The Box, the Dot, and the Circle

The box and the dot and the circle. What do they mean? This is a post that describes what my experience has been with these three symbols and the meaning they give to life.

The Box

You probably have heard about the saying “think outside the box. ” It is simply to think outside of what we have been taught to think most of the time. It is simply to consider other alternatives other than what has been drilled in our brains from an early age. The box may represent a specific doctrine, a custom, tradition, or way of thinking. It can be used to help structure our minds by classifying things and simplifying our minds. But it can also limit our resources and our growth .

Thinking outside the box allows us to look at alternative ways of thinking. It helps us to grow and to learn new ways of experiencing things. For example, not everyone would need to go to college to have some kind of meaningful and productive life. Not everyone has to have a strict diet and exercise in order to have a healthy lifestyle. Not everyone has to take medication to treat an illness. There’s always an alternative way to almost everything.

But it takes courage and determination to go against the popular journey and do things a little different. It takes willingness to be vulnerable to criticism and ridicule in order to be outside of the box.

Don’t be afraid. Be yourself. And grow.

The Dot

How about the dot? The dot is the unfortunate or undersized events that happen in our lives that we focus so much on.

What do you see here?:

Most people would say “a dot.” Few people actually pay attention to the white space around it. When we look at the dot on a piece of paper all of our attention is automatically driven to the dot. But when we expand our vision and look around the dot, we can begin to look at the Bigger Picture.

When we focus too much on small issues (by small I don’t mean unimportant ) we miss other things around us that are also happening . If I worry a lot about not having enough money to buy all the groceries I need, I can then look at the bigger picture and consider those families and whole communities who have absolutely nothing to eat. If I obsess about the cold that I’m suffering from, I can then look at the bigger picture and think about those who have terminal illnesses.

And this is not only about how other people are in worse situations than ours. It’s also about , instead of focusing so much about maintaining our personal agenda and keeping track of our goals, to also think about how precious life is as a whole even if we don’t have everything we want. It’s about appreciating the life as it is. It’s looking at our experiences in a more holistic way. And the more we look at the bigger picture , the smaller our problems will become. When I look at the picture of our planet earth, or even a small white dot in a picture of our galaxy, I am reminded of how huge our universe is, compared to our daily problems.

Another link that beautifully talks about the dot is found here .

The Circle

Now let’s talk about the circle. We usually think that life is linear and everything happens in a straight line. But that’s not really the case. I have learned in this life everything starts and ends pretty much in the same spot.

Life is not linear , like most of us think . We begin as dependent , fragile, weak humans, and we end up the same way. Everything in nature follows a pattern that cycles the same way. From spring , to summer, to autumn, to winter, and back to spring again. The earth revolves around the Sun in a big circle.

When we do certain things, there is always a consequence . Our actions brings consequences back to us. Cause and effect. Everything can be perceived as in a circle.

There are many disciplines that use the circle as its model to illustrate its components. There is the circle of life as illustrated below.

There is also the circular model of the whole person as shown below.

The circle represents the notions of totality, wholeness, original perfection, the Self, the infinite, eternity, timelessness, all cyclic movement, and God .

It is a perfect symbol. In Japan it is called “Enso.” It is used to express the present moment. It also symbolizes absolute enlightenment , strength, elegance, the universe and the void .

In summary , thinking outside the box, looking at the Big Picture instead of just the dot , and embracing the totality and perfection of the circle, will bring harmony to this existence. Keep that in mind.

An updated review on Christianity

I recently watched the movie “The Case for Christ” and found it to be intriguing . I have been drifting away from the Christian faith I once had and becoming more of an agnostic, or a Deist. I found many evidences of why the Christian faith is a false doctrine. However, I found some aspects of Jesus’s teachings to be applicable and useful in today’s society, and in my personal life, such as the concept of forgiveness, mercy, serving the poor, grace, loving my neighbor as myself , etc. But I have almost completely abandoned today’s church’s way of interpreting the true identity and nature of the figure of Jesus and the meaning of life.

I have recently embraced some teachings of Buddhism. I tried to practice mindfulness and simplicity in my life. The concept of suffering as a result of desiring things and the idea of emptiness as a way to reach enlightenment have been appealing to me. Allowing things to be as they are and letting go . Being formless, like water.

