Tag Archives: critical thinking

Mistaking Planes of Consciousness

There is this place in the woods outside of Eugene that I would often go to clear my head. It was a short drive and hike to reach my favorite spot, a small clearing with an unassuming tree that I claimed as my own. On this particular day, I sat down in my little forest oasis with an extra-heavy weight. I was pretty lost in life- jobless, aimless and floundering, and this confusion draped over me as an all-consuming depression. I pulled out my pipe and loaded it with some weed. There were no other drugs involved. I sat there after taking the first hit when I heard a rustling in the distance. I looked around but did not see anything. I was about to take my second hit when I heard a giggle.  It was a boyish-sounding laugh coming from behind a tree in front of me, maybe about 20 feet away.

I saw a head peak out from behind the tree. The face was green and triangular, and it smiled at me. What… the… fuck…? Stepping out from behind the tree, I shit you not, was a little green elf.  It giggled as it took off in a wild sprint towards me, leaping forth from the tree as each step bounced from the mossy forest floor. My jaw unhinged, body in shock, mind racing and not even ready yet to believe my own eyes, the elf jumped into the air and flew towards my face until, get this, it disappeared right into the back of my head. It still lives there, inside of my mind. It talks to me from time to time, and it has never led me astray. It gives me good advice. Life advice. It helps me. It helped me to enroll back in school, start going to the gym, helped me enter a new relationship and get my current job as a boss of a fire crew. I don’t feel lost any more.

This is one of the more far-out stories I have ever been told, however, it is still one of many. I have had sincere people tell me their experiences involving UFOs, Ascended Masters, Ghosts, Angels, Quija Boards, Sasquatch… you name it. And these were the stories that I believed. I did not have the sense that any of these people were lying, nor that they were confused or delusional. In my own spiritual community, I can’t even count how many people have told me they saw and interacted with saint Neem Karoli Baba, a being that left his body in 1973. They were not talking about dreams or visions, but actually seeing and interacting with him in this physical world. I have, of course, had my own set of far-out experiences, some of which I have written about on this blog. It’s up to you if you want to believe any of this or not. There are some people who have permanently closed off this door of reality, but for those of us who remain open, what are we to make of this?

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White Men Spiritually Bypassing “Identity Politics” & the Allure of Jordan Peterson

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

-Audrey Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us: Poems

There is a troubling belief gaining traction within the various spiritual communities I am apart of. In various ways, people are claiming that so-called “identity politics” further separate us into our individual differences, that somehow they widen the divide of “us and them.” I have seen teachings of Ram Dass, MLK, and Neem Karoli Baba used to support this view. This has been almost entirely expressed by white men. Not only is this spiritual bypassing of “identity politics” problematic for the world, but we can’t actually be whole until we consider their implications.

Jordan Peterson, a psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, has gained a following among mostly-white-and-male spiritual seekers. Due to his incorporation of Jungian Psychology, mythology, and transcendence into academic psychological thought, he is often used as a “spiritual authority” as to why “identity politics” often oversteps its boundaries. In the video “Jordan Peterson Debunks White Privilege,” he states, “I can’t quite figure out why the postmodernists have made the canonical distinctions they’ve made. Race, ethnicity, sexual proclivity, gender identity, those are four dimensions along which people vary, but there is a very large number of dimensions along which people vary… There is an infinite number of dimensions along which people vary. So the postmodern question is, why would you privilege some of those distinctions over others?”

Here he is not making any real arguments of merit. He is simply using pseudo-intellectual lines of logic to obfuscate what should be plainly clear: these “distinctions” are four of the primary ways that we discriminate and oppress in our culture. This is not a philosophical abstraction. For people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQIA community, this is a daily reality. So what he calls “identity politics” is a needed remedy to a system that unfairly privileges whiteness, maleness, middle-and-upperclassness, etc.

So-called “identity politics” don’t further ensnare us in our separate selves, they actually help free us by shining a light on our deeply embedded identities. For white, heterosexual, cisgender men, our identities are so thoroughly supported and reflected by the dominant culture that they are made invisible to us. The acknowledgment of these identities is often painful because it shows our complicity in an oppressive system. Actually taking the time to understand how white supremacy or patriarchy functions in our culture shows us the ways that they function in our own mind. This does not reify the ego, it only clearly names its underlying structure.

