Chapter  5

 

Meditations  for  Nonbelievers

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       as  Prayers  for  Believers

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030111 – 052813

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Many of us experience special moments in our busy lives, possibly during a critical phase of our life, when we seek a higher view of existence, one beyond all daily, complex involvement.  We seek clarity, a foundation or direction for our life, possibly through an understanding of the meaning of our existence. Many of us seek comfort, support, and help from “God”.

At times, we also want to show gratitude and joy in harmony with this ultimate foundation.

But, in our modern thought, how can this be? 

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The basic thought:

Meditations are proposed to support and structure a search for the transcendental essence of existence – the cause of the origin of our universe and its evolution – for the “Structure Providing and Spiritual Essence of Existence” – in greatest admiration and reverence.

But can we find support and possibly comfort from there?

The meditations shall also support and structure the search for a direction of our lives here on Earth – to derive not only meaning and direction, but also some strength. May we grasp the opportunity for personal development, beneficial action, and joy offered to us in our short existence.

A view of the width and depth of the universe and its evolving structure may provide us support. A view of all the suffering in this world may drive us to action. A view of all that is positive and beautiful in this world may refresh us.

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Introduction:

The important prayers of the great religions were formulated a long time ago by spiritually searching, leading individuals or priests of their cultures. They correspond to the respective best and deepest understanding of the perceived spiritual existence and structure of our world. In their time they served to elevate the people beyond the common level of daily life to a higher essence of existence and to provide direction for their lives, as they perceived them at that time. This resulted in belief and faith in “God” – in “Allah” or any “God”.  Derived from that belief, this has led to the formulation of basic laws for our lives.

Modern thought has deprived many of us of the concept of a personalized “God”. Observation of the actual and often cruel course of the world has deprived us of the hope to ever reach “God” with our cries for help or with our prayers.

What remains in modern thought is the acceptance of ethical ideals and moral standards, as well as, increasingly, the acceptance of intellectual, scientific clarity. This “intellectuality” began with ancient Greek thought and was continued by the Scholastic thinkers and those of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. It has been expanded by our modern “scientific” world.

Central to the interpretation of living nature is Darwin’s (and Wallace’s) theory of evolution – which did not see a guiding transcendental Christian love, but merely that “the fittest shall prevail”. This brought new emphasis to the problem of theodicy – the question of how a belief in “God” can be justified in the presence of so much evil and suffering in the world. Now one recognized the pervasive cruelty of previously romanticized nature. Now, one saw that each organism is vitally threatened by accidents, climate change, viral, bacterial or fungal diseases, parasites, and predatory or merely “harvesting” organisms – and may, equally, threaten other organisms.

In pilgrimage churches, one can find memorials (votive tablets) from individuals who through their faith, believed that they were helped by God or a saint in a situation of great need. But one finds no memorials for the innumerable individuals whose prayers or desperate cries for help did not find any higher response or reaction.

Still, in those special moments of our lives we seek to transcend in our thoughts the daily, low complexity of life. In a higher view of existence we still seek support, possibly direction, for our lives. That is the way those among us who are nonbelievers begin meditations – as believers begin prayers – to consider what could or should be our own path through life. 

Ultimately, both believers and nonbelievers follow very similar methods. The results of meditations or prayers, however, are quite different between the great religions and cultures of the world – between Jews, Christians, and Muslims – even more so when compared to Buddhists or Hindus. What can modern thought contribute to meditations? How should one begin a modern meditation?

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As said before, overemphasis of one philosophical direction often leads to a strong reaction of the other, or opposite, philosophical direction. In our time, with its central importance of the sciences, we observe reactivation of religious fundamentalism in many places – in all religions – but often in a dangerous way. The resurgence of theological dogmatism formulated long ago may provide a sense of security to some individuals, but it often does not match the needs, thoughts, or expressions of our now “global” modern world; indeed, it may become dangerous to itself and to others. One can observe how Muslim fundamentalism has brought so much more damage than good to the Muslim world that originally it had wanted to bring. The same holds for Christian fundamentalism in the course of history, some even today.

What do we teach our children? Which course in life do we ourselves pursue? We want our children to acquire an adequate economic foundation (as we ourselves need), to learn modern skills and become able to prevail in life. Obviously, though, we mostly emphasize our human culture, one based largely on cooperation. We value trustworthiness and tolerance. We admire charitable generosity. Thereby, we wish to provide and retain for us and for our children a solid foundation on the “values” of our culture. This is what our meditation should support. 

