Post-Christian Ideas for Practical Living
Spiritual Essays by Rick Baldwin
In meditation, I am not attempting to “do” anything. There is no striving or desiring to make anything happen, nor is there an expectation of anything happening. Meditation is only an alignment of myself to what is. It is becoming aware of the truth of “nowness.” When pausing for meditation, I am allowing the illusionary veil of unawareness to dissolve so I can be aware of what really is. That “is-ness” is reality whether I am conscious of it or not, so there is no need to change anything, add to anything or make anything happen. The reality is, I couldn’t do any of those things anyway. I have no idea how. So aligning my awareness to what is in life is the only thing I can possibly “do.” And that is true meditation.
The woman saw that the tree’s fruit was good to eat and pleasing to look at. She also saw that it would make a person wise. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. And he ate it. Then both of them knew things they had never known before. They realized they were naked. So they sewed together fig leaves and made clothes for themselves. [Genesis 3: 6-7]
The popular interpretation of “Original Sin” as written in the book of Genesis in the Christian and Jewish scriptures is this: man disobeyed God, God discovered man’s disobedience, God removed man from paradise and tossed him into a world of turmoil, pain, toil and darkness. This flawed interpretation has been taught for centuries in churches and temples and is still endorsed as truth today.
I’m going to put forth a different interpretation in this article, an interpretation I understand to be more in unison with the teachings of Jesus as communicated in the four Gospels. That interpretation is this: human beings did not first sin when they disobeyed God. Human beings first sinned when they believed they were separate and apart from God (their source) in the first place. Original Sin was committed at that very moment humans (i.e. Adam and Eve) believed they had a life apart from God. A presence, a being, a will of their own, completely apart from God.
This belief is the moment of no return for human beings. God, Himself/Herself, claims to have the capacity to forgive “seventy times seven” and if the only transgression the humans made was disobedience, God would surely forgive and it would be done with. It is belief, however, that God is powerless to operate against because belief has no real existence. It is man’s belief that he is separated from God that creates the illusion of real separation. It was man’s belief in his separate life that also caused him to believe he was tossed out of paradise.
“Human beings did not first sin when they disobeyed God. Human beings first sinned when they believed they were separate and apart from God.”
The belief that we are, somehow, beings separated from our source is the very cause of darkness in the world but where could we have gotten anything we can call “our own”? The belief that we can be removed from the presence of God, our source, is a belief based in ignorance and superstition. You can no more be removed from the presence of God than you can be removed from the Life you are. For God is that very Life. Earlier, the book of Genesis illustrates this by saying God “breathed Life into man.” According to Genesis, man’s very life is the breath of God! How can you be separated from your breath? You cannot. Your Life is God breath, God’s Life!
This interpretation is actually the Gospel as taught by Jesus. It is Jesus’s message as written in the Christian Bible. Still, it was scandalous 2,000 years ago and it is just as scandalous today but the truth of it is the very truth Jesus spoke of that will set you free.
The realization of this truth is beyond any religion, philosophy or denominations. It doesn’t really matter what name you give to God or whether you even use the name “God” for this source. The ground of your being is beyond names, beyond words, beyond thoughts. How can you ever be separated from Life? How could there ever be anything that exists apart from Life? Nothing could be and nothing ever is. As Jesus taught in his story of the Prodigal Son, belief in a separation from your source can be dispelled simply by returning home. No practice, sacrifice or payment is required. No permission, blessing or credential is necessary.
Your birthright awaits the return to your source. This is the entire Gospel.
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” – Matthew 10:14, The (Christian) Bible
“In Biblical times, when leaving Gentile cities, pious Jews often shook the dust from their feet to show their separation from Gentile practices. According to the New Testament, when Jesus called his twelve disciples, he sent them into Jewish lands and told them, in a reversal, to perform the same act against the non-believing Jews.” (Wikipedia)
This little instruction to his disciples, from Jesus, when he was sending them out to teach the Gospel, has remained one of the most useful reminders in my own life. While it was certainly meant as powerful symbolism, for me it serves as more practical advice to walk away from any person (or people) who choose to remain in an atmosphere of resistance or non acceptance of Truth. There is no need for me to provide additional resistance by fighting against them or telling them how wrong they are; simply remove myself. It matters not if I am dealing with family, friends, neighbors or strangers. Anyone who wishes to embrace ignorance, intolerance, hate, bigotry, nonacceptance or unenlightenment should be left to their life of doing so. It is not for me to change their mind or attitude, unless they ask me to. My most effective option is to remove myself from their presence. In fact, Jesus suggests to not even take their dust with me when I go!
