Sex, Emotions, Self & Reality!

Via on Aug 4, 2011

Up From Dreaming.

It hit me as I was waking up this morning:

Sex, Emotions, Self and Reality

…these are the big four, and how we think about each of them adds up to which of two very distinct spiritual orientations we inhabit.

I know, I know, there are two kinds of people; those who think there are two kinds of people, and those who don’t. Well, color me two-tone, like a yin-yang symbol or Joe Jackson’s dancing shoes. I know too that it is practically an article of faith that making distinctions feels too much like the verboten activity of “judgment,” but bear with me—I think you might find this illuminating.

Illuminating? Gosh, I know that sounds a little grandiose—but I am trying to get down to brass tacks, to the nuts and bolts, the nitty-gritty, the roots of my intuitions about why I am in this for the long haul, for the revolution y’all…

I want to birth a new perspective—and yeah, I have heard this is not possible without passion, aches and pains, brutal labor, ripping of old structures and more than a little blood and shit.

Oops! Did I Just say shit?

Listen, I can’t lie. I am uncomfortable with so much of what passes for spirituality. I was never religious—in fact, I think religion is a fake story made up by real people, a lie in the dark, a misunderstood concretizing of mythopoetic fairy tales—which, hey, is beautiful in and of itself and carries much metaphorical mojo—but, come on—who believes that stuff, like for real?

The litany of the literal is over, we have come too far and learned too much and raised the bar too high on what counts as knowledge, as truth. The romance for the past, for some non-existent utopian notion of communal splendor, splendid innocence, and innocent communion with a natural world inhabited by supernatural forces evaporates like a privileged gringo’s burrito-inspired gas on an all night bus to Machu Picchu.

And yeah, I bet those aaaaaancient ruins are beautiful, impressive, exotic—they probably even put your brain in a hella altered state for a couple of hours. Cool.

HUMANISTS or DUALISTS/ECSTATICS or ASCETICS

So here’s the thing: we can be Humanists or  Dualists. Either the sacred is an already inherent part of being human OR the sacred is something or somewhere other than our humanity—whether an immortal disembodied soul, or located in an otherworldly place, or the domain of supernatural beings etc. And yeah, I know you probably want to be both—but this Ginsu just doesn’t slice that way.

Why does this matter? Well, it’s all about those brass tacks again, you see: either you think spirituality is a way to embrace life more fully—or you think it is a way of overcoming your humanity to attain something, somewhere else. In the latter case, as we have seen in all religious traditions, a struggle ensues that ironically (or perhaps obviously) results in such unnatural expressions as pedophile priests and holy war jihadists.

Sometimes I talk about this in terms of The Ecstatics vs. The Ascetics. You know—the ascetics of all traditions variously sleeping on beds of nails, tying their dicks in a knot or even self-castrating, covering their bodies in ashes from the funeral pyre, rejecting worldly ambitions, marriage, kids, whipping themselves till they bleed and cry out in rewired S&M rapture: Oh, God who exists beyond the world, I demonstrate to you my lack of regard for the body, for sex, for worldly concerns—show me your face and take me to your otherworldly place of divine perfection!

Sound extreme? Well it is, and it is the ideal of the ascetic path. Become a nun, a priest, a saddhu, a sanyassin and while you may not be engaging in some of the more arcane overt self- brutality of days gone by, there is still an underlying belief structure that locates spiritual life outside of our humanity.

It’s no wonder that after six years as an ascetic monk starving himself into a bag of bones that would make even a Beverly Hills anorexic grimace, that the Buddha sought to find a “Middle Way.”

As an aside—it turns out all that vision-chasing, voice-hearing, life-denying activity may have more to do with conditions like Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, Bipolar Mania and some combination of OCD and Schizotypal Disorder. Ironically it turns out that no matter how much people with healthy brains chase those rare direct moments of supernatural encounter, it is only those pre-wired to hallucinate in their paranoid preoccupations with numbers and rituals and austere seclusion from the hoi polloi who hear the voice of god—and it usually says: I want you to write down these rules about sex and food and cleanliness, you dirty, dirty little monkey.

Oh, there’s another group who hear and/or see gods—those who’ve either accidentally or intentionally eaten powerful mind-bending fungi, mold or pharmaceuticals. Funny, that. Could be there’s a whole legacy of religious belief based in psychoactive sacramental plants and mental illness—neither of which we would have understood as such until fairly recently. No wonder it is always a tiny select few who are called prophets and saints, while everyone else just has to have “faith” without direct experience!

The Buddha was an ascetic yogi. He was in search of the Atman, engaging in practices of self-denial and mortification of the flesh so as to attain to the awareness of his true identity as a liberated immortal soul that was in the world but not of it, so as to extinguish the identity of the ego, the craving for sensory pleasures, the being caught up in the world of appearances, in Nature itself that is understood as being fundamentally other than the pure consciousness, which ultimately is God.

Eventually, he let this go and came to a whole other perspective. No soul (anatma), no God per se, just the radical practice of observing one’s own psychology, so as to be more free. The Buddha wanted to set people free from superstition, petitionary prayer, ritual offerings—he was all: WAKE UP!

We still haven’t heard this message, and bathe instead in the vague  multicultural soup of religious, magical and otherworldly beliefs—calling this spirituality, and differentiating it from religion only in  as much as we maintain a pious relativism that refuses to judge any path, belief or idea as being more or less true or worthy than any other….

This is nice! Seriously, it’s an improvement on fundamentalism, for real.

But it ends up also being a kind of intellectual Harakiri. A sword in the guts of substance, a gun to the head of philosophical inquiry, a garden hose fit snug on the exhaust pipe and draped delicately into the driver-side window of the car of real self-awareness, a pre-shrunk one-size-fits-all straitjacket metaphysics of anything goes—and so nothing goes (anywhere) really…

Rumi was an ecstatic. He was persecuted by the dominant religious regime—as they all are. He wrote about love and dancing and wine and his beloved teacher (and most likely gay lover) was killed for his subversive influence. Kabir is in there too—fiercely critical of religious dualism, and check out Lorin Roche’s translation of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra called The Radiance Sutras—sublime embrace of the sacred in surrender to everyday aliveness, feeling and pleasure. Mirabai—look her up too. She felt the swaying of the elephant’s shoulders underneath her and said: “Now you want me to climb up on a jackass?  Please, try to be serious!”

