Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What did the Corinthians actually believe?

I'm in the process of reading up on Paulus of Tarsus again. Don't worry, I'm not getting converted, I'm just studying the thing.

I happened upon a question I can't find any answer to. Here it is:

1 Cor 15, 12f:

Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.
So, if some Corinthians believed there to be no resurrection - how did they make sense of the christian gospel? Do we have any information on what they actually believed? Reading 1 Cor, it seems to me like a horrid mess of inconsistent beliefs anyway, but apart from that - did they believe they would just not die, and thus there was no need for resurrection? (A belief soon doomed to fail...) Did they just not think straight? What was going on there?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Vegan Food, A Beginner's Experience

My topmodel girlfriend and I recently attended a cookery course. A vegan cookery course.

All in all, it was interesting, but not exactly convincing. Ultimately, the revelation was that vegans can eat somewhat tasty food, but it pales to dark shades of grey in comparison with actual, delicious, omnivore food.

Let's start with presentation. I've been convinced for quite some time that vegans are physically incapable of making their lifestyle look good. I know that there are plenty of delicious vegan recipes out there - but the way most vegans present their cause makes it seem like a dull, new-agey, moralistic affair. If I book a cookery course at a local education center, I don't need to be proselytized. I know all the arguments already. I just want to cook, learn some fundamentals about vegan cooking, eat some good food, and generally have a good time. More specifically, I really don't need a rant against microwaves (not related to veganism in the slightest), Monsanto (somewhat related, but still not the point), dairy (the antichrist and Klassenfeind of practically every alternative ideology of nutrition).

In short, if you want to pitch your food to me, then seduce me with its delicious taste, not with various intellectual and moral reasons for why I should accept second-rate dishes.

Since we're talking about the food itself... well.

The first recipe that really stood out was a vegan "meat ball" thing. It was funny because the teacher insisted it tasted "almost like real meat balls", when in reality it had nothing whatsover to do with real meat. It's always funny when people who have not actually tasted meat in 5 years think they know how it tastes, and think they know it better than a notorious carnivore such as myself. But still, this recipe made it into our treasury. It's easy to do, (somewhat) good for your health and extremely tasty, especially if you combine it with a perfectly non-vegan, dairy-based garlic dip.

The second one is more of the "fascinating" variety. They called it "vegan mousse au chocolat". To be honest, if you served that thing to me in a restaurant under that name, I'd probably sue you for fraud, gross misconduct and crimes against humanity. It's based on avocados, chocolate (big surprise), and dates. I mean, it actually tastes just fine, I might make it for myself some day. I ate some of it this morning as a bread spread. It just doesn't have the intensely chocolate-y, fluffy, deliciously unhealthy qualities of my cream+eggs based mousse au chocolat.

You can get by on vegan food. You can survive, probably even without getting deprived of B12. If you really want it, and are prepared to put in the hours of searching, you might even find a few recipes that are genuinely great. But if you're a real connaisseure, a gourmet with a deeply rooted love of extremely delicious food - those soy and almond milk recipes just won't cut it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Prescriptions are guidelines

One thing I've learned (again) this week is that practice prescriptions are mostly just guidelines.

I came across this prescription for a tantric exercise. What it said was that I should lift my legs in the air for a certain amount of time, clench the PC muscle for 30 seconds and then flutter it for 10 etc.

I have let go of most of it. Keeping track of the time makes no sense in a tantric exercise, because it is just a distraction. What does matter, though, is the essence of it: Approximate, by breathing and muscle tension, what happens during orgasm, without ever touching yourself - and you'll experience all kinds of wonderful feelings. Experiment with your rhythms, develop your own style, and don't be fooled by metaphysics.

I actually do have more energy now. I'm getting my latest narrative finished, after 2 tough years. I stand up earlier than I used to, with less problems, and I'm not so sleepy at night. Even though this is a time of rather hard job demands and a firm and tense timeline.

Definitely awesome, this.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Negative Chakra Manipulation

When reading up on chakras and other energy systems, it occurred to me that to every effect, there is usually a counter-effect. For example, if the root chakra is related to digestion, and an opened-up chakra is said to let the energy through, thereby making for good digestion, a closed-down root chakra should imply indigestion. And if there are techniques to open up those chakras, are there also techniques to close them down?

It should be very interesting and enlightening to have some energy healer try to make a subject constipated from a distance.

Additionally, there are BDSM folk out there, and there are energy healing folks. There has to be an overlap. I wonder if ever anyone has tried to incorporate "negative chakra manipulation" in their power exchange games? If you know anyone like that, please give me a heads-up!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

God Is A Bad Script Writer!

Interestingly, the gospels are written like a generic, run-off-the-mill hollywood script: There's three acts (childhood and backstory - the year(s) of ministry - passion, death and resurrection). There's tension and conflict in each. There is the obligatory plot point right before the end - Judas' betrayal, and the crisis that follows. There are obstacles to overcome, friendships to be started, there is struggle and betrayal and death. There is ultimate triumph.

The whole thing even has the "breaking of the umibilical cord" scene, when Jesus runs away to debate the clerics!

So, the question is: Is god just an unimaginative hack of a script writer?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

"Why People Are Negative, Pessimistic And Skeptical"!!!1111

Link to original article by Stefan Pylarinos:

So, one of my favourite internet entrepegurus is at it again. Only, this time, he's addressing his critics. Me being one of those he nonchalantly banned from his youtube channel for speaking my mind, the idea of replying is just a little too seductive. So here goes...

The whole article is a rather clumsy attempt at deflecting criticism. Most of it is so ridiculously obvious, I would feel embarrassed to go into the details. Everyone who criticizes Pylarinos, has to be a negative person full of fears. Yeah, it's that primitive, and it wouldn't bear mention, except that there are two congealed pieces in all that bile that play with ideas rampant in new age and self-help circles, and so I feel they need to be addressed, time and time again.

Both are present from the very first sentence on - the article's very title, indeed: "Why People Are Negative, Pessimistic And Skeptical"

This is a very strange combination of words. Skepticism has nothing to do with the other two qualities. Skepticism is neither a character trait or a psychological disorder. It is simply the idea that claims should be supported by evidence. If you bring the case of skepticism up against me - well, here I am! Of course I am being skeptical. You can either show that your method works, point to independent, peer-reviewed research to support your claim - or chances are it simply doesn't. That's really all there is to it. Sure, you can try to show that this is not the case for this one very special extraordinary claim - but then you'd have to present the evidence for that...

Actually, if you're a self-help guru, you'd have to come up with even more evidence, since you'd not only have to show why your method works, but also why it works better than the gazillion of other methods out there.

The other point is a bit more subtle, and way more insidious: People ARE negative. Negativity is a character trait, a personal wrong - in short, a sin. Voicing criticism is a surefire sign that a person is afflicted with that sin. Because a positive person will always find something positive in everything.

It's insidious because it plays to the insecurities and vulnerabilites that are rampant in virtually all of humanity. Even more so because everybody is bound to know a few instances of things where they honestly can't find anything positive, as hard as they may seek.

And this insane idea - that criticizing someone or something is inherently bad - has been instilled in a crazy number of children by their parents, school teachers, the church, the military, politicians, and so on and so forth. It's incredibly easy to exploit, especially if you add a little group dynamics and the ever-smiling, suave and kind coach guru who - ostensibly - only does good, with all the best intentions.

In reality, as my old jewish-history prof at uni kept repeating, criticism comes from the greek krinein, which means "to separate out, to decide". Most probably, if you look at stuff methodically and with some cool distance, you will find something positive in most things - and you'll find something negative, too. And both should be voiced and addressed, accordingly.

In essence, I'm saying that criticism is a good thing. If anything, the onus to reframe it into feedback and deal with it, lies with the coach himself. Simply punching the ball back into the clients' court is ridiculous, juvenile and insane. And unproductive.

