Your Religions & the Fire.

You lit it up, I arrive
with gasoline
and you condemn me.

Suspicious, your insecurities…

Fuck all your gods, goddesses,
androgynous or fluid ultimate,
creative beings.

They are at once all too much
and not nearly enough.

The individual soul
deserves better than this.
No authority, no system
to dictate or oppress.

What is necessary, needed,
is methodology and reason,
minds open, cautious,
free from ideology and tyranny.

Though how do we seek and anchor
in our center,
how do we translate
it all through the narrow trickle of ego?

How can they be them?
How can I be Me?

All your silly religions have failed,
so far as I see it. All your systems
are down
with respect to achieving
any true ascension.

So prove me wrong.
After all this time,

interrupt me, intrude
upon my blood, sweat, tears
and likely, my leaking prana,

and prove me wrong
if you only
have it in you.

For all I know, you may offer
something far less than flammable,
but I’m tired, and I have always smelled shit,

and where there’s smoke…


Sex, Religion, and Thought-Tracks.

For the last few months, I’ve been keeping up with the daily samatha meditation. I’ve noticed that my mind is back on hyperdrive lately, perhaps an effect of the meditation and the fact that I’ve stopped drinking. Again, I’ve noticed that much as I keep a bare minimum of three folders open at once on my laptop, I keep at least two distinct tracks of thought going on in my mind at once and hop between them. Today my mind’s been bouncing between the subject of religion and the subject of sex.

With respect to the religious track, it has a definite source. Monica came into work last night, though it was her day off. The live-in boyfriend and her had gotten drunk and she left before they got into another fight, and now, clearly inebriated, she sat down in the dining room while I was cleaning and began spilling to me. It didn’t take her long to bring up the subject of a god, though this is not a conversation she’s had with me to any extent before.

Since she can’t believe in people, she explains, she believes in god to get her through life. She just talks to “him” and asks if he’ll help her get through the day. If she didn’t believe in god, she confesses, she wouldn’t be able to take it. She’d kill herself.

Just try it, she tells me. Just wake up and decide to believe.

As I try to explain to her as gently as I’m able, I don’t think I’m wired the same way, because it just doesn’t work for me.

When I realized I didn’t believe in a god back in high school, for a brief time I saw it’s lack of existence as a bad thing — until I subjected it to analysis. Then I realized it just fucking wasn’t. In addition to the fact that there is no convincing evidence suggesting the existence of such a creative, cosmic intelligence, I also see no evidence that believing despite the lack of evidence has any real, practical utility as a coping mechanism — at least for me. I know it makes her and others feel comfortable, fills them with hope, but I was never able to understand why. A totalitarian, cosmic father figure that draws the lines between right and wrong, dangling the carrot of forever-heaven in front of us and hovering the whip of eternal hell just behind — well, it just doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

If such a god did indeed exist, he would, in my humble opinion, be the biggest asshole conceivable. I wouldn’t support him anyway.

Talking to her, though, I leave that part out.

She tells me it doesn’t have to be that, but that I should just “believe in something.” I never understood it when people said that. What do they mean? That we all have to invest uncritical certitude in the notion that a creator of the universe exists? That we all should have blind, unquestioning servitude in some external force? Neither seems necessary to me. Neither seems healthy. Any way you slice it, no god — not even The God of the Infinitely Vague — seems attractive to me.

I tell her I see evidence suggestive of reincarnation and that consciousness is but a resident of the body, that there may be other planes of existence or parallel universes our consciousness can access — that I am an atheistic dualist. But her god, her Jesus, the concept of original sin, the notion of heaven and hell? I can’t, don’t, won’t swallow it. And the notion that this singular book — anthology, really — is a guidebook for life? I don’t see it. That shit just never made sense to me.

I can cherry-pick stories and lines from Dr. Seuss that are as relevant to life. The bible doesn’t stand out as a book, let alone a guidebook, sorry.

I don’t say all of this to her. I like her. And if it keeps her from killing herself, let her have the crutches. I’m thankful something is keeping her alive, even if it’s bullshit. But I can’t stomach it. And my mind and my soul relents as well.

