Monday, September 28, 2015

How To Love

If we were to search for the "highest," most consistent cross-cultural ethical, philosophical and spiritual guideline for living, it would probably be "to love one another."Even aliens are telling us to do it or else.

It's easy to say, and it feels right, but how do we love one another in a world of lies, deceit, murder, abuse, torture, ignorance, and people who are simply exasperatingly irritating? How do we get from the words to the act without being false to our real feelings and just acting a part?

Actually, pretending to love each other is a lot better than killing each other, but we don't have to let that be our limit. We can learn to love each other to a far greater degree than we do. There is a way that works, that is simple, and that doesn't take a lot of effort. The trouble is, it usually isn't easy.

It's easy to love people who make us feel good. It's easy to love a smiling baby, children playing happily, or helpful adults. It can be very hard to love a screaming baby, destructive children, or arrogant adults. It might be nice to be able to step instantly into unconditional love, but it is more practical to think in terms of expanding our love from where it is now, maybe even by just a little bit at a time. Like the idea that a long journey begins with the first step, the road to loving one another can start with one instance of more tolerance, or one unrewarded act of kindness.

The experience of loving one another may be active or passive. Active loving is doing something for the benefit of someone else. There can be personal benefit in it, too, but for it to be called active loving the intent to benefit another must be the main reason for doing it. Many things we do out of habit or obligation could become acts of love if we would only think of who we are benefitting by doing them. Even paying bills or paying taxes could become acts if love (although that might require some effort). Inhaling could be an act of love if you do it with the thought of giving oxygen to your cells, and exhaling could be an act of love if you do it with the thought of feeding the plants of the world.

Passive loving starts with tolerance and slowly moves its way up to appreciation. The way to increase tolerance is to start eliminating some of your rules. Everyone has rules about right and wrong, good and bad, possible and impossible, etcetera and etcetera. When someone breaks one of our rules we tend to get upset and either nurse our anger, criticize the rule-breaker or commit violence against them as punishment. Sometimes all three. The rules that have this effect most often contain the words "should" or "shouldn't." I remember once getting all upset because someone in front of me drove right past a stop sign. My rule was that "you shouldn't drive past stop signs without stopping." It also happened to be a State law, but the evidence that my personal rule had been broken was that I got upset about it, even though there was no traffic and no danger. So I changed my rule to "If someone wants to take the consequences of breaking the law and they aren't endangering anyone else, that's their business." My new rule not only increased my tolerance for others, it helped reduce my stress, too. If I had wanted to leap from tolerance to appreciation, I could have admired the stop sign runner's daring (maybe the guy didn't even see the sign, but since I don't know that I can choose to think it was daring). Appreciation really takes off when we get into the habit of noticing more of the good things in people than the bad. This is without a doubt the most effective way to start, maintain, and repair a relationship.

There's a very funny thing about loving one another. It gets easier to do the more you love yourself, both actively and passively. In the commandment to "Love thy neighbor as thyself," it is assumed that you love yourself because otherwise it doesn't work. So perhaps the best way to practice loving one another is to start doing things with the thought of how they are benefitting you, to start changing your rules about your own behavior, and to start appreciating everything good about yourself. Then you'll know how to do it for others.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Rituals and Modern Society

A ritual is a well-defined sequence of words and actions designed to focus attention, establish significance, and achieve a beneficial result. 

Although some people think we have lost our sense of ritual, modern society makes use of many rituals to mark the beginning of significant events (baby showers, grand openings, ship launchings); the ending of life, or ways of life (funerals, bachelor parties, happy hours); the completion of important tasks or performances (graduation ceremonies, toasting successful negotiations, applause); the transition of one state or time period to another (birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, religious ceremonies like baptism/bar mitzvah/confirmation) and the making of connections (marriage ceremonies, church services, flirting).

There exist abundant rituals for every occasion - so why are more and more people in this modern age seeking out rituals different from what they have?

In order for a ritual to be fully effective it must fulfill four requirements:
1. It must be intellectually satisfying.
2. It must be emotionally satisfying.
3. It must have a strong beginning.
4. It must have a strong ending.

To be satisfying intellectually, every word and movement must be filled with meaning which is understood by the participants and the observers. Otherwise the event is just confusing and uninteresting. If you have to ask "Why are we (they) doing this?" the effect of the ritual is lost.

Emotional satisfaction comes from stimulating or pleasing the senses or the ego. Watching a well performed ritual is interesting, but unless you have an emotional bond with a participant (like the mother or father of a bride), just being an observer doesn't affect you much. It's like the difference between being at the Mardi Gras in New Orleans and watching it on television.

Falling somewhere between the above two points is the kind of satisfaction that comes from an event with a clearly defined beginning and ending. Part of the power of ritual derives from the fact that, in addition to relating to something significant, it is significant in itself. The more clearly a ritual is set off from all other events, the more impact it has on our psyche and our behavior.

Many of modern society's rituals have lost their satisfaction because their performance is not as effective as it used to be, and because new issues important to people are not being addressed by those traditionally looked to for meaningful rituals. The purpose of a ritual is to impress and influence people, but too many of society's standard rituals are being done for the sake of tradition or dogma or habit alone and those who are leading them are no longer impressed or influenced by them. So people are increasingly seeking out different rituals to meet their needs for significance and enjoyment. 

