Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Deus Matter

"Matter, you in whom I find both seduction and strength, you in whom I find blandishment and virility, you who can enrich and destroy, I surrender myself to your mighty layers, with faith in the heavenly influences which have sweetened and purified your waters. The virtue of Christ has passed into you. Let your attractions lead me forward, let your sap be the food that nourishes me; let your resistance give me toughness; let your robberies and inroads give me freedom. And finally, let your whole being lead me towards Godhead."

- Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Jesus On Asceticism

In early March I was asked to share my thoughts on Asceticism and how it applies (if at all) to Gnosticism. I’m admittedly not a fan of it, and recommend only brief stints of abstinence from food, sex, and other sensory pleasures – almost purely to develop the Will. Now I will share some of Jesus’ teachings on this subject from the Gospel of Thomas:

His disciples questioned him and said to him, "Do you want us to fast? How shall we pray? Shall we give alms? What diet shall we observe?"
Jesus said, "Do not tell lies, and do not do what you hate, for all things are plain in the sight of heaven. For nothing hidden will not become manifest, and nothing covered will remain without being uncovered."

- Logion 6

Jesus’ disciples ask him what practices they should do to be worthy, and many of the things they ask are physical observances. Should they restrict their diet (i.e. not eat meat) or fast? Should they give offerings to the temple and the poor? Should they pray, and how shall they pray?

Jesus does not give them the law. He does not say: do this and don’t do this. All he says is: “Do not tell lies”, for isn’t the observation of a diet that you do not truly wish to keep a lie? Isn’t the giving of alms which you do not wish to give a lie? Isn’t the doing of anything that you do not truly wish to do a lie? Jesus tells us: “Do not do what you hate”. Do not restrict your diet or avoid sex or create this image of false piety, for “all things are plain in the sight of heaven” – God sees all, and he knows the truly pious of heart from those who don the vesture of piety. You do not enter the Kingdom of Heaven by changing your diet or restricting your desires. These are just as much a part of the illusion as everything else. The Key to the Kingdom is inside you. You can use fasting to find it, and you can use fasting and find nothing. You can’t do A, B, and C and magically attain enlightenment.

Jesus said to them, "If you fast, you will give rise to sin for yourselves; and if you pray, you will be condemned; and if you give alms, you will do harm to your spirits. When you go into any land and walk about in the districts, if they receive you, eat what they will set before you, and heal the sick among them. For what goes into your mouth will not defile you, but that which issues from your mouth - it is that which will defile you."

- Logion 14

This is a very striking verse. Jesus says that these practices will result in bad things. While it is perhaps safe to assume that this is a bit of a hyperbole on Jesus’ part, the real crunch of the matter comes with his explanation. He encourages hospitality – eat what is offered to you, for it is rude to observe a diet that results in rejecting that which is offered to you by your host. Heal the sick no matter what time or day. Do not allow good will to be restricted by these conventions of man. What enters you mouth (food) is not as important as what issues from it: words. Those who deal in tainted words shall be tainted by them. Control what you let leave your mouth, not what you let enter.

I sill leave with the remaining passages from the Gospel of Thomas that deal directly with his views on ascetic practice: May those with ears to hear, hear:

Jesus said, "Do not be concerned from morning until evening and from evening until morning about what you will wear."

- Logion 36

His disciples said to him, "Is circumcision beneficial or not?"
He said to them, "If it were beneficial, their father would beget them already circumcised from their mother. Rather, the true circumcision in spirit has become completely profitable."

- Logion 53

Jesus said, "Why do you wash the outside of the cup? Do you not realize that he who made the inside is the same one who made the outside?"

- Logion 89

They said to Jesus, "Come, let us pray today and let us fast."
Jesus said, "What is the sin that I have committed, or wherein have I been defeated? But when the bridegroom leaves the bridal chamber, then let them fast and pray."

- Logion 104


Apathy is a dangerous thing. If we do not care about our planet, who will protect it, who will save it? If we do not care about our children, who will nurture them, who will teach them? If we do not care about our friends, who will they turn to in times of need, who will be a friendly ear, a helping hand? If we do not care about what we do, who will do it, and why?

