Tuesday 10 December 2013

A Life Worth the Living

The only valid reason that I can advance for the investigation of my inner life is to discover what I am, if that is possible, and to understand myself better. Unless I carry out this investigation, and do so as intelligently as possible, I ghost my way through life with no purpose other than the sating of passing desires and instincts. There is no worthwhile purpose to such a life, and I would remain ignorant of possibilities, as yet unknown, that might arise and enhance my experiences of what it means to be truly human. If I pass my life away in such a fashion, how can I judge the validity and value of what I do, except by comparison with others who may be similarly afflicted? There needs to be an ongoing psycho-spiritual awakening in my life.

It is not enough to accept unquestioningly the knowledge or opinions of others, even though they may be great spiritual leaders without, at some stage, making that knowledge my own from direct experience. Spirituality, in other words, that which has to do with what is most important in life, is experiential. It is not a foreign import. Only through the ongoing investigation into what I truly am, and the spiritual power with which that firsthand experience endows me, can I respond to life through conscious choices, rather than react to life as if I were sleep-walking, as if I were a robot or a zombie.

It is the ability to make genuine, conscious choices, after the mists of illusion have been blown away, that is the joyous outcome of a life lived by responding to the universe. Living a life that is one of reaction rather than response is not only a life lived less satisfactorily than it might otherwise have been, but also a life that can lead to increasing difficulties and unnecessary pain. Rather than being helpful, reactive behaviour creates a state of increasing disharmony within the body, which rather misses the point of living a happy, fulfilled life. Put into religious terms and stripped of judgemental and pejorative connotations, unmanageability of one's life is a measure of sin, or the degree of missing the point of, or one's way in, life. If this situation remains unaddressed, physical and psychological ill-health and even a form of insanity will result. To every action there is an equal reaction. That law is as true of the world of the spirit as it is of the science of physics.  Measure for measure is a form of justice, but not reward and punishment. It is a matter of consequences. If I may put that idea another way, I would affirm that God is not mocked.


  1. An interesting, much-thought-provoking post, Tom.

    As to mocking God, I've found that God(there-is-no-God), can take it, perhaps even expects it, in one's process to understanding life. As I'm always telling GtinG, I'm not Job, nor will I ever be. I will always question, complain to, rail against, and treat (occasionally) with sarcasm the very idea of God...even though I am convinced there is a force outside ourselves busily at work within our lives. That is because I have no other explanation for it - yet.

    Scientists recognize and accept that there are unnamed and unseen forces at work in the universe, forces they endeavor to uncover, quantify and name for most of their lives. Some give in and rely on GtinG as the explanation; others keep looking. I'm in that latter camp. I'm not opposed to giving this force I feel at work in my life the name God, just not the concept pushed by organized (yet chaotic) religions of our world.

    Having said all that, I fully accept that when I die, there is the possibility that God-there-is-no-God will meet me on "the other side" like the school principal meeting a recalcitrant student at the door to his/her/their office. I imagine the first words G-tinG will utter are, "Well, Job-you-damn-straight-aren't-Job, come on in and let's have a little talk."

    Should be interesting, if there is anything at all. I expect the end to be just that, though, The End. Finis.

  2. i used to believe, and now i find myself absolutely firmly and joyously alone in the universe. yet i find it interesting that you use the term 'god' in a way that somehow resonates with me and doesn't result in that uncontrollable gag reflex that most mentions of the almighty provoke in me.

    i wonder though, how many people fall into your camp - the dedicated seekers of truth? although my friends are all thinkers, and good ones at that, i don't think i know anyone, other than you, who is this dedicated to finding the truth.

    i know my own search went only as long as there was a thorn in my forepaw, and once it worked its way out i reverted back to just being, and being happy to just be!

    some say we all have a hunger for something more, and then simply cover it up with the material life. i don't know about that… i used to be tight with god, then i walked away thinking i might one day return. now i know i won't. i don't miss him. not one little bit. if i need someone to talk to, i can always talk to myself.

  3. Martha; To answer every part of your comment would take comment space I do not have available. In general, I do not find anything in your comment with which to disagree. For me, God is not an anthropomorphic concept; indeed he isn't a concept at all. Having said that, we cannot avoid the use of our thinking and feeling functions when trying to get some intuitive grasp of what we're talking about.

    I was interested in your reference to Job, and the idea of verbal conversations with God. Certainly, I have become aware of a sense of Presence in my life; I wrote about one such experience in, "Prayer of Activity." To come closer to that intuitive feel, whilst at the same time avoiding the rationalising, thinking process, necessarily involves - in my experience - the processes of meditation and contemplation.

