Freedom of The Mind: Meditation

Dreamland

Freedom is more than the absence of coercion or constraint in choice or action. It is so much more than just politics.

 Freedom on the outside can not be fully achieved unless there is first freedom of the mind

Built-up anger and sadness, repressed thoughts and restrained tension all lead to entrapment of ones own self.

You can be a victim of your own mind without even knowing so – if you are feeling this type of tension in any way there are ways to help!

Meditation has been known for centuries as the #1 practice of training of the mind and inducing a mode of consciousness to build internal energy and relaxation.

It is the ultimate way to create an inner peace within your mind, body and soul.

Meditation for beginners ——–> Quieting The Mind

 

It has been known that meditation before sleepeach night releases the toxins of the…

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From the Ground Up

I was recently reading a Buddhist book about mindfulness when I began pondering why people flock to religion. Of course, there are several reasons. It comforts people to believe that someone (God) is looking out for them. It gives people structure; those who flourish when guided by rules and regulations enjoy following laws regarding morality. Simply, it makes people feel good; the spiritual aspect of religion is what, in my opinion, keeps it thriving in the modern world. 

The book, titled Mindfulness, by Joseph Goldstein, is filled with tidbits on how to live a life full of peace and happiness for not only oneself but also for other people. Just reading it put me at ease. Although Goldstein does reference the Buddha and other Buddhist adepts and their teachings, dogma is almost completely absent. The threats of eternal damnation are not there. The commands to worship are not there. The demand to believe in something beyond one’s five senses is not there. It is merely a guide to how to live a fulfilling life, and an insightful one at that. 

Everyone can use such advice. We all seek better ways to live. But usually, the advice we follow has strings attached; namely, faith. In Christianity, you must believe that Jesus is literally the Son of God in order to make it to Heaven. You could live a life filled with good deeds and still spend eternity in Hell simply because you did not believe the alleged words of a man who supposedly lived 2 millennia ago. 

But what purpose does faith serve? Why can’t one live a spiritually enriching life while helping others to do the same without a belief in the divinity of an ancient rabbi? 

It seems that adding a godly figure to the equation tends to qualify one’s moral code or spiritual life as legitimate. People think they need one in order to have the other. Some go to extreme lengths to justify or prove the existence of God. I have spent most of my time on this blog trying to argue that there is no good reason to believe in God. But in the past few months, I have become rather disenchanted with trying to do so. And it has finally occurred to me why: because there’s no reason to.

We have many reasons to try and live a rich and fulfilling life and we have many ways in which we can do so. We have one reason to have faith in an unprovable god: fear. More specifically, fear of death. We have created God in order to explain that which cannot be known because we naturally fear what we can’t understand. But I am arguing that we do not need to search for a god who is impossible to prove. We can – and in my opinion, should – share ideas about how to live a good life openly and without the restrictive boundaries of a dogma or religion. Religion presents a picture of justice and morality that is immutable. Wouldn’t we be better off having open, healthy discussions about morality and spirituality rather than fighting over the legitimacy of a holy book that claims absolute superiority? Ask yourself: what is the point of this?

 Consider a math problem. Are you going to settle your uncertainty about the problem by establishing an answer before you’ve worked through the process of solving it? Or are you going to approach the problem openly using the tools that you have at your disposal? If you establish an answer that you cannot possibly know, without trying to solve the problem rationally to the best of your ability, you will not experience any of the rewards of the natural learning process. Similarly, if we assume the existence of a god who we simply cannot prove, we are going to miss out on the important lessons that come with honest moral and spiritual growth, and in the end, we’re simply being dishonest with ourselves.

This is precisely where I disagree with people who say that religion and science do not overlap. According to Christianity, God is the ultimate answer to the ultimate question. There is no reason to wonder why or how any of this happened because we already know that the answer is God. Science can highlight God’s brilliance, but there is no questioning who is responsible. To science, nothing is set in stone. Nothing is certain. The whys and hows are constantly being sought after and we are constantly being rewarded with new truths and discoveries. The ultimate answer remains open-ended. We continue to discover, to learn, and to experience, but with the mystifying realization that the answer to existence will probably never be solved. And trust me, there is something deeply awe-inspiring about accepting one’s ignorance and understanding that our knowledge and wisdom can grow beyond the ceiling that religion has built. 