Motivation is an area that many people feel they lack in, yet they may be surprised to find just how motivated they can be when it comes to certain things. We might complain about the lack of motivation we have to go to work, but we may be highly motivated to buy a new house or new car, or even to read a book, watch a movie, or have an in-depth discussion with someone.

If we’re not motivated to do something, we rarely do it, or reluctantly and begrudgingly do it. We may want it done, but we don’t want to do the “doing”. In these cases, what do we do?

Motivation comes in two primary forms: negative and positive.

Negative motivation comes in the form of us being driven to do something for fear of the consequences. For example, we go to work so we don’t get fired, lose our money, our house, our car, and possibly our family. Someone who is negatively motivated may visualise all these nasty things happening if they don’t go to work – and this motivates them to go to work. It doesn’t sound very nice, and it isn’t. This form of motivation is about avoiding painful experiences. You’re not motivated towards riches, but are motivated away from poverty.

Positive motivation comes in the form of us being driven to do something because we want the rewards it offers. We go to work because we want the money, or maybe we like the “good job!” pat-on-the-back sentiments, or maybe we like team-work, or if we’re in a supervisory role we may like feeling in control. Whatever it is, we do it because we like what it gives us, be it money, happiness, or just personal satisfaction. We may even take up dead-end jobs because it goes towards something we’re striving for: a new apartment, a new car, that trip to a spa. We put in the overtime and do the hard work because we envision a goal we want. This form of motivation is about approaching pleasurable experiences. You’re not motivated away from poverty, but are motivated towards riches.

Once we understand this basic premise, it’s easier to deliberately motivate ourselves. “What?!” I hear some of you cry. Many people seem to think that motivation is an external force, like some big bad Demiurge pushing or pulling them towards success or misfortune. Many artists and writers seem to think that their muse is an external entity that comes and goes as it pleases, and that they cannot do a thing in their craft until inspiration strikes. They’re wrong. Inspiration and motivation work on the same system, and both are under our control. The reason they feel so external is because we’re too used to going on autopilot. Now it’s time to take he reins.

Firstly, what I want you all to do is this: think of something you want to me motivated about. Maybe you want a new job or new car. Maybe you want to write a novel. Whatever it is, get a good mental picture of what you want. This is your goal. Now, how do you get motivated about it? Try this: play out a scenario in your mind of you at the desk in your new job (if there is a desk – if not, demand one from your boss), actually there, doing the work. Imagine getting your new paycheck, and make special note to pay attention to the nice sum of money you’ve earned. Imagine looking in your bank account at the savings you have after just one year at your new job (even if you feel you can’t save to save your life). Imagine the great place you can now afford, the new TV, the new car. Likewise, imagine driving this car. Imagine picking it out in the shop and driving it home. Hell, imagine all the women or men turning heads as you glide past, sunglasses on, the wind in your hair (if you have no hair, imagine you have some, or imagine a woman or man in the back seat giving you a lovely Indian head massage). Imagine yourself smiling. Now really smile if you aren’t already. Invoke the feeling of pleasure. Let it well up inside you, let it fill you with its warmth, with its energising rays, as if the very Sun itself bows down to you and becomes a part of you. Imagine writing your book. Imagine yourself at the laptop as you complete your first 1,000 words, then 10,000, then 50,000, then 100,000. Imagine the satisfaction of a chapter completed. Imagine the greater satisfaction of the whole novel completed. Imagine sending it off to agents and publishers, and imagine receiving a lovely acceptance and being invited to a nice wine party to celebrate. Imagine reading an extract and receiving a wild applause, and maybe even a standing ovation. Imagine receiving a copy of your book in the mail. Feel the satisfaction it offers. Imagine all those wonderful praises the reviewers give: “Best thing since sliced bread. Tolkien or Stephen King, eat your heart out!” Imagine the sales figures jumping through the roof (then imagine a very high roof). Imagine the lifestyle you can live now. Imagine being able to whip out a copy of your book and finally prove you’re a real author.

Now, once you’re finished imagining all this, go out and do it. Make it real.