Authentic Spirituality: The Direct Path to Consciousness

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9780738704425: Authentic Spirituality: The Direct Path to Consciousness

In this groundbreaking book, Richard Potter, an academic and a mystic, sets forth a revolutionary thesis: to evolve personally, spiritually, and globally, we need a new concept of spirituality that is not tied to culturally specific beliefs and practices.

The idea that any one religion has a monopoly on the divine is a concept that has led to bigotry, bloodshed, and war throughout both the ancient and modern world. Recent global events have increased our awareness of the violence that can be unleashed by extremist followers of religions who claim to promote peace while waging war.

The time has come for a spirituality of consciousness. By focusing on consciousness instead of dogma, it becomes possible to realize the core truths of world religions without being bound to outdated beliefs and customs that no longer serve humanity.

Learn core consciousness-expanding practices including meditation, breathwork, sound work, and retreats. Explore ways to open your heart, achieve self mastery, evaluate spiritual teachers, and attain spiritual freedom, all steps on the path to greater contentment, clarity, compassion, and a profound sense of inner peace. Take a spiritual adventure beyond the bounds of time and place with one of today's most original spiritual thinkers.

 

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About the Author:

Professors Richard and Jan Potter (Nebraska) are married and have taught at Dana College in Nebraska for over twenty years. Former members of the Sufi Order of the West, a universalist mystical school, they are experienced as spiritual guides and have led workshops and seminars in the area of spiritual development.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PART ONE
Transforming Old Habits
WE MUST FACE head-on the lack of a central myth in today's postmodern
world.What can we look to when meaning is drained from our world? It is
time to look closely at the mythology, cosmology, and morality that try to
make sense of the great mystery that is life and ask ourselves some very
basic questions. Can our present religious and scientific perspectives
make sense of our world and bring meaning to our lives, or
are rationality and meaning mutually exclusive? A new
world cannot be born until the old world has
been put to rest. The time is ripe to
re-evaluate our too literal and
too limited perspectives on
the nature of reality.

