Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Coincidence, Miracle, or I'm Thinking Too Much

Something interesting happened today after I got out of work. Tonight I was going to do more editing for a writing project I'm working on with a friend, but one thing that had the potential to put a wrench in my plans was the weather. The weather report was predicting nothing but doom for this evening - severe thunderstorms, hail, even a tornado watch for my area. I was not looking forward to it...especially since the wiring in this apartment I'm living in is connected to the rest of a very old house that probably wouldn't stand up to a lightning strike. The odds were grim that I was going to be able to work on that project tonight.

Sure enough, in the early part of the evening there was dangerous weather, as one moment it was relatively sunny, and the next it seemed like the giant fire hose in the sky was pointed at my area. I was indoors at the time, but I was resigned to not doing much of anything tonight. However, I was still inspired to do my daily Ganesha meditation routine, at least in this case in an effort to calm me down during the adverse weather.

This is the part where the post title question becomes apparent: soon after I finished my meditation, the adverse weather started to slowly disperse, and later on there was no lightning to speak of, so I could turn my computer on and plug away at the project.

I didn't think much of it at the time, but eventually I realized it might not have been a coincidence...and that inspired me to write this blog post. It might be a coincidence and I'm probably just having some delusions of grandeur. And who knows, the weather might get worse tonight or tomorrow.

But part of me is thinking this may have not been a coincidence after all...that's the part of me that wants to believe. I honestly don't know what to think...

I highly encourage those reading this to post a comment in the comments section with their opinion on what might have happened. Maybe I'm being rewarded for my belief, or maybe it's just wishful thinking, or something. But input would be appreciated here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Why Christianity Wasn't For Me, Part 1

This next blog post may be a thorny topic for some. It is not my intention to offend anyone of the Christian faith with this post, but I feel I probably owe some readers of this blog an explanation. Some readers may be wondering why someone like me, when confronted with the question of faith, doesn't automatically turn towards Christianity, and instead turn towards Hinduism. This post should hopefully explain that, at least in some detail.

The requisite disclaimer: what works for me spiritually will not work for everyone. Everyone has their own spiritual path, and I'm not implying anyone should walk mine, unless they feel it is right for them. Nor am I saying my path is better than that of anyone else. This is just my experience and my thoughts.

Anyway...why Christianity isn't for me...

I believe the reason why Christianity doesn't work for someone of my psychological profile can come down to many reasons, but I think one primary reason, for me anyway, is that I have a tendency to do what my therapist terms "splitting." In a nutshell, that basically means I tended to see things in a black-and-white manner. I had this awful habit of applying this tendency to just about anything, including myself...and as a result, I often compared myself to others and either see myself as wholly good, or wholly evil. (More often towards the wholly evil part, as you may have surmised from the rest of my blog.)

This naturally lent itself to the "Heaven or Hell" argument of Christianity that I often debated with myself on. The rules for whether one goes to Heaven or Hell I thought of many times over, and it seemed like no matter how I sliced it, it always seemed like I would be going to Hell, with no alternatives.

On one end of the spectrum, there's the theory espoused by the ultra-conservative Christian right-wing - that merely accepting Jesus Christ as one's lord, savior, and mediator between oneself and God, and following all the rules expected of such a follower, guarantees one a spot in Heaven. Putting aside the hypocrisy committed by many mainstream Christian institutions regarding this rule to justify racism, sexism, etc., for a moment, let's say I did just that. From the sound of it all it would put me in this exclusive "club" of being saved from annihilation when the Apocalypse comes on such-and-such a date.

Here's the thing about that exclusivity that turns me away: I don't want to be accepted by just a few people into a clique. If I did that, how would other people outside this "club" view me? It sets up a prejudice that I would rather not experience. When I meet someone else, I don't want prejudice to cloud their judgment of me...that is a fate I cannot bear to experience. So joining an exclusive club of "saved" people would subject me to this prejudice, by nature of its exclusivity. I know I can't get along with everyone, but is it too much to ask to not have who I can or cannot get along with predetermined? Prejudice, to me, is Hell in and of itself, and I'd rather not experience that Hell while I'm alive. Otherwise what's the point of getting into Heaven?

