And here are some people pictures from the Syntheist workshop at Lindsberg, Sweden…
Courtesy of our eminent smartphone photographer Almina Isberg.
There is a stone I wish to throw in the pond, wondering what ripples will be brought back to me.
Concerning the surface tension of names and the depths that rears beneath them, the trinitary concepts of Being, Nothing and the movement of Difference are standard, easily hooked up onto the traditions of philosophy from Parmenides to post structural process philosophers. The point where there is a storm brewing is Utopia – the Kingdom Come – whose injunction has found a peculiar home on the horizon, exactly by being both obscured by the cynicism of our age fueled by the doubt that makes us question the very goodness of our place in the world, but also by being this ephemeral thing over on the edge of possibility. Here the concept is actually mysterious and not clear-cut while its name is temptingly and trickingly clear.
Here the concept cannot be contained by an abstraction as its content wanders towards the very possibility of community and asks for a concrete realization of exactly the space in between being and its possible not-yet future that hovers over and beyond it. It is exactly in case of Syntheos/Utopia that we can fathom the risk involved, as the idea or fantasy of the possible has been for millennia distracting communities from the here and now as they attempt to reify their fantasy, obscuring contact with being through their single minded focus on a specific mode of the possible future.
Naming these ‘gods’ and worshipping them is such a small step, compared to the problems that hover above us in the task of actually plotting the complex reality of the intricate communities that are motivated by myriads of vectors of desire that are implanted by the ancient regime of hyper-capitalism, and the question of how they can be inverted/converted/ecoverted into Utopia.
The congregation and mass itself plays on the surface tension wrought by the rearing depths of our mind and the spirit machines that fuel our desires. Utopia itself being the remnant of a promise intrinsic to the Abrahamic religions that made us forgive the problems of the current in expectancy of the kingdom come that would baptize reality in the injunction of the deluge of grace. In this sense Syntheism is formally identical to this grand historical movement of expectation for the future.
But how exactly is the waiting converted into action instead of pacifying us like it has done throughout the ages?
Syntheism in its co-creative rituals and Bacchanals have got the first miracle of Jesus down: turning water into wine, bringing people together in a new way, high on the contemplation of the possible. But what about kicking the money lenders out of the temple? A sermon on the mount? Shaming the Pharisees by revealing their fetish of law? And the longwinded battle of conversion through letters akin to the apostle Paul? These moments brought down a spiritual empire and instated a new one, pointing to the revolutionary character of the movement. It brought with it a concrete dialectic that charged the fort of the old, and converted it.
The devotional ritual for Syntheos should thus be (r)evolutionary in action, not merely some formal procession where attention to an abstraction is enacted.
It is these questions that lurk beneath the surface, fueling the storm that is brewing around the world. It is pointing us towards an meteorology of the spiritual-political-industrial complex and the search for the butterfly that is able to flap its wing in exactly the right way to make the Storm come.
Image: The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan in Whose Wreathings are Enfolded the Nations of the Earth, circa 1805-9, William Blake 1757-1827.
You may already be familar with the Syntheist concept of The Infinite Now – the idea of a transcendental experience within which all of time and history seems encapsulated into one single moment and place in passing. While The Infinite Now is of course the name of the Syntheist baptism act, and as such a both dividual and communal event of immense importance, the concept also refers to kairos, the classic Greek concept of time as a short moment when everything happens at once, as distinct from kronos, time as pure duration.
An interesting and highly recommended online participatory art project with a similar theme is Hourtopia. Please feel most welcome to check it out at the Hourtopia web page or on Facebook and make your own artistic contribution.
Where and when does all of history seem encapsulated into a short time span and at a specific place in your own life? Would you even like to contribute to Hourtopia with a picture of your own Syntheist baptism act?
Syntheism owes a lot to the classical philologist Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) whose philosophical adventures and discoveries have had a substantial impact on 20th century philosophy via Max Weber, Martin Heidegger, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault. His controversial concept of the will to power was a reaction to the philosophical pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the will to live. In Schopenhauer’s view, people are intoxicated with desire; their lives oscillate back and forth between boredom and pain because there is no natural end to the search for satisfaction but death. Schopenhauer’s answer to this downward spiral was asceticism, renunciation, detachment.
In contrast to Schopenhauer’s cynical hedonism, Nietzsche invites his readers to seek creatively stimulating challenges beyond the confines of their comfort zone. He argues that happiness is an epiphenomenon of the search for excellence rather than an end in itself. He therefore champions man’s productive potential and promotes the affirmation of life—in spite of the iniquities of nature and history. Happiness lies in the exercise of one’s creative powers, the joy of achievement. In his naturalist worldview, the virtues and values we form indicate our physical condition as much as our sense of life. And when philosophers like Schopenhauer maintain that life is a nuisance, their judgment says more about their weariness of life than about life as such.