One might argue that healthy discussion is good, but there is no reason religion should not be part of the discussion. I agree that any wisdom or truth that can be gleaned from religion is wonderful. But consider the real motive of religion. Consider why we think we need God in order to lead a good life. Consider what purpose it actually serves. And then ask yourself if you could make the lives of yourself and others better if you abandoned dogma, religion and God and used good sense and open conversation in order to live happily and peacefully. I’ll finish with a humble word of advice: live not from the top down; that is, by placing your faith in something beyond the current life and living by pre-determined rules and regulations established from on high. Rather, live from the ground up; by looking for the truth and meaning around you and allowing yourself to grow naturally and learn freely based on your own personal experiences. I contend that you will find much more truth and fulfillment that way. 


Heaven: What’s all the hype about?

Who would want to go to Heaven?

I’m serious. I understand that most Christians would probably tell you that the conditions of Paradise are ultimately unknowable until we get there, but if we can conceive of it at all, there must be some common denominator between now and the afterlife. 

For example, each person would still have his/her individual identity, right? As far as I know, Heaven is supposed to be a place of perpetual peace and joy, where we are reunited with our loved ones forever. We’re supposed to actually experience love and joy to their fullest potentials. This would imply that our concept of self and the relationship between the self and others would continue into the afterlife. Assuming this is true, wouldn’t our normal thought processes still be in tact? And wouldn’t that make us vulnerable to the same anxieties, fears, distresses, annoyances, irritabilities, etc. that bother us here on Earth?

But okay, I get it, everything is supposed to be happy and filled with love and all that. There’s no reason to hate each other or have any of the aforementioned negative feelings because it is a place that is irrevocably tied to God, who is perfect, and none of the same temptations that cause negative experiences on Earth are present. As Hell is supposedly eternal “separation” from God, Heaven is eternal unity with God, whereas Earth is, well, something in between. I’d invite any of my Christian friends to correct me on this. And if you have answers, I’d be thrilled to hear them. 

Recently I watched a 1989 animated film called “All Dogs go to Heaven”. (I was coerced by my girlfriend.) Although it was aimed at children, the movie really had some philosophical underpinnings that would make any adult reconsider the afterlife. In the film, the main character (a dog) goes to Heaven but gets bored because nothing is happening. Everything is happy and pretty and nice but there’s no zest, there’s no action to give life a little spice, and the dog ends up missing his time on Earth. And this is precisely my main issue with the idea of Heaven. Where is the joy if it is not contrasted by sorrow? How can we feel genuine bliss if there are no hardships to overcome? It seems to be common sense that in order to have a positive feeling you need a negative one to compare it to. This is what gives it that extra satisfaction. In a perfect place, where sin is nowhere to be found, how would these positive experiences be felt? In short, the concept of Heaven simply seems to contradict everything we know about love, joy, peace, and all of the positive feelings we experience as human beings. 

But say it was possible. Would you want to be there? I know I wouldn’t. In my view, it’s the tragedy and pain of life that makes for the best art and it’s the adversity that makes our achievements satisfying. If there were no problems to solve, no obstacles to pass through, no pain to endure, what would we have left? A whole bunch of nothing is you ask me. Think of your favorite book or movie. Would it have been any good without some sort of conflict? For an interesting plot, there has to be some sort of dilemma a character is forced to work through. Mark Twain said, “The secret source of humor is not joy, but sorrow. There is no humor in Heaven.” He must have been right; humor is primarily a weapon brandished to combat sorrow. And isn’t humor one of the things that keeps us going? That makes life enjoyable? That makes the saddest circumstances survivable? Who would want an existence without humor? 

So what is this thing they call Heaven? No art to make things beautiful, no tension to make things interesting, no humor to make things funny, no adversity to make triumphs satisfying, no tragedy to contrast joy. If there is a Heaven, I don’t know what it would be like. But I can tell you one thing: I’d rather rather live one life on Earth – filled with art and books and love and pain and tension and excitement and adversity and growth and tragedy and humor – than spend an eternity in this so called “Paradise”. 


