Book Review: Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Enlightenment by Robert Wright

BuddhismMy bad. I should have noticed that this book had “Philosophy” in the title. I don’t have anything against philosophy in general. In fact, I really enjoy Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Nietzsche, and many more. However, with this book, I was hoping for just some science-based evidence to back up the claims of common Buddhist practices like meditation and non-attachment, etc. Instead, I got a head-splitting treatise on how the self does not exist. My mind hasn’t hurt so much since I took “The Philosophy of Mind and Reality.” The only discipline more aloof from clear-cut answers than psychology is philosophy, and that’s entirely what this book is–philosophical psychology. In fact, psychology is the one science where there is so much disagreement between sub-disciplines that I have no idea what is truly accurate. As a non-religious person who is completely open to the benefits and lifestyle of Buddhism, I did not agree with even half of what Wright explains in this book, at least the part I could even wrap my head around. It’s quite possible, the mind-numbing coma his arguments induced in me contributed to my lack of comprehension.

If you are looking for a secular view of the benefits of Buddhist practice, I recommend anything on the subject by Sam Harris, especially Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion. Don’t torture yourself with this one, unless you want to feel like a freshmen in Philosophy 101 again.–Christina Knowles

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So What the Heck Is a Secular Bohemian? by Christina Knowles

tree-huggerWhat Is a Secular Bohemian? I am. I am non-spiritual (secular), and I am unconventional, artistic, and a bit of a hippie (Bohemian). How do these two descriptors coexist in one body?

Well, I may seem like a bundle of contradictions to some. After all I read the Tarot, I celebrate pagan and Christian holidays, I meditate and practice yoga, I eat organic and respect animals, I use alternative and Eastern homeopathic medicines, and I light incense at my Buddha altar.

On the other hand, I don’t believe in gods, heaven, hell, an afterlife, magic, ghosts, reincarnation, the soul, or the supernatural, in general. I accept the current views of the scientific community, and I like to have hard evidence to support the things I believe. I use reason and don’t just accept anything I hear.

So why would a rational person with no spirituality be interested in all of these questionable practices? Well, I consider myself somewhat of a cultural pagan, just like people who aren’t Christians celebrate Christmas. It’s fun and enriches my life. Celebrating the cycles of the earth and the culture of my ancestors enhances my sense of where we came from, what they believed, how they lived, and it’s full of joy and creativity.

I do understand that many non-theists think that all religions are harmful because they promote irrational thinking, but if we take the positive cultural customs in full awareness that there is nothing magical about them, why do we need to toss it all? Most of us give gifts and have a Christmas tree in December, but we don’t have to lie to our children about the existence of Santa Claus.

Meditation, yoga, many essential oils, and nutrition as medicine have all been studied and shown to have positive effects on health. Some doctors are now prescribing essential oils to treat symptoms and disease. For example, frankincense has been tested in the lab has been found to have a positive effect in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and even cancer. Don’t get me wrong, if I need medicine, I’ll take it, but if I can treat it naturally without experiencing the string of side effects associated with pharmaceuticals, I’d rather.

And I know organic foods have been highly criticized by skeptics as well. I don’t have a problem with the concept of genetically modifying food to feed the world or to create a drought-resistant crop, but I do object to genetically modifying food in order to withstand dousing it with proven toxic chemicals like Roundup. I also prefer that my meat is not tortured before slaughter. I do realize that all organic foods are not all they are advertised to be. That’s why I prefer to support local family farms whenever possible. I also think that our food source should be more about health and survival than about corporate profits.

As far as my Buddha and incense rituals go, they simply put me in a relaxed state and have nothing to do with a spiritual concept. It just sets the mood for my meditation—and it smells good too.

And although I never get a flu shot, I am not an anti-vaccer. I guess I just don’t get why freethinkers are so closed-minded when it comes to these things. Things like acupuncture and other Eastern medicines are being researched and positively tested more and more frequently. To just dismiss these things out-of-hand without inquiring about their validity is being skeptical to the extreme. You know, all science is pseudo-science before it is has been tested and accepted, and we actually do not understand everything about our world, at least not yet. I’m not suggesting we believe every new idea put forth by the general public, but neither should we condemn something without enough information. Don’t knock it till you try it.

