The Actualization of God is the Meaning of our Life

Spirituality without practice is wishful thinking.

Finding God in the Body draws from the wisdom of the world's traditions--Buddhism, contemplative Christianity, Judaism, and Twelve-Step spirituality--to present a modern view of embodied spirituality. It turns inward to examine the human condition, meeting personal suffering with heartfelt insight and transformative practice.

It leaves no stone un-turned, addressing each stage of the journey as it explores the space between fundamentalism and atheism to uncover a spirituality that resonates with the modern, Western mind. Finding God in the Body then binds that view to an actionable path of self-analysis, prayer, and meditation, which introduce the reader to the God of the body.

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The Death and Resurrection of God

The Conflict between Religion and Science

When the word ‘God’ is used, it typically refers to an anthropomorphic God—an extra-terrestrial super-human who, having created the world, is charged with the laborious task of overseeing its day-to-day operations. Any statement that seeks to explain the origins of the universe or the dynamics by which it is governed is a scientific statement, not a theological one, and therefore must be verified by scientific methods. Of course, neither creationism nor its sister hypothesis ‘intelligent design’ can be scientifically tested. As a result, believers often find themselves at odds with physicists and biologists. But as Joseph Campbell once observed, the conflict is not between science and religion. The conflict is between the science of the 21st century and the science of 2,000 BC.
Fundamentalists hang on every word of the Bible. As a result, they cling to an antiquated explanation of the physical universe and in doing so overlook the essential concern of religions thought. Religion is first and foremost concerned with salvation. The word “salvation”  comes from the Latin word salvus, meaning “wholeness, completion, good health.” Sure, for centuries religion was a catch-all. To some degree, everyone from St. Augustine to John of the Cross took the Bible’s creation story for granted. Like most people, they were curious about the origins of life and intelligent design was the science” of their day, but “science” was never their chief concern. Their wheel house was always the health and maintenance of the soul—man’s inner life.
The word spirit comes from the Greek word psykhe or psyche. We tend to associate the term psyche with the brain, but the Greek word to which it owes its origins has a subtler meaning. Spirit is presence or wakefulness. It is the breath of life itself, as in the animating force breathed into Adam’s body. The psyche or the spirit, is the image of God, so to speak.
The imago dei does not explain the phenomenon of being. It is an image or symbol for Being-itself. It is, as Tillich suggested, the “ground of being.” "I am-ness is God's true name and likeness. It is the foundation, the ground, the seed of wakefulness planted in the heart of man. The image of God is also the logos—the structure of our being, which is like a blueprint embedded deep in our body that intuits maturation, wholeness, and realization. It is, in more modern language, the unconscious seeking to become conscious. This inner reconciliation is the essence of salvation and is therefore at the heart of religion, which comes from the Latin word ‘religare’ meaning, “to bind together or unite.”
Religious or spiritual practice (actions that exercise or arouse the psykhe) seeks to unite the unconscious wisdom of the body with the light of awareness, allowing God to be born into the world. Freud saw the unconscious as a sort of blind, unintelligent lusting not to be trusted. Carl Jung saw intelligence, meaning, wholeness, or Holiness in the will of the unconscious. He described libido as “the drive, passion, or will of the spirit (psyche). Sure, like the wrathful demonstrations of divinity found in the Hebrew Bible, Jung warned of the dangers inherent in a confrontation with the unconscious, but on the whole saw that confrontation as unavoidable and working towards man’s “higher purpose”—salvation, enlightenment, individuation.
Salvation, or our inner-health and well-being, is the great anemia of modern man. We have misplaced our inner-world. Secularization has given birth to more collectivist paradigms, which enable large groups of people with differing points of view to harmoniously inhabit the same space, but unfortunately are incapable of arousing our spirit. While in many ways secularization is a necessary and vital step toward social progress, these external responsibilities do not negate our obligation to our inner world.* 
We cannot hope for a peaceful planet when we ourselves are troubled souls. Our body anticipates self-actualization, and failure to consent leads to internal division and suffering. The unconscious demands to be made conscious and “until you make the unconscious conscious,” Jung said, “it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” This drive or journey from potential to kinetic psychic energy—the unification of mind and body—is instinctual. Therefore, spirituality, religion, and myth are intrinsic to man. 