On the more cynical side, I still fail to see how the recent story of a stranded whale (that died because it picked up so much plastic in the ocean its intestines got obstructed and stopped working) has a lot of positive to it. In a lot of cases - such as a woman who survives childhood abuse, and then manages to make a career out of supporting other survivors - I suspect that a potential positive outcome does not lie within the situation itself, but "making something positive" is active, potentially very exhausting and tedious work on part of the person who made it happen. Simply reducing this to a character trait or an inherent attribute of a person, whose only display lies in the lack of criticism, is incredibly short-sighted, thoughtless and cynical. We cannot demand that a person be able to do that - at best, we can wish them the best in overcoming their specific issues, and empathize in a supportive way, realizing that we all have those points in our lives where we just don't seem to ever make any progress.

Ultimately, I think, that very last quality is what is so sadly missing from Pylarinos' videos: Empathy. It doesn't seem like he has realized that he's struggling exactly like the rest of us. I believe he thinks that he has to keep up a firm mask of success and self-assurance. I mean, we are talking about someone who runs a bunch of websites promising every kind of success - fast money, success with women, fitness, general success in life - under different names. All with the same copywritten drivel, all with the same obvious marketing tactics. It's somewhat hard to imagine that a guy like that actually has the experience to back his claims. Actual experience, in my experience, shows not in self-assured reliance on one's own grandiose life-coaching method. It shows in being able to deal with criticism elegantly, in the ability to ponder different points of view and deal with conflicting ideas without having to instantly come up with a clear-cut answer.

If you actually want to help people, developing your humility might make for a good headstart.

I'm chalking it up to his youth and relative inexperience. And that's one reason why I'm reacting this way on my blog.

See, to me this is a moment of hope. The sheer fact that Mr Pylarinos, or whatever his real name is, has seen the necessity to react to his critics - even if he did so in a rather clumsy and unconvincing way - shows me that some tiny part of the message did ultimately get through to him. Maybe the mask is showing its first cracks. Maybe, behind the sharade, behind the suave facade of success, somebody feels that maybe something is not quite right in lala-land.

I have heard of cases where opening up to criticism was the beginning of a journey back to sanity. All my best wishes go to Stefan Pylarinos for the tough trip that lies ahead of him.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"The Purge"

My first instinctive reaction, after watching the trailer for the movie "The Purge", was, "you have got to be kidding me."

Then, I thought a bit about it, and read the synopsis on imdb:

In an America wracked by crime and overcrowded prisons, the government has sanctioned an annual 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity-including murder-becomes legal. The police can't be called. Hospitals suspend help. It's one night when the citizenry regulates itself without thought of punishment.

After that, my reaction was: "You fracking HAVE got to be kidding me!"

The premise is just that stupid.

In the trailer, one woman says "think about all the good the purge has brought". I wonder what that might be.

A 12 hour period without any emergency systems? What would be the toll on the economy of a state, if they were actually crazy enough to implement that?

Let's start off with the most obvious, and probably the one with the smallest impact: EVERYBODY would buy an expensive alarm system for their house. That's millions of dollars gone, for no good reason. And that's just the start.

We're talking probably millions of deaths, in a state like the U.S. We're talking something like a few percent of the populace. And that's only the fatalities. There would be countless injuries that would have to be treated after the 12 hour hospital shutdown - which, by the way, does or doesn't affect people already IN the hospital before the "purge"? Those injuries would bring down a part of the economy for months after the event.

Not only that, though. Nobody would be prepared to leave their homes during the "purge". That means no public services, no gas stations, no pubs, no nuclear reactors, no nothing.

It would be nice to be able to come up with some real numbers here - sadly, I'm not able to do that, but maybe someone will, at some point.

And what about revenge? Sure, some of the criminals will wear masks - but masks can come off when you least expect them to, and some will be too stupid, too drunk, too messy to buy masks.

How about car accidents that would go unpunished, their victims untreated? How about all the air traffic that a huge economy these days relies upon? How about the freaking military, for crying out loud.

Yeah. Forget it. I'm not going on about this. It's maddening. It's hilarious.

In short, it's just that stupid.

A lot more reasons why it's stupid can be found on TvTropes.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

How much does a ghost weigh?


Terrible orthography notwithstanding, this is an excellent example of skeptical thinking at work.


How much does a ghost weigh? The answer you would get from most people is nothing at all. But if thats true, Ghost cannot have mass or momentum and cannot feel the force of gravity.  And if thats true, theres nothing binding them to the surface of the earth. without gravity to keep them here, any ghost that would appear before you would instantly  dissappear with a somewhat shocked expression at tens of thousands of miles per hour due to the earths rotation and its motion around the sun, not to mention the montion of the suns and planets around our galaxy

Goddess: The Ghost Of Matriarchy Past


Ach. You know, on the one hand, I kind of like those romantic notions of ancient female goddesses and a golden time in which sex was without shame.

After all, the shaming of sex is a bane everyone in the so-called "west" feels. (And probably everyone else, too.) As far as religion goes, a strong injection of feminine divinity, along with a more healthy attitude towards our physicality is surely called for and sadly missed!

The Hopi, the Germanic tribes, Babylon were frequently suspected of having employed matriarchal systems. In general, the idea of an ur-matriarchy seems to stem from the 19th century.

But on the other hand, we have precious little evidence that there ever really was a powerful matriarchy in place. Much less a matriarchy spanning the whole of humanity. True, temple prostitution did exist - but whether those prostitutes actually held a lot of power is quite doubtful. True, there are lots of little statues of fat women with huge breasts - but are all of them objects of reverence, do they all represent The One Female Goddess? (The reduction to One God, whether male or female, might be seen as patriarchal by many a feminist, by the way.)

From what I've read so far, we have only very little evidence of actual matriarchies. When you read the article I linked, which is fairly typical of the... shall we say "spiritual" reading of such hypotheses, it's a mesh-up of second-wave feminism, thinly veiled kinky eroticism, and new-age eclectic spirituality. It takes everything it can find, by way of free association, and attempts to create a myth from it.

Charming, but hardly scientific.

Moreover, there is often a kind of scientific conspiracy theory going on in those articles. Because female history has been hushed up by patriarchal historians, therefore every little sign of female activity is a hint at an overarching matriarchy. It's just bad science.

It's a compelling, fascinating, enthralling fantasy. But, for better or worse, that's all it is.

The Awful Timing of Ideas

Oh dear.

Tonight, I dreamed a perfect sadomasochistic short story. It involved catholic girls, anal probing, jealousy, oral sex, conflict, drama... wow.

I should start writing it this instant, but I have this other dreaded text to work on that I desperately want to finish.

Duh. Why do the best ideas always have such awful timing?

The other thing is that I would really love to be able to share that dream with one of those catholic girls (she does exist in real life, and was a good friend for many years), but it would be wildly inappropriate to do so, and only lead to unnecessary weirdness for everyone involved. Duh again.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Satirical Comment on Austrian Politics


This is in german and unintelligible to anyone but an Austrian, but seeing as we have elections quietly sneaking up on us, I just had to post this. To anyone intimate with our rather unimportant politics, it's incredibly funny.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Are Atheists Mentally Ill?


This article, aptly titled "Are atheists mentally ill", informs us that, while nonbelievers are more intelligent than believers on average, they're also leading miserable, short lives spent in agony and depression. The article culminates in the claim that atheism is a form of mental illness, the implied conclusion being that one should start believing.

Now, like many commenters to that article, I sincerely do hope that the article is meant as satire. After all, the same site also features a rather clever article explaining why you can't use statistics to show that one individual person is more or less intelligent than one specific other person.

There is a lot to say about why such statistics are extremely dubious, my main contention being, as I've mentioned before, the suspicious absence of the standard deviation. There is also the issue of isolating one variable - faith vs non-faith - from all the others: In a culture where faith is accepted but atheism is not, of course atheists have good reason to be less happy than their religious friends; if you're more intelligent, it might imply that you see more clearly the evils in the world, therefore being unhappy, while at the same time intelligence might correlate with atheism (but not necessarily imply it); etc. etc.

And of course, every time someone mentions "a vast body of research", the dirty smell of a fish market on speed rises to the heavens.

The absolutely hilarious twist, though, is this: if you ask the question whether god exists, then "faith makes you happier" does not answer that question. If we were living in the matrix, controlled by machines, and the real world was a gehenna of destruction and chaos, then my belief in the illusory world created by the matrix does not change that fact. God either exists, objectively, or he doesn't. I I want to know the answer either way, both in case of the matrix and regarding god, even if the truth might make me extremely unhappy. Because, you know, if I don't know it I can do nothing about it.

