EMOTION CREATING THOUGHT OR THOUGHT CREATING EMOTION

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I was talking about meditation with a young woman that follows the teachings of Yogananda. I asked if she found it difficult to meditate. My companion answered yes, very much so. In fact, she wasn’t sure if she had ever managed to actually meditate. She had been developing her meditation practice for two years and could not say if she had every meditated ‘successfully’. My companion explained that according to Yogananda’s teachings, the goal of meditation was to cease all thought, which can be achieved by letting the heart be still, suspending emotion. I found this concept interesting. In this line of logic, emotions drive thoughts. It’s quite contrary to the way we usually think about emotions. Typically, we have a thought, either elicited by external circumstances or from within the conscious, and then that thought triggers an emotional response. The two differing notions create a scenario much like the chicken and the egg. What begets what? My companion an I contemplated this for a while, reaching no definitive conclusion.

Having thought on this further, I think this conundrum can only have a both / and answer. We’ve all had cases where emotion is reactive to an idea presented by ourselves or someone else. But I also think that we’ve all experienced emotions with no trigger, perhaps this can best be described as a physiological experience. With the emotion already present, it’s only a matter of time before the mind finds a thought to justify or perpetuate the emotion, giving way to the scenario Yogananda describes.

It makes sense that he would discuss this scenario because it would be an especially difficult part of meditation. The logical self is deciding to meditate, so it would be working to clear the mind. But the emotional self is more difficult to tame and creates havoc with the conscious. Emotion exists independently from logic. Logic can have great influence over the thoughts in the conscious, but it has little effect on emotions that manifest in the entire body. In order to affect emotion, it takes a multipronged approach that targets both the mind and the body. Yogandanda and other great thinkers provide such an approach through yogic practices such as asana, mantra, and pranayama.

ALIVENESS

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I’ve claimed again and again in my writing that it isn’t something alluring or exotic in the secular world that draws people away from organized religion, but rather something within organized religion that turns them away. Some of the most common reasons people give for leaving their faith organization are hypocrisy, bureaucracy, and plain old personality conflicts. But not everyone storms out angry following a string of offensive incidents. Some simply become disillusioned and disappointed by scarcity. Scarcity of man-power, scarcity of open-mindedness, scarcity of inspiration, scarcity of professionalism, and scarcity of a divine connection.

I read something recently that made me think about people’s motivation in all aspects of their lives, especially faith. According to Joseph Campbell, “People say we are seeking meaning for life. I don’t think that is really what we are seeking. What we are seeking is to feel the rapture of being alive”. This idea wraps up that scarcity idea in a nice little package. People want to feel alive. And in America’s world of junk food and television, we need to feel that aliveness desperately. When our place of worship does not provide it, or worse, works against it with stagnation and decay, the choice to move on is a natural one.

 

Campbell, Joseph. 1972. Myths to Live By. New York: Viking Press.

4TH OF JULY FREEDOM

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Today, on July 4th, I would just like to encourage everyone to take advantage of their freedoms. In the United States, we have a great deal of freedom in regards to spirituality. Depending on where you live in America, it may seem like there is only one spiritual path, or at least one that is better accepted than others. But in all reality, there is almost no option unavailable to us.

Whatever your spiritual inclination, celebrate your freedom to believe and act as you choose. Celebrate being able to belong to your faith tradition. Celebrate having the freedom to mix traditions into something more unique. Celebrate not having to do anything related to faith. While I believe that a spiritual life is healthy, worthwhile, and relevant, celebrate if you are an atheist. The freedom to not believe is not available to all. The ideal of independence that is so vital to the fabric of our nation, has given rise to an entire spectrum of spiritual traditions (including a lack there of in some cases). Freedoms as varied as ours gives way to diversity. And that is most certainly something to be celebrated.

Happy Independence Day!

INFLUENCE V. CONTROL

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Last week, I was amongst a group of spiritually diverse and eclectic people when the subject of karma came up. We were contemplating what things in our lives we wanted to manifest over the summer, and what things we wanted to be rid of. The question arose, how one could intend and act to either manifest or remove items from their life, without releasing bad karma and in turn risk bad karma coming back in return? One woman had an interesting way of thinking about it. She argued, that you could work to influence something (a person, situation, etc.) without risking adverse karma, but the moment you work to control something, then you’ve gone too far and opened yourself to bad karma.

This could be an issue with organized religion. Rather than work to influence the spiritual lives of followers, ‘World Religions’ often work to control many aspects of followers’ lives including: spiritual beliefs, practice, moral beliefs, and life style choices. If religious organizations sought to influence rather than control, how many followers would stay rather than leave discouraged and disenchanted? How many more fruitful conversations would be had, if people weren’t afraid to speak up? In the effort to gain control, to try and force how people think and act, people are divided. If control were not deemed necessary to maintain the integrity of a religion, how much less hate would there be? How much less talk of ‘them and us’ would we have on our lips?

As an organization or an individual, I think it is a good rule of thumb, that when you seek to control something (a situation or others) you are asking for trouble. Offer your goodness without force and who knows what beauty you could instill in someone’s life.

