The Moon Card, Insanity, and 40 Rolls of Toilet Paper

Moving toward a new definition of normality after the pandemic.

So . . . we appear to be coming out of the other end of the corona virus pandemic.  After a year plus of being told to stay home, live in isolation, and wear masks, we’re being told that it’s at least semi okay to start to take off the masks and socialize a bit.  It’s rational to have some hope that we’re not all going to die horrible deaths in understaffed Intensive Care Units.

Huzzah!  Now we can get back to normal!

The question that I’ve been dealing with lately is what exactly IS, “normal?”  And, secondarily, did I ever really, truly KNOW what normal is?  Because it appears to me, in looking back over the past year, that a whole lot of people are a whole lot crazier than I ever thought they were.

The Moon is, “the crazy card,” in the Tarot.  It represents insanity, delusions, illusions, self-deception.  The juxtaposition of the dog and the wolf howling at the moon show us that our evolution from pure animal state was not that long ago.  The crawfish crawling out of the water shows our most primitive, prehistoric state of being emerging from its murky depths.

We’ve seen a lot of murky depths and de-evolution over the last year.  Two things stand out in particular.

The first is The Great Toilet Paper Insanity of 2020.  We, as a society, received the news that we were faced with a horrible epidemic that could kill millions and millions of people.  A virulent plague such as the world hadn’t seen in a hundred years.  Humans were dying like flies in a cosmic spider web in China, Italy, New York, and no end was in sight.  

And our response was . . . BUY TOILET PAPER!!!  Lots and lots and lots of toilet paper.  Buy so much toilet paper that the shelves of grocery stores would be stripped of the stuff for months.  Buy more toilet paper than we could use in five years. If elderly people and weak people who couldn’t shoulder their ways into the head of the line didn’t have any toilet paper because we’d bought it all . . . well, FUCK them!

It was truly insane in the real definition of the word.  You can’t eat toilet paper.  You can’t heat your house with toilet paper.  You can’t wrap your shivering body in toilet paper during the freezing winter months.  Toilet paper – to a sane mind – has a very limited value in our overall lives.  It’s good for wiping our asses and blowing our noses.  Period.

Yet, in a matter of just a few weeks, people had been hypnotized into believing that it was the most valuable commodity on earth.  And it was a truly bipartisan hypnosis.  This wasn’t just a bunch of far right, neo-conservative survivalists hoarding toilet paper.  I have friends on social media who are life-long, foaming at the mouth, liberal-progressives who were proudly posting pictures of the two hundred rolls of toilet paper they had stashed in their hall closets.

Huh . . . who could have seen that coming?  In all of the post-apocalyptic movies we’ve seen, in all of the creepy end-of-civilization Stephen King novels we’ve read, has anyone EVER mentioned toilet paper?  Was there EVER a scene of a howling mob breaking into a grocery store and killing each other over . . . toilet paper?

Not.

The second, much darker, much more disturbing scenario that emerged was the embrace of the, “herd,”  vision of humanity, particularly as it applied to frail people and old people.  At a certain point, the medical model of the virus that emerged was that it was very likely to kill older people and people with pre-existing health problems, less likely to kill healthy middle aged people, and unlikely to kill younger people.

Using that knowledge base, a pretty brutal theory emerged:  for the sake of, “the herd,” it would be better if older people and sick people were exposed to the virus and just . . . you know . . . died.  The Lieutenant Governor of Texas actually said that it was somehow the DUTY of older people to get out there, get exposed to the virus and die, because that would get the economy open faster and there, “are more important things than living.”   

Strong evidence has emerged that the anti-mask movement that many of us found so puzzling was never about, “political freedom,” at all.  It was about ensuring that the maximum number of people would be exposed to the virus as quickly as possible in order to achieve “herd immunity.”

Now, that’s basically one small step down from Nazi eugenics.  It’s a theory that views humans as a herd, rather than as individuals.  If there are members of the herd who are sick or old, they need to be, “culled,” out so that the herd will stay healthy and vital.  Yes, millions of people will die, but think how much healthier we’ll be AS A WHOLE after all of them are dead!

It’s exactly the same mentality that led the Nazis to proclaim that, “the Herd,” (the Master Race) would be SO much better after we eliminated the Jews, the Blacks, the Gypsies and pretty much anyone who wasn’t a pure aryan, whatever the hell that is.  If you’re willing to expose people to a virus that you KNOW is going to kill them, that’s essentially a gas chamber mentality.

The salient point, of course, is that we AREN’T a herd.  We’re a society.  One of the hallmarks of virtually all societies is that they take care of people who are old and ill, they don’t just kill them.  We don’t toss Grandma into a lake with a cinder block around her neck because she’s become a bit of a pain in the ass.  We don’t execute people because they’ve got cancer.

So, yes, in reviewing this last year, I have to conclude that there are a whole bunch of us who are pretty fucking nuts.  And some of us are pretty fucking nuts and pretty fucking brutal.

The question is –  being realistic and acknowledging those facts – where do we go with that knowledge?  How do we react to the idea that the lunatics seem to be running a large part of the asylum?  Do we withdraw and hide?  Do we view other people with contempt or fear?

The only thing I’ve been able to come up with is to just react with compassion.  

In The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) don Miguel Ruiz points out that many people are barely conscious.  They’ve been programmed by their parents, their churches, their schools, and society at large to NOT think.  To NOT question their values or their reality.  They just get wound up like little robots when they’re children and they go through their lives never really waking up.  In essence, they’re Sleep Walkers, stumbling around in the darkness and not even having their own dreams.

When we see something like The Great Toilet Paper Insanity of 2020, it just reinforces that truth.  If your response to a life threatening situation is to grab as much toilet paper as you can, you’re not thinking, you’re not reasoning, you’re not even awake.  And that is sad and that deserves compassion.

If your response to a life threatening situation is to view other humans as being somehow expendable so that you have a better chance to live, as mere members of a herd, then you’re cut off from love, from empathy, from basic human decency, and you’re living in fear.  And that is sad and that deserves compassion.

 What I believed to be, “normal human behavior,” has turned out to be a pretty thin veneer over a LOT of crazy shit. I’m probably going to be a little more cautious around my fellow humans after this, a little less open and willing to believe that we have a common vision of the world.  But I also know I’m going to be a lot more compassionate toward them.

And that’s a good thing.  Hell, I’d trade 40 rolls of toilet paper for a little more compassion.

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The Empress, Conservative Cavemen, and Getting Back to Our Magical Garden

Recovering a sense of physical safety in the world.

I’ve posted in before about the importance of recovering a sense of spiritual safety and of recovering a sense of safety about our own subconscious minds.  Today I’d like to share a little about recovering a sense of physical safety.