Nietzsche goes beyond René Descartes’s anthropocentric atomism. According to his metaphysics, we are an inseparable part of the multitude of relations which constitute the world we inhabit. That is, one’s fate and existence is entangled and intertwined with the history of the natural world—we can’t step back and look at life from afar. It is therefore impossible to estimate the true value of existence and all the lives that had been lived plus the lives that will be lived in the future. In Nietzsche’s words: “There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective ‘knowing’; and the more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the more complete will our ‘concept’ of this thing, our ‘objectivity’, be.” And further: “It is our needs that interpret the world, our drives and their ‘for’ and ‘against’.”
It follows from his normative perspectivism that there are no moralistic facts, but only moralistic interpretations (the origins of which he examines throughout his texts). He encourages his readers to overcome simplistic moralistic notions of life because man’s existence doesn’t serve a pre-ordained purpose: there is no secret message from God hidden behind the tears and bruises. Nietzsche promotes the affirmation of life that comes from an overflow of life rather than fatalism. In the end, the world is immeasurably larger than man; it is indifferent towards his whims and wishes. It is a simple scientific fact that the homo sapiens is not the measure of all things. And because we owe a lot to chance, we ought to develop a sense of gratitude (amor fati).
“If we affirm one moment, we thus not only affirm ourselves but all existence. For nothing is self-sufficient, neither in us ourselves nor in things; and if our soul has trembled with happiness and sounded like a harp string just once, all eternity was needed to produce this one event—and in this single moment of affirmation all eternity was called good, redeemed, justified, and affirmed.”
His normative perspectivism is far from relativism because he is concerned with the hidden implications and practical consequences of social norms. He explores the moralistic forces which compromise man’s creative potential and finds that political ideologies and religious doctrines operate according to the same logic as do breeding programs for animals. An ideology not only provides a narrative framework which makes sense of man’s position in the world, but also produces a certain type of man that is humble, benign and causes no threat to the community. It castrates the will to self-expansion and greatness, and it nurtures the desire for comfortableness and safety.
Nietzsche associates Abrahamic moralism with resentment: moralism is for the bullied and ill-constituted who are seeking compensation and plotting revenge. The priests, eager to protect their communities from the corrosive and toxic forces within, have successfully persuaded their flock to redirect their anger and frustration: everyone is a sinner who stands in need of salvation. Guilt and sinfulness are keeping society peaceful and quiet. In Nietzsche’s view, it is crucial to save people from the concept of salvation. His immoralism relies on the idea that one cannot accuse the world as if it had an intellect or will. And self-victimization does more harm than good.
He intends to inspire people to attain the power to expand their lives freely and actively. In his words: “There is thereby a counterforce which continually reminds us that there is no exclusively moral-making morality, and that a morality which asserts itself to the exclusion of all other morality destroys too much sound strength and is too dearly bought by mankind. The non-conventional and deviating people, who are so often productive and inventive, must no longer be sacrificed: it must never again be considered as a disgrace to depart from morality either in actions or thought; many new experiments must be made upon life and society, and the world must be relieved from a huge weight of bad conscience. These general aims must be recognized and encouraged by all those upright people who are seeking truth.”
Nietzsche’s ethical love of life begins with intellectual honesty. He insists that truthfulness is an act of pride and self-respect, as it takes courage to face the truth head on, especially if the truth is at first unsettling and horrifying. It is cynical to argue that people are better off when they don’t know about the complicatedness of modern life. Why not appreciate the complicatedness of it all? Why complain and get upset? As Nietzsche asks: “What if these truths could not give us this consolation we are looking for? Would that be an argument against them? What have these truths in common with the sick condition of suffering and degenerate men that they should be useful to them? It is, of course, no proof against the truth of a plant when it is clearly established that it does not contribute in any way to the recovery of sick people.”
Nietzsche’s Übermensch actively engages in the pursuit of greatness and explores new ways in which to connect our minds and bodies with each other. This ideal man does not thrive on barbaric cruelty or an inflated sense of self-importance, nor does he “perpetrate cowardice against his own acts”, but has the courage and the confidence to “face what he already knows”. As the affirmationist par excellence, he or she has the strength and the resilience to take life’s hardships as an opportunity to exercise one’s powers and faculties. Resentment comes from a misplaced sense of entitlement. According to Nietzsche’s definition, the will to power is the will that wants its own expansion and intensification. And what people may need more than anything in our age of cynical hedonism is a safe and stimulating environment where they can throw off the shackles which prevent them from increasing their power to act.
All conditioned things are unsatisfactory.
All conditioned things are impermanent.
