Mendo Island Journal — Timely. Useful. Sometimes Cranky.

Don Sanderson: Freedom

In Around Mendo Island on February 25, 2011 at 8:12 pm


Since modern society ascribes no “reality” to inner experience, transcendent values have no power and materialist values prevail. Thus it seems reasonable for society to be characterized by economic rationalization of an ever-increasing fraction of social behavior and organization. Industrialization of the production of goods and services gradually extends to more and more of human activities; increasingly they become included in the economy. One result is monetization and commercialization (all things coming to be measurable by and purchasable in units of currency). The economic rationalization of knowledge leads to the “knowledge industry”; to science justified by the technologies it produces, and to education justified by the jobs it prepares for. Economic rationality become predominant in social political decision-making, even when the decisions it leads to are unwise by other standards (such as the wellbeing of future generations). Technological solutions are attempted for problems that are basically socio-political in nature. The worth of persons (to say nothing on non-human fellow creatures on Earth) is assessed by their value in the economy. Humankind’s relationship to the Earth is essentially an exploitive one. – Willis Harmon, “Global Mind Change: The Promise of the 21st Century”

We have watched and cheered as Egyptian youths threw out their repressive government and celebrated the possibility of freedom. They had found themselves without jobs, with failing schools, with rotten medical care, and without opportunities for a better future while a wealthy few milked the economy and government. Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Iraq, Iran? It is fascinating that those supposedly backward Moslems are leading the way. Where next? England? Greece? Spain? Israel? the US? Or, will they all fizzle and only another reappearance of the same gang take charge in each case simply because of economic, monetary realities that dominate a predominantly urban life? If we survey history, we find meager successful examples. I conclude there is a way out of this quandary, as does Willis Harmon, which I discuss in due course after establishing a basis.

As this is happening, the wealthy few are also demanding more freedom; freedom from taxes, freedom from regulations. Yet, as each of us are insisting on freedom for ourselves, we’re stomping our feet that those “others” be reined in with rules, laws, and regulations apparently without end. We build huge walls around us as we are able to protect ourselves from those “others” as well as walls around them, prison walls, to keep “them” away. But, these walls not only protect us from “them”, but imprison us as well. Our prisons aren’t populated by “them”, but by us. Alas for us, these walls don’t restrain the wealthy and powerful well at all because, sigh, almost all of us are for sale – we’re given little choice. We’ll overlook almost anything, if it doesn’t effect our comfort too much or if it relieves our insecurity fears in other directions.

These walls aren’t only composed of laws and prisons. They include comfortable customs, habits, and unquestioned presumptions and beliefs that we acquire beginning as babes and for which we constantly encounter reinforcement from our society. One could say with some validity that we, or nearly all of us rich and poor, behave as robots almost all the time. How might increasing political or financial freedom change that?

Ten millennia ago or so, we humans discovered intensive grain agriculture, which provided enough additional energy to fuel civil-city-ization, the freedom necessary to power the creation of all those wonderful written languages that trap memories, metal and money, mathematics and accounting and all that resulting high culture and those wonderful artistic creations of every variety. It also provided the world with an ever increasing human population, mostly living in subservience and destitute, exhaustion of arable soils and desertification, destruction of forests, wars and empires, and so on.

Beginning only a while ago, energy derived from fossil fuels have powered the growth of technologies that we feel we can’t now do without. For at least a few of us in the Western world and increasingly more around the world, this has provided us with the freedom to move around the world at will, to pursue education for lengthy periods, to purchase goods manufactured by elaborate processes far away, and to communicate with others anywhere and everywhere almost instantly. It has also given some of us freedom from hunger and lack of shelter, and medical care. But at what immense costs: pollution of the world with an unending number of chemicals, increasing extinctions of large numbers of plants and animals, environmental destruction and pending exhaustion of non-renewable resources on every side, horrendous wars and subjugation of ever larger populations to the wills of the wealthy and powerful few, and global warming – the last of which may well trump everything.

