Preparing for a Modern Practice
People usually assume that involvement with a religion such as ours should begin with some sort of spiritual or metaphysical training... however, that's not quite the case. If we are to be successful in our endeavours, most of us will first require some psychological preparation. Many modern Goddess groups tend to overlook this, which can cause their followers to experience poor results and become frustrated.
We cannot make a beautiful carving with a dull knife, no matter how earnestly we may try. Our mind, like the blade of the artist's knife, must first be sharpened, if it is to serve us well. Everyone that I know of, who was successful in their quest for an understanding of spirituality and the metaphysical universe, has done this... whether consciously, through some formal process, or in a more subconscious and intuitive manner.
Unfortunately, our modern society has caused us to develop some very sloppy, lazy, and just plain faulty ways of thinking... and these should be corrected, before we attempt to do anything else.
Let's take a moment to consider how this dilema came about...
As we know, our Neolithic ancestors experienced an enviable closeness to the Goddess in their ordinary lives, which is sadly missing today. Over time, as science and logic came to define and delimit our world, something very precious was lost. Even with all of our impressive technical accomplishments, our civilization remains badly lacking in morality and spiritual wisdom. Science and logic can not explain the value or purpose of human life, tell us right from wrong, reveal the beauty of our lives in all their spiritual dimensions, or enable us to attain harmony with the mind of the Goddess. Those things can only be found intuitively... yet in most cases our intuition has become quite dull and disfunctional.
The development of logical thinking was quite natural, as man struggled with various new and complex tasks. As a tool for solving mathematical and scientific problems, it works fairly well... however it also has some very serious flaws, which make it unsuitable for resolving moral and spiritual issues.
For example, logic is based on the premise that all of the facts in a given situation are known to us... yet in many areas of life, that's simply not the case. Yet another problem with logic is it's obsession with proof. In any given situation, we have been taught to mistrust our intuition and demand empirical proof for everything... and if such proof is not immediately available, then we are told to default to the conclusion that our perceptions must not be valid.
Ancient people were not burdened by such a restrictive system of thinking. They trusted their instincts, and were better able to perceive the presence of the Goddess, spirit-energies, and other metaphysical events. If we are to attain the sort of insights, sensitivity and awareness that they once possesed, some major modifications to our current way of thinking will have to occur.
I would like to discuss a well-documented and proven method to assist you in eliminating many of the typical flaws which may exist in your current way of thinking, and prepare you to obtain better results in your quest for spiritual and metaphysical wisdom.
This method is not a recent discovery... in fact, centuries ago certain people began to realize the inherent limitations of logic, with it's rather artificial definitions and conventions. As a result, a practice known as Zen evolved. I believe this practice can be very useful to us, so I would like to present some basic information about it. Should you decide to pursue it, there are many good books available on the subject.
Although Zen is an outgrowth of Buddhism, it involves no deities or metaphysical beliefs. It is therefore not a religion... it is perhaps best described as a "special way of thinking", based on the realization that life can often be illogical, mysterious, and in some cases even incomprehensible. In such circumstances, logic alone can not enable us to find our way... indeed, it can even obstruct our ability to perceive true reality.
Of course this does not mean that we should simply abandon all logic and revert to some animalistic condition. Transcending logic with the goal of achieving a higher level of consciousness clearly requires us to make positive enhancements to our current way of thinking. Zen can point the way, but of course it is up to us to make the journey. Fortunately, the process is similar to learning to ride a bicycle... it begins with much concentration and effort, but eventually results in being able to easily balance ourselves instinctively.
One of the main aspects of Zen is an understanding of when it is appropriate to make use of logic... or when it is not. Logic can be a very useful servant, but makes a very dangerous master. We must therefore always be mindful to keep it in it's proper place. Most people have far too much respect for logic, and so in Zen training the limitations of logic are frequently pointed out.
One of the more noteworthy and amusing methods of breaking down a student's excessive focus on logic is through the study of koans. These are riddles or puzzles for which there is no logical answer. As a result, they will leave you feeling rather confused... but as you become more comfortable with that condition, you are in fact making good progress.
Ultimately, every koan is the same koan, and every koan has the same answer. They only appear to change over time because you yourself are changing.
Next, there are lectures and books by various masters which advise us in a more academic manner. They generally emphasize several key concepts which we would do well to embrace and be guided by.
The first of these teachings concerns the subject of ego, which is the cause of most human conflict and injustice in the world. After some contemplation we realize that nearly all ego is foolishness, and is actually detrimental to ourselves and others around us. It is especially dangerous when found in persons who hold power.
By eliminating ego-driven thinking, we begin to see ourselves (and others) in a more realistic way... and that leads to much better decision-making and personal happiness.
Another primary teaching of Zen relates to our view of the world. Most of us have developed (or were taught) certain prejudices, biases, and other preconceived ideas, which interfere with our ability to properly interpret what we see around us. Eliminating these restrictive preconceived notions is like having a veil lifted from our sight, allowing us to finally perceive things as they truly are.
One other teaching of Zen concerns things like patience, tolerance and compassion. These are things which do not come naturally to us as human beings, but must be developed. We should remember that any significant endeavor will take time, and often the cooperation of others. To incorporate such virtues into your behavior will not only benefit you, but others who come into contact with you as well.
The final, but perhaps most important teaching of Zen has to do with an understanding of how the human mind itself operates, and how to improve it's performance. Our brains work somewhat like a computer, with many tasks in progress, and others which are queued-up and awaiting attention. This has the effect of skewing our priorities, and creating some very disruptive feelings of stress.
Zen practitioners, and Buddhists in general, have discovered that a period of meditation not only relieves that stress, but it helps us to put our priorities in order, and keep them there.
Meditation does not require us to sit on the floor in lotus-position. It simply involves a brief period of peace and quiet, during which time you think of absolutely nothing. That's actually not as easy as it sounds... it definitely takes some practice. However, by shutting down the conscious mind for a short time, those mental resources become available to the subconscious, which is then able to catch up on it's back-log of work. The result is feeling very refreshed and clear, and being much better able to deal with the challenges of daily life. Although it may seem a bit odd by our modern western standards, the benefits of meditation are actually very significant and very real.
Certainly life without a spiritual and metaphysical dimension would be a shallow and unrewarding experience. Many people today simply accept the doctrines of organized religions, yet they often fail to deliver any useful results. Spiritual enlightenment is not some fast-food hamburger, to be passed out at a drive-thru window on the side of a church. Things of value require effort to achieve.
Self-improvement techniques such as described in this chapter will help you to achieve your goals. Only after we have put all of the intellectual conventions, rules of logic, and other artificial contrivances of western civilization into their proper place, may we return once again to the unfettered state of consciousness enjoyed by our ancient ancestors... and begin to perceive the spiritual and metaphysical world around us, in a very direct and remarkable way.