But I don’t identify myself as a Buddhist per se. I don’t even want to identify with any religion or faith in particular. I just want to be a person who finds meaning in this life, if there’s such a thing as meaning. And if there is even worth finding meaning or just living life the fullest. Although I don’t identify myself as such, I have been living a life of an atheist .

But I have recently been longing for an emotional connection to “something”. My heart has felt sad and I find myself seeking something “more.” When people talk about their faith in God or Jesus, I find myself longing for that same feeling again. I have been wanting to explore once again the possibility of a supernatural being that I can reconnect with. It’s almost like wishing to experience a childhood experience once again.

I know I have to be careful to not let my emotions dictate by behaviors. I recently lost my Dad and I’m getting older myself, so I may also be going through some life crisis at the moment. I should weigh all possible explanations before reaching any conclusions . I have to measure every step I make before making any life changing decision.

Nevertheless, I am currently interested in learning more about evidence for the Christian faith, since I watched this movie. I have read and own three of Strobel‘ books which I may read again. I have read many other books that explore the nature of Christianity. Among them “Mere Christianity” by CS Lewis, “Mere Churchianity” by Michel Spenser , “The Hole in our Gospel” by Richard Stevens, “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren, and “So You Thought You Knew: Letting Go of Religion” by Joshua Tongol , and many more.

I feel that, if I decide to do so, I can do some research again with less biased mind, meaning that I will be ok with finding evidence on either side of the argument. If I find evidence and information that proves that Christianity could be true or not true, I will be accepting it either way . I would also find a combination of conclusions , that maybe some aspects of Christianity is true and others are not.

Possible Evidence for Christianity

Christianity is mostly based on the resurrection of Jesus. I can say that some teachings of Jesus may be sufficient to be principles to live by and live a full life. The sermon on the mount is a good verse that can be practiced in our daily lives and be the meaning of our existence (Matthew 5 ). But today’s interpretation of Christianity does not end there. It insists that the resurrection of Jesus after he died on the cross is the culmination of his so called “salvation.” Or is it ? Is there any evidence of the resurrection?

500 witnesses. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, that Jesus appeared to 500 people after his resurrection “at once.” This sounds more like a ghostly appearance to me. Anyways, this supposedly happened along with appearing to Peter and all of his apostles. Believers continued to gather and grow, not simply because of what Jesus taught , but because they apparently “saw him alive” after the resurrection. Could so many people have had some hallucinations or could have made up such a claim? Very unlikely.

Women witnesses. In the times of Jesus, women were considered secondary citizens by many. They were really not regarded as important eyewitness or reliable sources . Yet, the Gospels tell us that the first people to see the resurrected Jesus were women. He also had women among his followers and he freely talked to them (John 4:4-42), and even forgave the sins of prostitutes in public (John 8:3). Is this compatible to that historical culture? If this story of the resurrection was fabricated , would it have mentioned women as the first witnesses? Would any of these “fabricated” stories mention women in this matter?

Early Christians persistence. Christians were persecuted until death . Yet they continued to gather and grow in number. And they spread throughout the world . Does the fact that this faith grew globally serve as evidence of its authenticity? Some speculate that Paul was the main influencer of today’s Christian faith (his epistles were the earliest after Jesus’ time) and that his writings shaped today’s teaching of salvation by grace alone. He was beheaded because of his teachings, giving his life for a cause. I wonder if people were willing to give up their lives for a false doctrine that lasts up to today.

Like Paul wrote,

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. (1 Corinthians 15:12-15)

However , the Progressive Christianity website states : When Christians talk about the resurrection of Christ, they may be proclaiming that death did not have the last word in the Jesus story because his followers were raised up to be his new body. 

Was it a physical resurrection, or a symbolic resurrection that represented the resurrection of the “body of Christ ?” That is still a debatable topic.

But, Did Jesus even exist? Can we trust the story of Jesus from Bible ? If not, are there any non biblical literature that talks about the existence of Jesus? There’s actually some Non biblical literature of Jesus.

Josephus:

“There was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day” (Antiquities 18:3:3)

Pliny the Younger:

“They (Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food, but of an ordinary and innocent kind.” (Epistles 10.96).