So, I guess being a secular Bohemian means being open to ideas and experiences that don’t necessarily conform to only proven scientific conventions while not being subject to irrational beliefs about them. And instead of trying to fit into a secular box or a Bohemian one, I accept my complexities and even embrace them. So peace out and merry part!—Christina Knowles

Photo via EcoEquine/Horse Hippie

Failing at Meditation? No, You’re Not by Christina Knowles

hippie-girl-in-nature            Recently I’ve returned to practicing meditation. I only stopped because I thought I was a failure at it. I thought I had to empty my mind and think of absolutely nothing, and I never could accomplish this. I thought I had to feel nothing but calm, and if I could not think of nothing, then I had to focus on just one image. Well, after succumbing to a stress-related heart attack, I decided I needed to give meditation another shot. This time I joined a meditation group that meets on weekends at one of our many beautiful and natural parks in Colorado Springs. The one where we met the first time I attended, was in a large mountainous park, full of rocky cliffs and pine trees, dirt trails, and wildflowers. We sat in an open pavilion in the shade and let the cool breeze flow over us. We wrote down our worries on pieces of scrap paper and ceremonially put them in the Universe Box to symbolically let the universe take on these problems for us. Then we went inside ourselves, eyes shut, quiet, breathing smoothly, and let our thoughts float in and out. I felt the breeze, I listened with gratitude at the birds chirping, and I went deeper into me. It was like my unconscious mind woke to put her arms around me. Occasionally I’d hear a dog bark or a siren in the distance, but it would gently float in one ear and out the other not even disturbing the serenity I felt. It was like I was one with everything, a part of each thing happening around me, yet above being affected by it.

What happened next was somewhat unexpected. My mind gently drifted to images that I call my “happy place.” Usually my favorite happy place image is a wintry Christmas scene in a room only lit by the softly blinking lights of a small Christmas tree and the warm, crackling of a fire. Looking through the window into the night sky, I see big fat snowflakes falling slowly and gently, no wind to divert them from their path. The light from the moon illuminates them just enough to be clearly seen through the glass. My hand rests on my dog’s back. She is lying next to me with her head resting on my lap. I look down at her, and it’s my beagle, Mulder, who passed away several years ago. She looks up at me with love in her soft brown eyes. I notice that the gifts piled haphazardly under the tree, the tree with homemade and personalized ornaments from my childhood, are all wrapped in old-fashioned Christmas paper, reds and greens with pictures of kids dressed in snow gear that look like they’re from the 1950s. All around me I feel love, not just any love, but the love and wonder of my childhood. I felt like I was me back then. I just sat and let the love and memories wash over me until tears streamed down my face, happy, poignant tears; the coolest thing was I felt such love for me—that little girl. I thought, Is this what they mean by visiting your inner child? At that moment I had an epiphany, that child, her feelings, her hopes, her fears, her personality, they are still me. This was profound to me because I usually feel like such an adult, not in touch with what I always considered my old self. Just realizing that this was still me, that I am still she, gave me a strange kind of understanding of how to take care of myself, how to live a life that I need to live for my good. It was so beautiful. I went home feeling lighter and filled with pure joy.

When I told my meditation group leader about the experience, he told me that what I did was meditation, and it was just fine. I hadn’t failed. I didn’t need to blank out my mind. I can just let my mind drift, go deep, and let my unconscious tell me what I need to know. This was so freeing, and now I am excited each day to visit myself, which ever part of me that decides to show up, and relax, be comforted, and learn whatever I need to learn or let go of. It has been so much easier to make time for my meditation each day. It has never been just like this first experience again, but it is always good. It centers me and I let my mind drift to anything positive it wants to, gently pushing away any other distractions. Sometimes it is just sweet images, sometimes it’s only the sound of nature, or the feeling of a fan blowing on me, but every once in a while, the little girl me, will make a small appearance just to remind me she is still there, we need each other, we love each other.

I’m still working on giving things to the universe, but I’m getting better and better. It’s not like I’ve become a spiritual person though. Well, I guess it’s how you define spiritual. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a spirit—I mean the kind of thing that survives death and somehow contains my personality and essence of who I am. I believe these things, things that make me me, live in the brain, and the brain does not survive the death of the body because it is part of the body. But if you want to call the essence of who I am, the sum total of my experiences, feelings, and personality, maybe even the unconscious or subconscious mind, spirit, then okay. I can deal with that. Meditation for me is getting to the heart of who I am and visiting this calm place where I can be with the inner me in a totally intimate way, a way that I can’t be in touch with myself during the busyness and chaos of the day.

Being exactly who I am on every level and loving that person despite my flaws through meditation has been a freeing experience that I never imagined. I’ve never had a problem with self-esteem, but it’s a different thing to really feel love for who you are, fully acknowledging every flaw. I’m not talking egocentricism, but just really loving and accepting yourself despite not being perfect and not caring if you are perfect to anyone else. Through meditation I understand who I am and can completely accept myself without the pressure of any performance. During those 15 minutes, the world disappears, and I am just a being, worthy of love and tenderness, with no expectations at all. So when I return to the world of constant demands, the responsibilities seem lighter. I am refreshed, rested, and ready to set boundaries to protect the value of myself as a being on this earth, a being with an expiration date. I won’t let that time be used to harm me anymore. So if you think you are failing at meditation because it doesn’t fit some description in a book, don’t listen. If it helps you, if it calms you, or benefits you in any way, you’re doing it right. Do it however you need to do it. Your subconscious you knows what you need. Peace—Christina Knowles

Photo snagged from aquarian.es