Manifesting Divinity

“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this Divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or mental discipline, or philosophy—by one, or more, or all of these—and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.”

Swami Vivekananda (via Wikipedia)

Manifesting your own divinity – that’s the ultimate goal in life.

Be the best version of you that you can be. Take personal responsibility.

This is the core of all religion.

Clever chap, ol’ Vivekananda.

[Thanks to Richard Grannon (Spartan LifeCoach) for bringing this guy’s teachings to my attention.]

The Unexpectedly Comforting Thing My Psychiatrist Told Me

I saw a psychiatrist for the first time in my life last week. I have depression and problems with substance abuse.

She was lovely. She listened attentively to my experiences and genuinely seemed to want the best for me. Her insight was razor-sharp, but she delivered her advice with kindness and compassion. That combination is rare and takes real skill!

[Caveat: She wasn’t perfect… some of her advice seemed… a little misjudged.]

Embarrassing

In mid-August 2019, I experienced a Spiritual Awakening… AKA drug-induced psychosis, depending on your preferred way of looking at the world.

Last week, I explained to the psychiatrist with some embarrassment that I often felt as though God was with me. I didn’t mean purely metaphorically either… In the last couple of months I’ve often experienced physical sensations which I interpreted as God being alive and present.

I felt a kind of echo in my breathing, which I interpreted as me being filled with the Holy Spirit, or the Breath of God. And I felt a wonderful sense of joy in my chest, which I interpreted as God’s love inhabiting my heart.

I still get those sensations at times now, over 2 months later. They’re pleasant and calming. They give me a sense of peace.

More rational and scientific thinkers may dismiss those sensations as merely symptoms of psychosis caused by drug abuse. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t feel real to me, or diminish the spiritual significance I derived from them.

Maybe it’s all just the placebo effect. But again, don’t dismiss placebo effects as meaningless or worthless. They can be extremely powerful.

Missing

Anyway, I explained to the psychiatrist that I felt these sensations far less often now, compared to during the peak of the psychosis. I admitted that I missed those feelings because they let me know that God was with me.

But God is always with us, isn’t He, whether we feel Him or not.” she gently explained, her voice full of kindness and wisdom.

I was stunned… I had not expected that!

I thought that as a highly qualified medical professional, she would probably be atheist or agnostic. What a dangerous assumption for me to make!

Peace

What a wonderful thought… God is always with us. How reassuring!

Even if you’re not religious, I hope you can see that such a belief can provide great comfort to people…

… And not just in an infantile “comfort blanket” kind of way…

Believing in God and feeling His love can be the difference between life and death to some people. It can be the deciding factor which makes someone decide not to commit suicide.

What a tremendous difference a belief in God can make to the way we feel! How much lighter our burden becomes!

Even if you’re staunchly atheistic, I believe it’s worth believing in God just for the benefits such a belief provides.

Perhaps God is the ultimate placebo… but as studies have shown, placebos can be effective even when the patient knows they’re taking a placebo!

I’m certainly going to continue believing God is with me, whether I can feel Him physically or not.


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An Excellent Reason for Believing in God

[UPDATE: 12 noon 22/10/2019: Wow, what a coincidence! Richard Dawkins was on the Joe Rogan podcast a few hours ago!]



No, I’m not trying to evangelise or convert anyone to religion. But in this post, I’d like to describe a really simple, practical reason for believing in God.

Believing in God (or a Higher Power) makes it easier to deal with life. And dealing with life is often not easy, so we should take whatever help we can get!

Bollinger, R. (2019)

When I was a teenager, I was an Evangelical Christian for a few years. There were several benefits which I experienced first-hand.

I loved the sense of community and one-ness, especially when we sang together. It’s also a lovely feeling to know that your Creator loves you and cares for you, no matter what.

But, as I grew older, I became troubled by the apparent conflicts between science and religion. There seemed to be little or no scientific evidence that God exists.

At the time, I felt that science was the ultimate arbiter of truth… if science said a certain belief was probably wrong, then it made sense to go where the science led.

So, for most of my adult life, I described myself as an atheist. But I still wished that I believed in God. Christians often seemed to have a warm glow, a sense of peace and happiness, that eluded non-believers.

According to several studies, religious people are happier, have fewer health problems and tend to live longer than the non-religious. These are not trivial benefits!