What if I were to tell you that 99% of people are perfectly safe 99% of the time?

Does that sound a little weird and uncomfortable to you?  It certainly did to me, when I first stumbled over the idea.  After all, we KNOW that the world is a terribly dangerous place.  Just look at all of the earthquakes and floods and tsunamis and GIGANTIC FUCKING ICEBERGS that are dropping off of the polar caps like fleas!  Not to mention the wars and famine and terrorists and horrible car accidents and planes full of terrorists flying into towers full of innocent people.

Yikes!

In fact, double yikes or even yikes to the fourth power, which is a pretty big YIKES!

But . . . stop and think about it for a few minutes.  How long has it been since you were smack in the middle of a 7.5 earthquake?  Or a massive flood?  Or you got swept away by a tsunami?  Or had an iceberg collide with the ocean liner you were on?

The astounding truth of the matter is that – by far and away – MOST of us get up in the morning, drive to work or take care of our homes, raise our children, plan for our retirements, take vacations, go about our lives and . . . NOTHING BAD HAPPENS.  Nothing.  We’re perfectly safe 99% of the time.

So why do we all have this creepy feeling of impending doom, of something horrible that’s going to happen to us right around the corner?  And why does it matter?

The Empress card in the Tarot shows someone who is absolutely, perfectly at ease in her world.  She reclines gracefully on her beautiful couch, surrounded by natural abundance.  Her head is crowned with stars and she grasps a scepter of power, but holds it very casually.  Her legs are slightly parted, as if she might welcome a little company on her couch, and her face radiates a quiet, peace.  She is the Goddess in Paradise.  

That is EXACTLY the vibration that we should have in our world, here on the beautiful Earth Mother.  We have evolved here over hundreds of thousands of years and this is our home.  In the words of the Desiderata:

“You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”

We might find a clue as to why so many of us don’t feel safe in our Magical Earth Home hiding in our brain structure.  The limbic system of our brain is set up to trigger massive amounts of stress hormones when our fight or flight reaction is activated.  Nick Ortner,in his book The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living, posits what he calls a, “negative brain bias.”  His thinking is that our ancestors who were the most frightened were also the ones who were most likely to survive.  To use his example, the caveman who thought the rustling in the bushes might be a tiger was more likely to live than the one who assumed it was a harmless squirrel.  And so, the more frightened, constantly freaked-out cavemen and cavewomen would have been the most likely to pass on their genes and – shazam! – we all have, “Holy crap is that a tiger in the bushes?” reactions built into our brains, even if we’re actually surrounded by harmless squirrels.

Maybe.  Maybe not.

Psychological studies suggest that conservatives have a negative brain bias, but liberals do not.  In a nutshell, if you show a bunch of pictures of gardens to both conservatives and liberals, conservatives will pick out the creepy spiders and snakes in the pictures and liberals will pick out the pretty butterflies and flowers.  In other words, conservative cavemen were the ones who heard tigers in the bushes and liberal cavemen were the ones who heard squirrels.

And, if Ortner’s hypothesis were true, all of the liberals should have been eaten by tigers, but there are still a bunch of us around watching the butterflies and smelling the flowers.

Which suggests that a negativity bias really isn’t built into our brains.  It was acquired.  Where did it come from, then?

A lot of it comes from social programming, of course.  It has long been a part of Judeo-Christian philosophy that the Earth was, “given to man,” by God and we’re supposed to control it and everything in it.  We have to, “conquer mother-nature,” in order to survive and build more hamburger stands and condos and parking lots and Walmart Super Stores.  God wants us to.  When you view nature as something to be conquered, then nature – earth itself – becomes an enemy, rather than our Mother and home.

Then there’s politics.  Think of what we’ve been hearing from our politicians for the last four years.  BE AFRAID!  Be very, very, very, very afraid of Mexicans and Knee-Grows, and Arabs and Jews and Chinese and lesbians and socialists and feminists and communists and . . . well . . . pretty much anyone who looks or sounds or thinks differently than we do.  Every single one of them wants to Destroy Our Way of Life, rape our daughter, and steal our dog.

A certain amount of the fear comes from the globalization of information.  We see things on the internet and our televisions that we would have been totally unaware of a short evolutionary time ago.  If there are riots in Portland, train crashes in Pakistan, or bombings in Yemen, we are aware of that now.  It’s all become a part of our daily lives.  The work that’s being done with mirror neurons suggests that human beings are highly empathetic.  If we see other people in pain or distress, we internalize that pain as our own, and we are being exposed to a LOT more people in pain than has ever been normal for the human race.

All of these factors – plus a lot more than could be covered in a blog post – have combined to create a massive illusion, a sort of a group hypnosis, where the world is perceived as a horribly dangerous place that could kill us at any moment.  And, really, it’s not.  

99% of the time, it’s perfectly safe for 99% of us.

Hopefully we can begin to stop the insanity and start EXPANDING that safety and peace to as many other humans as we can.  Stop the wars, feed the hungry, eliminate corruption and greed, declare AS A SPECIES that racism and religious fanaticism will no longer be tolerated.  

But first we need to recover that sense of safety in our own hearts and heads.  We need to return to our home in the magical garden and become The Empress again.

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The Strength Card, Ahimsa, and Your Magical Anti Shit-Head Cloak

Rebuilding trust in relationships using the doctrine of Ahimsa

Have you ever been deeply, deeply hurt by another human being?

I’m not talking about someone, “hurting your feelings,” a phrase that we all use to describe occasional, usually minor, pain or unhappiness.  I’m talking about a deep, horrible, traumatic pain that feels like you may never recover from it. 

For example, finding out your lover is cheating on you and has been lying to you about it for some time.  Or, perhaps, your partner suddenly leaving you without even affording you a chance to process it.  Or realizing that the person you’re still madly in love with has fallen out of love with you.

There are really two elements there:  the first is the pain that you’re going through;  the second is a profound sense of betrayal, a feeling that your deepest trust has been violated.  Of the two, the sense of betrayal can be much, much harder to recover from.  The betrayal of trust can be world changing for us, in a very dark way.

It’s not at all unusual for people to withdraw from intimate connections with other humans after something like that.  Younger people may declare a hiatus on dating and say that they only want to be, “friends,” for a while.  Older people may pull into a thick, impenetrable shell and become totally socially isolated.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.  That’s our Deeper Self taking care of us.  That’s our Inner Wisdom saying, “You’ve been badly wounded.  You need to rest and cry and heal.”