This is one reason why such large numbers of people are now interested in shamanism, which includes dance, song, touch, and connections with Nature, as well as joy, meaning and creativity in its rituals. 

As the people of the world continue to grow in love and confidence they will have more freedom to adapt ancient rituals for modern use, rejuvenate the dead ones of the present society, or create entirely new ones at will. This is exactly what is happening now, and it's a very good sign for the future.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Where Does A Wave Go?

I was watching a program on TV in which a scientist was using laser beams in a very clever way to bring a gaseous element down to absolute zero (-273 degrees Celsius). As a particle physicist he assumed he was working with tiny bits of matter and using the lasers to slow the bits down. As particles of matter slow down, according to this theory, they get colder and colder until they reach a point of no movement called absolute zero, the coldest it is possible to get. However, in the above experiment, when the particles reached absolute zero they were no longer there. The scientist theorized that his "trap" for holding the particles had a hole in it and they slipped out. But there is another possibility.

What if the scientist is not dealing with particles at all, but waves of energy? In that case, instead of particles mysteriously disappearing from a trap, perhaps the waves simply stopped waving. Where does a wave go when the wind stops? It doesn't go anywhere. It just ceases to be. Perhaps absolute zero is where the wind stops, where there is no movement, where matter no longer materializes.

In the esoteric Huna knowledge, experience comes from the interaction of Hu and Na, chaos and order. Where there is absolute chaos - continuously random movement - there is no organization that could produce a distinct experience. Where there is absolute order - no movement at all, and equivalent to absolute zero - there is no change, and therefore no experience. By this way of thinking, the basic requirement for experience is some kind and some degree of orderly change.

As humans we experience life primarily through sight, sound and touch. To see, hear and feel there has to be a particular kind of phenomenon existing at a particular range of frequencies that can be perceived by specially organized receivers. In other words, seeing, hearing and feeling require a nervous system that can process information from eyes, ears and skin. Of course, it's more involved than that, but those are the basics.

If we assume that all experience consists of organized waves of energy, then to perceive experience we need to be aware of waves. It follows, then, that to change experience we need to generate waves. Or, sometimes, to stop generating them.

A number of esoteric traditions speak of thoughts as forming waves. In Hawaiian there is a word, nalu, which means both "to form waves" and "to think deeply" or "to meditate." Out of this we get the idea that thoughts are like the wind that forms waves. If the winds are steady, like the trade winds, then you get steady, repetitive waves. If the thoughts are steady, like beliefs and habits, then you get steady, repetitive experience. If the thoughts are strong, like storms and high emotions, either positive or negative, then you get strong, impressive experience. If there are no thoughts of a particular kind, like an area of no wind, then the seas of life are calm and ready to be moved in a new direction.

The practical side of all of this is that it makes sense to assume that your thoughts affect your experience because, if you do assume that, you can change your life. Just as the physicist can produce physical effects by assuming the existence of particles, so you can produce life changes by assuming that thoughts generate waves. You are not bound by the winds of the past, not locked into any experience by what has gone before in this life or any other. Destiny is not fixed, any more than the weather is. When you think differently today than you did yesterday, when the winds begin to change, tomorrow's weather will not be the same.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Life, Death and Huna

Throughout the ages philosophers, scientists, theologians and anyone who has paused to think about the whys and wherefores of things, have wondered about the experience and meaning of life and death.

The Absurdists have decided that life and death are meaningless, so the best thing to do is to ignore death until it happens and, if you are still alive, to ignore it immediately after.

The Resisters see life as good and death as bad, and do everything they can to prolong life and avoid death without regard to the quality of life or the desire for death.

The Beyonders say that life is a proving ground. If you follow the rules you'll have a different and better life after death, but if you break the rules you'll have a different and worse life after death.

The Cyclists hold that the essence of a person experiences life and death over and over until by grace, individual effort, or gradual evolution there is no need for either one.

Of course, humans being so creative, there are many variations and alternatives to the above. Here is one derived from the principles of Huna.

First, life and death exist as experiences. Their meaning and consequences are decided by you, either based on what someone taught you or on your own conclusions. No matter what life and death may actually be, your beliefs about them will govern your related thoughts and actions.

Second, Huna assumes that existence is infinite, and therefore that life and death and time and space are just names for different types of experience.

Third, a belief is simply a way of organizing your perceptions or expectations to allow yourself certain experiences and disallow others. By reorganizing your perceptions and expectations about life and death you can change your experience of them.

Fourth, all experience is happening now. Time is merely a belief. To people of the past, right now you are unborn; to those of the future, you are now already dead.

Fifth, Life and death are part of the impulse toward fulfillment that we call love. Love changes the lover and the beloved, and without change there is no existence.

Sixth, the power of life and death comes from within. Not from within the personality or the body, but from our infinite spiritual source. "Outside" factors may influence the timing and manner of life and death, but they do not cause the experience.

Seventh, regardless of what anyone says about life and death, what really matters to you is what you think. You have the right to choose any set of ideas or beliefs about life and death that makes sense to you and that helps you deal with those experiences.