Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Book Review: Cosmic Ordering

Before you place your order with the universe for the winning lottery numbers, you should think about the old saying: Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. As I said before, people who read The Secret and apply its principles will probably learn this lesson the hard way. However, because you're reading this post, you won't have to. So how do you know what you should wish for? Why not ask your guardian angel?

Cosmic Ordering: How to Make Your Dreams Come True by Jonathan Cainer tells you how to ask your guardian angel for stuff, and more importantly, how to ask for guidance on what stuff to ask for. It explains why asking to win the lottery probably won't work, but asking for guidance on how to get a better job probably will. Best of all, there's a surprise about the guardian angel at the end.

You may wonder why I have the "hermeticism" tag on this post. This is because getting acquainted with your guardian angel is one of the primary goals of ceremonial magic, which is a subset of hermeticism.

If you've read The Secret, read this book next. If you haven't, read this book instead.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Book Review: A Guide for the Perplexed

Some of you may need a little help with the first step (admit there's a problem). Others may need help with how to go about finding the something else I keep talking about. A Guide for the Perplexed by E. F. Schumacher addresses both issues.

The first chapter establishes that yes, there is a problem. The map of the universe that most of us use omits things by design that are actually important. The example used in the book is of maps of cities in Soviet Russia which intentionally left out churches. The maps used by scientists (but not quantum physicists) tend to leave out anything that can't be measured by instruments and any phenomena that can't be duplicated.

The second chapter details a major thing that's missing on most scientists' maps: that there are readily apparent differences between inanimate matter, plants, animals, and people. Everyone knows this to be true, but some of the scientists will say that the differences are "epiphenomena." For example, a biologist may reduce life to chemical activity, or a psychologist may say that consciousness is an illusory phenomenon arising from neural activity.

The main part of the book deals with what the author calls "four fields of knowledge." The fields of knowledge are the answers to four questions:

  1. What's in my inner world?

  2. What's in other people's inner worlds?

  3. How do I look to the outside world?

  4. How does the outside world look to me?

The author says that these four questions must be dealt with in order, because the answer to each is necessary to get to the answer to the next. Reading the book and coming up with your own answers to the four questions may help you find the something else. Give it a try.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Step 5: Throw out Things That Don't Fit

I'm restating step 5 as follows:
We discarded any beliefs and practices that did not fit into our developing new belief system, and worked on correcting any deficiencies resulting from those beliefs and practices.

This is because step 5 is not simply a matter of fixing what you broke because you didn't know any better. You must also fix your beliefs and any practices that stem from those beliefs, so that hopefully you don't break anything else. One of the side effects of materialism is selfishness. A side effect of the dualistic version of materialism is self-righteousness. Short-term thinking, greed, envy, pretty much all of the seven deadly sins are also side effects.

Why are all these things side effects of materialism? Materialism implies separation between people, but belief in a something else bigger than us but not separate from us implies an underlying unity. If your belief implies separation, you'll be more inclined to treat others as objects; hence greed, lust, envy. If your belief is of the dualistic type, the people you treat as objects will include those who don't believe the same things you do; hence religious wars and other forms of self-righteousness.

Let's have some examples. You may decide that popularity isn't as important as you thought it was, and concentrate on having a few close friends instead. You may decide that getting the 4,000 square foot house isn't so important. You may find an appreciation of the simpler things, like watching the sun rise.

Now, let's talk about fixing what's broken. Selfishness, greed, shortsightedness, apathy and the like wreck careers. They wreck marriages. They wreck your life. This is where correcting the deficiencies comes in.

Stay tuned for the next step.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Make Your Own "Jesus Fish" in 3 Easy Steps

For today's scheduled activity you will need a piece of paper, a compass (the geometry kind, not the geography kind) and an eraser.

Step 1: Draw a circle on the paper with the compass. It should take up a quarter of the area of the paper or less. You'll see why in a moment.

Step 2: Place the pivot point of the compass on the circumference of the circle, and draw another circle. This will create two intersecting circles.

Step 3: Erase the outside portions of each circle, but leave a short arc on each side of one end of the intersection.

You have now drawn a vesica piscis, the traditional symbol of Christianity. The fact that it is also the intersection of two circles has symbolic implications which I won't get into right now.

For extra credit, leave a comment with your interpretation of the symbol.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Step 4: Be Willing to See Things Differently

The fourth step is as follows:
We affirmed to God that we were willing to have a different perception of the world around us.

This step is about establishing intention, but primarily about changing your mind. You have to be willing to see things differently. This is actually the hardest part, because you have to give up your beliefs.

