The Real Alternative

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The youth of today… faster, sharper..?

In response to the above tweet, I get a little tired of harping on the same theme day in and day out. So I thought I’d just link to something I said yesterday. The following tweet pretty well sums up how I feel about the hegemony of science in the early 21st century. The older I get, the more it seems young people are hoodwinked by the splendor of science and especially tech. Their minds may seem faster and sharper than the previous generation. But are they really THINKING?

Some are, thank God. But some others, OMG!

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Mysticism needs a reality check

This is one of the better articles on mysticism I’ve seen in a while. Not only does it gently rebuke those Christian fundamentalists who proclaim that mysticism is “of the devil.” But it also mentions how Evelyn Underhill, one of my favorite writers on mysticism, points out as far back in 1914 that the word mysticism means different things to different people.

To a Zen monk, mysticism might mean stopping one’s thoughts and living in the moment. To a Hindu, it might mean feeling a psychological expansion, making the ego and worldly affairs appear trivial.

Most conventional Catholics interested in or claiming to be mystics seem to frame their approach, experiences and understanding within some – but usually not all – of their Catholic teachings, legends and practices.

Over the years I’ve heard some pretty questionable claims from some self-proclaimed Catholic mystics. One element that unconfirmed mystics seem to have in common is that they believe they have no need for dialog or spiritual direction. In their minds, they are right about practically everything.

English: Evelyn Underhill. Author given as Wil...

Evelyn Underhill via Wikipedia

But who among us is without some kind of human limitation?

Because we are all limited, I believe it is essential for budding mystics to receive some kind of direction from another person or persons. I don’t believe a Catholic must necessarily see a Catholic spiritual director. That may help in traditional situations where everyone shares the same beliefs without question. In common parlance, if it’s a good fit, why change it?

But for Catholics uncomfortable with aspects of the greater Catholic culture, guides and critics from other traditions and with different perspectives might be more appropriate in keeping them real.

This reminds me of another type of mystic I have encountered. I call these creative souls “wildflowers.” Unlike the well cared for “hothouse flowers” of traditional Catholicism, the wildflowers are just out there. I’ve found them in the most unusual places, each different but definitely tuned in.

One had pink hair and worked in a record store, another was a ‘normal’ looking man who owned a milk store. And yet another lived in my apartment building back in my student days. These wildflowers seem to be able to access subtle, interior insights without really having to go to any kind of church or temple.

Sometimes I wish I was more like the wildflowers. But it seems I am something of a hybrid between a wild and a hothouse flower. I need the Catholic Eucharist to stay on top of things. However, I do approach my religion in my own way. I don’t do this to be rebellious. On the contrary, I feel it’s important to approach one’s religion by the spirit rather than the letter of the law.

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

~ 2 Corinthians 3:6

This is a basic Christian teaching that sadly, I think many Catholics have forgotten with the rules, regulations and hypocrisy that might be turning so many thinking people away from discovering something truly glorious.


‘Reverse’ Sexism Is A Thing – Just Like Hypocrisy (My highlighting of the story. Link to full article is embedded).
Twitter and Zemanta are momentarily down where I am. So instead of fretting away about not being able to post the link through Twitter or get new images, I thought I’d just post the link and an old image here. Not quite as pretty but the same info.

I have to admit that I have seen all kinds of sexism. Men dissing women, women dissing women, men dissing men, and yes, women dissing men.

When I began my PhD there was a woman faculty member who was in a position to significantly help or hinder my success in obtaining the degree (not a few candidates “wash out”). There I was, fresh in a new town, a bit nervous, especially since I had completed my M.A. in the organic splendor and chaos of India. Coming back to Canada and the cold, sterile city of Ottawa was not easy.

So what’s the first thing this person said when she met me?

“Oh… a MAN…” in a derogatory tone.

Gee, that really made me feel confident that we’d have a constructive academic relationship.

I didn’t say anything, of course. Because grad studies is all about power. And she had considerable power over me.

At least two other women were present when this comment was made. And nobody, including myself filed a complaint.

I felt it was better to suck it up and get the PhD rather than risk sticking my neck out at such an early stage of the game.

Turns out this woman did fight pretty hard for me when other political complications arose several years later. There was another person who was so difficult and uneducated that even the aforementioned woman had to take my side. I guess, also, that over the five year period she’d gotten to know me a bit better and realized I was an exceptional student and that I try to be fair with everyone I meet.

So playing the game worked to a degree. But for the record, I did absorb some pretty severe reverse sexism at the outset.

