Welcome to my blog---an eyes-open, no-holds-barred exploration of Western and Eastern spirituality, mindfulness, philosophy and literature. A member of the Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association, I lectured at the NSW Institute of Psychiatry to mental health workers for 14 years and also lectured for 16 years at the University of Technology, Sydney. My interests include the psychology of religion, transformative ritual, mythology and addiction recovery.
The Master's power is like this. He lets all things
come and go effortlessly,
without desire. He never expects
results; thus he is never
disappointed. He is never
disappointed; thus his spirit
never grows old.
Those lines of wisdom come from chapter 55 of the TaoTe Ching. I have often
read those lines at various services I have conducted, and lectures I have
given, over the years. It is such good advice, who could gainsay it? Yet it’s
so damn hard to let things come and go!
I find it hard to let go of so many
things. Take books, for example. I have literally thousands of them, on a variety
of subjects including religion, philosophy, psychology, science, cosmology, history,
the performing arts, etc, etc. I am trying, ever so hard, to get rid of a lot
of them at the moment, for I desperately need to de-clutter with a view to
downsizing my home in a few years’ time or perhaps sooner. Then there are about
as many CDs, DVDs, and the like---even vinyl records and a few 78 RPMs as well.
No, I am not a hoarder in a strict clinical sense. I am too orderly for that,
but I am a hoarder nevertheless.
I am also a hoarder of negative
emotions, including anger and resentment. Those things are even harder to get rid of---and much more dangerous to one's wellbeing as well.
I spend much of my life trying to help others with their problems of mind and
soul, yet I often have so much trouble with my own such problems. (This is a rare confession from
me.) Now, recently a spiritual fellowship with which I have had a fairly close
association for about 14 years---I was a foundation member of this group, I
drafted their constitution and rules, and I have spoken there on a regular
basis in both recent years as well as in the group’s early years---treated me
quite shabbily, indeed in a most mean-spirited and unfair manner (and this from a fellowship and a denomination---the one of which I am an ordained minister---that purports to be dedicated to the
notion of acting compassionately and fairly, not to mention rationally). I won’t
mention the name of the group, but if you have nothing better to do with your time you may
wish to do this quick word search puzzle. Sorry, no prizes, etc, and please don't bother sending me, whether by way of comment or email, what you thing is the 'correct' answer to the not-so-damn-hard puzzle---a puzzle so simple, dear readers, I'm not even going to give you the search words. Ha!
Part of the problem (not the word puzzle, but with the group I mentioned above) is that I felt personally rejected by those in control of the group—and in a very real sense I was. And denied procedural fairness by not being properly heard, or heard at all. And I wasn't given adequate or meaningful reasons, or the real reasons, for the decision, which is tantamount to my not being given any reasons at all. Additionally, I expected a positive outcome, and it did not happen. My response (or rather reaction) was, well, less than gracious, and I felt more than just disappointment.
Instead of accepting that even the best of people will act unreasonably, uncharitably and otherwise unfairly from time to time, that life itself is rarely fair---no, I do not believe
in the idea that ‘perfect justice rules the world,’ cosmically or
otherwise---and that I should ‘let all things come and go effortlessly, without
desire,’ I erupted in anger, indignation and self-righteous outrage. I 'excelled' myself, so to speak, as respects my display of those emotions. (Even though in a sense 'they [the people in question] had it coming,' because they were so stupid really, and unfit to govern a religious organization, it is always the case that when we react badly, the problem is always with us, not with the other person or persons, no matter how badly they may have behaved.)
The spiritual teacher Vernon Howard (pictured right) often
wrote and spoke of the need to let people think and behave toward us exactly as they
wish (while, of course, taking all sensible precautions to prevent then from doing actual harm or injury to
us). He would say, ‘Expect nothing from no one, plead for nothing, accept
whatever comes, for no one---absolutely no one---has anything of any real, lasting value to give you.’ Such
sound advice! You know, all of the world’s great teachers and masters have said
more-or-less the same thing over the centuries.
And what about that group of people
who, I still feel, acted wrongly and unfairly toward me, and in whom my disappointment is total and complete? Well, I intend to
follow this pearl of wisdom from Jesus:
‘Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.
And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the
very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.’ (Lk 9:4-5)
I will also do my darndest to release all the persons concerned to
their 'highest good,' whatever that may be for them, even though I plan to have nothing more to do with them. (Well, why set yourself up for more hurt?) But releasing
them all to their highest good---that’s the really hard part, but it must be done … if
only for my own best interests.