MARKETED MEDITATION

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My boss got talking about meditation, and how it could benefit us in the workplace. No doubt it would be good for us. He had just gone to a conference about how to boost productivity and meditation was the key method presented. Meditation is often presented as the means to overcome certain problems or improve in certain areas. To streamline matters even more, it is presented as a simple list of steps guaranteed to work. In just five steps you can find success, money, happiness, and (of course) less stress. Meditation is marketed as a fix for tangible issues rather than a lifestyle to improve the person overall. There is no shame in introspection or looking to become a better person, but we need to look past the gimmicks and remember that there are no quick fixes. Meditation isn’t a magic cure, or a pill you can take. It is a practice that must be grown and nurtured. The best thing you can give toward meditation practice is simply time and patience. No gimmicks or quick fixes to be had.

PAYING FOR SPIRITUALITY

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The spiritual marketplace and consumerism are considered by many academics to be main components of New Age spirituality. But even suppliers of New Age goods and services find that their consumers come and go, and business isn’t always booming. In fact, they have many of the same monetary complaints as leaders of World Religions. Spirituality in the West is subject to the same principle no matter what faith tradition that spirituality stems from.

As capitalism and consumerism have grown hand in hand, our concept of ‘value’ has changed. This is especially true I think for Americans. Compared to other Westernized nations our goods come relatively cheap due to low labor costs here in the USA, and the exploitation foreign workers through their extremely low wages. We are used to ‘getting a deal’, ‘getting bang for our buck’, and ‘getting more for our money’. Eventually, value gets equated with quantity. (For more on this, see my article: “Equating Value To Money: Effects On Religious And Spiritual Involvement”.)

It is hard to quantify matters of spirituality. In turn, this challenge makes people perceive matters of spirituality less valuable than other elements of life that prove to be more tangible. It’s on tangible items, people often choose to spend their money instead of spiritual experiences. Especially when money is limited, priorities do not often fall in favor of spiritual goals. Perhaps the low status of spiritual experiences is not due to a conscious decision to rank it lower, but rather the effect of an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ factor. To combat this way of thought, no new jazzy products or marketing techniques will convince people to spend money on spirituality. Instead our perception of value must change. When we find more value in safety, security, love, peace, and fulfillment than in tangible items that become out of date, worn, and break, then spirituality will move up in monetary priority.

 

 

NEW AGE: A GREEDY SPIRITUALITY?

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One of the biggest criticisms of New Age spirituality is its ‘commercial nature’. Taves and Kinsella identify shopping / the spiritual market place as one of four major characterizations attributed to New Age in scholarly literature (84-85). As far as looking to define the essence of New Age, I don’t think this judgement holds in regards at all to tangible goods. Every ‘World Religion’ has revenue raising products such as books, CDs, and decorative items that increase the wealth of companies or individuals. The main target of the criticism toward New Age greediness centers around services and education. Some may take donations for providing services (such as readings and healings), but you are more likely to find a determined price list. Similarly, knowledge is passed through paid classes and programs.

The criticism gets the most traction with the assumption that the motivation behind all this is money. In my experience, the prices simply allow New Age service providers to live (and not particularly lavishly). Whatever faith you follow, money is necessary in our world. People cannot teach or nurture others if they cannot support themselves in the most basic ways. When that support moves well above and beyond basic, that is another story. Determining what constitutes as ‘basic’ would be difficult considering people of different backgrounds, especially those from developing nations compared to those from the developed world.

From a consumerist point of view, there is nothing bad about spending money on such products if what they receive in return is ‘worth it’. Similarly, those in New Age that find energies significant, find monetary exchange as a way of creating balance. They believe that to receive something you must give something. In this lofty ideology, ‘mundane’ money can work as part of that exchange. It is simply give and take, action and reaction.

A benefit of this system, is that there is little question where funds are coming from. The ‘consumer pays’ method is relatively transparent. In other faiths, the wealthier members typically contribute more to compensate and carry members with lower incomes. There is nothing wrong with this method. I find it admirable. But it is important to remember there is no such thing as a free lunch. And with New Age’s monetary flow, it’s easier to know where money is coming from. Scholarships are sometimes made available for New Age events and workshops, but the contributors are usually identified. Not so much for the sake of ego as transparency.

In the discussion of New Age commercialism, it is important to remember that there is no overarching doctrine dictating that followers must spend money in prescribed ways. There are admittedly more subtle pressures from followers and leaders alike, but the choice is ultimately the seeker’s. It is possible to be an active member in the New Age community with little cost. People can study and move along on their journeys independently. The decision where to allocate funds is left to followers, they have total control, they have the choice.

Perhaps in this way New Age is consumeristic in the way members are given a plethora of choices. But the greed often attributed to New Age is ill-placed. As a whole, service providers in the sector of alternative spiritualities are not looking to swindle followers out of their money. They are looking to make a fair exchange. Sellers in the New Age market place are looking to provide something of spiritual value to those seekers that feel called to experience.

 

Taves, Ann & Michael Kinsella. 2013. “Hiding in Plain Sight: The organizational forms of ‘unorganized religion’”, in New Age Spirituality Rethinking Religion. Acumen Publishing Limited.