So that religion was on my mind makes sense given last night’s conversation, but the thought-track dealing with sex? That’s another matter. The memories just sprung out at me from nowhere; jumped into my consciousness from the seeming void, unprovoked.

Once, when Claire and I were going out during high school, I was with her at night in the front seat of a large vehicle. It may have been my old Celebrity, my first car, but for some reason, I remember being higher up, as if in the front seat of someone’s truck. In any case, we were parked at night in the dirt lot beside a house just around the block, where her cousin went to practice in his band. I wish I remembered how it started, specifically if I actually had the balls to initiate it, but my hand was down her pants. Fingers worming around. It was warm, moist, wonderful. I was working away as I watched the illuminating expressions wash over her beautiful face. She seemed to be enjoying it, but I was forever uncertain, and I remember getting incredibly nervous, certain that I was doing something wrong, and ended up stopping. I later confessed this to her and she stated the obvious: that if she seemed to be enjoying it I should have just kept the fuck at it.

I never had sex with her. I had better get the chance and take it before I die. At least once. Bare minimum.

Even after I lost my virginity at age twenty, after it blew my mind, I didn’t do that again for five years. It seemed to establish a pattern of sorts, one in which I would suffer enduring periods with no sex (I’m on a seven-year-stretch right now, as a matter of fact, and it stands as the longest period of inactivity yet), punctuated by short periods where I make up for lost time. Anne, the complex gal who took my virginity, probably fit the profile of a nymphomaniac, but it always seemed to me that she just liked sex, and there’s nothing wrong with that. During the last time we were together, I remember her telling me that our sex drives were similar, and how, based on that, she didn’t understand how I could go so long not having any sex at all. I reminded her that I was a rather chronic masturbator, but its true, it’s not at all the same thing. So am I a self-denying nympho, then?

I also remembered when Anne came back from Texas, how I had sex for the first time in years, and out of nowhere, in the midst of me doing the ol’ in-out, she spanked me on the ass.

I stopped a moment. She then asked, and I confirmed: Indeed, I like that.

Over time, she was interested in letting me try out new things. I bobbed in the muff for the first time, we had sex while we both watched porn, had sex in a chair until her greyhound tried to cut in.

I thought to myself how I haven’t had sex since I started smoking pot, and given that it makes masturbation infinitely better, I’m really eager to do the real thing in that state of body-mind. I need to find an interesting, pothead girl who wants to stone-bone rather than simply continue to engage in my nightly, solo weed-whacking.

Why has the desire suddenly flared up like this? Is it because I’ve stopped drinking and my sex drive isn’t buried by the haze that it’s been on my mind again lately?

And why am I ping-ponging betwixt sex and the religious issue in my head today, specifically? As I chewed on that for the latter half of my work shift, it struck me again that there’s probably a link between our romantic feelings for a significant other and their religious feelings for a goddess or god. To me, this helps explain why conservative men talk about Jesus in a manner that in any other context would, to their ears if no one else’s, sound blatantly homosexual. It also makes sense out of the hypnodomme thing, as they seem to strive to link sexual, romantic and religious feelings through hypnosis in order to condition some heightened sense of drooling worship and control in their subjects. I’m glad I got out of watching those videos at the same time that I kicked the booze: once I blew the nightly load, and certainly after I sobered, the thought that I was watching those videos made me feel nauseous.

I am more apt to deal with Pagans and Buddhists; their concepts are more attractive to me. Eastern religions in general, and Native American beliefs, they fascinate me. Even Satanism seems to have some merit, at least one form if it. Not that I could be certain I’d ever call them my own.

Maybe I need to have sex with a Pagan stoner with Buddhist leanings or something. Let today’s mental tracks crisscross, let those trains of thought collide.

Of Spinning Wheels and Skipping Records.

