Anger versus Activism

I was going to write about cognitive dissonance today, but when not one but three references to anger popped up in my email, Tweets and random browsings this morning, I changed my mind and decided to let serendipity choose my topic.

The first reference came in a newsletter from Neil Slade. This is a freeform interpretation of what he wrote, so apologies to Neil if I’m misrepresenting him:

He begins by swatting a mosquito that landed on him minutes after trying a “natural” mosquito spray. At the same time he was angrily reacting to the false claims of the repellent and the mosquito attacks, he was reading these “words of wisdom” by Robert Anton Wilson: “Only optimists get anything done.” Another angry swat at a mosquito proves Wilson wrong: it’s not only optimists that get anything done. Now pessimistic about the mosquito repellent, Slade knows that he has to do something else to keep the mosquitoes at bay. That in turn leads to an optimistic thought: a solution can be found, if he switches on his cooperative, intelligent frontal lobes and uses his brain radar to find one. I’ll let Neil Slade explain to you what he means by that (click the link on his name or the illustration above) or you can read more about it here: The Crazy Wisdom of TDA Lingo.

Next up was a Tweet from the Activist Post that directed me to an article entitled, As America Continues to Tank, What Will You Do? Social activists know a lot about anger and the best of them know a thing or two about anger management, too. This article made reference to a 1973 bestseller by Harry Browne, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World: A Handbook for Personal Liberty. 1973 was a very good year for great books that were largely forgotten in the ensuing years of American gluttony (Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered was another). This is what the article’s author, Anthony Wile had to say about Browne’s book:

It is very easy for all of us to become mesmerized by the blitzkrieg of information that seems to constantly invade our minds. It is so overpowering at times that, without proper discipline, one can find themselves missing out on the joys of life and dwelling only in darkness. And that is not a healthy way to go through life. Harry understood that – better than most.

It’s a great book and I highly recommend it and that’s not just because I’ll get a pittance from Amazon if you purchase it through my links here.

For most of my life, I’ve been of the “anger is bad” school of thought. This began in my twenties, when I was hit on the head by a Peace Bomb that left me completely blissed out. There is no room for anger when you’re in a state like that and it is so superior to normal, everyday consciousness, you can’t help but want to go there again and again. However, anger has served me (and the victims) well here in Cambodia on occasions when I’ve seen “sexpats” behaving atrociously, so I’ve become a believer.

Then I stumbled across an article called Befriending Anger with Meditation and Guided Imagery. Talk about serendipity! This article discussed exactly what I’d been chewing on since my mental journey down the anger path had begun. I’m just going to offer one quote from the article, but urge you to read the whole thing yourself:

Healthy anger is not aggressive, nor is it passive. The formidable center is clear and assertive. It is responsive but not reactionary. Victor Frankl reminds us that, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lie our growth and freedom.” Awareness is key to cultivating that space for choice.

This is what Neil Slade was saying in his Neil Slade way and what I have come to believe to be true about anger. There is a place for it, but it has to be kept in its place. Locking it up in a prison doesn’t work: it will just find a way to make trouble. “Befriending” it does.

Was Joseph Smith the First Hippy?

The Restoration and the Sacred MushroomThe other day, I learned something that blew my mind: Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormon faith, may have been America’s first hippy.

Okay, the paper I read didn’t say it in quite that way, but it did make a very convincing case that Joseph Smith experimented with psychedelics (or entheogens) himself and slipped them into his early converts’ sacramental wine. As the paper says:

These early Church members sought direct experience with God and believed that Joseph Smith had the power to grant their desires. Confidence in their Prophet was not misplaced. Between 1830 and 1836, under the supervision of Joseph Smith, many early Mormon converts enjoyed heavenly visions and spiritual raptures. However, after Joseph’s death in 1844, the great visionary period of Church history came to an end.

Of course, it’s a big leap to suggest that the true source of their visions was a psychedelic plant, but the paper goes on to present so much evidence in support of the theory, it would be very hard to dispute. Rather than rewrite what it has to say, I’ll keep this brief and get to my point.

I took a look at the official version of Joseph Smith’s life and was told that as a young man, he heard so many conflicting versions of the story of Jesus, he didn’t know what to think. As he wrote later:

So great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was [ … ] to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong

He goes on to write that he prayed to God and God revealed the truth to him.

