exploring life in all its variety

March 22, 2008

On skepticism, religion, and metaphysics

Skepticism rears its head frequently on the Internet, in ways we may not think about very much in our day to day lives off line, and with good reason. There’s a lot of unreliable or questionable information on the Internet. There are no editorial guidelines, no filtering process. Anyone can post anything they want. This is both good and bad. But there are also a lot of people on the Internet that say they’re skeptical when, I think, they don’t really understand what skepticism is, especially when it comes to metaphysics.

I’ve nurtured a lifelong interest in “occult” subjects like astrology and psychic phenomena, as well as the afterlife. I’ve read about various forms of religion and spirituality. Some might say I’m one of those “New Agers” and dismiss me as gullible. By the way, I put “occult” in quotes because very little of this is secret these days, so I wonder why we still use the term so loosely.

While my interests lean in the same direction as the New Age community’s, I don’t use the label “New Age” for myself. First, because I tend to avoid labels. Second, because my interests were such long before I was aware of any identifiable New Age movement. In fact my parents first sparked my interest in metaphysics when I was a child in the sixties — and no, they weren’t hippies, or even close. My mom’s family had an interest in such things long before then. Her maternal grandparents were Spiritualists. Third, the New Age community is sometimes, in my opinion, too accepting and non judging, and has gained its reputation for being flaky in ratio to the number of such people it appears to take under its wings. I don’t mean by that to bash New Agers, not at all. There are many people in the New Age community that I consider my friends, favorite authors and artists, or simply people I like and admire for their tolerance and loving nature or remarkable insights. But I think more questioning is called for, and I find many New Age marketing strategies highly questionable.

I’m happy to have no religion, and no particular label for my spirituality. I’ve been happy with that for many years. I’m a seeker, but I’m not looking for a religion. I choose to seek everywhere, not just in one grouping of writings or beliefs. And while I am seeking, I’m also always finding, so I don’t feel lost at all.

My metaphysical and spiritual leanings, even if kept entirely to myself and not shared within a religious or spiritual community, have continued to remain strong, introducing me to various religious writings, encouraging my interest in astrology, Tarot, intuition, meditation, and the afterlife. I attended lectures at the local astrological society for months, years ago. I read books on religious, mythological, spiritual, and metaphysical subjects, including several by Alice Bailey, the Bible, and a portion of the Nag Hammadi Library. I’ve studied the Tarot, both as an aid to plumbing my own psychological and spiritual depths and as a personal oracle of sorts, for a little over 20 years. I’ve kept a dream journal almost all my adult life, and that led me to discover that, just as Edgar Cayce said of everyone’s dreams, some of my dreams are precognitive.

I suspect everyone is at least a little psychic.

Other dreams simply give me deeper insight into my own psyche and how I’m responding at every level to changes around me and in my life. Soon after retiring from my former career, as a technical writer-editor, and later a technical manuals distribution manager, I had a dream one night in which I always wore beige pants, and I had to crawl through a narrow transom to get where I needed to go each day. I was tired of doing that, in the dream, and on my last day I felt great relief. As I crawled through for the last time, my beige pants split at the seam to reveal that I wore paisley tights underneath.

I think of that dream as my unconscious letting go of a my old technical, cut and dried line of work and my feeling of needing to fit in there. I think that dream initiated me into my new creative path, with the freedom to pursue my more Bohemian interests without any risk of being seen by coworkers or superiors as a “kooky New Ager”. Not that they would’ve been so judgmental, but I’d always been shy of sharing my interests in metaphysics with people in that technical world. I’ve been shy in general about sharing these interests with many people at all, not just there. Nowadays, when I reveal some of my interests that I’ve kept to myself for so long, I sometimes joke to myself that my paisley tights are showing.

I believe in intuition, not as a distinct, reliable source of data, but as a whisper full of potential and possibility, because I’ve experienced it. Is that dangerous? If I believe, based on my intuition, that something is worth looking into or reading about, what is the harm in doing so? If synchronous events seem to lead me in a particular line of study, why not follow for a while?