All things are empty, devoid of intrinsic, independent nature
-The three marks of existence,
from the Pali Canon
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: neither all thy Piety or Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
-Omar Khayyám, the Rubaiyat
The hardest questions in life are asked in innocence:
Why did my dog pass away?
Why do we have to die?
If one thing defines an absolute truth about life, it’s that things change, and quite often for the individual, they change for the worse. It’s can be a somewhat depressing fact of the universe that life is hard. It’s full of full of dangerous things that seemingly are dead set on making our lives risky: disease, radiation, war, volcanoes, old age, fast moving objects, predators; the list goes on endlessly. It’s an experience so universal that one could conclude that it is time itself that is set against us. The passage of time eventually destroys anything and everything that is conditioned, buildings, empires, our loved ones, us.
If time is our enemy then, it makes it important to know its nature. But time is a tricky thing to define. Many definitions end up in circles, and trying to nail it down beyond the somewhat unsatisfying statement that “time is what clocks measure” is the topic of many arguments among both scientists and philosophers.
But one aspect of time that’s beyond reproach is the Moving Finger that Omar Khayyám addresses in his verse above: the truth that time moves inexorably from the past and into the future, and while redemption, forgiveness and reparation may be found, there is no undoing of past mistakes. This is the Arrow of Time. Life has no save points. There is no [CTRL] + [Z] in physical reality.
But why exactly is this? Both classical and quantum mechanics fall short here. In mechanics, there is no particular reason why time has a direction. Consider a movie where two billiard balls collide perfectly, each going off in their own direction. Play this movie backwards, and there is no apparent problem: the motion of the balls backwards to collision and outwards to their initial positions seems to the human eye a perfectly reasonable proposition. This process is what’s known as reversible.
However, when we just have two billiard balls on our table, things are simple. But if we have a whole game of pool things become trickier. A cue ball smashing into the triangle of balls is a process that’s not completely impossible to reverse, but would take very careful measurement and setup of initial conditions to make all the balls move back together in a triangle and then spit out the cue ball with all their combined energy. You can be absolutely sure that this will not happen randomly. And as the game gets bigger, the complications to reversing processes become all but impossible.
Let’s now say we do something horrible: we light a tree on fire, make a movie of it, and play it in reverse. Now something in this picture strikes our intuitions (and hopefully also our conscience) as clearly wrong. Thermal fluctuations and atmospheric ashes do not direct themselves inwards, their turbulent flows becoming smooth, concentrating until the carbon glows red hot, and all this energy being used to split and then fuse oxidized carbon atoms together into an intricate matrix of carbohydrates and metals that is capable of sustaining itself by energy from the sun. This simply does not happen by itself. The process of burning a living thing is utterly irreversible, so take care if you are ever contemplating doing so.
To get a grasp of the extent of the physical reality that underlies this irreversibility, look around you. If you are reading this in the comfort of your home, your first impression may be that not much is happening. This is an illusion. Our perception is attuned to the narrow band of phenomena where saber-toothed tigers pounce and beautiful people dance, because these are the things we need to be able to react to in order to survive and reproduce. Nevertheless, the physical reality is that all things are constantly in a state of relative motion. Clouds look initially static as you gaze on them, but as you keep staring, it becomes apparent that they are in flux, shape shifting as they pass overhead. So it goes with windows, tables, computers, mountains, planets.
If all things then are in motion as time passes by, what in this is the cause of our loss and grief?
The examples of reversibility and irreversibility above show us something about nature: as soon as things get complicated, they also become irreversible. But why exactly is that?
The answer to both of these questions is one that’s purely probabilistic in nature. There are many ways that a game of pool can go after we hit the cue ball, but very, very few that land us back in the situation we started in. There are many ways that the particles of the tree can fly once it’s lit on fire, but incredibly few ways that they can fall back together to be a tree.
The Law of Hard Knocks then, to which Murphy’s Law is but a lemma, is that there are many, many more ways that things can go wrong than ways that they can go right. Leave things up to random chance, and the dice is overwhelmingly loaded against you. That’s life.
This law is mathematically codified in physics as The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that as time passes, entropy in a closed system increases. Entropy is the property associated with the number of ways a given system can arrange itself. The Second Law is widely celebrated as the surest thing in science. Because it is an intrinsic property of systems of any real complexity, it’s not just that we can’t imagine how the universe would look without the Second Law, it’s that we can’t imagine any universe without it. The great physicist Arthur Eddington, who is credited for coining the concept of the Arrow of Time, once stated:
“The law that entropy always increases, holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation”
He also made it clear that the Arrow of Time, the property of time moving in one direction only, is solely a property of entropy. However, he also stated that even though it doesn’t have any other physical properties, it is immediately recognizable by consciousness. Any observable process that doesn’t make sense when run in reverse is subject to the Second Law. And the Second Law deems that as time passes by, all things must return to dust. Does it absolutely have to be this way? No, because the Second Law isn’t absolute. There’s a chance that things can randomly run in the opposite direction, but this chance is so vanishing small that it’s easier to regard it as impossible.