No, faith is not a virtue, and trying to align one's worldview with actual reality is not "a tragic deficiency". It's merely an attempt to be honest. It's a form of humility strangely missing in those who place so much emphasis on following that most humble of godsons.

I don't get how people can believe that arguments like those are convincing.

It's not even about me defeding atheism against da evulz christians. I'd have exactly the same contentions with statistics biased in favour of atheism. (Only, somehow those rarely ever show up on my tiny screen. Probably because atheism really is inferior. Or because atheists are not stupid enough to even try...).

As I said, I hope that the article is satire. But I'm fairly certain it's not. And even if it were, for every Poe  there are a hundred people subscribing to such b.s. in sanctimonious, ernest sincerety. And that is just sad.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A question to (catholic) demonology specialists out there

So, according to some, specifically the most mainstream christian traditions (like catholicism and mainstream protestantism), demons are fallen angels.

But, according to the same traditions, at least as far as I know, angels don't possess free will.

So, how do demons manage to rebel against god?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tantric Sex and the City

Okay, this is clearly not what's going on in tantric beginners' workshops. Not from my experience, anyway. (Granted, I've only ever been to one, and never say never.)

But I thought it incredibly funny.

NSFW, of course. You have been warned.

Likes.com: Don't Fall For These 15 Unhealthy Salads

Likes.com: Don't Fall For These 15 Unhealthy Salads Uh... well, okay. So, what the article tells us is that ready-made salads bought from fast food franchises are not exactly healthy. (In fact, they might well contain more calories than your burger menu.) So... what else is new? Just a gentle reminder, folks: If you want to eat healthy food, you have to prepare your own meals.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Great Big Universal Polarity Of Male And Female

Tantrikas, and esotericists in general, will often tell you that there is a polarity going on in the whole universe, on any level from galaxies down to subatomic particles - male and female energies abound, dance, seduce each other. Beautiful imagery.

I won't even go into why it makes no sense at all to assume that the physical universe conforms to human ideas of polarity. Somehow, if the universe is dualistic, and humans are dualistic too, that seems to "connect" one to the other in some fashion. Whatever... Let's just let that one slide for the moment.

Of course, male equals active, penetrating, aggressive - essentially, all the evil but desirable things that we crave for but don't admit to - while female equals passive, receptive, nurturing - all the good things nobody really wants to be.

They will then tell you that, of course, this is not a gender stereotype, since everybody has male and female qualities.

Well, duh - then why do you insist on calling it "male" and "female", "shiva" and "shakti" etc.? Why not simply call it positive and negative, or active and passive?

I think the answer is shockingly simple: It creates more emotion, makes for better imagery, it is easy to relate to, one can create wonderful stories about it and,  and, and... wait for it... well, yes, it IS a gender stereotype. Tadaaaaah.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Problem With Tantrikas

The main problem I see with tantrikas on the web is that they have something to sell.

Mostly, it's their bodies, in chunks of 60-90 minutes, in the form of a massage (sorry, I meant to say "sacred ritual"). Sometimes, it's a book or a workshop.

To some degree, the part about having something to sell goes for everyone. We all sell off our precious life time to be able to pay the rent. We all dish out a white lie now and then, keep our opinions to ourselves for peace and money. It's a globalized capitalist society, and it fosters hypocrisy, dressing up for the occasion, producing a blinding light of marketing for ourselves, seeing ourselves as the product.

More to the point, it definitely goes for me and this blog. While I don't sell you anything for money (I have a decent day job to pay my rent), I do try to get you to read my blog, and I want you to like it (and by extension, I want you to like me). Not for monetary reasons, but for that most basic reason every blogger has: self-expression and ego-stroking.

The degree to which I am trying to get you to do something determines my degree of dishonesty. I will, occasionally, post on someone else's blog to leave some more or less useful, more or less witty comment - and I do this, of course, in the hope that someone will click on the link and land here.

As some may admit, trying to get you to spend a few minutes perusing my blog is less problematic than trying to get you separated from noteworthy parts of your money.

Those trying to sell their tantra massage sessions, who have become dependent upon this source of income, will obviously go longer distances to achieve their goal. They will spill out article after article, tweet after blog posting after facebook status message, to get you to read their site and then, hopefully, book a session. Those articles won't all be glimmering with bright and intelligent revelations. They will just rehash "authentic", i.e. archaic and often oddly conservative "tantric" teachings that, strangely, always seem to burn down to the same three points: breathe deep, take your time, enjoy male/female polarity. Depending on the author, they will be more or less kinky, more or less religious, more or less this-or-that. And they will always be filled to the brim with cute, sweet, esoteric jargon.

There is good reason for that: On the most general level, which is the only one that will bring in the customers (sorry, I meant to say "acolytes"), there is not a lot more to say about tantra. It is really that simple. The levels at which it gets interesting are those of deep personal experience, where it is often hard to even express your meaning coherently, where it is a question of decency and safety not to reveal to much, and prohibitively hard to create soundbites for the market.

The irony is that tantra is about being present, mindful, in the moment, and spiritual guidance might imply strength of character and lack of ego on part of the giver (or "goddess", as they seem to customarily call themselves these days). You can't be present and in the moment while you're meditating how best to drive people to your site, and I fail to see a lot of egoless enlightenment in lying through your teeth to sell me some sex, or wrapping up sexual services in fluffy religious jargon.

While we're all hypocritical in principle, while we're all guilty and shouldn't judge each other, there are different degrees of ugliness to our actions. Maybe my biggest lie is to my boss, yours is to your husband - it's not about the person, but about the action.

What I'm saying is, take it for what it is - a fun little roleplay for spicing up the action. Don't expect that a "tantra goddess" can give you any insight, healing, or spiritual guidance. Decide whether the relaxation and fun that can be gathered through a good "tantric massage" is worth your money. In my experience, it will probably be better than your run-off-the-mill pay-by-the-hour sex, even if it's not exactly a religious revelation.

In short, don't believe the hype.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Coaching (noun)

The act of believing in an ideology and selling it off as Truth(tm).

The only difference to a religion is that a religion sells itself off while pretending it is for free, while coaching is, at least, honest enough to tell you that it costs money.

In short, religion gets you hooked by your guilty conscience balls; coaching wants to get you by your envy balls.

I'm not quite sure which one to prefer.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tantra Goddessses, Sacred Rituals, And USPs

Once you delve into twitter and friends, when searching for tantra-related information on the web, you're about to dive into a world of hyperbole, self-proclaimed experts and sex-work sold off as healing.

Lots and lots of "goddesses" abound in that world. So many of them, I keep worrying they might step onto each other's soil and spoil it. After all, they all wanna make a buck out of their worshippers' needs, don't they? Well, I guess there are enough needy clients out there, so probably there is no scarcity here.

Their massages are "sacred rituals", their services are "ceremonies", and they themselves are "goddesses" or "healers".

Are you trying to pull my leg?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not opposed to sexual services. Nor do I have an issue with some fancy role-playing. And also, just to make it abundantly clear, am I not an advocate of "authentic tantra". I think it's just another way to oppress people.

None of that... What I am opposed to is dishonesty and misrepresentation. And that's what's going on here, in my very humble opinion.

For example, someone out there keeps advertising "verified healers & certified tantrikas". (I'm not singling them out as the bad guys - there are a gazillion sites like that out there, this is just one example that I happened to happen upon.) Their website looks suspiciously like the ads placed by brothels, what with skantily clad goddesses and all...

But who knows... so I searched that site for information on their verification & certification process. Needless to say, I didn't find any. To my surprise, I did actually get an answer on twitter. The site administrator claimed that they know some Tantra teachers, and they check the advertisers' credentials with them. - I was also informed that they needed to have extensive background in sacred sexual healing. But then again, it was important to point out that this doesn't have anything to do with being a "valid tantra practitioner"...

Now, this gives me all kinds of headaches from all the scratching. On the one hand, this is more than I anticipated. On the other hand, it just leads to more questions: What is those reputable teachers' process of certification? How can being certified have nothing to do with being valid in one's line of work? How does one check that extensive background?

