While in Vancouver, I stumbled on a little book called A Brief Guide to Secret Religions: A Complete Guide to Hermetic, Pagan, and Esoteric Beliefs by David Barrett. Barrett has a PhD in the Sociology of Religion from the London School of Economics. On several nights, after an exhausting day of sightseeing, I’d settle down to read Barrett’s work. I know I’m weird, but I found this to be a fun, little history book. For years I’ve skirted the edges of the New Age movement, am happily surrounded by pagans, and lately I’ve been taking classes on Hermetical beliefs so the book interests me on several levels.
Barrett divides the book into three parts (the New Age: Hermetic, Occult, High Magic: and Neo-Paganism), but he freely admits that when examining the interrelationship of these groups, the lines blur quickly. So he imposed this structure knowing it’s arbitrary. Interspersed throughout the book are interview responses from different followers of these groups which illuminate their thoughts on various key issues, expressing commonalities and differences. It’s a fascinating read and you begin to understand that these alternative paths have a rich history and a dynamic future. In a culture where we are fast becoming a people who identify as “spiritual, but not religious,” understanding the depth of the roots of New Age (don’t think for a second that Hippies started this), Hermetics, and Paganism become more important. Many of the ideas of these groups are moving mainstream led by new scientific theories, continued interest in environmentalism, and an era supporting individual spirituality. Barrett’s writing reflects that he is a scholar, open-minded and even-handed. Highly recommended!
TreeHouse Arts is running a contest through July 10th (Th.). Enter with a poem about snow. Winner’s poem will be published on their site. Good luck!
When I was a teen, genetic determinism was in full swing. As I watched my grandparents die of heart attacks or strokes, I became convinced that my life would end by the same mechanism and I was content with the inevitable partially because it was a far off reality. But again, science is shifting our thinking. The new paradigm is called epigenetics and it has a lot to say about the choices we make. Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene activity not caused by changes in the DNA structure.
Science is starting to grapple with the idea that our environment and choices are far more important than our genetic code. Bruce Lipton’s book The Biology of Belief, cites that around 95% of our illnesses are related to life-style choices, stress, and a toxic environment. We have far more ability to influence our futures than merely accepting whatever is in our genetic code is written in stone. Studies of identical twins (with identical DNA) reveal that oftentimes only one twin exhibits some dreaded disease. There can also be substantial differences in longevity. How is this possible? How could genetic determinism get it so wrong?
As usual, science’s understanding has grown slowly and advanced a simple view which has become outmoded. It turns out that our genes are far from static. Genes are always in flux and always being influenced. Some genes are activated by growth, healing, or learning. Another kind of gene is influenced by stress, emotion, or dreaming. A new understanding through epigenetics may allow us to use our will to activate our genes and influence our destiny. According to this way of thinking, changing our thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behaviors sends new messages to our cells thereby changing our protein production without affecting our DNA blueprint. So the original code stays the same, but new information allows the cells to create thousands of variations of that gene.
As an illustration of how this might work, Joe Dispenza in Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, looked at a Japanese study of type 2 diabetes. The subjects were divided into two groups. After a baseline reading to establish fasting blood sugar levels, one group watched an hour-long comedy show while the other group watched a boring lecture. Subsequent to viewing the programs, the group who had watched the comedy show had significantly lower levels of blood sugar. After ruling out the idea that physically laughing took glucose from the blood, the researchers found that the laughing diabetics had altered 23 different gene expressions. A new state of mind apparently triggered their brains to send new signals to their cells which allowed genetic variations affecting blood sugar levels.
The overall idea here is that we have a vast amount of say in how our genes create our futures. I am not destined to die of a heart attack, nor am I necessarily protected from cancer, just because no one in my family has had it. DNA is not destiny. We will need to tread carefully when we have any kind of genetic testing. I do ascribe to the idea that knowledge is power, but we need to be cautious and not bring into fruition a future that defaults to a false belief system. Another great book on the emerging paradigm is The Genie in Your Genes by Dawson Church.
We’re taught to think in terms of linear time. Our whole lives are guided by the concept that one event precedes another and that consequences come from causes. We tell our life stories from the beginning and only in middle age do we look back connecting events in new ways to retell our story. Even this perspective, binds us to linear time. And yet, we all have experienced time’s peculiarities which open us to wonder. Why is it I can lose time in a favorite activity and that last hour at work seems like a month?
Einstein said, “…the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.” Here we see Einstein speaking like a mystic and why should that surprise us? I’m reading Dr. Joe Dispenza’s book, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself (How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One). Dispenza takes on the notion of linear time by examining an experiment done in 2000 by an Israeli doctor. Watch for the zinger!
