A Definition of God that Works for Me

by Zach Tollen

Instead of perceiving God as unambiguously good, try thinking of God as just another person, a person with his (or her – I’ll use the male pronoun for convenience, because it’s traditional and it’s easiest for me) own will and goals, that may or may not align with yours at a given time. Imagine that this person has control of your unconscious self, and also the rest of the world in its totality – that’s a lot, I know! The only thing left to you is what you are able to control through conscious thought. We are actually able to control very little. There is a wide range of things that are partially under our control, and partly not under our control. These things would therefore, according to this definition, contain some admixture of God’s and your own will. While the separation is not always clear, we can just acknowledge that such mixed things exist and move on.

Notice that there is no guarantee in the above definition of God that God likes you, loves you, or has a plan for you. There is no explicit rejection of that possibility – God may or may not like you, love you, or have a plan for you – but there’s no insistence on it either. We just don’t know. To believe that God loves you or has a plan for you would require faith in some aspect of God that may or may not be justified. I do not need such faith. My definition of God allows God to exist regardless of what plans – cruel or otherwise – he might have for me.

I can tell you why this definition is useful to me.

I see many people becoming successful in the world through various means, using combinations of talent, perseverance, and luck to succeed. But none of these mechanisms has ever worked for me. It’s embarrassing, I know – would you want to be me?!

When I try to copy other people, I fail. Perhaps with more support and guidance and luck, I might have already found the right people to guide me. I could copy something from them, and enter into society with the approval of a job (or many jobs) well done. The downside of this, to acknowledge it right away, is that it is unoriginal and a little boring, but that downside generally pales in comparison to the upside: social acceptance, money, increased attractiveness to short- and long-term mates, and other powerful desirables associated with being socially accepted.

But none of the available options for copying other people has worked for me. The blame may well rest on my shoulders: I may be weak-minded, stupid, lazy, or some combination thereof, wherein I could have chosen otherwise, but I didn’t. Or the blame could rest in my environment: I might have had bad luck with my family, society. Even if the problem is that I have bad genes, which would seem to be my fault, is having bad genes really any given person’s fault? Where you place the blame for my life depends on how you look at it, but my life is the same regardless.

The events of my life have led me to have a lot less faith in my conscious ego than more successful and less struggling people seem to have have in theirs. These people pick a desirable goal, with some kind of corresponding social status as a reward, and pursue it. The effort is successful enough for them to retain their faith in their relationship with their ego. “Ego” here means “their own free will.”

But my ego has rarely found something that it could latch onto. Until I create something that gives me at least a modicum of success, I will not be able to say that my ego is good enough. I am trying right now, for example, to write an essay about “submission to the will of God” – this very essay! – and God willing, this essay will succeed, and I will get a social reward for it.

But I have tried so many times to create things that I think will succeed, to little avail, and my faith in my own ego is understandably weak as a result.

My definition of God is adapted, therefore, to my own experience. I define God as everything other than my ego. The great Swiss psychologist Carl Jung also happened to define God in this way. Here is his definition:

“To this day God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.”

(Just so you know, Jung is a great hero of mine, and his views have allowed me to become more comfortable with my own. More on his view of God: https://thesethingsinside.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/carl-jung-says-god-is-reality-itself/)

So I would encourage people who are looking for a definition of God which does not require what the Christians used to call a “sacrificium intellectum” – a sacrifice of the intellect – to try this one. Believers in a good, all-powerful, all-knowing God will tend to perform various mental tricks to continue to allow the possibility of such a God in spite of the evidence against it. I can’t say for sure that their arguments are wrong. But one argument against them is that given such convoluted and unintuitive arguments – which often contain logical fallacies such as “appeal to authority” and “begging the question” – the very need for such arguments runs against Ockam’s Razor, which suggests that in the general case, the simplest explanation for a phenomenon is the correct one. The simplest explanation for cruelty in the world is that God is not Good – or at least not entirely so.

For someone like me, whose own ego is not very effective, I still need to rely on something outside myself in order to succeed, and in order to encapsulate the totality of all things outside my ego, I conceive of it as one thing, and call it by its traditional name, “God.”

I accept that God’s will may not be my own, and that I may fail in life and in my goals. But just the same I am learning to rely on God more and more, because I continue to think less and less of my own ability.

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A Little Rant About Capitalism and the Environment

To a friend on facebook messenger. You can infer the context, more or less:

I care about the environment a little bit. My problem is that an entire generation has decided that they can save their souls by preaching false things about nature and about the environment. So it’s kind of pointless to care about the environment when a whole generation of fanatics (who don’t even KNOW that they are fanatics) have adopted the environment as the vehicle thorough which they can get to heaven. They do nothing for the environment that way. In fact, it is more likely that they will actually get to heaven than that the environment will benefit from their concern for it.

About neo-liberalism. Yes, personal autonomy is over-emphasized. But people who complain about capitalism always seem to have NO IDEA what other systems look like. No doubt, there are real problems we have to solve. But left-wing thinkers always implicitly assume that there was some era before this when everything was peaches and cream, and there were no problems, and if only CAPITALISM never would have arrived, everything would be pure heaven. FALSE, FALSE, FALSE. This kind of thinking is terrible destruction in the guise of compassion.

Insofar as personal autonomy is overemphasized, it is a problem which must be solved today, with no harkening back to yesterday, no pining for the old days, no preaching of how “nature in her original form was pure.” Because nature in her original form was NOT pure. She has NO REGARD for life at all, as evidenced by the recurrence of mass-extinction events throughout the fossil record, and more broadly by the scarcity of life in the universe in general.

Also, about “collective power relations, and interdependence.” I agree with the idea of interdependence. People are in fact highly interdependent, and their relationships are crucial to their success. The best evidence for this is the clustering of the rise of many great geniuses in particular times and places. While Shakespeare deserves all the praise he gets for his independent genius, it would likely have been impossible for that genius to appear if he hadn’t lived in Elizabethan England at that precise time in history.