Since my Spiritual Awakening in mid-August, I’ve questioned many aspects of reality and re-assessed my belief systems.

I remember chatting with my good friend Tim Brownson about an idea I was toying with. I asked him, “Is it worth believing in something, even if objectively we suspect it might not be true?”

Tim replied that he felt in his gut that it probably was worth this self-delusion, even though this flew in the face of so much of his scientific learning.

My gut feeling agreed with Tim’s. So I decided to start testing this idea out…

What would my life look like if I started choosing to believe in ideas purely because the act of believing in them seems to confer certain benefits, even if modern science casts doubt on their ultimate truthfulness?

When you start thinking of beliefs in terms of their usefulness, they make a lot more sense…

  • I believe in God, because it helps me to feel loved and cared for.
  • When bad things happen, I tell myself it’s all part of God’s plan, because it helps to reduce the despair and suffering I’d otherwise experience.
  • I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, because it means that I am worth saving. No matter how pathetic and low I might feel, God will always love me enough to sacrifice His only Son for me. When I value myself, I become more productive.

Atheists such as Richard Dawkins have scoffed at these beliefs, calling them little more than infantile “comfort blankets”.

But let’s get real for a second…

Life can be fucking hard.

Just look at the global suicide statistics (source: WHO)

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally.
  • Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds.
  • There are indications that for each adult who died by suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide.

And this sobering stat about depression:

  • Depression affects 20-25% of Americans ages 18+ in a given year. (source: CDC)

It’s clear to me that many of us need as much help as possible getting through life.

“Life is suffering, tainted by malevolence.”

Dr. Jordan Peterson

Humans need hope in order to survive. We need to find meaning in our lives. We need a reason to get out of bed in the morning. We need to feel wanted and loved.

For many people, religious and spiritual beliefs give them the strength to carry on living. Their “comfort blanket” literally keeps them alive.

As someone with lifelong depression who has been close to suicide several times in his life, I’d tell Richard Dawkins to fuck off with his “comfort blanket” comment.

Even if you’ve never had depression or been suicidal, your religious or spiritual beliefs can reduce the amount of suffering you might experience. Why would you not want a reduction in anxiety, depression, stress or fear?

Look at the opioid crisis in the US. Which do we think is better: getting people addicted to powerful drugs so they can (temporarily) cope with life, or allowing people to have relatively harmless beliefs which enable them to live meaningful and productive lives?


Look, I’m not saying that there aren’t problems with religion. It’s blindingly obvious that there are problems caused by religion.

But let’s not throw the baby away with the bathwater.

What if we can pick and choose the elements of religion and spirituality which we find personally beneficial, and ignore the rest?

My argument is that we can do this, and we should.

When you’re hopeless and lying in the gutter, you don’t slap away a helping hand. You’ll take all the help you can to get back on your feet.

“Do I believe in God? Well, I act as though He exists.”

Dr. Jordan Peterson

Contacting Lord British

Richard Garriott (AKA Lord British) is a legendary videogame developer, responsible for the beloved Ultima series, amongst others.

Ultima IV holds a special place in my heart. The player aims to become a paragon of virtue, known as The Avatar. That’s where the subtitle for this blog comes from – Quest of the Avatar.

Ultima IV, Sega Master System version.

I really like the system of spiritual principles and virtues contained in Ultima IV. The 3 main principles are Truth, Love and Courage.

These 3 principles are not just a cool videogame idea, I think they’re actually a pretty solid foundation for a real-life religion! It’s been over 2 months since my Spiritual Awakening and I’ve been thinking lots about how to apply Truth, Love and Courage in my own life.

I was interested to find out Richard Garriott’s views on TLC and whether he’d considered using them in the real world.

I’ve contacted a few heroes before – book authors, videogame designers and favourite musicians. And I’ve heard back from my heroes more often than not.

I remember meeting George R R Martin (author of the Game of Thrones books) with a friend at a book signing. I was utterly star-struck and couldn’t think of any good questions to ask him, but luckily my friend did.

It’s such a cool feeling to form a personal connection with someone I respect and admire, whose work has made my life better in some small way.

So, I messaged Richard Garriott, thinking he’s probably far too famous and busy to respond to my silly questions…

Hi Richard! Thank you for bringing the Ultima series of games to the world. I have especially fond memories of IV and VII. I’m also interested in applying the principles and virtues of The Avatar to my own life. Truth, Courage and Love seem like great principles to live by. I was wondering if they are important to you in your own life? Have you ever considered starting your own religion, based on The Avatar?!

