Conversations With You
Subject: Non-christian site
I too am a non-Christian. My church believes in speaking in tongues.
Thanks for writing. I am familiar with the practice of "speaking in tongues" as it is done in many of the so-called Pentecostal churches. This was something my particular church upbringing derided as being rank emotionalism and play-acting on the part of gullible church-goers and their controlling male leaders, and for most of my life I have dismissed it as such. In fact, I still believe that most of it is just exactly that.
Since my awakening to the much larger world outside of Christianity, however, I have become much more aware of the depth and possibilities of the human mind / soul / brain. In studying the earliest form of religion - that of shamanism - it is obvious that altered states of being can be achieved where many strange and wonderful things can be manifested. Some of these things seem beyond rational explanation, which makes them much more interesting to a new-rationalist like me! Whether "speaking in tongues" as such is one of these phenomena is questionable, but I have an open mind about these things when they are achieved by people in an honest setting rather than a hyped-up fundamentalist Christian setting (or for that matter, a hyped-up Kabbalistic Jewish setting or any other over-emotionalized religious ritualism).
It is interesting that you say you are a non-Christian, yet you belong to a church. Is this, perhaps, because of family constraints? That is a common situation for many who have "deconverted" but their spouse, parents, or siblings and friends are still all fervent believers.
Thanks for checking out my website, and I hope it has been of some help to you. Write anytime!
[NOTE: I believe this exchange is one of the most important conversations I've had the privilege to have with someone from the extended web community. JJ, Thanks for writing!]
Subject: A Disillusioned Friend humbly returns
I never thanked you for your fine and comforting response however many months ago. I finally picked up "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior" and it's sitting by my computer, hoping to be read within the next few months. I noticed my email snaked its way onto your website -- fine by me, perhaps it will help someone else who struggles in the future.
I hope you don't mind if I ask your advice again -- I don't mean to be an intrusive guest or overstay my welcome. It has been months since I made contact and you are one of few people who I feel a special sort of kinship with; someone who can understand or is at least open to new ideas...searching for meaning in this often confusing life.
What I have to say is this: I feel as if I am caught in some extraordinary flux. Trapped in time. Repeating patterns infinitely without end. I am me, myself, and intelligent and inquisitive person. Yet always the question.
"What really matters?"
I play video games, I watch TV, I lift weights, I run, I sit, I think...but the question always lingers. Whatever happens, no matter the order of events, I always return to it. Perhaps in my search for the answer I reflect on the past or dream about the future. I think about decisions I wish I would have made where none existed, and I revel in my limited achievements. Nothing helps. I'm still just here, another person. A lost and confused one.
The ultimate result is apathy. I neglect homework, I don't apply myself incredibly to any one task, and I shrug away the value of anything anyone else might think they know. I guess I decide that I never can find meaning. It reminds me of God. Meaning is what God is to me. Either it doesn't exist at all, or it's just something I can never know.
In that state of mind, success is nonexistent. Success is self-defined. Yet if my success differs from the rest of the world and I am doomed to be unsuccessful by world standards, then if I'm lucky I will probably end up in an alley somewhere picking rotten food from trash cans next to Al's Breakfast. Or I could find myself on my deathbed, my life having simply faded away in the blink of an eye that is temporal existence -- that is mortality. Mortality which inevitably exists to any who has seen the world in a new light, one without the soothing promises of Christianity.
My mom always told me that thinking too much is "mental masturbation," -- and I'm a thinking addict. I'm probably doing that right now, even though I am in the flux phase where I merely exist. Why? What matters? A large part of that ultimate question is "What is life?" I spoke last time about dreams and reality being separate entities, and I have found your correction to make more sense to me. But still, if my dreams exist, then is there a greater importance to my living, material life than to my world of dreams? You seemed to want to combine the two to a degree that I can't comprehend. To merge the dream into the reality, to make the goal the truth. Yet some dreams can't exist in the real world.
I don't know if I can explain to a degree of generally comprehensible accuracy what I mean to communicate. The reality is that most of my ideas and "knowledge" are a result or integral part of my human experience. I have found Existentialism to be another great philosophy to ponder. I guess I will leave a link to a website. I have tried to write essays about what this means to me, but I haven't been able to in any degree of fair understandability. I would like to know what you think about this, about "roleplaying" I suppose I am talking about, in regards to self-exploration.
I realize that many other people in that environment are just looking for a game. This does not change my thoughts on the intriguing "value?" of roleplaying as an exploratory tool of self. A human being, with a complete personality and set of motivations and dreams springs directly from my living self, perhaps most heavily influenced by my self-conscious. This human character, this "role" is not me, it is a different human who acts differently and thinks differently from myself...at least, in theory. However, knowing that the role is my own, that the role was born of my own mind which is the result of my own experiences, well...I find that my "character" obtains his own unique set of experiences that I occasionally apply to my own life. A human born of my subconscious, setting out on his own life in a world made of other peoples' dreams and imagination, is simultaneously living within my own subconscious that gave birth to him. Although the setting is that of a dream world, the spawn of imagination, the relationships between characters -- the persona that each player uses in this process -- are real, at least in that world of dreams..