The biological and psychological imperative to make the inner journey necessitates a language that renders the instinctual forces of man accessible to his conscious mind. This language is mythology.  In short, mythology is the native tongue of the psyche. It is the map of our inner-terrain. 
We must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, as Paul said in his epistle to the Philippians. Salvation is an individual responsibility. Therefore, it is a subjective journey. It is a journey that requires a map of metaphors and symbols that resonate with us, not objective latitudes and longitudes. The ubiquity of a secular world view is creating a sense of exile or disembodiment within modern man. Secularism has its place, but just as religious symbols cannot be used to answer scientific questions, secular language cannot satisfy spiritual longings.

Secularization is needed in the external world but in the inner world it is impotent. Modern man is becoming increasingly concerned with sterile facts and less observant of his inner world. As already stated, a secular point of view is helpful, even necessary for seven billion people to peacefully share this planet in an increasingly inter-dependent climate, but objectivity is impotent when it crosses the border of our skin into kingdom of our heart. It is incapable of connecting with the forces that stir deep in our psyche. Modern man has replaced his indigenous language with the language of his rational mind. He has replaced symbols with signs and as a result he lives in his head, exiled from the life of the body.
“[Signs] do no more than denote the objects to which they are attached,” said Jung. “A word or an image is symbolic when it implies something more than its immediate and obvious meaning. [There is] a wider unconscious that is never precisely defined or explained. Nor can one hope to define or explain it.” This “wider unconscious that is never precisely defined or explained” is the underlying sense of divinity which anticipates the realm of transcendence. It is the Ground of Being.
Signs are definitions or explanations; whereas symbols are gateways through which we can enter into an experience of mysteryWhen God is used as an explanation, it is fundamentalism or faux-science. The God-sign is dead. But when God is skillfully employed as a symbol, it is a portal through which we can enter into the Power of Being that animates us all. The God-symbol is life giving. The God-symbol, in the words of Joseph Campbell, “points past itself to a ground of meaning and being that is one with the consciousness of the beholder.”
Language enables us to express meaning, which is rooted in our experience. “Man uses the spoken or written word to express the meaning of what he wants to convey,” said Jung. In addition to mythology, poetry, art, and music are all forms of language that resonate with energetic principles embedded in the human psyche and serve as mediums through which these instinctual urges are pressed out into the field of our incarnation. 
In this case, the term ‘instinct’ refers to physiological urges or objective phenomena occurring within the envelope of skin and perceived by the senses. These urges are the forces behind the unfolding or the maturation of our human nature. Each of these urges has a distinct character. This character, in the language of Jung, is called an “archetype.” These characters represent the casts of the world's great mythologies.   

There is a core pantheon of archetypes that are universal and reoccurring throughout mythology. These archetypes constitute the basic framework of the spiritual journey—the unfolding of our person into the field of our incarnation. They are the shadow, the wise old man, the child, the mother, and the anima (feminine) in man and the animus {masculine} in woman. However, like various rivers emptying into a single monotheistic ocean, all of these archetypes lead back to the original image. This transcendent symbol is the image of God, or as Jung called it, the True Self. This Self is more real than our persona or the mask we wear, which is but a translation. It is the raw, unmediated experience of Being-itself, the Logos.
Of the limitless number of archetypal images that populate the human psyche there is one character of particular importance on the spiritual journey, namely the hero. The hero is the one with which we can all identify. The hero is the one who is willing to make the journey into the unknown. The hero is a spark of inspiration in the human psyche. It is the image in the back of our mind that remembers the innocence of the child, still hears the voice of the old man, and with the compassion and wisdom of the feminine and masculine principles in his arsenal is willing to brave the shadow land in order to reconnect with the True Self and return to the plane of daily life where he gifts himself to the world in which he lives. 

