127 Spiritual But Not Religious

The fastest growing religious designation is the nones, which are those who are not associated with a religion. Many of these would consider themselves spiritual, but not religious. What does it mean to be spiritual but not religious. Religion deals with the outward, while spirituality deals with the inward. Spirituality is about connecting with nature, expanding our consciousness, and finding meaning in life.

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Secular Spiritual Teacher

Blog_SecularSpiritualTeacherWhat do you call a teacher who is committed to both spirituality and science? Who believes both in secular Humanism and mindfulness meditation? Who takes naturalism is be the basic metaphysical foundation for what is really real, but also believes that there are non-rational aspects that are both subjective, and important?

You could call me spiritual but not religious. I am convinced that all religions got it wrong, to varying degrees. The existence of God is one of the areas they got wrong. If there is a God, and we have no evidence that there is one, he would be so beyond the petty and human-like creations of Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. Religion may have been our first attempts at understanding the world, but we can do better.

But I am also not against realizing that religion had an important role. It sought to answer humanity’s deepest needs, needs that many atheists seem to ignore. Luckily we can separate the ridiculous dogmas of religion, from the legitimate pursuit of meaning, and connect with the sacred. That is the difference between religion and spirituality.

So this is the path I have traveled. I began as a Christian, became a Buddhist, and now I am a secular Humanist with a passion for helping people find a personal relationship with reality. This means helping them think clearly, act wisely, and live mindfully so that they may live a happier, more meaningful life.

So what do you call a teacher who is both secular or non-supernatural and committed to spirituality and meditation? This seems to be new ground. If you Google, “Secular Spiritual Teacher” you will find 5 results. I guess it is unusual for a teacher to be committed to secular rationality and spiritual development.

An Evidence Based Life

Blog_AnEvidenceBasedLifeSo what’s most important to you in life? When you think about it, what’s the most important thing. For me, it’s the truth. Is the truth important to you?

In my opinion, there’s no religion higher than truth. Truth, what is truth? That is a famous quote from Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Philosophy’s been struggling this for years. And the best definition I’ve ever heard is, that truth is the correspondence between thought and reality. When what you think matches what is, you have truth.

The problem is, everybody claims to have the truth. Christianity claims to have the truth, Islam claims to have the truth, the Republicans claim to have the truth, and the Democrats claim to have the truth. Everybody’s claiming the truth. How do you know whose right?

There are far too many claims for all of them to be right, and they are contradictory. I mean, atheism says that God does not exist and Theism says that God does exist. Both statements can’t be true. How do you decide which statement is true? This is where evidence comes.

I want the advocate an evidence based life. Evidence is a set of facts that support a claim, also known as a truth claim. A claim is simply a statement that is either true or false. Throughout your life, you’ll hear many different claims, some of them will be true, but many of them will be false. How do you determine whether a claim is true or false?

You can just trust a particular person and say, “Well, whatever so and so says, must be true.” That’s an appeal to authority. And if the authority is reliable and correctly reporting the evidence, then you can trust that authority. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the problem is, on many issues, there is no real authority.

For example, who is an authority on the existence of god, or the lack of existence of god. There is no authority on that. Because the question is too big. It’s asking ultimate questions and in ultimate questions, the philosopher is the most qualified person to answer those. And the philosophers disagree.

However, if you go back and you say, “I’m living an evidence based life, now what is the evidence?” The evidence, once you research it, and think it through impartially, without confirmation bias, you will come to the same conclusion I did. The God of the Bible does not exist. The God of the Koran does not exist.

Also, remember that the importance of the question that you’re asking determines the amount of evidence. So if the question is very important, you need a good amount of evidence. If the question is more trivial, like should I go to a particular restaurant, you don’t need much evidence. You can very quickly weigh the pros and cons in your head. It’s not a big deal. But the existence of God is a big deal, and so it requires a good amount of evidence.

And the subject of the question determines the source of the evidence. If it’s a scientific question, then we could turn to science. We don’t turn to scripture. Scripture has to be verified before we can turn to scripture. You have to find out if the Bible, or the Koran, or the Rigveda, or whatever it is that you’re appealing to as a holy book, is true. Because there are hundreds of holy books. Who’s to say that yours is right? So you first have to turn to the evidence to support it, or to disconfirm it. As I have done with the Bible.

So truth is found through following the evidence. If you value truth, you must value of the evidence. And, if you value truth, you’ll deal with the evidence objectively. Without trying to confirm your Christianity, or for that matter, your atheism. Just look at the evidence impartially, and live an evidence based Life.

126 Rebranding the Podcast

Blog_RebrandingthePodcastThe 5 Minute Dharma podcast is getting a makeover. I am not ending the podcast, I am rebranding it. Rebranding is the creation of a new look and feel for an established product. The rebranding efforts will include a name change and a new logo. The goal of rebranding is to revitalize the podcast and make more relevant people. I have decided to rename it – Spiritual Wisdom with Jay Forrest.

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True Authenticity

Blog_TrueAuthenticityAuthenticity means being true to yourself. But in many people’s thinking, authenticity is tied to how one feels. As if feelings were the standard by which we measure what is real. But we are more than our feelings and emotions. Yes, they are important, but they are not everything.