But when you talk of collective power relations, you should bear in mind that if you want to see what REAL power relations look like, you should try studying any system OTHER than capitalism first. People who don’t have power seem to think that it’s just a matter of snapping their fingers and having a bunch of slaves do their bidding. And if by power, you mean something other than slaves doing one’s bidding, what is it? You think money is the same thing as power? Not true. Money has many benefits, but if you call that “power”, then all the power in the world couldn’t get Hillary Clinton elected president. No, the “power relation” that got Trump elected was DEMOCRACY, pure and simple – with a little help from the Electoral College. But anyway, my main point is that if you talk about “collective power relations,” you need to be specific, because it’s not just about slaves doing your bidding. And modern liberal democracy has done far more than any other civilization to DISSOLVE collective power relations – hence the overemphasis on personal autonomy. If anything, I’d say we need to STRENGTHEN collective power relations, because it’s BAD to force people to rely so much upon themselves. But because we have no longer any sense of what “true authority” is, we can’t agree on how collective power should be formed. So the factions split and nothing changes, e.g., in the case of education, teachers unions fight for their needs, parents fight to switch their kids to different schools, politicians debate endlessly about how education should be reformed, but hardly anything ever actually CHANGES – that is a sign that there is in fact no “collective power relation” present. And what happens? All the burden is shifted to the individual to “figure it out eventually.” And in the US it’s even worse, because now, by the time a student is sent off into the world to “figure it out” using personal autonomy, they are often $100,000 or more in DEBT. Astonishing! This is not the result of collective power, but rather the lack thereof, because infighting among factions means, again, that nothing will ever change, even though almost everyone agrees that the system sucks.

Why God Loves Me, Part 4

pexels-photo-335887.jpegSo for me, living in sin doesn’t mean that actually doing evil things. Most people aren’t really that evil. Some are, but by that standard, maybe only 10 percent of people actually live in sin. The real issue is feeling bad. It’s as if someone or something watches over me, judging me NOT WORTHY.

For example, I need to be saved from feeling bad about writing badly. I’m pretty sure someone else could have written these essays better than I am doing it. But Jesus died, apparently, so that I could write what I’m writing badly, and still feel good about it. The shame of self-reflection is lifted by his death and resurrection.

The current writing wasn’t meant to be a 4-part series. Originally I wrote the following article, and while I’ve covered some of these subjects already, I don’t know how to make the original better at this point. So here it is:

I live in sin. Have I committed any crimes? No. Do people think badly of me? Maybe — ask them. But I live in sin because I am constantly burdened by a conscience that wonders whether I’m as good a human as I could be. When I’m feeling pain — and maybe this pain comes from shame — I ask myself, “Could I do better? Is this pain my fault?” Maybe it’s the outer world – the universe – that is the fundamental source of the pain. But a shred of doubt follows me everywhere I go. I suppose that makes me a good person, in the sense that a good person wonders whether they are doing the best they can. A bad person might not be bothered by the question. A bad person doesn’t live in sin, in this sense, because they are simply not bothered by the possibility of being bad. That’s what makes them bad, is not being bothered. But I’m not a bad person, I’m a good one, and therefore I worry about how good my behavior is. In my case, it is not what I do wrong, but rather my ignorance of how I’m doing,  in the ethical sense – that sends me into despair. It is my ignorance from which I need to be redeemed.

In the legend of Genesis, Adam and Eve eat from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which precedes their fall into sin. This correlates with my experience. Precisely because we have become aware that it is possible to be evil, Adam, Eve, and I feel a corresponding anxiety whether any given action we take is a sin. “Am I being evil now?” I don’t know, and my doubt puts me into a hellish state. I require redemption.

But from where?

Maybe I can “think” my way through the problem. People who don’t need a traditional solution find ways to get by through personal experience and thought. “I’m not a bad person,” they think. And in a cosmic sense, who knows? Maybe there’s no such thing as a bad person. A desirable condition, never to doubt one’s goodness!

The Christian tradition, of course, entirely rejects this possibility. As St. Paul says,

“As it is written:

‘None is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands;

    no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

    no one does good,

    not even one.’” — Romans 3:10-12

With regard to the possibilities for why some people feel the burden of sin and others do not: The first is the objective amount of evil within any given person. Someone who is actually highly evil ought to feel a proportionately large amount of the burden of sin, while someone low in evil ought not to. But if Paul is right, and everyone is essentially evil, then the more important difference is not how much evil resides within any given person, so much as how much any given person feels the presence of evil. Paul is preaching to those who feel the burden of sin more than others, and his words reassure them — perhaps falsely, but maybe not — that the problem is not their sensitivity to evil, but others’ lack of such sensitivity.

It is strange to imagine that this ONE emotion — the burden of shame felt by the awareness of the possibility that people can be evil, and that one might oneself be such a person — could spawn a major world religion. But a part of me is very glad that it did. I myself am often debilitated by this particular shame, and I need redeeming from it no less than the average feeling Christian. Certainly there are those who are not debilitated by such shame, and find it difficult to see the attraction of the solution Christianity provides for what they see as a non-problem.

But Christianity still leaves a lot to be desired, and I’ve never met a Christian who has my particular take on it. Standard Christianity holds that it is enough for God to have incarnated himself as a human being exactly one time. Jesus’s death on the cross and subsequent resurrection are thought to have permanently provided humans the opportunity to redeem themselves from sin. An act of free will, and nothing more, is involved — let us leave the question of the nature of “free will” aside for now. The point is that apparently God only needs to appear on earth one time, and presto! All feelings of shame and sin due to the awareness of the possibility of being evil are, for those who believe, converted into positive emotions, such as love and compassion.

Tradition holds that God gives eternal life to those who believe. But who wants eternal life, really? I prefer to interpret “eternal life” as a more mundane blessing, i.e. simply to be free of the anxiety provoked by the knowledge of good and evil, especially with regard to my own status as either good or evil.

Yet the story of Jesus isn’t enough. It is too particular and too obscure to convince me that God loves me so much as to want to save me. I’ve been told by many believing Christians, “God loves you.” And I wanted it to be true.

I just think God is kind of lazy if he thinks he can incarnate only ONE time and expect people to feel saved. I mean, there’s a lot of people out here, Lord! Not sure if you noticed. Just saying.

So I get a little angry, and I think that if God really loved me, he would need to do a little bit more than that. The lyrics from Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” are suitable here: “At first I was afraid, I was petrified!” But now, if you want to prove you love me, Lord, give more than just a single incarnation, two thousand years ago. That Jesus is a dry corpse by now.

A did a little calculation. People of that era were generally poor and smaller compared to ours. But let’s say Jesus was a large man for his time: 80 kilograms (176 pounds). Divide that mass by the say 4 billion Christians over the years that he has to save, and you only get about 0.00002 grams — 20 micrograms — of Jesus per sinner. That much of any ordinary substance taken internally would not affect anyone. But I did some further calculations. What is the biggest thing that 20 micrograms of the deadliest snake venom could kill? Would it be enough to kill a person? No. Black mamba venom is rated 0.30 mg/kg on the LD50 scale — it takes .30 milligrams of venom, per kilogram of host, to have a 50% chance of killing it. It would therefore take 900 micrograms to stand a 50% chance of killing a 3 kilogram baby. You could kill 3 adult mice with that, however, at 50-50 odds each.