While those on polar shores were experiencing record high temperatures a few of weeks ago, from the Great Planes to the Eastern shore and south to the Gulf, Eastern North America was experiencing record lows and snowfalls. Not long after this same region was registering record highs. Meanwhile, eastern Australia, Madagascar and southeast Africa, and Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador are hosting record rainfalls and floods and a series of tropical storms, some of record sizes. When vast amounts of energy are poured into a pot, chaotic turbulence results. We have sown the wind and are reaping the whirlwind.

Of course, conservatives are broadcasting that none of this is  “sound science”, as if economics is. If some information confounds the search for profits, it must be denied until no choices remain. How can it not be clear that we humans are the infective agents of a plague that is sickening this beautiful precious natural Earth our home perhaps unto death? It seems we humans only notice changes that happen rapidly. As has been pointed out, if the LA freeway congestion had reached present levels within the first year of the network opening, a national crisis would have been sounded. Instead, people adapted as it slowly changed. The usual metaphor is that of slowly heating the water in which a frog is resting; though the frog can escape at any time, it blithely remains until it dies. Perhaps, the general public has decided this is only “environs” and lefties crying wolf and have adapted to it – which they might as well, since they now have nearly no alternatives.

We’re like children turned loose with destructing toys. One toy in particular is indictable: our brains. Is humanity, our situation, only an accident of fate, just another natural catastrophe like an earthquake or hurricane? It can scientifically be so argued that we are simply the expectable result of natural law, that we have no freedom of choice. As we look around, there appears to be lots of evidence for this. Over the ages a collection of sages, including the Buddha and Jesus, have argued that this is flawed, that each of us is in essence far more, infinitely more… that we each have a purpose for being here; but, we have forgotten in our enthusiasm for civilization’s playthings and wander around with no other aim than getting more and more, always with the fear that we won’t have enough. To paraphrase Jesus, “Don’t you know you are gods, that if you have the confidence of a mustard seed, you can move mountains?” Where, then, is fear?

Mainstream scientists assert without question that this is incredible nonsense. They base their position on the material nature of the universe as it may be observed by their five senses, specifically the sense of sight amplified by clever instruments, and the certainties of physical laws. With powerful enough computers and exacting instruments, the details of any event can, they believe, be predicted and imitated in perfect detail. Since the world is admittedly exceedingly complex and such computers and instruments remain hallucinations, predictions must still be statistically estimated, which doesn’t impact their supposed certainties. True, unquestionable natural laws remain to be nailed down, but they are getting close they assert. For instance, cognitive neuroscientists are hard on the trail of understanding how our nervous systems operate, in tracking our very thoughts and feelings. We are in effect automatons, we can’t be responsible for ourselves, we have no freewill – or so they deduce. But, then, almost no scientist takes the next step: if this is true, then their very scientific theories are simply the predictable outcomes of their robotic natural programming as determined by evolution, and objectivity is a fable. In fact, it is increasingly recognized that the world we perceive is largely a product of our imagination as colored by memories and preconceptions. Beings following other evolutionary pathways and with dissimilar senses could conceivably generate quite different theories of reality. How could they know?

In fact, daring scientists in several areas are studying many so-called anomalous events that don’t fit the world as seen by mainstream scientists – and we ourselves. These include quantum physicists, complexity theorists, and those exploring the so-called paranormal, which appears to be quite normal but doesn’t fit mainstream predilections. There are copious scientifically solid data and abundant reasons for concluding that reality is quite unlike that assumed by mainstream science – and we ourselves – which won’t be considered by mainstream science because they  utterly disbelieve the conclusions. Awareness that our grasp of reality is radically uncertain is emerging. Which is not to say that the scientific method may not be useful, which it is, but it must be employed without being constrained by prior beliefs. It appears that once we begin looking, the tracks of the spirit in the guise of pure consciousness are everywhere, most notably in creative activities. The world, if fact, is quite magic and we do, indeed, have the capabilities and freewill to engage in such actions to an amazing extent. Jesus wasn’t speaking figuratively, as he demonstrated with his miracles. Here is the revolution that will unwind the screwy modernist culture we’ve been stuck into.