The February 3, 2014 issue of TIME magazine
has a cover story entitled ‘The Mindful Revolution’---an apt title if ever
You see, if and when you commit yourself to
the regular, daily, and moment-to-moment practice of mindfulness---and I hope
you do---you do indeed experience a revolution of sorts. The nature of that
revolution is not unlike that word ‘repentance’ which, as any Christian minister (especially one of the evangelical kind) will tell you, involves both a turning away (from oneself and the ‘evil spirit’ of
separateness, that is, sin, to use a Biblical word) and a turning
to or toward (a
Power-not-oneself, that is God). Repentance also involves a profound change of heart (that
is, mind and perception) and, of course, behaviour.
Now, how, you may ask, is mindfulness like
repentance? Are you saying mindfulness is religious, even Christian? No, I am certainly not saying that. As I have often said you don't need to be at all religious to practise mindfulness. Mindfulness is not religion. Got that? Anyone can practise mindfulness, no matter what their religion or lack of religion. Now, back to the first question, namely, how mindfulness is like repentance. Well, mindfulness
involves, firstly, a turning away
from resistance and separation in the forms of labelling, analyzing, judging,
and condemning ‘things’ as they happen (that is, unfold in consciousness from
one moment to the next), and secondly, a turning
to or toward the reality of the
actual content (both internal and external) of the present moment---in all its
directness and immediacy.
You see, mindfulness is not a retreat or withdrawal
from reality. Not at all. Mindfulness is a full-frontal engagement with
reality, that is, life as it unfolds from moment to moment---and that is truly a revolutionary experience
if ever there was one.
Thank you, TIME magazine. Your cover story has
introduced the ‘science’---as you
rightly call it---of mindfulness to its widest audience yet.
by Peter Hapak for TIME. All rights reserved.
According to theNew Pocket Hawaiian Dictionary the Hawaiian word huna means, among other things, ‘hidden secret,’ that which is ‘secret’ or ‘hidden,’ in other words that which is not obvious or readily discernible. And what of ultimate cosmic importance might that be? Well, as I see it, it is what we sometimes refer to as Truth. But what is Truth? Is it not reality? Life? I think so. It's certainly not some supposed supernatural principle, person, 'thing,' or being---other than the 'Be-ing-ness,' that is, livingness, of life itself.
Now, how can life or reality be said to be hidden or not obvious? Is not life in evidence all about us? Of course. However, when we fail to see it as it really is, which is more often the case than not, life is indeed concealed from us---or rather we conceal ourselves from the unfolding flow and influx of life. Here's another problem, which only aggravates the situation. We tend to look for Truth in the 'wrong' sorts of places---for example, in churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and self-help groups, and on psychiatrists' couches (although they all have their place). In one sense, Truth is everywhere, so it exists in the places just mentioned and elsewhere as well. The trouble is we think we need to believe this teaching or that teaching, or follow this guru or that guru, or accept this person or some other one as our personal savior. That’s when we go horribly astray, because Truth is not to be found in someone else---not even if that someone else be a supposed deity or messiah.
Here's another shocker. I have come to realize that our conscious, rational, thinking mind, important though it is for problem-solving and the like, cannot directly lead us to Truth. Why might that be the case? Well, when we are thinking, analyzing, and judging we are no longer in direct and immediate contact with life as it unfolds from one moment to the next. I have often spoken of that.
Now, I have problems with the notion of there being different levels of orders or reality. In fact, I am more than comfortably satisfied that there is only one order or level of reality, and all things exist on that one order or level of reality, and on the same plane of observability. However, even the ordinary, everyday things of life are not obvious or readily discernible when we are mindlessly unaware of them. Truth will remain a hidden secret for us until the person each one of us is learns---I am not talking about book-knowledge---to be mindfully aware of the action, both internal and external, of the present moment as it progressively unfolds from one moment to the next.
The author---off the coast of Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii, USA. 1987.