Entropy has some properties related to the human condition that are worth noting:
It is the mechanism that causes bad things to happen.
It is the mechanism of impermanence.
It does not map to any physical property except the configuration of matter and energy as it relates to something else. In other words, it has no essential nature, only relational nature.
These three properties map disturbingly well to the three marks of existence as witnessed by Buddha several thousand years ago, once again lending credence to the argument that the Second Law is all-pervading not just scientifically, but also on the scale of humanity.
So if all things are at the mercy of the Second Law, why is it then that we’re surrounded by order? Truly if we look around us there are a great many things that are set in order, much higher than it was when say, the Earth first cooled billions of years ago?
There is an aspect of entropy that seems to clash with itself: chaos can lead to order. Death can lead to life. All it takes is a mechanism that constrains entropy to rise in a certain way. Because the Second Law states that entropy is always on the rise in a closed system, and systems aren’t generally closed. Think of a windmill: it’s an arrangement of matter that causes something very chaotic, the weather, to be turned into something very ordered, electricity. Though it causes turbulence and therefore increases entropy in its environment, internally in the mechanism, entropy is reduced.
Let’s go back and have another look at the burning tree example. As it turns out, there is a process that comes very close to describing our impossible reversed burn scenario of gas, ashes and energy turning back into a tree: the growing of the tree itself. Through photosynthesis and other self-organized metabolic pathways, the tree grows, taking in energy from the sun, carbon from the atmosphere, and minerals from the ground. How then is this not in conflict with the Second Law? Because the tree is not a closed system. The sun’s rays come from the nuclear processes taking place in its core, which are very high entropy, but the rays themselves transmit lower entropy to the tree which utilizes them to create itself. In other words, the seed of the tree creates constraints that limit the number of possible ways the future might look for the tree, until the seemingly impossible happens with a high probability: the miracle of life.
Likewise, if you eat an apple from the tree, you increase the entropy in the apple by digesting it, which then leads to a lowering of entropy locally in your organism and thereby staving off your own demise. It takes the death of the apple to support your life. All this happens because you and the tree and all life is carefully yet robustly arranged in a configuration that allows for entropy to flow out of one subsystem and into another, and as long as the total entropy for the system is on the rise, the Second Law is appeased. Internally in the sun, entropy is always rising and eventually it will die. But here on Earth, that process of dying is the root cause of weather, photosynthesis, brains, trees, apples, puppy dogs, space probes, ancient sages and great Arab poets. It is a misunderstanding that entropy must necessarily end in total death and decay. It can just as well turn to life.
These constraints on the flow of entropy are so carefully arranged that they can perpetuate themselves, flexibly and with small variations so that they can always respond to the changes in their environments, just like the windmill turns into the wind, propagating endlessly and diversifying into endless forms most beautiful and wonderful. We call this mechanism of constraint propagation Evolution, which is arguably the most elegant explanatory tool we’ve ever encountered. Evolution is the mechanism that has life locked in a dance with the Second Law, ever postponing the inevitable and doing so with unfathomable beauty and efficiency for the last 4 billion years, exactly because the universe is such a dangerous place. The very thing that is trying so hard to kill you is the source of all the complex forms you hold dear.
Life is hard. As soon as we’re old enough to perceive the world, this becomes apparent. But if life wasn’t hard, we’d have no reason to exist the way we do.
What remains is the question: what do we call this this eternal double-sided law of entropy and evolution, yin and yang, death and life, creation and destruction?
The Chinese named it the Dao. I choose to call it Entheos, the Divinity of Change, the dynamic of cause and effect.
It is the core conveyor of creativity in the universe, a law that transcends the material, independent on everything but the interconnectedness of all things.
The worship of Entheos is nothing other than effecting change, by creating the constraints and frames into which your life flows by itself.
“Focus attention on the feeling inside you. Know that it is the pain-body. Accept that it is there. Don’t think about it – don’t let the feeling turn into thinking. Don’t judge or analyze. Don’t make an identity for yourself out of it. Stay present, and continue to be the observer of what is happening inside you. Become aware not only of the emotional pain but also of “the one who observes,” the silent watcher. This is the power of the Now, the power of your own conscious presence. Then see what happens.”