In the past, cultures and religions have long relied on rituals and prayers for their continuity – the rituals served to maintain coherence, the prayers to provide everyone with a connection to the foundation of existence and to provide direction. What were those prayers or what should they have been?  

Every prayer of significant religions begins with the focus on “God”, followed by a declaration of submission and of wanting to follow the wishes of the thus perceived supremely ruling “God”. Subsequently, specific concepts for the direction of human society and the conduct of personal life may follow. At the end, quite practical formulations of needs and prayer for assistance may be formulated.

What can a modern individual do who, from time to time, seeks a foundation for life, some direction or definition of priorities, or sometimes simply comfort and assistance?

The human mind has the unique capability for meditation.

This implies the creation of a certain distance from the many interconnections of daily life, an immersion in, and focus on, a unique theme of existence, one that is supposed to bring support and direction to the meditating individual, possibly also to bring about a form of mental peace – which means that meditation is closely akin to prayer and is the “nonreligious” form of the same mental process.

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Meditations:

Neuroscience indicates that the left side of the brain dominates our daily activities in logic and in quantitative thought. Only when the left side of the brain is brought to calmness does the right side of the brain, with more visual and, most importantly, more holistic thought, reach foreground awareness. Important inventiveness in both science and philosophy has resulted from “calm meditation”.

Big business decisions should be made only after a night’s rest.

On the other hand, free-flowing thought wanders aimlessly. The provision of a certain “focus” yields more, or better, results, if any at all. For example, Loyola utilized this approach in his  Spiritual Exercises, Most great thinkers had a focus for their mental search. 

The format that follows in this essay on meditation provides a series of focus ideas by offering a sequence of individual focus-thoughts, which can also be read as “sayings”, some followed by explanations and suggestions. 

 Each of the following 15 individual focus thoughts, or sayings, may be considered each for a separate meditation – one per week for a 4-months cycle or, as indicated below, one for every other day of a monthly cycle.

More important to the reader could or should be one’s subsequent own formulation of focus thoughts for meditation! Try it!

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Monthly Meditation cycle:

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1st day:  To the degree that we want to be mentally liberated from the complex involvements of daily life on Earth, to elevate ourselves from Earth as in astronautic exploration, our view should be lifted and directed toward the stars of the universe, the grandiose width of light-filled cosmic space – and, ultimately, to the question of the universe’s origin – to searching the view of a “Transcendental Structure Providing and Spiritual Essence of Existence”. For believers, this is the quest for God. 

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We must maintain admiration and, possibly, reverence when considering this absolutely abstract phenomenon of origin – be it the origin of our universe or of any preceding one – the origin of existence and its structure. No anthropomorphism in human terms is adequate any longer. The vastness of the universe and, possibly, of other and different universes and their course through time transcends all anthropomorphism. 

The structure of our universe can be understood as having been established by some “underlying” essence of existence (for lack of a more suitable word), by this ultimate “Structure Providing and Spiritual Essence of Existence”. 

The structure of our universe actually is based on a set of subatomic energy particles, which are then guided in their path by emerging forces, principles, and constants, and which are driven to combine in always new and higher configurations. Only the quantum theory, with its probabilistic phenomena on the atomic and photon level, opens a door to the unforeseen and the concept of other views to see our world.     

How marvelous and grandiose is this world – and how small are we within it.

How marvelous is the all-transcending intellectuality of the structure of this world.

How endless are the measurements of its time. How are we kept within it – in peace?

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3rd day:  Returning to our life on Earth: How should we, with our individual lives and our human society here on Earth, fit into this cosmic structure and evolution. What should we, or could we, contribute to it?

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When considering that everything in the universe evolves on its own course through time in existence, possibly toward higher complexity, we cannot spend our lives and our behavior centered only on ourselves, pleasure, or, at worst, on destruction.

Natural evolution provided us with gifts of thought, as well as emotions that transcend all prior forms life. The gift of thought must be utilized responsibly; it must fulfill the expectations of the better emotions, in order to let us and human society be a constructive part of the further evolving universe – for “the pleasure of the Creator”, as monks of times past once formulated. This is the meaning for believers of the words “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven” – and should equally bring meaning into the lives of the nonbelievers.