The hero is, in short, the sacrificial lamb. It is that quality in the structure of our Being that anticipates the Glory of God and is willing to give up its own life so that this indwelling God may be born into the realm of time and space.

*Given the current political climate I felt it necessary to qualify my comments on globalization and secularism. I am an advocate of both. They are indispensable mechanisms in the pursuit of social progress and political order. However, man has an obligation to the maintenance of his inner life and this obligation is no less important than his social or civic responsibilities. Secular language is collectivist in nature; whereas spirituality is a deeply individualistic concern. When secular language becomes our only language system, we misplace a vital tool in the service our inner-life.   

How Belief Prevents Believing.

I have worked in substance abuse for the better part of a decade. 

I regularly lecture and give workshops on 12-Step spirituality at drug and alcohol treatment centers. Often it is those of agnostic or atheistic temperament that are thought to struggle most with the spirituality of the Twelve-Step program. But this has not been my experience.

In my experience, it is the more religiously inclined people that struggle with Twelve-Step spirituality. This is because Twelve-Step spirituality is action-based. Alcoholics Anonymous has no prescribed theology, no system of belief. It is a pragmatic spirituality. In a single AA meeting you might find a couple of Christians, a Buddhist, a Jew, maybe a Muslim, and a handful of people that identify as "spiritual but not religious." They all believe different things but enjoy the same result: sobriety. This is because they all follow the same course of action.

Pragmatic spirituality focuses on how you believe, not what you believe, which can be difficult to grasp if you are used to propositional religion. 

Evangelical Christianity is the largest single religious denomination in America, accounting for 25% of the total Christian population (40% in the South). Evangelical Christianity stresses the acceptance of certain theological propositions more than the practice of spiritual principles. It is more concerned with what you believe than it is how you believe it. When these people try to get sober they think they already have the spirituality angle worked out because they answer in the affirmative to all the right propositions. They already believe, and as far as they're concerned belief is what spirituality is all about. And that is why they struggle with Twelve-Step spirituality.

Their religiosity prevents them from seeing the obvious: "You already believe." If the problem persisted in the face of your belief, then more of that belief cannot possibly be the solution. The Twelve-Steps are referring to action or practice, when they prescribe spirituality, not the affirmation of supernatural propositions. You can believe that Jesus Christ is the one and only Son of God and still walk into a liquor store or the dope dealers house. Belief is worthless unless it effects our actions. In fact, a "belief" that fails to inspire action is no belief at all.

According to Pew Research, 58% of Americans believe the Bible is the Word of God. Over 80% of Evangelicals believe in the existence of heaven and hell. Now, think about that for a minute: There is an afterlife. You will spend eternity in either perfect bliss or unimaginable torment and God alone is the arbiter in this matter. He will weigh the balance of your life against his prescribed guidelines recorded in the Bible and assign you to eternity in either heaven or hell.

If you really believed that wouldn't you read the Bible cover-to-cover over and over again? Wouldn't you consult it before every consequential decision made? But what percentage of people who claim to believe all of that have read the Bible cover-to-cover?  Approximately, 1 in 3 Evangelicals  read the Bible once a month or less and 1 in 5 church-goers say they never read the Bible. Why does a substantial portion of the people who accept those religious propositions not read the Bible more frequently?

People often do not believe what they say they believe. 

At this point, we must distinguish between a belief and a thought. A thought is an unsubstantiated idea; whereas a belief is an idea we are inclined to trust based on some measure of evidence, even if we cannot prove it to be true or rationally explain our position. Belief is an idea or network of ideas substantiated by enough reason or experience to inspire action, though it falls short of knowledge or the state of knowing.

For example, imagine being in a strange house all alone. Late at night your mind may start to wander. Based on nothing at all, you start thinking there is someone in the house. But you don't call the police. Why? Because you know those thoughts are nothing more than the spontaneous ruminations of your paranoid mind. Now imagine you heard a strange noise in the house, something that sounded like a person rummaging around. Now you have reason to believe there is someone in the house, so you pick up the phone and call the police. You are not certain. It could be a mouse, a raccoon, or the old home settling, but there is enough evidence to take action. That is the threshold an idea must cross to become a belief.