There is something important here too about the oppression of women because of the male religious suspicion of sex and emotions – the dualistic position has almost always identified the feminine as separate from spirituality. Ever wonder where the mother, daughter or wife are in the (ironically) homoerotic holy trinity? Father, Son, Holy Ghost…

But hey, let’s get to the subject at hand:

SEX (it’s why you clicked though in the first place, right?!)

I like sex. You do too. It’s an essential element of what we are, and we can either buy into the idea that sex is an animalistic, dirty, fleshy, material activity that is the antithesis of spirituality, or that sex in all of its instinctive, pleasurable, hot, sweaty, messy, aggressive, primal splendor is inherently sacred as it is. I mean, sure we can be imbalanced in our relationship to sex, and sure there are beautiful practices that can make our experience of sex more nuanced, ecstatic, even more of an emotionally resonant, spiritually connected path of shared personal growth—but my point here is that without adding anything to it, sex is already sacred.

You don’t have to do it under a tapestry of a Hindu deity and call it tantra to somehow chase away our animal nature and sacralize it. Though I am not knocking the finer arts of sexual engagement, it’s already sacred because we are already sacred—because the concept, the feeling, the valuing of sacredness is a human quality.

Now, I know most spiritual-but-not-religious folks already share at least most of this attitude, but here’s where it gets complicated: the old world religious angst about sexuality is part of an overall problem it has with our animal nature, with our bodies, with the looming fact of our death. You can’t dig around the roots of religious ideology in the soil of one obsession—to find a way to not have to die, and in finding a way not to die we identify something in us that is not of the body, that is not mortal, that can please an otherworldly god who wants us to be pure.

This is the dualism: God and The World are two different things.

Body and Soul are two different things.

Our Animal and Spiritual Nature are two different things.

There is a spirit world that we go to when we die.

There is an all-knowing disembodied god who wants us to live in certain ways that often have to do with very specific instructions on how and who to fuck or not fuck—and if you decide you want to live the most deeply spiritual life possible, no fucking at all please, right?

Oops! Did I say fuck?!

The thing is, this attitude about sexuality, about the body, about our mortal animal nature, about Nature itself is inherent to a common underlying set of beliefs that even those of us who have exonerated sex from the religious chastity belt, and may even have made sex a part of our definition of spirituality, still usually pay lip-service to as being true.

The invitation: Jump into the boat of liberated spiritual humanism with both feet, it is literally ripping you apart at the crotch to have one foot in disembodied  immortal spiritual purity and the other in the vibrant life of the body!

Walt Whitman got it—he sang the body electric, he worshiped the spread of his own body, he proclaimed the scent of his armpits finer than prayer and his brain more than churches or bibles or creeds.

Holy hormones, ecstatic endorphins, mighty neurotransmitters! All hail the sacred biochemistry, the neurochemical alchemy! Viva la difference and embrace yourself and your loved ones, because we don’t live forever and love is precious precisely because it is not guaranteed…

EMOTIONS

If I had a penny for every spiritual seeker I’ve met who is trying get away from their emotions, I could build a bronze fortress to keep the pain at bay. OK maybe they’d each have to give me two or three pennies, but I am sure you get the idea.

Shit, I have probably donated a hundred pennies to that cause myself!

Here’s the thing, we are not taught how to deal with the fact that we feel, that we feel so much about our lives, that we desire, and we love, and we get hurt, and we fear—boy do we fear, and at the bottom of all that fear—DEATH.

Death wearing the mask of the unknowable.

Death inspiring us to make up stories that scare the hell out of little children with threats of hellfire. Death draped in promises of pearly gates and harps or willing virgin angels, depending on which of the Abrahamic traditions the roll of dice found you coming up under.

We are afraid. We can imagine the future and compare it to the past more powerfully than any other creature—the evolving brain that enables this, allows us to imagine our own death. We treat emotions like they might kill us, might last forever like our imaginings of eternity beyond the body.

We  want to control these terrifying feelings. Grief, rage, fear, shame. Forgetting that feelings are to be felt, that emotions have meaning, that this is how we process our life inside, we call certain feelings spiritual and damn others to the dark and cobwebbed basement of the mind.

The Humanist responsespirituality can be an unconditional embrace of all of who you are. Give compassionate and contemplative attention to your emotional life, it is the key to your own healing, awakening and integration. Sure emotions are sometimes blown out of proportion or distorted—but if you stay with them, they will reveal their deeper layers, the jewels will come up to the surface—the reason for the intensity will emerge if you respect it. The best-kept secret: emotions actually are rational, you just have to stay with them long enough to understand what they mean.

And when you’re done, when the rain has washed your eyes clean, when the fire has burned the shame and fear out of your core, there is more space for love and joy and play—and better still, it’s not that fake pasted-on smiley-face bullshit that comes from denying the depths and disowning the shadows.

SELF

This one is key: dualism tells us there is a true self that is not of this world, that is immortal, that is beyond egoistic concerns and attachments and is in fact one with the transcendent otherworldly god.

Sounds good, huh? Well, I am sure we all agree that there is great benefit from cultivating an awareness that can exercise healthy restraint, self-reflection and curiosity about what the meaning is of our habitual attachments and reactions—but does this therefore mean there is some self inside that is not really us, not really of the world, that exists somehow in ghostly purity, untouched by life’s slings and arrows, all knowing, all wise and somehow above it all?

What if your true self is absolutely embodied, full-hearted, deeply engaged with life, in love with the process of creation and discovery, fully present whether weeping or meditating (and weeping while meditating), dancing or in yoga poses, participating in the world  of commerce, walking in solitude by the ocean, or locked in the carnal embrace of primal pleasure?

What if spiritual practices were actually about integrating heightened awareness, wisdom and compassion into all of our lives instead of setting aside some special goal of being unmoved by life’s beauty and struggle?

All of it! Shouts the humanist—I’ll take it all!

