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Author Topic: This Cosmic Dance of Bursting Decadence  (Read 901 times)

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Mothra

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This Cosmic Dance of Bursting Decadence
« on: September 05, 2013, 07:31:51 AM »

A friend of mine is really, really getting into vague spirituality — Zen, meditation, oneness with nature, all that jazz — and I've had a series of conversations with her that make me feel like we're barreling towards a potentially friendship-damaging impasse. It's incredibly important to her that I understand that she believes there to be an underlying, driving force to all things, one which we can only see and understand when we step away from the world, and our lives, and clear our minds. The phrase "this world is a distraction" has come up several times, and my idle entertaining of the concept only really goes so far. At a certain point, you either have to believe that something exists when there is no evidence that it might, or you stick to what you know to be real. The problem I'm running into is that she seems to believe that this thing that I don't think is real, is more real than reality. But, well, that's not entirely important, I suppose, to the purposes of this thread.

Any of you happen to know of a decent book or pondering on spirituality, preferably without religious basis? As in, some interesting musing on the possibilities of the spiritual world? I kind of want to look into it, to see how far we can go with this ridiculous idea before it just becomes a matter of "Well, I don't believe that this thing exists."

My previous forays into spirituality have always been at the urging of others, and have always been profoundly empty and irritatingly vague. I read some of Thich Nhat Hanh's The Miracle of Mindfulness, but it's pretty firmly rooted into Buddhism, and if you don't really believe that the cosmic system works like the Buddhists think it does, it's pretty useless. I'd heard good things about Alan Watts as well, but I still need to look into it.

When I was in the hospital, my old boss from the thrift store gave me this book from the 70's called Journey to Ixtlan, which, even with the sweet tang of morphine running through my veins, was not able to present a single coherent thought without either contradicting it a few pages later or barreling balls-deep into flowery, meaningless, vaguely optimistic spiritual rhetoric.

I suspect it's all like that, because it's mostly just people guessing as to how the universe might secretly work. Obviously, that seems indulgent and useless, but I'd still like to entertain the concept for the sake of my friendship.

So, yeah, any book recommendations would be appreciated.
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Zaratustra

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Re: This Cosmic Dance of Bursting Decadence
« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2013, 08:13:33 AM »

"spirituality without religious basis" is essentially philosophy. Try Sophie's World.

If you're going to try to argue the relative real-ness of things, get ready to go down a long, long rat's nest of definitions and circularity until you realize you're asking yourself "is reality real", realize the whole exercise is futile, and decide to spend your time working on Pokemon mods.

(The book that most reflects my philosophy right now is Drunkard's Walk, by the way.)

Friend

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Re: This Cosmic Dance of Bursting Decadence
« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2013, 08:43:07 AM »

I'd say it's worth taking another look at Buddhism.

The thing about Buddhism is that it's fractured, like any other religion. There's tons of rituals and weird shit in it, like any other religion, but what I like about Buddhism in particular is that its core teachings aren't really focused on what you think it'd be - with something like Christianity, no matter what flavor, the core element of belief is the belief in a God who loves you and doesn't want you to burn in hell so he sent his only begotten son etc. etc. Whereas one of the core elements of Buddhism regardless of sect can be summed up as:

1. Life is characterized by several types of suffering.
2. This suffering is caused by craving and aversion.
3. This suffering can end...
4. If you follow these simple steps XYZ.

If you're interested in meditation specifically, Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha is pretty in depth about practice and the general spiritual journey any dedicated mediator eventually goes through. If you're looking for more of a guidebook, Mindfulness in Plain English is pretty popular.

Actually, regardless of spirituality, meditation is something worth looking into. It's unfortunately commonly associated with new age-y spirituality and oneness with nature, because most documents concerning meditation usually contain some spiritual trappings. But the actual practice of meditation is completely independent of any spiritual trappings. At its most basic, you're literally sitting down and paying attention to your breath.
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patito

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Re: This Cosmic Dance of Bursting Decadence
« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2013, 09:12:42 AM »

Meditation sounds boring.
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Mothra

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Re: This Cosmic Dance of Bursting Decadence
« Reply #4 on: September 05, 2013, 09:33:45 AM »

I'd say it's worth taking another look at Buddhism.