Joseph Klausner, a Jewish researcher, sums up some of the conclusions which can be drawn from the Talmudic theories about Jesus:

“There are some reliable theories regarding the fact that his name was Yeshua (Yeshu) of Nazareth; that he practised sorcery (that is to say that he performed miracles, as was common in those days) and seduction and led Israel astray; that he mocked the words of the wise and discussed Scripture in the same way as the Pharisees; that he had five disciples; that he said he had not come to revoke the Law, nor to add anything to it; that he was hung upon a piece of wood (crucified) as a false authority and seducer on the eve of the Passover (which fell on a Saturday); and that his disciples cured disease in his name” (J.Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth, p.44)

Tacitus :

“Nero fastened the guilt … on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of … Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome….[5]

Phlegon

Another secular authority, Phlegon, wrote a book entitled Chronicles, which was quoted by Julius Africanus.  Phiegon acknowledges that a darkness fell upon the land about the time of  Christ’s death, and he attributes this to a solar eclipse:

“During the time of Tiberius Caesar an eclipse of the sun   occurred during the full moon.” (Africanus, Chronography, 18.1)

So these example show that Jesus was at least a real person with controversial views. He was crucified and there was darkness during this day and his disciples continued to gather and grow in number in spite of the persecution. And his teachings , like CS Lewis wrote, made him an immoral man because of his pathological and delusional claims of being the”son of God” , or he was actually a moral man who stated the truth. And truth is usually not well received by people who follow the status quo.

Possible Evidence against Christianity

On the other side of this argument lies the fact that there are stories of spiritual teachers who died and resurrected, similar to Jesus’s story .

Mithras (Persian god).

“.Persian legends of Mithras says that He was born of the Sun God and a virgin mother, called “the Mother of God”, on December 25th. They saw him as a symbol of justice, truth, and loyalty. He was considered the saviour of humankind, and stories abound of His healing the sick, raising the dead, and performing miracles (making the blind see and the lame walk). Throughout His lifetime, He was seen as a protector of human souls, a mediator between “heaven” and “earth” and was even associated with a “holy trinity”. He remained celibate, until the ripe old age of 64, throughout his life and preached the virtues of ethics, moral behavior, and good will.”

Osiris (Egyptian god):

Osiris was regarded as the good shepherd” who was loved by his people and it was felt that paying homage and venerating him would help Egypt and Egyptians to be successful. He also resurrected and was crowned as a king. To the ancient Egyptians, Osiris’ resurrection after being slain by his evil brother Set represents the new beginning for good after it has defeated evil. To them, the tale was symbolized by the sun going into the world of the dead each night and being reborn with each new day.

Attis (Phrygon-Roman god)

“Many professors of modern and past times cannot help but conclude that Jesus is based on mythical deities of old. Among these scholars number individuals such as Porphry (3rd Century), Max Muller, Ernest de Bunsen, Joseph Wheless, Albert Churchward (all of the 19th Century), and T.W. Doane (20th Century). Even Pope Leo X, privy to the truth because of his high rank, made this curious declaration, “It was well known how profitable this fable of Christ has been to us” (“The Diegesis” by Rev. Robert Taylor, footnote, p. 35.

At the time after Jesus’s death, the Romans began to suppress the Egyptian reigion and actively promoted Christianity. This sounds as if Egyptians customs were replaced by the new Christian rituals.

There is also evidence that Paul probably created today’s image of Jesus, to the point of worshiping him as a god. The title of “son of God” could have been added later to the Gospels.

There are also the gnostic gospels (Peter, Thomas, Phillip , Gospel of Truth) which have writings that do not support today’s image of the four traditional Gospels. For example , some of these writings talk about “the self and the divine as identical” and that “the ‘living Jesus’ of these texts speaks of illusion and enlightenment, not of sin and repentance, like the Jesus of the New Testament. Instead of coming to save us from sin, he comes as a guide who opens access to spiritual understanding.” (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/pagels.html).

The Gospel of Judas talks about “oneness of the self with God,” and Judas being the closest disciple to Jesus who helped Jesus die and “escape this world”. Many of these scriptures were considered heretics and, therefore, prohibited by the bishops and priests of the second and third century Orthodox Church. Only the four Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Lucas , and John were accepted as “Scriptures.” How can we then know if these four Gospels can be trusted since there are so many more that have been rejected by the church?