I would argue that we are true to ourselves, when we are true to our values and beliefs. Sometimes our emotions will be out of sync with these values and beliefs. When this happens, which is being more authentic? Following and acting on our emotions, or following and acting on our values and deeply held beliefs?

Many times we don’t feel happy, so does putting a smile on our face mean we are being inauthentic? Not if we value being happy and believe that being happy is who we are. We can choose to follow our values rather than our fleeting emotions.

So authenticity is not who you feel you are, it is who you choose to be. Putting a smile on our face when we don’t feel happy is not faking it, if it is being true to our values, our beliefs, and who we are choosing to be and become.

We are discovering that true authenticity is about being genuine to what’s most important to us. We choose to put a smile on our face because we genuinely want to be happy, and, therefore, are choosing happiness. How can this be false? We are being real to what is most real in us.

New Year, New You

Blog_NewYearNewYouIt’s a New Year. Did you make a New Year’s resolution? Some of the more popular ones include losing weight, exercising more, quitting smoking, stop drinking, or get out of debt. But, as we quickly realize, changing ourselves is hard to do. Why is that?

Most people attribute change or a lack of change to will power. But this is actually only a small part of the picture. What we don’t realize is that there are many influences that support our bad habits. If there are five people holding a door closed, it is highly unlikely that you are going to be able to open it. The same is true of habits. There are many factors that reinforce a bad habit.

Change is possible, but you have to come at it with more than willpower, you need skill power. You have to first identify your own particular challenges. Challenges are those conditions that create the greatest temptation for you. It may be certain times, certain people, certain places, for certain emotional states. You will need to identify them for yourself. Become a scientist of yourself. The old adage to, “know thyself,” is still true. Learn to study yourself.

Once you identify your own unique challenges, then you can create and develop your own personal action plan. An action plan is a set of specific rules you will follow when you are tempted. Challenges tell you when you are at risk of giving into temptation. The action plan tells you what to do.

In developing an action plan, you need to consider and marshal all your allies. The first is your willpower. Make sure you motivate yourself by identifying an incentive. This is the why of behavior change. If it’s weight loss, visualize what you will look like when you’ve lost the weight. Names all the health benefits that you will gain.

Next, develop the skills to succeed. Weight loss is not just about motivation, it’s about how-how. You need to learn why you overeat. This brings us back to the “know thyself” advise. Do you find that stress makes you overeat? Develop skills to deal with the stress differently. Maybe it’s certain times of the day. Then develop skills to distract yourself during these times. It could also be that you eat in front of the television. In this case, it is easy to mindlessly eat. Learn to eat mindfully. There are books on mindful eating that will help you.

Next, recruit people in your life to encourage you in your behavioral change. This may involve sitting down and having an open and honest conversation. It may mean making new friends and distancing yourself from others.

And finally, engineer the environment to help, rather than hinder your goal. This may include positive posters and other visual reminders to keep you focused. It may include eliminating temptations, making them hard to get, or replacing them with positive things. Sometimes it’s easier to replace a bad habit with a good one.

So now you have selected a bad habit you want to overcome. You have identified your own unique challenges. And you have developed you own action plan to overcome your challenges. Now it is time to implement your action plan. It is time to see if your action plan will work.

Are you ready to learn a secret? I can almost guarantee that your action plan will fail. Do you know why? Because you do not know yourself that well. If you did, you would know what to do and do it. But it is what you don’t see that controls you. That is why you have to look at your action plan as an experiment. It is a way of getting to know yourself better.

It is important that you look at the failure of your action plan, not really as a failure, but as increased information about yourself. The action plan must fail in order for you to learn more about yourself. As the book, Change Any-Thing, puts it, “Once we understand the forces that are acting on us, we no longer have to fall victim to them.” That means that “When it comes to creating lasting change, failure is the rule, not the exception.”

It is a New Year. It is the first day of the rest of your life. A New Year can mean a new you, but you must approach it with wisdom. Pick one habit that you want to change. Study that habit. Pay attention, with full awareness, and identify the challenges you face in overcoming that habit. Notice motivational challenges, skill deficiencies, social influences, and environmental and structural challenges. Then devise an action plan to counter all those negative challenges.

It is important to hit the habit with a combined force of personal, social, and environmental countermeasures. Habits are very hard to break because there are many strings that keep us bound to it. You must cut most of these in order to give your willpower a fighting chance. You must even the odds of success by enlisting as many aids and helps as you can muster. And you must design them for you and your unique set of challenges. Know yourself by studying yourself.

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Note: I originally wrote this for the Spiritual Naturalist Society and it was published October 1, 2015. Reprinted with permission. http://spiritualnaturalistsociety.org/new-year-new-you/

125 Internal and External Contemplation

Podcast0125Today I want to continue our series of talks on the Satipatthana Sutta. In this passage the Buddha instructs us to carefully observe the elements in the body internally, externally, or both internally and externally. There are different interpretations of what this means. Does it mean we are suppose to observe our body and someone else’s body? This is the traditional interpretation. But I will offer two other ones.

TEXT: “In this way he abides contemplating the body as a body internally, or he abides contemplating the body as a body externally, or he abides contemplating the body as a body both internally and externally.” (http://www.wisdompubs.org)

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