There comes a time, though, when we may realize that we need to reconnect with the world.  Getting back out there can be scary and intimidating.  There are, after all, no guarantees that it won’t happen again.  If we loved someone with all of our heart, if we trusted someone with all of our being, and they betrayed us, how do we know that our trust and love won’t be misplaced again?  And if our judgement was so flawed, so . . . totally wrong . . . about the person we loved, how can we know that we won’t just make the same stupid mistakes with the next person?

We might find at least a partial solution in the Yogic doctrine of Ahimsa.  Ahimsa is the idea of total, complete, harmlessness.  It’s the idea that if we emanate a vibration of nothing but love, we can attract nothing but love.  We literally CANNOT attract aggression because we HAVE no aggression.

The Strength card from the Tarot is a wonderful image of this.  The woman in the card is gently closing the mouth of one of the most ferocious predators on the planet.  She’s almost caressing the lion, rather than trying to overpower it or force it in any way.  The lion is calm and peaceful because she’s living in the vibration of love and he’s responding on exactly the same vibration.

So what the fuck does that have to do with your lover ripping your heart out of your chest, stomping on it with hobnailed boots, and serving it to you on a Ritz cracker?  You might ask . . .

Part of the answer lies in the quality of the love that’s involved in Ahimsa.  Ahimsa involves absolute unconditional love.  In other words, there are no strings attached.  We’re not loving people because we expect to get something back.  We’re just loving them.  And that’s very unusual in our society.  Most of what we call, “love,” involves a definite quid pro quo.

If you don’t believe that, try telling people who are just acquaintances that you love them.  You’ll find that the usual reaction is something along the lines of, “Uh, huh . . . what do you want?”  I mean, if you’re saying you love me, you must want something, right?

When I look back on my deepest emotional wounds, I have to admit that a large part of the pain was based on the idea that I hadn’t been treated fairly.  I loved someone with everything I had and she walked away from that love and that JUST WASN’T RIGHT!  In other words, I had strings attached to my love.  Yes, I love you deeply THEREFORE you are supposed to love me back just as deeply and, if you don’t, you’ve betrayed my love.

All of that’s perfectly human.  Most of us are not Ram Dass or Mother Theresa or Saint Francis and we don’t just walk around with huge amounts of unconditional love bubbling out of us.  Most of us expect that if we make a deep emotional commitment to someone, it will be reciprocated.  And it hurts like hell when it isn’t.  Conditional love seems almost hard-wired into us and – if it isn’t – it’s sure as hell soft-wired with some big, thick cables.

The funny thing is, though, that unconditional love can be terrifically liberating.  If we go into relationships with the idea of, “I don’t want ANYTHING from you,”  it frees us from that whole expectation that we should be getting something back.  It frees us from constantly worrying about whether we’re being treated fairly or if the relationship is equitable or if the other person loves us just as much as we love them.

And it frees us of the probability of being hurt again, which is what this post is all about.

Sticking our toes back in the relationship water can be scary as hell if we’ve been deeply, deeply hurt in the past.  But if we can consciously remove that idea that we’re always supposed to get some sort of an emotional payoff from our relationships,  if we can consciously stay in that state of openness and love WITHOUT WANTING ANYTHING BACK, we effectively remove the other person’s power to hurt us.

That’s a hard concept to grasp.  I know it’s been hard for me, but it works.

Now, if all of that doesn’t work for you, if all of the reasons for unconditional love I just talked about don’t ring your chimes, then just think of it as a Magical Shield to protect you when you’re moving out into the relationship world again.  The more you can keep your heart in unconditional love, the more likely you are to attract people who are in the same vibration.

Put another way, the more you can live in unconditional love, the less likely you are to attract shit-heads and narcissists.

You remember the Invisibility Cloak in Harry Potter?  When he put it on, he could walk right past people without being seen.  In the same sense, if you’re living in Ahimsa, if you’re keeping that no-strings-attached love in your heart, you can walk right past the shit-heads and THEY WON’T EVEN KNOW YOU’RE THERE because you’re wearing your Magical Anti Shit-Head Cloak.

“All you need is love,”  – The Beatles.

The Devil, The Star, and the Mystery of the Disappearing Demon

The concept of evil as a projection of human characteristics on nature.

When you first look at the Tarot card, The Devil, you might experience a deeply profound, spiritual reaction.  Something like, “YIKES!!!!

I mean, he’s big and he’s scary and he’s pissed off.  He’s sort of a goat but he has those bat wings happening and talons on his feet.  And, as Inga said in Young Frankenstein, “He vould have an enormous schwanzstucker!”

He’s the stuff of nightmares, really.  And he always makes me think of the planet Venus.  I know, I know . . . weird . . . but bear with me.

We all remember the childhood ditty that said:

“Twinkle, twinkle little star.

How I wonder what you are . . .”

Primitive humans actually had the same reaction to the stars, only it was more along the lines of, “What in the hell ARE those things?”  As educated, modern humans we look at the stars and we might think something like, “Glowing orbs of burning gaseous matter.”  Our ancestors, though, would look at them and think, “Wow . . . magic!”

As they studied them more and more, they realized that some of the stars actually moved around in the sky.  What they were seeing moving is what we call planets, but to the ancients they were glowing stars that were in motion.  And, of course, if something moves that means that it’s alive, as opposed to not moving which frequently means that you’re dead, or maybe a rock or a doorstop.

So, primitive humans had reached a point where they were able to observe the night skies, chart different constellations, and notice that some of the stars seemed to be alive.  And they went from their original question about the stars – “What in the hell ARE those things?”  to a deeper understanding.  This was verbalized as, “No, REALLY, what in the hell ARE those things?”

They started to make up stories about the apparently living creatures that were moving around the sky.  They decided that since the moving stars are above us, then they must be – you know – ABOVE us, as in superior to us, and so they came to believe that the moving stars were gods or angels.

All of that’s perfectly rational thinking, given the degree of knowledge that primitive humans possessed.  They went on to assign characteristics to the star gods, based on appearance and behavior.  Mars was blood red, so he must be the god of war.  Jupiter was huge, so he must be the main god.  Mercury was very zippy, so he must be a messenger with wings on his heels that let him flash around the sky very quickly.

When they looked at Venus, though, one thing stood out to a lot of the ancient star gazers:  Venus disappears.  In fact, Venus has very, very strange behavior, indeed.  Venus appears as a morning star for 263 days and then, for the next 50 days, Venus disappears and cannot be seen in the sky at all.  And THEN Venus reappears, but in the evening sky, where it remains for another 263-day phase before disappearing below the horizon for 8 days. At the end of these 8 days, Venus reappears as a morning star, and the cycle begins again.

So our ancestors looked at this very peculiar behavior on the part of this particular star god and tried to figure out what it meant.  Why did the star god keep switch-hitting between being a morning star god and an evening star god?  And where in the hell did it GO when it disappeared?  It was all very perplexing.