In the 1960s, I and many of my contemporaries were in the same boat Smith was in in 1820. Since our verbal prayers went unanswered, we turned to LSD and other psychedelics for answers. Unlike Smith, most of us didn’t keep the source of our revelations to ourselves, but, like Smith, some decided they were more enlightened than others and went on to become Western gurus, eventually trivialising or even denying their early experimentation with psychedelics.

After comparing the official version with the revelations of the paper, I formed my own “vision” of Joseph Smith. An idealistic young man, he bravely experimented with psychedelics at a time when no respectable Christian would. Wanting to share their wonders with others, he formed a church and slipped Datura into the sacramental wine whenever he got the chance. Unfortunately, the adulation of his followers went to his head and he became a self proclaimed prophet.

What if he had spilled the beans and actively promoted the use of entheogens? He probably would have been tarred and feathered. Nearly a century later, Frederick M. Smith, his grandson, openly advocated the use of peyote:

Interestingly, Joseph Smith’s grandson, Frederick M. Smith, president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participated in Amerindian peyote ceremonies. Shelby M. Barnes reports that President Smith experimented with peyote as early as 1913 and notes that President Smith … widely used [peyote] … [opening his mind] to the mysteries of human ecstasy as an essential element of religion… He was convinced that every human being had the potential to expand the limits of his or her mind.” Like his great grandfather, Joseph Smith Junior, President Frederick M. Smith felt that even the least Saint should have access to the heavenly realms. In 1919, President Smith encouraged others in the RLDS Church to use peyote in a controlled manner and defended peyote ceremonies from Federal intrusion.

That apparently didn’t catch on.

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith

Personally, I think Joseph Smith and his grandson were on the right track. They used entheogens as sacraments. In the sixties, everyone was dropping acid like it was beer and relatively few got anything of lasting value out of it. I’ll leave it to you to come to your own conclusions. You can click on the image at the top of the page and buy the PDF from the source for two dollars or you can click the picture of Joseph Smith at left and read it for free. Be sure and check out the source material, too. There’s some really interesting stuff there.



Why Does Science Have a Problem with Near Death Experiences?

Cardiac arrestThe Australian Sunrise Morning Show must be up there with the Top Ten most bland TV shows in the world, but when I caught the headline for a segment posted on Yahoo!, I couldn’t help but watch it. Titled, “Near Death Experiences: new research suggests they’re all in the mind“, it was too intriguing to miss. I spent a lot of time researching NDEs while working on my novel, Soul Surfer and came to the conclusion that they simply can’t be explained away by science, but that was over ten years ago. Had science come up with something new?

The segment started off with an interview with a woman who had experienced an NDE. She said, amongst other things, “I have a lot of trouble with why people need to be sceptical.” I know exactly where she was coming from and the rest of the segment just increased my “trouble.”

Her interview was followed by an interview with the late Kerry Packer, formerly Australia’s richest man. After having been resuscitated after a near fatal horse riding accident, Packer proclaimed that, “The good news is that there’s no devil. The bad news is there’s no heaven. There’s nothing.” He said this with his typical authoritative air and the viewer was supposed to take his word as the last word.

Then they interviewed Dr. Jeffrey Long, author of Evidence of the Afterlife. He presented the argument that the “study” the segment was supposed to be about actually only studied sleeping subjects, so its conclusion that NDEs were “all in the mind” due to a neurological disorder had no scientific basis in fact. He went on to say that NDEs occur after the brain flatlines – when there is no brain activity whatsoever.

Up next was Dr. John Perkins of the Australian Atheists Association. He said that the visual hallucinations of a “white light at the end of a tunnel” were caused by the optic nerve. When asked how a person could have that experience after the brain had ceased to function, he said that since science doesn’t know if flatlining, which by definition means that there is no electrical activity in the brain whatsoever, causes a cessation of brain activity, “All of these experiences are created by people’s wishful thinking.” It was some of the most bizarrely twisted logic I’ve ever heard.

I came away from that segment thinking that the desire to discount NDEs are “created by people’s wishful thinking,” but couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. Why did the Sunrise Show slant their whole segment towards the “NDEs are figments of the imagination” angle when the opposite argument, that they more strongly suggest the reality of NDEs and the message of hope they give us, was more plausible, when viewed objectively. The study that “proved” their point consisted of a control group of 17 people, none of whom had a Near Death Experience. After a little digging, I learned that Dr. Jeffrey Long was more than just an “author.” He is a radiation oncologist who has personally catalogued the stories of 1600 people who had NDEs. This and the fact that he is a medical doctor were not mentioned by the presenters. You can read a much better presentation of his argument in this Time interview.

