(M.J.E. Spirit / Sun., 13 Jan., 1991)

Spirit Dialogues

Explorations of Spirit
by Michael Edwards

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Sunday, 13 January, 1991

      ME: Hullo, Richard; how are you?

      C: Very well, thank you. And you?

      ME: Okay, I guess. As you can tell, I don't feel easy about this dialogue business. I don't quite know why, because the earlier conversation-style journal seemed quite natural and easy. Perhaps with just the two of us, instead of the multiple parts of my personality, plus God, and all the rest, it now seems a little bit too intimate, as if things are too bare now, and I don't have all those personalities like the rational mind, the optimist, the adult, the spirit, and all the rest, to hide behind - just you and me, in all our psychological nakedness. I think I feel a little uncomfortable about that.

      C: Well, if it would help you, I suppose you could go back to that format.

      ME: No, it doesn't seem right for what I am doing now. Another thing - when I addressed you as Richard, it seemed as fake as anything could be. I did it out of nothing more than politeness, as if you should address someone by name at least when you first meet them, if not later on.
      Perhaps you were right in what you said when I started this journal about your not really having a name. In any case, I'm not at all sure that I can use the name Richard naturally and spontaneously.

      C: That's all right. You can change that if you like. Better to change now before any particular method of addressing me has become partly habitual, rather than trying to change in midstream later on.

      ME: What do you think I should do?

      C: Well, I guess you could do anything you like.

      ME: Well, I was just thinking to myself, "What am I referring to you as? - I don't mean when I talk to you, but rather when I label the pieces of dialogue to identify the speaker". I refer to myself as "ME", which means either just "me", or is short for "Michael Edwards"; however, I have referred to you as "C", which stands for "counsellor".
      Notice that I didn't put "R" for "Richard"; maybe "Richard" just didn't seem a natural description of you. Since "C" for "counsellor" originally occurred to me quite spontaneously when I started this journal, without my even having to think about it, I just wonder if I should call you "Counsellor", and be done with it. Having a name like "Richard" seems a little childish somehow, a bit like having a pet name for an imaginary companion. Do you know what I mean?

      C: I think I get the general idea; however, I'm not here to judge such matters as being childish, or anything else. If you want to call me "Counsellor", there's no reason why you shouldn't do that. Why not try it, and see if it comes more naturally? If it does, it may stick, and might even become an almost affectionate designation. I believe that titles can occasionally become quite intimate between humans, in a certain way.

      ME: Well, I don't know. This does seem to be a difficult problem.
      Even names of people can cause me difficulty sometimes. Sometimes I find with certain people that I feel uneasy with their name, and don't use it, and I don't even know why sometimes.
      Sometimes it happens when the name is unusual. For instance, I had a friend called V----, whom I haven't seen for quite a while now; however, I was in regular contact with him for over 10 years. Despite that, I never felt easy using the name "V----"; I never really got used to it. I used it, but probably not as often as I would have if it had been a more conventional name.
      Of course, I am aware that he once had a more conventional name before I got to know him, but I don't think that's the reason I feel this way. I mean, I think of him as V---- T----, not T---- P---- S----, but I just don't feel easy about the name "V----", and if that had always been his name, I think my feelings would be the same.

      C: Is it that you somehow don't think "V----" is a real name, like "T----" or "P----" are?

      ME: Well, yes; V. wouldn't like to hear this, but I think there is that kind of feeling to some extent. But I feel that shouldn't be relevant; what is or isn't a real name is just a matter of convention anyway, and for all I know "V----" might be a real, ordinary name in France or Italy, for instance.
      But in any case, if someone wants to be called "V----", they should have the right to be; and because of that, I think my feelings are a bit irrational.

      C: Feelings often are; there's no need to worry about that too much.

      ME: Well, I'm not really worrying over it; since the subject of names came up, I'm just telling you my thoughts on the subject.
      But occasionally I get that same feeling of uneasiness with a name even if the name is more ordinary. I'm thinking of the man in a pizza shop where I sometimes go to have a hamburger. His name is Jim, or Jimmy - or at least I have heard one or two other people call him Jimmy, even though he has never himself told me what his name is. But I can't seem to call him that - I don't know if it's because he himself hasn't told me his name (which may be merely because he thinks I already know it), or if it's because "Jimmy" with the diminutive "-my" suffix seems a little too intimate for me to use, or whether it's for some other reason. But it seems to be true that I am reluctant to use a person's name until I know him or her quite well. [a]

      C: Does that bother you?

      ME: Well, yes, it does rather, because it must seem jolly unfriendly and distant and cold not even to use a person's name, and I don't mean to come across like that.