― Eckhart Tolle (the power of Now)
All religions have identified the need to artificially introduce introspection into our lives. Modern man has a way of keeping the mind busy. Either working toward a goal or distracting ourselves, to take our mind off all our hard work and other worries. When we’re not doing either of these we too often feel stressed, as if we’re wasting time. All religions seem to agree that we all need to take time out of our busy schedules regularly to stop and think. To explore our minds to see whether we are in fact headed in the right direction in life. If the goals we have set for ourselves are the correct or worthwhile goals. Or just to let feelings stirred up throughout our day sink in and get processed. Introspection, contemplation, prayer, meditation, reflection and self-examination are all names of the same or very similar activities. The oh-so-popular-of-late Mindfullness probably belongs in this category as well.
“If you do not know to which port you are sailing, no wind is favourable.”
/Seneca the younger (Stoic philosopher)
I’ve identified two general themes of religious introspection. One is directed introspection; the practitioner is asked to meditate on specific topics, or ask certain questions. The other is to calm one’s mind and open it to whatever thoughts pop up and refrain from judging. The expressed goal of the second is often to be able to clear one’s mind entirely of thoughts.
The Zoroastrian credo can be summed up as right thoughts lead to right words, lead to right actions. Much of the Zoroastrian scriptures are composed in verse and in the form of a mantra. Mantras are insightful thoughts; thoughts for reflection, contemplation and meditation on the universe, personal spiritual growth, introspection and commitment to the principles of the faith, as well as formulation of one’s personal goals. Here is a Zoroastrian morning meditation.
I pray for the entire creation,
And for the generation which is now alive
And for that which is just coming into life
And for that which shall come thereafter.
I pray for that sanctity which leads to well-being
Which has long afforded shelter
Which goes on hand in hand with it
Which joins it in its walk
And of itself becoming its close companion as it delivers forth its bidding,
Bearing every form of healing virtue which comes to us.
And so may we be blessed with the greatest, and the best,
And most beautiful benefits of sanctity;
Aidun bad – so may it be.
/Avesta, Yasna 52.1-3
Yoga is another form(s) of directed introspection. This will be an extremely condensed introduction. Originally Yoga was a collection of meditative techniques within Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism intended to help the practitioner (yogi) attain Enlightenment. But now in the modern world it is very popular primarily as an exercise technique. Yoga operates on the assumption that the mind and body are connected. To relax the mind, the body needs to be in “harmony” and “balance”. For example, anxiety and negative thoughts often lead to shoulders being pulled forward and up, as well as a general collapse of the bodies posture. This is bad for all manner of things, especially circulation and just keeping the brain oxygenated. The reverse can also be true. An unfit body can lead to soreness and ache, which in turn leads to negative thoughts. The idea is to work on creating a posture and muscularity of a happy and healthy person with the hope of the mind following and leading to a person who is actually happy and healthy. Mind and body in connection.
There is a vast variety of ways to practice yoga, but a general theme is that the physical exercise forms of Yoga places emphasis on keeping one’s mind focused on one’s body and on how muscles and bone interact in physically taxing positions.. Partly to block unwanted thoughts, and partly to increase the stretch. In all Yoga one of the most important factors often missed when looking at it at a glance is the great stress on the controlled and slow Yoga-breathing. When oxygen is constricted in the way it is in Yoga it acts to calm the mind of the practitioner further allowing them to “be in the moment”.
Christian prayers are also directed meditation, and places great focus on letting go of the ego (which is good) by completely focusing on Jesus and God (which I fail to see would in any way is beneficial to the practitioner or anybody). But just because I don’t understand something doesn’t make it wrong.
Now and again the Catholic Pope makes decrees. They come in the form of letters to the bishops. In 1989 the “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of Christian meditation” was distributed. It warns against New Age practices which they say risk “degenerating into self-absorption” or “into a cult of the body”. It also warns that if “euphoric states” are attained this is not proper Catholic meditation. I tried my best to find some positive take-away from this. Here is the complete text if you wish to give it a shot.
The Trappist monk Michael Keating has created a system of meditation he calls Centering Prayer which is liberally based on the Catholic system and borrows heavily from Transcendental mediation. Here he describes it.
Buddhist meditation is the other type of meditation aimed at clearing the mind of thought. The trick to them is to allow thoughts come crowding in and resist to urge to act on them or flee from them. Just let them wash over you. Open up your heart and feel them, but only observe. Just let them swirl around and hover in your mind. We (humans) have very well developed methods of self-deceit and self-denial. We are good at finding ways to avoid having to look at ourselves critically. We’re good at finding ways to mentally flee. The goal of this meditation is to stop fleeing. To accept yourself.
A simple guide to Buddhist meditation:
1. Find something soft to sit on.
2. Find a reasonably quiet room or outdoor space.
3. Sit comfortably. Preferably with a straight back. But if that is too taxing, feel free to slump forward. The point is physical comfort without allowing you to fall asleep. We’re aiming for relaxed yet focused.