    When you consider that almost all our experiences - if not all - involve the unconscious mind, to which we cannot apply any limits with any certainty, it would seem to be at least passing strange that there could be no room for anything that we might call God.

    Consider, if God is Process, the Process of Becoming in a universe of constant change and becoming, where can you write God out of the Universal Equation? Put the egoistic, fearful, rationalising, consciousness to one side, and open oneself to the possibility of something more powerful and wonderful than our tiny "I-nesses", and a new universe of experience begins to open where everything is possible; probabilities become infinite in number. Is this not one of the unfolding experiences of modern physics?

  4. Agnieszka; Much, if not all, of what I have said to Martha applies equally well here, in my response to your comment.

    The fact of the matter is that none of us is entirely alone. Besides the fact that I am communicating with you now indicates there are at least two physical people in the universe, we do also have that vast other part of ourselves with which we are in constant touch, even if not in conscious communion. In effect, we cannot escape ourselves.

    So talk to yourself as much as you like, you're not alone. For at any one time, part is talking and part is listening. There is always at the very least, moi and moi. :)

  5. Tom:

    I think what is hanging me up is the use of the word God (even God-there-is-no-God).

    Like a lot of people who've been brought up in the Christian culture, the name that stuck with me is God. Much to my chagrin, the image that arises when I use that name is male - guess some indoctrination is nigh onto impossible to eradicate from my brain.

    I don't want to hog your comment space, but I'm enjoying the conversation. Somewhere in my house I have your mailing address. When I find it, I'll write an honest-to-Vortex letter. How 'bout?

  6. "To every action there is an equal reaction." I've often wondered about this, about why the word reaction is not response.

  7. This conversation never ends except that it is cut off, however gently. No matter how you push and pull you can never from a finite condition get the God concept to fully fit inside. One binding degree always remains no matter how "infinite" or indeterminate you may feel is real. That binding is the fact of birth and death. Even if the whole thing is reborn again and again it is obvious that the transition is too different to lie fully within the current frame of reference and God must enfold all of that as well. This is why Wittgenstein among others suggested we just shut up.

    However. I am rebellious and like the guy grabbing the angel for a match. I didn't care, still don't, that I will lose. I have come away lame just as everyone does who accepts arrogance and its consequences. On the other hand, the wound was minor as I was accepted I guess for my sincerity that close to the source.

    I completely agree that the real deal is deeply intimate and personal, however I also know that this is for me at my stage and for others who relate. The public rites of organized religion work for most it seems. We do well to hesitate in the tendency to rank one form of spiritual life above another. They all become virtually identical as spiritual attempts only when one willingly adopts the God's eye view.

    There is only one caveat... Perhaps at some point God reaches down, picks you up and places you where He wants you for a timeless time. Then the whole thing changes. Still at some point quite soon, you have to go back and do the dishes. This experience you cannot make happen. There are those who claim one can train for it though and many say that GtinG offers different languages that work better than personifications do. I have been fooling around in this stuff for 45 years and a bit. I believe in prayer even if I don't believe necessarily in God. Like some Buddhists.

  8. Tom, though I've been at home, I've rarely approached my computer in the past couple of weeks but I hope you forgive my absence from the circle gathered around your fireside - I have no intention of leaving it!

    My concept of God is rather simplistic and childish but I'm happy for it to remain that way. I know it's a cliché but love is the only word that fits.As I see it, the nature of God is love, in a form that we can experience but infinitely magnified, infinitely creative, expressed in the tiniest thing as well as in unimaginable vastness. Just love: not abstract, not metaphorical, but absolutely tangible. That's it.

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  10. Hullo Rouchswalwe, nice to hear from you. My dictionary says 'react, to respond...' and 'respond, to react...' Not very helpful. As a young man I was taught that to react to a situation was an action carried out unthinkingly, instinctively. To respond, however, was to use one's powers of thought and reason. It is this distinction that goes to the heart of my post. An unthinking, instinctive reaction to life, which is necessarily tied up with prejudice, fixed behavioural patterns, self-imposed deceptions and denials, is not worth the living. That is the unexamined life to which I believe Socrates was referring. And of course when one action gives rise to another in the world of physics, no thinking response is involved. It is pure reaction, or natural consequence.

  11. Oh Lord, I do so enjoy reading your comments to my posts. Time and again I come to the conclusion that there is no point in a discussion about God, so 'shut up'. But I keep coming back to it, even feel that I am being brought back to it. The same applies to any discussion about the Ego. And maybe the search for understanding of the one is also the search for understanding of the other.