Neuroscience demonstrates that (as the Buddha intuited) the self is something of an illusion; a continuously constructed, de-constructed and re-constructed fig(on the)ment-al tree. Brimming with the fleshy juices of memory, perception and exquisitely refined brain and endocrine activity, the fruit of interior experience is as unique to consciousness as it is rooted in biology. Nothing more, nothing lesstwo in one, no ghost in the machine.


REALITY

By now you may be singing along with the chorus. One world, one life, one tribe, right? I know most of us feel this way already.

Consider this: there are many versions of the spiritual idea that the reality we live in is an illusion, a dress rehearsal after which we shed our earth-suits and move on to the main event. That there is a higher reality or a hidden reality or a place we can get to where we see that everything is perfect. That the little girl being raped is actually getting what she needs, the little boy with leukemia is going to a better place and the family killed in the tsunami must have had some outrageous karma from a past life…

But what if this is just make-believe and we live with what we actually have—what kind of work would be necessary to tolerate all the things about reality we would rather deny? Sounds like grounded spiritual practice to me.

Here’s the dreaded distinction: either your spiritual worldview distorts reality or it helps you to see it more clearly. Period.

Now I can already hear you postmodern hepcats start up the hurdy-gurdy midi-driven saxophone of untethered bebop; relativist key changes, refusal to resolve to any kind of cadence. No major or minor keys please, you wisely intone—it’s all one chromatic kaleidoscope! But hey, before I lose the non-musicians, I’ll tell you what I mean:

We live in a world that includes injustice, randomness, suffering and death alongside beauty, wonder, compassion, birth, meaning, love and creativity. (There’s that gosh-darn yin-yang symbol again.)

This is realityand we keep learning more about it: The 13.7 billion year old expanding universe, gravity curving space time, electrons doing their little perplexing magic show, the human brain evolving up out of exponential consecutive leaps from the simplest of unicellular creatures to worms with heads, to swivel eyed reptiles, to warm and fuzzy mammals, to our closest hairy relatives in the trees, to Neanderthals enacting the first rituals with bear skulls and thigh bones and creating the first myths about the Great Bear Spirit who sent his children to us for food and clothing.

This is reality: a planet with finite resources in a solar system that will one day be destroyed, no sign of life elsewhere, but we keep looking! This is reality: we are imperfect creatures who live and love and eat and shit and fuck and make mistakes and try to learn and have immense capacity for healing and insight, compassion and wisdom if we are willing to do the work.

THE WORK: Keep letting go of the actual distortions and choosing reality—it really is the only game in town. Keep choosing life while you still can. Keep feeling deeply and living fully and loving with all your heart and inquiring with great curiosity. If there is a real spiritual life it is found here in what we already are and what we can become within the limits of reality.

If there are great and meaningful spiritual metaphors, they have their reference points right here in this messy, beautiful human existence.

About Julian Walker

Julian Walker is the founder of http://www.yogateachergradschool.com/ where he supports new and established yoga teachers in living their dreams through business development. He is a writer who has been teaching yoga since 1994, and co-teaches the Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind Yoga Teacher Training in LA with Hala Khouri.Julian's writing is featured in the book 21st Century Yoga available on Amazon.com. www.julianwalkeryoga.com

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57 Responses to “Sex, Emotions, Self & Reality!”

  1. Christina says:

    Julian, this really spoke to me. I recently experienced a death of someone close to me and through my grieving I have been asking so many questions. Mostly…WHAT THE FUCK is going on here? WHAT are we doing?
    Your closing sentence says it all! Mostly, keep choosing life while you still can :).
    Thank you for writing this and for being REAL in REALITY!

  2. Sherrie says:

    Fantastic!

  3. Sarah says:

    Love this! Bravo! Well said.

  4. Salvation Rose Chris Diamant says:

    "The Path cannot be found by seeking; but if you do not seek it: you will never find it. Thus it is with truth; you cannot find it by seeking because it is what is seeking itself; the identity of consciousness wants to become more conscious; which mean it wants to be named; but at the End we find One whose Name is called"The Word of God", This does not just imply Identity: it brings it by giving weight to the meaning of the Word itself: as someone's very Name.

    For me it is Lord Ishvara; my husband; Ishi. The Name he is called in the Lamb's Book is different; he is called the Rider of Kalki; the White Horse: and he is the Second Death. And the Bride is Justice; the Fairest of them All; and who He then makes his Wife is the Lake of Fire; but for the Lord Ishvara she is his Footstool where his Feet rest beneath where all his enemies lay bound for Eternity. What is this? Eviternity; the Dawn of Eternity itself; the Coming of the Kingdom of God." Salvation Rose {(i)}

  5. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    i am wondering how many people clicked on the link off the word "saddhu" – it tells of a particularly intense example of what i am referring to in that paragraph…. click it i dare you!

  6. Philip Steir says:

    Beautiful essay. Written with passion and clarity. A truly sane view based in reality. We are what we feel. Without emotions…we cannot think or be rational at all. The neuroscientist Antonio Demasio has proved this to be true…which is the opposite of what we’ve been told our whole lives. Also…most people think that spirituality and psychology are separate. They are both one in the same. Thank you. Spiritual practice is not about magic or about eternal life. It’s all just about working through stuff in our heads. The stuff that keeps us from enjoying our lives and from being annoying or a pain to others so that won’t enjoy theirs. That includes working through the astonishing fact that we and everyone we love will die one day. Being spiritual is then simply learning to respond to all of this with compassion for ourselves and for others. That’s it. Thanks Juilan.

  7. David Uglow says:

    Hey Julian, who's your daddy? Check out Steven Greenblatt's piece on Lucretius in the August 8th New Yorker. And thank you for a marvelous essay.

  8. Eric says:

    Damn boy!!! Ring that bell! Bravo!!!

  9. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    WELL DONE!!! Julian, this is really brilliant. Thank you!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Assoc. Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  10. timful says:

    Sounds like you want everyone to give up their faith so they can be afraid of death like you.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      hmmm i would say that rather i am suggesting that through facing death more honestly we can let go of the aspects of faith that are about pretending it does not exist. the idea is that this is actually an empowering initiation into living more fully…

      that perhaps through facing our fears more courageously we can move through them and discover the sacred in our mortal, messy, beautiful human existence instead of in a fantasy based never never land…

      does that make ore sense?