Bollinger, R. (2019), writing to Richard Garriott

He wrote back, within a few hours!

Rock,
Thanks for the kind note!
I too have pondered these same questions.
I work hard and did lots of research to arrive at T/L/C, and do expect to write more on the subject directly… 
Where and how much, to be determined.
Richard

Garriott, R. (2019), legendary game developer.

He’s expecting to write more?! That means he’s already written something about the real-world applications of TLC! I guess I’ll have to check out his recent autobiography, though I’d be surprised to find more than a paragraph or two.

How exciting! It seems that TLC forms the basis of several existing world religions… And I suspect that if Lord British were to create his own real-world religion, he’d have almost as many followers as those who self-identify as a Jedi!


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Losing my Higher Power

In 12 Steps fellowships, we talk a lot about God (however we understand Him). Some people prefer to use the term ‘Higher Power’.

For some people, their ‘Higher Power’ is simply a way of talking about the many benefits that the fellowship brings.

A month ago, I felt I was constantly in touch with my Higher Power. But for the last 2-3 weeks, that feeling became more and more rare, until I started to wonder if I’d ever really felt anything at all or maybe I’d just made it all up.

The good news is that the feeling has fully come back today – I’m in touch with my Higher Power again.

If you’re a scientific thinker, it might seem daft to make decisions based on intangible feelings like being connected to a Higher Power. But if you’re a more intuitive or spiritual type, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

It’s just a kind of knowing. Scientific facts are one kind of knowing, but there are certain things we know just because we feel them.

And I promise you, this type of knowing happens even to the most scientific atheists out there, it’s just that they may not be consciously aware of it.


So, what happened while my faith was wobbling recently? A few things…

  • I believed I could keep myself away from drugs without any external help.
  • I felt I didn’t really need to be part of a 12 Steps fellowship any more.
  • I was resisting doing “step work” – I’m currently on Step 1 of the 12 Steps and there’s a comprehensive workbook I’m gradually making my way through. But it’s hard work and uncomfortable – I was wondering if I really needed to put myself through that discomfort.
  • I was getting a bit fed up with the dogma and some of the slightly weird aspects of the 12 Steps.

So, twice in the last few weeks, I messaged my sponsor to say I felt the 12 Steps were no longer for me and I was going to take care of myself instead.

But as soon as my thumbs had typed those messages, I had a sinking heart and a strong physical sensation that I had made the wrong decision.

I talked it over with my ever-patient and understanding wife. She pointed out that I was focussing heavily on a couple of minor things that I didn’t like about the 12 Steps, whilst ignoring all of its benefits.

In other words, I was throwing the baby out with the bath water.

I decided it would be much better if I could just accept or ignore the small bits which bothered me, and focus instead on all the parts of 12 Steps that I like and find beneficial.

Luckily, veterans at 12 Steps know how difficult it can be for newly clean addicts like me. Both times, my sponsor was understanding and welcomed me back with open arms. I’m really grateful to him.


In the last week, it’s become increasingly clear to me that drugs aren’t my real problem. They’re just a symptom of other underlying issues.

And guess what – those are the kind of issues that 12 Steps fellowships are experts at helping people to overcome.

I said to myself, “There’s this lovely organisation of wonderful people who really seem to understand a lot about addiction, what it’s like to be an addict, the thinking patterns, the self-destructive behaviours… and they want to help me… and it’s basically free too.

It would be mad not to be a part of 12 Steps!

And then I also realised… these addicts, over time some of them might actually grow to become my friends. Maybe even really close friends. With 12 Steps, I’ve got a wonderful method of socialising with people who truly want the best for me. That’s going to help my depression too. And I’ve been saying for years that I need more local friends.


But, at this point, my “Higher Power” was still a sticking point. I had so many doubts. What exactly is it? Why do I need it? What’s the best way for me personally to think about it so that I don’t feel I’m compromising myself?

I think I’m finding some answers now which I feel comfortable with. My Higher Power (God) could be any or all of the following:

  • A part of my unconscious mind which wants the best for me;
  • Fate or Destiny;
  • A way of describing the love, kindness and supportive environment at 12 Steps fellowships.

I realised – I feel intellectually comfortable with any of those definitions. I definitely don’t feel I’m trying to fool myself.