In other words, how can we even devise criteria for who is an actual, certified, valid tantra practitioner, and who is not? From my own personal biases, I reject the concept of chakras, I cringe at the mention of lingams and yonis - and still, I feel that I do have some experience with tantric breathing techniques, and that I have thought and felt and experienced my way around full-body orgasms through several years, to a degree that I think many "professional tantrikas" lack. Then again, I don't have a lot of formal training. So, would I get through the certification process, or not? (Okay, I'm a guy, and they probably don't take those anyway, but you get the point.)

It strikes me as very odd that a tantric massage is a "ceremony", sexual services are "sacred", the practitioners are "goddesses" - and yet they are "certified and verified". How on earth does one verify a goddess?

I mean... yeah, I get it. We surround sexual services with a nice clean layer of "spirituality" to make it all a bit more reputable. That's how capitalism works. In most western countries, practitioners cannot openly offer sexual services, so they made the best of it, and created a USP out of the psychological, spiritual, non-sexual parts. It's extremely clever... and extremely dishonest.

By doing so, those people play into the common sexual inhibition, prudishness and bigotry, instead of working against them. They cash in on people's incompetence at expressing their sexual urges, instead of working to shake it. They alleviate the pain, but they avoid addressing the underlying issue. All while posing to do "healing", meditation, "energy work", etc.

It is saddening at the very least, and quickly turns to sickening and revolting after a while. If this is shakti at work, then I don't want to be your shiva. I do not dance with you, sorry. Your dance is too macabre for me.

If tantra is in any way a "spiritual" endeavor (I have my problems with that word, but I hope it is sufficiently clear what I'm aiming at here), then it should lead to more clarity, more openness, more honesty. And then the "teachers", "healers" and "goddesses" who make an earthly appearance to guide us to the light should themselves be the pinnacles of honesty.

But then they cannot sell off a sexual massage as a "sacred healing ceremony".

Sunday, April 7, 2013

What are you looking for?

In a video that was mainly just the usual dribble and diatribe about "spiritual materialism" and "mystical dangers" etc., there was one line that actually did hit home with me: The question, what are you really looking for in your meditation, yoga, tantra, etc.? Are you looking for awareness? Are you looking for entertainment? For power?

Of course, to this teacher, it was clear that, out of these, awareness is the only valid option; and I don's see things like that at all. If it is power you seek, that's your call, it's just never been one of my own primary goals.

However, I do endorse knowing what you're doing, and I think that it is a good idea to answer this very question, not once or twice, but every once in a while, with regard to your favourite "spiritual" practice.

Kundalini Danger - The REAL Dangers Of Tantra

I knew a woman, and we got intimate, and at some point I suggested that she try out a little tantric breathing.

It took her about 30 seconds to break off the experiment in alarm.

What was going wrong?

Well, you should probably know that this woman had suffered through some severe trauma. And while, in theory, I knew that tantra might wake up buried emotions, at that point I just didn't think about that, or didn't quite realize the connection with the situation at hand, and suggested it anyway. Luckily for the both of us, this woman has put lots of time and energy into her therapy, and - partly as a result of that, partly because this is just how awesome she is - she is reflected and mature enough to know what is good for her, and what is not.

So, this stirring of arbitrary emotions without any controlling instance, without a carefully set-up safe environment, definitely counts as a danger to me. What if this hadn't happened with a woman in her mid-30s, but with an insecure twen suffering from bipolar disorder? What if it hadn't happened at home, but in a tantra course, with some "instructor" pushing people into the exercises? Stuff like that falls under the category of a psychotherapeutic intervention, and stuff like that is definitely not to be fooled around with.

In short, tantric breathing can trigger re-traumatization in victims of childhood abuse, people who suffer from PTSD, torture victims, etc. If this is your history, you'd better consult with a trained professional before venturing into tantra.

The other real danger I see is that a so-called "kundalini awakening" seems to sometimes trigger a state similar to perpetual arousal syndrome. From what I know, this is quite rare, so it won't keep me from venturing further on this path. One thing I shall say is that there were a few moments when I was a bit afraid of what might happen if the state of arousal wouldn't wane off by itself. If having a few orgasms doesn't get you off your arousal, then what are you supposed to do? That doesn't sound like a healthy thing to me at all. But as I said, I figure the chances of that are actually extremely slim, so I see no real issue.

Interestingly, some of the symptoms seem to be consistent with what some fundamentalist christians describe as the result of the demonic influence that they see behind said "kundalini awakenings".

If you'd like to learn more, the following article relates a personal experience with that issue - it completely turned the lady in question off sex for several years:


Instant Gratification, Guilt, Shame, And Romantic Love

Not only among catholic priests, but also in the whole "spiritual community", whatever that may be, the impact of our culture of instant gratification is often lamented. And when it is, it often has to take the blame for our fragile, serial-monogomous relationships.

Now, I don't think that this is entirely wrong (and I don't think that monogamy is the only valid relationship concept, either).

One obvious issue with this argument is that the ideal of romantic love predates consumerism, capitalism, self-help and all the other nice features of modern globalisation by about 2 centuries. Sure, things might have taken their time to catch up, but is that really convincing?

My main contention, though, is that I feel that this is only one part of the whole picture.

I think that, yes sure it is about us not getting the pleasure we think we deserve, and always hunting for the next emotional kick - but I think it is also about us judging our own feelings as not good enough, not strong enough... not enough.

I think we measure ourselves against a romantic ideal that reality just can't keep up with... or that can't keep up with reality. We expect our feelings to guide us in our relationships, and we expect ourselves to "love" our spouse in one very specific way, with one very specific set of emotions being the sign that "everything is okay". And when those emotions wane, not only do we feel sad and lonely, but also guilty.

As if we had an awful lot of control over our emotions!

It's a double-bind of sorts. We are trained to expect love as an overwhelming force, and then when that same uncontrollable force decides not to overwhelm us any more,  suddenly wer are supposed to be able to change that. We can't, so we get frustrated. And then we kill off a perfectly healthy, reliable, wholesome relationship just to get off of a bad trip.

It's so crazy it's decidedly funny, as long as you're not stuck right in the middle of it.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Amiable Amy, Creepy Blogger - A Challenge

When you watch those two videos, don't you feel that one gives you warm, fuzzy feelings of positivity and empowerment, while the other is just... creepy? One makes you want to hug the person, while the other just makes you want to call the cops.

Actually, one is by Amy Walker, the other is by yours truly, and mine is a reaction to hers.

This blog is not about those videos per se, but about the reactions to those videos - and more precisely, what our reactions can teach us about ourselves.

Of course, one cannot contest the fact that Amy Walker is way more attractive than me. She is also a well-known actress. And, of course, she is a woman.

When I did my video, my intention was simply to spread the positive message she gave, a message about acceptance and empowerment. I thought that this was a good idea, and wouldn't it be nice if the thing went viral and lots of people started sharing their own version of that positivity.

Of course, this is not how things went down. The comments to my video were largely negative. At first, I was a bit angry - not as in, gotta go and kill a coder - just a bit frustrated. After the anger subsided, I became fascinated with the question why people would reject a message of positivity and empowerment, in an environment like youtube where no harm whatsoever can be done, at least not directly.

So here are my hypotheses:

One is about the halo-effect - the well-known psychological effect where tend to ascribe positive ethical attributes to people who we find physically attractive. It's why protagonists in a romantic drama will never be ugly, fat people with pimples and a dry-speaking challenge. People like that can, of course, be the most loving, caring and gentle of all. We just don't like to see them in our movies, and if we do, we can't have them be the good guys. It's why Legolas is blond and beautiful, while Uruk-Hai are black, ugly, and covered in mud (yes, that's also a racist stereotype, right there). Noble immortality and ugliness do not mix.

Another is about a gender stereotype. A woman being generally supportive to humanity is believable, but if a guy does the same, then he must be after something. Men are not supposed to behave that way.

The third is, of course, simply a lack of acting skills on my part. When Amy Walker wants to do "supportive", then she does, while I can only try to be honest. We have to work with what we've got. I could improve those skills, but frankly, the thing doesn't matter enough to me. (And, of course, I have the very same prejudices and biases in my head as everyone does, which might also help explain why it does come out a bit weird when I try it.)

