points, but ultimately it cuts the multidimensional reality apart. Solutions are a finite game, played for the sake of winning. However, the cosmos is an infinite game, played for the sake of playing. Paradox, for mystics, is not a bug, its a feature. The mystery is something to be lived and felt in all its myriad aspects. “Spirit” as Ken Wilber said “is not the ‘good’ half of opposites, but the origin of all opposites.”

I believe that faith is a precursor of all our ideas. Without faith, there never could have evolved hypothesis, theory, science or mathematics. I believe that faith is an extension of the mind. It is the key that negates the impossible. To deny faith is to refute oneself and the spirit that generates all our creative forces. My faith is in the unknown, in all that we do not understand by reason; I believe that what is beyond our comprehension is a simple fact in other dimensions, and that in the realm of the unknown there is an infinite power for good. -Charlie Chaplain

Jakob Boehme, The Seth Material, and Love

The sixteenth century mystic Jakob Boehme is one of the most profound and fascinating figures in the history of Christian Mysticism. One of his more interesting theological points is that the Father of the Christian Trinity is a metaphor for the pure Will, while the Son is a metaphor for Love. The Will produces Love naturally by virtue of its own expansive, evolutionary force. Therefore, the Will and Love exist in all things. I noticed recently that there is a big parallel here between Boehme and Seth. In Jane Robert’s writings, aggression is the key by which love and creativity are activated. Aggression is not understood as violence, but as will and passion. There is no artificial division between Seth’s aggression and love, and they are intimately related, just like in Jakob Boehme. Here’s some quotes on “aggression” from Sth.

Man has highly charged contradictory attitudes about aggression, and his beliefs about it cause many of his mass and private problems.

“In your society and to some extent in others, the natural communication of aggression has broken down. You confuse violence with aggression and do not understand aggression’s creative activity or its purpose as a method of communication to prevent violence.

You deliberately make great effort, in fact, to restrain the communicative elements of aggression while ignoring its many positive values, until its natural power becomes dammed up, finally exploding into violence. Violence is a distortion of aggression.”

“Aggressiveness leads to action, to creativity and to life. It does not lead to destruction, violence or annihilation.”

“You think of flowers in terms of gentleness, beauty and “goodness,”and yet every time a new bud opens there is a great thrust of joyful aggressionthat is hardly passive, and a daring and courage that reaches actively outward.Without aggression our body would be denied its growth, the cells within itcaught in inertia. Aggressiveness is at the base of the magnificent bursting of creativity.”

Natural aggression provides the charge for all creativity. Now reading this, many readers will be taken back, for they believe that love is the impetus, and that love is opposed to aggression. There is no such artificial division.  Natural aggression is the creative loving thrust forward, the way in which love is activated, the fuel through whose agency love propels itself. (With emphasis:) Aggression in the most basic terms has nothing to do with physical violence as you think of it, but with the force through which love is perpetuated and creatively renewed.” (emphasis not mine)

-Seth. H/T GestaltReality

Monads, Planes, and Levels of Understanding


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Levels of Understanding

Understanding that the planes exist helps us better understand Leibniz’ monads. To appreciate this claim, let’s back out and consider a broader perspective.  Frank Visser, founder of the Integral World website, gives us a very useful categorization about the views of human nature.  He breaks these down into how many levels are present in the intellectual scheme.

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Enlightenment Candy

Cicero Denounces Catiline by Cesare Maccari

Cicero Denounces Catiline by Cesare Maccari

I would like to accept that we create our reality with our minds by selecting it from infinite possibility. Like many people who hold this aspiration, I fall short of this ideal most of the time. On one hand it’s an extremely promising and liberating concept. Who wouldn’t want to create reality with their thought? On the other hand, much of what I see in New Age/Alternative spirituality relating to this concept really disturbs me. There are a whole slew of authors taking the concepts of mystics throughout the ages and repackaging them as a kind of spiritual psychotherapy. They preach about the power of thought, and the power of love above all.