Now let's examine the other end of the spectrum of Christianity - the left-leaning kind. For that end, let's assume all one needs to be to get into Heaven is to be a good person. That is, lead a simple lifestyle, be the best human being one can possibly be towards your fellows, etc. Well, for that end, already several things are stacked against me. To start with, I'm white - in our current system, racism is still present, and thus I'm assigned unfair privileges solely based on the fact that I'm white. Ditto with being male. And the American citizen part means I'm already born into a materialistic lifestyle, richer than most other people on the planet (despite my very meager wages by American standards). Right off the bat, I'm at a disadvantage in the "being good" department. It may sound an awful like the Scott Calvin theory of predestination, but in today's world, it seems like fates are predestined for a lot of people already.

Now, enter the Hindu theory of life after death - reincarnation. I don't feel like explaining it again here, so Google it if you don't know it. But despite the holes in the theory of reincarnation that some other people see, there's one particular reason why it appealed to me.

It doesn't present a black-and-white view of morality in terms of life after death. To me, it allows for shades of gray.

Shades of gray is the type of world view I need to cultivate for myself, not this black-and-white viewpoint that has driven me to the brink of insanity thus far. I need to be less judgmental of myself and the world, not more so. And that is one reason why Hinduism is starting to appeal to me.

There are other reasons why Christianity doesn't work for me, but I'll get into those in future posts. For now, though, if you feel so inclined, please leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

On (Not) Being a Beautiful and Unique Snowflake

Those readers who are still interested as to why I am veering towards the path of Hinduism will have the question more fully answered in this post. This covers the meditation and yoga conference that I went to that inspired me.

The title of this post comes from a movie that came out in the 1990's, titled "Fight Club." The overall plot of the movie can be summarized as follows: a working class man feeling oppressed by the monotony of everyday society transforms himself into an organizer of pit-fights that draw men from all over the country to his cause. He then turns them into his own personal army to violently oppose society...and in the process becomes the very sort of authority figure he once despised.

What does that have to do with my own trip to the Meditation and Yoga 2011 conference held by the Art of Living organization in New Jersey?

Well, the title of this article comes from a line from that movie - "you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake." The main character utters that line to his followers to "educate" them on why they must give themselves to his cause. However, while the followers of the main character of Fight Club take that line and then become his violent soldiers, during the MY2011 conference I thought of that line during the speech by the Art of Living's spiritual leader H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar...and discovered its true, positive meaning.

To establish a proper context, I'll start from the beginning. Throughout much of my young adult life I've been dealing with feelings of depression, anxiety, and other associated mental disorders, mainly arising from my diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome when I was in middle school. Add to that my diagnosis of Type II Diabetes during a long, painful night in the hospital in the midst of my college years and, well, I feel I have a lot on my plate. I've had trouble dealing with these issues...a lot of trouble. They seemed to define my life, as they have impaired my ability to function in everyday society.

One thing that did not help these issues at all for me, at least at first, was my becoming aware of the political, social, and environmental issues facing this world as I grew older. It seemed, to me at least, that my being a white male American citizen, and thereby having the lifestyle that goes with it - a lifestyle that seemed to depend on the suffering of others and the planet - was proof that my existence was a sin, and my mental and physical health ailments my punishment. Thereby I was constantly looking for some way to validate my existence, to somehow find evidence opposite my conclusion and prove that my life was worth living.

One day, as I was walking down the corridors of Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY on my way to take the bus home from an appointment I had there, a flyer caught my eye, a flyer for the Art of Living course being offered in Rochester. The flyer was out of date, as the course had already happened, but still I noticed a phone number for one of the organizers, Chitvan Sharma. That evening, out of curiosity (and perhaps desperation), I called the number and found out more about the Art of Living course and the organization, and she encouraged me to do more exploring on my own. I did so by visiting the Art of Living website and reading some of the materials there. The course sounded like it could help me deal with my everyday troubles, but I could not afford it at first. An idea popped into my head, though, that perhaps if I did a little bartering - volunteering my time and energy to help the local Art of Living chapter, that is - I could take the next course offered at a discount. Chitvan and the other organizers liked that idea, and so I did some volunteering for them, getting to know them better in the process. Still, though, there were some lingering doubts in my mind as to whether or not the course would help me.

