Coming Soon: Woo Filter
In addition to the jogging/running series I'll be updating regularly—as well as getting back into all the politics, social issues (that don't intersect with writing), and media reviews I was doing before—I'm going to be starting a new series soon. It's a series about woo—alternative spirituality and mysticism.
It is no longer possible for me to continue writing about my life without including the dimension of spiritual, sometimes borderline supernatural, experiences. So I'm starting a series about my exploits that are might be classified as "woo." It's about being an atheist in a growing existential crisis. It's about a goddess I'd never heard of in a pantheon I was unaware of suddenly being in every dream I had. It's about occurrences I can barely explain. It's about the liminal spaces between what is real and what is true. It's about a life inexorably altered for the better. And it's about magic.
1- I don't know what I capital-B "Believe."
I don't sit around and worry about what is true.
I sit around and marvel at what is real.
I swim in those previously mentioned liminal spaces, and I've given up trying to pin down exactly where the edges of "belief" exist. I know some things are explainable and probably not supernatural, alternative, mystic, or even spiritual beyond a particular kind of psychologically understood altered state of consciousness. I know I am a mammal with a cerebral cortex that makes me a heat-seeking missile for narrative, and that I will latch on to stories and patterns even in the face of coincidence and chance. I know I will look for explanations with a bias for magical thinking.
I've given up trying to figure out exactly what I "officially believe officially" and have found much more comfort in channeling my attention and focus on what works and how I feel. Whether I'm really really really interacting with supernatural forces or I'm interacting with a long-dormant aspect of my own psyche brought to life by humanity's capacity for interactive storytelling, magical thinking, and confirmation bias, it makes no difference in what has changed in my life and how I have been perceiving and interacting with the world.
This means you can save your "gotcha"s and your incredulity and your takedowns and debunks. I have beliefs, but I've given up trying to galvanize them into "Beliefs." They are bendy reeds that are as likely to shrug and say, "I don't know if that matters" than shatter.
2- This is my experience.
I am just going to tell you my story. My story has some extraordinary moments. It has some things I can't explain. It has some things I can. It has some things that I increasingly feel like the absurd guy in Men In Black if I try to explain them away. ("Now what you saw was Venus and a lightning flash reflecting off of swamp gas…") Maybe this is all a brilliant cascade of coincidences that, according to the law of large numbers, was going to happen to someone, somewhere, eventually. Regardless, I don't have a way to speak of it other than to tell my story.
My religious experiences are as doubtful as anyone's and as valid as anyone's. A Christian might think they've got it all figured out, but I find that to be extreme hubris. An atheist might think they've got it all figured out, but I find that to be extreme hubris. An alternative practitioner might think they have it all figured out, but I find that to be extreme hubris. Everyone will try to figure out how my adventures fit into THEIR paradigm. I've given up on any attempt to have all the answers. All I can tell you is what I've undergone, how it's landed on me, how it's changed me, and how I've moved forth.
Perhaps I'm talking to myself and kidding myself and in a vast self-deception. If so, I have had the most profound conversations and transcendental moments. Those are real…even if they aren't verifiable truth.
3- I will make no metaphysical claims.
I might navel-gaze conjecture once in a while. (I have this whole idea that the things we pray to might exist outside of time and space in some other kind of dimension like right out of a science fiction novel, and that we lack even the cognitive ability to fully understand the ways they interact with us, so we create these stories as a way of interpreting our perceptions as best as we can. Or I might think that every living thing is interconnected and the "filaments" that bind us to each other have their own sort of awareness and as they become vast webs and networks of people with commonalities, they form a kind of social sentience—and these sentient webs and networks are what we perceive as "deities.") But when I think about this shit, I'm just doing mental masturbation, and I'll say as much. I don't know the true nature of the universe. I wouldn't even know how to figure that out. I certainly don't think that one geographic region somehow nailed the Truth, and the rest are wrong.
Save me from those people, and save me from ever being one.