If you’re thinking this guy is way out there, maybe so. But, I have a Ph.D. in mathematics, was a tenured professor of mathematics, management science, and computer science, and a Silicon Valley software engineer… have a long time love with science, and will match my scientific literacy with anyone. I’ve also had plentiful indications from childhood that there is so much more to the equation. I’m also decidedly not religious. I have concluded that we’re not going to get out of this by depending upon our rational minds. There is another way of knowing that is far, far more powerful. You’ve had hints when you knew where a lost item could be found, what was going to happen in the near future, and what someone else was thinking and in many other situations where you knew what you couldn’t rationally have known. Creative individuals have told many stories about how their creations seemed to magically happen as healers have similarly reported about their successes. Wordy explanations fail.

One myth, in various guises, has been prevalent in the Eastern and Western worlds for millennia, likely for tens of millennia, the idea that somehow the essence of each of us is of godly origin, but has somehow become entrapped in the physical world. Through the practice of various rituals and carefully prescribed actions, we have been told that we can escape. For instance, in Christian thinking, humanity was trapped by the fall and escape is possible only by performing certain sacraments and behaving in approved ways. Religious hierarchies have always thrived on these approaches, assuring that every step is done correctly because otherwise, they proclaim, they won’t work. (Rituals can be useful adjuncts to spiritual practices by providing symbolic reminders, but there is little evidence they work as magical formulae.) From these points of view, the natural Earth is of little value if not actually evil and its destruction of little interest.

There is an alternate way of viewing our situation and ways of dealing with it on a personal basis that don’t fit well within dogmatic constraints. The philosopher J. Krishnamurti once said, “The crisis is not out there in the world; it is in our own consciousness,” the admission of which is where this approach starts. Some have called this latter the perennial philosophy, “perennial” since it has been taught in various guises all over the world for as long as can be traced and “philosophy” in the original sense as love of wisdom, not as an academic discipline but as a practical experiential/empirical approach. An aspect of this magic is that those who follow this path find harmlessness and compassion toward other beings are natural consequences; ethical and responsible behavior simply happen without coercion. Many have suffered grisly tortures and deaths over the centuries as a result of daring to speak and write about this, since it is about freedom and endangers the enforced morality industry, but here goes.

Very roughly – it’s my tale, barely a toe in the water,  and I won’t claim it exactly matches any other’s since, rule 1, nothing is simple – a fragment of one’s spiritual essence, which I shall with great originality call a soul, is sent to the Earth for instruction. But, the Earth isn’t an easily accessible place for naked souls. So, each soul is fitted with a diving suit, so to speak, before descending. The suit is considered to have three parts. The first is one’s physical body together with some energetic plumbing – think of chi, acupuncture, and chakras – to keep it working. The second is one’s emotional body, an energetic affair that is the source of one’s feelings and beliefs including that one is a separate person all alone. The third is the little mind – which is ‘little’ because the spirit has a much larger one – which is the origin of most thoughts, ideas, and concepts. The physical brain does all the wordy talking; however, if one is very still, it may be noticed that thoughts arise as feelings before they are converted to words – intuitions are often such thought seeds. The second two bodies are composed of energy, which some claim to see traces of as auras. In fact, as Einstein noted with his E = mc2, even the physical body is energy and most energy, such as radio waves, we can’t detect with our physical senses. Nonetheless, it is simple to spot traces of these other bodies in our behaviors.

As is true with our recent Earthly technologies, this diving suit technology is a little too sophisticated for almost all of our naïve souls. Most of us simply get snowed, forget who we are, and the machines start veering out of control. They become confused, forget about the soul, and think they are the real thing, charged in true evolutionary style with protecting and enlarging their physical niches. Here is the root of our difficulties. Thus, we are overwhelmed by an uncontrollable maelstrom of thoughts and emotions and driven by bodily appetites. This does not portend that this amazing vehicle isn’t vital for our exploration of the Earth, but that we must learn to skillfully manage it for our greater purposes. The perennial philosophy considers practical ways to wake up souls to whom they really are and get them back in the driver’s seat.

In non-physical realms, spiritual entities have tremendous abilities to manifest whatever they desire, which could conceivably lead to great conflicts. Think all those psychic abilities. However, there love is the driving energy and souls recognize they are inseparable from each other in essence. So peace rules. An awakened soul here on Earth can be recognized by its love-centered behavior while being amazingly empowered. It is imperative, it has often been said, to begin with love and psychic abilities will follow; if the latter are pursued first, the soul can lose its way in such attachments devoid of wisdom.