Obviously, not all scientists have a problem with NDEs. Dr. Long is just one of many researchers who believe they may have something to teach us. Why do so many scientists, who are supposed to be objective, step outside of any kind of scientific objectivity in defence of their opinion that life ceases at death? All I can think is that they need to believe just as strongly as a fundamentalist Christian, Muslim or Jew needs to believe. That’s not science; it’s superstition and just like the Inquisitors, they are prepared to do anything to defend their faith.

Spirituality versus Activism

This blog has taken a turn in recent weeks as I write about social issues. When I began A Cookbook of Consciousness, it was in order to share my thoughts about higher states of consciousness. I was working on Sea of Joy at the time and was tired of keeping my thoughts to myself.

After Obama was elected, I assumed that America would back off its imperialistic ambitions and focus on fixing the U.S. economy. Like so many others, I was wrong. This, and the writing of The Curse of the Internet, led me to take an interest in politics and economics. The more I learned, the more upset I became. Although I’m just another voice crying in the cyberspace wilderness, I felt like I had to express my views on the important issues facing us today. In essence, I became an activist. I was a reluctant one, though, because in the past, I believed that spirituality and social activism didn’t mix. I’ve changed my mind.

Ram Dass and Friends

Ram Dass and Friends

A minor miracle helped make my mind up. When I opened my email last week, an old newsletter from the Ram Dass Love, Serve, Remember Foundation miraculously opened. I say miraculously because it simply opened by itself. It contained this quote by Ram Dass:

You use the things that are on your plate, that are presented to you. So that relationships, economics, psychodynamics—all of these become grist for the mill of awakening. They all are part of your curriculum.

At that moment in time, I was having second thoughts about my decision to take on the responsibilities I’ve taken on in the past five years. I used to live a quiet, almost hermetic life and lived in an almost constant meditative state. Since moving to Cambodia, I have had to confront life head-on as I face the challenges of life here. Had I abandoned the spiritual life? That miraculous email, which I had only cursorily read the first time I saw it, convinced me that I had not.

I’ve been taking a lot of time off of my regular writing assignments to read and write about the social issues that face us today. You’d have to be blind not to notice that we’re on the edge of an economic and, more importantly, political precipice. I’m well aware that I don’t have a following, but also strongly feel the need to express my views. Is my foray into activism just a waste of time?

Although it isn’t as spectacularly miraculous as having an old email spontaneously open, this morning a new Ram Dass “Words of Wisdom” quote came to my inbox. This is what it said, in part:

does working on yourself have anything to do with whether you protest, march, drop out, drop in? No, it has nothing whatsoever to do with that, because at any moment you are consciousness involved in a nature package

Let me make it clear: Ram Dass is not my guru. I met him when I was in India. We both were drawn to the same guru – Neem Karoli Baba, the “guru who is not my guru.” However, in these two instances, at least, I believe that Maharaj-ji was speaking to me through Ram Dass. I am at peace with myself again. Acuun Trann (thank you), Ram Dass. I don’t have words to express my gratitude to Neem Karoli Baba. That’s okay. He knows what’s inside my heart.


The Tarot, Activism and Existential Angst

The tarot card shown here is a perfect symbolic image of how many of us feel today. In the 4 of cups, a young man sits cross-legged under a tree contemplating his available options. Each cup represents an option.

As with all tarot cards, there are many ways this card can be interpreted. The young man does not look particularly disturbed, so perhaps he is quietly considering his options before making a choice. On the other hand, since he does not know what’s inside the cups, he may be unable to make a decision. One cup is being offered him by a mysterious floating hand. Why doesn’t he accept it? Perhaps he is suffering from a form of existential angst known as aporia.

An article titled 10 Psychological States You’ve Never Heard Of introduced me to the concept of aporia.  This is an excerpt from the article’s definition:

The term comes from ancient Greek, but is also beloved of post-structuralist theorists like Jacques Derrida and Gayatri Spivak. The reason modern theorists love the idea of aporia is that it helps to describe the feeling people have in a world of information overload, where you are often bombarded with contradictory messages that seem equally true.