You have to be willing to change your mind about the economy. You have to be willing to change your mind about the environment. You have to be willing to change your mind about the jerk who cuts you off on the freeway. You have to be willing to change your mind about yourself.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Book Review: Kabbalah, Magic and the Great Work of Self-Transformation

Once you've decided that strict materialism doesn't work for you, or that dualism doesn't work either, there's an obvious question: what to do about it. As I mentioned in a prior posts, there are two main paths: mysticism and hermeticism. The two paths aren't really that different, they just have different areas of emphasis. The mystic path emphasizes experience of unity; the hermetic path emphasizes using symbolism to work on your subconscious to balance the different parts of your personality. Each path in practice contains the other.

If you are interested in the hermetic path, Kabbalah, Magic and the Great Work of Self-Transformation by Lyam Thomas Christopher is a possible option (but also see this alternative). This book is designed to be used as a self-study course in hermetism, but it can also be used as preparation for joining a mystery school, as it explains the concepts you'll need starting from a basic level.

One of the good things about the book is that the program set forth forces you to take your time and let the concepts and practices of each stage sink in before proceeding to the next. There is also suggested reading given for each stage. By the end of the book (which would take years if you follow the program), you'll be qualified to do independent work and research. Think of it as a self-study bachelor's level course in hermetism.

I'm not following this program myself because my current program (link in the sidebar) has over 15 years of lessons and has the same general principles and goals. But secrecy oaths and the like are a problem for some, and those people should consider this book.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Step 3: Give Your Life to Recovery

The revised step 3 is as follows:
We decided to devote our lives toward personal experience of this something else.

Just to clarify, I don't mean that we need to quit our jobs, sell everything we have, and sit on the top of a mountain somewhere until we get it. I mean something more difficult, but at the same time more rewarding. I mean that the quest has to permeate your life. You have to have it at the back of your mind when you go to work, when you go to church, when you stand in line at the grocery store.

Different philosophers have said that the Something Else is everywhere and in everything. If that's true, there's no hard and fast dividing line between the quest and life in general. You'll study and work on yourself, but you'll also apply what you've learned in daily living (more on that later).

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Step 2: Recognize that We're Missing Something

The second step in recovery:

We decided to take seriously the idea that there was something out there besides the physical universe as we knew it.

The first step was admitting that we don't have all the answers. This step is an extension of the first. We're not only admitting that we don't have the answer; we're affirming that the answer is out there somewhere. If you need support for this step, as in you're not sure that there is anything besides the universe as we know it, you need to go back to step 1.

(Sorry for the edits. I seem to have gotten a little ahead of myself.)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Step 1: Admit There's a Problem

In On Second Thought, 12 Steps May Be Too Many, I cut the number of steps down to 7. Today, I want to talk about the first step:
We admitted that our current worldview was incomplete, and therefore not conducive to a happy life.

I changed this because the important thing is that we're missing something. We have made major scientific and technological advances in the last 100 years, and most of us in America have standards of living better than that of the richest people 300 years ago, but we're still not happy. We spend more money on health care that anyone, but we still can't get rid of cancer and heart disease. Even the most famous and successful of us are not immune to depression, drugs and scandals. And let's not even start about the environment.

Given that our results are suboptimal, the problem must be either with our model of the world, our value systems or our behavior. If it's our behavior, that ultimately goes back to the model and our values, because if we are not acting according to our beliefs and values, we're either insane, or our beliefs and values aren't workable in practice.

So that's step 1. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Book Review: Extra-Dimensional Universe

Some physicists now believe that the universe does not have just 3 dimensions of space plus one of time. Phenomena such as light and gravity become easier to explain if the universe has 10 or 26 dimensions. The obvious question is: if there are more dimensions, why can't we see them? The answer given is that the extra dimensions are very, very small. This seems to me to be a copout. The other reason that they are very small is that the math of planetary orbits doesn't work out otherwise; to that I say, so much the worse for the math of planetary orbits. We backed into it anyway (see Let's Talk Flying Saucers).

Extra-Dimensional Universe by John R. Violette talks about a universe with real extra dimensions larger than the Planck scale, in connection with the paranormal. The main theme of the book is that paranormal phenomena such as extra-sensory perception and UFO's can be explained by the extra dimensions. The flatland concept is used to help explain how things we would think of as impossible are entirely natural.

The bottom line? I don't know if Mr. Violette's model of the universe is accurate, but to the extent that the book helps us detach from our ideas about how the world works, it's useful.