There is another Hawaiian word manawa whichmeans time, turn, and season. It can also mean a space between two events---and that could even be the 'space' between one's inbreath and outbreath, or between one heartbeat and the next. That space is nothing other than the now, including that now which is known as the ‘Eternal Now.’ If we want to experience life, truth, reality in all its directness and immediacy---and uninterrupted and unmediated by any intermediaries---we must find it now, that is, in the context and flow of manawa. Why? Because everything---and I mean everything---is contained within ‘the Now.’ All duration---or time, as well as season---is total and complete in the Now. There is an enduring, even ‘eternal,’ quality about the Now. Why? Because it is forever new. The present moment has its unfolding in the Now. The only ‘time’---now, in a very profound sense what I am talking about is beyond time---we have is this ever-so-brief and ephemeral, and ever-changing and 'reincarnating,' present moment. We can only experience life from one moment to the next---in and through the portal of the Now. Truth is indeed concealed from us until we learn to live and act mindfully. Truth can only be found, that is, experienced and known, 'in' the Eternal Now, that is, in the actual living of life, from one moment to the next, with choiceless awareness of what is. And that particular truth (that is, cosmic principle) is not a hidden secret even though it is not all that widely known. That’s why I am telling you about it. But don't take my word for it. Find out for yourself. Experience it for yourself.
‘... a mythology is a control system, on the one hand
framing its community to accord with an intuited order of nature and, on the
other hand, by means of its symbolic pedagogic rites, conducting individuals
through the ineluctable psychophysiological stages of transformation of a human
lifetime -- birth, childhood and adolescence, age, old age, and the release of
death -- in unbroken accord simultaneously with the requirements of this world
and the rapture of participation in a manner of being beyond time.’ Joseph Campbell.
A few decades ago
there was a movement in Christian theology the aim of which was to de-mythologize the Bible. The movement
was right in one key respect---the Bible, like all so-called holy books, is
full of myth, from the very first page to the very last. However, the movement
sought to ‘move’ in the wrong direction, and was not very successful. What we need
to do is re-mythologize the
Bible, not de-mythologize it. Ditto all other so-called holy books.
At the heart of every
religion---and not just at the heart but all through it---is … myth! We need
myth to learn, grow, evolve, and function successfully as human beings. If
religion is to be taught in schools at all---assuming that it is lawful so to do---then it
needs to be taught as literature and myth … for that is what it is.
According to the
American mythographer Joseph Campbell [pictured left] all myths, indeed all
story-telling, folk traditions and ritual practices, share certain common
themes. More particularly, Campbell asserted that all such things could be
understood in terms of what he described as the ‘hero myth’ (and what he referred
to as the ‘monomyth’). Indeed, Campbell tended to construe all religions as ‘misunderstood
mythologies’ Campbell 1986; see also Adler 1990:58-9), and saw the principal
function of mythology as well as ritual as the ‘supply [of] the symbols that
carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those other constant human
fantasies that tend to tie it back’ (Campbell  1990:11). According to
is apparently coeval with mankind. As far back, that is to say, as we have been
able to follow the broken, scattered, earliest evidences of the emergence of
our species, signs have been found which indicate that mythological aims and
concerns were already shaping the arts and world of Homo sapiens. Such
evidences tell us something, furthermore, of the unity of our species, for the
fundamental themes of mythological thought have remained constant and
universal, not only throughout history, but also over the whole extent of
mankind’s occupation of the earth.
(1986:145-6) has written, rather esoterically, about the importance of myth:
Myth is not a complicated way of talking
about something perfectly simple like gathering the last sheaf for next year’s
planting, or a sort of fancy-dress version of astronomy. It is the simplest and the most forceful
language for talking about what is obscure about life - its Sacred Hidden
Depths. The most profound human
experiences which rouse feelings of stupendous awe and wonder, and which come
in flashes of inspiration that leave a trace for the rest of your life and mark
many other lives besides, these are the subject matter of myth and cannot be
expressed in another way except through a mythical perspective on Nature, Body,
Culture, Sky, Pattern, Number, any or all of which will do, so long as none of
them is taken literally but are seen from the perspective of Soul.
In almost all of the
world’s religions one finds fairly similar myths of creation, the flood, and so
forth. Then there is the myth of the dying and rising god, which is common to a
number of religions and religious philosophies. These myths and common motifs,
although not in themselves historical, are nevertheless ‘poetic expressions of
… transcendental seeing’ (Campbell 1973:31). The Canadian author, broadcaster and theologian Tom Harpur (2004:17) has written:
As [Joseph] Campbell repeatedly made clear in
his many books and in the interviews with [Bill] Moyers, the deepest truths
about life, the soul, personal meaning, our place in the universe, our struggle
to evolve to higher levels of insight and understanding, and particularly the
mystery we call God can be described only by means of a story (mythos) or a
ritual drama. The myth itself is fictional, but the timeless truth it expresses
is not. As Campbell puts it, ‘Myth is what never was, yet always is.’