And last but not least, there is the issue of general cautiousness. A stranger on the street telling me, out of the blue, that I am a good person who deserves to reach his goals - something fishy must be going on! I'd fully expect them to ask for money in the next sentence. Even if it's the internet, even if the guy cannot actually hurt me, still my gut reaction is to run away fast and far.

So, here's your challenge:

  • Re-watch those two videos
  • Be absolutely positive about the fact that you really know nothing about Amy or me
  • Be aware of your emotional reactions
  • Instead of projecting those feelings on me or Amy Walker, look into your soul and try to find out what they tell you about yourself
  • Post your insights somewhere on the internet

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Here's an interestingly rare take on the atheist-vs-theist debate by a christian: Youtuber "Inward Burn" honestly admits to the fundamentals of his christianity being irrational - credo quia absurdum, fideism at its best. A rare beast in today's world, in which everyone strives to appear rational and logical. There is something quite refreshing to it... and yet, there is also something rather uneasy about it. Let's start from a few comments that, to me, seem to sum the whole idea up:

"I don't base what I believe about Jesus Christ on logic... I don't think I have to base it on logic, but on faith."

Indeed, you don't have to base your opinions on logic. The question is, though, what do you mean when you say you don't have to do that? In an ethical sense, you certainly don't; you can believe whatever you like. But you do pay a price for that freedom. You lose the ability to defend your beliefs.

See, you're right to your opinion is not the whole picture. After all, you choose to go on the internet. You log onto youtube and share your opinions. What are your expectations in doing that? Do you expect your viewers to just listen and be silently swayed?

If that is the case, I'm sorry, you lost me - I choose not to go for that.

But if you're in for actual dialogue, then the next question is this: Do you grant me the same right you reserve for yourself? Let's say that I was a staunch antisemite, a sexist who is convinced that christians are below human and should be beaten and bullied. And the only reason I can give for that is that I have faith in those beliefs, I don't base them on logic, and I don't think I have to.

Would you seriously just accept that, in silence? Would you not try to convince me of being wrong?

I certainly hope that you wouldn't give me that.

It's a tough one, isn't it. I mean, basing it all on faith is good and well... but no man is an island, and some beliefs are just plain stupid. We live in a community, we thrive on social interaction, we depend on it to a degree that is often uncomfortable to think about. I predict that, as long as you're not living inside a very intense and tied-up christian community, you won't be able to avoid discussing your beliefs with atheists. And they will demand equal rights in those conversations.

See, as an atheist and someone who strives to base his beliefs on reason, I will always grant you the right to confront my deepest beliefs with your arguments. I might grumble, and I might be embarrassed, but if I find that you are right, I will eventually come around and accept that I was wrong. I have seen many, many times that this is ultimately better for myself.

And, while you surely have the right to your irrational beliefs, the whole situation changes when you want to interact with me. Because I simply demand that we stand on equal footing. Your beliefs are exactly as sacred as mine - that is, they're not sacred at all. I can attack yours, you can attack mine. Plain and simple.

"I'm not ashamed to say that I believe."

I never quite got that line. Of course you're not - what's the point? After all, you have to take your own decisions, so what is there to be ashamed (or, since we're on it, to be proud) of?

"I'm delusional, and I accept that. I don't believe in logic."

And I don't believe that this is true. Imagine you're at the grocery store. You're buying some apples, a loaf of bread, whatever. Apples cost $2, bread costs $1.50. Sales clerk tells you that's $3.50.

Are you seriously telling me that you don't believe that there is logic to that? Do you assume that the sales clerk had some kind of divine revelation?

Of course you don't. That's because you believe in logic.

It's just that you reserve some special place for things that you exclude from your belief in logic. And the interesting part will become very apparent when you try to answer the following questions: How exactly do you determine to what category one specific assertion, claim, or belief belongs? Where exactly do you draw the line? And is this delineation between what's rational and what's irrational itself rational, or not?

These are tough ones, I know. Take your time. I believe it's time well spent.

Friday, March 1, 2013

"Anna Marti: Sacred Tantrika"

I found this interesting article called "Anna Marti: Sacred Tantrika - interview by Dedric". Practically every sentence makes me want to comment on it. I'll select those that speak the most to me (and the least).

As far as I can understand, all spiritual systems have their inception with an individual having an altered state experience: the ego boundaries dissolve and there's a connection, there's an acknowledgement, there's a deep knowing of relationship with all things...

At the very least, it would seem like this is the case, yes. Interestingly, most christians would probably not want to have christianity seen in that light, even though Jesus had a very obvious initiation experience involving prolonged fasting and hallucinations right at the beginning of his career.

As I understand Tantra, philosophically it's not unlike quantum physics.

Rule #1 of discussing spirituality: Don't bring quantum physics in it. You don't understand quantum physics; I don't understand quantum physics; let's leave it at that.

There have been individuals who have found that if you hang out in high states of arousal for long periods of time, as well as doing all these other practices to purify the mind and the body and the emotions, that you can enter a room of expanded consciousness 
I am sure, and I think that I know this from experience, that high states of arousal can lead to a feeling of expanded bliss. I'm not quite certain whether I'd dare talk about expanded consciousness here, though. How would one go about discerning that from merely feeling extremely well. How do we distinguish the (great, excellent, wonderful) feeling of ecstatic union with the universe from actually being one with all?
In this country we think we've got the copyright on dysfunctional sexuality, but in almost every spiritual system there's a huge schism between body and spirit.
I'm pretty certain I second that. Now, if we eliminate the pure power aspect of a priestly caste trying to dominate the rest of society, the question is - why? Why does this go for almost every spiritual system? I mean, it is obvious why those in power would want such a system - but why do the adherents want it? Millions of them, no less! Is this a phenomenon that can be explained as evolution of some kind? Do systems that are grounded in a dualism like that just survive longer, for some reason? 
What has happened in this country is that because we're a capitalistic society we've taken that dysfunction and turned it into business.
Sure, as with every other thing out there.
I don't think there's a quick fix for us as human beings in connecting with each other; I think it takes a tremendous amount of intention and integrity and commitment and work. But, our culture is not built on things taking time, it's built on "I want something right now, I want to fix this right now." So it's a perfect market for books and videos and workshops.
Yep. And so, we came up with the concept of self-help.
Osho, from my limited understanding, was probably one of the foremost Tantra teachers of our generation.
Osho, from my understanding, was a lying, stealing, mischievous fraud. Granted, that doesn't mean he was not a good tantra teacher, but I'd rather trust the heuristic that people of integrity and high moral standards might make for better teachers in subjects like that.
Yeah, I can help you have better orgasms, but trust me: it's not going to make you happy.
On its own, probably not. But tantric practice did help me relax and be in the moment a lot more; and that helps me be better, not only in bed, but in general. More patient, less driven by fear and anxiety and the need to achieve whatever goal. So, yes, better orgasms play an important part in being happier, even though they're not the sole ingredient; they're a tool, more than a goal in and of themselves.
People are not going to be very excited about this, but I think the commitment to your own personal growing up is what is going to give you a better relationship and sex life. That requires a spiritual life; I don't care how you do it, but you need a belief in something that's bigger than your individual ego. Clearing up your emotional garbage, whether that's through individual therapy or group therapy, is also helpful; we've all got it, and I don't know too many people who don't need a little bit of work getting through it so that when I come into relationship I'm not bringing my mom and my dad and every lover I've ever had to you. It's just a commitment to be honest with myself and in integrity with myself.
I contest the metaphor of size in this context. What exactly does it mean for something to be "bigger than me"? I have no answer to that. And also, if "belief" entails asserting the existence of entities without any proof or evidence, then I don't think that this can be a path that leads to more honesty. So belief in something bigger than myself is really an impediment to "spiritual growth" in whatever sense. I'd rather commit to becoming better at giving empathy, and loving my girlfriend. I have a hunch that this might be what really helps, way more so than belief, regardless in what.
There are a bazillion books and videos about sexual techniques, and if they worked people would be having a lot more fun than they seem to be having.
Agreed; this is a tell-tale sign that something is not quite right in the state of denmark.
Ultimately, what is really healing is sex with meaning
Yes. But, going back to the context of spirituality and belief above, meaning is not something that is there, and I have to accept it (or not). Meaning is more like a process, an action, that takes my own active participation. I'm not sure that I can produce meaning on my own (after all, I myself am largely a product of society, earth, my environment), but I am certain that I am part, participant, and ingredient, of that process.