So it’s not nothing.

But it’s definitely not enough. One Jesus is simply not enough. With that little Jesus to go around, my feeling is that God not only doesn’t love me — he doesn’t even like me.

So I need to think outside the box. What would it take for me to feel like God really did love me? Say, for example, God sent one Jesus per year to earth to suffer and die for all our sins. This would not be too bad. Instead of one Jesus having to absorb 2000+ years of sins, each Jesus would only have to absorb one year’s total. In this scenario, God is definitely showing up, and I’d give him credit for that.

But it’s still not enough. If God sent one Jesus per year, I could no longer say he hated us. While no longer a massive deadbeat, I would say that at that point, he “showed concern.” But in order for me to really think he liked us, I go so far as to say he’d have to sent at least one Jesus per person. If each and every person received his very own incarnation of the Lord to suffer and die painfully just to relieve that person of the burden of doubt cast upon him by sin, then I could no longer complain that God didn’t care about us.

Bear in mind that as people bound to our physical bodies, we find ourselves stuck in an almost totally lifeless universe, unable to expand meaningfully beyond the nurturing confines of the protective earth. We are composed of the same physical particles as dust, and from the cosmic point of view, there seems to be no purpose to our existence. It would take a lot to convince me that the creator of the universe loves me — not likes… loves. And even my very own Jesus — while much appreciated —would not convince me that God loved me. I would still be walking around and every so often get a pang of shame and agony, wondering, “Am I the best person I can be?”

I realize that so many Jesuses showing up on earth would pose a problem for the ordinary functioning of civilization. For example, people could become jealous of each other’s Jesuses. What if I liked your Jesus better than mine? But more importantly, the sheer number of Jesuses would entirely dilute the social significance of each one, such that insofar as “love” is a feeling of having been singled out to an elite status from among the masses, all these Jesuses would directly cancel out that type of love, due to their sheer ubiquity.

So I decided to think not in terms only of our own planet and our own universe, but of the “Multiverse,” in which there are infinite parallel dimensions. If a Jesus were sacrificed somewhere else in the Multiverse for my sake, it wouldn’t inhibit the ordinary flow of civilization and life here. So it solves that problem. But again, there is something disappointing about even having my very own Jesus live and die in brutal agony somewhere in the multiverse just for me. For God to really love, me, I would have to be truly impressed by what he’s willing to do for me. Consider, for example, that he was wiling to have 10s of millions of people killed in the names of the very worst people we have known here on this planet: Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Mongols, etc. If God is willing to kill that many people for these totally-evil people’s sakes, and here I am, basically not that bad of a person, getting only ONE Jesus for my sake, and not even in this universe? It seems incongruent.

30,000. That number made me feel better. I got a jolt of actually feeling truly loved. But not long after, it seemed boring again, like God still wasn’t really there, and he didn’t truly love me. So I decided that God kills 30,000 Jesuses, from all across the Multiverse, for each and every time I find myself in a state of sin. Finally, some genuine relief! Remember, this isn’t about God liking me — I’d probably think he liked me if he killed, say, one Jesus per day just for my sake. But 30,000 per sin? He really does love me… and I know it, because the very fact that I was able to think that thought gave me pleasure and continues to give me pleasure.

How do I know that God murders 30,000 Christs in the Multiverse for each time I find myself doubting my goodness as a person? I don’t. But so long as that thought continues to make me happy, I can’t really say that God doesn’t love me, now can I?

Does God Really Love Me? Part 3

pexels-photo-208216.jpegIn part one of this series, I rambled, but in part 2, I started to make more sense. Let’s see if I can keep it up.

I’m trying to move towards the thought that started me writing in the first place. For that I must discuss what it means to live in sin.

In traditional Christianity, all men and women – including even newborn infants – live in sin. It’s a strange thought, that there is something fundamentally wrong with people. “There is no one righteous, not even one,” says Paul.  While this is a very pessimistic attitude, we should ask where it came from.

An alien descending from outer space would consider the existence of human beings on earth to be neither a good nor a bad thing. But as humans, our consciousnesses is stuck inside and always attached to our bodies, so it is quite difficult to pass judgment on the overall goodness of the fact that we exist. It’s like asking a fish whether water is good. IT doesn’t even know it is in water. Likewise, our consciousness always is accompanied by a human body, therefore we can’t really say what life is like without one.

But the Christian notion is that people are essentially all sinners – all but one, anyway. We are inherently evil, cursed from the beginning. The biblical story starts out in Paradise, but through something called Original Sin we were expelled into the shitty world. Again, here we have the sado-masochistic theme of gratuitous punishment – we all deserve to be spanked for what we did, don’t we, Lord? Yes we do. Don’t we? Spank us, Lord. “I only beat you because I love you,” says the abusive stepfather. How else would we know that He cared?

One might not think such an abusive story would catch on? But then, why would so many people over the course of so many years believe it?

I’m sure one could get a thousand people to each give their own answer to that question. But I want to focus on the Fall of Man’s specific meaning for me. The driving point of this essay is the question, “What would it take to convince me God loves me?” And I have to start out by saying that I don’t feel particularly loved, and that I think God could do a lot more. That said, my condition does reflect the fallen state of mankind as traditionally described. That part of the story I can relate to.

From a neutral perspective – like suppose a bunch of aliens came down to do scientific research on us – human existence is not good or evil. It just is. But from my personal perspective, existence feels fallen. We might attribute this to a habit I have, which all people have, by the way, of passing value judgments on things. Some things are good and others bad.

Now let me call your attention to the name of the tree in the Garden of Eden from which Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat. It is called the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. To say “knowledge” implies the objective existence of something. To have knowledge of a baseball game implies the external, factual existence of that game. My point is that we might replace that term “knowledge” with something a little more subjective. Suppose the fruit from the tree does not grant knowledge of good and evil, but rather it bestows the habit of seeing things in terms of good and evil. Now I see the actual world, overlaid with value judgments. If this causes me to judge the world as less-than-desirable, it fits the story of “the Fall” perfectly. Before I can make value judgments, it is impossible to see things good or evil. But afterward, it is possible for the world to be “fallen” – regardless of whether the good and evil are “out there.” Perhaps the Knowledge of Good and Evil is more like a revelation of the world as it really is. This certainly corresponds to human psychological development much more than Genesis corresponds to anything resembling physical evidence.