The Romans and the Greeks focused on the fact that Venus (as a morning star god) was always brightest right before the dawn.  They reasoned, then, that Venus must somehow be bringing the dawn into existence each day, and they named it, “the light bringer,” which in Latin is written as, “Lucifer.”

The Middle Eastern star gazers had a different take on it.  As we all know, Middle Eastern religions tend to favor angry, bi-polar male gods and so they reasoned that Venus was PISSING OFF god, and doing it on a regular basis.  When god got pissed off at Venus, he made the star god just disappear from heaven.  “All right . . . that’s IT . . . get out!  And don’t come back for 50 days, if you know what’s good for you!”

As the story evolved into judeo-christian theology, god wasn’t just making Venus disappear, he was throwing his ass out the door.  He was tossing the star god – now known as Satan – out of heaven and Satan was plummeting into darkness and hell fire.  When the expanding christian culture encountered the Greco-Roman god Lucifer, they said, “Oh, yeah . . . disappearing star god . . . we know about him . . . that’s Satan.”

And so Lucifer became Satan and Satan became the Devil and we ended up with this bat goat critter with an enormous schwanzstucker.

All of this would be kind of hilarious if it didn’t represent an amazing projection of our own very human fear, anger, and malice onto the universe.  There is no crazy god with a white beard throwing devils out of heaven every 50 days.  Bats aren’t evil, they’re just . . . you know . . . bats.  The goat is being used as a symbol of rampant sexuality but the truth is that goats aren’t nearly as horny as people.  

Bottom lining it, we’ve taken our very worst traits – our, “evil,” if you will – projected it onto nature, and then declared nature to be evil.  And then we made war on nature.

And, yep, our first reaction is probably appropriate:  Yikes!

The Hanged Man, Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, and Getting Shazammed

Exploring rapid versus gradual spirit growth and how we have to be our own miracles.

Have you ever been really, really, REALLY unhappy for a REALLY long period of time?  One of those stretches in life where you feel like nothing’s going right, nobody loves you, and the future looks like a whole lot of storm clouds and very few rainbows?

In the South, they’d say, “By god, I’m so down I’d have to look up to see a snake’s belly.”

The Hanged Man shows someone who’s been through that experience.  He’s suffered so deeply that he’s barely survived and now he’s about to travel down a road of spiritual rebirth.  In the meantime, he’s just hanging there in space and time trying to figure out what it all meant and why it happened.

Willam James, the founder of American Pragmatism, wrote a lot about what The Hanged Man goes through in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (Penguin American Library)  He called it a conversion experience.  In simple terms, that just means that a miserable, unhappy, deeply depressed, highly dysfunctional human being is somehow converted into a person who is happy, joyous and free.

 The most fascinating examples of it are when the conversions appear to happen very rapidly.  A person is full of despair and totally heart sick on Tuesday, but they wake up on Wednesday full of joy and love.

Shazam!  Brand new person!

The classic example of that, of course, is Ebeneezer Scrooge.  I’ve often wondered if Dickens hadn’t read Varieties of Religious Experience.  “Hmmm . . . miserable son-of-a-bitch turns into a happy, compassionate person over-night . . . what an interesting plot . . .”

We can find modern day examples of that experience in a couple of the New Thought leaders:  Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie.  Tolle was, by his own account, an overly sensitive, deeply depressed, frequently suicidal person.  Katie was an alcoholic drug addict who found herself locked in the attic of a woman’s rehab facility because the other women in the house were afraid of her.  In both cases, they suddenly, “woke up,” one day, finally understanding what life is all about and totally joy-full.

Shazam And A Half!!!!

Of course, the thing they don’t much talk about is that it wasn’t an overnight miracle.  In fact, both of them had been stewing in their own misery for years and years and years before something popped, before that shift in consciousness occurred.  The shift in consciousness took on the qualities of a, “miracle,” simply because the shift appeared to happen so rapidly, but it had been processing in their subconscious minds for a very long time.

Now, I’m not meaning to denigrate either of them or diminish the help that they’ve provided to other people.  I’m actually a huge fan of Eckhart Tolle, but the fact remains that both he and Katie have done a very good job of marketing their, “miracles,” to other people.  Tolle is currently offering a virtual spiritual retreat for ONLY $997.00 (that’s a $300 discount by the way, and DON’T WORRY, you can put it on your Visa, Mastercard, or American Express.)  Katie offers a 9 day workshop for ONLY $3,500 dollars or, alternatively, you can stay at her, “Turn Around House,” for 28 days at ONLY $20,000.

There’s another saying in the South, which is, “Never trust a fat preacher.”  Since I’ve gotten old and fat, I’m going to modify that to, “Never trust a preacher who wears a Rolex.”  

In other words, if someone is selling you spirituality, if they’ve decided that you can put a price on miracles – and it’s exactly $997.00 – it’s appropriate to approach with caution.

Tolle has a deep background in philosophy and psychology and he IS a very profound thinker.  Katie, not so much.  In both cases, though, they aren’t just selling their philosophies or their ideas – they’re selling their miracles.  They’re saying, “HEY!  I was a miserable, unhappy bastard and I got Shazammed.  If you sit real close to me, it might happen to you, too.”  And there’s a definite messianic flavor to their gatherings and their followers.

The unfortunate thing, though, is that you can’t borrow someone else’s miracle.  You can’t even buy it.  Not even for $20,000.  You kind of have to make your own.

Another person who had what appeared to be a, “rapid,” conversion experience was Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.  After decades of hopeless alcoholism, dozens of jobs lost, and hundreds of relationships destroyed, he had a sudden spiritual revelation while lying in a hospital bed waiting to die.  In a phrase, “he got struck sober,” and he never had another drink.

Wilson realized that by far and away, most people will never have a sudden, dramatic conversion experience like he had.  Using Varieties of Religious Experience as a sort of a manual, though, he set out to create a method to consciously create slow, gradual conversion experiences in other alcoholics.  The result of that effort was the now famous 12 Step Program.

And the price of it is . . . nothing.  It’s absolutely free.  Well, they do appreciate it if you drop a dollar in the basket when they pass it, but you don’t have to.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should go out and adopt the 12 Step Program for their lives, and neither would Bill Wilson.  In fact, he designed it specifically for people who were serious alcoholics, and by serious he meant, “almost dead.”

Where I think we can get some helpful insight, though, is that Wilson designed a program for spiritual change that involves a sort of a miracle in slow motion.  He was wise enough to realize that his, “sudden,” conversion was the result of many years of deep suffering and affliction.  He tried to set up a program that would shorten that period of suffering, but he never denied that the suffering was a necessary part of the whole package for alcoholics.

And isn’t that a drag?

