What I’ve been reading

Books have a phenomenal way of getting into you and transforming the way you think and see. That goes for fiction and non-fiction, though I have to admit that I’m not much of a fiction reader. What I thought I’d do here is, rather than the usual boring book reviews, which I don’t enjoy reading or writing, demonstrate my relationship with the books I’ve been reading.

A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber.
This is a very fascinating yet difficult book to get through. I first picked it up earlier in the year and found the going a bit tough, as Wilber is a bit of a wild writer. He likes to introduce all manner of theories and topics in a haphazard fashion, and given my limited attention span, I found myself re-reading a lot. After doing studies in cultural theory at university, I found myself again attracted to his work, and making much more sense of it. He constantly refers back to the maps he has created to explain integral theory, which demonstrates how Spirit weaves in to every element of life.

A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
I read this last year, and picked it up again due to the online book study being held by Oprah and Tolle. This along with The Power of Now are my favourite books, in that they demonstrate a very simple yet very profound grasp of spiritual awareness. It is through The Power of Now and then A New Earth that I finally began to grasp the idea of nonduality or oneness.

Natural Grace by Rupert Sheldrake & Matthew Fox
This little book is actually a transcription of dialogues between Sheldrake and Fox, the former being a scientist and the latter a theologian, and both being keenly interested in spirit and nature. This is a truly wonderful book, far more accessible than the previous books I’ve read from Fox (though I wonder whether my growing awareness has something to do with that). From the back cover: ‘They both believe that as the new millennium dawns (the book was published in 1996), a new vision is needed which brings together science, spirituality and a sense of the sacred.’ I’m beginning to grasp this new vision and these vehicles of it are truly a blessing.

The Radiance of Being: Complexity, Chaos and the Evolution of Consciousness by Allan Combs
I’ve only just started reading this, but have now been introduced to the idea of chaos theory and how it goes to explain the functions of conscious experience.

Re-enchantment: The New Australian Spirituality by David Tacey, who is Associate Professor of English at La Trobe University Melbourne
It’s great to pick up a book that looks at spirituality from an Australian perspective. Only just started reading this one, nothing too riveting so far as it is the interweaving of themes from previous books.

How (Not) to Speak of God by Pete Rollins
I have mentioned this before, but after being bathed in cultural theory and the work of Ken Wilber I am able to grasp postmodernism and deconstruction philosophy. This book can really only be experienced rather than explained (much like the two books from Tolle). It is divided into two unique sections, one explaining Rollins’ unique perspective on faith, the other on his very unique ‘church services’ in a pub in Dublin, Ireland. I’m an avid reader of his blog, which is a great way to access what he does (and doesn’t) have to say.

The thing most amazing about these and other books I didn’t mention is that the themes in them cross together to form cohesion. When I first approached Tolle, Wilber and Spong, the content was too far removed from my reality to be accessible. My consciousness had not yet evolved enough to grasp the meaning, since I was still shaking off my fundamentalism. Widely reading, as well as the influence of my studies in psychology and cultural theory, has brought me to being able to appreciate and understand these other perspectives. In the words of Ken Wilber, I have transcended my previous position as a conservative evangelical Christian, believing in the dogma of Christianity, yet still include the profound and mystical dimensions of faith that can be found in the scriptures. And I have seen no one better put to words how the words of Christ can be transcended and included into this evolution of consciousness than Eckhart Tolle.


Where is our myth?

I’ve been watching Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, a wonderful series of documentaries from the 80’s now on DVD. With this new-found awareness of the old transcendent myths, I now wonder, what happened to myth? Why have we become so post-mythical? Why does the church take its story so seriously, rather than seeing the mythical value in its tradition?

It seems the emergence of modernism is to blame. As a response to the absolutizing of reason, the church was forced into a position of defense, and developed fundamentalism. Like a cancer, this spread through the body and became the defining norm, so that any talk of the Bible as representing deeper truth, pointing to the sacred, is seen as contrary.

This is what we receive in present day Christian experience. It’s why I can’t get back to church, as the depth of meaning gives way to dogma, and without the soul, there is nothing left but a middle-class feel-good social club.

As an aside, my reference to middle-class points to status in society – the relatively comfortable who have primary concerns in wealth creation and stabilization.

In the absence

I have a yearning for a community, but nothing to fill it.
There is an abundance of churches in this land,
but they are like the mirage in the desert.
And so I wonder, maybe this is what I need right now,
to be in perfect oneness with the Divine,
to need nothing, to want for nothing,
to be at perfect peace with nothing.
Is my highest bliss to be found
in the space of absence?
Am I called to monasticism in the city,
as the hermit in his cave?
I yearn for grace,
and realize you were here all along.

The Exclusion

Just recently I was in a counselor’s office to discuss my issues with shyness. My question: why is it that I have trouble making and keeping friends, and why is it that I fail to have a love life? Instead of answering my questions, the counselor attempts to bring me to examine my thoughts and experiences in light of the present-moment experience, the psychologizing of the old Buddhist practice of mindfulness. That is well and good, I expect such an entrenched problem not to have easy answers. And in a growing self-awareness, I am beginning to see a recurring pattern that has been central to my life all along.

All creatures naturally seek inclusion in some form of community. This is evident both in the animal kingdom and amongst human beings, and as such is very much a biological trait. Exclusion from connection within the species has been thoroughly examined and shown to be detrimental. I would define inclusive connection as non-abusive, for an abusive connection is more detrimental than total exclusion.

School is a very powerful and formative time for a child’s behaviour and temperament. At the beginning of my high school experience I suffered from exclusion of my peers, who one day decided that I was no longer worthy of inclusion. The effect seemed to spiral amongst the student population, to where I became an object of ridicule. In some sense, this was a karmic response to the ridicule that I poured on to others when I enjoyed inclusion. Yet it seemed to be a defining moment where I became an ongoing member of The Exclusion.

How this relates to the blog is in how this history came to be a major constraint towards my conversion to Christianity. Jesus Christ and the community of his followers became very attractive to me, both sitting in the included/excluded paradigm. Jesus included the excluded; God loves the outcast. I was swept up in the joy of inclusion. Yet along the way I felt a nagging sense of lack – where is the holiness and love as featured in the scriptures? That led me on the quest for spiritual growth, involving a very fascinating path of discovery in the world of Christian faith. For some reason, however, I could not break my pattern of exclusion. I was always on the outer, and my constant level of discontent meant that I could never stay put in any one situation for long. In these days there was not a consideration of shyness, this did not occur to me, even though I was missing out on the companionships that most (within The Inclusion) experienced.

Being of The Exclusion seems to have had one desirable benefit – a never-ending mode of questioning and critique, which eventually led to my self-imposed exclusion of regular church involvement. Yet it comes with a price of awkwardness in relationships. In class the other day I was interacting with a girl next to me who was a rather flamboyant character, and I could barely say anything of note to her. To me, having regular conversation and interaction has become something of rarity – the only conversation I carry on at length is the one in my head.

I don’t know if I’m merely simplifying things too much here by categorizing into inclusion/exclusion, but it does seem to make sense that a pattern of exclusion is evident in my life, that it has had some benefit, but has been a major cause of a sense of loneliness and isolation.