I’ve been asking myself why the way these concepts are presented for mass consumption bothers me so much. It’s not that I really disagree with either of those points. Yes, I say, thought is powerful. Yes love conquers all, but…something doesn’t sit quite right. Seeing things like this make my stomach turn even if I don’t “in theory” disagree with many of the principles. Something feelings wrong, something is missing.

“Admire the diamond that can bear the hits of a hammer” -Kabir

Most “New Agey” Love and Light material being produced right now are the empty calories of spiritual well being. Their material tastes good, but its not substantial, and it will give you a stomach (soul?) ache if you consume too much. I am of the conviction most of the dialogue about love, the present moment, and oneness going on right now doesn’t go deep enough. From what I’ve seen, many of the modern authors that write about spirituality are spiritual in the same way that a college student who studies abroad in Spain for a semester is cultured. Am I qualified to recognize this? Well, it takes one to know one.

“I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Buddha once referred to someone who quotes spiritual teachings without experiencing them first hand as “herdsman of other people’s cattle.” The prophet Mohammed was even more eloquent, calling such a person an “ass carrying scrolls.” Whenever I see one of the big names in the enlightenment market, I almost always see a list of influences that invariably looks like this. At one point in my life, I could have produced a list of similar influences. Come to think of it, there’s one just to the left of this post. It’s easy to feel enlightened by proxy after having read a large amount of mystical mumbo jumbo.

Unfortunately, sharing the ideas is not the same as sharing the experience. I want to read new and original takes on the inner universes filled with the enthusiasm of discovery, but most of the works of pop spirituality strike me as purely derivative in their content and theology. It’s okay to reference the mystics of the past, but at some point you have to take the plunge yourself. We should treat the inner worlds for what they are: a frontier filled with exciting wonders that no one has seen before. We have some traveler’s accounts, but they are just the start. Entire worlds lay within, waiting for for the first intrepid soul to describe them. It seems to me that a lot of the modern teachers of pop spirituality treat these inner worlds as completely figured out with no room for creativity or exploration. The implication is that you follow their teachings to a simplistic preconceived “oneness” or “enlightenment” of some kind. Such views are static, dead ended, and make the wonder of the inner worlds seem almost boring in their sterility. In short, we need more this and less this.

Cover of Flatland

Cover of Flatland

There’s a novel that was published in 1884 called “flatland,” which is about a two dimensional being trying to relate his experience of three dimensions to other two dimensional beings. Of course his audience can’t understand him because there isn’t a shared vocabulary or background to allow for a communication. Mystics are in the same boat. They try to talk about hyper-dimensional reality in three-dimensional terms, and allows come up short. Ultimately, the only way to know what the worlds beyond are like is to visit them yourself. The map is not the territory.

When I read Eckhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson, or Wayne Dyer, I see the language of the mystics without the mysticism. I’m sure all three of them have had times of heightened consciousness in their lives. On a self reported basis, almost half of us have. However, in the case of the self-help gurus, they seem to have all the mystical aspects of reality down pat. It’s all fine and dandy with me to talk about the the present moment, “oneness,” and love, but that seems to be where it ends for them. They talk about the evils of the ego while having some of the biggest ones I’ve ever seen. The divine intoxication of people like Walt Whitman or Hafez is absent. I get the sense that their “teachings” are the writings of tourists to the mystical worlds pretending its residents.

What I want to see in my mysticism is depth of experience, a sublime vision that transcends all earthly quandaries and includes them at the same time. I want to read the account of a witness, not a preacher. Many new age authors are obsessed with spirituality as psychotherapy. At the end of the day, the spiritual self help gurus are quite earth bound. They peddle the ability to “fixi problems” in your daily life by using multicultural mysticism (interpreted by them). Seth tells us that a single contact with unbound happiness or framework 2 can completely reorient a life. If such is the case, it is far more fruitful to seek inquire within than following a list of prescriptions from the herdsmen of other’s cattle.