It’s as if the world was already bad, but the knowledge of good and evil allows Adam and Eve to see that it is bad.

Anyway, I’m willing to agree with the basic Christian principle that when you’re stuck in a human body, and you have the “knowledge” of good and evil, i.e. you make value judgments about the world, then it’s easy to see yourself and everyone else as being in a sad state of affairs.

The Christian answer to this sad state of affairs is that God sent his only begotten Son, so that all who may believe, will have eternal life.

The question, though, is: Is that enough?

I mean, is it enough for the Lord to send only ONE person – ONCE?

Christianity says it is. I say it isn’t.

The historical Jesus is shrouded in mystery. The first books of the New Testament to be written, according to scholars, are the letters of St. Paul, and, as Carl Jung pointed out, those letters convey almost no information about the human Jesus. By the time any gospel was written down, the life of Jesus had turned into the legend of Jesus Christ.

Why is God capable of begetting only a single son? He could and should have begotten more children, if you ask me. We could go to the other extreme and say something like, we are all children of God. But then Jesus becomes no more significant than your beloved “neighbor.” The world is no longer fallen, and no longer needs saving.

But I need saving.

Living in sin means something different to me personally than for traditional Christians. I don’t focus on all the so-called sins that I’ve committed and for which the world apparently suffers endlessly – because I can’t see any of those. I’m not really that bad a person, and overall I make the world a better place.

So how can I make sense of the idea of living in sin without assuming that I’m a horrible person whose very existence makes the world of other people a living hell?

I have a much simpler and more mundane notion of what it means to live in sin. You won’t get any dramatic “hellfire” speeches from my point of view.

Have you ever felt ashamed of yourself? One might think that being ashamed of oneself is the result of a specific instance of behavior. In normal Christianity, all people are sinners. The Catholic Church in particular has elaborate rituals by which to “confess your sins.” The possibility that one hasn’t sinned isn’t even a consideration, and this attitude goes too far. You need sins to confess, and if you don’t have any, you’re encouraged to make some up. You must feel like a sinner, otherwise the whole edifice makes no sense. But I’m sure lots of people don’t feel like sinners. At minimum, it seems unhealthy to insist that people focus on their own intentional acts of evil. But to this point bear in mind that religious rituals throughout history have addressed such concerns.

The human mind seems to have an innate habit of believing that its actions are the cause of great injustice in the world. To make sacrifice to a god – a burnt offering of an animal or something else – is not too different from confessing one’s sins to a priest. The object is to remove the stain of sin from the individual – or group, as the case may be.

But this is what that has to do with me. I often I in my life feel a sense of anxiety about whether I’m being the best person I can be. Somewhere in my mind, I have an image of a good or perfect person, and I often doubt if I can compare to that image. Unlike the Catholic presumption of self-knowledge, I couldn’t tell you exactly what my “sins” are. Instead, I look at my actions and think, “Could I have done better? Is this the best I can do? What would a good person do?” In the absence of a clear answer, this seed of anxiety can cast a large shadow over my self-image.  For me, living in sin means living in doubt as to whether my actions are those of a “good person.”

That’ll do it for part 3. In part 4 I’ll finally say what I’m getting at.

Does God Really Love Me? Part 2

GodLove

I ramble, I know.

I started Part 1 of this series with only one thought I really wanted to communicate. But my brain kept getting filled up with other things I wanted to say. So you’ll have to bear with me while I, um,  uh… learn to write. Because if I don’t post these thoughts as they are, they will just stagnate and clog my brain.

So back to the question of whether God loves me – or you, or anyone for that matter. The way I understand the story of Christianity, God incarnated himself as a human being and thereby made it possible for us to be redeemed from our sad, flesh-bound existence. We could focus on a single human life, or on the fate of human life in general. Even if your own life makes you happy, doesn’t it feel bad that for all practical purposes, we’re stuck on this earth and that eventually the last human will die? It makes ME feel bad. And so I look for answers to the question of eternal life. Christianity is the most prominent provider of said answers. I’ve been told many times – mostly by Protestants evangelicals – that God loves me. But how would I know? This series investigates that question. 

One thing that makes me sad is my lack of sufficient power over things. Why can’t I remake the world as I see fit? Why can’t I rearrange physical matter with a mere thought? I can do this to a certain extent. After all, I am sitting here, and these words appear on the screen as I type them. So I obviously have some power. But look at Genesis Chapter 1: “God created the heavens and the earth… God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” Now that is power. If I want to know what real power is, then there I have it. And if God loved me, he would give me some of it, right? So either he doesn’t love me… or he just doesn’t love me in that way. He must love me in some other way, some way much less obvious than to just give me the power to rearrange creation as I see fit. God’s love has now become a disappointing conditional sort of love. It’s like if someone says, “Of course I love you, just not as much as this other thing. You’re like number three million on my list of things. But hey, still, how about some sex?!???” No, God. No sex – I’m gonna need a little more wooing than that!

I wish I could move mountains – or entire planets! – instead of just making a few words appear on a computer screen.

If God is going to become a person, in order to accomplish a specific goal, why not have that goal be to allow me to change the physical world as I see fit? If God is going to become human, why not allow people to become God? In the story of the Crucifixion, God becomes fully human through his painful death on the Cross. Prior to this, we can only assume that God was free from physical pain and human limitation.

A more productive interpretation of the life of Christ is that God opened up an avenue of communication on how God and human beings can relate to each other. Before, God was pain-free and could do anything at any time for any reason – a state of omnipotence. But he “so loved the world” that he became human for the span of one lifetime. The only way it makes sense is if human beings are getting precisely what God is giving up. God gets pain and death, and humans are freed from pain and death, at least a little bit.

We can start to ask, what is so good about pain and death that God would “so love the world” as to want to experience it? I don’t find the traditional explanation satisfying, which compares God’s love to human love for their children. Yes, people love their children and would die for them. But that doesn’t mean that becoming their children will help them. Maybe it would be better if God retained his great status, and just bestowed fatherly gifts upon us from time to time. How does becoming such a powerless child constitute “loving the world?” How could a zookeeper benefit his animals by locking himself in a cage for a year?

The actual story is more of an erotic masochistic fantasy, where God ties himself up and plays the victim just to feel the pain. His motives seem less-than-pure.

In exchange for God’s BDSM role-play, whoever “believes” now receives eternal life. I can see the logic here, although it’s tricky. In order to become a human being, God had to undress a little, if you will, and leave some of his “God clothes” at the gate. While he was distracted and enjoying the pain of being Christ, some of his powers became available for humans to “wear.” God role-plays man, and humans can role-play God while He’s distracted. They are each revealing some of their secrets to the other.