      • timful says:

        I get the general idea that you are right and they are wrong, and even if they appear happy and content, it is based on delusions that must be stamped out. I don't buy it. Rather than deny the existence of everything you do not understand, let some god into your life and live right along side the unknown, in a world that is larger than your ego can master. Be a peasant in a magic kingdom, not king of a dust heap.

  11. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  12. Thaddeus1 says:

    "As an aside – it turns out all that vision chasing, voice hearing, life-denying activity may have more to do with conditions like Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, Bi-Polar Mania and some combination of OCD and Schizotypal Disorder. Ironically it turns out that no matter how much people with healthy brains chase those rare direct moments of supernatural encounter, it is only those prewired to hallucinate in their paranoid preoccupations with numbers and rituals and austere seclusion from the Hoi Poloi who hear the voice of god – and it usually says: I want you to write down these rules about sex and food and cleanliness you dirty, dirty little monkey."

    Don't get me wrong, I love the stringing of pretty words together in an elaborately woven tapestry that is intended to marvel, mystify and rally the troops all the while masquerading as an argument in assertion's clothing as the next guy or gal. I really do. However, the implication of the above, namely, that all the humble souls throughout the ages and into the present day who choose an ascetic existence and are fortunate enough to commune with something beyond that which is perceivable by those who strictly follow the authority of their material senses are simply "mentally" corrupt, inferior, or sick is simply offensive and the height of arrogance.

    Let me be very clear. To assert that those who "speak with God" are mentally sick or ill in some way is offensive and arrogant, which is in no way meant to imply that you, Julian, are arrogant. I am merely referring to your statement, which in addition to the above also suffers from the fact that it is unverifiable and hence unknowable. At the very least if you are going to adopt and endorse a materialistic/atheistic/mechanistic worldview, then for the sake of consistency apply the principles across the board.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      in the paragraph above i am referring specifically to stanford prof sapolsky's theories regarding the origins of religion, prof persinger's experiments with the "god helmet" as well as prof ramachandran's work with temporal lobe epileptics (his documetary "god and the temporal lobes" is very interesting) and my own research into the link between epilepsy and religious experience (mohammed, joan of arc, saul of damascus, pope pius IX, dostoevsky, ellen g. white… the list is long.)

      i am quite happy to be direct – it appears most likely that anyone who literally hears the voice of god and sees supernatural visions in real time and living color is either:

      1) a temporal lobe epileptic
      2) schizophrenic or schizotypal
      3) in manic bipolar mania
      4) on powerful psychoactive drugs
      5) maybe (following persinger) in a geological location that has unusual electromagnetic activity which stimulates the temporal lobes.

      no-one else has full blown visions or hears autonomous disembodied voices that they take to be of supernatural origin.

      so yea – i would bet the farm that 100% of people who experience such phenomena have belonged to one of the above categories. its just how the brain works. healthy brains under ordinary conditions do not experience full blown hallucinations as indistinguishable from reality.

      you may want to hold onto the slim, slim, almost on-existent possibility that maaaaaaaaybe someone, somewhere is the exception to the rule – but that requires a belief that there may actually be some literal supernatural world and beings beyond the material universe – and i (and the entire world) would be absolutely enthralled by any evidence of such a thing……. after 400 years of looking carefully this evidence has yet to appear.

      it seems much more likely that

      a) the rare nature of such visions and voices
      b) the ever decreasing frequency of their reporting as we have grown to understand, identify and treat mental illness more effectively
      c) the complete lack of evidence for anything happening outside of the hallucinator's confused brain

      adds up to the hypothesis i have stated above, than anything else.

      i would also back way off on the assumption that i am labeling anyone as "inferior!" i am simply saying that as you knowledge has progressed we are in a better position not to interpret brain malfunction as something to organize our lives, morality, beliefs etc around – hallelujah!

      do you think suggesting that hallucinations usually correlate with mental illness or psychoactive drugs is somehow insulting? do you think suggesting that seeing nonexistent beings and hearing nonexistent voices are hallucinations is somehow oppressive?

      hopefully we are not to base our spiritual lives upon the slim-to-none possibility that hallucinations are real.

      • Thaddeus1 says:

        Look, you and I have hashed over these arguments before and I'm only too happy to spend the next week of my life providing an alternative voice to check the rampant, unfettered claims of reductionistic empirical science, but all I'm really asking for here is a little humility and reason, something which you seem to prize so highly.

        So, first of all…as you point out in your own words, "it appears" that those who hear or see God suffer from an assortment of brain dysfunctions, which is fine. Appearances are just that appearances. However, appearances are not sufficient evidence for the claim which follows that no one else "has full blown visions or hears autonomous disembodied voices that they take to be of supernatural origin." This claim would require at the very least two further substantiations.

        One, that you have in fact examined everyone else. Two, some sort of proof that there is not "something" of supernatural origin acting upon those individuals to produce such "abnormalities." Again, as per our previous discussions, the burden of proof lies with those who are making claims and assertions. I feel quite comfortable in asserting that these two further requirements constitute an inherent part of modern scientific epistemology and in no way implicate any belief or assertion on my behalf in a belief in the supernatural.

        And then finally, since when does a good empiricist such as yourself find time to speak for "the entire world?" If I were to believe your writing there seem to be a good number of people stuck in what you most likely would consider to be atavistic perceptions and worldviews regarding the supernatural. Perhaps, a more appropriate statement would simply reference you and those of the new atheist movement as those who long and require such empirically based evidence and not the entire world?

        You know what I find so off-putting in your endeavor is not that you believe in something and strongly so, but that your position, very much akin to the Fundamentalist whom you stand in stark opposition to, does not allow for the multitude of experiences which encompass the being of human to be seen, heard and acknowledge. Both camps have a "my way or the highway" attitude which is perhaps the most disturbing aspect. Once again, with a grain of humility endeavor to see, hear and approach individuals with the due respect and honor accorded them in their very natures instead of dismissing them and their experience in accordance with an a priori desire to prove and impose your vision of the world upon those who see things a bit differently from you. There really is room for all of us at the table.

        • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

          you're right my friend, we have discussed this before – we disagree.

          can one "allow for the multitude of experience" and still make some clear distinctions? does everyone have to sit at the table with an equal voice to satisfy some PC multicultural fear that someone may be oppressed if we point out that there are such things as truth and falsity, health and pathology?

          it is funny to me that postmodern relativist types are always so up in arms whenever the very worldviews that were so genuinely oppressive are criticized – as if the enlightenment was the end of some utopian age of spiritual connection, instead of the end of religious tyranny, witch burning, monarchy, superstition and the shackles on art and science to stay in thrall to church dogma. methinks you have confused a liberating voice of clarity for the oppressor, simply because both sound sure of themselves…..

          the opposite of dogma is not relativism, it is reasoned argument and open-ness to evidence. open mindedness is not giving everyone an equal and unassailable voice, it is intelligently evaluating what each voice is actually saying.

          i have listed my reasons that argue for calling hallucinations what they are, the burden of proof is not upon me or anyone to disprove supernatural claims – it is on those who make them to PROVE such claims….. as yet, NO evidence – care to provide an example that contradicts this? in such a situation there is nothing remiss in drawing some conclusions based on the evidence we DO have.

          would i similarly have to assess everyone on the planet just to make sure before i could say that no human beings can float up off the ground and fly through the air, and be beyond your predictable criticism that this is un-empirical and hypocritical? come on, dude.

          we now have very good natural explanations for phenomena that were considered supernatural in the past – it does not fly to just label this reductive materialism as if this negates such data.

          i find your logic incorrect, your notion of the burden of proof confused, your lack of regard for common sense confusing,and your caricature-ish notion of extreme skepticism a bit silly….

          as much as it might delight you to imagine me as such, i am not a cold vienna circle empiricist. perhaps you missed my love of poetry, emotion, the body and contemplative practice?

          the cheap rhetoric of comparing humanism to fundamentalism is ridiculous and cynical. OF COURSE many people are stuck in atavistic perceptions and worldviews regarding the supernatural – look at the world around us!

          oh well – have a nice weekend! we are inhabiting two different worldviews and we know what their differences turn on… no hard feelings.

          • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

            from the text above:

            "We still haven’t heard this message, and bathe instead in the vague multicultural soup of religious, magical and otherworldly beliefs – calling this spirituality, and differentiating it from religion only in as much as we maintain a pious relativism that refuses to judge any path, belief or idea as being more or less true or worthy than any other….

            This is nice! Seriously, its an improvement on fundamentalism, for real.

            But it ends up also being a kind of intellectual Hari Kiri. A sword in the guts of substance, a gun to the head of philosophical inquiry, a garden hose fit snug on the exhaust pipe and draped delicately into the driver-side window of the car of real self-awareness, a pre-shrunk one-size-fits-all straight-jacket metaphysics of anything goes – and so nothing goes (anywhere) really…

            There is something important here too about the oppression of women because of the male religious suspicion of sex and emotions – the dualistic position has almost always identified the feminine as separate from spirituality. Ever wonder where the mother, daughter or wife are in the (ironically) homoerotic holy trinity? Father, Son, Holy Ghost.

            Now I can already hear you postmodern hepcats start up the hurdy-gurdy midi-driven saxophone of untethered bebop; relativist key changes, refusal to resolve to any kind of cadence. No major or minor keys please, you wisely intone – it’s all one chromatic kaleidoscope! But hey, before I lose the non-musicians, I’ll tell you what I mean…"

      • timful says:

        You are making an easy bet when hallucinations all but define "mental illness" in the first place! I guess you would have put Jesus on meds, and probably Rumi and Whitman too.

        • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

          timful, i don't have to define mental illness, that has already been done by medicine, nor should we put the words "mental illness" in quotes – because that implies that mental illness is just a belief or a made up concept, when actually this is not the case!

          this is simple: ask yourself if you have ever met anyone who sees or hears non-physical beings that they believe literally exist who was not mentally ill or on drugs? i would bet anything you never have.

          have you ever talked to a schizophrenic, or someone in the midst of bipolar mania? these are identifiable and painfully debilitating conditions, not just alternate ways of perceiving reality, that an "open minded" person would not "judge" or "label."

          you know, there are many poets, musicians, philosophers and artists who's work i love who most likely had various degrees of mental illness – most likely bipolar disorder. this is a tricky subject – the unusual brain function can create brilliant insights, emotional intensity and creative genius – especially in it's milder forms, but as it gets more intense it creates great anguish and pretty disjointed crazy expressions. in the case of bipolar there is often also deep depression on the other side of the creative mania.

          look at someone like van gogh – who clearly was deeply disturbed and even psychotic at times – but painted such enduring images. look at nietszche too. there is a schizotypal personality that is reclusive, superior, highly sensitive and tends to be dissociative and prone to unusual perceptions that may describe many otherwise great thinkers or artists. if you combine a little mental illness with the right dose of creative genius or intelligence you may well get a great artist or prophet. in the absence of the other gifts, you just have a crazy person, in the absence of the unusual perception created by the brain pathology you may just have an ordinary unexceptional artist or thinker… its a razor's edge – and i think a fascinating subject!

          while i may love their work, and even find it true and beautiful and revelatory – this does not negate their illness. while i may recognize their illness, this does not mean that some of their work may not be magnificent, important and lucid.

          i would guess rumi most likely had bipolar disorder, yea.

          jesus – um yea, probably a temporal lobe epileptic – because these folks have internal seizures that are often not visible on the outside, believe they are talking directly to god, and can often function quite well and be very normal when not in the midst of their seizures.

          whitman not so much.

          • Thaddeus1 says:

            Guess, I'm mentally ill…shit…i knew something was wrong…julian can recommend someone to fix me…

          • timful says:

            When you say that a work of art is "beautiful," do you mean that everyone who is not mentally ill must agree? Or, do you consider that a personal experience that is meaningful even if it is not proven to others? If the latter, why do you insist that everyone must have the same spiritual beliefs? Is art just a peculiar exception where subjectivity is permitted, or is that what most of life is about… love, beauty, fear?