I would LOVE to get Shazammed.  I’d love it if an angel would suddenly appear to me at night and say, “Danny, boy, you’re cured.”  Or maybe Glenda, the Good Witch of the North, could whack me with her wand and tell me to just click my goddamned heels together. 

 I mean, damn, why can’t I have one of those really FAST miracles?  

Because – for most people – they never happen.  Most of us have to take the slow, sometimes intensely painful, sometimes tedious – occasionally joyous – route of creating our own miracles.  We have to take the time to sit down with our therapists and do our own emotional work, we have to actually sit our butts down on the meditation pillows and do our own spiritual work. We have to create the miracle that is us.

In a very real sense, we have to design our own programs.  Maybe they’ll involve 12 Steps.  Maybe they’ll involve 36 Steps. Or 210 Steps.  But they’ll never involve 1 Step.  And they sure as hell shouldn’t involve $20,000.  

The bad news is that miracles can take a lot of work.  You can’t catch one by sitting next to someone else who had one. The good news is that they’re free. 

Well . . . maybe a dollar.

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Panic Attacks, Gas Lighting and The Moon Card

Have you ever had a panic attack?

They’re absolutely, 100%, no doubt about it, HORRIBLE.  You can’t catch your breath, your pulse rate goes through the ceiling, your heart is like a jack hammer in the middle of your chest, and you feel like you’re going to die.

And it’s all an illusion.  There’s really NOTHING wrong with you, at all, but it FEELS like the world is ending and vultures are sitting on your shoulders.  

I had a series of them about ten years ago when my life partner was becoming seriously ill.  One of the lovely things about them is that they seem to come totally out of the blue.  With the first one, I was driving merrily along The Great Highway of Life in my little Honda and WHAM!!!  “Danger, Will Robinson, danger, danger!  Be afraid!  Be very, very afraid.”  I somehow managed to get myself to the local emergency room where they examined me and gave me an extremely professional shrug of the shoulders.

“Nothing’s wrong with you, man.  Blood pressure’s normal, EEG’s normal, you’re incredibly sexy and good looking.”

Well, they didn’t really say the part about being sexy and good looking but I’m sure it was on their minds.

I couldn’t believe it.  I was dying and it was just . . . in my head.  Hmmmm . . .

Once I figured out what was going on I did a lot of research on panic attacks.  There are some interesting theories out there about what causes them, but nothing definitive.  Breathing into a paper bag can help.  Benadryl can help.  My favorite piece of advice was, “Think of something else.  Sing something happy.”  Oddly it works.

But I want to go back to the part about them being illusions.  The Moon card is all about psychological illusions.  As I said in my original definition:

Think of seeing the world under the light of the moon rather than the sun.  Shadows and light blend into one another and our eyes and mind see things that aren’t really there.  Or maybe they are.

There is a tendency for the unconscious, unexamined contents of our minds to come forth when The Moon is present.

What I eventually figured out about my panic attacks is that I was living in an illusion and my subconscious didn’t like it.  Not at all.  My partner was becoming increasingly, seriously ill and I was trying to stay very upbeat  about it and reassure her – and myself and her children – that it was nothing to be concerned about, that if we just kept a positive attitude we’d get through it and she’d be just fine.  My subconscious, on the other hand, was looking at it and saying, “Holy shit!  Carol is really, really sick.  You need to pay attention to this, Dan!”

And, when I didn’t pay attention to it, my subconscious said, “Okay . . . well how about this?  How about if I throw an absolute screaming fit and make you FEEL like you’re dying?  How about a nice big fat panic attack or three?  Will you pay attention now?”

I paid attention.  The panic attacks stopped.

The point is that there is something in our psyches that is always watching over us and warning us if we go too far off track, if we get too disconnected from reality.  Eckhart Tolle calls it, “the Watcher.”  Jeffrey Schwartz calls it, “The Wise Advocate.”  I’m referring to it here as, “the subconscious.”  It’s reality based, it’s dispassionate, and it will always blow a very loud whistle if we get too delusional about what’s really going on in our lives.  Some of us may have panic attacks, some of us may start having inexplicable accidents or become very anxious and distracted or angry.  It’s our inner guidance system saying, “Pay attention.  This is serious.”

It’s also a great defense against narcissistic gaslighting.  The term gaslighting is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, where a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question herself and her reality.  Gaslighting is standard operating procedure for narcissists at a certain point in their destructive relationships.

As Doctor Ramani explains in this video, narcissists will eventually begin to treat you like shit and betray your trust in every imaginable way.  It’s what they do.  BUT . . . just to make it a little bit worse, they will always tell you that you’re just imagining it.

They put you down in front of your friends – you’re just imagining it!

They devalue or ignore your opinions – you’re just being delusional!

They screw around on you – you’re just being paranoid!

There’s actually an old joke in Texas where a woman walks in on her husband while he’s in bed with another woman and he says, “Now, darlin’, who are you going to believe – me or your lying eyes?”

It’s a funny joke but that’s precisely the level that narcissists operate on.  And it makes their partners crazy, just like in the movie.

But that’s a good thing.  That’s our subconscious, our Watcher, our Wise Advocate, saying, “Something here is very, very, wrong. Pay attention.”

And, if we can manage that shift in perspective, if we can say, “Wait a minute . . . maybe I’m NOT crazy, maybe this really IS happening,” then our so-called symptoms are suddenly transformed into very healthy warning signs.  If I’m depressed, if I’m angry, if I’m anxious – and, yes, if I’m having panic attacks – something is out of whack in my life.  Something in my conscious life is out of synch with my Watcher and my Watcher is ALWAYS right.

When we do that course correction and bring our conscious perceptions back into alignment with our subconscious Watcher, the symptoms disappear.  It’s not necessarily because anything in our environment has changed or gotten better, it’s simply that we’re being honest about what’s going on and there’s no longer a split in our consciousness. 

We’ve achieved integrity as defined by the dictionary:  the quality or state of being complete or undivided. Which is way better than feeling like you have an elephant sitting on your chest and you’re about to die. In the immortal words of Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t panic and carry a towel.”

And you’ll be alright.

The Sun Card and The Uncarved Block

Seeing the human Soul in the Taoist concept of The Uncarved Block.

One of the core tenets of Taoism is an idea called, “The Uncarved Block,”  or, as it’s written in Chinese, “Pu,” (not to be confused with The Tao of Pooh although it IS the Tao of Pu.)  

It refers, quite simply, to a piece of wood that’s never been touched, never been carved into a statue or an ornament or a utensil.  It’s just the wood, as it came into and grew into this world.  It’s in its’ primal, original state of being.