The Burden of Proof

How do we determine what valid proof for a given proposition is? Which claims require proof and which don’t? Are we, as individual minds with completely separate capacities to perceive, able to assert any sort of truth at all given that none of us see the world in the exact same way? These are questions worth asking, particularly when God is part of the conversation.

There are certain things we generally view as irrefutably true. 5+5=10. The earth revolves around the sun. Two hydrogens and one oxygen make water. We regard these things to be true because they have proved to be inflexibly consistent thorough years of observation and experimentation. In short, they stand as objectively true because they have been proven to be so over and over again, without failure.

Now, it is true that I, as a non-scientist, do not have the capability to prove off hand that the earth revolves around the sun. However, I do know that the evidence for the claim is based upon centuries of observation, exploration, and experimentation done by people who had resources that I don’t. Therefore, I trust this claim to be a fact and regard it as so. If a cosmologist was called upon to verify this fact, he would be able to provide us with some sort of material that we would regard as trustworthy evidence, whether it be through a mathematical formula or a photograph or a combination of several means of communication. The point is that facts can be backed up by evidence. And generally, we trust qualified authorities on a given subject to relay facts. This does not mean that we blindly accept anything anyone tells us; it means that our society has built a system of demand for evidence if something is to be regarded as true, and if qualified authorities confirm on a given claim’s truth, we are willing to accept its validity. Every discipline in our society, whether it be biology, the news media, mathematics, history, the judicial system, etc. upholds rigid barriers for truth that are based on evidence, and demand that several authorities on the subject agree upon a claim’s validity before it can be regarded as true. If something false leaks its way into the public eye, it doesn’t usually take long – particularly in the age of instant communication and information – for it to be struck down.

It took thousands of scrupulous studies and years of skeptical analysis to prove that smoking was directly linked to lung cancer. Common sense seemed to indicate it long before scientists were willing to regard it as true, and basic logic seemed to suggest it. But only after rigorous testing and experimentation were we willing to accept it as fact. In the judicial system, for someone to be convicted of murder, there needs to be evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” that he is guilty. The proof for one’s guilt must be so foolproof that it borders on the realm of virtual certainty. We have all seen cases involving someone who appears to be manifestly guilty, but leaves the courtroom unpunished because the evidence was simply not strong enough (i.e. O.J. Simpson, maybe even George Zimmerman).  The point is that our society demands substantial proof in virtually every serious discipline before a claim is taken seriously. Except one.

Religion is the one aspect of our lives that demands respect without evidence. Now, in a free world, everyone should be able to believe what they want. If you want to pray to a god of which there is no proof, that is your choice and no one has the right to tell you you can’t. You can believe something to be true without having the factual foundation to back it up. But such beliefs are flatly unworthy to play a part in our public discourse, let alone our public policy. If common sense, evidence, and critical thinking were the cornerstones of our society, it’s likely that the predicaments currently on our plate would be cut in half. Religion is the only ideological weapon the Middle East has in resisting secularism so stubbornly, and Islam might be the single biggest threat to Western civilization. Imagine, just imagine, the toils we could have avoided if this custom was put to rest by the standards of reason, and the trials that may be in store for us in the future because it wasn’t. We are, as we speak, on the brink of an international conflict due to religious leaders’ lack of regard for humanity. If religion were cut out of the picture in the United States, perhaps the sole argument surrounding abortion would be when, exactly, an unborn baby is capable of suffering – not whether or not his soul is to be accounted for. Perhaps we could rationally weigh the benefits of stem cell research against the detriments, without dragging our feet on the soles of the supernatural. Perhaps there wouldn’t even be an argument involving gay marriage, and every couple could walk down the isle without a fuss from the crudely intolerant lot attempting to deem gayness a “sin”. In short: yes, religion has been the catalyst of countless conflicts and also profound acts of charity. But I’d be willing to contend that its greatest effect on civilization has been its remarkable ability to thwart social progress.