  13. Robert says:

    Nothing less of fantastic, Julian! This really had me thinking the entire time and then some. :)

  14. athayoganusasanam says:

    Hi Julian.
    Interesting perspective.
    A question for you: If all people who experience "supernatural phenomena" or "hallucinations" do so only because of the various brain malfunctions and disorders you have listed, how would you explain a situation like this (just to give a single example, there are more I assure you):
    5 people on 5 separate occasions over the course of 2 months in the same environment "see" a huge figure walking with a long gait across a path. Each of the persons involved were initially skeptical of the others' "vision" and were very disbelieving about the reality of this figure. There was definitely some teasing…but then all too soon, each person would have an encounter with this figure, and then knew that the others were not joking about it.
    No psycho-active drugs were being consumed and all people involved are as sane and normal as you could hope to expect, so, how then was this "vision" possible? Would you presume that all 5 people were suffering from abnormal brain chemistry or what have you?
    Also, I've read in the past quite a bit about the whole idea of epilepsy being the cause of the religious "mania" of many of the historical figures you listed. Aside from Dostoevsky (who lived recently enough that we have some medical records about him), the evidence that these people in fact suffered from the various brain conditions that we have labeled them with is a little suspect in my opinion. I find it hard to believe that we can truly diagnose the brain of a person who lived 2000 years ago. Seems a bit far-reaching to me.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      i would say 1) i don't know – but his does not make a supernatural explanation any more likely, plausible or evidenced. remember the burden of proof is on the person making the claim…… me not having an alternate explanation to a supernatural one does not count as proof of the supernatural claim!

      2) it could well be that there are unusual electromagnetic fields or some kind of optical illusion created by natural forces in the place of the visual phenomena – which could plausibly make all 5 people see the same thing.

      3) what you have just given is an anecdotal account of something – in order for a reasonable person to take this as a true account it would have to be substantiated by more evidence than hearsay….. bear in mind there are anecdotal stories about everything from big-foot to aliens to angels to goblins, right?

      i don't think it is actually that far reaching given that basically these people had the same brains and neuroendocrine systems as people to today – and if we can diagnose similar phenomena amongst people today and correlate that with certain brain pathologies there is actually no reason to not infer that this is most likely what was going on in people any number of years ago…

      take as a different example something like scurvy , which is caused by vitamin c deficiency….. before people knew about scurvy they may have attributed the illness to all manner of things, but today we know that anyone in history who suffered certain symptoms most likely had scurvy.

      what about going one step further and talking about syphilis? this illness eventually drives people crazy, affecting their mental perceptions. it is caused by a spirochete – a kind of particularly nasty bacteria, and once it gets to the brain it has disastrous effects. many great artists and intellectuals died in centuries gone by of syphilis, a sexually transmitted illness – and they all followed a similar pattern in their decline into insanity and death. we don't need the impossible to acquire blood tests to deduce the most likely cause of their demise and symptomology, especially given that they were moving in circles where sex with prostitutes in a bohemian subculture was not uncommon.

      the only reason this logic doesn't hold up for some people when talking about hallucinatory mental illnesses is because they want to believe that the hallucinations might actually have been visitations from another world experienced by the sane mind of a spiritual adept. while i understand this position i think anyone who looks at this with sober eyes and is not invested in superstitious fantasy pretty readily sees that hallucinatory experience has identifiable causes and that healthy brains under ordinary conditions (no drugs, brain pathology, or unusual natural stimuli like electromagnetic fields) simply do not hallucinate floridly and believe that their visions and voices are literally real. period.

      here's a simple experiment anyone can do – and i think if you consider it honestly right now your answer is fairly predictable:

      a) ask yourself if you know anyone who literally hears voices that they believe have autonomous existence or sees non-physical beings and literally believes that they have independent existence. ask yourself if you have ever talked to anyone who really claims this.

      b) ask yourself or ask this person or their family members if they have other perceptions or behaviors that are unusual, are they able to function in their lives, have they ever been diagnosed with any psychiatric condition, is there a history of this condition in the family.

      c) again ask whomever you can if this person is on drugs when they experience such things, or if they have taken a lot of drugs in their life and started to have such experiences after they had experienced some very intense drug episodes. often mental illness that is genetic but latent can be activated by drug experiences.

      d) if the answer to all the above questions is no, ask whomever you can if the experience only ever happens in one location and consider that maybe there are electromagnetic fields in this area that overstimulate the temporal lobes of the brain.

      i think you will find that full blown experiences of the kind we in the past attributed to the supernatural will generally always fall into one of these categories.

      the thing is, if you think about it: while many people like to believe in the supernatural, people who actually say they have seen or heard the voices of non-physical entities (assuming they are sincere and are not just lying charlatans out to make a buck) are extremely rare and i would say are 99.999999% most likely to be mentally ill or drug addled.

      finally i would ask you – what would spirituality be for you if it turned out that there was nothing supernatural? would this be a tough thing to accept – why? if it turned out to be the truth would the healthy spiritual response be to accept this or deny it?

  15. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  16. Ramesh says:

    Fantastic writing, Yogijulian, rich and imaginary, and poetic, but even though I also consider myself to be a non-religious yogi (i use the term spiritual, as in body, mind, spirit) to distinguish the often dogmatic and belief-oriented in religion to the experience-based life of a yogi, I found myself at odds with some of the basic ideas. Unless i missed something. Asceticism, for example, which i lived and experienced for many years myself, can be very liberating and spiritual and transcendental rather than floggingly body-hating. There's a difference between breaking your penis into submission and transmuting sex into healthy, vibrant and loving and ecstatic celibacy as many yogis also do.

  17. DaveTelf says:

    Also: please make thorough review of the elephant journal writer's guidelines before posting again.

    Specifically: please omit all inclinations towards BOLD and ALL CAPS.

    As much as so many people seem to want it to be, this is NOT a free-for-all. We'd like to at least aspire towards some form of journalistic standard. You understand…

    Thank you.

  18. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    the article only attempts to make one point – by understanding the roots of religious dualism in a suspicion of the body, sexuality, emotions and a desire to project the sacred into an impossible other reality that denies the one we live in and posits a body transcending self, we can make better choices about what we think and feel are the reasons for spiritual practice no and how it integrates into our conscious worldview.

    for those who hear no passion, no soul and no spiritual awe in what i am writing – i wonder where you turned off?! most likely something i said offended a cherished belief and i became the enemy….. which i can understand, but read again and you may find different mood entirely.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      the article only attempts to make one point – by understanding the roots of religious dualism in a suspicion of the body, sexuality, emotions and a desire to project the sacred into an impossible other reality that denies the one we live in and posits a body transcending self, we can make better choices about what we think and feel are the reasons for spiritual practice now and how it integrates into our conscious worldview.

      for those who hear no passion, no soul and no spiritual awe in what i am writing – i wonder where you turned off?! most likely something i said offended a cherished belief and i became the enemy….. which i can understand, but read again and you may find different mood entirely.