      C: Does it bother the other people that you don't use their name, or don't use it often enough?

      ME: How would I know? They don't usually show it in any way, but they would be too polite to say anything or imply anything about it. I can only hope that if they do notice it, they merely put it down to some odd quirk of mine, and that they know from my general manner otherwise that I am friendly and considerate enough.
      After all, I am not bothered if people don't use my name; in fact, I don't like my name at all really - neither my Christian name nor my surname, but especially my Christian name. So I don't at all mind, or even notice, if someone doesn't use my name, and I hate having to introduce myself to another person by saying my name.
      For all that I dislike my Christian name, I nevertheless - and this is the funny bit - prefer to be called "Michael" than "Mr. Edwards", which makes me feel about ninety, or - even worse - "Sir". And these last two forms of address I do hear occasionally from shop attendants of the old-fashioned type who know what politeness is. But the fact is, "Mr. Edwards" and "Sir" make me feel uneasy.

      C: Why do you think that is?

      ME: I still don't feel adult somehow, despite being painfully aware of the years that have passed, and of the fact that the best part of my youth is well and truly behind me, and "Mr." and "Sir" are conspicuously adult forms of address. I think I have too many eccentric and even immature ways to really seem properly adult, with the dignity that implies. Despite half-hearted efforts to keep this, if not exactly hidden, at least under some semblance of control, I think it shows.

      C: If you could look into the private thoughts and lives of the many adult-appearing people all around you, I wonder if you would not seem so different after all in comparison. Just something to think about; it may be possible that you are too self-conscious of your own demeanour.

      ME: I don't think so; I think there is a real difference. However, I wasn't really meaning to get into that in a big way just now.

      C: Why don't you like your Christian name?

      ME: It's difficult to know why; I just don't.

      C: Is it because of its meaning?

      ME: I don't think so; it means, I believe, something like "He who is like God", which is not a very accurate description of my nature. [b]
      But I don't think it's that that bothers me, because most names have a meaning, and they hardly ever apply to the person himself, or if they do, it's purely by accident, because I bet lots of people in christening their children don't even know what the name means. And if it were the meaning which were relevant, well, I've heard of names whose meanings I like a lot less than the meaning of my own name.
      No, I'm not at all bothered by having a name whose meaning refers to God like that; I just don't like the name itself. Perhaps, because of its life-long association with me, it seems to summarize what I am, and what I am I don't like very much.

      C: Have you ever thought of changing your name?

      ME: Oh, some years ago, I occasionally considered it, perhaps influenced by discussions with V., who is a numerologist, and who changed his own name for numerological reasons. But I couldn't seem to think of any other name that I could commit myself to, and I don't think I ever really believed in numerology anyway.

      C: Well, what about forgetting numerology, and just changing your name because you would prefer another name?

      ME: It still leaves the matter of what other name would I prefer? Even if I forget about whether the new name has to add up to this or that numerological total, I still can't seem to think of any other name I like sufficiently.
      In any case, this was years ago. Even at the time, the idea of changing my name was never more than an idle thought, and since then it hasn't even been an idle thought, and I don't think it is likely to be in the future, either.
      And also, it appears possible that the basic problem is not liking myself, rather than not liking a name. The name itself is a quite ordinary respectable name in objective terms, and not liking it seems merely to be a symptom. If that is so, I would probably come to hate the new name in time, unless I could come to like myself. And if I can do that, I should be able to accept my present name with ease.

      C: Well, I suppose that's worth keeping in mind. What about your surname? - you said you didn't like that much either.

      ME: Yes; but I don't feel as strongly about that. A surname is only a surname, and by its nature is more distant and impersonal. Once again, it's a perfectly ordinary respectable name, neither outlandishly strange nor too common and plain. It's generic, rather than personal, and it's a family name - and therein may lie the problem.
      I'm a bit of a black sheep in my family; I have nothing whatever in common with my immediate family members - that is, my parents and brothers - and never have had. I don't think like them, I don't have anything like the same attitudes to life, and I'm not particularly close to them, and have even had quite bad patches with some of them, both recently and in the remote past. All this gives the family associations I don't entirely like, and I just lack a kinship with the family. Even when I seem to get on all right with them, there's a distinct remoteness, like a barrier between us, and the relationship seems superficial. I guess my surname just calls that to mind, and sort of sums it up.
      I know I'm a bit in the dog-house at the moment with them over losing my temper on Christmas Day, and while that may have just now reminded me of those thoughts, I don't think it has influenced them, because all those thoughts about the family are things I have believed for many years, regardless of any moment-to-moment feelings that may come and go. [c]
      Anyway, regardless of that, I am not at all considering changing any of my names, if that's what you were suggesting.