I don’t rely solely on intuition to tell me whether it’s safe to cross the street. That would be foolish and dangerous. I rely on my sight, hearing, and on the traffic signal if there is one. But if those things all tell me it’s safe to cross and my intuition still says it isn’t, I pause and make sure. When I’m driving, if my intuition nudges me to pay attention to a particular car, and it’s safe to do so, I fall back and keep an eye on it from a safe distance. My intuition has alerted me to dangers I needed to avoid enough times that it’s a part of my safe driver’s tool bag. I’ve had unexplainable things happen that I think saved my life, things that I can’t explain other than through some combination of intuition and, possibly, cosmic intervention — a guardian angel perhaps? Who knows. Such incidents don’t seem likely to be mere coincidences or accidents. For instance, a fleeting dust devil that my mother spotted at the side of the road once saved me from certain injury in a fire. A little voice, not physical and not mental, sometimes whispers a warning, and if I don’t heed it in my rush to get something done, invariably things go wrong and I wind up kicking myself for not listening. Listening to whom? I’m not sure. A Christian might call it the Holy Spirit. Another might call it an Angel or Spirit Guide, or the Higher Self. Perhaps it’s simply an extended sense that science isn’t yet aware of, something like what is accessed in remote viewing.

I believe there are aspects to life and reality that science can’t yet explain, but which are very likely real nonetheless.

I’m still skeptical.

How, you say? How can I call myself skeptical if I fall for that sort of thing — Tarot, astrology, and psychic phenomena?

That depends on what you understand skepticism to be.

What is skepticism? It’s not disbelief. It’s not belief. It’s not bashing every new idea that presents itself, as unproven, unfounded, or as a hoax, just because some accepted authority says so, such as the school system, the media, a leading business, a church leader, an academic, a government official, or a scientist. It’s not rejecting an idea because it doesn’t fit with one’s entrenched worldview. It’s not telling people they’re fools or gullible because their beliefs differ from one’s own. It’s not making up one’s mind about something before one has bothered to consider at least some of the evidence for and against, or considered that although the notion may not be in one’s own experience, it could very well still be true.

To put it in my own simplistic terms, I see skepticism as reserving judgment until all the facts are in. It’s acknowledging that with some ideas the facts are never all in. Skepticism is saying, “I don’t know,” and not committing oneself until one knows. It’s the ability to accept that one may never know the answers, that not all questions require a definite answer. In fact, some of the most worthwhile questions don’t have answers, at least in this lifetime.

For me skepticism means that I believe what I know to be true, as the Buddha, and by some gnostic accounts the Christ, taught. It means I know something is real, or true, either because there’s solid scientific evidence that’s known to me, or because I’ve experienced it for myself and have good reason to know it wasn’t just my imagination. I also merely believe some things without knowing, because they make sense to me, intellectually or emotionally or both, or which I hope are true, such as experiences relayed to me by people I trust. I allow myself to believe some things for now, with full knowledge and comfort that I may not believe them the same way later in life. I believe that my beliefs should change as I learn and grow, not stay stuck in one configuration for life.

While pondering my own take on skepticism and beliefs recently, I came across a collection of articles on the subject at a site called The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

I haven’t read them in their entirety yet. They’re actually rather plodding and academic for my taste; but if, like me, you’re interested in how skepticism differs from belief or disbelief, from cognitive dissonance or outright rejection of new ideas, these articles may interest you as well:

Ethics and Self-Deception

Contemporary Skepticism

Ancient Greek Skepticism

File: — Barbara @ 6:37 pm PST, 03/22/08
March 14, 2008

Prayer beads II

When I wrote my first post about prayer beads, almost three years ago, I considered buying a ready-made strand or a kit. I started out wanting sandalwood beads, but my budget was constrained, and it wasn’t as if my prayer beads were a necessity.