Then came time for the Meditation and Yoga 2011 conference in New Jersey...a conference I did not know about until the very last minute. The way the conference was advertised to me was through the instructor for the Rochester Art of Living course - Arati Hunsemara - suggesting I attend the conference to meet H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and thus remove my doubts as to the course's benefits. I wanted to go not only for that reason, but also as an opportunity to take a break from my ordinary routine. The problem was that since I didn't know about it until the last minute, it was very difficult to include me in the group's trip to the conference, from finding an available ticket (that I could afford), to acquiring a place for me to stay for an evening, to clearing a little time off from my day job so I could prepare before the trip.

Somehow things fell into place, and I soon found myself on the journey to the conference. On the journey there, I bonded with Chitvan and the others in the Rochester Art of Living group, and upon arrival in New Jersey, I got to enjoy the gracious hospitality of our host, named Lakshmi (I sadly cannot recall her last name). I could tell things were going to be good, but anxiety still gripped me, as it naturally would having gone so far from home.

The morning of the conference came, and I was still nervous. I arrived late to the morning yoga session, and had trouble finding the spots reserved for us. Still, I eagerly joined in, and performed the yoga to the best of my ability. Some poses were difficult for me, but I got through to the end of the morning yoga session feeling physically exhausted, but mentally satisfied, as if I accomplished something. It took a while for the afternoon talks to get into full swing, but the audience was rapt with attention, as was I, when Sri Sri entered the stage. I admit it - when Sri Sri entered the stage, I was at first expecting some pre-planned speech full of obvious platitudes and general affirmations, that most likely wouldn't help me much.

However, after he entered the stage, he was silent. Silent for what seemed like an awkwardly long time. I didn't know what to make of it.

Then the words he spoke floored me, as they were not what I was expecting from a guru: "If I just stood on this stage and said nothing for the next few hours, would you still want to be here?"

Most of the audience responded with an enthusiastic "yes," although I did manage to hear one "no" from the opposite end of the audience area. And that's when I knew I was in for a truly inspiring experience, as it proved to me this guru was here to truly educate, and not merely bask in the adulation of his fans. Soon after, he asked a question which was something to the effect of: "what will you all do when I am gone?" In effect he was asking his followers to try to think for themselves. I liked Sri Sri right then and there.

The rest of his speech was affirming, encouraging, and enthusiastic, but not nearly as profound to me as those opening moments. I listened intently, but the true message was yet to come. After his speech, he got up to depart the stage, and almost immediately members of the audience flocked to his side for reasons I could not ascertain. The other speakers frantically shouted "please remain seated" into the microphone in a vain attempt to get the audience to cooperate and leave Sri Sri to peacefully depart the venue. I did my part and remained seated, but I knew I was in the minority. I have to admit, at first my thoughts were along the lines of: "why are all these people intent on forming a huge, almost mob-like crowd around him?" I honestly didn't get the reason. Sure, Sri Sri is a great person, but what would crowding around him just to be near him accomplish? This turned out to be an important thought in my later reflection on the event, but there was more to come.

After the main event came to a close, I caught up with the other members of my group, and they soon departed, me in tow, with a clear agenda on their minds I couldn't grasp at first. They eventually filled me in: they were attempting to "chase" Sri Sri in an attempt to get a more personal encounter with him. I asked how they intended to do that, and they said they had "resources" with which to track him. Suddenly I grew excited at the prospect of being able to meet Sri Sri in person, in a much calmer setting. Chitvan even mentioned I could possibly get a blessing from Sri Sri. Unfortunately, we got sidetracked. Somehow we ended up near the apartment of our host, in effect where we started the day, no closer to Sri Sri. After we learned that Sri Sri was hosting an after-party of sorts for the volunteers for the event at the venue, we were hungry, so we went back in the apartment and practically shoveled dinner in our faces, and went back to the venue in what seemed like a wild goose chase.