I don't know. I hope you understand some of this. If you read all of that mess, I thank you again. I would be interested in what your thoughts are about the subconscious and "imaginary" experiences such as those of an online roleplay. Here's that link -- [link to gaming site]. I don't want to "waste" time on computer games, but this has seemed to be more to me. If it helps, I have written some posts on the [stories] section. . .
I would very much like to know what you have to say. If you don't have anything to say about the roleplaying, either postive or negative (if comments can be categorized so,) maybe you could offer some advice on breaking free of this "flux," if such an action is necessary. Inside of the flux, I see no need to break free. Success is just a standard set by a greedy world of selfish individuals seeking to gain power and popularity.
Thanks so much for writing to me again. I always welcome your emails and I'll do my best to give you something back, at least to chew and think on a bit.
I'm glad you found the Millman book. Do read it and let me know what you think. It may resonate with you, or perhaps not, but it does represent a methodology or philosophy that could lead you out of the state of "flux" you find yourself in. If you'd like another reference, I would lead you to a book by a Tibetan man who developed a similar philosophy. This is the Shambhala teachings of Chogyam Trungpa (book is: Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior, and should be easily obtainable). This is a teaching I am actively pursuing right now in my quest for information about the Way of the Warrior.
The reason I think this could lead you into a new place is because it deals with meaning and purpose in life, but from a point of view that is pointedly non-religious. Trungpa, for instance, takes much of his philosophy from Tibetan Buddhism, but purposefully recast and redefined it into an entirely secular form which he then named after the legendary kingdom of Shambhala (or Shangri-la). I won't go into the details for you here, but read the Millman first as it is an easier (native Western) way in to this subject.
You answered your own question about what matters:
> I am me, myself, and intelligent and inquisitive person. Yet always the question. "What really matters?"
It seems invisible to you because you still equate meaning with something beyond yourself. If we only see ourselves as something "less than", then we will never be happy or fulfilled. The great American writer, Loren Eisley, once observed that the human race, with all its babbling and warring and cheering cacophony, is something like a chorus of frogs or crickets - just one more natural sound of the Earth where each individual animal is shouting to the heavens just as loud as it can, "I am here!, I am here!". While acknowledging such perspectives on humanity, I believe it is important that we focus our philosophies on our own personal selves. If we can express and nurture the basic goodness that exists in each of us, we may be able to lift not only ourselves up, but also others who may need a hand or an example. This is the essence of Humanism.
In the role-playing games, it seems you have found a vehicle that can empower you to redefine parts of yourself. [BTW, I understand your disquietude with the way our subconcious seems at times to have another agenda from our cognitive mind, even another identity.] The games, as venue or catalyst, are not, however, the only way to make such redefinitions. We can redefine or express new parts of ourselves in many creative ways.
I have played some D&D and other role playing games in the past, enough to know how immersive they can be, and my first impulse was to caution you against over-immersion, but I get your question about "If real life has no real meaning, then what's the difference if I live it or live a role-play persona in a game?" The only thing I can say about that is that you shouldn't give up on real life quite so quickly. There IS real meaning in real life, but it doesn't come to us from God or gods or anyone's politics or government or company. And the real tough catch is this: it doesn't come from outside us at all! We have to create the meaning of our lives for ourselves. The key word there is "create". That puts us in the role typically reserved for the Gods, but it is our actual role and our true responsibility, and it does involves work.
So, does that mean we have to be successful in order to aquire meaning? You mentioned your dissatisfaction with the everyday world's definition of "success". Here is a situation where some of the East's wisdom is useful, specifically the distinction of "non-dualism". I don't know if you are familiar with this concept, but this is the idea that while natural opposites like good vs. evil, or darkness vs. light, do exist for us, they are not helpful when we try to find a center of meaning in our lives. If we define our meaning according to "success" vs. "failure", we are restricted to what those extremes are, or rather what they have been defined to be by others. One of Trungpas lines is appropriate here:
"By entering the present completely, you approach things without bias and you are neither for nor against things. Neither are they for nor against you."
This is some strange stuff for Westerners to get our minds around, but it is the only path I know to creating meaning for ourselves, and it is tied up with the idea of the importance of the present moment. Here is something to consider: the future does not exist. It is not real. The past does not exist. It is not real. The present moment is the only thing that is real. Even when we plan for or think about the future, we do it in the present moment! Try shifting your perspective from "I'm just here" to "I AM here!"