Though it has been plain to me and has, in fact, plagued me for a good, long while, I only recently came to learn there have been various terms for it in psychology: fate neurosis, destiny neurosis, and most recently, it seems, repetition compulsion. In essence, this is an individual’s unconscious impulse to repeat their history over and over again, in many cases while remaining exceptionally blind to the fact.

It appears to me as if there are at least three steps to repetition compulsion. The origin of the skipping record is typically perceived as a “seed story” or circumstance one faced while in childhood and as a consequence tends to deal with the relationship one had with one’s caretakers. One may have been neglected or abandoned, physically or sexually abused, or perhaps suffered under the reign of an authoritative parent. Another dawning situation, as it is with one dear friend of mine, may be a home life that breeds parentification — a process in which the child is forced to take on the role of the parent due to the actual parent’s general incompetence when it comes to parenting. There are potentially endless scenarios for such a seed story.

Whatever the circumstances, there comes a time when the child is no longer technically a child and so she wastes no time getting the bloody fuck out of dodge. Consciously determined, she then attempts to make her own life, but the subliminal aspects of her being, addicted to that familiar story, immediately get the shakes and they quickly intervene. Though she isn’t aware of it, she then finds herself unconsciously gravitating towards people and finding herself in circumstances that have an uncanny affinity with the people and circumstances she had just managed to escape. Like a shadow, the weight of her history appears fundamentally inescapable: the past, it seems, is forever present.

After successfully anchoring herself in the familiar, the phenomenon of transference takes hold, prompting her to exhibit conditioned reactions in her new context and inevitably, through projective identification, generates the desired reactions from the other person or people in question. In this way, the feedback loop creates and maintains the familiar circumstance.

Repetition compulsion can also come in one of two forms, the most direct being what we could call the Remake. If we can conceive of the original story as a sort of movie, every subsequent regurgitation would constitute a remake. I say this because the distinguishing feature of a remake is that it honors the source material, plagiarizing where it can get away with it and striving to pay homage where it must yield to the call for modernization.

The easiest personal example I can offer is Sandra, who was a longtime friend before I finally had to sever the close tie. Part of the reason was her overall lack of empathy and compassion, particularly with me, despite the fact that I exercised such empathy and compassion with her. The second reason, related and more to my point here, is that she was unable to see the Groundhog Day nature of circumstances, particularly when it came to men. She used to come into my room in the house I shared with her and her brother, lay on my bed and spill her soul to me, raw and unfiltered. This in and of itself is not unusual, as even total strangers tend to do this with me. I don’t mind. But over the course of countless failed relationships, I was hearing damn near the same exact story. No matter what part of the story she happened to be in at the timeI could tell her not only how she had gotten there but where it was going.

It should have been for her like it was expressed in that Nine Inch Nails song, “Everyday Is Exactly the Same”:

“I believe I can see the future
because I repeat the same routine.”

But she never saw it. I have often critiqued her for being unable to see beyond her own head to understand others; the truth of the matter was that she seemed utterly incapable of seeing so much as herself. Her deafness towards her own skipping record life soundtrack was heartbreaking and endlessly frustrating.

By no means is this phenomenon limited to her, of course. I certainly see it in my own life — but for me, that was and remains the difference: I see it. If nothing else, strive to gain some degree of self-awareness, for fuck’s sake.

Another way in which repetition compulsion can play out is in the form of Role Reversal. Whereas in the remake the person always plays the ego, the role they played in the seed story, here the person plays the role of their shadow, seeking out or forcing another into their previous position.

In many cases this can lead down a rather dark path: while you seek out the same general circumstances inherent in your core story, you now abandon your dawning role as the victim and put on the costume and mask of the victimizer. The song “Prison Sex” off of Tool’s album, Undertow, encapsulates the essential nature of this, perfectly summarizing the underlying aim with the line: “Do unto others what has been done to you.”

