United by Bonds of Love

It seems to me that the spiritual impulse, as I call it, arises in human beings, and presumably in beings similar to us, as a response to the experience of life’s precariousness, difficulty, injustice, suffering, and brevity. The life without meaning or purpose is, to misuse Hobbes’ famous phrase, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. The burden of a meaningless existence is simply too much for creatures with minds like ours. In that sense, the mind is as much a hindrance as a help.

Some of our most primitive ancestors found solace in the bonds of love, kindness, affection, family, and friendship. These realities — and they are real — might not make life less arduous and temporary but for most of us they give reason to at least try and make life better, they give us reason to go on with life even in our worst moments.

Committing oneself to love, kindness, affection, family, and friendship is, to my estimation, a sort of universal spiritual path. From this commitment religion arises as the inspired response of particular men and women in the particular circumstances of time and place.

Long before human beings had words and concepts for what we call religion, we were already engaged in a spiritual endeavor to bring light into the darkness of life.

Love, then, becomes meaning and purpose. Love shouldn’t have the power it has, but there is nothing more powerful than love. If there are other beings like us in the universe, I’m quite sure they experience this also. Should we meet such beings, it won’t be mathematics or science or technology or desire for power that binds us together. It will be love.

~BT Waldbillig
March 12, 2017

Understanding Religion

Religion is a near-universal aspect of human experience. One cannot properly understand history, society, law, culture, or politics without familiarity with religion.

I’m not sure how common or uncommon it is, but I was lucky enough to have a comparative religions course at my high school back in Chariton, Iowa. I also took Latin in high school — once a decidedly uncommon option in US public schools, though luckily a new generation of students and teachers is reclaiming this bit of their cultural patrimony. World Religions was a thoroughly worthwhile and surprisingly useful class. Then there was Modern American Religious Movements at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls — another course that gave me insight into how people who are different from me think and live.

You may disagree with Daniel Dennett’s thesis (for video, click here) that religion is a merely natural — as opposed to supernatural, praeternatural, or divine — phenomenon, but in the secular, polycultural context of our society that’s the readiest common ground for believer and nonbeliever alike. Our current political climate shows that many people are content to be bubble-dwellers, people with no interest in understanding the world beyond their own noses. The same is true for much of mainstream American religion. The development of honest and compassionate understanding of others is beneficial for an individual as well as for society generally. Familiarity with the phenomenon of religion and with the world’s various religious and spiritual traditions is essential to that understanding.

~BT Waldbillig
February 1, 2017

From Afar and From Within

On the Arising and Return of the Spiritual Impulse
The religions, spiritual traditions, and transformative social movements of our world begin with historical events that unfold in the lives of actual human beings.

Inspired men and women understand their experience in uncommon and extraordinary ways that remain mysterious to most of us.

They inspire their brothers and sisters to live life with previously unimaginable purpose, meaning, beauty, kindness, joy, mercy, compassion, and love; this is no insignificant reality.

We who experience life at a distance from the events that transformed those greatest of human beings have no choice but to use the words, images, and ideas the arise from own understanding and experience of the world.

We do this in our attempt to make sense of our own lives while communicating something that is at heart difficult to communicate or even beyond human words altogether.

The custodians of religions, spiritual paths, and transformative social movements often get lost in their endeavor and lose sight of the actual, original source of inspiration.

They create systems, institutions, schools of thought, spiritual rules, canons of sacred writings, etc. as useful tools, though at times even the most useful of human tools can become burdensome hindrances.

Mystics, spiritual weirdos, heroes, Titans, prophets, gurus, enlightened beings, saints, and the like create their own paths and often leave the rest of us behind.

Perhaps we, in our day, will find new, concrete ways of understanding those ancient sources of inspiration and make them useful to the challenges of this present moment.

We needn’t jettison that which came before this present moment, but we do ourselves no good service if we make the past our graven idol.

On Spiritual Family
A spiritual family is entirely capable of accomplishing even the most impossible of tasks.

Normal human modes of judgment — around good and evil, the sacred and the impure, the one and the many, the self and the other — will, at unforeseen times of extreme crisis, both serve us and hinder us.

A spiritual family, to the mind of the ancient ones, embraces both the mighty and weak, the noble and ignoble, the just and the unjust, the worthy and the unworthy.

Every member of a spiritual family is dedicated to the true purpose from which the family arose.

On the Tree
In ancient times, a grove of trees was considered sacred not because each and every tree was holy, but because of the presence of a single noble Tree; such is the power of a worthy tree.

It is said that the many ordinary, common, and profane trees serve to hide, protect, and honor the one Tree whose life and presence make sacred the entire grove.

Let us, then, love the Tree as it manifests itself through leaves, shoots, seeds, roots, branches, bark, sap, shade, might, beauty, immovability, agility, life-giving power, wisdom, and self-sacrifice.

The Tree ascends to the highest heavens and descends to the darkest pits, embracing the sky above, the Earth we wander, and also the underworld.

The Tree is our sign of enduring hope, for every time it is destroyed and annihilated, it is again reborn, living, and life-giving, just like the mythic Phoenix or like the Awakened One.

When our ancestral family fell from the heights and safety  of a tree, it carried trees to the cave, and later built weapons, tools, homes, and great ships from trees; so long as our family exists in some form, the Tree will live and give life.

~BT Waldbillig
January 13, 2017

An Awakening

Some people say the end of the world is near
Others think the world will never end
But I tell you this:
The world as we know it is already passing away

By curious chance, an asteroid unexpectedly passed by Earth on October 31, which also happens to be the birthday of my departed grandmother. This random occurrence reminded me of a series of unusual and vivid dreams I experienced about a year or so ago. Somewhere I attempted to write about two of the dreams, at first in simple narrative form and then again in verse. Truth be told, my re-telling of the dreams leaves me dissatisfied. Perhaps that is the nature of dreams: they embody a world where the categories that strictly order our daily lives dissolve into something quite different. And while dreams are not ‘real’ in the sense that our daily lives are ‘real’, they have power to give us new vision when we wake up.

One of the dreams, the one I call A Vision of Green Light, involved an asteroid, visitors from a distant place in the universe, a dog, and the end of a world. In a sense, the story of the dream is less important than the meaning found in it. Or maybe I should say ‘meanings’, since dreams operate on many different planes of meaning simultaneously. Since we usually experience these various meaning-strands as one thing even though they are distinct, dreams can be frustratingly confusing or utterly transcendent.

We tend to regard the world we inhabit as essentially permanent and relatively static; this isn’t surprising given the way we experience and perceive it. But there is a different way of looking at the world: as a place where everything is in flux, continually changing, more process than thing, more action than place. Spiritual traditions and modern physics both affirm this, in different ways and with metaphors they find useful.

In this very moment
Our world is passing away

Whether it’s a dream, an asteroid, or the death of a loved one, we need reminders that whatever we experience can and will change. In that simple realization we find the root of both fear and hope, as well as the overcoming of fear and hope.

~BT Waldbillig
December 11, 2015