(If anyone would like to share some unique experiences with me, I would be delighted to read them)

The Passion of the Western Heart: The Ontological Value of the Individual

Psychedelic studies in Western medicine reappeared with the groundbreaking work of Dr. Rick Strassman of the University of New Mexico on the extremely potent psychedelic DMT. He was seeking the neurochemical basis of mystical experience, and pinpointed this naturally occurring molecule for his study. DMT was administered intravenously to several volunteers, who then reported back on their experiences. He would later describe his investigation as “pushing people off a cliff” to see what happened. The stories they brought back are nothing short of incredible, but surprisingly they also in general agreement with one another.

Angel Comforts Jesus by Carl Bloch

Angel Comforts Jesus by Carl Bloch

The volunteers almost all described free standing, super-real, and alien realities of incredible depth and complexity, populated by self transforming beings they could interact with. These beings were hyper-intelligent, and usually had messages for their bewildered human guests. As a Zen Buddhist practitioner, Strassman was stumped by these experiences. He was expecting tales more along the line of the Nirvikalpa, Nirvana, or Satori mysticism found in Eastern philosophy. Instead of dissolving into divine bliss however, his research subjects maintained coherence of mind and self throughout the unbelievable intensity of the trip

Ezekiel's Vision

Ezekiel’s Vision

Since Buddhist philosophy was unable to deal with these experiences, Strassman started to look elsewhere. He found extreme parallels between the DMT experience and the Prophets of the Hebrew tradition. The endogenous hallucinogen of the human body produced visions that had far more in common with the Western tradition than the Eastern one. The primacy of the individual was maintained, and the experiences had an overall personal quality. At the highest level of these intense mystical experiences, individuals were still there with all their characteristics and history.

In general, the Western religious traditions believe that individual is irreducibly valuable. At their best, Mazdaism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all upheld the primacy of the individual life and individual choices. The idea of a personal divinity interested in our affairs helped foster this belief, but it leaves us feeling somewhat separated from God. In contrast, Eastern philosophies generally speak of impersonal divinity in the form of Brahman or Sunyata that permeates everything. This means that accessing divinity is easy, but that divinity is not interested in you. Both sides have their dangers, and both sides leave the individual stranded in some way. In the West, the individual is left cut off and alone, while in the East the individual is lost all together.

In the brilliant book All the World an Icon, Tom Cheetham states that we are lost without an intermediary world between us physical beings and the absolute. If this “middle” world is missing, God either becomes too close and crushes individuality and creativity (interestingly, this danger exists in both Western fundamentalism and Eastern enlightenment), or God becomes too far away so that he doesn’t exist at all (as in the materialist model). Both of these lead to the “single vision” which crushes the personal. The absolute needs a human face. To preserve both unity and diversity without falling prey to the “single vision”, we need a hiercarchcal cosmcos with intermediaries. We need angels.


According to Corbin and Cheetham, angels are not “people with wings” but the idealized or imaginal version of ourselves. They are our individual connection to the divine, and they are the way the divine shows its face to each of us. In this way, we are connect to the divine without it smothering us. Paradoxically, the angel is both our origin and our goal. It sends us into the physical world, and leads us through it until we return to it. Since an angel is an imaginal counterpart, it cannot completely incarnate into the physical world. The greater part of it must remain “behind” so to speak in its native realm. It lends us assistance at all times, but it cannot veto our actions. It is not a tyrant. We are a part of our angel, not a slave to it.

Angels gives personal face to the divine journey. Just as we are the heroes of our outer lives, the angel is the hero of our inner lives. The outer and inner selves each play a part in the other’s story. This story never ends. To complete an identity is to kill it, since identity is born and survives on new experience and fulfillment. My angel and I will never cease recreating each other. What this means in another interpretation is that I am constantly recreating myself at all levels of experience. T.S. Elliot expressed this sentiment in his poem “the four quadrants:”

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

There is a infinite eternal divine drama going on, and this drama needs characters. Each of us play a role in a story that never ends. We are always chasing our ideal selves, but we never catch them. This is good news though, since its the journey that’s important. By attempting to meet our ideal, we add to it. Our Angel creates us so we chase it. When we catch it though, the angel is already something else. It has grown over the course of our pursuit. There is no end to this game. Even our angels have angels. At the highest reaches of Persian Sufi thought, it is said that even God has an angel.

