What an hour in a museum can do to a person

The Ashmolean museum in Oxford offers daily free tours with different thematic concepts and contexts. This is, by far, a superb way to visit a museum on a course of some weeks. That is due probably because of the obvious reason that what is usually an interested curious walk amongst the eras suddenly becomes a learning experience about cultures and hence, about life.

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One thing that is constantly repeating while visiting a museum is the multiplicity of faiths and general dispositions of belief-based traditions and ceremonies that qualify and quantify the society.

Amun-Ra
Amun-Ra

In one of these visits I had the pleasure to walk through the Egyptian era. While listening to the explanation of the volunteering Egyptologist, I couldn´t help myself but take few notes I find to be extremely relevant to the way we perceive the interaction between older cultures and traditions and our own. Today, any curious person that is interested to know where and when her beliefs began can simply look at the vast and growing number of web pages (both official and amateurs) that delightfully narrate the passing of concepts and faith from one culture to the one that followed. This tour was no different, staring at Amun Ra’s human or ram´s face, one cannot not be awe striking by its majestic power. This divine Sun God usually appears holding in one hand a spear and in the other the Ankh, the key of life by the gods (still represented to this very day in various beliefs). As creator god, he is considered to be the father of kings, meaning the father of the great Pharaohs.

Ashmolean Egypt section

As even the great god cannot stay without the universal need of a feminine wisdom and natural connections, the belief in the Mother God (known as Mut) was also part of the divine. The Goddess was venerated as both Virgin and Mother and in many representations was depicted as a gyps (a vulture). The Pharaoh, on the other hand, was praised as an earthly god, as the son of both the creator god and the great wise goddess (though by parthenogenesis of course). He can no doubt create miracles and even holds the balance between Ka and Ba (concepts of the soul). The first being the sheut (close to the word ‘sheol’ in Hebrew which in general terms means ‘hell’), it is the shadow of the human soul. In direct opposition to Ka is Ba, depicted by a bird with a human head that flies to the field of Reeds (or Aaru, similar to the modern notion of paradise). No doubt, the assimilations and reconfiguration of cultures and symbols gave way for Ba to have a strong resemblance to the famous Al-Buraq that followed in the same region.

Al-Buraq
Al-Buraq

A museum, the great palace of knowledge, where a person not only journeys to the past but also to her own culture and origins. It is our universal, our extension to the farther realms that altogether are closer than we can imagine to our own perception. As pattern seeking mammals, it seems that there is a desire to create these magnificent artifacts of aesthetic emotional experience in order to give rise to reasons and explanations. Yet let us not forget (and any visit in a museum should reminds us), what was once sacred, today, is a mere curious piece of history and beauty.

Field of Reeds, the image of Paradise as a flourishing land was common at the time ('Paradise' comes from 'Pardes', plantation of trees)
Field of Reeds, the image of Paradise as a flourishing land was common at the time (‘Paradise’ comes from ‘Pardes’, plantation of trees). Hence, the idea of Paradise was no more than an oasis surrounded by the great hot desert.

Mind the God

Lately, it seems that there is an increasing scientific curiosity about the mind and the reasons for the way we behave, think, act and perceive the world we live in. One of the latest themes where we can witness a rise in public attention and social conversation is the scientific reason for religion. While up until 40 years ago, no one could even imagine there will ever be such liberty and openness to actually research this part of our life, today both religious and non religious are cooperating to get some answers (I have to admit though, that by saying cooperating I mean most of the investigators are non-religious and the test subjects are religious).

                                                                              religion9

The results are by far fascinating. We can learn so much about ourselves as the social animal, about history, anthropology, sociology and many more sciences combined. A recent study shows that religious faiths activates a network of nerves that coordinate the social communication, feelings, imagination and memory (not for all aspects). It shows that in the human brain God is perceived as another human being with thoughts, intentions and of course, feelings. The neuroscientist Alumit Ishai, professor of cognitive neuroscience in Zurich University, investigates this subject. A few years ago she studied, with the help of a MRI, what is happening in the mind of Carmelita’s nuns when they perceive a union with their God. The results were that the mystical experience caused an augmented activity in the visual cortex, the Insular cortex and the Orbitofrontal which shows us that it is not any different from another substantial excitement as emotional experience.

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It is known today that gods and similar ideas were with Homo sapiens for the past 70,000 years and more. This is when they started to create variety of worship rituals, beliefs in different gods and general awe towards the unknown and unfamiliar (which of course was practically everything). This need for gods is a common interest for social psychologist, evolutionist, anthropologists and other investigators from different fields (up to philologists at times). The question is what caused that need to believe and if it had an effect on civilization, meaning, whether or not the belief helped civilization coagulate, as with skills as survival and procreation.