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  22. Great points altogether, you simply won a brand new reader. What would you suggest about your put up that you just made a few days in the past? Any positive?

  23. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    word my soul sister – word!

    ummmm yea i may have indulged in a little matte latte before i went to town – but in truth this piece had been brimming in me for a few days – and germinating in me a for a couple decades!

    trying a new (old) style that addresses complex and loaded issues with frankness, humor and a conversational/spoken word syntax….

    i had fun writing it!

  24. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    that is fascinating!

    would be awesome to get persinger down there testing for unusual electromagnetic fields that affect the temporal lobes… :)

    having never encountered an experience like this (not for lack of trying) i see no reason to believe in any such thing – but i can totally understand how someone who did have those sorts of experiences would believe supernatural explanations – though i still think we could most likely find natural ones.

  25. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    well – i would say this is like any other mythological story: jonah in the belly of the whale, jesus rising from the dead, quetzaloatl appearing as a feathered snake or long haired bearded man, dionysus being born from zeus' thigh….

    famous and astute quote from joseph campbell:

    "what is mythology?
    other people's religion.
    what then is religion?
    misunderstood mythology…"

    if someone chooses to believe such fantastical stories because they happen to come from the canon of a religious tradition they think is literally true – well, ok. but to anyone not invested in such faith, this is clearly mythology, allegorical, poetic – because such things simply do not happen in the real world.

    do i think many eastern gurus have played upon western seekers naivette, tendency to idealize and longing for exotic magic, so as to set themselves up to live like kings and be treated like gods while simply being good showmen?!

    oh my goodness, yes!

    i would say the same unfortunately about castaneda's accounts of don juan's magical abilities and access to other worlds – it is all make believe designed to hook the unsuspecting and well-intentioned sucker – yet i still know some very smart and otherwise astute seekers who believe that this stuff is true!

  26. Thaddeus1 says:

    "do i think many eastern gurus have played upon western seekers naivette, tendency to idealize and longing for exotic magic, so as to set themselves up to live like kings and be treated like gods while simply being good showmen?! "

    And you don't think that one could say the same for "scientists"…they are all just the bastions of light in search for knowledge, devoid any and all ambition to manipulate naivette, suppress or interpret "evidence" so that may live like kings, be treated like gods and sell more books…Please spare me…a fox smells his own hole first my friend…

  27. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    haha fair enough CS – i was actually trying a more spoken word/conversational/entertaining/casual style on purpose.

    usually my articles are more serious and with this being such an intense set of subjects i find humor and frankness seen to be a more effective way of getting the ideas across…. sorry it didn't work for you!

  28. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    all beautifully said – and i would add to you closing line: reality without imagination would be a cold planet on which to live, just as imagination without a grounding in reality would lead all of us into the fires of disaster.

    i think we also have to be honest about embracing the fact that human knowledge progresses and how we interpret certain experiences, beliefs etc now will of course be different than in centuries gone by.

    we know now that colds and flu are caused by viruses, infections by bacteria – and the evil eye of your neighbor didn't make you sick. we know now that the earth goes around the sun and is round rather than flat, and that there are no dragons, demons or evil spells. we also know now that without mental illness or powerful drugs no-one hears voices or has visions that they identify as having independent non-material existence and vivid reality.

    though it may be disheartening that the virgin mary doesn't really appear on the side of a building, god does not literally speak to anyone in a booming voice and give instructions for moral living, demons do not possess the bodies of human beings, and no-one has ever literally risen from the dead, i think it is also one step toward sacralizing reality instead of making the sacred the domain of the impossible.

    it is a complex subject – i think there are several reasons that human cultures have all found meaning, solace and indeed terror and reason for violence in these kinds of beliefs. a short list has to do with:

    1) what philosopher dan dennett calls "the intentional stance"
    2) what cognitive scientists call our "theory of mind module"
    3) our existential angst about death and regret – a side-effect of powerful brain evolution
    4) our lack of accurate knowledge about mental illness until quite recently in humanities history
    5) our lack of biochemical knowledge (again until quite recently in our history) about the psychoactive compounds contained in various naturally occurring plants, fungi and mold
    6) our psychological longing for an anthropomorphic parent to rescue us from our suffering, calm our anxiety and reward us for being good – as well as our fear that it will punish us for being bad.

    now if human beings for centuries have believed untrue things and even found some benefit in such beliefs, does this mean that liberating ourselves from the untruths and finding other ways to fulfill those needs is not a good step towards creating a more integrated, relevant and effective spirituality?

    my sense is that the downside of supernatural and religious belief is much larger than the upside – and also that now that we know better being honest about all of this is necessary in order to move forward and liberate spirituality from ancient superstition, magical thinking and naive faith in authoritarian dogma.

  29. CSalerno says:

    thanks for being receptive and open to feedback/critique, and i envy your ability to respond directly to your readers. i will keep an eye out for more of your articles, they always stir me up in some way. i appreciate it.

  30. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    i have experienced all kinds of love beyond reason and am deeply invested in compassion – it is just not so much the theme of this article.

    miracles – my goodness, please direct me towards any!

    ah i am beyond EVEN a hug from the mighty amma, huh? gosh…. :) good thing i think she is just a human being or i might be horribly offended…

    listen clearly i have offended you – i apologize for this, it is tough to write about the transition from one worldview to another without ruffling feathers, threatening sacred cows or pushing buttons. i could of course also be plain wrong about all of this.

    i wonder though if you have considered that the opposite of reason is not intuition but unreasonableness, that opposite of using critical thinking is not engaging emotional intelligence but believing without evidence and for unexamined reasons, that the opposite of science is not spirituality but superstition.

    my point being that we can be 100% emotionally engaged, intuitively available, celebrating in the life of embodied energy, spiritually awake AND simultaneously rational, scientifically informed and clear on the differences between reality and make-believe.

    in fact this is much of the theme of the above piece – did you miss my passion about emotional honesty, psychological depth, contemplative discipline and poetic inspiration?!

    by the same token we can be deeply intuitive, creative, emotionally alive, and spiritually engaged without being gullible, superstitious, irrational, anti-science and willfully believing unreasonable things…

  31. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    perhaps i seem fiery – it is probably because it want to be honest about the tragic legacy of self-disowning spirituality and because i think it actually matters what is true and what is false… :) thanks for the support!