As we live through thousands of dreams in our present life, so is our present life only one of many thousands of such lives which we enter from the other more real life and then return after death. Our life is but one of the dreams of that more real life, and so it is endlessly, until the very last one, the very real the life of God. -Leo Tolstoy

God is the only thing that truly exists, but within God are infinite versions of Him – us. To lose a single particle of individuality is to lose a unique and cherished aspect of God. We are on the same journey that God is; we are chasing the horizon. As physical beings, we think it terms of time, beginnings and endings, but God is not bound by any such rules. He is on an eternal adventure with infinite subplots that form all of our lives

There is no returning to God. You can’t return to what you never left. We are ourselves, and we are the All at the same time. In the highest worlds, there is no contradiction. Individuals are valuable because they are utterly unique and irreplaceable versions of God. Our experiences add to God, just as God adds to our experience. We are playing an infinite game. The point is to keep playing, and none of the players will lose or be lost.

A Course in Condescension

Moving this review from an old blog of mine to here. I personally think ACIM is a regressive spirituality doing more harm than good. Any insight it has can be easily found in more sublime/less pompous sources.

Review of A Course in Miracles by “Jesus” (notes by Helen Schucman)

Here is folks, the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything™ delivered from New Age Jesus himself. It’s required reading for those who don’t want to be a mindless ego for eternity (but you should only accept it if you heart tells you to). It looks like a bible, and it’s quoted like one too. It’s A Course in Miracles, a channeled work which was “scribed” (channeled) over the course of several years in the sixties and seventies by Helen Schucman, a research psychologist. It is comprised of several hundred pages of a metaphysical screed, 365 exercises for chanting repeating to oneself (one for every day of the year), and a few odds and ends for good measure.

If you put stereotypical mysticism, condescension, and Christian theology together in the mind of a disturbed psychologist and boiled them for ten years, it might look something like this. A Course in Miracles (ACIM henceforth) claims that the physical universe is an illusory reality caused by the Son of God’s mad idea of separateness from the Cosmic Love Pit™…I mean oneness of God. This crazy idea created the ego, or the belief in a separate self that is maintained by our sense of guilt for having separated from God. However, we actually never separated, we just think we did, and the only way out of the separation that never happened is to love and forgive the world we find ourselves in. That we’re not in. Since this world is said to be a meaningless illusion created by our own thoughts, to forgive it is to forgive ourselves and therefore rejoin God, who is absolute oneness. That’s the best summary I can make of it. If you want more redundancy than that, try reading it yourself.

This book has become something of rallying point for new spirituality in the world. Many well known new age gurus (Eckhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson) have cited it as inspiration, or their “spiritual path.” It has also sold millions of copies worldwide in several languages. I won’t deny that there is some material of value in this tome, but I am extremely skeptical of the notion that this book is the complete enlightenment system its adherents claim it is. I will examine its thought system in terms of my understanding. I can’t do any less, and I can hardly do more.

ACIM stresses love and forgiveness above all else. It even says that the only emotions we can actually feel are love and fear. Love is of God and fear is of the ego. The love of God is emphasized as being ever present and all-encompassing, we are just blinded to its reality by the ego. True reality is considered unchangeable, perfect, loving oneness, and false reality is division, fear, and decay created entirely by our guilty thoughts. Psychologically speaking, I can see where this kind of belief structure would be a large improvement for an individual troubled by both the philosophical materialism and fundamentalist religion pervasive in our society. If something is not love, it doesn’t exist. Period. It’s a great way to wash your hands of the world, if that sort of thing appeals to you. However, what is at stake here is the meaning of spirituality itself. Does spirituality entail a ascetic denial of individuality and the material world? ACIM sure thinks so, saying “Dear God, I surrender my belief in individuality to You” (Lesson 224) and “If this were the real world, God would be cruel” (