When the term is used to refer to the human experience, it means the primal state in which WE came into this world, untouched by experiences, prejudices, or dualistic thinking.  And, of course, it implies that there was a SOMETHING that arrived when we were born, other than just a tiny little human body.  There was a primal NATURE that came into the human body. Some people call it a Soul.

This has actually been a pretty hot topic for philosophers and psychologists for hundreds of years.  Are we just reducible to the sum total of our bodies and brains, or is there something else that’s greater and somehow inhabits our bodies and brains?  Another way of putting it is, “nature versus nurture:”  are we born with a certain nature, an essence that existed before our birth, or are we simply whatever we learn as we go along in life, whatever we learn by being nurtured by our culture?

Aristotle came down firmly on the nurture side of the equation, saying that we are born as a, “tabula rasa,” a blank slate that life and culture writes upon.  There is no soul, no pre-existing essence. The idea was later picked up by the English philosopher John Locke and thus made its way into modern psychology.

New Thought writers, of course, are advocates of nature, of the idea of our having a Soul that, “arrives,” in this world using the vehicle of our bodies.  What’s more, they see the Soul as being pretty cool when it dances into the physical world.  To quote Esther Hicks/ Abraham in Ask and It Is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires

“You are eternal beings who have chosen to participate in this specific physical life experience for many wonderful reasons . . . You are eternal Consciousness, currently in this wonderful physical body for the thrill and exhilaration of specific focus and creation.”

In other words, when we first get here we are beautiful, spiritual beings, full of joy, who have come here on a mission that INCLUDES having a lot of fun.  To use a phrase from AA, we are happy, joyous, and free.  We would feel a lot like The Sun Tarot card looks.

We arrive as beautiful, innocent, children, full of elation and radiating the euphoria of being alive in this enchanted garden that we call the Earth.  We are naked and unadorned, and our original nature, our essence, our, “uncarved block,” is love.  Pure love.

But then something happens.  Perhaps we forget our original nature in the process of transitioning from being Spirits to existing in physical bodies.  Perhaps, as some children do, we remember our original nature and still see the angels and the fairies, but our families and society soon beat that magic out of us.  As Don Miguel Ruiz put it in The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book)

“We are born with the capacity to learn how to dream, and the humans who live before us teach how to dream the way society dreams . . . we learned a whole new reality, a whole new dream.  We never had the opportunity to choose what to believe or what not to believe.”

And we find ourselves wandering in Paradise, lost in the collective dream of our existence, with no memory that we are something far, far greater than our mere physical bodies.  As the bible expressed it – in a phrase that christians never, never, never EVER quote – because then we wouldn’t need preachers:  “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.” 

 Or to use Joni Mitchel’s riff on it, “We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

That’s the rub, that’s the rough part for most of us: just remembering that we ARE spiritual beings and getting back to that garden.  It’s not as if society exactly encourages us to act like we’ve all got Souls.  If we really believed that we’re all part of the Divine, we’d treat each other with a shade more respect, wouldn’t we?  If we actually looked at killing as killing a part of the Divine, we’d have a lot fewer wars, doncha think?

It’s actually become quite fashionable to laugh at the idea of a Soul.  Many people view it as an anachronistic belief on a par with the idea that god is an old man sitting on a golden throne.  Just silly crap that’s left over from our primitive religious views.

Can we PROVE that there’s a Soul?  Of course not.  Can materialists or atheists prove that there ISN’T a Soul?  Of course not.  What we CAN do is to intuit that there is a something that lies beyond and beneath our ordinary consciousness and reality.

In discussing the difference between the ego and what we really are in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (Oprah’s Book Club, Selection 61) Eckhart Tolle says:

“What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am.  Who am I then?  The one who sees that.  The awareness that is prior to thought, the space in which the thought happens.”

In a similar vein, Jeffrey Schwartz, who is a neuropsychiatrist and uses very strict scientific standards of proof,  argues in You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life that there is something beyond the mere thoughts that our physical brains generate, something that directs our focus and can override our thoughts.  He calls it, “The Wise Advocate,” and it sounds very much like the description of a Soul.

“The Wise Advocate knows what is best for you, it loves and cares for you, so it encourages you to make decisions in a rational way based on what’s in your overall best interest in the long term.”

That Wise Advocate, that space that exists between our thoughts, is where our Soul lives.  It’s where our Soul is still naked, beautiful, innocent, and playing.  It’s our original nature, our uncarved block.  

All we have to do is find it again. Or at least try to be a chip off the old block.

The Fool, Wu Wei, and Touching Your Woo Hoo

Exploring the concept of Wu Wei and the work ethic of drifting.

We all know how to be a success in life, right?  We set our alarms so that we can get up before the sun rises and we work our asses off all day.  We do twice as much as everyone else, put in lots of overtime, and keep working right up until we go to bed.  And some of us actually keep working in our dreams, mulling over the day while we sleep, running through scenarios for when we go back to work tomorrow.  We even have lots of inspirational sayings to reinforce our work-a-holic thinking.

“The early bird catches the worm.”

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

“Stay positive, work hard, and make it happen.”

Yay!  Let’s get out there and WORK!

But what if all of that is wrong?  In fact, what if most of it is bullshit?

The Taoists have an interesting concept called Wu Wei, which can be loosely translated as, “doing nothing,” and they say that it’s a major key to success.  A more accurate translation might be, “purposeful inaction,” and the basic idea is that the harder we work, the behinder we get. Taoists love to use rivers and lakes and water in general as metaphors, so we can do that to explain Wu Wei.

Suppose that you’re floating down a beautiful, green river in your little Rowboat of Life.  There’s a gentle current that’s carrying you along nicely and you’re making good forward progress.  It’s so quiet and peaceful and you can feel the sun warming your face and body.  Perhaps you let one hand trail behind you in the crystal clear water and for just a moment it feels like everything is absolutely perfect.  

BUT . . . you suddenly decide that you want to go faster, because faster must be better, so you grab your oars and you row like hell until you’re exhausted.  And you really haven’t gotten much further down the river.  All you’ve accomplished is to wear yourself out when you could have been just drifting along, enjoying the ride.

But WAIT!  You remind yourself that drifting is wrong!  Drifting is bad!  We need to be GOAL ORIENTED and MOVING FORWARD with MAXIMUM ENERGY AND MOTIVATION at all times.  By now, you know that rowing forward didn’t accomplish much, so you start paddling your Rowboat of Life from one side of the river to the other, just to be doing SOMETHING.  After all, you’re the Captain of your Rowboat!  YOU determine where you’re going and YOU’RE in charge of your destiny!  