The more common and logical of the explanations today is based on the cognitive model of believe as a product of human mind. That, of course, explains why there is an obvious personification to any god that was ever worshiped. Religious people have the tendency to relate to the god they perceive many of the natural characterization they feel. That is to say, that other than thoughts, intentions and feelings that are common to all, each believer sees her god according to what she feels. A person who is very sensitive will normally see God as a very caring and sensitive being; another person with a temper, will perceive God as a fearful being, one that punishes and condemn etc.

This conclusion is also supported by the fact that human being tends to relate any incidence they experience to a personified existence and not to the nature of things. One example is when someone wakes up at night because of a loud noise, the first instinct it to shout “who’s there” and not “what is going on there”.

The theory of the mind is fascinating and surely one post will not be enough. Thus, in the next few weeks I will upload some more interesting studies related to this great enigma, the mind. If you are interested, you are more than welcome to propose links, ideas and even guest blogging.

S. I. Cohen

The question of After-life

I´ve seen many debates between religious people and atheists, some (most) of which end up in a dead end as simply a question of faith. However, there are other debates that in spite of that fact, seem to incite and inspire the listener to engage in an introspective thought about themselves and about life. A recent debate I´ve seen is, by far, one of the latter.

In this remarkable and mind-altering debate, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris are giving a relatively calm responses to the variety of religious reasoning (for lack of a less antithetical term) two rabbis try to defend.

In one occasion during the debate, they referred to the significance of NDE (Near Death Experience) and discussed it by different names and experiences (personal as well as of others). This phenomenon is when the soul/consciousness/being (or whatever name we choose to call it) leaves the physical body and manages to fly/hover/transport itself to other locations (in most cases physical).

Now, the debate is obviously not about the question if people believe it happened to them or not, but what does it signify in the grand scheme of things. Meaning, can we collectively deduce the existence of “something out there” from an experience of that sort? While watching the debate, many things come to mind (many of which were told by the two astute liberal thinkers) but one of which I think to have a more interesting gray zone, and that is the commonly known Astral Traveling.

forest-path-mysticalA few years back, as part of my travels, I had a six month stay in a small village in a developing country. The village was fascinating and awe-inspiring with a hallo of the supernatural, surrounded by human beings with incredible powers and capacities. And still, more than anything, what was the most marvelous in this bucolic community were the stories. I have been told about many versions of miracles, metaphysical experiences and even natural born gifts of the people around me. However, no matter how hard I tried, I could not find not even one proof for the veracity of any of the stories. I was desperate, wanting so bad to believe, I walked around looking under every stone, entering all forbidden areas, asking human teleporters, psychics and astral travelers to show me, teach me, to give me a simple test demonstration just so I could live and believe what I wished so much to exist. I heard many firsthand experiences, magnificent epistemic unimaginable ones, yet, for the most part, after insisting on some proofs I was simply considered as another enthusiastic skeptic, materialistic in the need of unnecessary science. Other times, I was actually told to wait while they will show me their powers when I least expect it (note: I´m still waiting, 10 years later).

The sad and unfortunate fact is that in spite all of my will to believe (that actually I possess to this day), I couldn´t find a shred of proof. On the other hand, my understanding of basic psychology helped me more than once to understand the birth of those perspectives.

Like the time I was doing a meditation session to reveal who I was in my former life (regression to former life/s meditation). It was amazing, so vivid, so true, I still remember it to this day. I was lying on the mattress regressing step by step with the mellow, harmonious sound of the voice of the instructor, going back remembering year after year every step of this life. I saw my toddler’s years and me as a baby, all the way to the memory from the womb (that was, admittedly. a little vague) but when we reached the metaphysical space and then the former death, I was shocked. I did see myself in my former life (who I was and how I died is a story for another post).