The symbolism of shaking the dust from my feet is about much more than dust. Do not take anything with me when I go. Do not take any hatred. Do not take resentment. Do not even take remembrance. Let it all go before leaving. When I walk away, walk away clean. Isn’t that a drastic departure from what we see and do today? We vilify and call each other names on social media and in person. We’ll resort to character assassination, shaming, slander, verbal abuse and worse when we disagree about what others say or how they choose to live. To those who display ignorance, we answer with our own ignorance and meet their resistance with our own resistance. We create a fistfight rather than peace, succeeding only in becoming equal to those we resist.
There is no reason to ever remain in an environment of abuse, hatred or disrespect. There is no reason to reside in the presence of those who refuse to accept Truth. There is also no need for us to add to the situation with our own words and spirit of negativity, hatred and resistance. Often, the most effective, compassionate and peaceful action is simply to walk away. Shake the dust and walk away.
A few years ago I put away all spiritual practices. Ironically, I had just come to a point of realization on the “how-to” of meditation but then I suddenly abandoned the whole thing altogether. This spiritual “fast” lasted 10 years, during which time I had no intentional spiritual or meditation practice. What I didn’t realize, however, was meditation was still happening, albeit unaware to me and it was happening regularly through ASMR videos on YouTube.
If you aren’t familiar with ASMR, Wikipedia describes it as follows:
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a tingling sensation that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. A pleasant form of paresthesia, it has been compared with auditory-tactile synesthesia and may overlap with frisson.
ASMR signifies the subjective experience of “low-grade euphoria” characterized by “a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin”. It is most commonly triggered by specific auditory or visual stimuli, and less commonly by intentional attention control. A genre of videos which intend to stimulate ASMR has emerged, of which by 2018 over 13 million are published on YouTube.
As a child, I was aware I experienced ASMR but I had no idea anyone else experienced it or that the experience even had a name. I remember feelings of ecstasy and almost paralysis when my younger sister would pretend like she was putting makeup on me, brushing and stroking my face while whispering to me. When I got older, I often found it difficult to focus in class if a particular teacher’s voice triggered my ASMR. I was a horrible math student and my 8th-grade algebra teacher would often bring me to her desk to explain the problems and concepts to me. I still can’t do algebra but I remember the ASMR triggered from her whispered voice sure kept me in tingles.
Decades later, I heard an ASMR episode of This American Life podcast and learned my ASMR experience wasn’t as individual as I’d thought. In fact, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of other people experienced this same phenomenon. Through the podcast, I discovered many people were actually making videos designed to trigger ASMR response. Once I was exposed to these videos, I was hooked. I’ve spent a startling amount of time since then relaxing while watching ASMR videos. Most of the videos center around specific ASMR “triggers.” Often these triggers are whispering, tapping sounds, repeating certain words, crinkling sounds, scratching sounds, and role-plays. Role-plays are videos where the “ASMR artist” pretends to be someone in an environment or situation that would normally put a person into a state of ASMR. Popular role-plays are teachers (remember my algebra instructor?), doctors, salon and spa workers, librarians, etc. Over time the videos have become more and more inventive and quite elaborate with acting, technical and production values rivaling small independent films. All for the simple purpose of making a person relax and tingle.
As the videos have become more numerous and more popular, they have also become less about ASMR and more about simple relaxation. While the experience of ASMR is certainly very relaxing, not everything that is relaxing is ASMR. Still, the label ASMR has become associated more with relaxation than with Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Not necessarily a bad thing but a bit misleading nonetheless. Additionally, not everyone finds these videos to be relaxing (my wife finds them highly irritating) but if they do create a relaxation response in you, they can be very useful in relieving instances of insomnia, anxiety, and even depression.
There are several ASMR videos created specifically for guided meditations but I have found even the standard, every-day ASMR videos are useful as gateways into meditation for those who have never experienced meditation at all. I wasn’t aware of it then, but I now realize when I was not meditating but I was regularly watching ASMR, those videos were keeping me spiritually open in the same way meditation does now. In fact, I would suggest that at least part of the popularity of ASMR videos today is they provide the benefit of a regular meditation practice to those who do not or never have meditated.