      C: No, I wasn't suggesting that at all; I was just inducing you to think about it. Since you initially expressed unease at using a name you had assigned to me, it appeared that there were several aspects of names that you felt uncertain about, and I was just inducing you to focus on it a little.

      ME: It appears that we manage to conduct our conversation quite well without either of us using names of any sort. Well, I suppose with only two of us, there can be no room for ambiguity. How do you feel about names?

      C: I don't have any problem with names. In our first conversation about a year ago, I told you my attitude to any name as applied to me. I have no objection to your own name, and if in the transcript of our conversation I don't appear to be using it, I would suggest that it may be because when I convey my thoughts to you, they get filtered through your mind to some extent, despite your undoubtedly honest attempts to represent them accurately, and if your mind is used to refraining from using the name "Michael", I suppose the name gets filtered out from what I say. Maybe one day this will not be so; meanwhile, it probably doesn't matter, and I accept that.

      ME: I guess you're right. Why, if I ever meet someone called "Michael", as I have on a few occasions, even if I feel friendly to him, I am absolutely unable to address him by name at all, even to the point where it must appear quite rude. I don't mean to be rude, but I can't seem to help it, and I wonder if this might be enough to make it very difficult to make friends with someone possessing my own name. I often wonder how other people feel when talking with someone with their own name.

      C: I imagine that a whole variety of reactions takes place with various people.

      ME: I don't know.

      C: Anyway, why did you come to me and start this session? It's been just over a year since our first conversation, during which you don't appear to have needed to speak to me in this manner, and I feel there must a specific reason you have started another.

      ME: Yes, I suppose there is a reason. When I started this journal a year ago, I was going to continue more or less regularly, if not every day. But I guess the burden of actually sitting down and writing or typing my thoughts down is what stopped me. And you would have to write or type for quite a long time to get anything substantial down.

      C: Could I suggest another approach to this matter? It appears that you have the idea that for it to be worthwhile to have a session with me, it should be "substantial", as you put it. Burdened with that idea, it is not surprising that, so far, you have only managed to do it once every year.
      Why not just have the idea that you can come here at any time and share any thoughts you may have, trivial or important, big or little, and just discuss it in a free-and-easy way, without any particular expectations? Just come and spend 5 minutes here, if that's all you feel like, or have time for on a particular occasion.
      Surely we know each other well enough, and understand each other well enough, to be able to do that without any obligations being created on either side. It's not a matter of having to spend a certain amount of time with me for fear of offending me by being too brief.
      And 5 minutes a day, or every few days, would probably cover as much ground as several hours once every few months or once a year. And if it doesn't cover as much ground after all, it doesn't matter; we're not engaged in a race or competition of any sort.

      ME: Anyway, my reason for coming to see you now - well, before I get onto that, it occurs to me that we still haven't dealt with my original reason for starting this journal last year. You will remember that I didn't deal with it then; I decided to just spend that session getting to know you.

      C: Yes, that's right. But is that initial reason still important?

      ME: Well, I suppose it's less important, anyway; it doesn't seem to matter, although it did at the time.
      It concerned an old friend of our family, Shirley R., who is a yoga teacher, and involved in spiritual or consciousness-type matters - what, for want of a better term, you might call "New-Age" thinking. I talk about such things with her from time to time, despite my scepticism in recent years.
      She did a "Reiki" on me a few times, and it was in connection with one of these that I started this journal. I don't really understand this "Reiki" business, but I gather it is a method by which Shirley can somehow get in touch with my "higher self", and ask it questions relating to my life, and she can then tell me what she found out. This can only be done if my higher self consents to it, which it apparently did, so an invasion of privacy is not involved.

      C: Do you still feel it is important to go into this now, a year later?

      ME: No, not really. Not in depth, anyway; I just want to briefly clear it out of the way.

      C: I wonder if that is necessary; still, go on, if you want. It's up to you what you want to share with me.