4. Let your hands rest one in the other on your lap, palms facing upwards, or place your hands palm up on your knees with your thumb touching your second finger.
5. Close your eyes and start to count your breaths. Count on each breath in…breath one, breath two, breath three… Try to breath deeply and slowly. Relax your face and jaw. Relax your hands. When you get to ten, start again at one. If you miss ten and find yourself at 12 or 13, don’t worry; just go back to one. With each breath out, feel your tension going out as well.
6. When thoughts come into your mind, try not to follow them. Just identify them and let them go. The same with sounds and sensations. “I just thought about my car” “That was a dog barking” “I am hungry”. If you simply identify thoughts and distractions and don’t follow them or focus on them, they will begin to just pass by you.
7. End the meditation by beginning to move slowly. Open your eyes slowly, let your hands fall to your sides, stretch your toes, feet and legs.Come to your feet slowly. If you immediately hop into full-on action you’ll most likely lose the benefits.
8, Initially it is recommended to meditate limited periods, and then gradually extend the periods. 10 minutes is plenty when you’re starting out. The key to success is doing it regularly. It’s hard. If you push yourself too early you’re likely to kill the fun and you’re not as likely to find it as beneficial in the long run.
Not only are there spiritual benefits of meditation. There are immediate and measurable gains from it. Here’s a study (done in April 2013) on the efficacy of meditation immediately preceding attending a lecture. There are no surprises here. Meditating students retain more information and score higher on tests. Here’s a similar study on yoga that reaches the same conclusion.
Here is a general summary of what science has to say about meditation. There’s a whole host of positive effects and no negative effects. It can help everything from PTSD to heart conditions to insomnia to CD4 cell counts of AIDS patients to just plain old stress management. No surprises there. So get on your knees and pray sisters and brothers. According to the science, what is of less consequence is to what you pray.
MIndfullness is so popular today that I won’t waste time describing it. There are many places to check it out. Here for example. What is relvant it that it has been proven to help all manner of mental and mood problems, like depression and anxiety. It also makes us more attentive. Which should be a pretty obvious gain. I think it is still worth noting.
Meditating Before Lecture Leads to Better Grades
Same goes for yoga
The science on meditation
Science on Mindfullness
Guides to Buddhist meditation:
Catholic directed introspection.
The Trappist monk Michael Keating’s Centered Meditation. Link
“I don’t think…” then you shouldn’t talk, said the Hatter.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Trees are barren. Birds have flown south. Wings of insects long frozen. Crunching snow below your feet breaks the silence. When stopping to look around, to see if you are still headed in the right direction, silence.
We are now transitioning into Athea, one of the four main Syntheist festivals. We have named the period between the winter solstice and spring equinox Atheos. Atheos is the empty god. The god of nothingness. The god of not existing. The god of silence. Surely a god worthy of worship for an atheist.
We focus on darkness, moderation, introspection, solitude, stillness and emptiness.
Athea, winter solstice
All religions place emphasis on introspection, to regularly still one’s mind and explore what thoughts intrude. To force oneself to confront fears and admit our weaknesses. To resist the urge to occupy our minds with trivialities. A requirement for introspection is to have a space made available to us with few distractions. Temples have always been islands of calm in hectic cities devotees (or anybody off the street) can sit and collect their thoughts.
When was the last time you took some time out of your day to stop and reflect on your life or just observe what is around you?
Some religious devotees go one step further. The God of Silence, worshipped in silence, is a deity that has turned up in many forms widely worshipped in many cultures, for a variety of reasons. Unlike other adherents, however, those specifically following the God of Silence in its various aspects have most often been mystery cults, and therefore didn’t write anything down. We’ve had to construct them based on odd scraps found in historical texts or simply based on guesswork from archaeological digs and artefacts. Here are a few we can let ourselves be inspired by for this season:
- Sige is the goddess of silence for the Gnostics. Pagan theology has a way of letting metaphor and reality blend and mix seamlessly. Sige is the mother of Sophia, the goddess of wisdom. Sophia is locked in an eternal struggle against the Demiurge of ignorance. It’s weapon to spread ignorance is the constant babble of nonsense. Ignorance is seen as a of force of nature that constantly needs to be pushed back, or it’ll over-run us completely. There are no preserved temples to Sige. We have no surviving idols or depictions. It wasn’t until 1945 and we unearthed the Nag Hammadi cache that we got an insight into this lost cult. We know very little about her worship in practce. But we do know that devotees stayed silent and were tasked with “confronting themselves”.