Continuing with the roughness, we souls come to the Earth by choice in order to learn. Since we have nothing to push against in other realms, here is where we acquire spiritual muscles. If you don’t achieve enlightenment here, you won’t enjoy it after you die. This marvelously beautiful Earth is composed pf numerous beings, souls camouflaged in the most wonderful diving suits, including those of other animals, plants, bacteria, stones, moving wind and water, mountains, planets, stars, each of the trillions of cells in our bodies, and all sorts of unnoticed others. These beings have had wide ranges of differing experiences; we would seldom meet them in other realms because individual spirits tend to stick with those like themselves. Only here, and on a few other rare planets in the physical universe, is it possible for us to personally encounter and get to know and learn from these other souls and engage jointly in the great creative dance. It is an experience to be treasured and is much sought. Instead, most of we humans here are running around trashing the Earth and killing our fellow beings. Given the incredible spiritual value of the natural Earth, it is a wonder this is tolerated on high. Indeed, those of us who travel to other spiritual realms report a radical correction appears to be in the offing and a great gathering of spirits from this neighborhood of the universe is in the stands watching. Still, in those realms time has little meaning and futures are only probable, so don’t hold your breath.

You may think this is all a child’s fairy story, which is of course the way I’ve written it and this won’t be the first such. It is said that “Lord of the Rings” was composed as a allegory of much the same underlying circumstances. Still, a significant number of us around the world are working diligently to awaken and enough have made sufficient progress that some versions of the perennial philosophy are increasingly validated. I won’t go into how it is one awakens – there are many options among which meditation is paramount. The mark of a valid teacher and teaching is if love plays the preeminent role. When the Dalai Lama was asked to explain his religion, he replied that it was simply love. Be warned: too many are attempting to milk this for personal gain. Understand, the perennial philosophy is certainly not about beliefs, it is not a religion, but a practical agnostic approach to remembering a greater life and its purpose. Selfishness doesn’t cut it – as the Buddha and Jesus taught and many today are teaching, true gain for one is gain for all beings.

Transition, exploring the possibilities for human life in a world after modern civilization has crashed, is now a widely discussed topic. It surely will crash or maybe only slowly crumble over several decades, because not only oil but many other non-renewable resources are becoming rarer and more expensive. Climate change appears to be speeding events. The way ahead will be incredibly difficult for those who are unprepared. Most simply won’t make it. Individual success will require that a person have the maximum freedom to innovate. Any cultural restraints, any habits, any presumptions hamstring creativity and may close the door to a human future here. All assumptions must be questioned and put to the test. Still, you worry that the lack of cultural structure would lead to anarchic chaos. It may well be anarchist, but hardly chaotic. There are precedents.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Russian officer Peter Kropotkin was assigned to Siberia. At that time, before the gulags, Russian dissidents were dumped in Siberia with only what they could carry. No government oversight existed. As Kropotkin discovered and wrote in a widely read book, these people formed villages and prospered without the need of a government or the trappings of civilization. Kropotkin was disenchanted with Russian rule and saw this as a much better alternative. As a result, he became an anarchist and promoted his observations widely. Count Leo Tolstoy pointed the book out to Mohandas Gandhi, who carried this approach to India. These ideas were seminal in the formation of the anarchist Spanish Republic in the nineteen thirties before the politically hierarchical world put a torch to it in fear that it would succeed. Kropotkin coined the phrase “liberty, equality, and solidarity”, which became the motto of the anarchist movement and I suggest should be for our future. Community, lovingly working voluntarily and cooperatively with others, is obviously seminal if only because it magnifies the power of innovation. Since lovingly working voluntarily and cooperatively with others are not our normal predilections, anarchists, not surprisingly, often regard spiritual values as vital to community success. Here, then, are the parameters of true freedom.