Jesus was a way for God and human beings to begin to relate to each other.

But does God love me? That seems like another question entirely.

How do I begin answering that question? Instead of Dirty Harry’s, “‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” I think a good place to start is by asking:

“Do I feel loved?”

Well, do I?

Consider what is normally said about God, that he is almighty and all knowing and all benevolent. Such a God would never have allowed me to feel a moment’s pain, unless the pain was quickly utilized to bring an even greater joy. Yet my life is full of moments of pain, with no obvious joyful counterbalance. So it is clear that he doesn’t love me. The answer is No. People with less robust self-confidence will lament God’s “unsearchable” character. “Who can know the will of God?” they will say. But I say unto you: “If God is so unsearchable, then your beliefs about God are not based on observation. So why do you believe anything good about Him, if he is so mysterious as to be unsearchable? Why are only the good things searchable? It’s is because you are all weak-minded fools, I say unto you! Or social cowards unwilling to abandon the safety-in-numbers of the evil herds you belong to! Rose-colored glasses-wearing fools!”

So lets’ throw out the all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful idea of God, and try to examine a little more closely the nature of God’s becoming Christ on the cross. God’s strange masochistic tendency, as illustrated above, allows a little more flexibility in one’s interpretation of His nature. If God’s incarnation as a human serves to donate a part of his transcendent powers to us – perhaps the part he leaves behind during his transformation – then while I may live in sin and ignorance, with enough effort on God’s part to join me in my pain, maybe I could make up the loss. It’s the “misery loves company” method of salvation: God is going to be the submissive in our little role play, which makes me the dominant. It’s only a matter of asking, How much pain and sacrifice would God have to make on my account in order to please me, i.e. to make me feel “loved.”

Stay tuned for Part 3.

Does God Really Love Me? Part 1

by Zach Tollen

You’ve heard it before. Christians spreading the Gospel of Christ will readily inform you, “God loves you.” And a little investigation reveals that they really mean it. God doesn’t just love humanity abstractly — he loves you, specifically, individually.

Which is great because I definitely need loving.

One thing everyone in my audience has in common is that we wake up wrapped in flesh, confined by what we later learn are the rules of all physical matter. While we also call them the “Laws of Physics,” knowledge of the existence of these rules, or something like them, is very ancient. In the Bible, Genesis 3:19 reads: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

In modern physics, the second law of thermodynamics dictates that energy systems dissipate. (Of course, at some point they had to build up, or there could never have been any differentiation in the first place. So the 2nd law must be understood to only apply at smaller scales – something which physicists don’t mention that often, but I digress…) The relevant point is that all local matter in our solar system, for example, is in a permanent state of increasing entropy, that is, on the whole it becomes less cohesive over time. On the human level, we can acknowledge this by the fact that we generate more garbage than we can recycle, and our use of resources almost always depletes, rather than increases the supply of resources available. Again, this is not even a modern phenomenon. Even before we started planting our own food, mankind had been transforming his environment in ways that couldn’t be reversed.

“For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” It didn’t take modern physics to discover this.

And it calls into question whether God really loves us. One of our basic desires is for immortality in some form. I can prove this by the fact that the 2nd law of thermodynamics feels bad. There is something very sad about it, and when first discovered in the 1800’s it naturally faced enormous resistance. Wouldn’t it be great if science could have saved us from what religion resigned itself to a long time ago: that the material world was, in the end, simply a place of dust, rather than of life? Instead, science went the other way, and confirmed religion’s darkest suspicion. The forces of non-entropic creation, insofar as we understand them at all, operate at such a massive and impersonal scale that in the end, they have nothing to do with us. We are stuck with entropy – which means a slowly dying sun and impossible distances to anything that might otherwise sustain flesh-based life.

We can only assume God could have come up with something better.  But He obviously didn’t. And in explaining why He didn’t, divisions in people’s opinions are inevitable. The most readily rational explanations spur, at the same time, the most violently intolerable emotions: that God is either Stupid, or at minimum, not that smart; or that he’s evil, or at minimum, at least not that Good; or that he’s powerless – or at least in competition with some other comparably powerful, and much less Good, entity.

So does God love us? I don’t see much evidence for it.

The Christian claim goes much further, though, in singling out individual people for His love.

Let’s review the basics. The Gospel of John 3:16 reads: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

In other words, God is trying to cure us from the material limitations I’m complaining about. “Everlasting life” is essentially a defiance of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. The mechanism: God sends his only begotten Son, and requires nothing more than “belief” — whatever that means. (To His credit, God ignores the social status of the individual, giving an ego boost to anyone whose social status is low. You can be a nobody in the human society and still be saved by the Christian God.)

But the story seems inadequate. God sends one man, once — to a desert in the Middle East. The Middle East is not exactly my neck o’ the woods.  He sent his only begotten Son to a desert in the Middle East to preach for a short while, only have Him stir up so much trouble that the authorities decided to nail him to a cross and send him back to where he came from. How does this constitute a viable mechanism for providing eternal life? It’s hard to say. (Note: I’m not even addressing the question of whether “eternal life” would actually be pleasant or not. But the fact that life is so fragile and apparently meaningless is most certainly not pleasant. So I think we’re in need of some help regardless.)

Roman Catholic theology equates the Son with the Father – I prefer this theology, because it resolves the most pressing logical questions that arise if Jesus and God are not exactly the same thing. They are both considered God. Jesus is merely God in human form – not just the “son” of God. How God could have a blood-related family like we humans do, let alone why that family should be restricted to a single male child is a different question. Anyway, God Himself became a human, and this is called the Incarnation, which made it possible for any human to live forever. But how? Perhaps it has something to do with God’s newfound ability to empathize with people. But I think a reasonable person could dismiss the whole notion by saying: “That’s really stupid!” It seems like a profound desire for wish-fulfillment: We believe something is true because we want it to be true, but that doesn’t make it true. Nonetheless, not every wish-fulfillment fantasy catches on like Christianity did (to say the least!). So it’s likely there is more to it than that.