The notion – which may appear radical in the still highly religious United States – that we needn’t rely on faith for a collective conscience or purpose is one that I passionately believe can be fulfilled, in time. To a striking degree of consistency, the world’s most prosperous and harmonious countries’ populations are majority godless. Countries like Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Australia, and Canada have societies in which the religious are in the stark minority, and are also, without exception, achieving higher levels of overall prosperity, according to the Legatum Institute, which compiles an international ranking based on several different categories, including entrepreneurship and opportunity, economic freedom, social capital, education, and more. The good old U-S-of-A, with its heartland of weekly churchgoers still firmly intact, is lagging behind other developed nations. In my view, it seems inevitable that this trend will eventually make its way across the Atlantic. Well, I’ll be concerned if it doesn’t, anyway. The point, however, is that faith in the supernatural can no longer be regarded as a prerequisite for social harmony. Our friends in Scandinavia are proving it.

Of course, I can’t prove that religion is the problem. But that’s the beauty of rational discourse. We can present ideas and opinions that make sense and have arguments about their validity. Each time we argue, we come closer and closer to a truth that we may never be able to objectively grasp, but can still hone in on with a certain level of precision that becomes clearer and clearer with the birth of each new idea. And feel free to argue – but religion, my friends, does not make sense.


Religion Does Not Equal Compassion

Religion Does Not Equal Compassion

I have long found it interesting that religion attests so strongly to being compassionate, but needs a supernatural overseer to motivate its followers to do so. The more sensical path to generosity seems to be raw compassion and concern for one’s fellow human creatures, independent of the impression one will make on a supernatural god. Not only does this seem more practical, but also more honorable and truthful. 

So I was excited to find a study in which researchers at UC Berkeley conducted a series of experiments over a period of several years, and found that unreligious people tend to derive their compassion more from actual emotion and concern for someone who is suffering than do religious people, whose generosity is rooted more in “doctrine, communal identity, or reputational concerns.” 

In other words, nonreligious people tend to adhere to the suffering of others based on the very simple emotion of compassion and the concept of altruism. In contrast, the religious tend to to help their brothers and sisters more to impress the overlooking father figure that hovers invisibly in Heaven. 

It’s up to you to decide which is the more dignified, honorable source of generosity, but to me, the answer is clear. Why must our kindness and unselfishness be polluted with doctrine that demands obedience to an omnipotent dictator? It doesn’t. And while it is true that religion has inspired many good deeds, imagine if we stripped those deeds of the name of God and left them to stand on their own. Perhaps – no, not perhaps – undoubtedly, a staggering amount of violence would have been prevented. 

Christopher Hitchens said, “Either our convictions are enough in themselves, or they are not.” No supernatural attachment to these convictions is needed. And as this study from UC Berkeley reveals, true compassion is in fact more prevalent when we are free to connect with our fellow human beings, independent of the burden of pleasing an onlooking Big Brother. 


The Illusion of Freedom in America

Embedded in American society and ingrained in the minds of almost every American is the concept of Capitalism. The Communist paranoia of the 20th century may have passed, but don’t even consider bringing up Socialist ideas in conversation to someone in America. It’s one of our strongest cultural taboos.

And perhaps we’re right to dichotomize ourselves from the ideology of Karl Marx. It has failed every time it’s been attempted in a large-scale setting. It’s been marked by oppressive regimes and pervasively low standards of living. And after all, America prides itself on cherishing the values of choice, competition, and of course, freedom.

But what is freedom if a huge portion of the population don’t have the resources to use it? America is still struggling to regain its balance amidst the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression. 20% of children and 50 million people overall are living in poverty in the U.S., the most since 1960. The unemployment rate has not encountered the dip we’ve been hoping for for so long, and about half of all college graduates are working jobs that do not require a Bachelor’s Degree; 38% work jobs that don’t even require a high school diploma. One can imagine the minimal amount of graduates that are employed in an occupation that actually pertains to the degrees they spend thousands of dollars to earn.

And while the OCCUPY movement put the 99% in the spotlight for a while, the wealth continues to be hoarded by the 1% of mega-rich corporate executives, feeding off the toiled labor of the workforce.

Many have concocted their own diverse explanations of why this is happening and how it can be stopped. But the fact is, in Capitalism, these low points are to be expected. The cyclical nature of the forces at work render a system built upon perpetual inconsistency. One central feature of Capitalist economies is overproduction. Technology improves, making labor more efficient, and intense competition pushes companies to outproduce their competitors. This creates more supply than there is demand for. As a result, people lose work, consumers start spending money they don’t have, and banks dish out loans that don’t get paid back. Such patterns are inherent within the system and render it continuously insecure.