ONE
Stories and Myths

                                                             ALONG WITH LANGUAGE, myths, and
stories are the bones of culture. Myths and stories tell us who we are,
why we live the way we do, and how to handle life's difficulties.Today
we do not have a central myth, except possibly for science, and without
a commonly accepted mythological foundation,Western technological
culture flounders in a sea of competing ideologies and moralities. Stories,
too, have lost much of their ability to inform us about how to meet
life's challenges and crises, because the prevailing worldview sees them
as stories, nothing more. If myths and stories are the bones upon which
the fullness of a culture is built, then trouble with those bones will show
up in all aspects of a culture.
Just as the physical body provides a vehicle in which human mind,
emotion, personality, and consciousness can function in this world, culture
provides a body in which groups of individuals can function.
Human beings create their cultures but do so in slow, mostly unconscious
ways over long periods of time. Cultures are all-pervasive and
provide the basic template as well as the material for all interaction,
understanding, motivation, and meaning in the lives of their members.
Cultures persist by being constantly reinforced in everyday life. For
example, if the myth of a people tells them that they are God's chosen
people, all community events are interpreted in the light of that belief,
reinforcing the belief, and it will be obvious to everyone in the community
that they are God's chosen ones. Culture is like the air we
breathe, and often it is just as invisible.
Language is also at the heart of culture. Language determines what
can and cannot be said-even what can and cannot be thought. Language
reinforces cultural realities when it provides many choices of
words, phrases, and idioms in relationship to experiences that are central
to the culture. By providing few or no words for those experiences
that are outside of the cultural perspective, language discourages our
considering alternative realities. Those who speak several languages
know that some languages are better for expressing emotions such as
love, while others are better for conducting business. Language shapes
us but is also shaped by us, in one of life's many circles.
Language is also inextricably tied to the stories of a culture. Stories
are the way in which cultural ideals have always been transmitted. Language
is the medium not only of story but also of much of the communication
that serves the function of socializing people into their
cultures. Just as it limits people's perspectives to the prevailing cultural
perspective, language limits what can happen in stories. Stories are
greatly influenced by the richness of their language in describing particular
situations, emotions, and subtle worlds.
Cultures that are closely related to nature have a lot of interest in
the natural world and have many words about natural phenomena.
These cultures often produce far more rich and complex stories using
animals, places, and weather than do societies where most people are
somewhat distanced from nature. Societies that stress human actors and
minimize the natural world generally have languages that are much
more attuned to complicated family and emotional interactions and
are less descriptive of nature. Some groups, such as many North American
First Nations, have developed languages that are rich in words
related both to nature and to human relationships. Even though the
stories of some types of culture tend to focus on more limited topics
most suited to their interest and language, their stories still need to
meet the needs of individuals going about their daily lives. Basic
human questions like "Why do I exist?""What happens when I die?"
and "Why do humans suffer?" will still need to be addressed, but each
language and culture will vary the answer based upon its available
strengths and unique perspectives.
Few individuals go very far beyond the boundaries of their cultures.
Some hardy persons do venture out beyond the limitations of their
societies' geographical boundaries and cultural perspectives and succeed
in developing uniquely broad and deep personalities. Occasionally
individuals who explore the regions beyond the cultural perimeters
without adequate guidance may become psychologically unstable.
Some mystics and sages have the ego strength to go beyond cultural
limitations and later return to their societies to widen perspectives of
others, but this is even rare among the wise.
The fascinating challenge of today's global culture is that cultures are
losing their hold on more and more individuals, which creates the
potential for both psychopathology and enlightenment.We no longer
need to be global adventurers or seekers of spiritual truths in order to
find ourselves ripped out of our cultural encapsulation; it can happen
through a multitude of ways. Even though culture is powerful and holds
most of us in a vice-like grip, breaking the cultural trance requires inner
motivation combined with experiences like extensive travel, emersion
in scientific or social scientific education, disillusionment, or other
forms of social marginalization. And then what? Once outside of the
boundaries how are we to function?
I have known several returned Peace Corps volunteers who, upon
returning to their own cultures, have experienced difficulties building
meaningful lives in their former social contexts. I have also known
people who experienced great loss when their conservative religious
views crumbled during the process of postgraduate education. Some of
the social activists of the 1960s became so disillusioned that they found
ways to "drop out" and exist outside of the mainstream culture.
There are, however, important positives associated with emerging
from the cocoon of one's culture. Many of the returned Peace Corps
volunteers who experienced some degree of alienation from their own
cultures went on to become dynamic and creative individuals, sought
after by business and governmental groups. Some of the disillusioned
1960s activists returned to work within organizations to create positive
change. Some of those who lost their conservative religious convictions
went on to develop rich spiritual lives. How did these people
manage to overcome their alienation?
Stepping outside of our cultures can prepare us to approach Sophia,
the goddess of wisdom, as an empty vessel waiting to receive the nectar
of illumination. Creativity often requires some degree of alienation
in order to give the creative person perspective. It all depends upon
our readiness for the experience. In other words, it depends upon the
degree to which our consciousness has been developed.
