"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy...
our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness."
The Dalai Lama
It was no coincidence that the first time I became open to religious experience in my life was when I first fell in love. (The medium of spiritual connection is Love) She was a beautiful Mormon girl who lived about as close as you could in our spread-out canyon community. I became interested in her religion. And while I do believe the true search for religious meaning is a search to find love, to find connectedness, the truth is that I really wanted to impress the girl.
I'm sure that my parents probably intended for me to get the basic values that people often find attending a church, but their limited and unsatisfactory experiences with organized religion apparently didn't inspire them to pass along any kind of spirituality, or even dogma, to their kids. My father had grown up a left-handed Catholic, which is to say persecuted and defiant. He quit the church at his first opportunity. My mother never went to church, and didn't have much to say about religion, except that it was probably a good thing for some people. I recall her suggesting that it may be a good thing for me, but she wasn't sure which church I should go to. She did offer to drive me to which ever one I picked out.
I had my own spiritual inspirations of a sort from the stars and canyons- that sense of a native experience with the land, perhaps my Kickapoo blood arising. My gung fu teacher had shown me a mysterious invisible force called ch'i, and given me some eastern wisdom and some western philosophy. And then way back there had been those strange, other-worldly moments I'd felt in my early childhood accompanying my Czech grandmother to Catholic mass.
In those days, the mass was performed in Latin by elaborately-robed priests who kept their backs turned to you. There was rich, gilded ornamentation lavished in the huge space with it's towering vaulted ceilings, huge oil paintings and tapestries. Smoke clouds of burning incense and eerie chanting. It was almost spooky, and I was (as intended) transported into a strange, alien dimension. But all the hoopla only led me to believe that religion was something awesome and unattainable, and without any preparation or repetition, the Catholic faith could gain no purchase in my little boy's heart. Even as a small child, I couldn't trust a life-discipline based on guilt and mortification that weren't of my own creation. Besides, something didn't sit right about it. Why would I pray in a Roman church to the image of a guy being executed by Romans?
...A Vonnegut, circa 1975.
Reading had given me something of a set of beliefs by the time I reached puberty. My library was pilfered from my college-aged brother and sister, and was rich in philosophical prose. From my brother I copped Kafka, Sartre, and Mark Twain. He could keep those Russians – they were just too intimidatingly thick.From my sister I "borrowed" John Steinbeck, whose ghost I would later stalk (from King City to Monterrey); Henry Miller, who wrote about sex! And my teenage literary hero and default guru, Kurt Vonnegut, whose funny and pointedly nonsensical morality plays made perfect sense in my tiny nation of one. God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut. Years later, I'd go to see Vonnegut on stage with Art Buchwald and Lewis Lapham, discussing the betrayals of the second Bush administration. He was beautifully wise and cranky, and full of love. Within just a couple months, both he and Buchwald would shuffle off this mortal coil, and Lapham would retire from the editorship of Harper's, which for me was also akin to a small death in the family.
I mixed all this heady literature up with the latest Marvel Comics, particularly The Mighty Thor, and The Sub Mariner, completely failing to equate the psychic sufferings of the Existentialists with my favorite quasi-mythic comic book idols. Marvel Comics were existential, and I, as a mere visitor to this planet myself, could identify with all those displaced anti-protagonists completely.
Adding to it all at just the right moment, my high school teacher assigned us the option of reading a book called Man's Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl. I read it. All my strident inner-dependence and resistance to embrace an absurd reality whose beauty could only be grasped in brief, unpredictable moments, suddenly dissolved in my young psyche in just such a moment. I was just here. It didn't have to make any sense. I was a visitor whose chief occupation was making the most of a poorly-planned vacation on a beautiful, but messed-up planet. I only had to do. To be. So it goes.
"This world is a bridge. Pass over it, but do not build your dwelling there."
'Isa, (Jesus in Islam), from an inscription at the mosque in Fatepuhr Sikri, India
"It is always the false that makes you suffer...Abandon the false and you are free of pain; truth makes happy; truth liberates."
I've been wanting to write about fear, but I was afraid to. What if I wrote something foolish – what would people think? Would I ever get acknowledgment and acceptance from the people I want to impress? What if someone with power over my life would read what I've written, judge me, and prevent me from reaching my rightful rewards? I could be ruined...lose my home...let my family down, etc., etc.
That paragraph describes a little of the neurotic nature of modern fear, the folly of the mind that leads to the construction of of imaginary threats. The worries that can consume an intellect, usually brought on by the volatility of our desires – What will they think? What if I don't get what I want? What if I lose something important to me?
Fear is basically an instinct for self-preservation, and as such is perfectly necessary and useful, sometimes even critical. Not all that long ago, we had to worry about being attacked by wild animals. Bears or tigers or, God forbid, crocodiles. Fear in those cases is entirely appropriate, though you don't see a lot of that sort of thing these days. In the agrarian societies of some countries, or increasingly in our society, if there's a chance that crops would fail, or if our water supply were threatened, arising fearful insecurities assure that we take action to prevent shortages, to shore up critical supplies and reserves. In these cases too, fear is an appropriate motivator born from the instinct to survive.
