Conversations With You
May 2, 2012
There is none. And all our silly worries about wars and the economy and medicine and charity and who we elect president, and all the rest of it is just pointless and doesn't matter.
The inventions we discover, the achievments we make, the cathedrals we build, or Panama Canals, or whatever - even our morality about who we kill, or don't, or who we rescue, etc. etc. etc. don't matter a hill of beans. There is really no point in being born; it doesn't amount to anything. And one look at the vastness of space in some Hubbell pictures shows us how utterly inconsequential we, the earth, even our solar system and galaxy are. We and what we do are of no importance whatsoever.
As Steven Weinberg (Nobel physicist) has said: "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless."
"I have said that we have been bound and defined by our past illusions. The task at hand is to redefine ourselves and our purpose in this life. Not a purpose or a definition imposed from outside ourselves, but rather one developed and nurtured by us. This becomes truly joyful when we realize that we are unbound, awake, and limited only by our own fears."
Baloney. There is no purpose, or joy.
So, since you are writing to tell me this, I assume you are either venting your feelings of total hopelessness, or you would like some other insight to this idea. If it is the former, then there is nothing to be said. You have no purpose or hope or joy, and you assume that is true for all. That’s it. No need to read further.
Since I have always tried to work in an advising role with my site, I’ll assume it is the latter and give this further exposition. Perhaps it will help – perhaps not.
The very best answer I know of to address this concern comes from the writings of Carlos Casteneda. In his famous book, “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge,” his elder teacher character Don Juan says this about living your life:
"Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same - they lead nowhere. . . If this path has a heart, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere, but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you."
Note that he is saying that regardless of which pathway you choose in life, they ALL lead nowhere. All paths lead to physical death and no path is inherently more meaningful than any other. The important point he is making concerns choosing and creating. If we choose to sit back and say, “All is meaningless and there is no joy,” then we have made a decision to follow a path with no heart at all and our life will reflect that choice.
If we choose to actively create our path in ways that bring joy and fulfillment to us during our life, that path will also lead to our physical death just like the other ones, but we will have had a more joyful and useful journey. The first choice would make the person “curse your life” – that is, he would live in despair and cynicism and never cultivate the energies to make a better life for himself along the way, regardless of life’s ultimate pointlessness.
I see three major paths to take. One can live (or die) in true despair and hopelessness. I call this “Get Mad and Give Up.” This is a tragic path and helps no one. It is truly a curse. Or, we can choose simple hedonism – living for human pleasure and material gain with no regard for anything else. I understand that view, but find it limiting and selfish.
A third path is self-centered rather than selfish. It involves literally creating a life that is joyful for one’s own self. A person in this category does not curse the universe for not providing purpose in his or her life. He generates actions and creates things that make his life worth living – worth it, that is, to himself regardless of any other person’s opinion or input. Examples might be: creating music, teaching, building a business, traveling, writing, raising children, dedicating to a meditation lifestyle, participating in a sport, becoming involved in politics, etc. – anything that is personally appealing and helps that person to, at a minimum, find pleasure and create some purpose for breathing and eating.
When you say, “Baloney. There is no purpose or joy,” it seems to me you expect it to come from somewhere outside of us, and since it didn’t, therefore it does not exist. Whatever we do, “. . . it is just pointless and doesn’t matter,” you said.
I ask, “matter to whom?” Being enslaved or having great wealth matters to me. Creating a book or a symphony matters to me. Deciding to be lazy and do nothing matters to me. Supporting politics that bring changes I find useful matters to me. These things matter to ME and they matter NOW. This is not something external or some Platonic truth embedded in the universe.
The point of my essay was to examine and emphasize the fact that our joy does not come from any external source, be it a god or aliens or the music of the spheres. Those who have been immersed in and are emerging from traditional Christianity can find this most disturbing, since we were taught that God (a decidedly external source) provides all meaning and purpose in life and that true joy and happiness can only be found in Him, not us – meaning, of course, that we must follow the rules or He will take our joy away.