There may be various underlying motivations for repetition compulsion. Seeking out the familiar, no matter how painful, provides a greater sense of psychological security than the health and safety that may be possible, even probable, given a different pattern, simply because familiarity offers predictability, and therefore the illusion of control — and that’s certainly part of it. Also, as has been said in the case of recurring dreams and flashbacks, it may be an attempt on behalf of the unconscious to discharge emotions or desensitize one to the stimulus through relentless redundancy. Conversely, it may be an unconscious attempt to master the circumstance, to find a solution, to achieve resolution.

This sounds an awful lot like the Hindu take on reincarnation, which is to say we keep repeating the same damned cycle, our story, until we ultimately extinguish our desires. Buddhism offers a different take on the matter: one can take charge and work towards escaping the cycle now, within this lifetime, within this most recent adaptation of our recurring story. It involves transcending the ego and, as a consequence, the circumstances it compulsively perpetuates through mindfulness — through witnessing rather than engaging with the mind.

There may be additional measures one could take to escape the chains of their existential echoes, however: creative outlets. Just as our seed story can manifest in our objective circumstances it can also manifest in our music, play, writing, art, as well as in dreams and hallucinations, making us more mindful through the reflection such creativity offers. Carl Jung’s Active Imagination technique could potentially accelerate the process, too.

Buddha of AA.

Think of the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path. Was the message of Buddha that life is the penultimate addiction? It certainly sounds like it. The antidote? Relinquish all desire and escape this great wheel of samsara. Given this, why don’t AA programs incorporate Buddhism and toss out Christianity? Drop prayer and pick up mindfulness meditation?

Punxsutawney of the East.

In the movie Groundhog Day, the character played by Bill Murray keeps waking up to the same second of February day after day, a life of seemingly ceaseless repeat, soon bored despite being such a young immortal. The movie has been said to carry Buddhist themes, which I agreed with back when I initially heard it, though I now realize how the story is actually far more Hindu in nature.

The Hindu idea was that we naturally exhausted our desires throughout successive incarnations before achieving moksha, or liberation from samsara, the round of rebirths, The selling point for Buddhism was that rather than letting nature take its course as you suffered this dizzying cosmic recycling process, you could, with strict self-discipline, accelerate the evolution of your consciousness. By controlling your passions, you could transcend the causes of your suffering and achieve liberation from compulsive rebirth within this very lifetime.

Bill Murray did achieve this in the end, and I suppose technically within the same lifetime, but this was only possible because he was able to live that one February second over and over again until he had exhausted all desires, overcome all aversions and failed all other means of escaping — involving the abduction of Punxsutawney Phil — before finally stumbling into bed with the answer (not the groundhog, thankfully). Murray’s drive was boredom, which came only after he had achieved getting everything, even multiple ways of killing himself, out of his system. It echoes the tale of Pandora’s Box in a way, as only after he had let loose everything else within him did he have access to any hope, the last thing in the box. Not the tale of Gotama, however. Groundhog Day isn’t about a Buddhist view of the world, but rather the predictable result of a potentially eternal process of elimination. That’s Hinduism.

If Bill had experimented with every methodology of his day and finally came to his whole Bodhi tree revelation in the midst of meditation, cooking up his very own Murray Methodology, that would be Buddhist.


Some Sort of Catacomb.

Buddhist tradition holds that when Siddhartha Gautama experienced his awakening in the sixth century beneath the Bodhi tree, the first quarter of his experience dealt with the recollection of all his previous incarnations.

This in turn allegedly inspired a meditation practice known as the Jivamala, though everything on the net that I have read about it stems
suspiciously from a single website. In any case, the practice itself I found fascinating, regardless of its legitimacy with respect to the practices of Tantric Buddhism.

As limited data suggests, one readies oneself by taking their typical meditation position. With a string of beads known as a mala in hand, one then meditates on bead after bead, each representing a past-life personality, also known as a jiva, for the purposes of reliving the “mosaic of memories” therein.

The first step is, of course, to remember the life. Fingers and meditative focus comes to rest on the dark bead, meant to signify a life poisoned by karma with symptoms that have carried over into one’s current life. One might liken the dark bead and the simultaneous process of remembering the mistakes we made since our last birth to the deep, down-and-inhale of Nigredo, the blackening, often presented as the initial stage of alchemy.