Protect Our Young! Make Better Porn!

As an aside to last nights posting on porn, and after a good talk last night with my girlfriend the pornstar, something quite astonishing has hit me:

Many people (and among them, many conservative christians) will rant against porn. They will not distinguish between good and bad porn, or between different sub-genres of porn, like gay or het porn. Neither will they distinguish between erotic media, and porn in the strict sense. (I do have fond memories of "Tender Cousins".)

But what's really odd is that they don't offer any real solutions. I mean, if the problem you have in porn is how it portrays women in a denigrating way, then why don't you go ahead and make some erotic movies that don't do that? Why don't you go out and search such media, and then promote them all over the internet?

We don't need a ban on porn - we need better pornography.

If we want to protect our young, I believe that's what we ought to do, regardless of whether we approve of porn or not; regardless of whether you're a christian or a muslim or an atheist; regardless of whether you're a feminist, a men's rights activist, or just don't give a damn about politics.

Look, a 12 year old is not going to have great judgment when it comes to porn, and s/he will have access to it. That's just a fact. Prohibition will not work, judging from every single time it failed before. Therefore we should promote sensual, loving, and sexy depictions of human sexuality. If we manage to sneak a little accurate information in without being cheesy, even better.

Accurate, loving, and sexy. The last part matters! Boring lectures on how to put on a condom will not do the trick. Showing that lovemaking is sensual and blissful, along with whatever godly mission you choose to project into it, probably stands a chance of getting the job done. To be clear - by "job", I mean preparing teenagers for actual, real sexuality, as it is practiced in day-to-day life; not some idealized fantasy version of christian family life. And I also mean arousing them and giving them something to lust after. While we're at it, why not arouse them a bit, why not show how much fun and joy and bliss there is to be found in bed?

In short, we need better pornography. Way, way better pornography.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Cyclical Impact of Porn"

In the above video, youtube user anewchristian72 essentially tells us that porn affects young men's sexuality by filling them up (npi) with unrealistic expectations about female sexuality. I won't go into the fact that he equates porn with heterosexual porn, and bad het porn at that (and how about written erotica? How about comics?). Let's let him pass on that.

While it's not surprising that a christian rants against porn, I would like to point out a few aspects that I found particularly interesting with this little video:

One is that he only talks about the unrealistic portrayal of women in porn. I won't deny that this is true for the  vast majority of heterosexual pornography (one absolutely amazing exception being comstock films - if you have additional examples of porn that is actually good, please let me know). I would like to add, though, that the portrayal of men in het porn is at least as unrealistic. If we are to assume that this wrongful imagery influences young men in bad ways by way of false expectations, then shouldn't we assume that the portrayal of their own gender, with extremely huge cocks that are always ready, always erect, and their owners always horny and willing no matter what, is even more devastating to those young souls?

I was about to write, in accordance with anewchristian72's opinion and feminist mainstream, that the portrayal of women in het porn is a lot more denigrating than that of the male protagonists - but is this indeed true? Men are reduced to sex machines who have nothing on their minds except fucking women - how is this not supposed to be denigrating to my gender? Maybe there is some difference in quantity here, but certainly not in principle.

A second observation: He does not present any facts, he doesn't quote any studies, he doesn't even reference personal experience. I'm always amazed when that happens. How does he know what he claims to know? How can we test his claims to be true? As mentioned before, I like it when people qualify their claims with regard to their supposed ontological status.

Thirdly, I find it interesting how people just assume that young minds are impressionable, and therefore, whatever they see in whatever erotic product of their choice will be directly reflected in their sexual behaviour. I wonder if that is indeed the case. People don't go all panicky just because of some sci-fi flick. People don't run into the streets with guns after watching Die Hard. On the other hand, people are affected by advertisement, of course. I would like to know things like that in a little more detail, before starting off with sweeping judgments about the whole erotica industry based on a lot of ideology and little factual knowledge.

So, yeah, that's it. No punchline here, as I have to go home now and spend some quality time in bed with my girlfriend, the porn star.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

One Of The Most Important Questions You'll Never Answer

What I don't get is how people manage to KNOW all that stuff.... I mean, they just... somehow... KNOW that only life-long monogamy can be the way to go for everyone, that black people are stupid, that women are superior, that intelligence is the measure of a human, that empathy is extremely important, that rape is a faith worse than death, that god exists, that Jesus died for our sins, that Mohammed was the last prophet, that a huge pandemia is coming, that homosexuals can't raise kids...

(Hint: I do share at least one of those beliefs. Challenge: Find out which one.)

How does one do that?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

"...destroys it..."

This is a reply to faithquestions' youtube video entitled "The Foundation of Atheism Destroys It".

Starting this off, let me say that I never quite understood the rhetoric of "destroying worldview X with one argument". Not even getting into why (in this specific case) atheism is not exactly a worldview, it is an illusion to think that a person's views are so easily shattered. People adhere to their views for many reasons, the fewest of which are rational. Moreover, our worldview is something akin to a mental home. Throwing it away can cause severe discomfort to most people. So you'd have to do a lot more than pointing out one logical fallacy in order to shake the views of more than a small handful of people.

Now, let me agree with you: Yes, the fact that we have no absolute foundation for human morality is a severe problem. It means that we cannot rely on each other to share the same morality. It means that my neighbour might find it acceptable to beat his wife. It means that, beside the threat of punishment, I have no strictly rational means of convincing him that his behaviour is wrong. The only hope I have is that he has access to his basic human faculties of empathy and reason, and that I can get him to see how his behaviour violates those.

I find it interesting, and somewhat unsettling, that so many people seem to have a very specific set of demands towards a worldview: that it provide them with a sense of meaning, that it provide them with a foundation for their morality, that it tell them that human life has intrinsic value.

I believe that this is putting the cart before the horse. My worldview, quite literally, is how I see the world. And the one prime directive in choosing how I see the world is... whether this is in accordance with the facts. Can I show that there is intrinsic meaning to human life? Can I show that domestic violence is absolutely wrong? If so, then it is the case that these absolutes do exist. If not, they don't.

We don't seem to be able to show that an absolute foundation for morality (not to be confused with objective morality; those are two very distinct concepts!) actually exists. So we have to assume that it doesn't, regardless of whether this suits our tastes and titillates our religious sensibilities or not. We have to be guided by facts, not by assumptions.

And then we have to work from that.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mindchaotica: "The Tantric Territory"

What the word "tantra" means depends very much on who you are asking. It is used to describe sex-surrogacy and sexual therapies, healing modalities, couples counseling, a spiritual practice with sexual elements, a sexual practice with spiritual elements, an attitude of polyamory, a sexy massage technique, a series of rituals, a lifestyle of hedonism, a sexual-healing variation of BDSM, a transgression fetish, a euphemism for prostitution, many indian restaurants, a nightclub or two and even an energy drink … and that is just in the West.

I laughed hard at that intro. Haven't yet the rest of the article yet, but it does sound promising!
Ha! I just stepped on the scale again for the first time in 3 weeks, and I'm still below 90kg, despite a few slip-offs, burgers, and binges. Oh, and I've been experimenting with very slow, almost yoga-inspired exercises in my workouts. It's incredible how it works the muscles, while avoiding strain on the joints.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Structure Of Beliefs

Sorry if I am repeating myself here... slowly but surely, I lose control of my own blog; I'm not quite sure whether I wrote about this before.

I think it makes sense to see beliefs as being composed of two parts: there's an objective, factual part, and there's the subjective, emotional side.

When we talk about beliefs, and especially when we are trying to change them (i.e., do "self-help"), those two parts are really two radically different beasts. It is good practice to keep them apart as best you can; because different approaches are needed for each of them. Different questions make sense.

Let's use an example, one that might be straight out of an NLP textbook: "I am very bad with women."
For simplicity, I'll take on the role of the coachee here.

NLP tends to deny it, but there is, of course, an objective part here: There are other guys out there who get laid way more than me. It may well be that I never ever approach a woman, and if I do, I get rejected in the worst possible ways.

