There is a Universe.
“All is One and All is Different.”
– Soto Zen teaching
On Monday night I tuned into Q&A for the first time again in a few months. For international readers, this is a program on Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) television, Australia’s public broadcaster. Each episode typically features a panel of guests drawn from various aspects of public life, fielding questions from the audience in the studio, at home, and online. The discussion is moderated by the host of the program, journalist Tony Jones. This episode featured evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins and Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell, debating the virtues of religion compared to atheism and non belief (take a look at the video and transcript if you are interested). I almost tuned out immediately when I realised the topic and the guests, both of whom I have tired of. These days, debates about religion – and God and Gods and what-have-you – drain me of precious life energy that I would rather channel into living, creating, writing, and loving people and life now. Or watching something more inspiring.
Nonetheless, I stayed tuned, and was surprised at some of the responses I heard. Then, a little bored, with both the guests and the questions. Not that the topic of conversation is at all redundant – debating religion and dogma in all its guises is obviously critically important. I fully recognise that on a planet full of insane humans committing dogma-inspired acts of violence, oppression, persecution and terror, that the debate and action sadly needs to continue. Not to mention, on the other hand, the many who are being persecuted because of their religious faith. I have previously written on this subject HERE. While I was watching Q&A it occurred to me that the very conversation taking place, and my disinterest in both guests, was only possible due to the fact that I live in a society where I am free to believe and practice what I want to, and question most things. Unlike some of the faithful in Saudi Arabia, for example, or atheists in Algeria. Watching Dawkins and Pell have at it, I could not help but reflect on my own beliefs, and recognise that I am exceedingly lucky.
I have the luxury of living in a place where I am basically free of religious oppression or persecution, in a society enabled by science and technology, whilst still enjoying the freedom to live my universal ‘spirituality’ (a terribly loaded word, but I have not yet found an adequate substitute!). It is a specific (not random) combination of various mystic and philosophical traditions, and wisdom gleaned from artistic expressions (by people of no faith and different faiths) that is paradoxically, essentially, simple. I enjoy the freedom to meditate, and to make decisions for my life based on my intuition and reason, provided those decisions are in line with the “golden rule”. I oppose dogma of any kind, but hold a deep reverence for nature, the life force that runs through it, and in the highest, most noble qualities in humanity – possible in all sexual preferences, colours, genders, abilities. I know what we perceive as reality is not even the tip of the tip of the iceberg (as quantum physics continues to reveal), and believe Gregory Bateson was right about this: “The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.”
Underpinning all of this, funnily, is one simple idea that I have found to be true, for me:
“All is One and All is Different.”
For now, this is enough.
I am not wracked with existential questions about the nature, existence or non-existence of ‘God’, nor am I bothered as to how my ethereal nature is judged by others. I struggle with anxiety about how to best use my time here, and people and relationships confuse and hurt me all the time. Yet, the way I perceive the universe remains. Despite everything, it remains, renews and strengthens, a strange and pure foundation within. The urge to keep evolving as a person, on a deep level, still drives me. Simultaneously, I find peace and moderation in mindfulness and creative, true expression. It is enough for me to marvel at the fact that our bodies are, in a way, composed of stardust, enjoy nature and art and the company of others, take heart when someone embraces their better nature and does the right thing, and look for unity beyond seemingly opposing and irreconcilable forces (enlightenment).
Last year I found a name for this peculiar, simple creative path: “Sincere Way”. I lifted this term after meeting a magnanimous Seidō Karate teacher, who explained the Zen philosophy that underpins this martial art form (I wrote about it in detail HERE). Sincere Way is all about BALANCE, and connection with the greater whole – to other people, to nature, to everything. Understanding that I am connected to everything in the universe makes me want to contribute to the improvement of the world around me, starting with myself, all the more. But self-improvement, and connecting, necessitates balance. This is most challenging, given my inherited predisposition towards severe emotional lows and consequent withdrawal. I don’t find the way easy, yet the balanced way is the antidote to all the self-undoing vices that have plagued me in the past. And there are other boons of this way: I see connections where I formerly could see only discord and difference, and my empathy has and continues to deepen in surprising ways. The Way pushes me through depression and beyond the desire to withdraw better than any other therapeutic remedy I have ever tried (and believe me, I have tried many!).
So maybe being able to practice, regard (and disregard) faith or spirituality is a luxury, but living a spiritual life isn’t necessarily an easy path, despite (mainly negative) perceptions of spirituality based on the most popular and infuriating, highly marketable New-Agey products – products that typically promise self aggrandisement or immunity from suffering (truly wishful thinking). True transformation and spiritual growth – like life – is a rough process. I have been tested many, many times. And I have changed, again and again. But my urge to understand the universe, to be true to my heart, remains. In fact, I could not remove it – it is seemingly hardwired into my neuroanatomy, my way of being. A friend once told me, quite forthrightly, that I should be a hardened, cynical, jaded person. Instead, cynical awareness shares a weird space with childlike optimism. I still believe in happy endings and beginnings, in universal love, family and friendship. I believe in beauty, the power of art. And I still believe we have the power to make the world, and our lives, better, if we work for it, and clear our perception.
Not partial to either Pell or Dawkins, but I am grateful to have the freedom and strength to be a follower of my own way, to still feel my connectedness to everything. So tonight I’m going to enjoy that connection to everything, by going to a French feast prepared by a couple of lovely people I met at a party a few weeks ago, before seeing some live music with friends. Then I will get home in time to catch some quality sleep – just so I can move and shake this stardust conglomeration with a typically uncoordinated game of basketball tomorrow afternoon. Life goes on.
To continue on a theme, The Onion never fails to deliver:
My brain will be returning to the planet from Easter break shortly 🙂 Back to studying, creating, working, job searching this week. And blog researching. New post soon.