As we can see, there have been numerous myths and stories that resemble Jesus’s story . It’s hard to ignore the possibility that Christianity was copied or at least a product of all these other similar stories and myths. Does this take away the legitimacy of Christianity and what it is based on?

The Message

We could go on and on about the authenticity of what the church teaches and how it interprets the Gospels. But in my own personal journey, it mainly boils down to how I’m going to live my present life. And am I going to include the concept of a loving God or continue to live like an atheist?

Am I content with how my life is going right now or do I want something different? The simple answer is that I am not content .

What do all the stories about different myths (including Jesus) all have in common ? Instead of trying to figure out if Jesus’s story is legitimate and “truer” compared to the other numerous stories, would it be wiser to simply concentrate on the common and central message of all these stories , regardless of the “godly figure” that we choose to follow as its protagonist? Can we blame today’s Christians for focusing and using the image of Jesus to represent the central message? If the message is what we should be concentrating on, what is the message then?

The message could be summarized as such: Humanity has a reminder about what life is. There’s death and then there’s a resurrection . There’s the acknowledgment of “sin” and then there’s repentance. There’s also a return to our “selves” through self acceptance and wisdom. There’s the message of loving our neighbors , serving the poor, forgiving others, being meek and making peace. There’s always light after darkness. And Jesus beautifully described this at the Sermon on the Mount. (Mathew 5)

Grace

I think that it boils down to the idea of grace.

The teaching of eternal damnation in a place called “hell” is disturbing to say the least. It has been the church’s attempt to manipulate the masses to lure people into their doctrine . In contrast , I find it very inspiring the concept of grace. In the Christian tradition, God has forgiven our trespasses without us having to make sacrifices or doing anything in particular to please God. However, the only condition is to believe. I reject the idea that we would still end up tormented away from God for eternity if we don’t consciously “accept” God’s grace by reciting and “confessing Jesus as our savior.”

An all powerful, all loving God would not let a soul get “lost.” It just doesn’t compute. And I realize I’m not God , and my mind is limited. But God’s grace, by definition, is not limited.

God’s unlimited grace would surpass any amount of grace that any human being can even practice. It is almost impossible to forgive someone who murders our family or steals from my children. But God (somehow) could. So I think it was taught 2000 years ago that , through God, we can do many things, including the impossible “unconditional grace.”

That’s why I would be inclined to accept God’s unconditional grace. Not because the church tries to manipulate me through fear and intimidation with the idea of “hell”, like it has done in all its history. Believing that God punishes us with eternal damnation is rejecting the whole idea of God himself. It is putting limitations to God’s unlimited grace. And I am not creating a God out of convenience. I am clarifying what eternal grace from an eternal God would be.

If you have a child, or a brother, or any significant other, whom you love so much, but this beloved person decides he or she would not want to love you back anymore, what would you do? If this person, whom you love dearly, wants nothing to do with you, would you then decide to let him or her starve to death? Would you abandon this person until death simply because he or she does not love you back ?

If your answer is no, then you think like a any loving being would.

And if so, why would an eternally loving and all powerful being do so then ?

Are we more loving and forgiving than God?

God loves and accepts us even if we don’t love him back. How he decides to give us a chance after we die as unbelievers is up to Him. He doesn’t need us to invent the idea of hell to scare people and manipulate them into believing. We are guaranteed to live eternally and be one with God no matter what we do or say.

Now that’s what I would call “good news.”

Think about your thoughts …

IMG_4994.jpg

Our minds control our lives.

We often say to other people  “Try not to think about it” , “Don’t be so negative” or “Try to be positive.”  What we are really saying is, “Change your thoughts and perceptions about the situation.”

We often reflect with our words the reality that most of our experiences are based on our thoughts and perceptions.  Our lives are basically dictated by the ideas and concepts we have in our minds.  The interesting thing is that most of the time we do not realize it.

Our minds are so powerful, and yet we don’t recognize that we can control it so that we can control our circumstances.  In other words, we are able to change the way we think if we choose to.