Then I remembered a string of beads that were once my grandmother’s and had passed through a few family members’ hands before they came to me. Their string was literally on its last thread, so restringing them into a new form made sense. There were about 92 beads, and with the addition of some crystal beads that had been my mother’s as quarter markers, and a larger wooden bead I had on hand as the summit bead, they made a full mala of 108 beads. I added a crystal elephant I’d had for years, along with more crystal beads as counters.

JobsTears (more…)

File: — Barbara @ 10:08 am PST, 03/14/08
February 20, 2008

The argument for fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains

In an interview at Alternet titled Michael Pollan Debunks Food Myths, author Michael Pollan discusses his new book, In Defense of Food. He talks about why news of the latest scientific nutritional studies is probably not the best source for nutrition information, and how the best eating advice given to Americans in the past five decades is probably the simplest — that fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are good for us. According to him, we’re likely best off getting back to basics.

Pollan says:

“I’m not a Luddite; I’m not anti-science. I’m fascinated by nutritional science. But I’ve also acquired a healthy skepticism about how much and how little they know. It has only been around for about 175 years. Its history is of one overlooked nutrient after another. As I see it, nutrition science is kind of where surgery was in the year 1650, which is to say very interesting and promising, but do you really want to get on the table yet?” (read article)

Further on, Pollan mentions how the “imitation rule” was eliminated by the FDA, without going through Congress, and how what we eat has in some sense become a political statement. According to Pollan, cooking our own food from scratch may now be a subversive act:

“It’s funny to think of something as domestic as cooking and gardening as subversive, but it is. It is the beginning of taking back control from a system that would much rather do everything for you.” (read article)

File: — Barbara @ 2:02 pm PST, 02/20/08
February 7, 2008

Smuggler of Dreams

The New Moon can’t be trusted.
Rather than float her darker
face as a shadow dotting
the brilliance of the sky,
she hides behind a blue mask.

Still the glassy surface of my
inner pool grows agitated, (more…)

File: — Barbara @ 7:00 am PST, 02/07/08
February 6, 2008

More art blogs and websites

I’ve found more fantastic art journal blogs, ninajohansson.se, and Laurelines Drawings and Paintings. Links courtesy of Jana’s Journal and Sketch Blog. Laurelines also recently posted links to other Must-Read Art Blogs for 2008.

In case you haven’t been watching my link updates in the sidebar, please also be sure to visit Beverly Jackson’s new art gallery website, The Art Shack Studio. I met Bev when we belonged to the same writer’s group, before she moved away. I’m proud to count her as a friend, and a multi-talented one at that.

File: — Barbara @ 3:05 pm PST, 02/06/08
December 31, 2007

Black holes, Yin-Yang, the Big Dipper, and the Wheel of the Year

A simulation called Step By Step Into A Black Hole depicts a theoretical descent into a black hole and the subsequent view of the outer universe from inside the black hole. In the first pictures we see the black hole as a bubble of darkness (scroll down) in an otherwise starlit universe. From inside, we see mostly darkness with a bubble of starlight. The two opposing views remind me of the Yin-Yang or Tai-Chi symbol, with its two sides of light and darkness, contrasted by bubbles of their opposites contained within each half (in the eye of the fish). This led me to question — and research a little more — the origins of the symbol.

I’ve always thought of Yin-Yang as a purely philosophical or even spiritual concept, one of integration, interdependence, and balance. I never thought of it having any connection to our physical universe as conceived by scientists. But according to two sites I came across today, here and here, it may originate from prehistoric observations of the Big Dipper — or the Plough, as the constellation is known in China — as it changes apparent position in the night sky through the course of a year.

If true that the symbol originated from celestial observations, then its origin is the same, an observation of the changing seasons, that we find in the western, European pagan precursors to the Neopagan Wheel of the Year, only instead of the seasonal changes observed in daylight hours or the points on the horizon where the sun or moon rises, it measures the concurrent changes in the predominant feature (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least) of the night sky. Please note that what I refer to as the Wheel of the Year, as we know it today, is a fairly recent invention used in Wicca and Neopaganism, but is based for the most part on ancient European celebrations of the seasons, including the solstices and equinoxes — which no doubt hold some connection to ancient astronomical markers such as Stonehenge and Newgrange. There are also possibly similarities in the origins and symbolism of the Native American Medicine Wheels, which would take another in-depth post to explore, though this appears to be a good resource to start with.

