Questions from Stacie: Part 2

1.) Do you think all children should be exposed to some sort of organized religion to help form their moral compass?

I don’t know much about child-rearing, so I really can’t say. Religions in general can  be a mixed bag of nuts when it comes to imposing their particular “moral compass” on others. Though generally I think it’s good to expose children to religion. At some point later in life most of us start asking the religious questions: “Why are we here? What is this life all about?” And religion is a good starting point for investigating into these questions.

2.) What effect does religion have on your daily life today?

Not much, I consider myself as a spiritual person, more so than a member of any particular religion.

3.) Are there any negative aspects of religion that have affected you in the past or that affect you now?

When I was in college, my roommate — who was a pot-smoking, guitarist in a KISS cover-band — suddenly became a Born Again Christian, cut off his hair, and spent the next semester tormenting me that I was going to Hell if I didn’t renounce Satan and give my life to Jesus.  So that was annoying.  Other than that, I can’t think of religion impacting on my life one way or another.

Questions from Stacie

1) Do you consider yourself religious, spiritual, or any other creative source?

I’ve always considered my life a spiritual quest. I’m a seeker by nature. At times I’ve felt like I was gaining hard-fought spiritual wisdom. While at other times I’ve felt like a spiritual cripple.  I’ve checked out most of the world’s religions. But don’t belong to any of them. Practiced yoga and meditation for many years. But I suppose those would be considered more as a form of spiritual science than as a religion. I’ve probably most been influenced by Vedanta and Hinduism.

2) Have you ever had a religious or spiritual experience so intense it changed the way you feel about the universe that you’d like to share?

When I was 19 I was heavily into LSD and Alan Watts and books about Zen. And at one point, peaking on acid, I had what I considered to be a pretty intense mystical experience. Experiencing God, experiencing myself as a manifestation of God, experiencing Oneness with God, Oneness with the Universe. I transcended my individual identity and experienced my Universal identity. Though later I came to question the authenticity of the experience. And to question the validity of psychedelics as a spiritual tool . . . .  My spiritual life sort of hit a dead-end after awhile, and was dormant for many years. Until I was 40 and a friend of mine gave me for a Christmas present a copy of this book by Swami Muktananda — an Indian guru — titled “Where Are You Going?” (good question) And I had an instantaneous “Shakti” experience just from looking at the photo of Muktananda in the book. “Shakti” is the experience when an enlightened spiritual master directly transmits his divine spiritual energy into a devotee. It’s like the ultimate “contact high.”  Where the guru gives you a taste of his Divine state. That experience kick-started a renewed interest in my spiritual development. And I would spend the next 7 years reading all of Muktananda’s books and practicing daily kundalini yoga meditation and mantra repetition. And I had many spiritual experiences from those practices.

3) What do you think happens when you die? If you believe in heaven do you think there are certain criteria that must be met to be worthy? Do you believe in redemption?

I believe in reincarnation. That we all go through many lifetimes — as a process of purifying ourselves. Until we ultimately reach the highest state and merge with God. Though the mystics regularly point out that in fact we’re already one with God, even though most of us haven’t realized that fact yet.

4) Do you believe that objects like crystals, symbols like tarot or ouija, have any power?

I believe that different objects, and places, can be blessed as well as haunted or cursed. There is spiritual power emanating from all the points of this universe of ours. Personally, I’m not very familiar with crystals, tarot or ouija, so can’t really comment about that.

5) Have you ever had a paranormal experience?

One of the unusual — and dangerous — side effects of practicing kundalini yoga is that as you get more advanced into it, you start to gain these occult powers. The powers are along the lines of “whatever you think will manifest.” The more purified and powerful your mind gets from the yoga, the more you’re able to make things happen simply by willing them to be. Which can get you into all sorts of trouble if you start using these powers. Especially in the early stages. Because you’re like a baby who has been given this extremely powerful (and volatile) toy to play around with. And I severely retarded my spiritual development because I couldn’t resist indulging on the occult level.

6) How do you think all this was created? Big bang, evolution, a higher power?Does your personal belief system help you act with higher standards of morals and behaviors? Was your first exposure to religion a positive one, or was it used as a judgment with unreachable standards or harsh punishment?

I believe God created this entire Universe in a blink of an eye, primarily for sport, for His own amusement and cosmic kicks. And one day God will blink his eye again and dissolve this entire Universe back to nothingness. And that the entire Universe is nothing less than the body of God Himself.

7) Do you think there’s only one “Right and true religion?” Can an atheist have a conscience and similar high moral integrity without religious rules or the punishment of purgatory, or hell?If you do believe in an afterlife or higher power, when did you first find your faith? Have you had more than one religion that you Identified with? Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

I think most of the world religions have something of value to offer. Different people feel comfortable with different religions depending on their temperament and cultural background. But there’s a common mystical thread that runs through most of them. And that’s the primary facet of religion that has always interested me. I started out primarily interested in Zen Buddhism (the satori experience) and Taoism. But was later drawn primarily to Vedanta.