José GUTIERREZ SOLANA, El espejo de la muerte, Ca. 1929
GUTIERREZ SOLANA, El espejo de la muerte

Needless to say it haunted me for days. However, the more I thought of it, the more I began to analyze it as I used to do for years with my dreams. You see, as a person with very vivid and dynamic oneiric life, I began to have a lot of interest in interpretation. When you do it long enough, one can start seeing a pattern of how it functions (both in the oneiric state as in the other ones). Remembering that event I began to see this pattern functions splendidly. After all, the soft meditation music with the fact that we are lying down, rapidly took us to a theta wave neural oscillation. I did some more reading and not much time later I found the experience rather explainable by simple self awareness. Of course, if I wanted to blindly believe what I had seen (or imagined) I would have simply blocked any possible explanation (rational and natural one). But I couldn´t. I say these words not without some sorrow because a part of me still wishes to simply avoid reason and let faith be the creator of magic and wonder. In fact, at times I would have liked to be able to wake up every day with the pure and irrevocable notion that my dream is, in fact, reality. Nevertheless, instead of believing it to be right and by that arguing the existence of other worlds and spiritual existence to all, I simply enjoy yet another lesson about the most magically and mysterious entity we can undoubtedly say exists… our brain.

So, enjoy this wonderful and inspiring debate, and if you have any comments or ideas, feel free to share them.

And he was made to roam the earth… and grow!

The geographical journey that instigates and inspires the mental one will be the action that will carry us to distant and unknown regions of the intrinsic as well as the extrinsic world. A journey can be many things, but it is not a week’s vacation in a beach town, or a trip to a cosmopolitan city in a foreign country. A journey is always a trip of learning, differentiating itself from tourism (a short vacation) or traveling (a longer period of time).

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A journey has no time limit, but it involves diving into new cultures, into a unique path in an unfamiliar environment. A vacation, on the other hand, usually ends up with many “I’ve been there” photos and some nice stories to make friends and family jealous, while a journey consists of connecting to other cultures, learning about them, losing yourself to mother nature, whether alone or with a companion. The importance of the number of people who can join is crucial for the experience: one can never really contemplate nature or one’s surroundings when accompanied by a group of ten people. There will constantly be things to do and someone to talk to, and your attention will be more focused on the group itself than toward the new of the outside. In my personal opinion and experience, the solo journey is the most exhilarating and wholesome; followed by a journey of two friends, three if you really have to, and only after that comes a couple. Yes, two to three friends are better partners on a journey than your significant other, for as great as it is for couples to have these experiences, this bonding does not contribute the connection to the outside. In a couple’s journey, you do not change or evolve as a person but as a couple (a wonderful thing on its own).

Solo journeys of psychological and physical development are not rare in our world. The most commonplace, though, are found in literature, both fiction and biographies. In the Odyssey, for example, Homer’s Ulysses undergoes many tests, but the most important one, among the wars and quarrels with the gods, is the journey back to Ithaca. The journey is far from peaceful sailing along the Mediterranean shoreline—he faces hardships, death, and recognition in life. Many times he confronts the gods, good as well as evil, withstanding sacrifice and misery, through sorrow and, at times, joy and ecstasy. Many years pass before he can return to reign side by side with his dear wife.

What do you think would have happened if Ulysses had managed to get right back home after the war of Troy? It would not have been long until he would have found some other war to fight, or the next adventurous opportunity, always in a degenerating dissatisfaction. However, after the countless sights, fatigue, experiences, suffering, and death he survived, his perspective changed and he proved to himself that priorities change when they are viewed from a broader perspective.

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In the old world of the sage Greeks, with their idols and stories of heroism, there is a leitmotif—the long walk, the journey of many years. It is what every hero must undertake before being approved by the gods. Those years away from his confidence, far from the security of home, are the most important years of developing his character. Those are years in which the hero’s edification and his mode of action are shaped, and it is then when he becomes the person he is supposed to be, a savior and a hero of the gods. The weaker ones die on the way, but the survivors, the chosen ones, are strong—they are the ones who, with the right combination of strength and shrewdness, can overcome any obstacles and defeat the strongest of their enemy. Even Jesus, king of the Christians, is said to have traveled for many years before he started spreading the word. Moses had a revelation in the mountains before he could lead the children of Israel in the desert. The ancient Babylonian god Dagon disappeared at sea only to reappear years later in a hybrid form, half man, half fish, to lead his people to justice and greatness. Jacob fled his brother Esau and saw an angel descend a ladder from God to tell him the good news.

Dagon
Dagon

Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, learned from the many heroic stories of his predecessors; he went for years until that glorious moment when Allah called him to pass down to him the sacred word and distribute it among the lost, heterogeneous, scattered tribes throughout the Arab territory. He did his job so effectively that about two hundred years later the Muslims had become the most powerful union in that part of the world. Buddha is said to have journeyed for long years until he reached enlightenment and nirvana. Whether the Law of Moses or the New Testament, Islam, Buddhism, or other religions and beliefs (monotheistic, polytheistic, or animistic), almost every story of spiritual discovery unravels and begins with the story of the hero’s journey. In it, while facing the unknown, you need to re-examine your abilities every day as another reality, other problems that require new and creative solutions come about. You will spend many hours with yourself in constant introspection, sometimes conscious of the struggle inside and other times the enlightenment will arrive only in retrospect. A journey is one of the strongest examinations of the third division in trispectivism, the intercommunication, the interaction you, as an individual All, have to acknowledge in the face of the world, the universal All. Strengthening one aspect in the three divisions (whether the awareness of the individual, widening the perspectives of the universal, or simply improving the interaction) is also empowering and reinforces the other two.