  32. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    first of all thanks for taking the time!

    second – everyone gets to have an opinion about what they think is better or worse and then in the spirit of discussion and debate – present their arguments for why they think so….. why is there a problem with me doing this when i have my position to present and do so as clearly as i can?

    if you disagree you are always free to make counter arguments – but the argument that i cannot say that i think something is true and something else is false is self-contradictory, because you yourself are doing so in telling me i can't…

    re: your next statements; sure – i go with the general spirit, but i think for example we can hopefully all agree that doing the kind of practices that break the nerves in the penis so as to prevent erections and allow a focus on an otherworldly disembodied projection of spirit is not actually a good choice – for anyone. period. it is a travesty and a tragedy – good luck making a case for any opposing view!

    i am saying that the tendency to project spirituality into an impossible domain does no-one any favors. what do i mean by impossible? otherworldly, disembodied, supernatural….. if our spiritual progress/growth etc is to be defined by something that appears to be completely on-existent, then we are in the same trouble that has caused such madness and suffering in the name of religious belief.

    you perhaps forget about the burden of proof when you say you cannot "disprove the existence of another reality." it is no more necessary to disprove an immaterial reality than it is to disprove unicorns or bigfoot or that i can float up off the ground and fly. if you find it reasonable to not believe any of the other examples without the impossible task of having to "disprove" them – then it is logically consistent to see the same with regard to immaterial realities…

    experiences are generated in physical reality by biology – though we are all capable of having powerful spiritual experiences and tend to want to interpret these as indicating something supernatural, it turns out that this is a mistaken interpretation lacking in causal connection and that naturalist neurochemical and psychological have much greater explanatory power, while staying faithful to occam.

    i do not feel i am suspicious in my stance at all – what gave you that idea?

    ah thanks for the advice on writing tone and style. always working on it – but i find the more direct and open i am about what i think the more readers i get- which kinda falsifies the premise of your advice…. but i agree that is tough to talk about sacred cows without offending some and tough to express passion with clarity without appearing arrogant – what to do? :)

    calling someone arrogant is also often a strategy resorted to in the absence of counter arguments or from a position that wants to believe that certain questions must have no answers in order to remain sufficiently mysterious – or that because some people think a question is controversial to claim to have an answer and an argument for it is inherently lacking in humility. i don't think this is true.

    oh my goodness! your last comment…. wow.

    what on earth can you claim to know about my happiness?! do we have to have faith in unreasonable things to be happy? gosh i hope not – i also find in my own experience that this is not true at all. i find a deeper faith in reality, the desire to know truth, and perceive reality clearly is actually profoundly satisfying and in no way limits contemplative bliss, embodied ecstasy or emotional intelligence.

  33. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    also fyi – this piece of writing is a creative rant, a spoken word piece, intended to be inspiring, provocative, irreverent, contemporary – attempting to make connections across the four domains chosen with regard to dualist vs humanist conceptions and their real implications.

    the subject is a very heavy one and if written with pious caution, PC self-censorship, and careful disclaimers would be much longer, more boring and miss it's audience.

    with close to 3 thousand readers in 5 days and 4 hundred FB recommends i think i managed to find the audience i was seeking – pity it is mostly those 3 or 4 people incensed and outraged who choose to write long comments!

    i do appreciate though the time and energy and caring enough to try and set me straight – and await each of your articles so i can return the favor! :)

  34. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    oooh just saw this carol thanks and nice to see you!

    i definitely do not think human nature is inherently good, but i am saying that the failure to find, cultivate and own the sacred in our human experience of reality as we know it has terrible consequences. this is partly because it projects the sacred into a non-existent domain thus making integrated spirituality an impossibility , and because it is based in what i see as a psychological conflict that it perpetuates rather than remedies – namely making death, sex, emotions, sense of self and material reality into the opposite of what is valued as spiritual.

    yes of course there are moderate dualists who embody many humanist principles – and indeed learn those from their religion – the point i am making though is that if we are to be consistent and look honestly at the differences between dualism and humanism, i think we find that what i am describing in terms of humanism is more sane, more grounded and less prone to certain dire consequences:

    1) the idea that we have to repress or amputate our sexuality in order to be pure – and the horrific abuses that go on under this un-natural repression.
    2) the idea that spirituality is based on otherworldly contact with supernatural beings – something which seems to only happen in reality to those with brain pathology.
    3) that emotions are misperceptions that can be remedied with faith or beliefs that reframe suffering, trauma, tragedy etc in terms of metaphysical concepts that bypass both the emotions and
    4) reality itself in all of its random, unfair, messy mortal and beautiful glory.

    why does humanism trend well? it is more honest, more embracing of what we actually are, and locates the sacred in the development of awareness and compassion as well as reason, scientific method and being human, living fully, loving deeply, being in the world etc..

    i am pointing out the toxicity of dualism in that it renders our humanity profane and a non-existent otherworld/being sacred – making the religious anti-life attitude a natural consequence. i am saying we do well to recognize this and see where we are inconsistently living as humanists but paying lip service to dualist supernatural, anti-life, psychologically unsound principles that have been the staples of spirituality for centuries.

    i am not making a case for a large scale social phenomenon so much as for recognizing that we can live deeply spiritual lives without buying into self-hating ideas about sexuality, psychologically distorting beliefs about emotions and reality, and confusing metaphysics about a ghostly true self in touch with an invisible deity.

  35. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    just saw this new EJ article that almost perfectly exemplifies the kinds of apologist tap dancing some people will engage in to protect dualistic beliefs:
    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/08/the-bible-

  36. Raj says:

    without pissing somebody off =(*

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