Luckily (for now) in our society, we don't have many of those worries. The only shortages of food we have in the world are artificially created by inequitable distribution. In some countries (including our own), this leads to unnecessary hunger. For most of us though, a simple phone call brings food right to our door, even if it's just pizza. God bless pizza. So since we needn't worry much about eating, and we really needn't worry about being eaten, what exactly is fear in this society, and what is it really good for?
Fear is the imaginary projection of the ego into the future, as remorse and resentments are the ego's unwillingness to release our perceived losses of the past. There are a couple great acronyms for FEAR that I find useful: False Evidence Appears Real; and Forget Everything's All Right. Ninety-eight times out of a hundred (those are strictly my numbers), what you fear never comes to pass, unless you create it yourself. But does all that evidence prevent the ego from creating the "worst case scenario?" Not on your life, buddy. The human ego is built to fret – unless you take some action to defuse it. Here's a proactive approach to do just that:
As usual, the solution always seems to begin with meditation. As the ego seeks to separate us from Source, meditation connects us, and disconnects fear. Karma is really the action of life – not the causality of life, as the victimized ego would define it. If you form your actions based on fearful expectations, you energize the ego's negative influence in your life. Your actions follow that negative intention, and you create a causal cycle of negativity. If on the other hand you're connected by meditation, and you recognize the imaginary nature of your fear, you'll notice that the real evidence of your life usually demonstrates that everything is actually all right. Then you won't energize that negative thinking, stop your fearful self-paralysis before it starts, and be empowered to take the necessary actions to assure your fears will never come to pass.
A simple example would be that when there's something that appears to threaten your health, say that you have an ache or pain that you worry about. As you enlarge those ego-fears without taking action, you really do compromise your health, when just calling for help could resolve the entire situation. There's appropriate fear there. You need to act. The same is true with relationships, if you feel there's a problem brewing, gather up the love in your heart, and start communicating in order to defuse any potential problems.
This works on a broader playing-field too. Let's say there's a politician who seems to be unconscious of our growing environmental realities, who wants to keep burning fossil fuel for energy, or further institutionalize the use of pesticides. The appropriate fear is for the health of the planet – the need for clean, renewable energy, and responsible stewardship of our food sources. You may want to take action and join the opposing political effort. And when you're talking about fear, don't put anything off too long. It always works best if you apply the proaction now – today.Any procrastination invites your fearful ego-imagination to run riot in your mind, and your life.
Show up and just do what you need to do today. If you're doing"the right thing," you never need to worry what other people think. This is karma in action - creating a positive cycle. It will even effect the way you carry yourself, when you relate to the world in a way that assures positive experiences, because your healthy spirit extends beyond your physical body. You'll have intuitive intelligence in your corner, and confidence to face any situation. bringing me to the last of my favorite acronyms for FEAR: Face Everything, Attain Relief.
Except, God forbid.....a crocodile.
"The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future...but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly."
The high desert makes me think of Sam Shepard. Here's a portrait of him from years ago, and years later I met him in Astor Place. He'd always been a hero, and when I thanked him for everything, he said, "Not everything." We have some history in common, in fact, in this painting he's wearing one of my old shirts...
The traveling started early. Perhaps it was the expansiveness of the west that brought it on. Or maybe just the desire to be somewhere else that living a young life kicked off it's tracks can bring about. Having Mexico, an international border, right down the block added a bit to the scope of what seemed possible. There were fronteras close by that could be crossed in minutes. Horizons one could easily wrap one's life over in just a day or two's time.
There was that inner expanse too. The invitation to live a multiple life that in fits and starts led me to an identity that I'd rely on through several lives, and several deaths. Back then, I didn't know where I was going in life, so I felt most at ease when I was going somewhere else. The regular road trips with my brother from San Diego up into the high desert through the Owens Valley, up the "backside" of the Sierras through Lone Pine and Crowley Lake to the great blown-out crater that was Mammoth Mountain, soon became forays deeper and farther into the desert west.
In the evening after supper I'd take a deep breath and set off in my '59 Volkswagen Beetle, with it's oval rear window, cloth roll-top sunroof, furniture wheel accelerator, and foot-thrown reserve gas tank (no gauge), bound for Utah. I felt like Lindbergh setting off across the Atlantic, and in that bare-bones can of a car with it's little airplane engine droning, sometimes it sounded and felt like I was flying at a thousand feet through the dark, thin air of the high desert. Sunroof open, stars shining in. There'd be a stop in Vegas for coffee and a donut before pressing on to St. George, Utah, en route to the Wasatch Mountain range above Salt lake City.
Sometimes an eighteen-wheeler would come barreling by, nearly pushing the Beetle right off the shoulder with it's great whoosh of air -but once it passed, I could swing that little green bucket in behind the trucker, and she'd shudder and rise up off the ground as the big semi sucked her along in it's draft. I covered a lot of road that way, attached to those big trucks like a remora attached to a shark. They didn't care, the little car's weight was so insignificant, they couldn't even feel me hitching a ride... and I think they liked the company. The feel of serving someone. I'd get 50, 60 miles to the gallon being carried along like that, and never have to worry about anything in the road- especially in that green tin can where a collision with a wayward heffer would mean oblivion for cow and boy alike.