I want to address Pascal’s wager. Access to eternal life is limited to those who believe, of course, thus raising the stakes enormously in a very lopsided way in their favor. Since all of the benefits accrue to the believers, some people will be tempted to “believe” out of sheer rational self-interest. This has become know as Pascal’s wager. My response to this is: That’s betting, not believing. I do not believe that belief is an entirely conscious action. I cannot exactly decide what I believe, especially not my beliefs are explicitly calculated to benefit me personally. Admittedly, all people have an unconscious tendency to believe what benefits them – but it seems manifestly immoral to do this consciously, which means that in order to be saved in this way, God must actively approve of being unethical. I think the kind of “belief” that the Gospel of John is talking about is more subtle than that, and involves both conscious choice and unconscious belief. It’s not the cynical betting of an entirely conscious rationality.

But why God requires belief in the first place is a challenging question. Historically this question has driven many Christian thinkers to a theory called Universalism, in which there is no hell, and everyone is saved. This is basically to say that everyone believes – whether they know it or not. The thorny question of the role of free will in deciding whether one goes to heaven, or burns for eternity in hell, is thereby sidestepped.

But I’m going to solve the free will question another way. In Part 2. Before I get to the real meat of my argument. Stay tuned.

What is Time? (It’s time for me to post!)

I haven’t posted hardly anything recently. But someone prompted me to write something about Time, and the result was interesting, so here goes:

What is Time?

Time is a word we use to apply to something that is familiar to most people starting at a certain age. A newborn infant, for example, would not have any conception of the idea of time. We must imagine whole worlds. Our current world, the current moment in time, is, despite all its complexity, a single unit. But we know what is meant by the word “Time” because we can recall living in other worlds, moments of the past, which *were* the world. So we live in the moment, and yet we remember and believe in other moments, including their entire worlds. What time means in physics is different from what time means to a person. In physics, time is turned into a mathematical thought, and predictions are made based on what the math indicates. Because the world conforms to those predictions to a large degree, time is thought to be merely a relation of space, by which I mean that we posit notions like a time *line* — a line being a spatial concept — and thus time is turned into a notion of space. Likewise, when an engineer plots the course of a cannonball through time, he points to the position of the ball at each moment.

But there is such a richness to the way we understand Time that one wonders whether it can be entirely reduced to Space. For example, when a fairy tale begins, “Once upon a time,” or likewise Star Wars begins, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away,” our psyches produce a dreamlike condition in which an entirely different world with entirely different physics becomes possible, and is even expected. The state of mind we experience when we are dreaming is hard to categorize in terms of ordinary time. Yet we use the word “time” precisely to invoke such experiences.

A dreamlike state is, in many ways, outside time. It takes place in what we might call Eternity. But our waking minds adapt to the world by imagining a set of physics that operate consistently on the same piece of material, i.e. the created universe. The mind creates Time, and then we apply the rules of Time to the world as we experience it. In many ways this allows us to tame the world. In other words, the fact that we do this must be justified, because it seems wrong to abandon reality as it presents itself in favor of a thought process that places things according to where they *should* be, instead of where they are. The justification is that the world causes too much anxiety in its latent state, and we need structuring ideas like that of Time, to reduce our anxiety. But that points to an important point, that even though our structuring ideas are able to reduce our anxiety to a tolerable level, they still feel like terrible sins — a thought which is reflected in the motif of the Fall of Man from the Garden of Paradise. Life within the Garden of Paradise precedes, among things, the advent of Time as an idea, and as a way of structuring our otherwise too intense experiences.

I would like to ask, besides Time, what other core mental constructs are there that help us prop up the world, and at the same time feel like terrible sins banishing us from Paradise?

Also, I don’t think I’ve talked enough about how the invocation of the idea of Time sets up the child’s mind to enter into a believable fantasy world. The child must have formed the idea of Time in order for “Once upon a time,” to have any effect. The day-night cycle is probably the most familiar way a child understands time. The light is on sometimes and off other times. And yet the world does not disintegrate merely because the light changes. Time is the concept that allows the world to continue to exist even though the light level changes. If you say to me, Once Upon a Time, I almost feel as if my rationality is being stolen from me, because I think I know what is meant by Time, and yet the magic of the phrase steals me from myself. I am anxious, therefore, that I don’t quite understand what Time really is.

Moreover, I feel like I *should* know. I’m forty years old, four times two times five. I feel like someone who is older than forty should have some idea what Time is. At any rate, my current working hypothesis is that Time is superordinate to the Paradisal mind. Contrary to the myth of the Garden of Eden, Paradise is not completely gone from human experience. It always exists, and under certain conditions, even the adult human mind will regress to expressing that state. The consciousness that creates Time is, according to my theory, layered *over* the Paradisal state. Paradise hasn’t gone away, it’s just been covered up.

See what I’ve done? I’ve turned Time into Space, like the physicists do. The myth of the Fall from Paradise suggests that Eden has been left in the *past*. But in order for there to *be* a past, the concept of Time must already exist. But how could the concept of Time be created as an event *in Time*, when according to me Time is a mental construct, more so than a physical reality? Reality is always experienced in the moment. All Time is subsumed within it. Most people can only dream of attaining a zen-like mind all the, ahem, Time. Therefore I resort to the idea of Space instead. Time is a mental construct that occurs in a mental layer *over* (or under) the realms without Time. The Timeless realms — Paradise, Eternity, etc. — can best be understood as coexisting with the Temporal realms, in Space. This is more pleasing to me than the idea of banishment. Remember that the mythos of banishment in Time proposes by its very nature an End of Time — an end of all things, an apocalypse of some sort or another.

But what if the apocalypse is simply the moment when Time is understood as existing in Space, when Time is no longer allowed to tyrannize over other aspects of consciousness? No doubt prioritizing Time has given Western civilization much of its distinctive character, and will continue to do so so long as it feeds people at a sufficiently deep spiritual level. But there are many hints of our reaching the end of that fuel supply. I’m no literary expert, but I have read James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, in which I remember the third chapter consists mostly of a sermon given by a Catholic priest, who describes the ultimate consequences of allowing the concept of Time to tyrannize the psyche. The essence of the novel, and of James Joyce’s subsequent works, was a move towards Space, rather than Time. This is just one author and one book, but the scene stands out in my mind for its depiction of the consequences of the notion of Eternal Hellfire on Catholic consciousness — and how could the living psyche be more imprisoned by the idea of Time than that?

The Jews await the messiah. They never forget what happens to them. Their concept of history depends on the idea of a God who prioritizes events in Time above almost everything else. The Christians borrowed this idea for their religion. The Muslims — not so much. Islam seems to prioritize Space, rather than Time, although the Koran does acknowledge a Day of Doom. These are my thoughts. I’m not trying to pretend to be a religious expert. The early thinkers of the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution turned both Time and Space into geometry, which itself is primarily spatial rather than temporal.