      ME: I don't even remember the details of this Reiki very well (as Shirley later related it to me), except that Shirley got the idea (presumably from my higher self) that I somehow wanted to escape from certain difficulties in my life (and I still think that can be a completely reasonable and rational thing to want to do), and that the reply she got from my higher self, sounding (to me, anyway) like the voice of doom itself, was to the effect that "THERE IS NO WAY OUT, NO ESCAPE". Just from the way Shirley said it, and the context she put it in, I could hear the capital letters in every word, and it scared me a bit - at least to the extent that I believe in this sort of thing anyway, which I don't think I do all that much. Because of this scepticism, I suppose I wasn't seriously scared.
      But in any context, it is a bit unnerving to get messages like this, regardless of how many doubts you may have about their authenticity. Perhaps it's just as well I have what I call a healthy scepticism, because if I totally believed in these sorts of things, I think some of this stuff could get a bit heavy at times. New-Age philosophy may lack the hellfire and brimstone and judgement stuff of orthodox Christianity, but with its reincarnation and karma philosophies, I think in its own way it can get a bit too gloomily laden down with the voice of doom, and I don't like it.
      If the evidence for it compelled me to believe it, I would accept it regardless of my feelings about it, but the evidence doesn't so far compel me, so I am not (until then) inclined to go out of my way to accept something which I find so gloomy and frightening.
      I make no bones about the fact that if I get interested in the spiritual pathway, it is because I want it to do me good; if following the spiritual pathway is going to cause me much difficulty, pain, and heartache, I am not in the least interested. I have enough difficulty already, as things are; I don't need more, for the sake of pursuing spiritual truth. If at times I do seem interested, it is only because at that time I feel there is a chance it may help make life easier in some way.

      C: Well, I think it's good that you can talk about it honestly, anyway.

      ME: I try to be honest about it. I have certain prejudices, but on the whole I don't consider myself particularly pro-New-Age, nor do I feel particularly antagonistic to it. [d] But I think there are severe doubts about it, which can't (and shouldn't) be brushed aside for the sake of "having faith" or "transcending logic in order to open up to your intuition", or anything like that. The same goes for orthodox Christianity too.
      In fact, if there is a universal philosophy or truth, I do not believe it has yet been discovered, and I have no indication that either orthodox Christianity, or so-called "New-Age" philosophy, is any closer to Truth than the other. In fact, I have never come across any religion or philosophy that comes anywhere near embodying the understanding and compassion that I would expect (or at least hope) the ultimate truth would encompass. [e]
      Christianity has in its favour the idea of forgiveness, which I consider an expression of compassion, of letting a person put wrongdoings or mistakes behind him, without the pointless exercise of making things balance up for the sake of the balancing-up itself, in an eye-for-an-eye fashion; [f] but it is blighted with the grovelling concept of humans as "miserable sinners" in relation to God, and, even worse, the outrageous (when you think of it without preconceptions) idea that non-believers in Christ (however that is to be defined) suffer eternal punishment, or separation from God and heaven. (The exact concept of hell varies widely, but the factors always present are that there are no valid excuses whatsoever for unbelief, that hell is exceedingly unpleasant, and that it is forever.)
      However, things are a bit different with the other, New-Age, view. It has a healthier view of the status of humans (none of the miserable-sinner stuff), and there is no eternal damnation; but on the other hand, the karma concept seems to me to insist on an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (I have heard it worded in many ways, sometimes very subtly, but this is what it seems to boil down to when you remove the excess verbiage and rhetoric of some writers and philosophers), and in this view, forgiveness and compassion can't have much meaning - in fact, I think they contradict the concept of karma. And the extracting of an eye for an eye doesn't undo the original wrong it is supposed to be balancing up for. It simply adds yet more suffering to the world, which is an immorality that I find difficult to justify.
      So, as you can see, I am not much impressed with either of these contrasting views of life - the Christian, or the other, sometimes called (presumptuously, in my opinion) the "perennial philosophy". (I regard this description as something yet to be proved, not something to be assumed from the outset.)

      C: Well - you obviously have thought a great deal on these matters, and have certain views on them.

      ME: Yes; over the years, I think I have thought into these things quite deeply, even if I have ended up at odds with both of these contrasting orthodoxies. I'm sort of in the middle, finding things about both that are simply unacceptable to me - both morally unacceptable, and personally unacceptable.
      I probably don't think about these things quite so much now as I once did, as it never leads anywhere but to a lot of agonizing over the unanswerable problems of life. I don't think there is an answer to the tragedies and evils of life - at least, not that I've ever thought up myself, or heard or read elsewhere - and I think I've probably read or heard most of the conventional answers to it, both Eastern and Western.
      I think the closest to an acceptable answer I have ever encountered (leaving aside atheism for the moment, which I sometimes find frighteningly plausible, although not emotionally acceptable) is in Rabbi Harold Kushner's book When Bad Things Happen To Good People, although even that is laden down heavily with reservations and qualifications of all sorts. In a sentence or two, his view is that God is too loving to ever wish or condone the tragedies that befall people. In fact, he hurts with us. But perhaps he is not completely omnipotent, and is unable to prevent the things that happen. But he will do what he can to help us if we will let him. I don't know if this is plausible or not, but it is slightly more emotionally acceptable than many of the other attempts to answer the problem of evil.