Here one procures the base matter or prima materia which will then be put through the various arrangements of alchemical processes in order to transmute it to a substance of value, symbolically represented as the lapis or philosopher’s stone.

This blackening is often followed by the exhale, the whitening stage of Albedo or Solutio, where the process of purification takes place. After recalling the life, confronting it, one next puts efforts towards understanding it. Once this mission is accomplished, the life comes to be represented by a white bead. Then one moves onto the next dark bead on the thread.

The bipolar Nigredo-Albedo process (as well as the concept of the Yin-Yang) resonate nicely with the Jivamala practice. It gives a meditative/ritual structure to the aforementioned alchemical processes and Taoist concept that always appeared lacking or frustratingly ambiguous in the literature I’ve read.

It is rather important to ask, however, how we can be sure that a past life memory — one that may have come to us in any number of ways — is an accurate and reliable memory.

Evidence collected by the Division of Perceptual Studies suggest that past life memories have carried over from previous lives of some children, who remember them when they are young, either all the time or in relaxed, sleepy states of mind, and they usually seem to forget them altogether over time.

They burst into adult awareness as well, both spontaneously through flashbacks and dreams and intentionally through the use of hypnosis. Often enough they have found astounding correlations between their memory and previously unknown historical fact.

So there seems to be cases in which these memories do indeed appear to be valid, and both the relaxed states of the children and the hypnotic states of the adults tend to suggest that meditation may also serve as an effective tool.

Not everyone agrees that there is suggestive evidence for reincarnation, of course. Many passionately faithful debunkers are ever-eager to explain away past life memories by throwing out the word “cryptomnesia.” Essentially, the suggestion is that one learned of the relevant historical facts or personal details at a subliminal level at some point and this later became the source material for false memories.

Others have a more thorough and interesting outlook on such bizarre memories, however. In the book The Stranger in the Mirror: Dissociation — The Hidden Epidemic, by Marlene Steinberg, MD, and Maxine Schnall (1999), Steinberg speculates that alleged past life memories may in actuality be dissociated, metaphorical screen memories for traumatic experiences in the individual’s present lifetime.

These dissociated, compartmentalized screen memories are presented as memories of your previous identities. Judging from the hypnotic subject’s tendency to slip into character and experience amnesia during such hypnotic regression sessions, the jivas would instead appear to constitute alters or some stage in their development, she argues.

They are presented as ghosts of former selves trapped like amber in scattered memories of lives formerly lived. Seen to be separated by time necessarily, space most likely and at least one change of skin, these experiences remain psychologically connected to the conscious personality but held at a convenient historical distance, though nonetheless successfully compartmentalized, safely obscured by dissociative screen memories and atrributed to a past (and potentially present though alternate) identity.

One must go to every grave in their very own inner catacomb and hear the ghosts of the soul’s secret past as they offer up their confessions. By remembering and re-experiencing these memories through Jivamala, we are said to release ourselves from bondage to those identities and lives and simultaneously expand our sense of self to encompass the wisdom of our inner shadows, now purified and brought to light.

This seems implied in the practice of past life recollection by use of regression hypnosis as well. Many tales of reincarnation (aside from those collected and evaluated by The Division of Perceptual Studies) seem to begin with an individual plagued by a particular phobia, the source of and solution to which has not been found despite various, diverse and even desperate attempts. When they inevitably undergo hypnosis and experience a memory of a traumatic death from a past life, however, it seems to explain the phobia — and as an added bonus, at once the phobia vanishes.

While insisting that the screen memories prevent total integration of the personality, Steinberg
herself acknowledges the benefits of exploring past life memories. She writes that “[t]he remarkable progress that Dr. [Brian] Weiss had in reducing Catherine’s fear of death and other phobias came about because his past life therapy acknowledged and worked with her hidden parts and did not discount them.” In her words there seems to be the faint echo of Carl Jung, who told us that in order to fully integrate our shattered psyche we need to first take the images and narratives it presents to us seriously.