If we could say there is any “objective” in meditation, it is to separate ourselves from the content and noise of our mind. As we reside in presence, our mind shuts down and silences itself since it cannot function while we are experiencing present awareness. While experiencing ASMR videos, the resulting physical and mental relaxation often puts us into a state of present awareness. We become hyper-aware of a voice or a sound and that awareness rarely involves the mind. Just pure awareness. The results of this experience are very similar, and in many cases not different at all, to actual meditation. Amazingly, the entire ASMR video movement is creating millions of new meditators who are benefitting from the effects of meditation but completely unaware they are, indeed, meditating!
I would never encourage anyone looking to explore the depths of a spiritual life to use ASMR as their only meditation practice. However, I can personally testify to the state of present awareness I continually experience from watching these videos. That practice kept me prepared for an even deeper and more focused meditation practice later. Truth reveals itself through the language and culture of every generation. It takes on new forms but at its essence always remains the same Truth. It is exciting to see a contemporary cultural phenomenon like ASMR planting the seeds of meditation into so many people who may have never considered meditating otherwise.
I have plans soon to release some Guided Relaxation ASMR videos of my own. In the meantime, I encourage you to explore the genre yourself, starting with three videos I have found to be particularly useful in my own meditation practice.
In meditation, there will frequently appear to be a battle between the chattering mind and silent presence. It often seems the distractions of the mind soon have you chasing a thought down a rabbit hole until you are hopelessly lost in thinking. Eventually, presence brings you back to silence and you sit there with a feeling of failing at meditation.
The problem is, you still identify yourself as the mind. You see the noisy mind as who you are and the silent presence as something you need to achieve in meditation. A breakthrough comes when there is a shift in your experience and you realize it is the silent presence which you are and it is the mind which is merely a fly buzzing around your experience. The mind can never take you away from silent presence because you are always that. You never have to achieve anything. When thoughts come, you choose not to identify with or resist them. You abide in the presence you are and allow the mind to do its dance. Like a fireworks display, you watch the thoughts arise, explode, and diminish into nothingness. You are the witness to the beginning and the end of all thoughts. This is true meditation.
I am staying in a cabin in north Georgia this week while doing some artwork for a client. It’s secluded so I don’t have to deal with other people much but I do have to encounter others when I’m working on the project or when I have to go to the store for supplies. I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable interacting with people in locations I’m visiting. Sometimes I feel like an invader. Like I’ve moved into their home and they know nothing about me and I know nothing about them but we need to now, somehow, relate. It’s a dysfunctional mental habit of my own. I’m not sure what it stems from but it always lingers in the background when I’m visiting unfamiliar locations.
I received an insight into that strange energy yesterday while at the grocery store. I saw several people, felt the energy rising up and I recognized it as resistance. I noticed there was a resistance to a potential expectation I would need to defend my reason for being there. Perhaps someone would ask me who I am, where I’m from, why I’m in the neighborhood. Not in a confrontational way, mind you, simply out of curiosity. I felt the anxiety of having to come up with dialogue. I’ll need to be interesting. Charming. I’ll have to say the correct thing or perhaps I’ll be judged.
I also noticed resistance to me starting any conversation with anyone at the store. “This is their town, what right do I have to strike up a conversation with them?” I watched a few of the shoppers and they, too, seemed to be disconnected from the shoppers around them. Everyone seemed to be focused on items on the shelves and no one was making eye contact. We all seemed just as distant from each other as we would be living in our own remote cabin in the woods.
I tend to enjoy solitude and social interaction isn’t one of my strengths. I realized, though, how healing eye contact, a quick smile or a friendly word can be to people who feel disconnected. It isn’t necessary to take on the personality of a flirty, overly-familiar truck stop waitress (apologies to flirty, overly-familiar truck stop waitresses) but interaction creates an inner opening and that opening invites the revealing of a sacred silence where once there may have been resistance, fear, or judgment.
In our society, we are frequently encouraged to “Unfriend” those who have differing opinions than we do but my recent insight made me see the value of communicating with other souls, no matter how different from me they are. Bring to every interaction the gift of spiritual openness and an atmosphere of non-judgment. It is spiritual healing on a subtle but vital level and for introverts like myself, it is a transforming spiritual practice. The healing happens in us as much or more than those we connect with.
The physical manifestation of openness is listening. In listening without judgment, we connect to others beyond physical form to our spiritual essence. We bring spaciousness and silence into our encounters and we receive others with the recognition that we are one. It matters not whether we agree with anything someone says in our conversations. It matters not what type of person they appear to be or what type of behavior they seem to be manifesting at the time. Listening is a powerful spiritual practice for all people in all situations.