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Mistaking Individualism for Freedom

Click here to read this on the Be Here Now Network

In today’s rapidly changing society, many of us no longer want to work for others. We want to use our talents, our creativity, and our passions to develop our own business or to work freelance. We no longer are willing to tolerate repetitive tasks, 40-hour work weeks or corporate bosses.

But it would be a mistake to think that this is breaking free of society, that we can remove ourselves from it, that we are somehow above it, or that we are trying to do something different. In truth we are only swapping forced conformity for a self-imposed one, and we mistake this individualism for freedom without acknowledging its paramount importance in the hierarchical value system of our society. We now turn the cog of culture at our own pace and rhythm, but we still don’t question where the machine is taking us.

It is only privilege that creates the illusion of separation. Unless we acknowledge this, we are stuck in a mire of arrogance and indifference. We too are complicit in a system of exploitation that is ruining our planet and destroying entire cultures. Even with our artisan candles and organic coffee. Even with our job as a yoga teacher or a freelance artist.

The more I sit with this, the more I am convinced that analyzing the value systems of our culture and the ways it has infiltrated our most intimate desires, beliefs and values is one of the most radical and deeply spiritual acts of our time. It is crucial for any real development, not because we can break free of culture, but because it is necessary if we are truly going to do our part to help change its direction. Continue reading


How Belief Systems Shape our Interactions with the World

We were all crammed against the bar, elbows pressed to the counter and leaning forward to hear the audio as Donald Trump gave his victory speech. Clinton had just called him to concede his victory. A woman screamed at the screen, “She just gave UP?”

We were a room full of hippies and outcasts from all over the world who had traveled to this remote Northern California mountain town, with a population of only 300, to find seasonal work in the medical marijuana industry. Most of us were camping, and the bar was the only place we could watch the television. People openly rolled joints on the tables and smoked it right outside on the front porch. A woman in her early twenties was attempting to light a red “Make America Great Again” hat on fire as her drunk friend told her that the hat was made out of rayon and would not burn. Continue reading


Spirituality Does Not Need Pseudoscience

The Ground of Being does not require science for it’s proof. It does not require quantum physics. Once that state is tasted, it can never fully leave you, and no amount of evidence could convince you contrary to it’s existence. Once we see that we are the depth of Eternal Consciousness, then every thought, sensation, experience, and even the sense of self become mere clouds passing through the sky of Being. We still may become lost in the clouds, but we know in our hearts that the sky is there.

Once this has been awakened one will see God’s handiwork everywhere, including in science. There, at the quantum level, at the edge of the Universe, or at the beginning of time, it seems we see the first dance of formlessness into form, where the Great Mystery flirts with our rational mind, turning over our assumptions of reality and opening us up like a Zen koan.

But it would be a mistake to look for proof in this. There is no mathematical or scientific proof for God, and trying to place one where it does not exist leads to pseudoscience. This is the mistake of many of the New Age thinkers of today. They see the miracle of the One sprinkled throughout the many, and they wish to share this with others. Many are sincere in their efforts, but nonetheless they actually widen the gap between spirituality and science by pushing away those with little patience for shoddy logic.

But if instead of looking for proof we look for poetry, then the dance of creation can delight us with each quark, black hole, and quantum superposition, awakening us to our True Nature. The universe, too, is just a cloud passing through the sky of Being, and awe and wonder are the steps towards that great Stillness within.

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Drinking Urine for Spiritual Enlightenment?

I’ve caught myself telling casual acquaintances that I once smoked crack. “It was offered to me, and so I said, ‘why not?'” I don’t know why I tell people that. I get some weird satisfaction from their horrified look of disbelief.  I come across as pretty straight. My girlfriend can’t comprehend that the same person who won’t walk through a park where it says “keep off the grass,” once stripped naked on public access television while blackout drunk.

As much as I love shock value, I almost never tell people that I once willingly drank my own pee for its purported spiritual and health benefits…

It was the winter of 2009. I had recently returned to Seattle after my first experiment in renunciation and subsequent encounter with Christ while living homeless in Oregon. It was about 6 months before I moved to Maui to serve Ram Dass. I knew that I needed to open my heart more, so I landed a job working as a residential counselor for at-risk youth at a non-profit group home. I had recently completed a 10-day silent Vipassanna meditation retreat and was adamantly sitting an hour every night and every morning. I had heard about monks in the Himalayas meditating naked in the snow and so I tried it on a few occasions in our backyard, never for more than 20 minutes at a time, but for some strange reason it made me feel like I was on the fast track to enlightenment. I was going to the nearby Hare Krishna restaurant and making friends there. I was dumpster diving for food, eating vegan and practicing Reiki. I held a spoon-bending party at our home, and I did the 10-day master cleanse. I played with Tarot cards, saw psychics, and even organized a failed attempt at using a Quija Board.

