The Little House of Cultural Expansion

I watched an episode of Little House on the Prairie named Injun Kid last night and was struck by a pivotal moment of cultural expansion. It was subtle, but well played, and analyzing it yields a fascinating look into human psychology and spirituality.

In the episode, a half-Native American boy and his mother arrive in Walnut Grove. His grandfather is embarrassed by his presence and insists that his daughter say she adopted him. When the boy refuses to stand for prayer at church, his grandfather yells at him and informs him he must comply or be punished. The child runs away to a nearby stream and prays for peace between with his grandfather.

Laura inadvertently interrupts his prayer. He explains that he was praying.

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Instead of reacting in fear or hatred because he had a different religion, she reached for common ground.

You mean you were saying a Sioux prayer?”

In that moment, Laura’s entire cultural perspective is changed. She had known nothing but Christianity all her life. In an instant, her mind expanded to see the layer above her faith – the fact that others have belief systems radically different from her own. The moment was well played by Melissa Gilbert. She caught the nuance of the exchange quite well.

Totally absorbing yourself in your culture and religion is an incredible experience – one that benefits the universe by allowing it to gain another unique perspective on the zeitgeist of your cultural paradigm. But when you step back and see other cultures, compare their similarities and differences, your mind expands.

Simply knowing other belief systems exist will invariably change yours, which is why many religions fight to keep outside influence from “corrupting” adherents. It’s a shame, because some of the deepest faith and spiritual wellness one can have is by practicing spirituality in full knowledge that yours is not the only valid approach.

We all bring a unique piece to the universal jigsaw puzzle. We are singularly qualified to offer our unique channeling of spirit to others and the world. When we do this in full knowledge of what others offer, our own experience is enhanced. Our mind is expanded, and we stand on the precipice of evolving to a higher plane of existence.

Star Trek: The Next Generation sums this idea up nicely in the next to last scene of All Good Things…

Faith and Responsibility

The universe rewards faith and responsibility in equal measure.

No matter your belief system, you probably would agree that if you have faith, at least in your own abilities, you are more likely to succeed. This has been shown time in time again both in studies and in most people’s personal lives.

Religious and spiritual people tend to have faith in a greater force than themselves. Some call it God, some refer to multiple gods, some call it the universe, the all, or some other unique but all-encompassing name. Whatever you choose to call it, or not, faith in something is important for success.

Responsibility is seemingly at odds with faith. If we are to believe things will work out as we desire, should we just wait for it to happen? If our lives have a plan and we are following them regardless, should we push anyway, or allow it to come to us?

To better answer this question, outside perspective is helpful. If you believed an injured person will heal regardless of what you do, would you still render them aid and help however you could? Of course – most people would.

Turning this back to ourselves – imagine you are faced with a difficult challenge. Since most of us are, this isn’t hard to imagine. We can have faith that we will overcome it, and this will increase our chance of success. But we still must put forth the effort in meeting that goal.

For a deeper perspective, I like to turn to nature. Animals have complete faith in the universe providing for them. Though some stockpile food for the winter, a sign of responsibility, they do not live in disbelief that the universe will work out the way it should. In nature, faith and responsibility go hand in hand in perfect balance. As always, we can take a page from the Earth’s equilibrium.

Having faith and personal responsibility are not mutually exclusive.

Judgement (or How to Be Human)

It is our task in this life to judge. It is what we are built to do. To judge, discern, and examine self, and this world we chose to be in, is our most noble task.

One of the greatest misconceptions about the spiritual journey is that we live in judgement. This notion of a great book filled with our wrongs is simply a human misconception. Since we judge, we assume that any higher being would judge. I submit that any higher being would have no need for this trait of humanity.

Spirituality is not about living up to a list of principles carved in stone, rather it is a journey to examine the mystery of why we are certainly more than we appear to be. It is a quest for inner peace, to gain profound knowledge, and to maximize our delivery of the most precious thing we can give to others: love.

The Patterns of Life

The universe has an uncanny and universal pattern of repeated themes at all levels of its existence.

At the largest level the patterns of galaxies resemble living tissue under a microscope:

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The roads, cities, rivers, and suburbs have a strikingly similar pattern:

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From our view of the night sky, the lines between stars (the constellations) draw many distinct and beautifully random patterns.

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This pattern is again repeated in cells and tissues in plants and mammals:

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And each level of the universe, both natural and man-made objects exhibit the same pattern. While this is an astonishing thought, consider that this pattern of correspondence covers even time itself.

The day and night cycles of Earth, the light half and the dark half of the day, are mirrored by the light half (spring and summer) and dark half (fall and winter) of the year. The year, like the day, repeats, and following this cycle plants, animals, and all other life on Earth are born, mature, grow old, and die. If you are inclined to believe in reincarnation, this pattern is repeated again just like the days and years on the calendar.