I believe that the power to change one’s life path is only found in one place: inside yourself. Joy and Purpose are not served to us. We literally create them. If we do not, there is only despair, and it is illogical to desire despair.
Thank you for writing to me. I hope you will create or continue to create your path with heart.
Thank you very much for your note back, and my apologies for the tone and seeming dismissiveness of my note - I was more just expressing my depression and, yes, kind of essential hopelessness about the seeming futility of this predicament (i.e. this is it, it all ends). . . . I wanted at least to thank you for your note, and say that I didn't and don't mean at all to disparage/dismiss/threaten anyone else's accommodation with the basic question of existence. And you are right, I'm kind of extending my own dispair with this to all - which is not fair or necessarily true at all. I'm just having a really hard time accepting what are probably the facts, and being able to find meaning, purpose, or any happiness for myself in the hand we appear to have been dealt.
You seem to have made a good accommodation to this, and seem to be going on and doing wonderfully well with the life you have - logically, of course I understand the only thing really *to* do, but I'm having trouble being as logical about it and overcoming my emotions. I tend toward being depressed and pessimistic anyway, though I also normally have quite strong reserves of spunk and self- motivation, but this larger question of there just being an end has thrown a larger shadow over everything, that I'm having a hard time pushing away to reinstill some hope and optimism against the more normal ups and downs of life, or even just the distorted filter of tending to view ordinary events through a kind of pessimistic or depressed lens.
. . . . I’m still allowing a bit for the very faint possibility that somehow there is something more than we understand...the possibility of non-local consciousness pervading creation and reflecting through us - along the lines of Buddhist philosophy (as best I understand it) - or something. But I tend logically to think this is just more wishful thinking because people can't face or accept that life just ends. And I suspect that the attempts by new age types or other proponents to drag in quantum physics to support the Buddhist outlook (still just another mythology?) are an oversimplification of quantum physics. I suspect Freud was right when he said God (especially a human personification of Him...man making God in his image really, rather than the other way around) and all of this is just the psychological invention of a father in the sky to make us feel taken care of, tell us what to do and give us rules to make us feel held in a structure and like someone out there cares about us, and especially a wishful thinking that makes us feel that we ultimately don't have to say good bye, will see our loved ones again, and will continue in some form ourselves.
. . . .
Your solution - of making the "path have a heart" - is, of course, the only other logical alternative (other than just dispairing and giving up, or doing oneself in).
. . . .
Thank you again for your note,
Thanks for the response.
You gave me a lot of your thoughts, and I’ll give you a rather long response here to hopefully indicate a path of action that you may not be aware of.
I definitely get what you said and I do understand where you are coming from. You are pretty much at the very spot I was just before I wrote the Joy of Disillusionment site essays back in about 2001. I had emerged from a life-long entanglement with Christianity and found myself set down in the middle of the plain earth with all my culture and resources simply gone. I decided to declare myself a “new rational” and tried to come to terms with these existential realizations. It was bracing, daunting, frightening, disappointing, disconcerting, and, yes, depressing. It is a true paradigm shift.
So, you are correct. It makes for a hard time accepting the facts, and it is an emotional reaction we are experiencing – a very strong one, indeed!
For me, however, that place I found myself in was not where I wanted to stay. I was determined to never be fooled by any man’s “story” about things ever again, but I also felt that there is much in our human experience that cannot be explained or addressed by reductionist, rationalist assessment and categorizing. I am not an atheist like Dawkins, et al. I don’t know enough to say what is or isn’t real in the universe and too many things don’t fit those views.