To that end, I also don't claim that beyond the water's edge of human knowledge, nothing can exist that we might be incapable of understanding…or of understanding YET. I'm a reasonably educated layman when it comes to science and logic. I know the flaws in religious thinking. I know that most woo-woo claims (that don't already map over things like the physiological benefits of meditation or the psychological power of altered states of consciousness) have been either debunked or cannot be proven in a double-blind scientific study. But I also know that the exact moment of knowing where a profound, life-altering experience from a clinical point of view ends and a fully supernatural event begins is not exactly clear, and I resist people who deny the (admittedly flawed) language to express those things we can't fully yet understand JUST as much as I do those who simply deny science whole cloth.
I don't know what is true.
I only know what is real.
4- I will not proselytize.
I don't care what you do.
If I give you something to think about, great. If you want to know more, I'm happy to be a guidepost (though I am not myself a resource). If you want to ask me personal questions that don't require me to answer as some sort of authority, I'll probably answer them.
But I'm not here to drum up followers or do outreach. I'm not here to convince you. I'm not here to convert you. I just need to tell my story.
You do you.
5- I know how I sound.
I have actually studied the psychology of religious experience. I know how people of all faiths have confirming events and deep emotional verification that they are on the right path—even atheists have them. I know that visions come with altered states of consciousness and dreams are Rorschach inkblot interpretations of random neurons firing. I know that it's probably one of the reasons my skepticism is so hard to shed, much to the frustration of the spiritual, magick, and polytheist practitioners around me. I know how we grasp for meaning from the meaningless. I know about burdens of proof and rational thinking and how poorly many belief systems hold up to that kind of scrutiny.
I also know how hearing voices and seeing things are viewed by Western medicine. I know how dreams of the same thing night after night fit into a modern psychological landscape.
I know I sound crazy.
And sometimes I wonder if I might be. But there are reasons—a lot of reasons—I don't think that I'm mentally ill. Reasons from the commonality of these kinds of experiences among people who are open to them* to the fact that it has only improved my mental health in every other facet of my life.
*Which isn't to say we're all "right," or even that we're not all deluding ourselves, but it isn't the mark of insanity.
6- I'm not going to use skeptical language.
Aside from the occasional acknowledgement that, AT THE TIME, I had skeptical theories about what might have been happening, this post will be the last time I will make a deep and concerted effort to tip my hat to a skeptical perspective. I'm aware of wish fulfilment, pattern recognition, magical thinking, placebo effect, altered states of consciousness, archetypes, unconscious desires, wanting to believe, confirmation bias, interactive stories, unconscious memories, using foci, meditation, power of positive thinking, and brain hacks into one's own unconscious.
This mode of language is insufficient to the task of describing the full scope of a spiritual experience. I will not tiptoe around it after this. I can say that I talk to an ancient Irish deity in my sleep a lot more easily than I can write an entire paragraph acknowledging all the possible things that could "really" be going on in my head to make me have such a dream.
7- I no longer care.
Of course, I will always wonder if what is happening is really supernatural or not. I will always have some doubt. I will always be skeptical of my own woo-woo explanations. I will never shed that particle that says my unconscious made all this up and religious thinking did the rest.
But a little while back, I stopped trying to figure out what the truth was. Like what was really really REALLY™ going on. Not only was it impossible to prove or disprove (and yes, I know it's impossible to prove), but it's not hurting anyone and it's made me a better person in almost every way.
8- I'm still holding back.
I'm willing to share some stories. But some of the things I've lived are just too personal, too "out there," or involve people whose story is not mine to tell.
1- Check the truculent atheism at the door.
I swear, it's atheists who are the worst about trying to convert people. They are SOFA KING insufferable with their "gotchas" and their "well actulista" moments. Busting in on every thread like the Kool-aid man. Missionaries going door to door got nothing on them.