The static reality of oneness and love is contrasted from the false reality of division and fear over and over. ACIM characterizes itself as a “purely nondualistic thought system,” where the goal is complete undifferentiated oneness. The truly “non-dual” spiritualities of the world actually regard this idea as a pratfall because even though ultimate reality is not really a multiplicity, it is not really a unity either. Instead, it is something bigger than each with attributes of both. In the final analysis, nirvana and samsara are said to be one. ACIM has zero respect for the mystical intuition that existence is big enough to contain contradictions seamlessly. For a book the eschews division, it harps constantly about the division between ego reality (which doesn’t actually exist) and God reality.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the experience of a changeable world can never come out of a truly changeless reality. ACIM answers this perfectly valid criticism by saying that to ask such a question is to assume the changeable world exists (which it doesn’t), so it’s not worth asking. The demand on the part of this book to suspend reasoning when reason finds a flaw in its thought system should set off some red flags (a book that claims to be written by Jesus should set off a few more, by the way). This religious two step is typical of schools of thought that posit the existence of the devil, even if it’s not called that. ACIM’s devil is the ego, which is only a slightly more enlightened version than the one traditional Christianity believes in. Any criticism of its tenets can be deflected on to the big bad ego. It’s the same principle as “if you criticize the bible, you are corrupted by the devil.”

Certainly love is psychologically and spiritually healthy. Traditions the world over admit this. The Sufi poet Hafez couldn’t stop admitting it.  The idea the love leads to spiritual bliss and enlightenment is not at all unique to ACIM. If attaining God is as simple as blissful love (as ACIM suggests) then why the textbook and the “required course?” If it’s all as simple as love=nirvana, ACIM could have be one sentence long. “Love is the answer to every question.” Boom. Done.

The reason, I think, is that the people who follow ACIM want something else besides love. They want an authoritative voice (Jesus) to give them answers and tell them what to do and think. There is a need that ACIM fills, a need for a complete and total thought system to live life by. Many adherents have claimed that ACIM is such a thing for them. It has 365 exercises that an adherent is supposed to complete one at a time each day. I can’t imagine a more structured thought system. Read the book, repeat the exercises to yourself, and forgive. It’s the autobahn to enlightenment. No pesky self reliance required.

The grand irony of all schools of thought that disparage individuality or the ego, is that the individual self must be the agent that elects to dissolve itself. The desire to transcend the ego can only be an attribute of the ego. If no capacity for decision making exists on the part of the individual self, then a spiritual practice of any kind is pointless (pretty zen though). All spiritualities, especially ones that deny the self, must appeal to the self (you! you there! stop thinking you’re a self and you will reach enlightenment). ACIM asks its followers to give up attachment to “specialness,” but from what I have seen of them, they tend to view themselves as the elect in a classic Protestant fashion. They’ll get to heaven faster because they have an enlightened textbook that does the heavy lifting for them. I’ve heard an adherent I know personally claim that this “path” is “faster.”

For a book that claims that this flawed world was created when the Son of God “Remembered not to laugh” [T-27.VIII.6:2-3], it bills itself as Serious Business throughout. There is nary a joke in several hundred pages of bible-leaf paper. It also lacks a sense of exaltation, of awe. The tone bounces back and forth between run-of-the-mill mystical statements and condescension towards the reader and the physical world. Maybe the Son of God forgot to laugh because he picked up a copy of ACIM.

This book has many many inroads in the New Agey community. The president of the Institute of Noetic Science (IONS) has called it “perhaps the most important writing in the English language since the Bible” (that comparison should tell you something). As for me, I think its popularity is explained by the fact that there exist in the world millions of people torn between nominal Christianity (the book uses reinterpreted Christian phrases frequently to describe its philosophy), and the existential void of materialism. These are the type of people that want to believe in a loving God, but can’t reconcile that belief with all the suffering and death in the world (Williamson, one its primary teachers, has noted this in her personal history I believe). They also have some a draw towards Eastern/New Agey topics. Then ACIM comes along and puts it all together for them with prepackaged answers: God didn’t do make suffering, none of this is happening, love your way back to oneness. Suddenly, a loving God can be reconciled with suffering and evil; suffering and evil don’t exist! The catch is that our personalities and everything we have known ourselves by and through don’t exist either.