But I think we’re headed to a point where we have fully mapped out, so to speak, the utility of the idea of Time. Currently we project our idea of Time onto the created universe, such that we can’t imagine the universe existing without Time. But this gives too much credit to the idea of Time. Time is a psychic construct, and the universe does not need it. No doubt *we* do. But it has a negative effect on our mental health to continue to believe that the universe needs Time the way we do. So we’ll slowly start to make that distinction.

Watch This Helpful Video to Learn About Me

You can learn a lot about me by watching this video:

https://youtu.be/CFtsHf1lVI4

(Watch it! The following commentary assumes you already have…) I was lucky enough when I was 19 to have discovered Joseph Campbell, who served as a quasi-mentor to my “shamanic” experiences – I say quasi because he died ten years before I discovered him. Thus, unlike the modern man featured in this video, I have had a kind of guiding “rock” upon which I have invested my entire self-identity. But *like* him, I have been unable to reconcile my mystical experiences with having a job. But again *unlike* him, I have successfully used the only good part of the mental health system – social security disability – to obtain a safety net for the time being.

A Comment about Depression and Doctors

I’m repeating a comment I made on one of my own videos, as it seems quite accurate:

If we consider illnesses to span the range from being causes to being symptoms, depression is squarely in the latter category. But it is treated as if it’s a cause, because it relieves the “it’s your fault” burden off of people, and because there is a social taboo on being different. If we assume that half the time the cause of the depression (the mere symptom) is in the environment, we have to start accusing people other than the patient, up to and including society itself.

But even if the cause does reside in the individual, in their inability to integrate their personality into their greater life, modern materialist medicine is no help. Like the story of the man who dropped his keys somewhere else and was asked why he was looking under a distant streetlamp for them, and whose answer was “This is where the light is!”, doctors pass out medications because they have no skill in helping people integrate their personalities. (Well, certainly not in my case, anyway.)

The real difficulty of helping people integrate their personalities is that it’s very difficult to distinguish where mental health symptoms originate – from within or outside of the patient. Moreover, if a symptom does come from outside the patient, doctors are loath to accuse the families and other social institutions of being in the wrong, as those are very often the source of their livelihood. And sometimes the symptoms originate within the doctor himself(!), via the projection of the doctor’s own unconscious complexes.

Ecce Zacho: My New Video Blog

I’ve been making more videos:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMHAFupDnJaKbsslJlCt0zQ

I’m calling the new series Ecce Zacho, after the book Ecce Homo by Friedrich Nietzsche. I think I’ve finally acquired the self-confidence required to become my own advocate. This is a long time coming. I’m charismatic and interesting, which means video, via YouTube, is a natural medium. Given this, I ought to have started a regular video blog much earlier. But I suppose I just didn’t recognize the value and urgency of advocating for myself. The podcast with Ethan will continue, but it will clearly have to evolve to accommodate my solo venture:

http://ethanzachtrio.com/

Anyway, I hope to do at least one video everyday. It’s time for me to become a player on the world stage, which YouTube couldn’t possibly make any easier than it already has! YouTube is just ridiculous, and perfect for the likes of me. I’ll see you there.

I Saved Life!

Squirrel Trap

On my daily walk, I found a squirrel with its head stuck in this empty yogurt container. It couldn’t get its head out. I was stunned that I actually had the chance to do something. I step on the bottom of the yogurt, anchoring it. The squirrel’s head pulls out just a little. We try again, and it pops out. It then panic-jumps three feet in the air and scurries to safety. A life was in my hands… or at least under my shoe, and I did okay. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before in such a straightforward fashion!

Weird New Experience

Can’t believe what just happened to me. Thought I might blog about it. If people ask me who I am, I say I’m a mystic. I’m literally the only person I know who introduces himself as a mystic. Well, I say something like, “I call myself a mystic,” in a kind of friendly way that helps people realize I understand how strange that is.

So when I see this new local meetup.com group called Philadelphia Mystical Awareness Group, linked here: http://www.meetup.com/Philadelphia-Mystical-Awareness-Group/, I  was pleasantly surprised. Hey, a meetup group for mystics like myself, I thought. I’m going to copy the text directly from the website, to convey its tone:

Do you communicate directly with Spirit? Are you looking for a community to support your path and where you can truly be yourself? Look no further, you found your circle!

This is a group for like-minded people to gather and support one another in their spiritual/mystical awakening. We are a group for those who have developed a heightened sense of awareness of what exists beyond the 3D physical reality. This is not a group for those just beginning to develop their sensitive, intuitive abilities. One could call it a urban retreat for mystics. We will share our experiences in a safe, friendly, environment. We can also explore effective tools to enhance awareness such as astrology, dream interpretation, and mindfulness. We will build community and have fun in the process. Future meetups will include group discussions, lectures, social outings, and classes.

 I am creating this group because it is something I wish was available when I first discovered my gifts. There was no structure in place and I just learned on my own until teachers appeared much later on. As more and more people begin waking up, I feel called to give back and share what I have learned with others. Together we will create an oasis that is warm and inviting and inspirational.

So I happily sign up, thinking I’ll get to share my experiences in a “safe, friendly environment”… until I get to the sign-up questions.

On a lot of meetups, they want you to fill out a little questionnaire they have for you. I guess it’s a vetting process. It certainly was in this case.

The first question was: Say a little bit about yourself. I said: “I’m a hard-core mystic: http://www.streetshavenoname.wordpress.com

Second question: When did you first start communicating with Spirit? My answer: “I don’t call it Spirit, but I had my white light, rebirth experience in 1997 at the age of 20.”

Third question: Are you currently diagnosed with a mental illness, such as Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Depression, etc.? My answer: “Yeah, why?”

Fourth question: If your answer to the 3rd question was Yes, are you currently being treated? My answer: “No. Why?”

I was pretty surprised at the last two questions. It reminds me that not everybody has such a low opinion of the mental health system as I do. To this day, I am still angry that the mental health system failed me so utterly as it did. In a way, it didn’t fail me, though, because it allowed me to get on Social Security for mental illness, which I now use to keep myself off the streets. But they did in fact fail me in that I never experienced any genuine ability on the part of the people who were supposed to know what to do with me. No ability to treat mental health problems at all. To this day I bear that cross, because I have to dig myself out of that hole alone.

I suppose that explains my disappointment when my membership to the meetup group was denied. Just like that, I know this group is not for me. It’s obviously only for mystics who don’t have mental health problems. But I’m wondering to myself, how many mystics don’t have mental health problems? Like, negative 2? I mean, why would you self-proclaim being a mystic if you didn’t ever have mental health problems?