- Meretseger is the Egyptian (Kemetic) goddess of silence, vengeance as well as forgiveness. She was tasked with protecting the tombs of the kings. She had major festivals to her honour and a large dedicated temple complex in Thebes. We don’t know the practicalities of how she was worshipped other than that sacrifices was made to her. During festivals she was believed to inhabit her idol and if you would admit to your sins and repent in her presence she could grant you forgiveness. Since she had the head of a cobra and was to protect the tombs she presumably bit any tomb-robbers in the face? We really don’t know.
- The Greeks worshiped a god of silence and secrecy named Harpocrates. We know nothing of it’s worship today. To our knowledge there were no temples solely dedicated to Harpocrates. But his statue is very common in the temple of other gods. We have no idea what the significance might be. Apart from his image, all we know is that he’s the Greek God of Silence and secrecy. The rest is a well kept secret indeed.
During the Italian Renaissance ideas began to spread that there was some sort ancient pagan knowledge suppressed by the early Christian church that would explain some powerful ultimate universal truth of reality beyond that of what they were told by their priests. What this knowledge could be or what it would be for, or why it was a threat to the church is unclear. Secret societies were formed where these ideas were discussed. Harpocrates became the symbol for this entire movement. The members considered themselves very much Christian.
For reasons only Aleistar Crowley himself can answer, (presumably in a seance) Harpocrates also came to prominence in his movement Golden Dawn, the Thelema movement (that sprung from it) and modern occultism. Harpocrates came to symbolise “the Higher Self” and even “the god who is the cause of all generation, of all nature, and of all the powers of the elements’ and as such he ‘precedes’ all things and comprehends all things in himself”. Perhaps because these were inherently mysterious? The Sign of Silence was performed at the end of rituals to symbolise this mystery. Even though modern occultists often like to think their rituals involving Harpocrates are ancient, these should be seen as wholly modern inventions. I think it should be clear by now what Syntheists think about newly invented religions.
- The Norse god of silence, Víðarr. This is also the Norse god of vengeance. Which might explain the need for discretion since it’s never wise to announce these kinds of plans in advance. The reason given for Víðarr’s silence is that he was so focused when he killed the Fenris wolf that he was unable to speak. Either way, he was worshipped in silence. At his festivals followers would assemble and say nothing.
- Atri, technically NOT a god of silence. Rather the opposite. He is the vedic god of saving us from silence. During an eclipse Hindus were forbidden to speak. A demon had swallowed the sun. In order not to distract the demon-slayer, Atri, it was important to stay silent. Since he was worshipped in silence I think Atri qualifies for this list.
- Angerona is a Roman goddess of Silence. Appropriately for us today, she had a major annual festival on the winter solstice (they called Divalia) where her idol (with mouth bandaged over) would be placed on one of the gates leading into Rome. In the presence of her idol it was forbidden to express anguish or unhappiness. Which isn’t silence as such, but this was still her name. During this festival the ban covered all of Rome. People were then only allowed to say pleasant things to one another. She was the god who relieved men from pain and sorrow and could in certain circumstances also be the god of fulfilled desire. During this festival sacrifices were also made to Volupta, the goddess of sensual pleasure. Which I guess is the opposite of calm introspection. But who said religion always has to be serious and sombre?
- The Lord of Infinite Stillness (Silence) is believed to exist within and/or govern silence and is called on by Buddhist and Hindu adherents to assist in meditation.
- Quakers. A significant part of Quaker mass is to be spent in silence contemplating. Sometimes a Quaker mass is simply an hour of sitting in silence.They take utmost care not to disturb one another during this time.
- the Unnamed (or Unknown) God, aka Silence Incarnate. This cult is briefly mentioned by Paul in Acts 17:22-31. To its devotees it was considered the most powerful of gods, has no designated gender or personified characteristics aside from what the observer gives to it. Apart from it’s mention in the Bible this cult is lost to history.
As an ending note I should add that all religions condemn cruel gossip, obscene jests at an other’s expense, idle talk, and overly personal and curious prying. They condemn these for all the obvious reasons. It’s all about inflating one’s ego or aiming to damage another’s. Neither will aid you in connecting with those around you. Silence is always to be preferred to these.
Gods of silence
The ritual and practice described in this text is only a suggestion. There is no wrong way to do Syntheism. If you don’t like our festivals, gods, the way we use them or the names we have for them…. feel free to invent your own.
One of my greatest heroes recently passed away, Nelson Mandela. Seeing his image or hearing his name makes me proud to be human, just happy to exist. So it was with heavy heart I received the news of his death. If we want to be more like him it is fitting to explore his philosophy of life. He had a simple credo, Ubunto, which I think, can be applicable to Syntheism as well.
The idea is that what we are, as humans, is created by others. Our place in our communities defines who we are. The human as a purely social animal. Without a collective to share with, we do exist, but not as humans. We need others to care about, affirm their feelings, hopes and desires and in turn be affirmed by others. People are not people, without other people.
