Wednesday, December 2, 2009

State of Flux

As previously indicated, I have, of late, been disabused of the notion of God as in an omnipotent, omnipresent being.  The classic arguments against God, most especially the argument regarding evil, has reasserted itself in my mind.  This, in short, suggests that, given the malignancy, the depravity, and the calamities in this world, God is either omnipotent and not kind/loving (because if God were all powerful, why would she/it/he allow this degree of suffering to continue?) or God is not omnipotent and is loving/kind; thus, "evil" is allowed to continue because God is powerless to stop it. 

The thing that gives me pause regarding the plausibility of strict atheism is my belief that metaphysical things do appear to happen or at least I have had some exposure to these occurrences.  I've encountered many things that can not be explained by modern science, such things as presentience, telepathy, spirit sightings, and transcendence.  Granted, personal experience is not evidence, but nevertheless I will give you examples of each from my own life.

With regard to presentience, I have experienced this since I was a young child.  The very first instance I remember of it happening was while putting something into a trash can under the sink at my parents home.  As this was taking place, I knew what was going to follow in exact detail.  I knew what my father was going to say, how he was going to say it, where he would be standing, etc.  I knew, right down to the minutia, what my senses would process as these things were occurring around me.  It was similar to the feeling of déjà vu, but instead of thinking, "Oh wow, I think this has happened before," I thought, "Oh wow, I know what will happen next."

Rather than suspecting that I had been given a gift, I felt that this extra sensory perception was a curse onto me.  I knew, even as a child, that others would scoff at such protestations.  That most rational people would think I was nutty, and honestly, I felt a little crazed myself.  There is something incredibly disconcerting about being able to tap into the future in remarkably vivid detail and have no control over when or where it will happen.  I thought nothing could account for this except presentience because of the richness of the detail involved.  Further, it seemed that I had an ability to open myself up to these happenings or to shut them down as I saw fit.  When I grew older, it proved easier for me to simply close myself off.  I didn't care to deal with the responsibility or the ramifications. 

With relation to spirit sightings, I've consistently felt that I could discern the presence of spirits--usually, the spirits of those who are still alive.  When people have highly emotional experiences or they are just exceptionally emotive beings, they seem to leave a trace of themselves behind.  I could often perceive the essence of people who had been in buildings before me. 

I can only recall one instance where I later learned that the soul I was in the presence of was no longer living and that was the spirit of my grandmother; I didn't know it at the time, but she had been admitted into the hospital and was dying.  I was on the phone with my best friend Jessica and I said to her in a playful manner, "My grandma is in the room.  She must be spying on me."  I acutely felt her presence near the window in my living room.  She might not have even been in the room; maybe she was outside of the room or somewhere else entirely--who knows with the metaphysical?  Regardless, the next morning, around six a.m., my mother called me in hysterics and told me that my grandmother had passed the night before at the very time, eleven p.m., that I was talking with my friend on the phone and mentioning my sensing my grandmother's energy in the room.

Regarding telepathy, I've also always had a penchant for knowing what others were thinking.  It isn't that I can pull whole sentences out of people's heads.  Nor was it like a conversation in my mind, but I essentially knew, I sensed, what they were thinking and feeling.  I've called numerous people out on this happening and many have confirmed that I was correct.  When I was in my late teens, I even tried to test this by reading the minds of strangers.  I remember one instance when a woman came into my place of business.  She was worrying about one of her students.  When she came into my checkout line I asked her, "Are you a professor?"  She looked at my quizzically and verified that she was indeed a teacher.  Then she asked why I had asked her such an unexpected question.  Without a plausible explanation to give, I merely shrugged and smiled.

Finally, I've experienced the feeling of expansion and transcendence that occurs during meditation.  I've written about this before, so I won't go into much detail except to state that when your mind reaches a certain level of emptiness or stillness, you begin to feel a dissolution of ego boundaries.  It somewhat reminds me of that scene in Akira where Tetsuo's body begins to expand uncontrollably, bigger and bigger, until it seems that he will engulf the city and ultimately subsume the world--except when meditating you aren't out of control in the slightest.  You exercise a profound level of control over your own roaming brain.  You hog tie it into submission and your non-physical mind, as I presume it, takes the helm.