The challenge comes when we unconsciously identify with whatever it is that we have chosen to value in our lives.  And we identify with it simply because we do not want to accept the inevitable fact of our mortality.  And it becomes an automatic habit which we do not rethink about.  It is normal to perceive ourselves as white, black, Mr. and Mrs. Jones, a teacher, a construction worker, a mom, a dad,  a Cubs fan, an American, a soldier, etc.  It makes us who (we think) we are.

In previous blog posts, I have talked about how our thoughts and ideas can be used to feed our ego, which is the fabricated self that we keep nurturing in order to avoid thinking about our own mortality.

So we choose, or we are taught to identify with, a family name, a particular race, ethnicity, political party, profession, etc.  Simply because we want to maintain ourselves distracted and entertained with identities that help us feel alive and valued.   In other words, away from the reality of our death, the ultimate unknown.  So we keep deceiving ourselves.

Also, when we say “Good luck!” or “I’ll pray for you!”, we are basically saying that, because we cannot control or directly intervene with a difficult situation, we wish someone else a favorable outcome by thinking they may receive some assistance from an outside source beyond our control.  In other words, I cannot help you directly, but I am claiming that somehow you receive some help beyond my human capacity.

So, pay attention to what you think.   Review and contemplate on how each statement you  make can reflect the fear of the unknown.  Fear of your mortality.

Think about your thoughts.

 

 

Identifying with the Self: Part Two 

 I had a counseling session with one of my clients.  She is a cutter and was questioning whether or not she would be getting any better in her life.  She was comparing herself with others who also receive therapy and who seem to be getting better faster. My client thought she was not improving like she should and asked about the concept of PTSD and resistance to treatment.

I try to explain to her that PTSD involves living in the past after a traumatic experience… versus learning from the past without necessarily reliving the past.  When we experience PTSD , we tend get stuck in the past and not move forward.  When the pain is avoided then we continue to experience PTSD and continue to relive the past and experience an emotional cycle which is nourished by substance-abuse, self harming behavior, and depression.

On the other hand, when we learn about the past, we develop new skills and we develop new ways to cope with the upsetting memories.  One of the ways is to talk about it, process feelings, write about it, and accept the fact that the pain was done.   When we choose to develop new skills and process feelings by accepting the pain, then we begging to acknowledge that it was a difficult time in our life and be able to move forward with new skills.

And then there was the question of why she is still cutting when she’s in her 50s now, when most of the cutters are either teenagers or young adults.

Then a lightbulb turned on in my head. I asked my client who she would identify as and she could not answer the question.  She first said “I’m already in my 50s why am I asking this question now? ” Then I asked her to not think about her current age but to focus on the question itself : who am I?

The observation that most cutters are teenagers or young adults gave me the idea that, since she has always been dependent on others to tolerate her who she is and what to do with my life, that sounds almost like what teenagers and young adults do in the early lives.

Basically my client is experiencing what most teenagers and young adults experience : finding their identities in life, facing the unknown after depending on the parents.  My client said she always depended on her parents and she was taking care of and nourished as a child even during her adulthood.  This can explain why she has difficulty identifying who she is now in her 50s. I explained that most of us experience the same identity crisis in different times of our lives. Most of us identify with what we have been assigned to be, for example our names, our ethnicity, our gender, and our religion. But we ultimately face a time in life, usually during young adulthood, where we start questioning  our assigned entities and find our own identities. And maybe that’s what my client is experiencing at the present moment.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, we mostly live inside our heads. Inside our thoughts and perceptions. We rarely get out of our thoughts and face reality. We don’t usually live in the present moment.  But we rather stay living inside our heads.  Inside our minds. But we rarely step aside and start perceiving ourselves as we really are.

Have the rest of us done the same thing in our lives?  Have we taken the bold step of “peeling the onion” all the way until we find our true selves?

In my own experience , that “true self” remains a mystery.  It remains a great part of the unknown, which is why I tend to ignore it and replace it with all the entities I have been taught to identify with.

I have learned to identify with being a Hispanic middle age male, an American, a mental health professional, a  Florida resident, a parent, a husband, a son, and many other entities.  All of these I can question and deny if I choose to.  What I have not identified with as much is what can never question or deny.

My true self.

But what is the true self?  Is it simply being human? Being a person? After all, isn’t that what we all have in common? Identifying with being Human beings ? Anything else could be used to separate and segregate us.  But being humans could only keep us united.