 Eventually you realize that you’re making even less forward progress and after a while you get discouraged and put your paddles back in the boat.  You drift along thinking about it and beating yourself up for not making more effort.  Maybe a dragonfly lands on your nose while you’re cogitating.  “Am I lazy?” you ask the dragonfly.  “Do I just not have what it takes to be a winner?”

As you work it all out in your head, you realize that WINNERS KEEP GOING, no matter what the odds are against them.  Real winners are willing to work as hard as they can and then DIG DEEP to find that last reserve of energy to carry them across the finish line!  The harder you work, the more it proves that you’ve GOT WHAT IT TAKES, by god!

So just to prove how hard you work and how inspired you are, you turn your Rowboat of Life around and start paddling AGAINST the current.  You struggle and you strain and at a certain point you have a massive coronary and die, but at least you died a winner, right?

The whole point of this, of course, is that there are underlying currents of energy in the Universe.  They actually help us get to our goals if we just surrender to them and go with the flow.  Life isn’t an enemy.  Life isn’t something we have to fight.  Nature isn’t something we’re supposed to conquer.  We are meant to float as gently on the currents of life as a blossom drifting down a broad, quiet river.

Most of the New Thought writers and speakers have this concept as a central pillar of their philosophy.  In Choose Them Wisely: Thoughts Become Things! Mike Dooley talks about visualizing your goal in general terms and then moving toward it.  BUT he emphasizes very strongly that we don’t need to sweat the details about how we’re going to get there.  The Universe will provide the means and the ways and the paths once we get in harmony with the flow.

Louise Hay, in You Can Heal Your Life writes, “I believe in a power far greater than I am that flows through me every moment of every day . . . Out of this One Intelligence comes all the answers, all the solutions, all the healings, all the new creations.”

In Ask and It Is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires Esther Hicks/Abraham, says, “Well-Being is the basis of the Universe.  Well-Being is the basis of All-That-Is.  It flows to you and through you.  You have only to allow it.  Like the air you breathe, you have only to open, relax, and draw it into your being.”

In other words, there is a current of energy, of love, that underlies the entire Universe and our, “job,” our only true, “work,” is to align ourselves with that energy current and drift along on it, knowing that it will take us where we want to go.

The Fool Tarot card is the perfect illustration of this.  She dances along on the edge of a cliff, filled with the energy of love, totally unconcerned about where she’s going or how.  She’s in the flow.  She’s dancing with the energy and if she walks off of the cliff, she’ll just walk on air.

So . . . how do we get to the Flow and how do we know when we’re out of it?  How do we know when we’re paddling up the river, instead of riding the current?

According to Esther Hicks/Abraham, we actually have a compass in our little Rowboat of Life.  It’s called emotions.  And we can check that compass anytime that we want to.  HOW DO YOU FEEL?  If you feel crappy, angry, sad, or resentful, you’re paddling upstream.  If you feel happy, joyous, free, and content, then you’re floating down the river with a dragonfly perched on your nose.  If you’re not feeling anything at all, if you’re emotionally flat and apathetic, then your Rowboat is stuck on a freaking sandbar.  So the key is to get up every morning and say, “Woo Hoo!  I’m alive and I love it!”

We all need to stay in touch with our Woo Hoos a lot more than we are.  We can do that.

Of course, all of this is totally un-American.  Hard work and a lot of sweat are the answers.  Anyone who says different is plain Fool-ish.

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The Ten of Wands, Mike Dooley, and Becoming a Topless Cellist

This is a post about Mike Dooley’s concepts of choosing our goals, visualizing them, and manifesting them. It discusses the Ten of Wands tarot card as a representation of someone who has too many goals and needs to narrow her focus while remaining open to all possibilities.

If you’re a Great Thinker – and most of us at least believe that we are – you probably have a lot of Great Ideas.  In fact, you may have too many.  Way too many.  Let’s talk about that a little bit.

Mike Dooley has a wonderful book called Choose Them Wisely: Thoughts Become Things! As the title implies, what we think will inevitably manifest in our physical lives, sometimes more quickly, sometimes more slowly, but what we think will become our physical realities.  

Now, the Tarot slices our everyday lives into four quarters represented by the Minor Arcana.  The suit of Cups represent our emotions, Pentacles represent our relationship with physical possessions, Swords represent our physical drives and aggressions, and Wands represent our ideas, our thoughts.

The Ten of Wands is a wonderful representation of someone who has way too many Great Ideas.  Each wand represents a thought and this poor son of a bitch has SO many thoughts going on in his head that he can barely stagger along his path.  He’s literally weighted down with all of his wonderful, fabulous, potentially AMAZING thoughts.  So much so that he can’t even lift up his head and look at the world around him.  All he can do is carry the burden of his thoughts and stare at the path that he’s on, hoping he doesn’t stumble and fall and – goddess forbid – lose his stupefying collection of Great Ideas.

The bad thing about having too many Great Ideas is that it can be just as discouraging as having too few Great Ideas.  It can paralyze us.  We have so many options swimming around in our heads that we just really can’t decide which direction to go in – so we go nowhere.  It’s like we’re saying to ourselves, “Well, I could be a Great Artist, but if I put all of that time and energy into being a Great Artist then I won’t have any time and energy to put into being a Great Writer.”

So we sit around on our asses and worry about that and – in the meantime – we don’t write and we don’t paint.  We’re stuck.  

We can actually see a pretty good representation of this with The Chariot card.  You can take one look at this guy and tell that he has some Great Ideas.  I mean, look at those shoulder pads!  Who wouldn’t want a jacket with Moon shoulders?  He’s glorious!  But if you take a little closer look, you see that the Sphinxes aren’t harnessed to anything and he doesn’t have any reins in his hands.  He looks fabulous, but he’s not going anywhere because he doesn’t have any direction, he doesn’t have any focus.  He just can’t decide which way to go.

One of Dooley’s ideas about getting out of the trap of having too few options can also be useful in dealing with having too many options.  Make up a list of your options, of all of the things that you could possibly do to move forward in your life, and then choose the three LEAST SUCKY options and move forward with those.

If you have too many Great Ideas, that may sound like a daunting task, but it really isn’t.  My experience is that a lot of my Great Ideas can be slotted under the category of, “Probably Ain’t Gonna Happen.”  For instance, when I was in Junior High School, I got it into my head that I wanted to jump hurdles on the track team.  And I would have been absolutely amazing at it except for the fact that everyone in my family has short legs and I kept jumping into the hurdles instead of over them. 

In the same sense, if you’ve always dreamed of being a porn star and you have a small penis, that, “Probably Ain’t Gonna Happen.”  It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with my short legs or your small penis, it’s just not a good fit.  So to speak.