This isn’t a revolutionary practice or a spiritual lesson for everyone. I know many people who seem to do this naturally. But many ”socially challenged”, like myself, can find a new perspective in altering the way we relate to others, particularly those who are unfamiliar to us. After catching this insight, I suddenly found my own resistance fading and I realized I wanted to seek out others to listen to. I even began planning on visiting environments where I would have huge differences with people just to hear what they had to say and to provide the openness in which they could say it.
I have made a decision to consciously incorporate this awareness into my own interactions. What do you think? Is this a practice that is missing from your life? Will it change the way you relate to others? Can you see a way this practice can change the world we live in?
We have been convinced by ignorant people to believe we are less than we are. We have been told by those who do not know, and are only repeating what they have been told, that we are flawed, limited, imperfect, and broken.
You can decide who and what you want to believe but I challenge you to examine the facts before doing so. Do not allow yourself to be trapped in someone else’s limited belief about who they think they are before you look within yourself and discover the reality of who you really are.
Who are you?
You are not your body. Your body is limited and changing and it is destined to return back to the earth of which it is made. If you believe you are your body, you will seem to be limited, changing and destined to die.
You are not your mind. Your mind is limited and changing and it is destined to disappear into nothing like the thoughts of which it is made. If you believe you are your mind you will seem to be limited, changing and destined to disappear.
If you are not your body and you are not your mind, what is it that you are?
Look within and notice another dimension which is your very Presence. This Presence doesn’t change and has never changed. You have noticed it before, that ageless, ever-present being looking through your eyes. It speaks loud when you are silent. It is that! That Presence is who you are!
It is that Spirit, that Presence, that Being, that Life who you are! You may say it is “your” Spirit but it is far beyond “yours.” It is pure Spirit. The Spirit of God! How could you have ever been convinced to believe you are less than perfect when your very essence is the Spirit of God?
When you know who you are, when you see who you are, when you feel who you are, no one will ever be able to take it away from you. They couldn’t really take it before, but now that you are aware of it, you will never let it go because it is always there, always present, always YOU. It is never less than perfect. How could it be? It can never leave you or be extinguished.
Take some time to be aware and reside within yourself. Watch what happens when this awareness increases and becomes more permanent. You will soon discover you are so much more than you always believed and so much more than others have told you you are!
When you begin moving away from constantly living under the dictate of ego, you feel lighter, as if you have somehow shed inner weight. Then, during occasional episodes of falling back into the grip of ego energy, the sensation of heaviness returns and is startling. You wonder how you could have spent so much of your life living that way.
Searching for happiness is like the person looking for their glasses perched on top of their head. (Sounds familiar…) We all look for things in this world to make us happy and we do find many things that bring us a certain amount of temporary happiness. Eventually, though, we discover what looked like a “thing” that was making us happy was actually a “thing” and happiness. The “thing” sometimes seems to stick around a lot longer than the happiness. The new car, new love, new money that we thought was bringing us happiness seems to no longer work. Is happiness temporary while the “things” are permanent?
Sooner or later we discover the problem is not that happiness is temporary but the projection of happiness onto the “thing” is temporary. Money seems to be the thing making us happy but it isn’t so because we can feel unhappy while we have money. At some point, the “thing” and happiness seem to split and we find ourselves once again in a situation where happiness has eluded us.
You may find it odd for me to say this but happiness is with you eternally because happiness is actually who you really are. You can never be without happiness! All that needs to be done, like the person searching for the pair of glasses on their head, is become aware of this truth.
The source of unhappiness is always the thoughts our mind traps us into believing. The voices from our head say we are not good enough, not talented enough, not blessed enough or not spiritual enough and it is the belief in those thoughts that veil from the awareness of our eternal nature, which is stillness, peacefulness, and happiness. But like a window pane covered in dirt, we cannot see clearly enough past all of the mind’s obstructions to experience this happiness we are.
This is why it often appears the “things” in life will bring us happiness. For a short time, those things bring a certain amount of silence to our mind, which allows an inward glimpse our true nature of happiness. Unfortunately, we soon lose that glimpse when we stay focused on the “things” rather than that which is beholding the “things.”
Looking away from the “things” of this world to our inner being is the path to reconnecting to our true nature of happiness. Once this reconnection is made, we carry it like a lamp to any and all situations or conditions. It illuminates our experience and is never extinguished because it is actually who we are. We are already and always will be the happiness which we have been seeking!