When I mentioned to you about dreams becoming reality, I didn't mean in a simplistic, literal way. Your role-playing game will always be a construct - something quite instinctually distinct from the actual, visceral world around your physical body (no matter how immersed your mind gets in it from time to time). Rather, it is our dreams and projections that are the expressions of our true magic - our power of creating. We can do what no other beings (that we know of) can do - dream up something and then create it from the pictures in our mind. More importantly and more subtly, if we act and live in a certain way, with certain expectations of ourselves and others and the world around us, then that world tends to form in that shape just by the sheer power of our own will and creative force. That is what I meant by dreams becoming reality. We declare ourselves to be a certain person, and then act authentically in accordance with the declaration. Then, magically and powerfully, all the world around us will come right into line with and truly become that new reality.
The real world is full of wonders, many of which we ignore by the routines of our busy lives. If you ever find yourself wondering if you should pay more attention to a role game versus the real world, just note that the game was made by a human being. You know how it was created. The real world is a true and wondrous Mystery. As much as science has discovered, we still do not know how it came to be in such a fantastic form. The real Mystery of the real world is more motivating than the actions of playing in someone's created world. We just have to see the Mystery with our own minds and acknowledge it as real.
I read a bit of your postings, and you have some writing talent, JJ. Have you thought about fiction writing? Might be fun and rewarding and creative and meaningful...
One last thought - I can say with confidence that your Mother, unfortunately, is wrong. Refusing to think or to be a "thinking person" is really a fear-based response to the world. Thinking is what we do - is what we ARE. It gives us the ability to create, which defines our world, which is the very thing that makes us Human.
Write again and let me know how it goes.
Peace and Joy,
Thanks a lot! You are such a wonderful person... I greatly appreciate the care that you have taken to help me find my center, to help me clear away the cloud of confusion -- or realize that it is my OWN cloud and that I don't have to be confused if I don't want to.
Something that I can appreciate and must commend you for in a very high respect is your very positive, nice comments. You don't just see the good, like everyone else, but you take the time and effort to express your sight of it and to commend, which is a very nurturing and loving act uncommon among strangers. Thank you!! There is little that can be said, little that can be demonstrated or seen or heard -- little that I have seen, anyway -- that creates such an uplifting, great outlook for life. It is such a simple thing, yet it is one of your greatest vehicles for creation. I can't help now but strive to emulate such a caring and kind, excellent manner of dealing with people -- other human beings, living breathing creatures. Creatures of creation!
Thank you for more book recommendations...I hope to read The Way of the Peaceful Warrior sometime soon and I will definitely look into Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior shortly after. I am definitely interested in material that gets down to the core values of life without intertwining the complications that religion may sometimes cause.
>"If real life has no real meaning, then what's the difference if I live it or live a role-play persona in a game?' The only thing I can say about that is that you shouldn't give up on real life quite so quickly. There IS real meaning in real life, but it doesn't come to us from God or gods or anyone's politics or government or company. And the real tough catch is this: it doesn't come from outside us at all! We have to create the meaning of our lives for ourselves."
Absolutely! I definitely don't consider roleplaying, or living as my various personas, to be more important than my physical life -- rather, roleplaying has been to me a means of exploring my self... I have hoped that through it I might uncover the meaning of life; my meaning. What matters to me. After reading your email, though, I have seen that rather than this activity containing the "answers" -- it seems rather foolish to me now -- I won't find "the meaning" ... I have been creating it throughout my life and I continue to do so, though previously unaware. I AM meaning. "In the role-playing games, it seems you have found a vehicle that can empower you to redefine parts of yourself." Roleplaying is just another tool for creation.
I very much agree with your assessment of the future and the past -- "...the future does not exist. It is not real. The past does not exist. It is not real. The present moment is the only thing that is real." I have a thought on this: while the past and the future are not real, nonexistent -- not important in the sway of the present -- are they truly gone? The future exists in my dreams and visions, the past in my memories and experiences. These things are always with me to help me along my path of the present, waiting for when I need them. A part of me. These things are what define me. They are the foundation of my self!
I too am amazed at the human power of creation. We are phenomenal! There is nothing else like us! I am very thankful for my lucky contact with you. It has been very helpful to open my eyes and see what an amazing world we live in -- albeit one with violence, rape, murder, and other hurtful qualities... it is important to realize how amazing our human creating power is. There is so much that is wonderful in this world -- to see that wonder, to remember the power of Human achievement -- that is possibly your greatest gift to me.
I just started playing the trombone -- I have studied music for years, but much of that is the result of my background and environment. The trombone -- this is my own, personal pursuit. Making music, creating beauty, is a great way to revel in Humanity. I like the trombone. It's a simple, basic, plain sound. But it has a lot of character -- I think this will be especially so with the 70 year old horn I ordered off of eBay for $27...