As my host trucker finally pulled off to a road stop, I'd honk him a pallid little VW honk, and wave like a fellow sea-captain veering off into the darkness of the open ocean. And he'd always wave back, acknowledging my gratitude for the portage and protection. In those days when there was so much nothing between Las Vegas and Salt Lake, just being out there going someplace in the same direction was enough to fashion a headlight camaraderie out in the lonely desert night, navigating by the stars and the glow of a town on the horizon.
And when I finally arrived, I'd always brought very little but my several selves along. And maybe who I could be this time. Until it was time again to be somewhere else.
The lessons of my three near-death experiences (don't try this at home) pointed me in 3 different directions, each of which can lead you to realize that Heaven isn't a place, but is a state-of-being that you can occupy here & now! Available now from Llewellyn Books, Amazon, B&N, and all fine booksellers.
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I survived three very different near death experiences, and I don't recommend it, but I'd like to give you what I've learned about life (and death) the easy way, in my fun (but serious) book, designed to defuse whatever fears you have, and pass along the lessons I learned the hard way, available now at all major book sellers, from Conari Press
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The art and writing of Robert Kopecky, author of How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide to Happiness in This World and Beyond,and How to Get to Heaven (Without Really Dying).
Art, Faith, and the Koko Lion is a uniquely spiritual blog from the author, illustrator/designer, and 3 time "Near Death" survivor, consisting of:
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I've spoken at the International Association for Near-Death Studies World Conference, the Wisdom of the Near-Death Experience Symposium, and more; and have written for Beliefnet, Innerself, New Buddhist, Soul Life Times, Reality Sandwich (Evolver), and more.
Don't Be Put-off By This (Spiritual), It's Really Fun to Read Reading List
A Course in Miracles
A Joseph Campbell Companion (ed.)
A Practical Guide to Know Yourself -Maharshi
A Return to Love -Williamson
Bases of Yoga -Aurobindo
Being, Consciousness, Bliss -Fitzgerald
Black Elk Speaks
Christ the Yogi -Ravindra
Crest-Jewel of Discrimination -Shankara/Prabhavananda, Isherwood
Ethics of the Sages Pirke Avot -Shapiro
Finding the Hidden Self: The Shiva Sutras -Worthington
Food For the Gods -Berry (ed.)
Gnana Yoga -Vivekananda
Good Life, Good Death -Gehlek
How to Know God: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali -Isherwood/Prabhavananda
I Am That -Maharaj
Infinite Life – Thurman
Jesus and Yahweh – Bloom
Jung and the Lost Gospels – Hoeller
Man is Not Alone - Heschel
Misquoting Jesus -Ehrman
Not Always So -Suzuki
Parallel Worlds -Kaku
Power Vs. Force -Hawkins
Quantum Shift in the Global Brain -Laszlo
Real Magic -Dyer
Rebirth and Karma – Aurobindo
Science and the Akashic Field -Laszlo
Suicide and the Soul – Hillman
Teachings of The Buddha -Kornfield (ed.)
The Bhagavad Gita -Easwaran
The Bhagavad Gita – Gandhi
The Book of Secrets -Chopra
The Captain's Verses -Neruda
The Dhammapada -Easwaran
The Divine Matrix -Braden
The Enlightened Mind -Mitchell (ed.)
The Essenes -Manitara
The Essential Mystics -Harvey (ed.)
The Essential Rumi – Barks
The Field -McTaggart
The Future Evolution of Man -Aurobindo
The Game of Life -Shinn
The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead – Hoeller
The Gospel of Thomas -Leloup
The Great Path of Awakening – Kongtrul
The Hermetica -Freke/Gandy
The Hope -Harvey
The Medium, The Mystic, and the Physicist -LeShan
The Original Jesus, Buddhist Christianity -Gruber, Kersten
The Passover Plot -Schonfield
The Power of Myth -Campbell
The Power of Now -Tolle
The Sacred Power of Huna -Morrell
The Secret Teachings of All Ages -Hall
The Soul of Rumi -Barks (trans/ed.)
The Spiritual Roots of Yoga -Ravindra
The Spirituality of Imperfection -Kurtz/Ketcham
The Tao of Physics -Capra
The Tao te Ching -Lao Tzu/Star, Mitchell, Rosenthal
The Three Pillars of Zen -Kapleau
The Undiscovered Self -Jung
The Upanishads -Mascaro (ed.)
The Way to God -Gandhi
When Things Fall Apart -Chodron
Your Sacred Self -Dyer
Zen Mind, Beginner Mind -Suzuki
A,F,&tKL Around the Web
Look for the dancing blue elephant by the river when you're surfing the internet at sites like Gaia.com, Soul Life Times, The Mindful Word, Reality Sandwich, Spiritual Networks, Twitter, and others, for blogs from the files of A,F,&tKL
art (animation & illustration) and heart (spiritual & scholarly) websites and blogs