A Bridge to Ataraxia

“I once was blind, but now I see.” To what else could this figurative quote from the Bible’s Book of John be referring, other than to express a moment of clarity? And, what right does an avowed atheist have in quoting Scripture to draw comparisons of concepts? As it turns out, after a life changing moment of clarity that revealed a higher power, a long overdue one. What else may a disbeliever do but use their coveted reasoning skills to try to explain they’ve been wrong all along?

A Believer?

Am I, an atheist of nearly four decades, now a believer in the existence of the God of the Christians, Jews and Muslims? In a word, no. I do now have, however, a mutual understanding of the existence of the power that they so primitively and ineptly attempt to describe. Therefore, my objection to these religions no longer resides in their insistence upon the existence of a higher power, but simply in their definition and interpretation of it.

Perhaps an obtuse definition of this higher power was necessary in past attempts to proselytize the masses throughout the ages. In an unscientific world, a world filled with people believing in magic and spirits, explaining quantum metaphysics and our bio-neurological relationship to it, was certainly a bridge too far. It would’ve been far easier to explain an all-knowing bearded figure sitting atop a cloudy perch behind pearly gates.

I have no wish in this post to describe the major religions’ many profound failures in describing our place in the universe. I wish to take a respite from confrontational judgement and offer, instead, my deepest apologies to the practitioners of these religions for my own failure to witness the higher power they tried to explain and any heretofore belittling I made of their insistence upon it.

What Higher Power?

If I don’t believe in a God of the traditional sense, what do I believe? For me, the term God is more a synonym for universe, or at least the sentient part of it. How can the universe be sentient, you ask? Because I am sentient, and I and it, are one and the same. I am part of the same machination. I am both a receiver and transmitter for it. Life, it would seem, is how the universe experiences itself. In the shortest possible, currently available, terms, I am an individuation of it’s ‘consciousness’. Maybe this is what religions were trying to explain when they say that “we are made in God’s image.”

And, my proof of this higher power? I am unable to answer the same demands for proof I have always demanded. I can only return the questions so often returned to my own questions. How can you prove love? How do you prove a rainbow to the colorblind? It has nothing to do with faith. My senses are my reason. I have no others to go by. It’s something each individual can and must experience for themselves.

My Path

I didn’t set out, as so many do, in search of a spiritual awakening. No life or death traumatic situation revealed one to me. No rock bottom gave me clarity. I, quite simply, stumbled upon mine.

For those who’ve put much effort in search of an awakening and thus far come up short, please do not envy me. My unexpected discovery was not total blind luck. Like so many other things in life, ‘luck’ seems to come to those who have done immense amounts of groundwork. I was prime for clarity. I had, through a lifetime of introspection, cleared a path to a mountaintop, unaware I was even on a mountain.

Anyone who reads my blogs might have observed an infatuation with self-mastery (See here: https://dcfwalter.com/mindful-or-full-mind/ or here: https://dcfwalter.com/and-the-pursuit-of-happiness/ ). Through my exploration of the subject, the practice of meditation kept arising; far too often to ignore. I had never meditated, nor did I know of anyone close to me who really had. Wasn’t meditation for yogis, Buddhists, and the Beatles? As a rational American and product of a long no nonsense Protestant line, chanted mantras, third-eyes and elephant headed gods with sixteen flailing arms, were plenty foreign enough concepts to detract me from imbuing this ancient Eastern practice with any serious efficacy. It was only after the concept of meditation was placed in terms more friendly to a western-centric mindset that I was able to see it’s potential as a useful tool for individual human growth. What did I have to lose? Twenty minutes? Thus, I opened myself to something new. My openness was greatly rewarded.

The Path

So what is meditation? There is a popular misconception that it entails the total clearing of your mind. This misconception is probably what lead me to abandon earlier life attempts at the practice. Meditation is nothing of the sort. It is not clearing the mind. Doing that is no more possible than stopping your heart from beating. It is instead a process of ridding the mind of specific thoughts, specifically, thoughts of your past and future. Your only job at the start of meditation is to bring your mind totally into the present moment. By becoming present, an individual is able to break free from the stress of what Buddhists call the monkey mind. This is the seemingly never ending narrative of a mind not in control of its thoughts.

Frequent traits of a monkey mind are thoughts of regret, trauma and frustrations from the past which create a narrative feedback loop where thoughts create feelings, and feelings reinforce those same thoughts, which in return reinforce those feelings, and so on, around and around. Sometimes the monkey mind is a tempest of thoughts regarding the future, a swirl of fears of unknowable future outcomes. It is an evolutionary asset to always be prepared for the worst from that shadowy rustle in the bushes, yet we apply life or death, fight or flight levels of stress to non-deadly situations like a forthcoming job interview or public speaking engagement. In short, our right-side analytic brains have kept our thinking in automated feedback loops that make it hard to change from day to day.

Being present, forsaking both the past and future, breaks the cycle of these feedback loops and allows the individual to finally prescribe meaningful change. Meditation is the tool to achieve this mindful presence.

The Death of Fear

The removal of thoughts of past and future makes fear impossible. Unless a tiger or the like hunts you in the present, the present is free from fear. Nobody stops to meditate while being hunted anyway. If you are being hunted, I wholeheartedly encourage you to embrace your animal fears until you get away. The problem of modern Western society is that we tend to remain in fight or flight mode for much of our existence, pounding our bodies with stress chemicals (high above amounts we’re designed to endure) which do observable damage to our health.

Just as important as the removal of fear and stress is what replaces it. Counterinuitively, love, joy and gratitude are not feelings to reach after the achievement of goals, but are, instead, our default-mode feeling. After only a single twenty minute morning meditation session, I spent the remainder of the same day in a state of blissful connection to the universe. I possessed joy on tap. Whenever a non-useful thought of the past entered my mind, or fear of something in the future beyond my control, I was able to recenter myself in the present and maintain my default-joy. The energy freed up, which had been forever wasted on stress and fear, was refocused on ideas which seemed to come from serendipity. These ideas seemed to come packaged complete with their own energy for realization. My joyous frequency became a magnet for positive outcomes.

A Foothold in Ataraxia

How does all this work? I don’t know. All I know is that it does. My life is immeasurably better since I started meditating. I tread now with a confident peace. Purpose flows. Life seems a game where I can write the rules. I operate at a higher frequency than ever before, where any future seems possible. I highly recommend you try it for yourself. The Universe is your dance partner and you are leading. How’s your dance been going leading with fear and stress? I recommend a tempo of gratitude and love.

It all takes work. Your body will protest the unfamiliar, but change is not possible if you keep doing the familiar. Like training a rambunctious puppy, you must get your body to sit and stay. Stay vigilant. Your body will fight you. But, when it learns, it will obey your commands and you will be free to run it instead of it running you.

Rip me. Say I’m a fool. Tell me all I did was give myself a psychosis to believe I am an avatar of a benign higher power/Universe/God. If I gave myself a psychosis that destroys irrational fear and stress, and instead offers me peace and joy on command, please do not try and cure me. Instead, I urge you to join me. The Universe loves me and I take a selfish pride in that fact. The world changes before your eyes when you live it, not to win, but as if, by simply being here, you have already won. If you can’t take an atheists word for the existence of a higher power, whose word can you take? But don’t believe me. Try it for yourself. Here’s a link to get you started https://jesseelder.com/ep7/

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