Our human “freedom of will” and our varying degrees of personal freedom, bring the responsibility to contribute positively to the evolution of our lives and human society.

What should our priorities in a responsible personal life be?

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5th day:  Our close human interconnections here on Earth may be threatening to some individuals, but also may provide warmth and joy. In particular, this human interconnection brings the obligation for beneficial behavior. 

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7th day: Your principal goal: Provide a little clarity in thought or some lightful emotions and some warmth of the heart to your immediate environment – even some joy!

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Clarity can bring mental progress and understanding to confusing situations. It can also bring clarity to personal confusion, from which we all suffer from time to time. To bring some light may also consist in focusing on the bright, tolerant, and enjoyable aspects of this world – and, consequently brighten up our moods.

To bring some warmth is urgently necessary in this often dry, hostile, sometimes depressing world. An old man in Switzerland, my friend Aldo Gervasoni, had only one goal in his remaining life: to bring to at least one person every day one such moment of light or warmth. Once, this consisted only in pointing out a beautiful and rare butterfly sitting on a flower to a passing stranger. That always grouchy man responded with a radiant expression of joy.

What can we do? Actually, one can quite often provide just a little help to another person or to someone in a difficult situation or in loneliness.

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9th day: What counts is reduction of the many forms of suffering in this world and providing of some more opportunities for freedom and development fairly for all.

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The suffering of so many people is a call for everybody to provide charitable assistance.

The suffering and constraints of life for so many people is, mainly, a call for self-help! Too often, the key problem lies in an accustomed, or cultural, lethargy or lack of discipline!

Mainly, the suffering and constraints of life for so many people are caused by inadequate or bad administration or governance! The number of countries is large that are ruled by poorly qualified governments, by tyrants who are interested only in preserving their own power or that of their support group – or who are governed by corrupt elites out to enrich themselves. Even the form of democracy in our progressive countries – with the influence of lobbyists, donors of money, or the media of all kinds, and negative fighting between competing political directions or individuals – requires improvement. 

In connection with this problem of administration and governance, all of mankind and each individual can find a future-defining task – which should be urgently tackled for the reduction of suffering and to relieve limitations on personal development for so many people.

How can we in our own lives contribute toward a better world?

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11th day: Our lives should be dedicated to the three different, basic goals or opportunities:

·         Growth –  personal development

·         Service –  to others, the community

·         Art, Aesthetics –  in culture or nature

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Growth: Each organism of nature is driven to fully develop its potential. For us humans, this means growth in diverse learning, intellectual exploration, the acquisition of new capabilities or skills, and the formation of our personalities.

Service: Ethical, unselfish behavior begins (even among animals) with the dedicated raising of our children and assistance to immediate relatives. As “social” beings living in groups, our connection with other members of our group for the prospering of our community also counts. This includes Christian love, ethical behavior, and trustworthiness, also in our professional work and in politics. The “values” of our culture are thereby implemented.

Art or Aesthetics: The perception of “beauty” is a special gift of existence to humans (and possibly to a few animals). We find beauty and attractiveness, even elegance, in good art and in nature – mostly visually but especially, too, in the sounds, rhythms, harmonies, and melodies of beautiful music – as well as, possibly, in wonderful, mood-related fragrances and perfumes – and, for some people, even in the area of taste and touch. Art affects emotions. Art should not degenerate into mere augmentation of exaggerated or strange effects. Nor should it merely serve or be abused for commercial or political promotion.

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More specifically, what can we do in our own lives to further the pursuit of these three different goals?

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13th day: Nothing surpasses the warmth and fulfillment resulting from the love of the heart and from empathy

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15th day: Ethical behavior primarily permits the formation of efficient groups in life, in order to persevere in life through mutual trust and help – and to accomplish larger tasks, which an individual alone cannot master. Ethical behavior in service to the community results in coherence and is rewarded by the emotions of security, fulfillment, and recognition.

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Ethics basically demands unselfish trustworthiness – in both daily life and in business and politics.

Common life in groups leads to the phenomenon of naturally evolving social structures, which may strengthen and protect, but may also suppress and exploit the individual.

Thereby, the ruthless exploitation of others, or cheating by business people, politicians, and tyrants of their respective nations, appear as criminal on the otherwise possibly positive path of mankind.

The inversion of positive ethics into “negative ethics” occurs in the sensing of offense, the pursuit of honor or satisfaction, and, worst of all, in the seeking of retaliatory revenge – occasionally reduced by payments or apologies.