To enjoy this level of consistent coincidence throughout our existence doesn’t require any sort of belief. You can imagine the entire universe is the daydream of some supernatural creator, intelligent design, or even a cosmic accident. The beauty in what we see, and the patterns sprinkled throughout, is undeniable.

 

 

Channeling the Creative Spirit

I consider myself a decent writer. I can usually express myself in a coherent and even sometimes entertaining fashion, and dive deep into analytics when the situation demands. And yet after all of these years of writing and pouring nearly half a million words onto paper in my books, I still cannot tell you precisely how I do it.

I’m sure you have driven to work and not even realized that you actually made the trip until you arrived at your destination. The process was conditioned and automatic. It was simply one of life’s mundane chores. Excluding the help from my editors and the final tweaking during revisions, writing my books and some of my more lengthy pieces has been much the same experience – an automatic process.

Unlike the oblivious car trip, the process was not mundane – rather it was creative. I had general control over the characters, the plot, and the universe, but beyond that I allowed the story to go where it wanted. Sometimes I was eager to write a chapter if for nothing else to find out how the narrative would progress.

When I allowed this channeling of my muse to occur, I eagerly wrote several thousand words in one sitting with the greatest of delight and ease. But not all writing days were like that – sadly there were just as many days where I could barely eek out a few paragraphs. The crushing self doubt that comes from these moments is almost unbearable.

I had always assumed that these creative, flowing moments were something that “just happened” and I should make the most of it when it occurred.  Recently, however, I have come to realize that writing, like any art form, is a channeled art. By removing my analytical mind, I allowed this process to run its course without direct intervention. My writing time during these wildly successful stints became spiritual in nature.

I’m not claiming that the people and events in my fiction works actually existed at some point in history – perhaps in an alternate universe. But I can’t deny that possibility, either. Were they using me to tell their story?

I have come to the conclusion that becoming more spiritually and philosophically aware is an integral part of becoming a better writer. Even if you aren’t of the spiritual persuasion, I would still recommend fitting some mindfulness meditation into your schedule. Clearing the clutter from your mind, at least for a few minutes a day, will help tremendously with this.

I have been very blessed to be able to tell the story of some interesting and brave characters. I will freely admit that sometimes I even entertain the fantasy that they were (or are) possibly real people, perhaps in an alternate universe, and during these creative moments I bring a bit of their life into our universe. Regardless, I know that many more tales that await in the supernatural realm accessed through epic late-night writing marathons and lazy afternoons under my favorite tree with my laptop.

If you have ever had the motivation to write, I would urge to to start. There is no time like the present. You need surprisingly little to get started. If you get stuck, take a step back and allow the ideas to flow instead of forcing them through your analytical mind. Let your muse skip the cultural filters we all have and directly inspire you. Give permission to those characters that you have communed with in your daydreams to share their story through you.

Allow them, and you, to shine.

 

The Canvas of Life

Life is an art project that insists to be drawn. It will happily take no input from the artist. People and circumstances will cheerfully doodle and sketch as they will upon its blank, white surface.

If you have the courage to stand in front of the easel, you have a choice. The first, and easiest, is to watch a completely adequate, and, if you’re lucky, possibly great image be painted in front of your eyes

Alternatively, you can pick up the brush and create your own masterpiece. Create your own pallet and design whatever your heart desires.

The canvas will wait for you.  How soon do you begin to imagine your own portrait of reality?

Artificial Culture

I saw an interesting quote on Facebook today about the state of pop music. It was attributed to David Grohl, but I cannot 100% verify that he said it. Either way, I found it incredibly accurate.

16665212_1436130973110710_8209107490979029911_oWhile I would disagree that most of it is fun to listen to, he makes a very valid point – it is devoid of meaning.

I understand that every generation thinks that the younger generation’s music is crap. That is to be expected. But we have not had a case in recent history where the emotion and meaning has been so horribly stripped out of the musical scene.

We are now left with a musical landscape that is devoid of most deeper content and has been reduced to repeating I’m a stupid hoe over and over until its driven deep into the psyche of young, impressionable minds.

Artificial culture is created in a lab, much like processed food. It may have actual elements of culture (i.e. “music”, art, etc.), but it is all created in specific quantities for specific purposes. If there isn’t a particular agenda behind it, then it simply caters to the largest audience possible in order to have the most financial success. From a business point of view there’s nothing wrong with that, but it is generally devoid of meaning outside of monetary gain.

Authentic human culture is created organically and spontaneously. It can be commercial, even have wide appeal or consumption, but it generally has its roots in everyday human life. From jam sessions in garages, to impromptu bar and coffee shop performances, to music artfully written with the goal of being more than the sum of its components, real music, and thus real culture, is grown like a seed in the ground, not from a test tube in a think tank laboratory.