    Actually, I do believe in that power which I choose to call God because it is the only model that best fits my experience of life. It's not a perfect fit maybe, but it is the best I have. It's rather like the Neils Bohr model of the atom. We know that the atom doesn't really look like that, but it does fit in with what we experience to a remarkable degree.

  12. Natalie; I cannot say I haven't missed your being around. You are always welcome at my fireside, so pour yourself a drink while I put another log on the fire.

    I have talked about my experience of God as being one of Process, of being in the process of Becoming. There is nothing anthropomorphic about that. Yet I cannot ignore the sense of love that always surrounds the idea of God. And why should it be otherwise? Do we not seek to understand that which we love, and oft times love that which we seek to know and understand?

    Furthermore, there is this persistent sense of Presence, which waxes and wanes depending on my inner state and/or activity. It is as if God and I operate within, and hence are linked by, the same electromagnetic field. When I drift away, for whatever reason, the field weakens but never collapses. On other occasions I am drawn inwards to parts of the field which are very strong. That is when I share that sense of loving, respectful intimacy that you capture so beautifully in "The God Interviews."

    You say that your concept of God is simplistic and childish, yet your approach succeeds in both a loving approach to God, whilst at the same time avoiding the pitfalls that get strewn along the path of the more intellectual approach. Maybe God is too complex for anything other than an enunciation of a simplistic and childish concept. Maybe to become (and to think) as a little child..... has more to recommend it than I have ever thought possible.

    As always you have given me much to think about. Bless you Natalie.

  13. I've no dispute with the premise that a serious examination of life and truth is a human mandate. Nor do I have any issue with the idea that we should not necessarily subscribe to some established creed or dogma, but rather should follow the evidence of our senses and logic.

    But God, however you define it/him/her, would have no motive to make the truth something obscure and impossible to perceive. I maintain that we often miss the truth in the effort to probe at unnecessary depths. There is a quote attributed to Jesus, in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, I think, that says something like "the truth is right there in front of them, but they see it not."

    That's a correct position, I think.

  14. The Geezers; I am uncertain about your point that God would have no motive to make the truth something obscure and impossible to perceive.

    Firstly, I believe that God is inside each of us, and therefore impossible to define. Is it not true that it is only the 'things' in the outer, material world (by outer I mean everything outside the mind) that is capable of definition?

    Secondly, there may be no intent to make the truth obscure and impossible to perceive. It may simply be that truth is by its very nature obscure. If God is deliberately making truth difficult to perceive, that would imply divine character, personality, typical of an anthropomorphic God that I find impossible to accept. But even accepting that kind of God exists, it may be that truth is only impossible to perceive at our present level of enlightenment.

    Coming to your final quote from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, I picked up my copy of that book, and it literally (I use that word advisedly) fell open to the page which carried the following:-

    "The Kingdom of the Father is spread out over the earth, and men do not see it." (Logion 113) (The Kingdom referring here to the fundamentals of spiritual truth.) As you say, that's possibly a correct position. I wonder if it's the kind of truth that can only be discerned if, "one becomes as a little child".

  15. Fascinating discussion at the fireside, though I listen on the side without knowing what to say... do keep on saying it and I keep on listening and reading and thinking.... thanks Tom for the food for thought.

  16. Must conscious choice forever battle with desire and instinct? How will the waters ever be stilled till they are limpid enough to grant the beatific vision?

    It is the duty of desire and instinct to tug at consciousness. Desire and instinct draw us, when the time is right in our life, to surrender choicelessly to the God-instinct within us: a God indeed incapable of definition and perception by consciousness--except through the whole of creation. For God is not just inside of us but in all matter too, and all non-matter, for that matter.

    We must follow our deepest feeling, and let it take us away from conscious control as it leads us by the hand. Then indeed may we find that “The Kingdom of the Father is spread out over the earth, and men do not see it.”

    There are difficulties in talking about it unless we use some common language of spiritual tradition. Perhaps we shouldn’t talk of God at all—too many unhelpful connotations.

    I prefer your reference to “this persistent sense of Presence, which waxes and wanes depending on my inner state and/or activity.”

    Here we get to the core. The Presence cannot wax or wane. That is why it’s called the Presence. But our sense of it waxes and wanes. It seems to me that is the thing to work on, not fighting desires and instincts with conscious choice. Let that Presence lead us by the hand.

    Once we get this, we see where prayer fits in, indeed all the old religious practices which are misunderstood these days, the blind leading the blind into supposing it’s all about belief. It’s not about belief at all. It’s about the Presence.

  17. Marja-Leena; As with all who come here and comment, you are always welcome. There will always be a comfortable armchair in which to relax, listen and comment as you choose.