Most people do not actually believe, they think. Their "beliefs" are in reality unsubstantiated ideas. This is a serious problem in American religion, which is ate up with fundamentalism. As I wrote in Finding God in the Body:

"The fundamentalist is an individual who subscribes to a system of ideas that do not belong to them. They rely upon a book or the experience of another person who relies, interestingly enough, on a book or the experience of someone else. This line of co-dependency stretches back to the source of the tradition, the owner of the original transcendent experience...Fundamentalists study books rather than using books to study themselves. They mistake myth as fact and read it like history. This inoculates religion. It says that the transcendent realm is off limits to everyone except the historical embodiment of transcendence that sits on the altar of their tradition."   

Fundamentalists have an unwavering attachment to a set of ideas that do not belong to them and lack the potency to effect meaningful change in their lives, partly because a strong in-group dynamic is established which utilizes the mechanism of fear and the threat of ostracization to perpetuate their psychological identification with those ideas. But those ideas are not beliefs. They lack the experiential component needed to effect action.

The experiential component comes from spiritual practice. That is why practice-based spirituality is so important. 

Practice can be seen as a process of experimentation and experimentation leads to experience. Ideas, which are otherwise unsubstantiated, can be tested using spiritual practice. The truth or validity of a certain spiritual ideas can be tested using prayer, meditation, and self-examination. In more religious language, you could say that practice makes us susceptible to revelation.  

Once again we must pause to clarify an important issue. When I say the "truth" of an idea can be verified through spiritual practice, I do not mean, for example, that the existence of a personal God can be proven using prayer. I mean "truth" in the pragmatic sense. William James wrote, in The Meaning of Truth, "The true, to put it very briefly, is only the expedient in our way of thinking, just as the right is only the expedient in our way of behaving." It is also worth noting that Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and the author of the Twelve Steps, was deeply influenced by James.

The idea of a personal God, if properly understood and skillfully employed, can be proven effective--and therefore true in the pragmatic sense--through spiritual practice. Prayer can be used to transcend our limited, self-centered point of view and arouse courage, compassion, and sanity in the face of fear, anger and confusion. This obviously does not prove the existence of a creator God, but it does demonstrate the truth or expediency of the belief in God.

In order for the idea of God to be transformed into a belief in God the idea must be practiced. In Luke 6:32-34, Jesus defines practice as the application of an idea outside of our comfort zone: 
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again."
In other words, practice must be demanding. There must be sacrifice. Prayer cannot be limited to periods of quiet reflection in our bedroom. It has to enter our daily life, particularly when we are angry, stressed out, and afraid. The expediency of prayer is demonstrated when we pray beyond the false-self system and reconnect with the life of the body. There we tap into the power needed to "love our enemies, do good, and expect nothing in return." This is where we discover the truth of God or as Jesus said, "Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High." But this is easier said than done.

Bill Wilson wrote, "Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation." It is easy to think, but the work and sacrifice that belief requires is demanding. So we go looking for the easier, softer way. "The gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it."

For most people, the concept of God never matures into a proper belief--an idea that orients their entire being toward the world in which they live. Instead, it remains an impotent piece of intellectual property with which they psychologically identify. This identification is a form of spiritual bypassing. It circumvents the painstaking work of transformation by plastering over fear, anger, and self-centeredness with delusion and spiritual rhetoric. But that rhetoric is empty. "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven."

What we think and say does not matter.  It is our actions that matter. When we think and talk of spiritual principles but fail to express those principles in our daily life, we betray our True Self. This is the betrayal of Christ, the Kiss of Judas. 

Spirituality is nothing if it is not the act by which we transcend the claustrophobic world between our ears and reconnect with the vastness and richness of our True Life. Any ideas about spirituality we possess or identify with must be measured against their capacity to realize this goal. If those ideas fail to inspire action or bring about meaningful change, then they must be discarded. If they inspire us to give freely of our time and energy, to love our enemies, and shed the skin of our false-self, then these ideas must be practiced until they become a working part of our mind. That is the path of transformation. 

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