You said something I liked a lot when you said you were “still allowing a bit for the very faint possibility that somehow there is something more than we understand.” That is the very kernel of curiosity that has propelled me into completely new waters since I wrote the Joy site. I’ll introduce you to it as briefly as I can here because it represents the only logical pathway I know of for folks in our situation – humans who have suddenly had their props pulled out from under them and have to face the hard certainty of death and lack of external purpose. You may find this path unattractive, strange, or frightening (it certainly contains some of all those aspects) and you may not wish to pursue it as I have. That’s completely fine, of course, but I’d like to tell you about it in case it does appeal to you as it has to me. I hinted at some of it in my Joy site, but that was many years back now and I’ve traveled to some strange and wonderful places since then (in more ways than one).
It started with wanting to understand the origins of the religious idea in mankind. I had been so immersed in Christianity that now I was outside of it, I needed to understand where it really came from – and not just that religion, but all of it. Why does it exist? Is any part of any of it real in any way? Very long story short: I traced the Christian/Jewish origins back through Zoroastrianism (very enlightening, that!) and on further back past the Arian influences to the Dravidians in India and to the most ancient texts of the Vedas. One of the most ancient ideas in the Rig Veda (the oldest scripture of mankind) is their praise and work with “soma,” an obviously mind-altering plant substance these people were experiencing.
When you go that far back to the edges of religious history, you encounter an ancient base-level culture or way of being that we term “shamanism.” This is how ancient humans dealt with the questions you and I are asking. They had techniques and tools to help them enter altered states of consciousness and bring back useful information on how to heal their sick, where to hunt for food animals, where to plant, how to protect themselves from other human groups, etc. Not all, but many of these people were using psychoactive plant materials to accomplish very powerful shamanic experiences of this kind. I believe, as do many others, that much of the rock art worldwide depicts what these early medicine people saw in their visions. It was sacred work to them, and they treated it with respect and honor.
The amazing thing is that they still do! Almost all tribal peoples, all over the world, are using shamanic techniques and doing medicine work and vision work, often hand-in-hand with modern medical influences. So, this oldest “religious” idea is still here and still being actively practiced today from Siberia to Africa to Australia, and especially in the Americas – and very strongly in the Amazon region. I was intrigued because these ancient techniques seemed to offer a way for me to directly and personally experience something outside our reductionist “normal” world. If I could do that while still in this physical body, perhaps I could make some helpful determination about whether there is, in fact, anything else beyond our physical lives.
I call this quest the Search For What Is REAL. It is essentially an ontological quest.
BTW, I also believe that the powerful vision experiences like soma were what became institutionalized as the first true religions of man. These were later turned into paternalistic power and mass-control structures that have endured through the centuries, but lacking entirely the true “religious” experiences that the originators enjoyed.
In 2006, I went to the Upper Amazon in Peru to work with the most powerful of these ancient medicines, a complex brew called Ayahuasca. It has been used for thousands of years by the tribal peoples across the Amazon basin and is still a major cultural component today. My experiences with Ayahuasca were very intense and they were also eye- and heart-opening. For me, it was basically a scientific experiment to venture into a truly alien space with the express intent of the explorer. What I found there is consistent with what others have experienced. It is admittedly strange and cannot be empirically demonstrated outside of one’s own personal experiences, but that is the essence of shamanism and the only way to make an assessment is to go there. I can only say that my questions have multiplied and I have some impressive new information to think about, but at least I am no longer sitting on the dirt with nothing around me and nowhere to go but a grave. There is a huge and amazing universe around us – maybe many other such universes. The last thing I want to do is withdraw from it all. I want to explore further and see what I can find. Why not? There is no more noble purpose I can devise for myself than this.
This particular path may not appeal to you, but it is a real, viable methodology for experiencing something other than this seemingly dead-end life while still being in it. If you are interested in it, you can read a longer essay series on my blog that tells the entire story better and in far more depth than I can present here, where I’ve only skimmed and skipped the surface.
