Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Title: A mode of existence

Body: There’s an old Indian parable about a group of blind men describing their experience of an elephant that I feel is a perfect metaphor for my personal beliefs. John Godfrey Saxe wrote a version of the parable in the 1800′s. In this excerpt, each blind man approaches a different part of the elephant and describes it from his perspective.

The First approach’d the Elephants,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me! But the Elephant

Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling the tusk,

Cried, – “Ho! What have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me ’tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!”

Each blind man continues to describe the elephant as they experience it as a tree, snake, fan… and so forth. The men even fight over their differences of opinion. This parable relates to my personal philosophy because I believe that in order to completely understand the universe, creation, superconscious – or God, we would first have to see through the perspective of every living being because each contains a different part of the whole truth.

I believe that all religions are partially right and partially wrong. I often try to figure out the points where there is agreement between philosophies because I think truth can be found at these points. I also believe where they begin to diverge we are showing our own biased perspectives, or those that have been passed down to us through religion.

I was raised by a protestant dad and a baptist mother. However, neither of them went to church very often. I remember a few Sunday school classes of playing “Simon Says”, and that is as far as my experience with church goes. My mother also grew up in the deep south, and believed quite a bit in folklore, mysticism and psychic powers. Her beliefs in mysticism seemed to work alongside her Christian beliefs as a separate entity. She had a notion about bad magic, which is what she feel is spoken of in the bible. However, there was also good magic, which she believed came from God.

During my childhood, I often wrote letters in my journal to either God or Jesus. I read the Old and New Testament in high school, but I found most of it to be nonsensical. In college, I began to pay attention to the problems in society and politics. I became very critical of belief systems – especially Christianity. The fiction I wrote during that period of my life painted scenes of dystopian societies. I was mostly an atheist, at this point.

My perspective began to shift when I became a political organizer for Ohio Citizen Action. The job demanded positivity. Instead of being depressed about the problems I saw with society and politics, I began to work for change. I also became aware of how science could vary dependent of the source and who was funding it. I then understood that science was faulted and no more represented reality than any other systems of belief. Scientists ultimately relied on their own senses to measure results. Therefore, science was the perspective of the scientist conducting the experiment. I always thought it was interesting how my biology teacher in high school had pointed out that scientists began with a hypothesis, and if their experiments were successful they got to call it a theory. So, where exactly do facts come from?

Through political organizing at Ohio Citizen Action it began to become apparent to me that I was affecting what would happen through my positivity. I could make things happen. I could be positive and make positive things happen, or I could attract negativity.

A big turning point for the development of my personal philosophy was when I read the “Celestine Prophecy”. For a long time I wanted to see the world in a positive light, but couldn’t reconcile why there was so much misery in the world. “Celestine Prophecy” helped me to understand that interaction was an exchange of energy. This exchange could happen during an exciting conversation with another person, or from me focusing my attention on the environment or other creatures. The book also taught me that each person had their personal default way of gaining energy when it wasn’t freely given. This way of “taking” energy is often learned from our parents at a young age. They include the “aloof”, the “poor me”, the “interrogator” and the “intimidator”. An “intimidator” that uses anger and intimidation to impose their will on others, may have children that become “aloof,” to protect themselves. “Celestine Prophecy” describes these interactions as “power struggles” over energy. It seemed clear to me that it was these power struggles that led to many of the problems in the world. “The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision” and “The Secret of Shambhala” by the same author, James Redfield, helped me to see further how things could be different if humans were to move beyond their power struggles.

The friend that introduced me to the “Celestine Prophecy” also taught me about eastern philosophical ideas such as chakras, psychic powers and dreams. These ideas gave me a reference point that helped me to understand various religious and philosophical texts and thoughts. It even made much of the Old and New Testament clearer for me.

In the movie “I Heart Huckabees” Bernard describes to Albert that at a quantum level everything is like a blanket with no difference between this or that:

Bernard: Say this blanket represents all the matter and energy in the universe, okay? You, me everything. Nothing has been left out, alright? All the particles, everything.Albert: What’s outside the blanket?Bernard: More blankets. That’s the point.Albert: Blanket’s everything.Bernard: Exactly. This is everything. Let’s just say that this is me, all right? (pushes hand up under the blanket) And I’m, what, 60-odd years old and I’m wearing a gray suit. Blah, blah, blah. And let’s say over here, this is you (pokes other hand up under another side of the blanket). And, you’re… I don’t know, you’re 21. You got dark hair, etc. And over here, this is Vivian, my wife and colleague. Then over here, this is the Eiffel tower, right? It’s Paris. And this is a war. And this is, uh, a museum. And this is a disease. And this is an orgasm. And this is a hamburger.