So we can winnow out a lot of our Great Ideas from the get-go.  And, as we do that, we find that a lot of them are actually pretty Sucky Ideas.  Eventually, as we continue to work on our lists of Great and Sucky Ideas, we’ll come down to the three that are the least Sucky and we can move forward with those.

This is the point where a lot of us get paralyzed again.  Should I really give up on my life-long dream of being a world famous Juggler on the Ed Sullivan Show, just because Ed Sullivan is dead?  Am I making a dreadful mistake in abandoning my idea of being a Topless Cellist at Carnegie Hall?

This is also where Mike Dooley came up with a genius concept:  IT DOESN’T MATTER.  

No matter what we choose, it doesn’t matter.  The main thing is to choose something and then start moving forward with it.  That’s probably the single most important thing that we can do:  get off of our asses and start moving.  And, as we begin to move forward – with ANYTHING – the Universe will provide the next step and then the next step and then the next step and eventually we end up exactly where we want to be.

That takes a tremendous load off of our shoulders, especially if we’re Great Thinkers with lots of Great Ideas.  We really don’t have to decide too much.  We don’t have to spend endless hours analyzing our options, playing scenario tapes in our heads, and fretting over possible disasters.  All we have to do is figure out a couple of our least sucky options and start moving toward them.  We provide the moving feet and the Universe provides the path to walk on.

As Dooley put it, “Do WHAT you can, with WHAT you’ve got, from WHERE you are, and it will ALWAYS be enough.”

And we can overcome any hurdles.  Or, if we’ve got short legs,  we can learn to run sprints.  It’s all good.  It’s all just right.

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The Death Card, Spaghetti and Ghosts

The Death card is one of those scary Tarot cards that no one wants to see in their reading.  As one British writer put it, “This card usually sends the wind up people . . .”  

Death . . . eeeew!  Creepy.

We should talk about that . . .

I’ve attended a weekly bereavement support group since my life partner died.  We get together once a week – on Zoom, since Covid happened – discuss the grief process, check in with each other, and offer emotional support to members who are hurting.  At one of the meetings a new member whose husband had died a few weeks earlier asked, rather hesitantly, “Um . . . have any of you had any experiences with . . . like . . . ghosts?”

Every hand in the room went up.

Every single one of us had experienced strange messages or pictures of our loved ones inexplicably falling off of shelves or lights that flickered on and off when we mentioned the names of the people who had died or books that we hadn’t taken off of the shelf lying on the floor opened to passages that comforted us.  

Every single one of us.

And here’s an odd thing about that:  even though a LOT of people have these experiences, “normal people,” (and by, “normal,” I mean people who aren’t in the grief process) don’t want to hear about them.  Oh,they try to reassure the person who’s grieving that their dead person isn’t, somehow, dead. They’re well armed with the standard, trite phrases.

“I’m sure he’s right there with you.”

“She’s looking down on you from heaven.”

“You have a new guardian angel watching out for you now.”

Still, they really don’t want to hear about how the dead person is RIGHT THERE in your living room turning lights on and off and leaving books out for you to peruse.  Because, you know, that’s kind of spooky.  

And, yes, spooks ARE spooky.  When you’re cooking spaghetti and you get a flash of someone who’s dead sitting at the kitchen table, it does tend to pucker your pasta.  But it happens all the time.  Ask anyone in any grief group.  

So why don’t people want to talk about it?

Well, there’s probably a primal fear of the dead that’s hard wired into our bodies and minds.  The horror story genre is built straight out of that energy and authors like Stephen King know exactly how to evoke it and make the hair on our necks stand up.  

And, of course, there’s all of the religious crap that our culture embraces:  dead people are supposed to be in heaven eating pancakes with Jesus or they’re supposed to be in hell roasting marshmallows with Satan,  but they are NOT supposed to be reclining in their favorite barcalounger playing with the cat.

There’s also a certain amount of it that flows out of good old fashioned denial.  The more we focus on death, the more we have to acknowledge that someday we, too, are going to be dead and, by golly, that’s just plain depressing, doncha think?  We even have a word for people who want to talk about death, “too much,”:  morbid.  According to the Cambridge dictionary, that’s, “too interested in unpleasant subjects, esp. Death.”

(LOL – if you’re going to die – and you are – how can you be, “too,” interested in that?)

And there’s the strong atheist/empiricist current that flows through our culture.  If a phenomenon can’t be plopped onto a scale, weighed, dissected, and held with our hands, it doesn’t really exist, and you can’t weigh a ghost.  By that standard, or course, rainbows and emotions don’t exist, either.

I think, though, that there’s a further element involved here and that’s the day to day implications of ghosts.

A huge amount of human culture is built around this simple question:  what happens to us when we die?  HUGE.  All of our religions are really premised on that one idea: something happens to us after we die.  What is it?  Is it good?  Is it bad?  Is it horrible? How can we massage that outcome from this side?  How many Hail Mary’s do I have to say to end up in heaven instead of hell?  How much incense do I have to burn and how many incantations do I have to chant to have better karma?  

European art and  culture in the Middle Ages were almost entirely devoted to those questions.

Morbid, right?

Ghosts, in a very real sense, are where the rubber meets the road in religions and spirituality.  They are the interface between this world and whatever happens to us when we die.  They are a constantly repeated phenomenon that has occurred throughout all of human history.  The story of Jesus appearing to his disciples after he was crucified is, essentially, a ghost story, right?

If we really accept the fact that ghosts and ghostly phenomena do exist – and millions of perfectly rational people attest to that existence – then it shifts a lot of our thinking and our sense of being in this world.  

If the person we love HASN’T ceased to exist, if they are somehow still here in some other form, then grief doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?  It’s more like a dear friend deciding that they’re going to move to Europe.  It might make us sad.  We might miss them terribly.  But we don’t have to throw ourselves on the ground, sob, and rip our clothing.  They’re still here, but they’re over-there/here, instead of here/here.

And, what exactly does, “here,” mean?  If someone’s dead, they’re supposed to be WAY, “over there.”  You know . . . in heaven or hell or zooming around the astral plane on a portable golden throne.  But if they’re sitting in your kitchen watching you cook spaghetti or they’re in the barcalounger playing with the cat, then they’re, “here.”  But they’re also, “there,” because . . . um . . . they’re dead.  Maybe the truth is closer to what some Native American tribes believe and the dead aren’t gone at all – they’re still walking around with us in another dimension that we just can’t see.

I don’t know the answers.  But I know it’s a conversation that we ought to be having and we ought to be having it outside of the confines of bereavement support groups and pastors offices.  If Uncle Bob is dead but he’s hanging out in the den watching television, that’s important.  Maybe instead of throwing white sage and holy water at him and telling him to, “go to the light,” we ought to just say, “Hey, Bob – what’s up?”

Maybe he’ll tell us.