The essay is titled “Ancient Songs and Green Magic” – at this link:
. . . .After my experiences in Peru, I can add such a tale [of personal spiritual experience] of my own – one that I, at least, know is fully authentic. That said, I will never ask any other person to believe me. That is how “received religions” start. The only way to know for yourself is to enter the other realms yourself and see. This is not just some drug thing. This is an ancient sacred, ritualized path, full of both glories and dangers. Professional guidance is necessary.
Anyway, that’s where I’ve ended up from following my path with heart, and it is a place that has rewarded me with a wider view of the universe and my place within it. It’s far better than just sitting around and doing nothing – not trying to see what is real and what is not.
Very best wishes,
This is a *very* belated reply or followup to your last note, telling me about the shamanic origins of religion, and suggestions of South American sacred brews . . . .
My own personal thoughts on this are that 1) of course I don't know much about it, or what truths or insights it may reveal or suggest to you, but 2) I'm just inclined only to believe and explore reality without the influence of *any* drugs or substances, sacred or otherwise, because I wouldn't be able to accept or believe anything experienced under the influence of any substance as real truth, rather than a product of the influence of the substance. . . . - I don't know anything about this stuff and it may reveal all sorts of stuff. I personally have just been striving - however painful it is - to see and assess reality as completely baldly and rigorously honestly as I can, even if I don't like what I find. As someone said, and is kind of my orientation, "I want to see the angel who did it."
I would *like* to believe or find creditable evidence that there is something more than annihilation and nothing - and my "keeping an open mind" is trying to still allow and keep an open mind equally to both possibilities: that there seems to be nothing, but that there may be something. . . .
I've . . . wondered a bit if you found the prospect of losing religious belief and facing a nihilistic, meaningless universe kind of "liberating" because such a heavy bible, fundamentalist culture as I suspect . . . you grew up in is essentially stifling to free thought and individualism and independence; so that even the pretty stark prospect of no life after death or meaning in the universe seems a relief or refreshing when it's an escape or deliverance from smothering religiosity. . . .
Glad I didn’t scare you off :D
Yes, of course, it is all a matter of what one wishes to look at and what one wishes to believe, including the choice of believing in not-believing.
I totally understand your reluctance to trust anything that comes from an external chemical experience.
Two thoughts on that, though. First, everything we are or experience, including our “consensus reality,” consciousness, brain activity, creative artwork we do, solving a math problem, eating an apple, or appreciating a sunset – all are, at their base level, chemical experiences. We are wholly and totally made of functioning chemicals, all of which originate from outside our bodies before they become “us.”
Secondly, I would not have been drawn to the work with Ayahuasca if there were not some (speculative, to be sure) scientific insights and possible explanations of what is going on in visionary experiences like that. This is the true frontier of science. These ideas are tied to DNA and the quantum level of matter. Also coming into play is the understanding (reflecting my first point) that the most psychoactively powerful of the chemicals in Ayahuasca (DMT) is endogenous. We manufacture it naturally in our human brains for reasons not understood by mainstream science; reasons that may be stunning in their importance to our lives and even to our evolution.
There are a couple of books that are fundamental if you have any interest in following up on this. Jeremy Narby wrote “The Cosmic Serpent,” which gives the amazing possible visionary connection to the DNA double helix, and Dr. Rick Strassman’s groundbreaking book: “DMT: The Spirit Molecule” that postulates DMT’s role in our brains and maybe beyond. Dr. Strassman conducted the first DEA sanctioned psychedelic study in decades in the 1990’s and his results and conclusions are startling and open new possible vistas for those of us who wish to explore rather than sit around and presume all is dust.
You asked if I found my loss of traditional religious belief in fact liberating? Oh, yes. Very much so. I’ve likened it to having been cooped up in a small box all my life, then one day bursting out of it.
Suddenly I grew huge and expanded to the size I should have been all along and stared in wonder, not only at the grand and mysterious universe I am part of, but also in chagrin and dismay at the tiny and cramped box, labeled Religion, that I was confined within for so very long. Life in the box seemed normal because I could never see out of it and had never been outside of it before. Now, I know I can never fit back in it. I am liberated. That, however, does not address the next questions that we are dealing with, “What now?”