So what’s the remedy? Will the economy bounce back on its own? It might. There are so many potential variables in Capitalism that if a few happen go in our favor, a certain level of prosperity could be restored. But will that fix the long term issue? Must we simply live with the notion that the ebbs and flows of our system are inevitable? Or is it perhaps time for some significant, foundational changes to the socio-economic system we have all grown so accustomed to?

If you asked this question to a politician from either major party, they would probably brush off the idea of some sort of social revolution as absurd. But is this because it really is absurd? Or do the same corporations that are hogging that 1% also have their hand fully immersed in the political system? The presidential debates only ever include candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties. We barely ever see advertisements from any of the third party candidates. Television media only seems to cover third party candidates when they’re getting arrested. Is this because Democrats and Republicans harbor the only ideologies worth talking about? Or is it perhaps because money buys exposure and the big corporations intend on keeping public opinion at bay by narrowing popular discourse and attitudes to include two seemingly rival parties that essentially represent the same beliefs? Hmm…

I think it’s time that we identify the people who are truly in power in America. Powerhouse corporations and billionaire corporate executives effectively dictate public discourse to fit their fancy, and by funding political campaigns, ads, debates, etc. for two dominant parties, they are able to mute the voices that dare to challenge them. By funneling their excessive wealth into lobbying campaigns, they are able to influence public policy as well, and seduce politicians into meeting their demands. And of course they’ll listen; who else is going to fund their next campaign come election year? Essentially, they are able to manipulate the system in order to maintain their status and power. And since there are no legal obstacles to restrict them, they are able to do it all behind the scenes and Americans fall victim to the illusion of faulty freedom.

If we want to reclaim the freedom that is the hallmark of American values, we must take greater strides to ensure the equal opportunity of all. Because the fact is, today, social mobility in the U.S. is basically unheard of. Just because it’s technically possible to go from rags to riches doesn’t mean it’s pragmatically plausible. If you’re born poor, you’re very likely going to stay poor for the rest of your life. So instead of pretending that we’re still the beacon of freedom that the world exemplifies, let’s rebuild the broken structure that Ronald Reagan and the rise of the new conservatism initiated, in which billionaires serve as corporate dictators and the workforce serves as “wage slaves,” in the words of Marx. In order to do this, we have to take a stand against the two-party dictatorship and demand the incorporation of third parties, such as the Green Party, the Justice Party, and the Libertarian Party, in order to represent the voices of people outside the top 1%. The Green Party is the only one that does not accept corporate donations, ensuring that their name will not be placed alongside that of corruption. We need to integrate these marginalized voices into popular culture in order to give fair representation to a wider scope of opinions. Only when money stops shaping public discourse can we get real change.

But what would that change look like? The Green Party, the longtime platform of consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, and most recently for the talented and intelligent physician Jill Stein, who represented them last year for the presidential election, proposed a radical plan to revolutionize the socio-economic system in the U.S. and to promote true justice and national prosperity. Their most notable reform would be to end the costly bailouts of Wall Street and big banks that President Obama has imposed, which has cost us trillions of dollars in his presidency alone. The prosperity of the financial giants of the country will not lead to the prosperity for all; it will merely perpetuate the insane wealth inequality that already inflicts us. Heavy restrictions to corporate funding of political activities would be essential to this plan, as well as the institutionalization of some public services that are vital to human life but currently are denied to millions because of the precariousness of the free market. Universal health care, employment programs, free education from pre-K through college, and widespread public housing projects would be prominent elements to this government intervention. Significant cuts to the military budget and withdrawal of troops worldwide would further contribute to the restoration of the economy, and provide the money needed to relieve all college debt – another one of the party’s promises. In short, the big money corporations would have their power heavily restrained, creating greater opportunities for the wider public and establishing a platform for national harmony.

Capitalism has its upsides. It can be a catalyst for creativity and, when controlled effectively, can promote healthy competition. But in current-day America, it has become a tool for the exploitation of the masses, which is demonstrated in every corner of American life, from a grade-driven, creativity-stifling education system, to a meager job market that builds the wealth and power of a select few. Socialism is not the answer – at least not yet. But if we want to experience real freedom, rather than the phony illusion propagandized by the government and ingrained in our culture, then a serious restructuring of the political and economic system is well overdue.