In addition to myths,
there are stories, often associated with a charismatic leader such as Jesus,
Buddha or Muhammad who is regarded as ‘ideal’, setting an example as to how
followers are to live their lives. The stories commonly involve very similar
patterns of behaviour. History and myth often coalesce into what Joseph Campbell
(1973:26) refers to as ‘themes of the imagination’, but care must be exercised
here. As the late Ninian Smart (1992:15) points out:
… These stories often are called myths. The term may be a bit misleading, for in the
context of the modern study of religion there is no implication that a myth is
(1987:389) opined that the common theme of all mythology was ‘achievement’, in
particular, the achievement of a supreme good (whether that be eternal life,
universal justice, enlightenment or whatever). In his view, mythology had a fourfold function: to relate the individual to God, to the cosmos, to society and to
developmental energies (Cousineau 1990:162).
Joseph Campbell (1988:70) wrote:
myths and rites were means of putting the mind in accord with the body and the
way of life in accord with the way that nature dictates.
wrote that myth served certain additional functions, such as the following. First, myth enables individuals and communities to address and overcome
psychological stresses by arousing hitherto dormant energies (Campbell
1987:370). Secondly, myth validates and assists in the maintenance of social systems
(Cousineau 1990:165). Thirdly, myth
assists persons to find their place in the universe (Campbell 1987:4) and to
discern and engage the source of the phenomenological (Cousineau 1990: 167).
And what of the transformative power of myth? As the Canadian academic and environmental activist David Suzuki
(1997:185) points out, myth is essentially curative and unifying in its
Myths help us to reconcile conflicts and contradictions and
describe a coherent reality. They make a meaning that holds the group together
and express a set of beliefs; even in our skeptical society, we live by myths
that lie so deep we believe them to be reality.
myth, properly understood, is real, not imaginary. The Unitarian Universalist
minister Mike Young (1999:Online) has spoken of the experiential reality of
myth and its importance:
Campbell has rescued the concept of myth. When I was a youngster a myth was
clearly something that was not true. What Campbell kept reminding us was that
myths are not not true. For myths
are not about how things are out there, even though that may be the
vocabulary of the story. Myths are about how things are in here. They
have their roots in the human experience.
They are part of who we are inside as a species, not just as individuals
but as a people. During the period of our history when we came into existence
as conscious entities, we Homo sapiens existed in self-contained groups.
Today we live in a world where the horizons are far, far more vast.
A Masonic writer
(Swick 1996:74-5), invoking the Masonic legend of Hiram Abiff, has compellingly
articulated the dramatic and transformative power of myth in the lives of
It is the lucky man who realizes early on that there
is a way in which he, himself, is our Grand Master Hiram Abiff. When revelation
of this sublime truth comes to the individual, it may strike him with a great
force, making him dead to all that has gone before. We are the myth! And the
lives of the great ones who have preceded us, are our lives, if we but choose
to have it so! As we seek to walk the path they have walked, we become Adam, we
become Abraham, we become Hiram. Their
stories belong to us - and their lives are our lives; for the truth of their
lives is the truth of human existence.
Yes, indeed. Lucky is the person who, rooted in and fully cognizant
of the mythological be-ing-ness of their own nature, knows that they are … myth! So, live the myth that you
are. Live it fully. Yes, you---the
hero with a thousand faces.
Adler, M J 1990. Truth
in Religion: The Plurality of Religions and the Unity of Truth. New York:
Campbell, J 
1990. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.
Campbell, J 1973. Myths
to Live By. New York: Viking.
Campbell, J 1986. The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor
as Myth and as Religion. New York: HarperCollins.
Campbell, J 1987. The
Masks of God: Primitive Mythology. New York: Penguin.
J 1988. The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday.
Chetwynd, T 1986. A Dictionary of Sacred Myth. London:
Cousineau, P (ed) 1990. The
Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work. San Francisco: Harper
Harpur, T 2004. The Pagan Christ: Is Blind Faith Killing
Christianity? Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Smart, N 1992. The World’s Religions: Old Traditions and
Modern Transformations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Suzuki, D (with A McConnell)
1997. The Sacred Balance:
Rediscovering Our Place in Nature. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Swick III, J S 1996. ‘Veiled in Allegory and Illustrated by
Symbols: An Invitation to a Deeper Appreciation of Masonic Teaching’, The
Philalethes Magazine, Vol XLIX No 3, June 1996, 74-5.
1999. ‘Myth and Modernity’
[sermon: First Unitarian Church of Honolulu HI, December 12 1999], viewed April
5 2005, <http://home.hawaii.rr.com/uuchurch/sermons/myth.htm>.