If it's an explanation for what COULD be going on, I want you to trust that I've already thought it—probably thirty times…yesterday. I welcome your skepticism—I would honestly ask for nothing less in life—but I don't need it in my face every time I post. I don't need you telling me what you think I've misinterpreted as supernatural. I don't need your quashing energy trying to debunk my exploits.
If that's all you're here to do, save it. Take it into your spaces and point and laugh if you want. That's the price of doing business to write about myself. But I don't need it in my life.
And if you can't save it, I'll show you the door.
I'm annoyed by people who think they have everything figured out. That's as true with people who casually say, "you just made that up in your own head" as people who say, "obviously that's your sixth chakra unlocking." I can't even IMAGINE going through this and thinking I understood ten percent of what was happening, much less that I had it all figured out.
2- I do not need your woo-woo dogma.
Do you think I shouldn't be doing what I'm doing with the forces I'm doing it with? ("It's dangerous to contact that deity directly—whatever do you think you're doing???") Do you think I can't be having the experience I'm having because I'm not an ordained priest of Globgar or a fifth-circle magus (or whateverthefuck)? Save it.
I don't want the titles of authority or leadership. I am not here to tell you that I'm a Celtic shaman or that I'm a druid or that I'm a priest. I'm not interested in anyone's stamp of approval on my experiences or some official decree. These things are HAPPENING to me. In some cases, I am incapable of making them STOP happening…or at the very least I am a willing passenger in one fucking wild ride that isn't always fun and games.
I don't want or need authorization.
So if you're in the tradition it seems like I've been thrust into unwittingly, and you want to help me be a better practitioner, I welcome guidance (truly!), but if you want to tell me that I'm not leveled up or sufficiently accoladed or this or that enough to have it happen—especially if you want to tell me that if I took your ($2000) class, I would know that I'm actually talking to a trickster spirit named Quincy, and anyone ordained would know that, you can move along. Call me a heathen. Whatever.
3- I understand the burden of proof. But I'm not here to prove anything.
Do I make unsubstantiated assertions? Yes. Could I be lying about all of this? Yes. Do I know exactly how my most extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but then I fail to provide said evidence?
I absolutely do.
Here's the plot twist: I'm not trying to convince anyone.
Believe me. Don't. Up to you. Some days I have trouble believing myself.
This stuff is in my face and disrupting my life. I can't be bothered to try and get people to believe me.
But don't swing by as the supercilious arbiter of "Sufficiently Evidenced Claims™" to tell me that according to your superior grasp of rational thinking, I have failed to convince you. I was never really trying to, so at best that's just going to be annoying.
4- I don't want you to save me.
If you're working out of a monotheistic tradition (and I'm looking at you Christians and Muslims), I do not want your salvation. Period. End of line.
I gave up on that shit 25 years ago, and I had my reasons then.
5- No decrying Western medicine.
Don't do it. Not here.
I'm all for certain alternative practices in a holistic approach, and lord knows I think for some people a couple of doses of psychedelics might replace a lifetime of therapeutic psych meds, but Western medicine is going to pull a tumor out of you with laparoscopic surgery and save your fucking life. Your crystals won't no matter how hard you've charged them. If you have an issue with a specific protocol (particularly that is quagmired in scheduled substance laws, insurance bullshit, or litigation-dodging), I'm not going to flip a table if you talk about it, but the type of thinking that people just need kundalini and communing with trees instead of their depression meds or to do yoga instead of take insulin or to align their chakras to beat cancer will be shut down instantly.
Is this a case where I'm woo in one way and intolerant of woo in another? Maybe. But it's my space and I get to be capricious, and in this case, I've watched people die when they didn't have to because they turned down conventional treatments in favor of alternative therapeutics, and I don't consider the misinformation floating around about "Western medicine" to create an atmosphere of informed consent.
There's a lot to write about, and I've been holding back for about three years, but part of my new phase of devotional is to share my story. I'll be attaching a link to this post to every article I write on the issue. If you can keep the disclaimers in mind, and abide by the rules, I welcome you to join me on a truly incredible journey.