Likewise, on the Canadian TV news I’ve heard women anchors joke about ‘hunks’ and make other really sexist comments about men. But this never flares up. It’s okay for women to objectify men. It’s all just in fun… right?

Perhaps some women and men feel it’s okay for women to broadcast sexual innuendos in the media because women have been oppressed for so long. I understand that argument. Sort of like a pendulum swinging back to the other extreme. But really, isn’t it time things leveled out in a more mature manner?


If someone called me “the most dangerous person” I don’t think I’d like that very much

So why is “nasty woman” getting all the attention? Is this a kind of reverse sexism?

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Updated – Article on “Remote Viewing”

Just updated my entry at about the controversial idea of Remote Viewing. Perhaps not a literary masterpiece, I do think my entry is more balanced than the Wikipedia entry. The Wikipedia entry reads like an airplane repair manual or something. But those sympathetic to psi say that the “subtle science” of these alleged phenomena doesn’t work that way. So who knows.

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Today’s Top Tweets – I hate to say “I told you so…” but I really did

Today’s top tweets all have to do with psychiatry, which is a good follow-up to yesterday’s post.

The first tweet points to an anthropological critique. The second to a mainstream psychiatric piece that begs some intelligent reflection; specifically, could some gene mutations be a part of human evolution? And the third to an almost laughable tract by a writer, who not unlike a cleric in the medieval Church, is offended by the very prospect of dialog.

I find that surprising and, frankly, a bit disquieting in the 21st century.

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Psychiatry and Spirituality – Even professor “night” can’t stop the sunrise

While doing my PhD at the University of Ottawa, I wrote a paper in 1992-93 that examined the psychiatric diagnostic system, known at the time as the DSM-III-R. I looked at the extraordinary claims of mystics and saints from different religious traditions. Would some historical spiritual figures be viewed as “mentally ill” today? I asked. To ground my paper I offered a summary on postmodern ideas about truth and power. After all, this was a graduate seminar in methodology.

Sadly, it seems the professor hosting the seminar was more interested in getting a paycheck than in trying to open his mind and encourage new research in uncharted territory.

English: The Communist States

The Communist States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He was the type of guy who said in class that it was “hopeless” talking about feminism. I guess he feared that, whatever he said, he would be jumped on.

I wasn’t writing about feminism, per se, for this particular paper. But the professor’s unwillingness or inability to probe anything but his own small, esoteric field in religious studies made him a dreadful brick wall to run into.

I say “brick wall” because for some reason this incompetent, intransigent man had a lot of power at the university. Most everyone seemed to shrink in administrative offices whenever his name was mentioned. I still can’t figure it out. But I had serious problems with him later on when trying to get letters of recommendation (outlined here).

For a while I thought it had something to do with his immigrating to Canada from a communist country. But I have met many immigrants from communist countries who are an absolute delight. In seeming contrast to professor “night,” as I will call him, psychologically healthy immigrants from communist regimes can see both mindsets – authoritarian vs. authoritative – and consciously choose which they like better.

So immigrating from a communist country, alone, wasn’t it. There must have been something else to this man that made him so difficult and, in my case, authoritarian.¹

Published by the American Psychiatric Associat...

Published by the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM-IV-TR provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By way of contrast, I wrote a similar paper for another professor at Trent University back in the mid 1980s. He was the “day” to the University of Ottawa’s professor “night.”

The Trent professor was a true humanities teacher. He was a PhD in psychology but also up on literature dealing with the subtle nuances of the psyche. His reading list included works like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Long Day’s Journey into Night and that old psychological classic, Macbeth.

Professor “day” clearly understood where I was coming from and what I hoped to achieve. He also wrote a glowing letter of recommendation that helped me to win a graduate scholarship.

We need more well-rounded professors like that. And hopefully the University of Toronto and Ryerson will continue to encourage quality thinking on this topic. Otherwise, too many people, imo, will be compromised by the system. And they might not even know why.

Having said that, I don’t believe strident, one-sided anti-psychiatry tracts are the answer, as we sometimes see, for instance, at Mad in America. The reality is that the psychiatric system is in place. It has legal power over other perspectives, probably in large part because psychiatric drugs can effectively subdue potentially violent or suicidal individuals (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

In some ways psychiatry does a lot of good. But it does need tweaking. And that’s why today’s tweet is highlighted.

¹ When I asked professor “night” why he changed his mind and would not provide a letter of recommendation perilously close to scholarship application deadlines, he answered that his letter would be “weak.” Perplexed and traumatized, I reminded him that he gave me an “A” in his course and that my academic future was at stake. At this he snapped “I GAVE YOU MY REASONS.” And that was it. End of an otherwise promising academic career.