How can we contribute toward more ethical behavior in our own environment and society?

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17th day: Too many people need help in great suffering – when they lack food, adequate housing or medical care, or have too little human connection in their loneliness. Too many people seek greater opportunities, as well as some freedom for their life’s development, in order not to lose their fulfillment of life, since they, too, can live only one life, while aging quickly. Can we positively influence their and our destiny? What can we do? 

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Charitable help to others, but mainly also self-help and, primarily, improved administration and governance (as well as the increasing influence of the whole world) are the approaches to a solution that were previously mentioned. They should be given greater attention by each individual and by the general public at all levels.

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19th day: We, too, may have to endure conditions or phases of life in suffering and loneliness. Who will help us? Good friends or networks may do that; but, more often, we ourselves must cope with such problems. While doing so, we should try, however, to care for others who are suffering or lonely. This direction toward others can free us from ourselves and our suffering.  

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21st day: Our misdeeds bring us guilt. We wish that others would not hold our guilt too much against us and that they would even understand us. On the other hand, we must attempt to lessen the burden of our fellow humans caused by their guilt. Special concerns exist regarding the behaviors of pride, honor, revenge, and retribution. Misdeeds should be resolved through beneficial laws and compensation, mainly through re-education, less through punishment, sometimes by necessary confinement – and by Christian love.  

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23rd day: How shall one confront temptation? It does not help to blame temptation (as occurring inevitably along the path of life) as an excuse for misdeeds. Our own responsibility remains – to form the proper thought reflexes and proper emphasis on the right course when faced with temptation – to maintain a “clean heart”. 

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Science has shown that thought sequences follow a habitual path or, at least, the one most emphasized – even negative ones. Therefore, it is important to always redirect our thoughts toward the good and the correct. At the same time, one should not expose others to temptation.

We must work on possessing and maintaining a “clean heart” in our thoughts and reflexes.

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25th day: What are the priorities of behavior?

The Qur’an begins almost each Sura with the words: “Allah, the merciful and beneficent”. Should we not primarily attempt to be merciful and beneficent? 

Christian teaching, evolved out of Jewish and older history, elevates our thoughts (in the key Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 5, Verses 5 and 7 - 9) to consider:

·         The meek (modern: the humble ones)

·         The merciful (modern: the ones generously providing help to others)

·         Those with a clean heart (modern: those whose mind is clean)

·         The peacemakers (modern: those who maintain and create peace)

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These teachings, formulated 1,600 or 2,000 years ago, were intended to form the thought of Asia, Europe, the whole world, but they succeeded in only a limited way. Repeatedly, however, they contributed guiding values for our culture and can guide us to achieve exceptional behavior.

What should it mean to me to be “humble” (to respect those of a lower “station in life”), to be generous in providing help, to form a “clean mind” in emphasis on the right and good, and to act for mutual understanding, balance and “peace”?

Each one of these themes requires a separate meditation to guide us! 

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27th day: Another task for humanity is to handle nature responsibly.

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Global warming already poses very serious problems. The increase of humanity leads to the consequent need for an ever-larger surface to utilize, for more energy, water, and other resources, including food from the oceans. Some of these resources are taken from other creatures. This makes it all the more important to protect and retain all the features of nature. Given the instability in nature, it is equally important to confront not only human instability but also natural instability – from the level of bacteria to the world of plants, insects, and other animals. Earth, as we have inherited it, is given to us humans as our only home in the universe!

How can we contribute more in our own way to the protection of and care for nature?

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29th day, end of month: Conclusion: In the end, our meditation should once more attempt to be raised to the intellectuality or spirituality of the universe, to its origin, functioning, and evolution – to the view of a transcendental and abstract “Structure Providing and Spiritual Essence of Existence” – all in the greatest admiration and reverence.

May we grasp the opportunities and the responsibility for personal development offered to us in this existence on Earth. 

A view into the width and depth of the universe and its evolving structure may provide us support. 

A view of all the suffering in this world may drive us to action. 

A view of all the positive and beautiful in this world may refresh us.

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Now, compose and write down guidance for your own meditation, as needed or helpful for your own life!

Striving in life is always supported when you are part of a congenial group – a congregation, as religions call them. Could you form a supportive congregation – a group of at least three harmonizing and mutually supportive individuals?

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