The duality of the mind imagines that there are choices to be made between two or more options. Since the mind likes to believe it is always the one in control, it will tell us we can choose this or that or go here or there. But is this really what is happening in our experience?
We usually think of our lives as if they are a linear-existing, fully-scripted, “Life-Movie,” complete with props, sets, and characters already in place, waiting for us to act out the consequences of every single choice we make. We see life as already having a planned beginning and end and we must make vital choices to maneuver our way through it. However, life is not this way, nor is it like a “choose your own adventure” comic book. Life constantly unfolds in the present moment, it does not follow a predetermined plot. Even when there are the appearances of choices to be made in life, the reality is, there are no choices. There is only doing.
I know, I know, I can hear you now. “What the heck does that even mean? I make choices all day long, every single day!” OK, so let’s imagine a few scenarios. First, think of yourself as an old-time traveler on a horse, riding along a dirt trail. You come to a fork in the road. “Do I choose right or left?” you think to yourself. You imagine one choice may involve a longer, more difficult path to navigate. Perhaps one path involves a potential encounter with thieves. One choice may bring you to a town where you can rest or sell your wares. What’s a traveler to do?
Honestly, you could sit at the fork for days listening to your mind tell you about “this or that” choices. Because of the way the human mind works, you will be convinced that each side of the fork contains its own fully scripted Life-Movie with you as the main character. Depending upon the choice you make, you will either act out this scene or that scene. The choice to make, your mind will tell you, is in which scene will be the best for you to act out?
The reality is, your mind has created an illusion and is trying to convince you to believe this illusion is real. There is no Life-Movie and there are no Life-Movie scenes already set up, waiting for you to enter. There is only life unfolding now. When we begin entertaining ideas such as choice, purpose, and destiny, we assume life is an already constructed map, complete with preferred choices already planned and laid out for us. We think of ourselves as needing to align ourselves with those predestined choices and paths in order for everything in life to go perfectly.
Another scenario. Imagine you must decide if you are going to marry Terry or Alex. You can imagine what life would be like with either of them. Would you have kids? How would the relationship with your in-laws be? Where would you live? What would your financial situation be like? Your mind can (and will) design complete scenarios of life with either partner. It would be tempting to believe either choice comes with its own scripted Life-Movie plot, waiting for you to jump into as a character. But does that Life-Movie exist? It does not. It may appear Alex has more money and life will go a certain way as a result, but Alex could lose it all. Maybe Terry wants several kids as you do, but perhaps you both later discover physical issues prevent that. All of the reasons for making a choice between Terry and Alex are just as illusionary as the actual “choice” of who you will marry. The truth is, you simply marry Alex. That is what you do and, therefore, it is all that is or can be done. There are no alternative paths on a predestined life map to go unfulfilled. You married Alex because that is what happened. The “choice” was only an illusion. Yes, you may divorce Alex and marry Terry, but you can never examine an actual scenario where you marry Terry first because that didn’t happen. Speculation would just be imagination and fantasy. Any idea that it “could” have happened is only based upon the idea of the “Life-Movie.”
Let’s consider one more scenario. You are at a coffee shop and you are asked if you would like coffee or tea. You say “coffee.” Could you have requested “tea”? No, you can only order coffee because that is what you ordered and there is not an alternative existence where you order tea. To order coffee makes it impossible that you “could” have ordered tea because you didn’t. What is real is only what exists, not what you imagine exists. “Could” only exists in the mind. What “is” exists in reality. In this case, coffee is reality and tea is mind. There are no choices. There is only doing. While it may appear we are making a choice between two things, the reality is, we are simply doing a single thing. The appearance of “choosing” is only mind-stuff based upon more imaginary mind-stuff. We may believe we choose coffee because we prefer the taste but perhaps the coffee is spoiled and the mind-stuff would then prove to be a lie. Reality is, we order coffee and that is our only option because it happened. It unfolded in the now with the rest of our life experience, none of which we chose.
As long as we live as human beings, we will be confronted with the illusion we are making choices. It is a part of the human condition and it cannot be avoided. On the spiritual path, we play along with appearances while remaining aware that all of our life is simply doing and it is that doing that unfolds from our highest awareness of what is right. We do not constantly make choices to not steal or not kill. At times it may appear to be so. Perhaps a voice in our head says to take something that does not belong to us or to harm another. But that is never a choice for us. We only do what we know to be right. As our awareness becomes more transparent, our doing incorporates less thought and mind activity, and our doing results in a greater harmony than any choice could have arranged for us, or any mind could understand or have imagined.