Do you ever feel that way? I certainly do. For some years, the only news I believed was the news the alternative media offered me. I still have more faith in that than I do in the mainstream media, but it is abundantly clear to me that many alternative news sources have their own agendas – especially now that they are becoming mainstream and newer sites compete with older, established sites for traffic. I’ve seen some real truth stretching interpretations of current events recently. For example, in the lead-up to the recent Thailand elections, somebody suggested putting Thaksin’s sister on the opposition ticket was the work of the CIA on behalf of the Illuminati. They pointed out Thaksin’s Illuminati contacts, but failed to mention that the then ruling Prime Minister, who was educated in the United States, probably had just as many or more cosy relationships with members of the Illuminati. For my part, I was glad the elections went the way they did, because now Thailand is leaving Preah Vihear to Cambodia and no longer engaging in border hostilities.

I’ve recently become intrigued by Ron Paul, but some of the more extreme global conspiracy sites tell me he is just another Illuminati puppet. What am I to do? I like what Ron Paul has to say about the reasons why the U.S. decided to engage in a War on Terror (paranoia and imperialism, basically) and I like the way he replies to those who sneeringly call him a “conspiracy theorist.” I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, I may vote for a President if he gets on the ticket – for the first time in my life.

You see, I’m like the guy in the tarot card. I have never voted because I have never seen a viable candidate. They all said the same things in different words. Way back in 1971, when I reached voting age, I could clearly see America’s future. It wasn’t because I was psychic – it was just so obvious. I don’t regret not voting in the past, because a vote for one party or the other wasn’t going to change anything. Nor was revolution the answer – it would just cost lives and provide no solutions. There is a need for governance, but governments need to be governed as well. I never saw a truly populist candidate and America as a whole was still so full of enthusiasm for itself, it never even considered the needs or rights of the greater global community.

That may be the case again, but I’m rethinking my position. If there is an opportunity for change without entirely destroying the system, perhaps Ron Paul represents that opportunity. Is he the cup that is being held before us? I don’t have the answer, but for the first time in my life, I’m seriously thinking about voting.

I want to close with a quote from a great article I recently read called The Tenfold Path to Guts, Solidarity and the Defeat of the Corporate Elite. It’s on Bruce Levine’s website and he wrote it:

While we need critical thinking to effectively question and challenge illegitimate authority – and to wisely select the best strategies and tactics to defeat the elite – critical thinking can reveal some ugly truths about reality, which can result in defeatism. Thus, critical thinkers must also think critically about their defeatism, and realize that it can cripple the will and destroy motivation, thus perpetuating the status quo.

He goes on to mention William James, who often became depressed because of his inability to do anything about American imperialism in his generation (it’s nothing new):

William James (1842–1910), the psychologist, philosopher, and occasional political activist (member of the Anti-Imperialist League who, during the Spanish-American War, said, “God damn the US for its vile conduct in the Philippine Isles!”) had a history of pessimism and severe depression, which helped fuel some of his greatest wisdom on how to overcome immobilization. James, a critical thinker, had little stomach for what we now call “positive thinking,” but he also came to understand how losing belief in a possible outcome can guarantee its defeat.

This hasn’t really been a spiel in favour of voting for a candidate. It’s about not sitting on the sidelines apathetically because there’s nothing that can be done. It’s a personal declaration of my intention to stop sitting under a tree contemplating my options. I’ll taste what’s in the cups that are before me and while I may continue sitting under a tree, I’ll take out my laptop, write about the things that matter and hope for the best.

Subscribe to My Newsletter, Get a Free Book

Soul Surfer is a novel I started writing in about 1998. After tossing out 3 or 4 early versions, I got on a roll in about 2003 and finally completed a draft a couple of years later. If it sounds like that was a lot of effort for a 200 page book, it wasn’t really. It was a start-stop affair and a real pleasure to write.

If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to surf or what it might feel like to die, you’ll like Soul Surfer. It’s a fantasy about a fallen Australian surfing icon who has a near death experience that changes his life after an old hippie surfer on “the other side” teaches him how to soul surf.

I’m working on editing and revising the book and publishing it for sale. In the meantime, if you want to read it for free, all you have to do is sign up for my newsletter and you’ll get a link to the PDF. There are no hidden catches and you can opt out at any time.