The more I thought about my Higher Power, the more I realised there are some really great benefits in believing in God, especially for addicts.

I’ve mentioned before that I now believe it’s worth holding a belief purely for its utilitarian value, even if part of us suspects it may not be objectively (scientifically) true.

For one thing, at 12 Steps fellowships, we’re encouraged to surrender our will to our Higher Power (however we understand Him/it). On the face of it, surrendering might seem strange. I’m a competent and (mostly) sensible man in my 40s, why do I need to surrender to anyone or anything? But then I realised… that’s just my ego talking. My ego wants to stay in control.

When we surrender to a Higher Power, we release our need to control the outcome of our efforts. Sure, we are still 100% responsible for putting the hard work in. But sometimes our best laid plans fall apart. When our plans go wrong, if we believe it’s the will of a Higher Power, it makes it much easier to avoid getting stressed or upset. This is hugely beneficial!

Another useful psychological function of surrendering: it makes us more humble, more willing to accept our own limitations, more willing to be open-minded and consider new ways of living or being which we’d previously dismissed.

Being humble is a really good thing. It means we accept we don’t have all the answers, making us more willing to learn and change.


So, there you go. I was a Doubting Thomas for a few weeks, but I feel I’m back in touch with God again. And it feels good… really good.

Two Halves

We are two halves. These halves are often in conflict. One option is to pick a side versus the other one. But then we are denying a part of ourselves.

What we have to try to do is negotiate between the different parts of ourselves. This applies at the individual level, with interpersonal relationships, and at a societal level.

If you insist that the way you currently view things is correct and are refusing to listen or negotiate with other points of view… then conflict, death and destruction are inevitable. We must always try to find a middle way.

Bollinger, R. 2019

  • Brains: Logical side vs emotional.
  • Belief Systems: Religious/Spiritual vs Scientific/Rational.
  • Marriage/Partnerships: You vs your partner.
  • Politics: Left vs Right; Democrat vs Republican; Liberal vs Conservative.

We must always:

  • Listen respectfully to others.
  • Ask good questions in order to better understand differing perspectives.
  • Choose kindness over our need to be right.
  • Empathise and try to see other points of view.
  • Be still, calm and wise. Don’t rush.
  • Negotiate – try to find common ground
  • Giving us… A plurality of ideas
  • Which leads to… Peace and harmony

The opposite of this is:

  • Being certain you’re already right. In other words, refusing to consider the possibility you may choose to amend your current perspective in light of new evidence.
  • Refusing to listen to others, or just waiting for our turn to talk.
  • Act quickly and rashly.
  • Belittling, mocking and dismissing other perspectives or other people.
  • Giving us… Ideological purity
  • Which leads to… Conflict and anger

Looking for differences, reasons to disagree… this often results in us throwing the baby out with the bath water. In other words, we reject a small part of something, then use that small rejection as justification to reject the whole idea/belief system/person. We miss out on huge benefits just because we don’t like a small part of something.

Instead, we need to look at what we have in common, how we can accommodate other ideas and other people.

Let’s try to integrate all the advantages of all these different ways of thinking and being… and just learn to ignore or tolerate the parts which we don’t like. We need to find ways to live in peace and harmony, rather than continually rejecting parts of ourselves and others.

This is the middle way.

It’s not easy. It feels painful. It rarely feels fully satisfactory.

But it’s the best way, overall.

Balance.

Healing: Revisited

A few weeks ago I blogged about going to a Sunday church service for the first time in years.

During the service, Luke 13 : 10-17 was read by one of my neighbours.

10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.
11 And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.
12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.
13 And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
14 And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.
15 The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?
16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?
17 And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.

The Holy Bible – King James Version – Luke 13 : 10-17

Previously, I wrote about how verses 10-13 seemed significant to me (I am like the woman who was healed). But I also said that I didn’t understand how verses 14-17 might be relevant to me.

Well, now I think I understand…

It’s about being unafraid to do things unconventionally. My flexible belief system and my ability to collapse houses of cards (deconstruct meaning) are evidence of this.

My belief system borrows elements from Christianity, Spirituality and Science (Atheism). Strict adherents of any of those belief systems would call me a heretic and eject me from their church.

I’m happy being a heretic, overturning convention and ignoring dogma. After all, I have a firm base of spiritual beliefs and I have God on my side.