I am something of an amateur scholar in mystical topics. I am biased, but hopefully not more than anybody else. The idea that there is a crack in God you can fall though and experience a fundamentally meaningless reality is far more scandalous to me than the reality of suffering. For all ACIM’s whining about the world not existing, its stated goal is to get you out of the world. There may be suffering here, but I believe (as Carl Jung did) that is far more important for your spirituality to feel that your life here has inherent meaning. That feeling might be actually the most important thing there is, but the idea that it can exist when you think that the only point to your life is to escape it is completely absurd.

Aldous Huxley said that the fundamental mystical conviction is that everything is All Right, even when its not. It’s the conviction that inspired the line “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” from Job 13:15. It means that in spite of suffering and death there is some mystery that breathes meaning into our sometimes absurd and painful lives. This statement sounds ridiculous to a person beset by worldly problems, but in those times that William James called “melting moods,” we can see that it’s true. A moment of clarity comes upon us, and we see that all our life, even the bad stuff, is extremely meaningful and interesting. These “moods” go against all waking logic, but when the “higher” thought shines through, they are self evident.

For all ACIM’s pontificating about love, oneness, and true reality, it is really a child of the world it loathes. It is obsessed with fear, the ego, and the physical reality whose existence it rejects, talking about them almost as much as it talks about love (and that’s saying something). While disparaging logic, it uses it to argue that the world you experience is a horrible mistake. You will not find the serene mysticism which states that God is “beyond all attributes” in this work. Instead, you will get an authoritarian voice that preaches against division while employing it at every moment, repeating itself with the frequency of a jackhammer.

When I criticize ACIM, the responses I often get are either that “I feel that it’s ture” or “it’s open to interpretation.” I won’t deny that this book helps some people for the reasons listed above, but I don’t think that inspiration proves the complete truth of a book. People are inspired by all sorts of texts (The bible for example). When positive feelings are evoked by a certain statement or idea, what it speaks to instead is the value of inner feelings. If you can feel truth, then toss al your books and follow your intuition. Your intuition was always the valuable part anyway. If ACIM can be interpreted in such a way to counter my criticisms, then I would also ask why people bother with it. If a book can be interpreted in so many different ways by different people, then again the truth ultimately lies with the individual and not the text.

I criticize this book primarily because I think that the most important thing in any individual’s life is the conviction that somehow, someway in spite of Everything that they matter, that what they do matters. Not just in a relative sense, but in a cosmic one. Any philosophy that diminishes or contradicts that feeling is anathema, and ACIM is clearly one of them. The supreme mystical sense that vetoes all others and passes all “art and argument of the earth” (as Whitman would say) is that of the cosmic tenderness. It’s the feeling that you can trust the universe no matter what. And you can’t trust the universe while distrusting yourself or your experience at the same time. It’s a zero sum game.

I could be a mindless ego afraid of falling into the Cosmic Love Pit, but if love means giving up everything I have ever known myself by, then it’s pretty worthless in my book. If an ascetic denial of the sensual world is spiritual, then I don’t want to spiritual. I’ll take my chances with this crazy world of ours and place all my money on my conviction that there is more going on here then atoms bouncing around, a divine test splinting the sheep and goats, or being run over by the wheel of samsara. I’ll close out with a couple quotes

“Where would God’s wholeness be if he could not be wholly other?” -Carl Jung

What is called good is perfect, and what is called bad is just as perfect” -Walt Whitman

Campbell: And the attitude is not to withdraw from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but to realize that this horror is simply the foreground of wonder and to come back and participate in it. “All life is sorrowful” is the first Buddhist saying, and it is. It wouldn’t be life if there were not temporarily involved which is sorrow. Loss, loss, loss.
Moyers: That’s a pessimistic note.
Campbell: Well, you have to say yes to it, you have to say it’s great this way. It’s the way God intended it.” -From The Power of Myth

Rating: 1.5 loons of 4. If you want to live in non-dual North Korea, this one’s for you.