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The Curse and the Rabbit Hole

The Curse of the InternetI write here under a pseudonym because many of the things I want to write about fall outside the parameters of my usual writing work. Anyone who is interested can find out who I really am in about 30 seconds. An example of my more mainstream work is The Curse of the Internet. In it, I write about how the internet costs jobs. The majority of my sources (over 200 in all) are mainstream sources like the Wall Street Journal, the Economist and CNBC. This was by design, since the book was written for a mainstream audience.

In my private life, there’s nothing more I like to do than explore fringe theories. As you may have discovered, I take people like David Icke seriously. I also take texts like the Book of Revelations seriously. In a nutshell, I see the real conspiracy as something much larger and more universal than whatever is happening currently. It happens first on a much more cosmic level. As Jesus is attributed to have said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” In other words, there are universal truths and the “facts” as we perceive them on this temporal/spacial level are just pale reflections of a far greater drama.

Anyway, doing research for The Curse of the Internet was a sometimes painful process because my sources were so often bland mouthpieces for conventional wisdom (propaganda?). They were asking me to believe that everything was ultimately under control and that the experts would sort everything out for us. Because the name of the publication is Forbes or Business Week, I am automatically meant to defer to any opinions these “august” publications provide. Sometimes, to my surprise, they did provide me with the statistical information I needed, even when it contradicted the incredibly skewed information the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other government organisations offered. For example, I learned that the unemployment figures we are given today are different from those we were given in 1993. This was intentionally done to make it look like unemployment remained a minor problem in the US when in fact it was becoming a major problem as far back as the 90s.

I don’t want to make this a long post, so I’ll “cut to the chase” and get to my point. You don’t even have to read the alternative news or subscribe to a conspiracy theory to learn there is something very wrong with the world today and that we are on the brink of enormous change.

Personally, I’m not that interested in pointing the finger at whoever may be to blame at this point in history. When America was dropping bombs on Cambodia during the Vietnam War, most Cambodian villagers didn’t even know what they were, much less who was dropping them. Had they known, it wouldn’t have made any difference, but if someone had told them the bombs were coming, some of those who listened could have gotten out of harm’s way.

As a writer, the best I can do is stop chasing the rabbit, climb back out of the rabbit hole and try to forewarn my fellow global villagers to the best of my ability. As an individual, all I can do is try to protect my family and myself as best I can. I suggest you do the same.

The Science of Compassion

Some time ago, I wrote a Hub about the survival value of compassion. In it, I questioned the truth of the accepted doctrine of “survival of the fittest.” That phrase is all most of us really know about Charles Darwin and the one that is used to justify all sorts of horrible behaviour. I’ve just stumbled across a short video clip that offers another Darwin quote that completely contradicts the notion that “survival of the fittest” is just the way it is in nature and we might as well face it.

In this short video clip, Dacher Keltner, aka the “Kindness Scientist,” mentions that Charles Darwin stated that “sympathy is our strongest instinct.” I’ll take his word for it, since Keltner actually studied Darwin and read his works. I’ll let the video speak for itself, but want to add my two cents worth before you move on to the more entertaining video.

It has always seemed obvious to me that sharing had greater survival value for a species than looking out for number one. A cheeta may bring down a gazelle in an act of aggression, but if he doesn’t share it with others, they will die. He will also only kill one cheeta. He doesn’t gather together an army and slaughter whole herds of gazelles. If he did that, the cheetas would wipe out their food source and die. I’m being simplistic here, but I hope you get the idea.

Take sharing to the next level and you get compassion and kindness. The video below suggests that these have tremendous survival value, both collectively and individually.

Most of us humans seem to instinctively understand our place in the scheme of things. As long as we have the basics covered, we’re reasonably content. Empires don’t seem to be built by human beings. It seems to me they are built by some strange alien life form that looks human but behaves differently. Maybe these psychopathic creatures whose goal seems to be to enslave humanity are just an evolutionary aberration. I don’t really care what their origin is. The point is, they break all the rules of nature – the rules that keep things in balance and harmony.

What do we, as caring, compassionate humans do about it? Historically, we have done very little, but I think now that we’re waking up to what’s happening, we can easily overcome them. How? Once we realise there are more of us than there are of them, we can form our own survival networks and drop out of the system. They will then lose their food source and die out. Easier said than done, and I’m afraid we won’t do it until the danger that faces us really hits us in the guts. In the meantime, let’s just keep spreading the word.

Anyway, enjoy the video. I did.