Albert: Everything is the same even if it’s different.

Bernard: Exactly. But our everyday mind forgets this. We think everything is separate.

Limited. I’m over here. You’re over there. Which is true. But it’s not the whole truth because we’re

all connected.

I very much believe in the idea that we are all connected and essentially part or different expressions of something larger. I also believe that when one person does something it sends a ripple through the blanket and perhaps creates instances that feel like a coincidence because we don’t see the tiny ripples that brought it to us. I have had many unusual experiences that have cemented my faith in these concepts. One of the most important coincidences in my life is how I came to Ann Arbor.

During my time at Ohio Citizen Action I had the opportunity to travel to Syracuse, New York to work for three weeks for the Defenders of Wildlife. There I met many activists, and had a conversation about the electronic musician, Aphex Twin with one of the men. Later, I traveled to Colorado to find out that same man was now working there, as well. We went camping, and then I came back to Ohio.

I left Ohio Citizen Action during a tough time in my life and moved to Findlay, Ohio. The only jobs available were on the assembly lines at factories. It was difficult for me to be happy at the factories with my knowledge of all the problems they posed. I felt like I was working for the enemy. However, I had fallen in love. Five years later I had a broken heart and no job.

I was jobless for about a month and had no money. I was dumpster diving cans and turning them in for deposits in Michigan to pay my rent. I was desperate to get out of Findlay to do something more meaningful again. I had also fallen in love with someone new. I tried to convince my new love that we should move to Ann Arbor. I reminisced with him about my days of working with Ohio Citizen Action, and doing more meaningful work. I also told him about my travels to Syracuse and Denver, and about the guy who liked Aphex Twin, which was one of his favorite musicians, as well. Of course, he was skeptical about moving away from the area where he grew up. He wasn’t ready to move.

One day I searched the web to see if there were any groups linked to Ohio Citizen Action in Ann Arbor. I discovered that an office for Clean Water Action had been opened three years prior. I immediately called and set up an interview. It had been over five years since I had worked in the network.

A friend gave me a ride from Ohio to my interview in downtown Ann Arbor. I cried the entire trip because he gave me a reality check. He pointed out that I had no money to move and no place to live in Ann Arbor. On top of that, I had already signed a new lease with my landlord in Findlay.

I wiped away my tears, walked into the Clean Water Action office and greeted the desk assistant. The director was behind her making photocopies. He walked up beside her, and then looked at me with surprise.

“Do I know you?” I mumbled.

“Don’t you remember me?” he said.

It took me a minute to realize that he had cut his dreads and was a bit older, but then I knew it was the same friend I had made in Syracuse and later saw in Colorado. He knew my track record, so there was no interview.

“Do you need a place to stay while you move from Ohio?” he asked. In those few minutes my question of how to move to Ann Arbor was solved. My landlord in Ohio released my obligation to my lease, and I was in Ann Arbor within a week. My new love moved a month later and became close friends with my new boss. They often discussed electronic music and other related subjects. How could I know that an obscure reference five years prior would come to mean much more in the distant future? When did the ripple that led to a coincidence begin?

Through my experiences with synchronicity, I believe that all philosophies and religions are ultimately a different viewpoint of the same thing. It has always been important for me to state my beliefs. The questions of how, who or what created the universe and life are impossible to separate from the question of “Who am I?”. Ultimately, the question of who is the God/Creator is a question of knowing myself as deeply as I can. This knowledge provides the frame of reference I use to understand and interact in the world.

Robin Coe is a journalist and author. She wrote the fantasy novel "Fly on the Wall" and graphic novel "Illustrated Book of Wrath".

Works Cited

Redfield, James. Celestine Prophecy. Warner Books. 1997.

Redfield, James. The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision. Warner Books. 1996.

Redfield James. The Secret of Shambhala: In Search of the Eleventh Insight. Warner Books. 1999.

Russel, David. I Heart Huckabees. Fox Searchlight Pictures. 2004.

Saxe, James Godfrey. The Blindmen and the Elephant. Http://www.wordfocus.com/word-act-blindmen.html.

Robin Coe is a journalist and author. She wrote the fantasy novel "Fly on the Wall" and graphic novel "Illustrated Book of Wrath".

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