I like some of the Buddhist time-now thought, but most of their philosophies are too passive and submissive for my American psyche. I’m not satisfied to remain passive and not try to learn and create new things. From a speculative, technical viewpoint, I think it is likely that Time is a feature of our universe and the matrix in which we exist, but may very well not be in a larger or other universe.
Something my sister likes to postulate still resonates with me. She always thought that whenever we die and come into the presence of God at the “last day,” that everyone who had died, no matter when they did so, would all step into his presence at the very same instant – all together at once, for Time would not function there as it does here in this life.
Regardless of the religious context, that is an interesting way to think of the difference in the nature of Time itself vis-à-vis our physical lives and what happens when we perish.
As for the atheists, they are great for the task of arguing against traditional religions. My discontent with them, and the reason I am not one, is again, that I do not wish to STOP. I want to explore and make progress and learn and try things. That always requires a truly open mind and the willingness to
put oneself into motion. Regardless of the correctness and usefulness of their anti-religion arguments, atheism and reductionism seem to me to require one to believe that there is nothing more to be found except more stars and dust. Perhaps it is the fact, but I would be less human for acquiescing to that notion.
Peace and Blessings,
August 18, 2013
An old spiritual colleague
Do you remember our email conversations some years ago? I was writing you because your website (The Joy of Disillusionment) was proving an invaluable resource in opening my mind to the path of spiritual freedom. What started as a simple email turned into an interesting dialogue, one which still holds meaning for me today!
Last we spoke, you were venturing into the Amazonian mysteries of ayahuasca and delving into shamanism. Where is your spirituality leading you today?
What a great pleasure to hear from you! I hope you are doing well and yes, I do remember our discussions. It seems like yesterday, but so much has happened, yes?
When we live in an eternal Now, all our life experiences are just at hand to advise us and to give us pleasure or warning. I hope your path has been one of learning, creativity, and especially of Heart.
Many thanks for asking about my path. A great deal has happened in these past seven years.
I have, indeed, become involved in working with the great plant teachers. I have developed a deep personal and scholarly interest in pre-Columbian shamanism in the Amazon, especially in regards to Ayahuasca. Authentic ancient shamanism is a great adventure for me.
Shortly after our last discussions, I made my first trip to Peru to the Amazon to work with this great medicine. It was truly life-changing. When I returned home, my entire long-stable world was turned upside down. I got forced out of my 24 year career job at a big corporation, sold my house and bought one and put myself into business for myself, then I went through all the ups and downs of the economy.
I am still in business, but it has been quite a ride. . . . . It’s been like a seven year long earthquake, but a good and valuable wake-up for me and I’ve been able to turn the tides of life for myself and maintain a positive and creative life path.
Now, I do ascribe all this to the synchronistic effects of working with Ayahuasca and meeting the Spirit of that plant in person. It is an amazing thing and story, which I will point you to later in this email.
Please understand that this is not a return to religion. It is an assessment of an actual, if subjective, personal experience of things that our current science cannot explain or acknowledge. That is the essence of shamanism, which, when done right, is also is about healing.
I have, in fact, just returned from my second trip to the Amazon. I spent most of June down there, working in seven more intense ceremonies with Ayahuasca and other visionary teacher plants. You can read of my experiences on my blog . . . . It gives a very good introduction to the culture and process of working with that medicine and I also give my account of what I now know to have been some extraordinary visionary and healing experiences. Also, you’ll find a link to a photo gallery from my recent trip and more articles about it.
You may find all of this of interest, or not, but this is a big part of my path to knowledge, pushing into the far frontiers of human understanding. Those of us who follow this path are like some of the early explorers who found an unknown land and are trying to do fundamental mapping and interacting with the natives. It can be heady and amazing stuff.
. . . .
The present moment is not mundane. It is, in essence, extraordinary. -DC
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