I am because of you.
The longitudinal Grant study, where 237 Harvard students have been followed for 75 years, does strongly indicate that sharing and giving to others is what makes us happy. Another way to say it is that Ubuntu seems to be hard-wired into our genes. So we might as well live by it.
It’s not a complicated credo follow. But it is hard. It requires you to let go of your ego now and again and focus completely on somebody else, to allow yourself to be there for others.
Quotes on Ubuntu
“One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.
We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
- Desmond Tutu
“A person is a person through other people strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance”.
- Michael Onyebuchi Eze
“A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”
I have had the most fascinatiing email discussion recently with American philosopher and theologian Robert Corrington. He is the author of the much recommended books Nature’s Sublime: An Essay in Aesthetic Naturalism, A Semiotic Theory of Theology and Philosophy and Nature and Spirit: An Essay in Ecastic Naturalism.
Corrington has basically studied and written about what we conduct here at syntheism.org for almost three decades. Unsurprisingly, he shares our love for Leibniz, Schelling and most of all the great American Pragmatists, such as Charles Sanders Peirce and William James.
As for the question on how to handle “The God Concept” from a Syntheist perspective, here is the response Corrington gave me and which I now publish here at syntheism.org with his kind permission.
First, I affirm that whatever is, is a natural complex, that is, that ‘it’ is in and of nature and is complex. There can be no such thing as a simple. There can be nothing out of nature, as nature has no boundary or circumference, and by the same logic, nature can have no center and no telos either internally or externally. It follows logically that God must be a natural complex that/who is in and among all of the other orders of nature natured. This is a finite but LARGE god that has great but not infinite scope—I prefer to say “indefinite” scope instead—a bit like the view of William James in his 1907 Pragmatism Lectures.
Hence, in terms of immanence, god is active in the world but in profoundly limited ways. For me, this is where god-ing and involution operate—on the outer edges of evolution. Our encounter with microbursts of spiritual energy lifts up our metaphysical gaze to an expanded consciousness and to an enriched sense of the infinite modalities of nature that simultaneously enables us to look downward into the abyss of nature naturing. Nature is all that there is and a deep pantheism starts from that realization—hence there is no place for an ontological act of creation in Neville’s sense. Rather we get my definition of creation in this definition of nature naturing: “Nature perennially creating itself out of itself alone,” while nature natured is: “the innumerable orders of the world where there is no order of orders.”
Following Feuerbach I argue that 99% of what we call God is in fact a species driven ego-ideal that comes from a kind of wounded narcissism in the pre-Oedipal stage that tries to replace a non-existent or weak parental ideal with a fiction of an omnipotent father idealization that operates as a projection of the idealized idol of our species-being. In one sense Karl Barth is right; namely, after Schleiermacher, theology becomes anthropology. And I say, yes it does, and that is a good thing—up to a point. The ego-ideal is a valid projection that quickens the selving process—its pilgrimage in the dark world of space, time, and causality. However, further individuation requires both deconstruction of these species-wide idols and reconstruction on the other side were we see images of wholeness coming out of the arts and no longer just out of religion with its tendency to lapse into heteronomy and violence.
Thus far we have the gods of the collective unconscious that get projected onto the infinite motility and movement of nature, and a unifying drive to find just one God to anchor the self in history and place. This drive fails for finite Dasein (Heidegger) or Existenz (Jaspers) as the psyche is geared to embrace a wild free zone of polytheism. Heidegger’s a-theism (and Neo-Paganism) has this part right—his topos is in the no-person’s land that is pre-Socratic and post-Christian. Few Heideggerians realize that the ‘master’ developed contempt for both Catholicism and Protestantism. His eschatology is absolutely not Christian even if he uses language from the Christian world—but how changed in meaning! There is no bridge connecting The History of Being with The History of the Sacred (Geist).
Second, we have the issue of nature naturing. Some simply equate it with God. I do not—that would be too simplistic. Nature naturing is the fecund ground of the potencies (Schelling), which serve as the enveloping womb for the complexes that are ejected into the world of nature natured. This transition, like Schopenhauer’s idea of the objectification of the Will, is a profound mystery right on the extreme edges of ordinal phenomenology and its own remarkable powers. The gods and goddesses of the collective unconscious, working through projection, arise in the liminal zone between the collective and personal unconscious—sometimes reaching consciousness and sometimes not. They are the standard bearers for the archetypes.
But, God is curled up in the very abyss of nature naturing—different from ’it,’ but an absolute kind of prevalence that I call, following Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine. I will have more to say about nature naturing and the Life Divine in the books I will be writing in the months and years ahead.