If those individuals who form these communities are also awakened, we will have the makings of a new healed Earth. As noted, souls in their native non-physical realms are incredibly powerful and knowing. If awakened souls are capable of bringing these psychic skills to the Earth fueled by Pure Unconditional Love – then, watch out. Here is the fulfillment of the human potential movement dream. There is literally nothing awakened humans can’t accomplish. The opportunity, the free choice, and, I assert, the responsibility is yours and mine. Much depends up us.

I’ve not promised any panaceas and only expect harshness for most or all of us in coming days. I shall end with yet more glimmers of the perennial philosophy that, it is hoped, will provide you with justifications for not giving up. As I note over and over, it is unimaginably complex, quite indescribable with words and all we can speak of are crude metaphors that miss the depth. Ludwig Wittgenstein counseled that that of which we cannot speak, we must remain silent. Still, here goes. Many have told us about Spirit, the One, God, the Dao, the Mystery, Nous or the Knower, or simply That as did the ancient Hindus. As Lao Tzu and others in the east and mystics such as Plotinus, Meister Eckhart, and ibn ‘Arabi in the west have pointed out, That is not a thing to be objectively observed and conceptually captured; It is Being beyond compare, That simply Is as the ancient Hebrews recorded it. The Hindus have a phrase that is key for our awakening: tat tvam asi, Thou art That. Another has written that you are That which manifests you. But, this is not usually evident from our points of view obscured by those diving suits with their ego personalities.

Indeed, Becoming would be a more appropriate name for That, since without creativity there isn’t much of interest there. A metaphor: None have any idea what energy may be as a substance. Energy is only recognized as present by the work it does. Thus, when water boils, the wind blows, birds fly, and trees bud out in the spring, energy is present. In fact, given Einstein’s magic equation, all is energy. It simply is. Better, since the cosmos is constantly changing, it is constantly becoming. It seems we have another name for That, Energy. We can then say that like Energy, That is no thing, nothing, empty of thing-ness; it is also full of every thing – as Lao Tzu noted, this is the great mystery. An important Buddhist practice is to meditate on the Emptiness. Another fitting designator is the Presence, which may be appropriate for Christian mediation, Rumi and other Sufis knew it as the Beloved, which is fine.

While That is not a graspable substance, it does have some recognizable features. It loves to create and experience its creations. This love is impetus for the creativity. A recurrent myth or archetype has personified the creation process. She Hindus talk of Siva, the dancing god, and his consort Shakti. Siva represents the life force and Shakti the creative principle. In China, the myth takes the form of Yang and Yin, in the classic Greek mysteries as Dionysius and Persephone/Demeter, for the Hebrews as Elohim (usually translated as the Lord, though it is plural) and the Shekhinah, and for Christian mystics as Christ and the Holy Spirit (the noun ‘spirit’ in its Greek and Latin versions is female). The underlying motif of this myth is that creativity results as the conjunction of energy and intention. If contemplating a version of this myth helps, by all means use it as a touchstone and be aware of the interplay in your lives.

I personally like to view the creativity going on around me as movements of the great, incredibly beautiful ballet: the birds flying, the plants growing and blooming, the streams flowing, the sun and stars shining as they move through the heavens, the wind blowing and rain falling, and the amazingly complex motions and operations of our bodies. Beauty is a central attribute of the dance as is love. Every moment is exceedingly wondrous. As the Buddha pointed out, continual change is the rule, the past melts away, and when you and I realize there is no-thing to hang onto, our sufferings are seen to be charades. On point, Jesus advised us to consider the lilies of the fields, who don’t spend time worrying and fearing, and become as little children. Truthfully, it is extremely difficult for most of us to step off quietly for a moment and observe and take part in the dance. It seems to me very difficult to recognize the dance in a busy urban setting. The wilds are invaluable, though a garden will serve, especially if you are the gardener. If/when you realize you are inseparable from the dance, that you are in essence the dance and the dancer, you’re home free. You remember this deep inside, don’t you? I surely haven’t told you anything new?

We human spirits went on a creative splurge and have suddenly found ourselves in a cul-de-sac. So, we learn, recognize where we made choices that led us into this trap, make other hopefully wiser ones, and move on. Nothing to cry over. We are luminous, energetic beings of creative knowing, fully equipped to consciously participate in the creative impulse of the universe and become fully self-realized, and have an eternity to freely participate in the dance.


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