In Barbara Bradley Hagerty's Fingerprints of God she reports on various studies of this phenomenon.  Apparently, fMRI researchers have found that the parietal lobe actually begins to shut down during serious meditation.  This is the part of your brain that controls orientation to space and time; the area that relates "where your body ends and the rest of the world begins" (p. 174).  It is theorized that this is why meditators often insist that there is no true separation between self and the world at large and why mystics suppose that "we are all one."

Hagerty also introduced to me Larry Dossey's concept of nonlocal mind (mystics and thinkers such as Jung, Hawking, and Huxley were the forerunners of this line of inquiry), as follows: "what if consciousness is nonlocal—that is, unconfined to specific points in space, such as the brain and body, and unrestricted to specific points in time, such as the present moment? What if consciousness is fundamental in the universe—derived from nothing more elemental, irreducible to nothing more basic?"  If nonlocal mind were at play, it would explain all of the metaphysical components of life that concern me without there being a need for a "God" per se.  Or at least, not as she/it/he is popularly conceived in the western world.  Dean Radin has even suggested that the quantum theory of entanglement might support this notion. 

BUT, what if all of this is simply wishful thinking?  What if everything can be elucidated scientifically in the macroscopic world precisely the way parietal lobe function (or a lack thereof) can make clear the experience of transcendence?  What if we just don't have the methods yet to demonstrate these brain processes?

Or, it may be that other more parsimonious interpretations could apply.  It is conceivable that I had some sort of undiagnosed temporal lobe epilepsy as a child that explained the feelings of presentience.  Perhaps the elegance of social cues has given me the impression that I can know others thoughts when in all actuality I am basically picking up on non-verbal signals and subconsciously filtering them through my own intimate knowledge of human thought and behavior (I did graduate suma cum-laude with a bachelors in psychology, after all).  It is possible that, because I myself am super emotive and sensitive, I'm only projecting my own emotions onto my environment--thus accounting for my belief in spirit energies.

To take an even more extreme view, what if this belief in the metaphysical is simply a form of magical self-soothing?  Being a full blown atheist is wonderfully liberating, but it is also deeply isolating.  Not believing in a higher power heightens that innate sense of existential loneliness, which is why some philosophers think that religion exists--not to deal with the fear of death, but to cope with the devastation that accompanies being completely solitary in this world.  No one will ever truly know you--not from the inside.  People only know others from their own indirect encounters.  Some would argue that ideas like nonlocal mind, entanglement, ESP, and God all plainly provide much-needed relief from the tyranny of existential loneliness.

This investigation leads me around and around in circles.  What IS believable?  Certainly the confounding size of the universe.  That is believable.  What about energy?  The mainstay of yoga.  Moving energy.  Moving prana.  Lifeforce.  But what is that in scientific terms?  What is this "energy" specifically?  Can it be measured? Is it like gravity?  Is it like electromagnetic fields?  Or maybe it isn't in that realm at all.  Maybe it is simply LIFE.  Breath.  Vitality.  Something about this thought surrounding the mysteries of being causes me to feel intensely self-actuated.  As though the search for absolute truth takes precedence over all else.  This struggle is what we are all here for, right?  To learn.

I recently spoke with a friend about these large questions that titillate me and he thinks that I should stop beating my brain to bits.  He subscribes to the practice of spiritual relativism and believes that the prospect of unmitigated truth is defunct.  It is his contention that we are living in a world of dynamism, of multiplicity, of shades of gray.  Therefore, whatever explanation works for a person, in this moment, in the here and now, is good enough.  Presently, I am feeling like a tooth fairy agnostic.  Tomorrow, I might be into Hinduism and channeling Durga in all of her destructive glory and the following day I might be back to hardcore atheism with a no holds barred approach to living.

Who the hell cares, right?  Who is keeping track?  I sincerely doubt that the modern monotheists are correct in thinking that God will punish you for not having "faith."  What kind of jealous, small-minded God would want such a thing?  What sort of cruel God would offer up the promise of free will and then punish those who actually exercise it?  To me, these assertions are laughable.  So what is the harm in spiritual relativism?  For me, it frankly seems like intellectual laziness.  Just as nonlocal mind is intellectual masturbation.  But then again, agnosticism is a cop out and atheism is no more provable than God (one can hardly disprove a negative) and so it goes...

I'm not sure if this is appropriate or not, but I keep returning to Margaret Atwood's words:

You want the truth, of course.  You want me to put two and two together.  But two and two doesn't necessarily get you the truth.  Two and two equals a voice outside the window.  Two and two equals the wind.  The living bird is not its labled bones.

Om shanti, my fellow travelers.