The thing about Buddhism is that it's fractured, like any other religion. There's tons of rituals and weird shit in it, like any other religion, but what I like about Buddhism in particular is that its core teachings aren't really focused on what you think it'd be - with something like Christianity, no matter what flavor, the core element of belief is the belief in a God who loves you and doesn't want you to burn in hell so he sent his only begotten son etc. etc. Whereas one of the core elements of Buddhism regardless of sect can be summed up as:

1. Life is characterized by several types of suffering.
2. This suffering is caused by craving and aversion.
3. This suffering can end...
4. If you follow these simple steps XYZ.

If you're interested in meditation specifically, Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha is pretty in depth about practice and the general spiritual journey any dedicated mediator eventually goes through. If you're looking for more of a guidebook, Mindfulness in Plain English is pretty popular.

Actually, regardless of spirituality, meditation is something worth looking into. It's unfortunately commonly associated with new age-y spirituality and oneness with nature, because most documents concerning meditation usually contain some spiritual trappings. But the actual practice of meditation is completely independent of any spiritual trappings. At its most basic, you're literally sitting down and paying attention to your breath.
Yeee— I think I came off a little more dismissive than I meant. Of what I've read, Buddhism has been the belief system that most commonly has something useful to say, and consider, when taken from the context of religion. Thich Nhat Hanh seems pretty honest, and I got the sense he's trying to be genuinely helpful. That said, he's rarely challenged, and rarely asked to expand on anything he says. His lessons and musings are useful, but it's nothing I haven't seen before, I guess is the thing.

At the end of the day, the idea is still there that we're locked in a system of death and rebirth, with the end goal of breaking free. It's a cool idea, but it's based on nothing. I imagine I'll get that anywhere, with any spiritual system — this point where the actions and the beliefs they recommend are based on an assumption that has no real basis. That's probably going to be a thing I can't really meet her halfway on, without it being some kind of lie.

I could see meditation maaaaybe being worth a look. I seriously tried to give it a go a couple of times, a few years back, but the idea of stalling into a sort of blank stasis rarely seemed an appealing alternative to doing something more alive. I kind of think I should look into this a bit more, because she's really into meditation, and maybe that might have some appeal I'm not seeing.

I think part of it is that, at least as far as I understand it, you meditate to step out of your life, and closer to this undercurrent of the universe, from which we build up and away from, before falling back into when we die. At least, that's how I see the idea. Maybe I just have this completely different idea of what meditation is, than what others think it should be/see it as being useful.
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Friend

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Re: This Cosmic Dance of Bursting Decadence
« Reply #5 on: September 05, 2013, 09:48:34 AM »

Meditation sounds boring.

Meditation is boring as hell. It is also pretty worthwhile if you can keep doing it consistently.

Edit: There's also a huge variety in types of meditation.
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Mongrel

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Re: This Cosmic Dance of Bursting Decadence
« Reply #6 on: September 05, 2013, 09:57:29 AM »

Most of my meditation involves beer.
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Friend

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Re: This Cosmic Dance of Bursting Decadence
« Reply #7 on: September 05, 2013, 10:19:24 AM »

At the end of the day, the idea is still there that we're locked in a system of death and rebirth, with the end goal of breaking free. It's a cool idea, but it's based on nothing. I imagine I'll get that anywhere, with any spiritual system — this point where the actions and the beliefs they recommend are based on an assumption that has no real basis. That's probably going to be a thing I can't really meet her halfway on, without it being some kind of lie.

That's understandable. A lot of people are turned off by the death/rebirth thing.

I could see meditation maaaaybe being worth a look. I seriously tried to give it a go a couple of times, a few years back, but the idea of stalling into a sort of blank stasis rarely seemed an appealing alternative to doing something more alive. I kind of think I should look into this a bit more, because she's really into meditation, and maybe that might have some appeal I'm not seeing.

"blank stasis" isn't necessarily wrong, but... it also kinda is. Well, it depends on what kind of meditation you're doing. But it's more of a way to force your mind to concentrate.  In a way, it's kinda like mental exercising, in that it gets easier to concentrate the more you practice. For the breath type meditation I mentioned earlier, you're probably going to focus on your breath for about one minute before you get distracted. You're going to keep getting distracted. It's basically impossible to have an unbroken focus when you're meditating.