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[This post is taken from Trispectivism, the section titled “Journeys” p. 183]

Hermeticism, the Origin of Trispectivism

Tehuti_hermesWhen I lived in Guatemala and attended to a retreat center called “Las Pirámides del Ka” I was recommended a book about an interesting perspective of life. The book concerned an ancient philosophy known as Hermeticism, which was formed from writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. One of the many websites devoted to Hermeticism states that “The Hermetists believe and teach that The All, “in itself,” is and must ever be Unknowable. They regard all the theories, guesses and speculations of the theologians and metaphysicians regarding the inner nature of The All as but the childish efforts of mortal minds to grasp the secret of the Infinite.” This passage refers to the Kybalion philosophy on Gnostic. The Kybalion is one interpretation of the Hermetist All (you can find a link here, chapter IV). I do not agree, however, to the idea that the writing is too complicated to comprehend and that a mortal mind cannot grasp the divine reflection (a quite repetitive notion in all religions). The difficulty it projects is that if the passage itself is said by mortal mind, who can actually know what is really is to grasp which makes is no different than many French philosopher that like to poster and sound too complicated in order to be appreciated (a future post about the subject is under construction).

This citation certainly does not explain what this philosophy is, yet it relates to the driven passion of the unknown behind it. In Trispectivism, I do not refer to Hermeticism but more to my perception of what it can present to us in a more pragmatic point of view.

Today, after more than two millenniums, human interpretation regarding Hermeticism varies from a belief to an order or cult, and almost to a religion. You can read about it on the Internet and have your own interpretation, but what I wish to achieve by discussing it is to provide a background to what I refer to as Trispectivism. Actually, you do not have to understand Hermeticism and the theory of The All to comprehend the idea and application of Trispectivism; it is more than enough to know that it was an important milestone. Thus, by no means do I want to be considered a Kybalian, a Hermetist, or a member any kind of group, religion, or belief. As many new theories in life, trispectivism is a derivation, an interpretation in order to facilitate self-awareness by the means of an ancient, yet to be fully understood, philosophy.

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Medieval crusades and the 21st century conflicts

History has such an inspiring effect, don´t you agree?

This post is the result of an interesting conference I assisted recently relating the Crusade as a conceptual use in thought and public discourse today.  Crusade (cruzada in Spanish) is a concept which actually was first used long after the physical action started (to be precise about two hundred years after). If the first official crusade was around 1095 (ordered by Pope Urban the IInd), the concept itself did not appear before the 13th century. Common concepts in the context of military expeditions and conquests with religious ties usually were and still accompanied by phrases like ‘war of justice’ or ‘Just War’ (Guerra Justa), ‘Holy War’ (Guerra Santa), ‘Pilgrimage’ (peregrinaje) etc. With regard to Christianity, there are also terms such as Campaign or Journey of the Cross, (Campaña de la cruz, Latin: expeditio christus). Yet, a different denomination reminds the more economical side talking about the Jesus Christ’s Affaire or Business (el negocio de Jesucrito, or negotium christus in Latin).

In those times the land ownership was of the feudal lord. As this method of taxation was already very common in two thousand years, a successful pyramid method had considerable economic value. Thus, with the growing threat, it became important for the feudal lords to adhere to a much larger confederation. Therefore, it seems to be justified to annex and occupy lands beyond the border stationing loyal governance as the land’s sovereign. In particular, when land ownership interest is between the Church and Muslims, the sworn enemy of the Christians all through the Middle-Ages and beyond. And so it was that thousands of people, mostly peasants, step out to defend their faith and to bring wealth and fortune to themselves and for their mother church. Those brave soldiers became with time the known soldier priests (monjes soldados), devoted men or opportunists who joined the different Orders of the Crusades under oath of priests with the divine mission to shed the blood of the enemy and to conquer and expand its reign territory (not to confuse with colonialism).