I was your classic spiritual hipster, and like any other spiritual hipster, I would have become angry and defensive if you had tried to label me as such.

Always looking for the next “thing,” I was intrigued when one of my closest friends informed me that several of the monks at the Hare Krishna Temple were practicing “urine therapy.” They all raved about the effects, and that was enough for us to give it a try.

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Compassion, Privilege, and Spiritual Practice

I just finished spending time at the “Ram Dass Spring on Maui Retreat.” An incredible assortment of teachers was present, including Lama Surya Das, Mirabai Bush, Saraswati and Raghu Marcus, Nina Rao, Rameshwar Das and Shantala. Of course, for me and many others, our reason for being there was Ram Dass.

It’s hard to put into words what the magic of the retreat was like. Ram Dass showered us with love from his own open heart, and we melted into it. Each of us in our own way blossomed and bathed in the light. We practiced meditation, yoga, chi-gong, kirtan, and listened to dharma talks. Spending time with satsang only deepened the love, and much of the magic occurred during the free time between sessions. People openly divulged their insecurities and fears to strangers during lunch. Hugs, sincere well-wishing, deep listening and caring all became so commonplace that it was hard to remember any other way even existed. The love was real, and it felt amazing.

Many asked questions about how to bring this magic back into our daily lives, and others expressed their fear that it would slip away. All of us, I’m sure, sincerely hope that our time in love together will help us to be a little softer, a little more caring, and a little more present and loving in our daily lives.

This is my wish also, but that’s not what was on my mind during this retreat. Instead, I have been consumed with What do I do about all of this privilege that I enjoy at the expense of others, and how does spiritual practice relate to this?

“Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

How does this love benefit the poorest and most marginalized of us?

It is important to be in touch with our own inner well of compassion, presence and love.  If all of us did this then there would be much less suffering and poverty in this world, but in reality the inequality is staggering. We normally think of inequality as the income gap between us and the super rich, but there is also a gaping gap between rich countries like the U.S. and much of the rest of the world.

The inequality gap is so wide that I fear that the love, compassion, and kindness gained from spiritual practices by privileged Americans like me might be disproportionately benefiting other privileged people.

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The Co-opting of Spiritual Practice by our Capitalist Culture

Yoga and meditation have gone mainstream, and it seems psychedelics are on their way too. Now all we need is an authentic spirituality.

Yoga and meditation, once considered to be relics of the 60s, are now practiced throughout the country. Google offers classes for its employees. Nike, Yahoo and HBO offer classes. It’s being offered in prisons and schools. It’s everywhere. And its no secret why. There are obvious benefits of yoga and meditation. They can help us to de-stress, relax, focus, raise productivity and increase creativity. There is a growing body of evidence that it can help develop emotional intelligence, strengthen empathy, and offers endless therapeutic benefits.

Even psychedelics are finding a wider audience. Besides the many notable therapeutic uses, micro-dosing is now all the rage in silicon valley, where it is seen as way of improving memory, cognitive function, mood, and creativity.

How could anyone see a problem with any of it? I think it is great that these practices, once relegated to the fringe counterculture or some caricature of the mystical “East,” are finding relevance for mainstream society.  It’s for everyone, and no one should be left out. If anyone told me they wanted to take LSD so they could be more creative at their tech job, I might even gift them the great book by James Fadiman, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide.

But I am seeing a troubling trend. Not only are these practices benefiting society, but they are being changed by it as well. Some of this is reasonable and expected. We are westerners engaging in practices from the East, and thus we are going to adapt them to fit our needs. This is not the first time this has happened. As Buddhism spread throughout the East, it assimilated with various cultures to produce the wide spectrum of Buddhism we see today. Tibetan Buddhism is very different in form than Zen, and western Buddhism is developing in its own unique way.

Change is natural. And yet, I can’t fathom in any way that the values of our dominant, neoliberal, materialistic culture can actually coincide with the values of compassion for all sentient life, with our inherent interconnectedness, or the sacredness of everyone.

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