      C: Well, you certainly got involved with expressing your views there. That was quite a soliloquy; I think you almost forgot I was here, and just wrote for yourself.

      ME: Yes, I suppose so; maybe I've got a lot of stuff out of me now. Not that I can say that getting stuff out has the therapeutic, releasing effect that many people speak of so much; that seems to me to be a bit overrated. I mean, one may enjoy sounding off about something, but if something troubles or hurts me, sounding off doesn't stop it hurting, or even just make it hurt a bit less.
      Anyway, I didn't really mean to go into all that stuff. I was originally talking about the Reiki that motivated our first conversation a year ago. However, I think I am sufficiently spent on that, and perhaps we don't need to go into that any further.
      In any case, as I said before, I don't even remember the details of what Shirley told me about it, other than what I've already said.

      C: Meanwhile, what about the reason for this session? Do you want to go on to that now?

      ME: I want to go on to it; but not now, thanks. I must go to bed (the sky is already light), and get some sleep. Perhaps after that, or within the next day or two. I hope I don't put that off another year, like I did with the Reiki thing. [g]

      C: Well, if you do put it off for another year, I don't want you to think that is wrong in any way. If that is what you want to do (even if the decision is reached only by default, simply by failing to decide to deal with it earlier), that is all right with me. However, I hope we can manage to get together a bit more often than that.

      ME: Yes, I hope so; or at least I think I do. I still can't quite get over the idea that these conversations are an artificial thing, not real, that even you are nothing more than the product of my own rational mind. Well of course that's true at least to some extent; but I hope it can at least partially lead to the reaching of something beyond. However, it doesn't seem that way yet.

      C: I suppose that feeling of it all being somehow artificial may take time to get over.

      ME: I guess so. Meanwhile, thank you for your time and understanding. Because I don't think you are merely some part of myself (even if you may be partly that), I don't think I would be showing undue conceit if I were to say I find you more understanding and tolerant than I find many other people in this world.

      C: Thank you for your time, and your trust in me. Meanwhile, good-bye until a later time.

      ME: Good-bye.

Sunday, 13 January, 1991

      C: Good evening, Michael. It's good to see you again.

      ME: Hullo, Counsellor. Yes, I've got a little time now, but not too much, because I want to listen to a program on the radio in a little under an hour - one of those Sunday evening discussion programs on religious or social or ethical matters. I don't much listen to the radio (for various reasons), but I am much more likely to listen to talk programs than music nowadays.
      Well, I didn't call you Richard this time, but Counsellor. It still sounds funny, but perhaps a bit less contrived than Richard. I suppose whatever I call you will sound artificial; I don't know what I can do about it, other than dropping this journal altogether. And I don't give much for my chances of continuing it on a long-term basis, actually, the way I feel about it now. However, if some people communicate with their inner selves and address this as "Higher Self" (as Shirley R. told me last night when I telephoned her), I guess saying "Counsellor" is no worse.
      In any case, I doubt that I will use "Richard" any more; it's just too twee for words now, and I squirm a bit to think about it now.

      C: Why?

      ME: Well, I just said, and I also went into that yesterday; it's just corny, and too cutesy. I don't need to go into all that again.

      C: You don't like saying or doing anything that expresses emotions or feelings, do you?

      ME: No, I guess not. I wonder if that's why I don't seem to compose music or write stories much any more; those are just about the quintessence of emotional expression, aren't they? The funny thing is, I would still like to do them; at least writing, at any rate. Composing would still interest me, but I've almost given up hope of ever being able to write any decent sort of music, whereas I still believe I'm good at writing, and it comes much more naturally.
      It's also funny that I've got interested in computer programming, which is the exact antithesis of composing; it's one of the most logical, intellectual things you can do, one of the most anti-intuitional things, completely unemotional and impersonal. Maybe that's one of the reasons it attracted me. And yet, for all that, a program can have a kind of aesthetic beauty of its own - but it's not the kind of beauty a poem or story or musical composition has; more like the kind of beauty a mathematical idea or theory has.


      ME: Well, I don't know if you're saying nothing, or whether I'm just not receiving it. The truth is, I don't have much to say now, either. Other than the special thing I wanted to talk about, that is - but I don't want to even begin that until I have more time up my sleeve. As it is, I want to stop in a few minutes because of that program.