I only found two sites that mention the possible origin of the Yin-Yang symbol with the Big Dipper’s path, though other sites certainly hint at the possibility, and according to one Chinese Mathematical Astrology site, “The most important constellation in the heavens to the Daoist is the Plough (or Dipper).” The eight trigrams of the I-Ching Ba Gua, with their broken and unbroken lines could be perceived as gradations of light and darkness pertaining to the seasons of the year, and might be seen to correspond with the eight quarters and cross-quarters of the Wheel of the Year. They are often depicted or written of as corresponding to the elements, the four directions, or the seasons. Most sites I found have more to say about the meaning of the Yin-Yang symbol than its origin, but nearly all say it’s based on “precise observation.” Most also associate its meanings with the sun and moon as well as to the seasons. I’ve included more links below.

Where does the Yin Yang Symbol come from? (also linked above)

The Sacred Wheel of the Year as revealed through the I Ching (also linked above)

Tai Chi Symbol, Yin-Yang Emblem, Taiji Tun by Michael P. Garofalo

Tai Chi & Taoism (lists movements of the Tai Chi form that take their names from the Big Dipper or its seven stars)

Taoist Nine Star Astrology (also linked above)

Tai Chi Symbol (Gin Soon Tai Chi Chuan Federation site)

Chinese Philosophy: Yin and Yang

I-Ching (Wikipedia article)

And if you’re ready to jump traditions and do even more exploring, check out this page of a much larger resource site:

ABORIGINAL STAR KNOWLEDGE: Native American Astronomy (also linked above)

Main site: NATIVE AMERICAN INDIAN RESOURCES

Certainly the symbol is more likely to have originated from a simple observation of the heavens, without the aid of a telescope, than from anyone way back when conceptualizing a black hole. But I still like my observation that a theoretical journey into a black hole resembles this ancient symbol in some regards. The universe seems to repeat its basic patterns, and the spirals of galaxies we observe at great distance with sophisticated technology find their counterparts depicted on stone walls our ancestors decorated eons ago. Even though our cultures and philosophies took many different turns through the course of time, prehistoric humans everywhere started out with similar reverence for the natural world, and based our traditions on observations of the world and heavens around us.

Happy New Year!

File: — Barbara @ 3:58 pm PST, 12/31/07
December 20, 2007

Art journal blogs — new links

I’m adding art journal blogs to my blog list as I find ones that I can’t live without visiting regularly. My two newest links are to Jana’s Journal and Sketch Blog, and Princess Haiku (who visited me and commented a while back, leading me to watch her intriguing blog for a while).

I hope you all enjoy visiting these fresh, new to me blogs.

File: — Barbara @ 11:09 am PST, 12/20/07
December 11, 2007

Statesman or prophet?

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.”

- Thomas Jefferson

File: — Barbara @ 4:46 pm PST, 12/11/07
November 4, 2007

Drifting between big projects

I’m finally shopping my novel around, so I have more time to take care of the rest of my life. There’s something about a book-length writing project that shuts out too much else from the range of my attention, so I’ve decided that unless I sell this novel it’s going to be smaller creative projects for a while, like poetry, short stories, and some needlework and painting. I’m interested in art journals, at the moment, and in playing my guitar more. I’m a rank beginner, but I find music puts my brain into a completely different frequency or something, and I like it there.

While it would be easy (for some people perhaps, not me) to set a list of goals to accomplish, and stick to that set list, I’m more of a drifter. I look forward to browsing my creative urges for a while to see where they lead me. Hopefully they’ll lead into a little more organization and housecleaning. Writing a novel can really upset your housecleaning routine — if you even have one to start with, which I don’t.