I’m a mystic because I was cured by my mystical experience. I’m just shocked that this possibility never crossed the group leader’s mind, that a person stops needing treatment precisely when they see the mystical light. I might be reading too much into why my membership was rejected, of course, but I guess I’m just shocked by the shallowness of the criteria for a group which would seem to be so far beyond what I think the mental health system is designed for.

My current conclusions about the mental health system are that mystical experiences just aren’t on their radar. My original mistake with them, if you can call it a mistake at all, was that I was too innocent to realize that they were completely incompetent to deal with people like me. Unfortunately, I clearly just made the same mistake with the “Philadelphia Mystical Awareness Group”.

Just goes to show you, appearances mean nothing… literally, they mean nothing!

Alright, I admit it, I’m a little traumatized by this experience. Not like I really need more meetup groups to go to. Just didn’t realize the stigma of mental illness would be so strong in a “mystical awareness group.”

Original Transcript on Self-Love

I am going to post the email transcript of what I wrote on Self Love, the Edited for Blogging version of which appeared here just two posts ago. Besides being interesting, it’s a demonstration for comparison on how things appear when I edit my own material. This is a huge issue for my book, since editing tends to stifle the original flow, and yet often my reason insists on pedantically doing just that.

Friend: You’ve been thinking a lot about self-starter and I’ve been thinking a lot about unconditional love and acceptance of self. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Me: Well I guess acceptance of self depends on self-awareness first. You can’t accept what you’re not aware of. Self-awareness is stifled both by a lack of feedback and a lack of introspection. A baby learns what a person is by watching other people. Eventually it realizes that it is one of those things it sees walking around and talking. Therefore people are not as aware of themselves as they are of the people around them. What I always strive for is self-awareness, but that is extremely hard. I’ve invested years of my life just trying to gain an adequate amount of self-awareness.

Another thing to think about is the protective barriers the psyche creates in order to promote its own well-being. All beliefs in (a loving) God are such a protection. So it’s important to remember that the vast majority of people can’t live in reality, but must erect defenses which allow them to love themselves. Obviously these barriers can be damaging, because they blind the person from reality, allowing them to hurt other people in the process. But from this point of view, very few people can actually love themselves – most have to lie to themselves instead. So is it ethical to lie to oneself and thereby gain the self-confidence which comes from believing false things? Or is it better to have the life force sucked out of you by confronting the truth? It’s a choice each individual has to make (I basically chose the latter).

Acceptance of self is most required when no one else accepts you. The more you’re accepted by others, the less self-accepting you have to do. But how to do it without holding any delusions? Well, one of the best techniques is to acquire some secret knowledge. Some secret knowledge is fake, but the person ignores that fact because having a secret is far more important to them than whether their secrets are true or not. Hence all the talk about the Illuminati and other conspiracy theories. But these are delusions. Other secret knowledge is actually true, and this kind can give you a legitimate boost to your self esteem. If you gain secret knowledge, it can help a lot. That’s how I get a lot of my self-esteem.

Beyond secret knowledge, what can you do? Well, it’s easy to say “Find where you belong!”, but anyone’s who’s done that probably doesn’t need self-love. For a lot of people, maybe they don’t belong anywhere. And then what? Well, we could take the opposite approach and make a list of all the things which prevent you from killing your own body. In other words, stare death straight in the face. People don’t want to do this because maybe their reasons for living will turn out to be delusions. But if you’re really committed to self love, you could make a commitment to kill yourself if you can’t find things which really and truly keep you from doing so. In other words, forget everything anyone says about why you should live, and confront the matter on your own. You will find self-love or you will die trying! Honestly, that’s probably the best way to approach the topic, because now it’s just between you and you. You want self-love? That’s how you find it.

Let’s say you’ve chosen to live. Okay, now you have your baseline. Now we want more things. Maybe we can’t get them, but we’re alive, so we might as well try. Where does love come in here? I guess more love equals more confidence, hence greater risk-taking and better chances of reward. But there is so much competition for the rewards of life. Why would anyone love you who was competing with you? Can we expect people to love us when we are competing with them? No. Therefore you can only expect love from people who are not competing with you. Maybe you can get love from people who are striving for other things, but maybe not. Obviously self-love is good when you can’t get it anywhere else. But when you are competing, people will have less compassion for you, because they will not see you as needy or desperate, so why should they love you? Only unusually strong people will be able to love someone who doesn’t help them directly.

Most of life is unfortunately a barter system, where people use each other to meet their own needs. Unconditional love is very rare indeed. Usually only babies receive unconditional love. And that’s an enormous amount of hard work! That’s a good example of how hard it is to unconditionally love someone. It’s not easy, and that’s why it’s rare.

Okay, just some thoughts off the top o’ me head there.

Friend: Wow! I just read your email like it was some kind of movie thriller!! Hanging on the edge of my seat and waiting (not so patiently) for what comes next!! I will turn this around soonest but I did want to thank you in advance for your thoughtful and really insightful response. My Goodness – WOW. I’m looking forward to responding!

Hope you’re doing really well, Zack. 🙂

Friend, a week later: Hi there! How are you doing?? […] I’m headed back to Esalen this Saturday […]. I’m nervous! In the singing one, you have to get up in front of the group and sing a capella with no music. In the dancing ones, I want to try to express myself – not chicken out. These things get me antsy! Does that ever happen to you? Any suggestions??

Me: Well, I hear alcohol removes both your inhibitions & your skill. If only it would remove just your inhibitions! I guess you could meditate upon the cosmic irrelevance of everything. That’s it, just ponder the cosmic irrelevance of everything. That oughta do it…

Friend, two weeks later: Hi there! Hope you’re doing well! I owe you an email and I will get that to you soon. I just wanted to quickly mention something from my trip. (I got home last night.) I was talking to two people about your email. Separately. (And, btw, I don’t go around sharing what you write to me with the whole world but I was really FLOORED by what you said – in a GOOD way – and I really wanted to bring it into the light.) When I told the first guy about your “cosmic irrelevance” comment, he said, “Wow. Only someone REALLY SMART can write something like that.” I said – I know!! The second (a retired psychotherapist) said – Oh my God. What insight. I said – I know!!

Wanted you to know!

Me: Thanks! Just rereading my long email made me wonder why I wanted to edit it when I put it on my blog, because it flowed really well just as is. I think I’ll repost it! Thanks so much for this feedback. It’s just like I said above – I couldn’t even see myself when writing that and needed an outsider. Fascinating!