      C: That's all right.

      ME: I guess I just tried to do what you suggested, and sat down to fill in a few minutes (or less than an hour, anyway), without feeling I've got to fill in several pages at once. The truth is, I don't think it has achieved anything except to waste an hour.

      C: It may be too soon to judge that now. Just wait a bit, and see how it appears standing back a bit.

      ME: That sounds to me like a conventionally and artificially wise sort of answer, and I don't buy it.

      C: Well, I'm sorry that this session doesn't seem to you to be achieving much. You can quit now if you like.

      ME: Yes, I think I will. Hope it works better next time. Anyway, I'll see you later.

      C: Okay; good-bye until then.


[a] Friday, 9 March, 2001 - "But it seems to be true that I am reluctant to use a person's name until I know him or her quite well.":
      Although I didn't mention it in the dialogue, I think at least in this case it was partly because Jim (or Jimmy) is Greek, and a very English-sounding name didn't seem to fit him - he just doesn't seem like a "Jim" to me. Obviously anyone with that name is a "Jim", regardless of what he is like in personality or appearance; but I can't somehow shake the irrational idea that certain people seem suited to a particular name, and some don't.
      Considering that Jim is Greek, it would seem quite likely that his original first name was not "Jim", which would be a very unusual name in Greece, and that his original first name was some Greek name, and that upon migrating to Australia he decided to adopt an English-sounding name - perhaps the one that is closest to his original Greek name. But that's neither here nor there - the fact is, he is now known as Jim or Jimmy, and therefore I should regard that as his name. (His wife is also Greek, and has the very non-Greek name of Jenny.)
      I said a bit earlier in the dialogue that I felt a bit of unease at using a foreign-sounding or unconventional name. And here I am saying that I don't feel easy about an English-sounding name applied to someone not of English or Australian ancestry. It seems people of foreign ancestry can't win either way with me. I can now say, though, that when I visit the pizza shop, I use the owners' names a lot more easily now than I used to (well, "Jim" rather than "Jimmy" - either form of the name seems to be acceptable, and I'm not even sure which version he considers the main one). [

[b] Friday, 9 March, 2001 - "... it means, I believe, something like 'He who is like God', which is not a very accurate description of my nature.":
      "Who is like God", to be more accurate - if it makes any difference.
      For me to suggest that it was not a very accurate description of my nature seems a bit cringing. Not that I would want to display God-like delusions of grandeur - but "he who is like God" surely is no more inaccurate a description of my nature (if the meanings of names are to be taken as describing the nature of their bearers) than it would be of a good many other people. And the description (applied to anyone) fits in quite well with my overall spiritual position, which holds that all of us have the essence of God within us, and that it manifests outwardly in varying degrees, and we are all growing towards God, who is in a sense our real spiritual home. So I don't find the remark I made very appropriate, in that context. It is possible that I made it with slightly jocular intent, sort of gently putting myself down, understating myself.
      Perhaps we can make allowances for the fact that this is a very early dialogue, and I was still finding my feet in that format, so to speak, and groping towards the more coherent spiritual outlook that is shown in later dialogues. [

[c] Friday, 9 March, 2001 - foregoing discussion about not being close to my family, and "... while that may have just now reminded me of those thoughts, I don't think it influenced them...":
      Who was I trying to kid here? I certainly don't think it's likely I fooled the Counsellor (whom I now regard as my Higher Self, known to me as
Bivalia in later dialogues), although he apparently saw fit not to take the point any further.
      As I just reread this passage now, it is plain to me now that the thoughts I expressed in that passage were very much influenced by the bad feelings resulting from the quarrel on Christmas Day.
      I am, and have always been, closer to my mother than the passage suggested. But since the quarrel I referred to was with her, and it was a pretty severe quarrel, too, perhaps it's not surprising that I was not in a frame of mind to acknowledge that at the time.
      There is some foundation to the suggestion that I'm not so close to other members of the family: unfortunately I could never get on well at all with my father, and could hardly even talk with him without feeling deeply ill at ease - and I suspect he felt the same about talking with me. This is something that is covered in later dialogues. As for my brothers: well, I'm not especially close to them, and we are very different in personality and interests - but we are all quite friendly and relaxed when we meet, and I just want to point this out lest the passage in the dialogue which led to this footnote suggest a degree of alienation which is not present. [Back]