I think part of it is that, at least as far as I understand it, you meditate to step out of your life, and closer to this undercurrent of the universe, from which we build up and away from, before falling back into when we die. At least, that's how I see the idea. Maybe I just have this completely different idea of what meditation is, than what others think it should be/see it as being useful.

Meditation means different things to different people. I'm not really familiar with that idea, because the type of meditation I did when I joined a cult went on a meditation retreat  actually focused more on my body than the universe. The theory was to do "body scans" to pick up on subtle sensations of the body, and learn to accept them. Supposedly, this would make me become a more equanimous person as I improved in the meditation.
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Silversong

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Re: This Cosmic Dance of Bursting Decadence
« Reply #8 on: September 09, 2013, 08:57:43 AM »

Seconding Zara's suggestion of Sophie's World. I love that book. But personally in your situation I'd just give up on the person if they didn't want to skim over the difference of belief.
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Mothra

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Re: This Cosmic Dance of Bursting Decadence
« Reply #9 on: September 09, 2013, 10:21:41 AM »

"spirituality without religious basis" is essentially philosophy. Try Sophie's World.
Seconding Zara's suggestion of Sophie's World. I love that book.

I'll take a look — definitely sounds interesting.

If you're going to try to argue the relative real-ness of things, get ready to go down a long, long rat's nest of definitions and circularity until you realize you're asking yourself "is reality real", realize the whole exercise is futile, and decide to spend your time working on Pokemon mods.

(The book that most reflects my philosophy right now is Drunkard's Walk, by the way.)

I mean, the end of that train of thought is the ol' chestnut "what is real," which as far as I'm concerned, is whatever you decide it to be. We wouldn't care what was real and what wasn't if we weren't the way we were. To animals that aren't us, what is just is.

I'm pretty sure we're just a one in a jillion chance "accident, and that there's nothing quite like us, anywhere else. That's significant enough for me.

personally in your situation I'd just give up on the person if they didn't want to skim over the difference of belief.

Well, I like her, as a person. She used to be pretty religious, and then has sort of fallen away from organized religion. It's still something she spent a long, long time doing, and I'm pretty sure it's a big part of her identity, so I see it as her looking for a more broad, unified concept to believe in, without the arbitrary rules of the church.

Honestly, I can't really meet her eye-to-eye on this, but we're on the same page, most of the time, in terms of being a positive influence on the world and each other and all that good stuff. It's certainly not a friendship-ender... but I am concerned by how far she's going to go with this.

I could see meditation maaaaybe being worth a look. I seriously tried to give it a go a couple of times, a few years back, but the idea of stalling into a sort of blank stasis rarely seemed an appealing alternative to doing something more alive. I kind of think I should look into this a bit more, because she's really into meditation, and maybe that might have some appeal I'm not seeing.

"blank stasis" isn't necessarily wrong, but... it also kinda is. Well, it depends on what kind of meditation you're doing. But it's more of a way to force your mind to concentrate.  In a way, it's kinda like mental exercising, in that it gets easier to concentrate the more you practice. For the breath type meditation I mentioned earlier, you're probably going to focus on your breath for about one minute before you get distracted. You're going to keep getting distracted. It's basically impossible to have an unbroken focus when you're meditating.


I think part of it is that, at least as far as I understand it, you meditate to step out of your life, and closer to this undercurrent of the universe, from which we build up and away from, before falling back into when we die. At least, that's how I see the idea. Maybe I just have this completely different idea of what meditation is, than what others think it should be/see it as being useful.

Meditation means different things to different people. I'm not really familiar with that idea, because the type of meditation I did when I joined a cult went on a meditation retreat  actually focused more on my body than the universe. The theory was to do "body scans" to pick up on subtle sensations of the body, and learn to accept them. Supposedly, this would make me become a more equanimous person as I improved in the meditation.

That's way different than what I thought meditation was. Like you said, yeah, there's probably a ton of different variants.

Wanna lay that juicy cult story on me? Also curious if that kind of meditation actually helped you, in any way.
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Ted Belmont

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Re: This Cosmic Dance of Bursting Decadence
« Reply #10 on: September 19, 2013, 02:54:47 PM »

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