File: — Barbara @ 1:25 pm PST, 11/04/07
October 29, 2007

After the fires

The local birds seem to think our yard is a good place to visit while the last bits of fire and smoke die down, and they’ve come through in flocks as well as individually. At one moment this morning they seemed to be throwing a bird party in our side yard. I stepped outside and saw four or five hummingbirds, a flock of common bushtits (which don’t normally show themselves in the open), a sparrow, something else I couldn’t identify hopping around in the bougainvillea, and a mockingbird displaying the white of its wings and singing its heart out. All this in the space of a minute while I just watched, mesmerized by their activity. We normally don’t get so many at once, though we feed hummingbirds and scrub jays regularly. I suppose some may have been displaced by the fires.

There’s still a lot of smoke in the air, but it’s great to be home. I keep wanting to post some of my thoughts and even a little critique regarding the evacuations and information channels, but it feels so good just to be home after being away for four days last week, and I’m thrilled with how much was saved. I don’t want to seem in any way critical of the people responsible for that. Suffice to say, if you’re a local government official, the more information you can feed evacuees (in as many languages as needed please, for everyone’s safety), and the faster you can get them home after the danger is past, the more willing people will be to evacuate in the future. It may seem that some people are hard cases about evacuating, but I think most who seem that way have their reasons. We have a natural homing instinct that makes it very difficult, particularly added to the stress of a disaster, to be away from one’s home, to feel that one can possibly know enough about what’s happening there. One wants to do something, and it’s difficult to relinquish control.

My husband, dog, and I were blessed to be able to stay with loving family members who put up with our stressed-out state of mind, and we were blessed again to come home and find our house still standing, in fact our entire neighborhood and downtown area untouched except by smoke. There’d been no looting — not that anyone would want my old things anyway — and the power hadn’t even gone out, so our minor fear that we’d have to restock our freezer turned out to be unfounded. Today the smoke still lingers, and the dry weather and heat keep everyone on alert, in the knowledge the fires are contained but not necessarily out. We’re cautious yet immensely grateful.

Many thanks to all our firefighters, and to all the visiting firefighters, including those from out of state and Canada, who came through to help save lives and homes, as well as to all the other officials and support people who worked so hard to ensure things went smoothly here in San Diego County.

File: — Barbara @ 12:56 pm PST, 10/29/07
September 16, 2007

Who was the first poet?

I wonder, because reading
so inevitably
pushes me to write.
I wonder, and I even worry.

What if I’d never seen a poem?
Might I burst apart one day
from the pressure of too much
held in too long? Could I have learned,

even as slowly as I do, how to
forge words into a proper
plough to break the heart’s earthy
crust? Could I witness the drop

of soft rain on edgy leaves of thought, see
sun poured on a cloud and stars suspended
in a faint array, high and deep in a black sky?
Would I sense the ruddy pulse of Mars?

What if I’d never known a poem
can sing me to sleep at night,
can single out the imperfections
and perfect whole of a lily pond?

Who would I be, or what?
Where could I go? Who started this?
I want to send the first poet flowers and
lily dreams, across the bridge of time.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara W. Klaser

File: — Barbara @ 2:47 pm PST, 09/16/07
September 2, 2007

Butterflies

This has been a good summer for butterflies in my little corner of the world. I’ve seen a lot more variety this year than in past years, and yesterday I sighted a Western Tiger Swallowtail in a pepper tree in the yard behind ours. It surprised me, and at first glance I thought I was seeing an oriole making like a butterfly, it was so large. I haven’t seen many swallowtails since I was a kid, and then I usually saw darker, smaller ones, maybe the Anise Swallowtail, which looks more familiar to me. I think the most common butterfly of my childhood was the Mourning Cloak, but I rarely see those now.

File: — Barbara @ 9:06 pm PST, 09/02/07
August 31, 2007

Emily’s journey home

We had to say goodbye to our little gray cat Emily today. We think she was about 20 years old, but we’re not sure, because she adopted us just over nine years ago, appearing in our back yard to steal our puppy’s food. She had a lot of problems, resulting from having nearly starved on her own without front claws, and having possibly been abused. She was missing half her teeth when she found us, and we think she suffered the cat version of PTSD. But over time she warmed up to all of us and became an integral part of our family. We like to think we were able to give her a nice retirement here, after all her troubles. She helped us say goodbye to another dear cat friend, Merlin, in 2000, and today we said goodbye to her.