[d] Thursday, 7 December, 2000 - "... I don't consider myself particularly pro-New-Age":
      I assume that this statement was a true reflection of how I thought at the time of writing, but I wouldn't consider it a very accurate statement now, and don't think it was especially accurate at the time, even (thinking back in retrospect, even though that can be unreliable).
      While there's some truth in the statement, in that I don't agree with the New-Age view on everything, and sometimes have a lot of difficulty with the New-Age philosophical or spiritual position on some questions - and I also dislike some practices common amongst New-Age people - I would have to say nevertheless that, if I had to use a label to roughly describe my own outlook, the New Age would probably be closer than anything else I can think of. However, I have quite a few misgivings about applying the label to myself, and in describing my outlook in a nutshell to someone else I would probably say "slightly New-Age" or "a bit closer to the New Age than anything else I can think of".
      I think my statement distancing myself from the New Age (a bit more strongly than I would now do) was prompted more by feelings of irritation at some habits New-Age people have than because of a real spiritual distance from my own position. I'm referring to habits such as overly-verbose waffling at times, using scientific facts or arguments wrongly to support some belief of theirs which science itself rejects, using incomprehensible jargon (often unnecessarily because plain terms exist which would convey the intended meaning), redefining terms to suit their own philosophical position - even a tendency to play background New-Age music. Such habits have annoyed me at times, and might have caused me to speak more strongly against the New Age than my own actual outlook on spiritual matters would in itself prompt. And, if I remember correctly, at the time I wrote this dialogue, I was going through a period of slight annoyance with some of these New-Age habits, and perhaps reacting somewhat against them. [

[e] Friday, 9 March, 2001; Tuesday, 24 July, 2001 - "In fact, I have never come across any religion or philosophy that comes anywhere near embodying the understanding and compassion that I would expect (or at least hope) the ultimate truth would encompass.":
      Although the passage following this sentence goes some way towards explaining what I was trying to say, I feel this point needs further clearing up, lest it appear monstrous arrogance for me to claim to have a greater vision of compassion than any of the great teachers of the world. (And I certainly don't live it as well as they did, or even as well as many ordinary people around me do.)
      The point I was intending to make was quite simple, actually. Of course many of the great religions and other spiritual traditions do have a vision of compassion, and exhort us to be as compassionate as possible. But they often seem to have a theology that I found at odds with this - and still do.
      For all the compassion that Christianity teaches, for example, it also has the doctrine (at least, according to a reasonable interpretation of the Bible) of eternal damnation for those who don't meet the requirements of faith or life-style. (Which of these it is depends on who it is explaining things to you - and I won't get into the debate now on whether salvation is through faith or works.) Clearly it is a serious blight on any powerful being's compassion if he for any reason condemns anyone at all to an eternity of torment. This would be incompassionate even if there were some valid reason for it, something worthwhile that could be accomplished by doing it, and would encourage the idea, which I do not endorse, that any evil is justifiable provided that it serves a great enough good. But, to make things even worse, such eternal suffering, because it is eternal, cannot serve any proper purpose at all: it cannot teach the hapless victim anything, or rehabilitate him in any way, because, however he does or doesn't respond to that, his fate is fixed for ever anyway. If God really felt someone could not live as a free person, it would at least be slightly more compassionate to annihilate them than to make them undergo futile eternal suffering.
      (I know that some churches now don't teach the doctrine of eternal damnation in quite this form - but nevertheless, it is one of the core concepts of Christianity, without which the salvation that most churches still teach would lose most of its point. And churches often don't explicitly deny the concept of eternal damnation even if they have stopped actively preaching it, so at best I find Christianity ambiguous about the idea. And I won't feel that it has truly shaken off this odious idea until it takes a definite stand against it, with appropriate reasoning. This might be difficult, considering that Christian churches use the Bible as their ultimate authority, and the Bible quite clearly does teach that some are eternally damned. The only way out of this dilemma that I can see is to formally abandon the idea that the Bible is infallibly true; and if Christian churches did that, I don't know what they would be left to rely on as an authority for their teachings. To me it just seems to be one of the inherent problems with an authoritarian approach to religion.)
      Another example about compassion and religion, concerning those traditions which believe in
karma and reincarnation, namely Hinduism and Buddhism, and various modern-day off-shoots from them such as Theosophy and the New Age: to be sure, these traditions teach compassion and exhort us to practise it. Yet at the same time they believe in a spiritual hierarchy which inflicts terrible suffering on humans - not so much in some after-life (although some of them would include this), but in this life. Whatever terrible things happen to people - natural disasters, severe illness, torture, the Holocaust, whatever - are considered to happen because the victims' karma requires it, and they need it to learn certain spiritual lessons, resulting from actions they did in previous lives. It may be fine to regard the spiritual powers-that-be as wonderfully compassionate, and to teach the vision of compassion that they impart; but if at the same time those powers-that-be can at times cause such horrendous suffering to come to anyone, and regard suffering as a legitimate tool to make people learn their spiritual lessons, once again, that vision of compassion is deeply flawed. When I talked about those spiritual paths I knew about not embodying the understanding and compassion I would have expected, I was just referring to these flaws and inconsistencies I've just explained - nothing more. And I was certainly not claiming to have a more complete compassion myself, which I certainly don't.
      But to this day it remains a puzzle to me how so many religious or spiritual traditions can teach some of the things they do, which seem so incompassionate, and at the same time preach a message of love and compassion. And this contradiction has probably been one of the big two or three spiritual issues I've been grappling with all my life, and it has probably been the major reason I have not associated myself permanently with any particular tradition, but instead have set out on the long and hard path of trying to arrive at my own view of spirit (by various means such as discussion, reading, personal reflection, and writing these dialogues).
      That is what I had in mind behind my remark, and perhaps I didn't explain it clearly enough in the dialogue.