Those are facts. It makes no sense to deny them. When you watch me at a pub, you'll see me staring at 'em nervously, and you'll see them roll their eyes in disgust when I try to talk to them. Maybe I should take a shower once in a while or stop boozing myself into oblivion.

So, the question "Is this true?" makes sense for the objective part. Trying to wish it away will probably not get me anywhere. The power of positive thinking won't change it. Complicated NLP patterns will not turn me into a seductive superhero pickup artist over night. If I have not gotten laid in five years, the factual truth of not getting laid is out there, and no master NLP practitioner will be able to talk it into nonexistence. A shower might work wonders, though.

And then there is the other part. The subjective part. My emotional reactions. With regard to those, it makes little sense to ask whether they are "true" or not. Emotions just are. With regard to the emotional part of a belief, I think that there are two practices that make sense.

One practice arises out of the question, "Where do I want to put my focus?" There was this one woman, way back, who didn't completely ignore me. Maybe she even wanted my friendship. Heck, thinking about it, maybe I even find that she found me somewhat attractive. And there was that one night when she repeatedly talked about having to leave because she needed to get up early, but then she ended up staying till the next morning and calling in sick, just so she could spend more time with me... So it might feel good to remind myself of that from time to time. Next thing I know, I might realize that a random woman on the street keeps smiling at me. And over time, it may change my attitude, and ultimately, my beliefs.

The second one is the good old buddhist practice of empathy. Learning to be more empathic toward myself. Developing empathy towards my own feelings of self-loathing and inadequacy. Realizing, ever so slowly, that all other humans suffer from the same issue. Gaining more stability and "discomfort tolerance", to use a little buzzword.

Forget about that neighbour. He or she will never come around. (Actually, one time, a neighbour did appear at my doorstep and asked me for help with her maths. And yes, things did ensue. What can I say, we were young and lonely. But that was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. One I wouldn't want to have missed, though.) And that miraculous language pattern will never do anything for you.

Nor are there any guarantees that my little ramblings here contain any value for you.

Maybe I should give you a punchline, for better entertainment value. Frankly, I don't have one right now.

A little social experiment (for fun and... well, fun)

  • Declare yourself a christian.
  • Declare yourself not only that, but specifically a manichaean, pre-Augustine, Origenic, Pelagian, nontrinitarian, neo-gnostic christian.
  • Decry all other forms of christianity as heresy.
  • While doing so, constantly bitch about how your beliefs are being denigrated and marginalized by the evil mainstream heretic christian churches. Claim that the cross is an offensive symbol of oppression, baptism is the cause of sin, the eucharist is the devil's invention, etc.

How's that for a somewhat belated new year's resolution?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Very, Very Brief Story Of Enlightenment

This is how I envision that it probably might have come to pass (*):

One rainy afternoon back in 525 (or so) b.c.e., a well-respected member of a well-respected family in ancient India sat down and admitted to himself that he was deeply dissatisfied with his life. He left the safe surroundings of his home, and he ventured to study with the foremost spiritual leaders of his time and place, to find lasting peace of mind.

Now, this man, who would later be called the buddha, was surely a clever fellow. Not only was he able to participate in, and master the techniques he learned, at an amazing speed - he also came to realize that they did not work. Not as advertised, anyway. They gave him peace, yes, and bliss, and deep mental states full of visions and tranquility - but all of this did not last. The blissful states lasted for minutes, probably hours at most, and then he was back to his old little self-loathing limited normal self.

So he sat down and had a long, intensive discussion with himself. It seemed that all those methods had one thing in common: They were incredibly complicated. And also, they were highly elitist, suitable only for the initiated, for the rich, for the True Believers; covered with layers upon layers of superstition and guru worship and... all the things that our clever young hero despised.

In short, they did not alleviate suffering. Like sex with someone you don't care about, they gave you a short kick, and left you with an emptiness even deeper than before.

But he also had an inkling that, hidden within all that superficial spiritual materialism, an incredibly valuable gem was to be found.

So, maybe, all he had to do was strip away the unnecessary. Much like a later genius would say - you only have to carve away the stone that hides the statue.

So he took all that those methods he learned had in common. The result was shockingly, and quite deceptively, simple: Sit down, breathe, focus on breathing. When thoughts arise, let them pass, and gently move your focus back to breathing.

And that was what he did. He sat down under the bo tree, snakes came and went, the veil of Maya was torn before his eyes, and he could see. Really see. And feel, and smell, and taste... his mind explored past lives and future possibilities, and he stopped being limited by his own ego.

In short, he had discovered the secret.

Soon after, an old man came along, and asked him what he was doing. And the buddha told him. The man started to meditate, and found some peace of mind. Not quite the kind of peace the buddha had, mind you - but then, the old man had never meditated in his whole life, so the practice would probably take some time with him.

At any rate, the man felt so much better that he started spreading the word. And others started to follow the newly enlightened being. As he started teaching, he also discovered that he had a way with words. With ever more people attending his lectures, ever more disciples listening intently, he was on a roll. As his disciples got into the habit of practice, they, too, experienced great states of peace and tranquility. Plus, they provided the buddha with food and drink and, even more importantly, veneration.

It seemed as if there was no stopping the newborn movement. Years passed, during which the disciples discussed the intricacies of their spiritual advancements, and - deeply rooted in the fecund soil of the buddha's teachings - the sprout of a new doctrine began to bloom. A king had announced his arrival. A king! Everyone was overwhelmed. The buddha, who was now used to having a certain effect on people, managed to keep his cool. After all, this was what was expected of him.

And yet, at around that time, a few nagging doubts clouded his enlightened mind. It had been two years since his adventure under the bo tree, and none of his pupils seemed to have been enlightened. Moreover, they began to quarrel and quibble and fight about minor points - how to sit, when to sit, what to eat - that really had nothing to do with his message.

Maybe he had been unscrupulous in his choice of words. Initially, he hadn't given it much thought. In his delighted state, it had seem like such a minor problem! What he had experienced had felt, to him, like what the scriptures described as moksha, bodhi, kensho, metanoia. So that was what he talked about. And now it was too late to stop. Within the new sprout of buddhism, already religiosity was claiming its place, suffocating the roots, poisoning the mind.

At a sunny afternoon, back in 505 (or so) b.c.e., two Venerable Disciples were sitting in the long grass. They were venerable indeed, Followers of the First Month, trustworthy and truly devoted to the cause. One of them was the Venerable Disanjali, with long hairs and a wild beard; the other, younger one, was the Venerable Assamphuti, blond and fair.

As they sat, Disanjali said: "Venerable Assamphuti, I am annoyed by the newest converts. They talk about enlightenment as if they were entitled to it. As if the practice was somehow an automatic machine, a vendor, selling enlightenment for a little practice. As if it was something that they could have, without putting in the hard work, as we do."

To this, Assamphuti sighed, and replied: "Venerable Disanjali, they are greedy and cheap. They also say that some of them should be enlightened by now. Some of them even say that The Master might be wrong."

Disanjali shook his long-haired head: "It saddens me deeply. We might have to expel some of them."

"Yes, we might. But then again... haven't you secretly been having similar thoughts, from time to time?" He looked up, and hastened to add: "Not that those thoughts should be taken seriously, of course."

"Of course not."

They were silent for a bit. Then Disanjali said: "Maybe we should ask The Master about it."

"Are you crazy?" Assamphuti exclaimed, and then instantly returned to his well-disciplined, calm voice, such as was suitable for a Venerable Disciple of the First Month. "You are essentially saying that The Master is wrong. That He might not be enlightened. That He might..."

"Lie to us?" That was the dark, solemn voice of the Very Venerable Disciple Attamuno, who had been secretly listening in. Blushing deeply, the two of them looked at him in astonishment. He sat down in the grass, dropping his long walking-stick to the ground, and said with a soft smile: "Oh you youngsters. You have it wrong, you know. I've been giving the thing a lot of thought, pondering night after night, sitting awake in the pale moonlight. The answer is there, right in front of your eyes, and yet you don't see it."

He made a long, artistic pause just to add to the thrill.