Perpetual Paranoia

If one chooses to follow a god that harnesses the power to either reward him with a seat in Paradise or punish him for eternity in Hell, wouldn’t he be inclined to suffer from incessant spells of nervous paranoia? In the book of Matthew, Jesus claims that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Now there’s a threat if I’ve ever heard one. 

If one accepts this notion, it seems to me that he would be forced to subject himself to a level of anxiety that no one is truly fit to handle. Jesus is essentially saying here that if you intend to be materially successful, don’t plan on enjoying your time after death. Now, he also makes it clear that following the untouchable Ten Commandments is a requirement for the realm of eternal bliss. This is an even more frightening mandate; being poor on purpose wouldn’t be all that hard, despite the discomfort one would be bound to feel. But obeying the commandments under the scrutiny of a dictator who is always – always – judging you, is something that, if taken seriously, should make every Christian rattle with fear and anxiety

People, in their inclination to think wishfully, tend to ignore the fact that they are submitting themselves to an unseeable, dictatorial figure who proclaims his way to be unchangeable, unalterable, and perfect, and who threatens eternal damnation upon anyone who merely chooses not to believe in his power. It is a very scary and manifestly dangerous prospect to claim that one entity’s perspective is untouchable, that his word is an irrefutable law that not even the most intelligent among us are worth challenging. It is particularly scary and dangerous to conceive that this notion was in fact determined by humans themselves, ancient and uneducated and fanciful ones at that. My wording here may seem hyperbolical, but I would be surprised if someone could deem my statements inaccurate.

It is the willful action to soften these alarming facts with rhetoric of love and hope and joy that keeps otherwise rational people involved in religion; behavior that modern religious moderates have perfected. Yet from what post can they criticize the fundamentalists, the extremists, the terrorists? All of whom are mere examples of people who actually take their gods seriously. Through common sense and secularism, moderates have watered down their scriptures to embolden the good parts and dismiss the bad, twisting their way around atrocities and injustices and evil with the often cheap argument that the message was simply contorted in its interpretation. One can truly be dumbfounded by the way devoted moderate Christians attempt to interpret certain passages in scripture in a radically distorted way in order to make it acceptable by today’s secular standards. And all this effort just to justify the moral uprightness of a book written two millenniums ago. 

It should be vividly clear, and fortunately so, that these so called “holy” books are not inspired by an omnipotent entity who holds the power to banish us to Hell for all of eternity, but instead are manmade myths that have survived the admirable leaps of science and knowledge by riding the coattails of human desperation and frailty. Millions of religious moderates cling to their god for hope and comfort, yet ignore his true essence if he is who he claims to be, and similarly ignore the terrifying consequences of this rather unlikely possibility, either because they choose not to think that deeply into the issue, or because they have convinced themselves through arduous internal debate that it makes sense. Personally, I am extremely relieved to be rather confident in his nonexistence. To have someone watching me, judging me, critiquing me, shaming me, absolutely nonstop, and to truly believe that he has the power to cast me into a realm of eternal suffering if he so chooses, is one of the most horrifying concepts I can imagine, and is an obvious mechanism for people to assert their own will upon others. Inherently, I don’t think one can make a legitimate claim that this sort of figure is one of pure, unadulterated love; the power he so casually uses to threaten his subjects does not demonstrate love, but rather an insatiable appetite for power and control. He can throw you into the fiery depths if he so chooses, he has his hand in the most minute and trivial aspects of your life, he has the capability and will to watch you like a sleepless stalker, he demands not only that you believe in him, but that you love him and make him the unrivaled center of your universe and the first priority in each and every endeavor you take on, he created you in his image but you are inherently flawed, so all the burden is on you to fix yourself. But he loves you. This I know, for the Bible tells me so. 

If you can handle the pressure of carrying the full weight of this burden with you, every second of every day, without succumbing to a state of utter anxiety and fearfulness paranoia, then by all means, be my guest. But there are some of us who have chosen to liberate ourselves from the enslavement of this manmade divine dictator. And even with Pascal’s petty wager in mind, I assure you, it is worth the risk. 

 


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