There is a Sufi story that addresses this question. David Less, a spiritual
mentor and friend, tells this story best, and it has always been one
of my favorites.This is my version.
A Tavern Story
There is a tavern that is occupied by everyone you know and everyone
I know (it is a pretty big tavern). Like most taverns, it is dark, smoky,
and full of a lot of activity. Most of the activity occurs near the bar
where the bartender, a rather magnetic fellow, serves the various drinks
to the patrons. For one person, he pours from a bottle with the word
"depression" written on it; for another, he finds a bottle with the label
"hate." There are many bottles, and he pours from them such exotic
concoctions as greed, pettiness, gluttony-well, you get the picture.
Imagine that you take your particular drink (related to your current
propensity) and settle in at your table at the back of the tavern. After a
while you become restless,maybe feeling as the old song goes,"Is this all
there is?"You begin to explore the more remote recesses of this large
tavern. Suddenly you notice light filtering in from a window with curtains
drawn, and, fascinated, you walk over to the window.You pull the
curtain back and are blinded by the light.You quickly turn away and
return to the bar for another drink.
A little later your curiosity draws you back to the window. This
time you are prepared for the shock of the light so you turn your head
a bit and allow yourself to get used to the light, so you eventually are
able to look out of the tavern window.You are amazed by what you
see! There is another world out there in the bright light, a world
whose existence you had never imagined.There are flowers and trees
and grass and an incredible sun overhead.You stand mesmerized for
what seems like an eternity.Then you decide that, whatever the cost,
you must find a way to get out of the tavern and into this strange and
beautiful new land you are seeing.
You look around the room, but cannot find a door.You become
mighty thirsty.You feel a compulsion to return to the bar for another
drink, but your fascination with finding a way out keeps you occupied
enough to tolerate your thirst.Now you devise a plan.You figure that if
you circumambulate the perimeter wall of the tavern you should be
able to find an opening to the outside. Slowly you make your way
around the tavern wall until you discover a door frame and door knob.
You open the door slowly and again are blinded by dazzling light.
You step outside and stand there for a while until you are able to
see. Even before your eyes are completely accustomed to the sunlight
you feel warmed by the sun. Sweet fragrances drift in on a light breeze
and lift your spirits.You look around and see flowers, trees, plants and
animals, all living in natural splendor. It vaguely reminds you of
another time and another place that you just can't quite remember.You
feel happier and more contented than you are capable of comprehending,
and you just wander in this scene for a while.
Suddenly you feel the presence of another being.You feel a tap on
your shoulder.You turn around to behold a person who appears kind
and gentle, and who says that you must make a choice. It is not possible
to remain outside of the tavern and live.You are welcome to remain in
this land, but in order to do so you must cease to exist. If you wish to
remain alive, you must return to the tavern.The kind person suggests
that there are those in the tavern that need you and are depending on
you.Your heart sinks! Never before have you known such beauty, clarity,
and freedom. Never before have you been sober and free of the
weight of your stupor.You realize that what you had thought was life
was really a sort of sleepwalking brought about by imbibing the various
intoxicants served to you in the tavern.The messenger smiles, nods, and
says, "The gift that you take back with you is to remember." So you
take a deep breath of the fragrant air of freedom and return to the tavern
armed with the "gift of remembering."
Once inside you realize how thirsty you are.You remember that no
one can remain within the tavern and not drink, so you return to the
bar and ask for a drink. The bartender starts to pour you a glass of
"anger," and you say,"No, thank you." Everything becomes hushed; it's
not normal to refuse what the bartender offers. He reaches for a bottle
marked "depression" and you say, "No, thank you." Now things are
getting a bit tense-everyone is looking to see what will happen next.
The bartender is getting upset and growls back at you, "So what do
you want?"
You peer over the top of the bar and see some old, dusty bottles on
the bottom shelf."What's in those?" you ask. He picks one up, blows
off some dust and replies,"Hmmm, I haven't seen this one in a long
time-it's kindness.""Yes, I'll have some of that," you say. A soft sense
of well-being fills your chest, and you realize that you did it-you
remembered! From this day forward, you will remember. Every time
you approach the bar you will remember that world outside, and that
will give you the freedom to choose what you wish to drink in this tavern
of life.
This story shows us that a spiritual discipline bestows upon the brave
soul who chooses to step outside of his or her culture two gifts: the
knowledge that one cannot live as a human being without participation
in a culture, and the freedom to choose how to participate.Without
knowledge, self-discipline, and love (all key elements in the story),
the choices are grim. Without these qualities, people can become
depressed, angry, or cynical and withdraw from society or even worse.
Some may experience emotional and mental disorders that are the
result of losing a sense of order and meaning in life.With the requisite
knowledge, self-discipline, and love, the wise can participate in the
game of life, while remembering that every thought,word, and deed is
a choice. It is possible to make these choices out of love for the dear
ones that populate this earth.This perspective is similar to the Buddhist
concept of the bodhisattva, the one who has achieved Union with the
One Mind, and yet chooses to continue incarnating to serve others.
As we leave behind our cultural blinders,we have to choose the stories
and myths that will provide the patterns that guide our lives.When
the central myth of a culture can no longer bring meaning and purpose
to our daily life pursuits, how might we find the stories that could
help us? We are fortunate in this global community to have access to
stories from around the world. Some of these stories can help us to
understand and even to recreate the cultural stories that were changed,
suppressed, and lost as the dominant Judeo-Christian myth rose to
prominence.
As the Christian story spread ...

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