Then he continued: "We know that The Master cannot be wrong. He has proven it over and over. And yet, we also know that enlightenment doesn't come to us, regardless of how much we try. So, my friends, there is only one possible solution... "

Again, a long pause. This time, Assamphuti couldn't bear it, and urged him to speak on.

"Isn't it obvious? We are misunderstanding The Master. He's talking figuratively, He's talking in images and similes. He's expressing something that we, the unenlightened, are not able to understand."

He paused again. Only this time, it was not for effect. He fell into a grave, thoughtful silence.

"And what, my friend, might that be?" asked Disanjali then.

"Well, my Venerable Brother Disanjali. I don't understand it either. After all, I'm not enlightened. But I think that, in a way I'm not completely sure how to explain, and that I think is really an unsolvable riddle, enlightenment ultimately is not."

"What?" Both of his fellows exclaimed in unison, thinking the older monk had gone insane.

"It is, and yet it isn't. It's not here, not there. It's not a state. It is nothing that can be expressed in words. You cannot explain it to the unenlightened. Thus, when The Master speaks about enlightenment, he's talking from a perspective of enlightenment - a perspective we cannot hope to understand, unless we are, ourselves, enlightened. Which we are not. Which we cannot really 'be', because, as I said, it is not  a state."

The two of them sat in stunned silence, while Attamuno was slowly caressing a flower.

"You're right", said Disanjali after a while.

"Yes", said Assamphuti. "He's right."

And so it was. The new doctrine spread like a wildfire through the sangha, keeping a lot of followers in the group that might otherwise have turned away, binding the tightly-knit community even closer together, so that, even after the buddha died, they were able to move on. They prospered.

True, the wildfire also burned down a few remnants of self-esteem. But such was to be expected. It was only collateral damage. What mattered was the sangha, the dharma, the buddha, not some selfish concerns a few youngsters might have.

After all, the doctrine flourished, and it helped keep the peace in the land. Over time, it got a lot more intricate, convoluted, confusing. Ironically, that served even better to keep people in their place. Whenever somebody asked or had doubts, it was only because they were not there yet, hadn't read enough of the scriptures, had a few thousand more lives of suffering before they could reach... well, not reach, really... a state of non-state, the realization of form and emptiness... ach duh, you can't understand it anyway! Stop asking those stupid questions! You're such a child!

Patient teachers explaining the same points of Truth with high confidence, over and over again. Now and then, some teachers were not quite so patient. Some even slept with their students. That, however, was a totally different story, utterly different and unrelated indeed.

Coalitions arose: first with kings, then with tyrants. On the very top of that great mountain of confusion, a wonderful temple was built. Inside of it, priests developed increasingly complicated rituals, while peasants were plowing their fields, happily giving whatever they could to the priests for a chance of enlightenment only a few thousand reincarnations later. Children were starving, monks were meditating, priests were discussing important matters, such as whether women were able to reach enlightenment, or what was the karmic punishment for stealing from the temple. Lots of good was done in the name of the dharma. Lots of bad was done, too.

By and large, the world was at peace.

(*) very obvious historical inaccuracies and propositions inconsistent with intricacies of 2500 years' worth of interpretation and exegesis notwithstanding

A Chance Meeting

Yesterday, I ran into a girl I know from a coffee shop; a devout christian. We had a good talk, mostly about religion. We disagreed on many points, and agreed on some others. We parted, I think, both of us enriched and looking forward to our next encounter.

That's the way it should be.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Let's Turn It Into An Art Form!

It just dawned on me... in all my attempts at dealing with my own emotions, all the personal-development stuff I've tried, with whatever success... one thing was missing all that time.

Just look at it. Picture me dealing with some "difficult emotion", whatever it is.

The buddhist doctrine will tell me that it just "is what it is", and then to focus on my breath and meditate.

The NLPers will say that I have to break it down into its various sensory qualities, then create a new feeling from scratch, anchor that, yadda yadda yadda.

Tony Robbins will tell me I have not yet succeeded in making "feeling better" a MUST, that I should shift my pose and focus on the right things. Father Barron will want me to rejoin the catholic *cough*cult*cough* church, and Steven Pylarinos will make another video.

The psychoanalyst will try to find the root cause for a few years, the christian will find my lack of faith disturbing and tell me to pray nonetheless, Marshall Rosenberg will offer four stages (not three! not five!), the advaitin will say that there's nothing to learn anyway...

And they all have exactly one thing in common: They offer me one (or maybe two or three) recipes, based on a few ideological premises that are to be accepted. When you cut to the chase, there is One True Way, and by necessity the others are false, or at least not the best way.

There is a certain... fearful timidity to that approach. As if my inner life was like an ancient chinese vase about to fall and break into a thousand pieces!

Do you, my dear reader, share my impression that the best things in life generally tend to make you feel free, spontaneous and creative?

If so, why don't we start being creative about our own emotional development? There is this troubling feeling. I can yell at it to go away. I can consciously choose to identify with it. I can name it, externalize it, picture it as a color. I can breathe into it. I can dance around the room, or at least visualize myself doing so. I can try and add warmth to it, or else push it away and make it appear smaller and in black-and-white. I can focus on my breath. I can come up with a few fun affirmations...

I have all those things to try, and then some.

Doesn't that feel tremendously more empowering than sticking to one method devised by some clever guru? Even if that guru be the christ, or the buddha himself...

Let's reclaim our own relationship with ourselves! Let's turn our self-appreciation into an art form, our self-love into an eternal dance, a fire of passion, creativity, unabashed recklessness. Some things will make us feel divine for a short time, some things will help us in the long term, and some attempts will blow up in our face like a big old jack-in-the-box. Let's learn from our experiences, mistakes and successes, and let's share our insights.

I'm not a broken vase. I am my own art project.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Why Rituals Matter

Practically every life coach and self-help guru will go on about rituals, and how important they are. As one popular example, watch the following Tony Robbins video:

(Note for clarity, added after my discussion with Brent Mosher in the comments section below: I do not endorse Tony Robbins; he's a self-help guru, and he keeps raising unrealistic and false hopes in his followers. However, I think he's right in this regard, and I believe in separating the wheat from the chaff, even with gurus.)

He's right, of course, and they all are: Rituals are good for you!

This posting is about what they don't tell you, perhaps because it's not trendy and not "positive" enough. Or, more probably, they simply don't know it. (*)

There is a well-documented psychological effect called decision fatigue. It describes how decisions are physically exhausting. The following quote from a NYT article (quoted in an excellent article aptly titled "Decision Fatigue: Why Willpower Isn’t Always Enough") explains it nicely:
Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price.
It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain...
(Highlights by me.)
And that is precisely why it makes sense to ritualize our tasks - especially those we don't like. Daily workout, I guess, is one of those for most of us. You get up in the morning and your brain and your whole body goes noooo, not again... I'm tired, I want ten more minutes in bed, it'll feel terrible... And that odd behaviour will continue day after day after day, even though you repeatedly have the experience of being more happy after the workout than before. But when you're used to doing your morning exercises every day at the same time for so long you don't even remember a time when you did not do them, it's much easier. It's one thing you don't have to think about.

Perhaps more importantly, if you know the dynamics of decision fatigue, it gets easier to handle those situations. It's not a question of guilt anymore, but a question of acquiring the skills. Instead of calling yourself a failure for not having enough willpower, now it's time to learn how to ritualize all the things you want to do on a regular basis.

And it gets even better!

'Cos you can apply the same principle on a much lower level, too.

I find that workout gets easier if I do the same set of exercises every time. Sure, every now and then I add an "extra", just to make it more interesting, but in general, I have my 10 or so moves that I do every day.

I hear similar stories from people who decided to go vegetarian. There is no question about ordering that rare steak. One more decision they don't have to take with every single meal.

Venturing into philosophical terrain, I find it plausible that our identity, the labels we attach to ourselves and then attach ourselves to, are yet another way to get rid of decisions. If that is so, my decision never to go 100% with any dietary philosophy has a severe drawback here, and I will rethink it in the next few days.

So, in case you were wondering why your grandma always insisted the dishes be done right after the meal, now you know - she was perfectly right. Sometimes, a lifetime of experience can make one a great psychologist.

What tasks can you think of right now that you would like to ritualize in this way?