Leonard Leibovici, MD conducted a double-blind, randomized trial of 3393 hospitalized patients all suffering with a sepsis infection. Leibovici was interested in whether prayer could affect patient outcome. The patients were divided with half being prayed for and half not being prayed for. Dr. Leibovici collected data on the length of fever, length of stay in the hospital, and death as a result of infection. Turns out the prayed for patients had an earlier reduction in fever and shorter hospital stays. The death rates for both groups were not statistically different. The results may shock some, but science has been doing prayer studies for quite a while ( Healing Words-The Power of Prayer & The Practice of Medicine by Larry Dossey, MD). The truly mind- numbing thing about the study is that those praying in 2000 were praying for patients who were hospitalized in the period 1990 to 1996. The conclusion drawn here was that patients who were prayed for in 2000, actually got better in the 1990s.
So what is going on and how should it change our ideas about time? What if Einstein is right and time is just a persistent illusion, an artifice created by the brain? We’re used to thinking that prayer or focused attention might be able to affect our future. But what if I can do something today to affect my past? Can I pray for a better childhood? Can I heal a fractured relationship from decades ago? Can I send myself strength to get through a rough career change I’m making now? Can I? Can you?
I’ve been doing a lot of author interviews and book reviews lately. This month, TreeHouse Arts turns the table on me with some great questions. If you want to learn more about my experiences and where this blog is heading, check this out. http://treehousearts.me/2014/05/31/an-interview-with-author-and-blogger-ellis-nelson/
Anne and I connected through our blogs. We share many similarities in interests and experiences. I just finished her wonderful memoir and I’m happy to share it here.
Over a thirty year period, Anne was challenged by many happenings which left her baffled. As a skeptic, she tried to come to grips with them as she managed a career and family. But how does the rational mind grasp phenomena like atmospheres, ghosts, poltergeists, mediumship, premonitions, reincarnation, mystical experience, and telepathy and make sense of them? The prevailing worldview of scientific materialism insists they’re not possible. Using diary notes and drawing upon recall, Anne categorizes the events and digs deeper. Her writing is straightforward, honest, and from the heart.
Most of us have probably had some kind of weird experience that defies rational analysis. In 2009, a Pew Research study revealed that 29% of Americans report they have had contact with the dead and 18% have had an encounter with a ghost. Furthermore, 49% report mystical experience as defined as a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening.” In this context, Anne is far from alone. Many of us dismiss these events because they’re uncomfortable. We shrug our shoulders and try to forget them. This is where one of the powers of Anne’s writing grabs us. As we read about her experiences, we begin to remember our own. Anne is fueled by open-minded curiosity coupled with rationalism in her search. And just like her, we’d like some answers too.
Anne turns to science and finds the reductionist materialism paradigm to be inadequate to address her experiences. At the same time, she knows that current theoretical physics has offered hope. New scientific theories are starting to make inroads toward the mainstream. In the final part of the memoir, she takes on the science and realizes the paradigm for our reality must shift to accommodate what many of us have experienced. Kudos to Anne for boldly sharing her journey. May her book encourage others to do the same.
You can purchase the book here: http://anne-whitaker.com/wisps-from-the-dazzling-darkness/
To learn more about Anne and her work: www.anne-whitaker.com
Anne Whitaker has worked in the fields of adult education, social work, and counselling. She has been a practicing astrologer, teacher and writer since 1983. Her first book was entitled Jupiter Meets Uranus (2009). She lives in Glasgow, Scotland.
Pew Study Link: http://www.pewforum.org/2009/12/09/many-americans-mix-multiple-faiths/
That time of year is here again. May and June are key months to celebrate this milestone event in the lives of young people. Whether it’s high school or college graduation, now’s the time to rejoice. To celebrate real world, material accomplishment. Next month, my husband and I will travel to Vancouver to celebrate and take great pride in our son’s graduation from Simon Fraser University. As an individual, he has grown under the weight of many challenges, learned more about who he is as a man, and he’s ready to launch himself into the real world (fingers crossed- I’m a parent).
And as it would happen, I just saw a segment on the Colbert Report about a new book by a professor at Syracuse University, George Saunders. In 2013, he was asked to give the commencement address. It turned out to be a popular video on YouTube because, I think, it’s a little unusual. That speech has been turned into a book called Congratulations- by the way. Saunders took a risk. A lot of commencement talks center around the accomplishments of the individual and challenge graduates to go out into the larger world to contribute their unique gifts. Essentially, they reinforce the ego. Saunders looks back on his life to realize what he regrets most are those times when he failed to be kind. He challenges graduates to begin now to overcome selfishness, the idea of separateness and permanence. To become kinder, now. It’s a simple and powerful message.
The speech on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruJWd_m-LgY