You've helped me out a great deal with sorting through my conscious questions and thoughts and wonders and finally setting many of them to rest within my subconscious. Not gone...just somewhere else, until I need them again. Perhaps the flux will return, but the question behind it isn't unworthy of surfacing from time to time. Perhaps that question, "What really matters?" is a means of taking my latest creation, experiences, and dreams, and just remembering. I truly believe that those experiences and dreams -- and the immense mass of unknown within our subconscious minds (perhaps just some massive log of our past) -- is what defines us. Me, anyway.
You're amazing, David. My restless questions are settled, but rather than feeling content as I had expected, your insights have proven a catalyst for a much greater pursuit of meaning -- and from your thoughts and ideas I will pursue that meaning through creation!
Thank you very much!
Cool that I could help in some way. Thanks for letting me know it was appreciated, and keep in touch. Let me know how the Millman book strikes you once you are done reading it.
First and foremost, I want to thank you for courage and consideration in putting together this site. The courage to put your thoughts and feeling out there for all to see cannot be understated. You have provided a gift to others that are experiencing the fear and uncertainty that comes from leaving something that has at times been a provider of comfort and guidance and in many others that of fear, guilt and self hatred. As a Christian, I felt like I was in the perfect codependant relationship. (sarcasm intended)
I come from a Catholic background and for the final two years of my involvement, a more orthodox "old style" conservative Catholocism. I have noticed that none of the posts on the "Conversations" section of your site mention the Catholic Church. Is there a site out there that speaks to Catholics the way yours does to Christians in general?
In all honesty though, the stories are all somewhat the same and do apply to what I have experienced. My disillusion started this past February as I was actually working on religious exercises and contemplating passages in the Bible for at least an hour a day. It was during this time period (approximately four months) that my questions and doubts began to pick up speed and where I felt my mind was being freed. It just wasn't making sense, it wasn't logical and I felt duped. I lost a lot of sleep those first couple of weeks. I must admit, it has been through sites like yours that I have come to fully understand what was happening to me. For that I am thankful.
Thank you very much for your email. I am delighted if you found my site to be of some help and comfort in your difficult journey. Just try to remember that the hardest part is over. It gets better from here on!
Although there may be one, I am not aware of any specifically ex-Catholic / ex-Christian sites, but you said it best in that it really doesn't matter. The process and the nature of religious deception or self-deception is the same no matter which of the orthodox sects or even religions one has left behind.
It may be tempting to dwell somewhat in the dismay of being duped, but I encourage you to shake it all off like some old useless coat and don't give it any more of your personal energy or power. The real world is too amazing and mysterious not to explore and enjoy without having to worry about the old constraints that we once lived with. Hopefully, this is how it is for you, too.
Please write anytime, OC, and thanks for the comments. I wish you joy and peace in your new path!
Thank you for your reply. You said it best when you mentioned that the hardest part is over. More than anything else, I am pleased that this change came to me during moments of Christian meditation and not during a time of rebellion or trial. Yes, there were things I read and saw that had messages in them encouraging thought. Truth is, that is what seems to be the foundation. Thought.
The more I see controversial issues played out in the media day in and day out, the more I see those whose thoughts and actions are driven by religious beliefs contradict their "concrete" beliefs and further strengthen my decision. It's amazing what opening one's eyes to a greater reality has done for me. And yet I know, this is only the beginning.
At 35, I feel young yet more mature than I did when under the authority of a church and its hierarchy. I always felt like a child then. One who couldn't be trusted to make his own decisions. Instead of continuing on the path of making mistakes (and I made plenty) and learning and growing, I subjected myself to a path that assured safety and a sense of security, albeit false. Outside the circle, I only felt disdain and threatened by "the world". Today, I am in awe of the world and our ability to create and imagine.
The only thing that seems to scare me these days is what is happening in the news. Terrorism and the so called war against it (although real), appears to me to be men intent on playing their part in fulfilling a prophecy and fighting a war with their religious beliefs about good and evil, us and them, right and wrong. Why do they refuse to see any other side or option? Well, the same reasons I didn't while immersed in religious beliefs...it has its limits, boundaries and there rarely is another side.
As a Catholic and an American, I have been doubly cursed with the prevailing opinion that we are the best and only real way of doing things. It is culturally ingrained in both groups.
Christmas troubles me some. I do enjoy the season, the music and the beauty. The music on the local classical station has already started playing Christmas music, some of which reminds me of being in Church. I believe there is a way to enjoy that and the positive messages that can arise.
On that note. I will wish you the best and continue on my way....
The present moment is not mundane. It is, in essence, extraordinary. -DC
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