  18. Vincent; When I read your comment I found immediate agreement with some parts, a need for careful thought with others. Sometimes I feel that our minds dance a pas-de-deux, with mine slipping in and out of a kind of understanding that also waxes and wanes like my awareness of Presence. It is then that I remember myself, that I reawaken, to a sense of Beingness. As you say, it isn't about belief at all. It's about the Presence.

  19. Understanding or realization can't happen if we're ruled by desires generated by the imaginary personal self. It's as simple as that as well as being the most difficult undertaking we can attempt.

  20. Susan; With some regret, my personal experience bears out your point to the full.

  21. It is 2.11 in the middle of night here. Nobody sees me reading your post and the comments again and again. Until now I have not had the guts to admit that I am again not finding the words to express my thoughts. And what's this about react vs response?
    When I see someone walking on ice with hands in pocket and then go and purchase a pair of gloves and hand them to that person next time he/she crosses my road (person on foot, me in car), did I react to what I observed or did I respond? I reacted and realize that I have a long way to go on the road towards 'responding'.
    Did I answer my own question? Time to sleep now.

  22. I think Ellena has answered her own question, and in so doing has challenged Tom's answer.

    I'm grateful to you both for raising this crucial point: crucial to morality and the world.

    If reaction comes from instinct and response comes from considered thought, Tom has expressed a trust in considered thought. Ellena in her own reaction. Am I right?

    But it’s obviously more nuanced than this. Reason and instinct both need to be trusted in their own spheres. Each must cede to the other in certain circumstances.

    As a mother and grandmother one would be guided by nurturing instincts. As a physicist one would stand in awe at the secrets of the Universe and reason’s power to unlock them. (I’ve looked at your two profiles!)

    Tom’s point as I understand it is to investigate how we (specifically he) may best foster an “ongoing psycho-spiritual awakening”. The laboratory of the inner life is a private place. Only one person has a key to enter and make experiments therein. The rest of us are grateful for the reports which emerge.

    Suddenly I’m transported more than fifty years to an archaic lab at my school, and our mild-mannered science master, Mr Pack. To the best of my recall, he taught us to write up our experiments under three headings: what we did, observations of outcome, inferences. To make a good inference required accurate observation and an open mind, not to be clouded by prior knowledge or expectation. But I never went on to science, ended up in computer programming, which is a kind of engineering.

    Looking forward to more from the Gwynt Lab!

  23. Ellena; I would 'respond' to your comment by saying that your 'reaction' to the person with their hands in their pockets was possibly feeling a sense of sadness, maybe empathy, a feeling of needing to help that person. Your 'response' to the situation was to buy some gloves after considering what you could do to alleviate that person's discomfort. (See also my response to Vincent.)

  24. Vincent; This is a most enjoyable conversation. I agree that response and reaction need to be trusted in their own spheres, but when appropriate. To give a trivial example, one's reaction to get out of the way of a charging bull would seem to be wholly appropriate, (unless you were a certain member of the court of ancient Crete). On the other hand, to take some instinctive action against someone out of ill-founded prejudice would not be.

    I think it is right not to be judgemental about emotions, feelings and instincts, but to accept them for what they are. What is important, or so it seems to me, is what we do with them. Maybe it's the constant questioning of our actions that sorts the saints from the sinners.

  25. Fascinating conversation - reaction, response.

    Ellena's example is in line with my first question. I was thinking of the haves and have-nots. If I have gloves (or money to buy gloves or love in my heart towards the gloveless person), I react by giving them gloves. At least I hope I would react thusly. And then I would await a response.

    Ach, it's late and I'm tired from a day of brewing. Perhaps I should sleep on the reaction/response notion and try again in the morning!

    Please keep adding logs to the cosy fireplace.

  26. Blogger Tom said...
    Martha; I fear the God word is something of a stumbling block for some people. It certainly was for me for a very long time. As time has passed I have become more comfortable with the word God because I know that any replacement word or phrase is simply ducking the issue, and confusing the word with the principle. Anyway, the word God is a nice simple word, a synonym perhaps, for an ongoing, very real experience. As far as gender is concerned, it seems somewhat pointless to change Him for Her or It, but then of course I am a man. But again, it would be a pity to miss out on an experience of God simply because his presumed gender is male. A principle used in the Qabalah is that a 'giving or impregnating' action (such as the Godhead infusing the intellect for example)is considered a male action. A 'receptive' stance then is essentially female. But, each part of the psycho-spirit can be both male or female, depending upon its current function. If, in the example given above, the intellect rouses the emotions, then the intellect is playing a male role, and so on.

    Feel free to contact, whenever. Email address supplied and now deleted.