There were different Orders at the time of the Crusades, distinguished by the goal, violence, and the various competences as well as the diversity of their origin (country, culture, etc.). Probably amongst the more known Orders today is that of the Knights Templar (with the Red Cross logo).

templerThe idea of Just War is all too familiar. For many centuries people are fighting in the name of their sovereign, whether divine or not, and the name of Christ religion was not very different. The end justified the means, they say, yet while that can be perceived as right for a divine reason, is it also true for simple conquering land and slaughtering the habitats for more wealth and power? In fact, the use of the term just war was used since early ages. The ancients Greeks fought the Barbarians (all that were strangers and didn´t speak their language) with that same devoted approved violence. In trispectivist view, it is when an individual all wants to become universal all, while the way to achieve such an aspiration is by violent interaction. The aspiration of power is to create certain parts of your identity equal to the majority.

And so, the Just War can be compared the concepts mindset to a famous maxim: “If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 72:1). Indeed a famous saying and can claim to be “right” but without a specific context, anyone can use it to his advantage and always be sure that… he’s right.

In brief, we can resume three main reasons to defend oneself under the spiritual context:

1 – The first and perhaps most important is the economical reason. Church Goods means many assets all over the world. Every Christian has the duty to donate his church 10% of his earnings in addition to more sporadic donations during prayers, buying products and special personalized prayers etc. As such, the more believers and subjects or local officials who must appear in churches, the more profit and political power you will have. The human resource means the accumulation of lands and many properties that are an integral part of the organization (residential seminary, houses of worship, public spaces, etc.).

2 – Many towns and villages were under different sorts of beliefs that began to dissipate slowly with the globalization of occupying large scale monotheist beliefs. From the other hand, Christendom was in awe in front of the rapid conversion to Islam in the Middle East and Northern Africa, as to how two centuries of roaming villages and individuals had become a victorious empire under the banner of the half moon (6th centuries 8th). Therefore, conquering all lands between the Christian Europe and the Holy Land meant strengthening the status and pushing back the enemy from the heart of Christianity (in Italy and Southern France).

3 – To deal with segregation and local political problems, you need a common enemy. This may be one of the known effective strategies against uprisings in the kingdom. And if possible, a common enemy from afar, strong enough to be a worthy adversary who will make it a Holy war with endless praises and glory.

For the Muslims the Just War is what is called Jihad. Although it is not part of the five most important pillars of Islam (to believe (creed), to pray, to give alms, to fast and pilgrimage) but it is, no doubt, repeatedly mentioned by the messiah Muhammad as essential for the expansion of Islam (6th century AD). Each warrior of a Holy War is recognized as a martyr and his place in heaven is assured. Moreover, the spiritual level of the ones who fight for the cause is considered elevated and much stronger than the pacifist, docile believer.

During the Crusades, the same idea of ​ martyr was also widely used among Christians. Therefore, the warriors who conquered and ransacked villages on their way east in the name of Jesus their God, were extremely regarded and popularized.

bush-crusaderIn our era, the Just War continues to be part of the daily speeches, whether in the third world with poverty and lack of education as in the so-called developed countries. Nixon in 1973 and President Carter six years later used the same idea of ​​going to war in Asia and the Arab countries out of fear of the enemy’s control of what was already back then the most important raw material of our time. In 2001, George Bush Junior had a slip of the tongue in a post 11-S speech in which he mentioned a Crusade against the enemy to restore order in Iraq and world peace. This happens year after year in every country regardless of the political situation, spiritual and educational level of its habitats, as it seems, human beings are not as changed as we sometimes want to believe.

As well-known, this perspective of Just War is not unilateral, meaning, we can easily find the multiple use of fighting the infidel, protection of our faith from the Muslim side. Suleiman Abu Ghiz, the spokesman of Al Qaeda, made a clear parallelism between the conquests of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs by saying that they will not allow the tragedy of what happened in Al – Andaluz (Andalucía, the Spanish autonomy where Granada is located) to repeat in Palestine. What he meant was that they will not give up a key geographical strategically important point, to fall into the enemy hands. Strike your enemy before he strikes you.

 crusade

And while we are talking about hundreds of years of history of people and about beliefs of hundreds of millions of people, it’s impossible not to think about its future implications. One of which is the improvement of warfare technology that can only lead to automated war, as “Just” as they may seem now. As the Crusaders, even though they started with a noble and trust worthy cause in the first Crusade (as romanticized and idealized by the likes of Sir Walter Scott), by the fourth one, they were nothing more than mere mercenaries. Their need of gold had them ride from Venice to Constantinople as swords for rent, fighting and killing for the highest bid, draining the European resources… again.

What really is “Just” and what is Fear?