I’ll miss her purrs, her silky, silver-gray fur, and the gentle tap of her paw when she wakened me in the mornings.

Just a few nights ago, The Lord of the Rings trilogy played on television again. We didn’t watch, because I intended to watch our DVDs again soon, but we caught the tail end of Return of the King, and the final song.

For days that song has stayed in my mind, popping into consciousness at odd moments. Today it did again, and I wondered about it, because I couldn’t recall the singer’s name, the name of the song, or the lyrics. The music just kept haunting me. So I looked it up, and remembered as soon as I sat down to do a search that it was Into the West. Annie Lennox sang it for the film. I love this song. Right now it’s helping me say goodbye to Emily. I learned that it was partially inspired by the death of young New Zealand filmmaker, Cameron Duncan, and first performed in public at his funeral. That makes it seem even more appropriate as Emily’s song of passage.

Safe journey, little friend.

The song is available as part of the soundtrack from the film: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King [SOUNDTRACK]

Emily

File: — Barbara @ 3:35 pm PST, 08/31/07
August 19, 2007

Growth

“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”
— Mahatma Ghandi

Growth
Growth
9 x 12 watercolor collage (click on image for larger view)

This painting’s background sat in my file cabinet for over a year, a cast aside experiment. I reworked it a little, adding bits of blue, and I nearly threw it away. But I have trouble throwing anything away. This summer I found a fallen avocado leaf I’d saved from a young tree. Its stem, when dried, curled into a spiral on its own. At first the actual leaf was part of the collage, but it proved too fragile, so I settled on a painted one. The abstract leaves were also scraps I’d painted, thought I’d never use for anything, and almost threw away.

I’m such a packrat, I’m not sure it’s good for me to get so much satisfaction from using my discards this way. Maybe it would be better not to encourage my hoarding. But I can’t argue with the sense of effervescence and growth this gives me personally. Some clutter is worth saving.

In this world, growth begins in shadow. Incubation, gestation, germination, all take place out of sight. We shelter and protect our young. As we grow, it’s a relief to duck back into familiar shadows now and then, or to at least be aware of them still behind us, to honor their place in our lives, the impetus they provided for growth, as well as a resting place at each stage of growth. Our shadows are part of our whole, they add perspective and depth to our existence. They’re a refuge when sunlight blazes too brightly and radiates summer’s heat. It’s easy to burn out under too constant, too bright a light. The cool, darker reaches sustain us and remind us that night time will come again, that winter will roll around. Everything lives and dies according to its cycle. In growth, that cycle is a trailing spiral, ever working it’s way both outward and inward, branching out, taking root, opening, closing, curling, unfurling, expanding, contracting. We come to know ourselves by incrementally opening, coming to know every self in existence, and recognizing our tiny niche in the greater whole, by seeing how the whole constantly shifts and changes, and by constantly shifting and changing ourselves as integral parts of that whole.

Fear resists change, holds it back, cutting some parts off from the whole until they wither and die. Love — loving unconditionally, embracing the whole in all its diverse elements and forms, both light and shadow — is the key to unlocking resistance and letting growth happen. Love is water dripping or condensing on leaves, trickling down stems or falling in drops to penetrate to roots. Love is water rising in vapor and mist, transpiring, evaporating to moisten other life. Love is movement, pushing its way up and out, toward the sun, stretching toward nutrients, nurturing the self, flowering, fruiting, and nourishing others, leaving seed behind to repeat the cycle.

File: — Barbara @ 10:04 am PST, 08/19/07
July 6, 2007

It just got old

old thoughts sometimes
wear grooves so deep
they bury themselves before
new ones can rise
the buried old ones
make good fertilizer

Copyright © 2007 Barbara W. Klaser

File: — Barbara @ 10:27 am PST, 07/06/07

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