Unfortunately, by the time we arrived back at the venue, Sri Sri was just closing the after-gathering, and we missed our window to see him. Was I bummed out? Yes, at first. But then I realized it was okay.

Okay in what way? Would I have loved to receive a blessing from His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar? Oh yes, definitely, in an "awesome things I want to accomplish before I die" sort of way. But did I absolutely need it? No. I was content with the whole experience as it happened, as I made new friends, did things I've never done before, and enjoyed the company of some sincere companions. I didn't need a personal meeting and/or blessing for this experience to have been a good one. It would've been awesome, yes, but I really got what I needed already.

After coming back home, I reflected on the experience, and of course crashed like a stone upon my bed for some solid sleep. But the morning afterward, I felt truly energized and ready to face the day anew. And during that day, I extrapolated upon my feelings of the experience and came to this conclusion: what I learned from H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was learned indirectly, but was profound nonetheless - I didn't need the blessing of anyone. I didn't need an outside authority to validate my existence. The mere fact that I do exist is evidence enough that I deserve to exist.

What exactly does this have to do with being, or not being, a beautiful and unique snowflake, though?

During Sri Sri's speech, he led a meditation session, and he prefaced it with some instructions. The instructions were as follows (and I'm paraphrasing here): do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. And it was that last instruction that he elaborated upon in detail. He said, "if you believe yourself to be a rich person, this meditation will not help you. If you believe yourself to be poor, it will not help you. If you believe yourself to be the holiest person alive, this will not help you. And if you believe yourself to be the worst sinner ever, this will not help you either." As the meditation session began in earnest, I kept that instruction in mind...and as I was meditating, that line from Fight Club popped into my head.

Before this point, all this time I was thinking I was, as Sri Sri described, the "worst sinner ever," in the sense that my existence was parasitic of the world, that I was merely a blight on our planet's surface, that the universe as a whole would benefit if I was gone. As I kept Sri Sri's instruction in mind, I realized how much of a folly this line of thinking was. In attempting to not think too highly of myself, I ended up going on the opposite end of the same curve...that even though I thought myself worthless, I was still committing the same mistake of those believing themselves holier than thou.

I was believing myself to be a beautiful and unique snowflake. And in letting go of that belief...I set myself free.

Don't get me wrong, I still have a very strong sense of individuality. But what I realized, in letting go of the "unique snowflake" belief, was that even though I have a sense of self, that self, that ego, doesn't have to be unique. In other words, I don't have to try to be unique, in the sense of redeeming myself in a foolish manner (that wouldn't redeem me at all) or of condemning myself. I don't have to try to be unique because I already am. I have flaws, yes, but I also have strengths. I have bad qualities, but I also have good ones. To be unique in this world, one doesn't have to be someone like Martin Luther King Jr., or Mohandas Gandhi, or any other famous leader.

One has to just be.

Sure, the main character in Fight Club, when he utters that famous line, is using that statement for malicious intent, in an attempt to get his followers to blindly follow his crusade against society. However, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Today, as I write this, I've felt happier and better than I have been in ages. My mind feels like it is firing on all eight cylinders, and I'd even say my brain feels like it's on fire, but in the sense that it's finally working. It might sound like I think all my problems are over, but I know that to be false - I know my problems are just beginning. However, I now stand ready to face them as someone with a healthier mind, and lighter soul.

I now face the world with the knowledge that I can just live in it...and even if I accomplish nothing else, I now know that I've accomplished something just by living.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Where I Stand Spiritually

This post, the second post of mine to this blog, is intended to show where on the spiritual spectrum I stand. And depending on if you know me or not, this may surprise you.

I'll flat out tell you where I stand - while I'm not officially part of any religion (yet), I am leaning towards the faith of Hinduism.

Depending on how well you know me, or how judgmental those who don't know me are, this may come as especially shocking since I'm a born-and-raised Westerner, a white male American citizen at that (as evidenced by my origin of Rochester, NY and other things I list on my Blogger profile). I'll get more into why I'm leaning this way in a future post, but I'll give you a brief summary here: it is because I was exposed to the faith during a road trip I had with some dear friends to a meditation and yoga conference held by the worldwide NGO known as the Art of Living. The friends I traveled with are (to my knowledge) adherents of this faith, as well as the faith of the owners of the apartment I stayed overnight in to attend the conference. They were all kind, generous, gracious, and warm towards me, and as a result of their kindness I was inspired to explore this faith a bit further.