      As an afterthought, a quite plausible-sounding reason occurs to me for why religions so often include doctrines lacking in compassion, even based on naked fear. It is not a spiritually-oriented reason, and was suggested by biologist Richard Dawkins, whose best-known work is The Selfish Gene. He has written much about how evolution is driven by competition between genes, and regards this as a more important factor than the more conventional idea of competition between individual organisms.
      He also posits that a similar process takes place in the realm of human ideas, culture, beliefs, and the like, and he postulates a (possibly) hypothetical unit of natural selection in ideas, the meme. Those ideas or beliefs which survive and spread amongst people are those with characteristics which aid the survival of those ideas or beliefs - and those which are successful will sometimes tend to group together in combinations of mutually-supportive memes called meme-complexes.
      Dawkins illustrates this with religions. Various religious ideas obviously have properties which cause them to spread from person to person, sometimes "mutating" along the way. And religious ideas tend to go together: an examination of various religions shows that they tend to have many features in common: repetitive and elaborate rituals, music, beliefs, a tendency to discourage questioning of doctrines or independence of thought, and an element of fear in the form of doctrines which promise a dire fate of some sort to anyone who doesn't accept the beliefs of the religion. According to Dawkins, the fear element is so common in religions because it helps the entire religious meme-complex survive and spread further - whereas spiritual systems which don't include this element of fear (such as the one I tend to be following in my dialogues) don't spread very far - I suppose because anyone exposed to those ideas will not have any deterrent to stop them from questioning those ideas and disagreeing with them.
      I wouldn't have it any other way. Indeed, I believe that one must question any ideas one comes across, especially in the spiritual area - and question them to the nth degree, if one feels that to be necessary. I feel a valid spiritual outlook can only be acquired if one does approach it with a questioning attitude, and a willingness to change one's outlook in the light of new information or new insights or new experiences - not simply by unquestioningly accepting a particular set of doctrines laid down by some other person or book (even if they are attributed to God as the infallible source of those ideas). I would question the validity of a spiritual outlook which is partly governed by a fear of disbelieving or questioning it because of the dire fate that you are told will overtake non-believers or questioners; to me, a valid spiritual outlook is one arrived at freely, without fear, as the result of thinking, questioning, living, changing one's mind, being unsure at times; it is a process, not a fixed set of beliefs. Freedom of belief is an absolutely core part of my whole outlook, and it is not negotiable, even if insisting on this does not predispose my outlook to be common amongst people generally. [Back]

[f] Friday, 9 March, 2001 - "... the pointless exercise of making things balance up for the sake of the balancing-up itself, in an eye-for-an-eye fashion":
      This is one view of
karma, although many would consider it a very black-and-white, simplistic view of what karma is all about - I do myself. However, this remark does illustrate my attitude towards the concept, and the difficulty I have in accepting it. I grant there are more subtle ways of looking at karma - but this does seem to be what it boils down to in the end when you strip away all the fancy words. [Back]

[g] Friday, 9 March, 2001 - "I hope I don't put that off another year...":
      Well, I did put it off, and in fact never got back to it at all. The next dialogue was in June, 1994, and it took a completely different direction from the two early dialogues involving the "Counsellor", in response to the new spiritual direction I took following the
Crea workshop.
      Not only did I never get back to discussing the reason I started this session for; I don't even remember what it was now, and am most unlikely to remember it now. Sorry. [Back]

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This page created on Friday, 8 December, 2000;
annotations added or amended, or links to other pages added,
    on occasions up to Tuesday, 24 July, 2001.