Belief and Reality

This has happened twice now, to my amazement and embarrassment.

I have woken up twice absolutely beyond a doubt that our little puppy was in the bed with me. In both cases I was a bit puzzled at how she got there, since every night she sleeps in her kennel, and she is as of yet not able to jump into the bed on her own. But I knew she was there. I felt her, and even once picked her up. I told Ed that she was in the bed, and he heard me and remembers this happening.

Only it was not our puppy that was there. The little furry body I felt was one of our kitty cats that does indeed like to curl up next to me at night. The time I picked her up I even remained convinced that it was the puppy until Ed corrected me and turned on the light and I had to admit that I’d been deluded.

It’s a further reminder of me of how vulnerable the human brain–my own in particular–is subject to delusion. And no matter how much you are convinced and know something is true, it doesn’t mean it is. Questioning your perceptions and getting confirmation from another person always helps in determining if your perceptions match reality.

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Who am I?

When I was a teenager I used to think a lot about the question “Who am I?” Lots of descriptive words would pop into my mind: daughter, student, reader, Christian…the list could go on. But the more I thought about these words the more I realized that they do not say a thing about who I am. They only describe different aspects of me. I read during my exploration of Buddhism that the thing we know of as “I” disappears when you look for it and that indicated that it is does not really exist. This is consistent with my own experience.  

However, I still feel some need to identify myself, and my list has changed quite a lot since I was a teen. You will probably note that I listed “Christian” as one of my identity words. Yea, “Christian” was a huge part of my identity and for a time in my life my life practically revolved around that piece. If you asked me who I was when I was a teen, that is likely one of the first words I would think of after my name. A lot has changed since then.

I’m aware that lots of atheists out there do not consider “atheist” to be a large part of their identity. And it’s probably fair to say a lot of Christians do not consider it to be a huge identity issue either. I’m sure that the reason it is for me is the huge importance religion has always had to my sense of self. When I eventually found the teachings to be Christianity to be out of sync with what I knew of the world, I went through a major identity crisis. I was at a bit of a loss on how to act in certain circumstances–like how to react to parents and family members who still strongly identified with Christianity. (From stories I’ve read from other atheists with Christian parents this is a very, very common issue.) Since I’d always been taught that morality comes from God, I had to completely rework my understanding of morality. It was no longer about obedience to a higher power, but about human wellbeing and happiness (a great improvement, since obedience is a very poor and childish basis for morality). One example of major change in my thinking is that I could no longer find any good reason whatsoever why gay people should not be allowed to marry. I am still of the opinion that the reason that Christians are so strongly opposed to homosexuals is that one of the very, very few issues that the Bible seems unambiguous about. Actual unambiguous direction from the Bible? That is something you don’t see every day.

 I strongly identify as an atheist. But having come to the conclusion that it’s not healthy to identify only as one thing (especially something that is just saying what I don’t believe), I’ve branched out into other areas of interest as well. Yoga, of course—though that does at time create some tension with the atheist label. I am also a nature lover, and love camping and kayaking. I’m interested in improving my communication and public speaking skills so I’ve signed up with Toastmasters International. My first meeting as a member is this coming Monday.

Identity is a complex thing. Atheism is only a starting point, and part of a realization that you are responsible for creating your own self –according to what kind of person you want to be.  And not waiting around for a god to “reveal his will for your life.” It’s a start.

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Dr. Tiller and Satya

It’s getting longer than I like between posts so I think I should write an update.

First of all I was totally saddened and PISSED at the murder of Dr. Tiller. Anyone who has seen my Facebook page knows this well. What upsets me the most is the cavalier and even sometimes gleeful attitude of some pro-lifers. As if they are saying “well, we don’t condone murder, but he had it coming.” In response, I have pledged $10 a month to Planned Parenthood for the next year–probably longer. I am utterly convinced that it was the hateful rhetoric of groups like Operation Rescue that killed him–not just some loner with a gun. It take everything in me to remind myself that most pro-life people are good people concerned with protecting babies, even if they have been badly misinformed about the facts around abortion and filled with the fore-mentioned hateful rhetoric.

And that brings me to my next thought. One of the teachers at Yoga East has been talking about a yama each week, and recently she brought up Satya. This is usually translated as truthfulness. Here is what a quick Google search brought up on the topic.

Satya (Truthfulness)
Satya means “to speak the truth,” yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing. Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa. The Mahabharata, the great Indian epic, says: “Speak the truth which is pleasant. Do not speak unpleasant truths. Do not lie, even if the lies are pleasing to the ear. That is the eternal law, the dharma.” Please note that this does not mean speak lie. Keeping quiet and saying lies are two different things.


[I should note here that I don’t believe in holy scripture, and do not give special pleading to yoga philosophy. But just sometimes these old writings have some great concepts and this is one of those cases where I think they really got it right.]

I couldn’t help but think of Satya in the context of the debate over abortion and the murder of Dr. Tiller. I’ll give the Operation Rescue folks the benefit of the doubt, in that they really think they are speaking the truth when they call abortion murder and Dr. Tiller a murderer. I used to be on their side in the issue, too.  Abortion is a hard issue to deal with and is not something than anyone considers a good thing. Necessary sometimes, but not good. I cannot believe that they are really speaking the truth. Words that inspire people to murder and violence are not truth. Words that smear and vilify women who have found themselves confronting this horrible and painful decision do not express truth. Words that call a doctor who saves women’s lives a murderer are not truth.

Truth, whether it is pleasant or unpleasast, bring light and understanding to the subject at hand, not rage and violence. When the “truth” we speak creates more heat than light, we should reconsider our words and our attitudes.

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