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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.

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Today’s Top Tweets – Great but missing the proverbial top floor

These are all great stories but they seem to overlook one important factor: The spiritual. For me, human beings are a mix of biological, psychological, social and spiritual elements. Why some people are not attuned to the spiritual dimension is a bit of a mystery to me. I used to be like that when I was a kid. But life changed me. And it still is.

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Sexism and the impressionable human being

The above tweet points to some obvious cases where men are victims of sexism. But discrimination occurs on many levels, in many different ways. Men can perpetuate sexism against men, just as women can perpetuate sexism against women. Sexism isn’t only about one gender disrespecting and oppressing another. And what about “pretty” people discriminating against the “ugly.” Or that thin against the obese? The tall against the short? The “normal” against the “weird”?

The unfortunate dynamic of discrimination occurs because, well, people are impressionable. So a situation often arises where we are sort of brainwashed, I guess, into believing in things and acting in certain ways that are not based in reality nor good for humanity as a whole.

Another routinely overlooked example of believing in things that may not be good for us, I would suggest, is found in some of the darker corners of psychiatry. Some people abuse psychiatric drugs, or perhaps their doctors are incompetent and abusive in prescribing drugs when they shouldn’t be.

Instead of dealing with all the causes of depression, for example, some take pills because that seems to help. I am not sure how much of that help is due to the well documented placebo effect and how much is actual. But the problem with taking pills that affect your brain is that, over time, the brain will likely try to compensate for whatever is altering its systems.

The brain is not a fixed, metal machine but a living organ. So when strange chemicals enter into its everyday workings, it grows new receptors or makes other changes to try to compensate. Now, down the line, if someone wants to go off their pills, they may find that their brain has actually changed. And whatever those pills were once “fixing” may now be even worse because the brain changes (as a result of taking the pills) have made the brain more sensitive to whatever was contributing to the issue in the first place.

Doctors realize this. So what do they do? Many prescribe a new set of pills to fix the new problem. They do this knowing that over time, even more biochemical issues will likely arise. So it’s sort of playing “patch up” the problem, knowing that in doing so there’s a high probability that they will be contributing to a whole new set of problems. But it’s no game. It’s your brain.

This may seem like a bit of a diversion from the tweet about sexism, but I think it’s a good example where people believe in something that in the long run may not be good for them. I write about scientism a fair amount at earthpages. I guess some think I’m just a nut with my eyes closed to the wonders of science. But in reality, not all science is pure. In fact, much of it is politically, ideologically and economically driven. But that’s a topic for another day!

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Me, myself and I – A balanced approach makes the most sense

Today’s featured tweet points to a surprisingly good, balanced article about different conceptualizations of the human self. I wrote about this at university but, in all honesty, I don’t think the professor in question understood what I was talking about. S/he immigrated to Canada from a communist regime and the years of military oppression seemed to taint his/her thinking and sense of fair play. Either that, or s/he was just always tainted. I’m not sure.

I say this because I had another professor, quite well published, who came to Canada from the same region, under similar circumstances. And s/he was fair and open-minded.  So it seems some can resist the iron grip of communist ideologies while others don’t really care to—or perhaps they are totally unconscious of it. As Carl Jung would have put it, they’re identifying with an archetype or, if you will, they are children of a lesser god.

But I digress. The point is, politics and psychology may be linked, but not necessarily causally. Natural authoritarians may actively seek out and choose to participate in authoritarianism and not simply be victims of it. Whereas others seem to have a clearheaded openness that acts as an safeguard against authoritarianism.


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Another (questionable) side of Carl Jung… and Freud too

Jung…was physically large, selfish, bullying and loud of voice; he cheated at games, had a vile temper and appalling table manners; he thought men should be polygamous but that Emma [his wife] should be his alone. He was also narcissistic and unbalanced, coming from a family with severe mental health problems.¹

English: Group photo in front of Clark Univers...

Group photo in front of Clark University Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung; Back row: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi. Photo taken for Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts publication. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Whew! That’s what my father would have called a “hatchet job.”

Q: Is this a fair assessment of Carl Jung, the psychologist who has inspired many by trying to bridge the gap between psychology and spirituality?

A: I think the tweeted article is important to read, even if definitely slanted. Always good to hear both sides. And, come to think of it, I recall Carl Jung’s son saying much the same thing—that Jung Sr. wasn’t the greatest dad in the world. Also, having studied Jung for several years, I knew about his polygamy. But I hadn’t fully considered – nor heard – that he demanded monogamy from his wife.

While reading the tweeted story I began to think about something I’ve been considering for a while now: Are insights, theories or moral teachings invalidated by the less than admirable behavior of those advancing them?

In the Bible story, if I remember right, Jesus tells others to do what corrupt preachers say but not what they actually do. Jesus is not condemning their good teaching but rather their bad example. I think this is an important distinction to keep in mind. It doesn’t get someone off the hook for being creepy. But it does suggest that, since we’re all ethically imperfect, a realistic and arguably effective approach to life demands a nuanced understanding of how most human beings actually work.


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Seekers’ reality check – We all need one

Looking back on my life I see a funny dynamic. Many times I thought I’d found “the answer,” either through a partner, a job, a scholarship, a religious affiliation. And usually when I have found the apparent “answer” I’ve become a bit full of myself and maybe overly enthusiastic about my new path. God and life, however, have this way of auto-correcting. Stuff happens… and what a great way to regain humility.

Deep thought

Deep thought (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I’m thinking it’s nice that I don’t take myself as seriously as I once did. Yes, if someone steps on my toes I will still let them know. I don’t believe God wants us to be doormats.

But at the same time, getting older means that I can appreciate all the twists and turns my life has taken, and just as importantly, how everyone else is just as “valid” as me. Are just as valid as me? Whatever. I don’t feel like checking out Grammar Girl right now.🙂

The tweeted article spells out some of the reflections I’ve had over the past few years in this area. I think it does a good job.

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So I guess I’m “uneducated” for believing in spiritual powers?

I usually don’t like the Huffington Post too much. The articles often seem sort of safe, mainstream and politically correct. But this article, well, I don’t know where to begin. Maybe it’s mostly about promoting a film, I’m not sure. If so, it’s a film I admittedly haven’t seen. So my comments are based solely on the article.

When I read articles like this I usually think skip it, it would take too long to critique. Too many reservations. And how much good will it do to write down my opinions, anyhow?

English: A Roman Catholic priest baptizes an i...

A Roman Catholic priest baptizes an infant as his parents look on. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So maybe I’ll just leave it at that. And if anyone wants to discuss this through the comments area, please feel free to do so. Every now and then I get tired of trying to dismantle a thick, brick wall.

If people want to believe that mental unwellness is predominantly some kind of medical ailment, let it be. I wonder, however, how many folks adhering to that belief will really get better. As one Catholic priest I discussed this with once said, “Satan likes to use psychiatry.”

Not that I want to get caught up in a polarized discussion between materialist psychology on the other hand, and uncritical Catholic orthodoxy, on the other hand. I think both perspectives could learn from each other. But unless I have totally misunderstood the intent of this Huff article, it seems to give emphasis to one side of the debate, which for me is inadequate.