I started simple enough: the day after I arrived home from my road trip, I did a meditation session based on what I learned at the conference, and was inspired to pick a Hindu mantra as background music, a mantra to Ganesha I found on YouTube to be precise. (You can find what I chose here:

My meditation was ten minutes long to match the length of the video. During the meditation, however, something interesting happened...I saw an outline of Ganesha's head while my eyes were closed. Not quite sure how to describe seemed like...lines of lighter color against the dark background of my eyelids...I hope that makes sense.

This was approximately a week ago. Ever since then I've done a daily regimen of meditation using Hindu mantras to Ganesha as my background. But today...something more interesting happened that I think might be more of a sign to explore this faith for myself even further.

This afternoon as I was searching for a mantra to use for today's meditation, I came across a link to a book. This book was an e-Book published by the Himalayan Academy called Loving Ganesha. I glimpsed through the various chapters of this book, skimming through a lot and not actually reading much of it in-depth, until I came to the prayers section. There was a prayer to Ganesha that is meant to show appreciation, and I was inspired to recite it aloud, despite it being in English (I don't know a lick of Hindi or any other language of India), since it was mantras to Ganesha that were guiding my meditation. The prayer went like this:

"Aum, Shri Ganeshaya namah! Peerless One, industrious indweller in all, we see You in the full warmth of the Sun, in the full life of Earth and the orderliness of all the turning planets. O Lord and lover of intellect, You are the intricate knowledge blossoming in the mind of the people. O Lord who rules the mind of each and all who worship You, because of You, chaos never was nor will it ever be.
Ganesha sharanam, sharanam Ganesha."

Nothing happened immediately, but it seemed like 15 minutes or a half-hour later, I felt this energy welling inside my heart. It was so intense, so warming and life-filling that I felt a little light-headed and dizzy. I laid down and let the energy course through my body. I have to say, it felt like pure bliss. Like love.

Not quite sure what else to say other than that. I'm sure it means something, but I can't think of anything specific...only that there is some higher power out there that listened to me, if only for a brief moment. Maybe it was meant to prove to me that Ganesha exists...and is listening.

However, I am open to any other interpretations. Please comment below what you think. And my next post will be a more in-depth report of my experience on the meditation and yoga conference that inspired me to seek this path in the first place.

I Feel Like Saying "Hello World" For the First Time

Hello World. It is probably the most cliche phrase that has ever come out of the Information Age.

Yet it is something that I feel like saying now more than ever.

As far as how I got to this point, well, that is a topic for another post...this being an introductory post, it won't say much other than my intentions for this blog.

Light Club is a blog that I started on the suggestion of a friend, one who has grown dear to me in a short time. The title is a modification of a line from the 1990's movie Fight Club. The line from the movie in question that I'm modifying is:

"The first rule about Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club."

I'm no pit-fighter. The closest I'll ever get to being in an actual fight, barring someone mugging me, is if I buy tickets for a seat at a WWE or UFC event. And the extent of my martial arts training is a little Aikido I took during my college years that I've probably forgotten by now. But with my newfound spirituality, I feel like I'm ready to take on the world, metaphorically that is. Doing the best I can in this world is my new fight, and it's one I intend on winning.

Unlike the characters of the movie of Fight Club, though, this fight of mine is not something I am going to keep to myself. I intend to broadcast it to the world, and you're more than welcome to read along as I document my journeys.

This blog is going to be of a spiritual nature. It is going to document the progress I've made along my spiritual path. As such, the reflections that I post here, while they are certainly public and can be commented on, do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else, nor am I saying what works for me spiritually will work for you. This isn't a blog to proselytize, or preach. Rather, I am sharing my experiences, and through the comments section, am more than willing to receive advice.

So that is Light Club in a nutshell. Welcome to Light Club. If this is your first time, you have to read. ;)