I appreciate your questions. Spirituality isn’t something I talk about very much. It’s a personal thing with me. And not always easy to communicate with others about. And like I said, I primarily consider myself a spiritual seeker. So it’s not really my place to be a spiritual talker or teacher.

LOVE LOVE LOVE…. That’s Like Hypnotizing Chickens

(Originally published April 19, 2006)

Been thinking about love. All the different kinds of love. . .

I’ve always been hung up on ROMANTIC LOVE: to love and be loved by this special other. It never really happened for me. Mostly, it expressed itself as this incredible unfulfilled longing. And the emptiness of This-Thing-That-Was-Always-Missing. Which I guess they call “loneliness” or “heart-ache.”

Then there’s the LOVE-YOU-FEEL-FOR-YOUR-FELLOW-MAN kind of love. Which sometimes, but not always intersects with Romantic Love. All these different forms of love intersect with each other. It’s “one love,” and all that corny crap. I guess describing the different sides of love is like describing the different properties of water: rain, ice, rivers, H2O…. It’s all still water. The Love-You-Feel-For-Your-Fellow-Man type of love is that “spontaneous feeling of tenderness that arises on its own accord,” as my guru Swami Muktananda put it. It’s the feeling that makes you want to do a favor for another person without wanting anything in return. The feeling of “love” itself is its own reward, and we’re all humble servants to it. It’s the one aspect of human life that isn’t a “deal.”

Then there’s the LOVE OF NATURE. The appreciation you sometimes feel for the awesome splendor of this natural universe (mixed in with the less-than-splendorous feelings you have towards parasites, fungus, contagious diseases, and TV sit-coms). You can feel that affection towards a tree, or a flower, or a dog, or a child, or a sun-set, or whatever. Or even for a special spot; your home or your hang-out.

Then there’s another form of love I just thought about: I guess you could call it NOSTALGIA LOVE: that wistful, poignant feeling you get, looking back on all the places and people of your past. It’s not so much a love for these places and people, but for the totality of all your life experiences. Like all the things you’ve been through — and you go “WOW!” Like it’s been the most amazing movie, with all these weird, indescribable peaks.

Then there’s the LOVE OF DOING. This friend of mine who loves working on cars described it this way: “When I get underneath a car and start working on the engine, I’ll look up and 8 hours has gone by just like THAT!” I know exactly the feeling he’s talking about. Labor-of-love. Or maybe somebody gets that feeling from going to the movies or watching sports. That fascination where time is no longer a burden, but a delicious food you want to keep eating. That feeling is the best, ain’t it?

I’m sure you could slice the pie of love up into many more sub-categories. But I guess the only other real important one is LOVE OF GOD. That one surely encompasses all the other categories. It’s the feeling that nothing exists but God, and that every molecule and atom of this world is made up of nothing but Pure Love. Love is what makes the blood pump through our veins, and the sperm shoot out of our penises, and the earth revolve around the sun. When we lose that feeling of love, we feel our physical being start to shrivel up and die, so fundamental is it, our cells crave the experience of it like our lungs crave air. All that we do, we do for love (though the experience often gets sublimated and warped into all sorts of convoluted plot-twists). It is always there, somewhere, behind every aspect of the human story. “Even at its most sordid, life is a profoundly spiritual affair,” I once said as I looked up from a gutter in the Tenderloin.

(to be continued…)

Love and Other Social Diseases

Originally published February 14, 2005)

Welcome to my special Valentine’s Day report. In honor of this auspicious occasion I’m going to pack this column with even more “love” than usual.  And not the phony kind of love you get from those other websites. But 100% REAL LOVE.  Feel the love beaming out from every letter and every sentence, emanating out into cyberspace in all its purity.

I can’t remember one Valentine’s Day in my 48 years on this planet where I celebrated it with an actual girlfriend. What a sad sack I yam. Ace Backwords: the Patron Saint of Unrequited Love. Once, I sat down and tried to analyze my sexual/romantic dysfunction. I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. I concluded: EVERYTHING had gone wrong. So I narrowed it down to that. Just about every psychological dysfunction or bad twist of fate was hurled in the direction of my pathetic heart. So it was almost an inevitable mathematical equation that I would end up ship-wrecked at this lonely harbor.

Over the years, I “fell in love” (certainly the ultimate human dysfunction) with 5 different women. Sometimes — even nowadays, years later — I would write their 5 names down in my journal. And their names alone would still have a special magic to me. It never worked out with any of those dames. Whatever I was looking for from them, in my hopelessly romantic delusions, never quite panned out. I did have some wild, surreal scenes with all of them. Something about the magic of love that elevated these encounters to this Other Level of intensity and meaning, even as the meaning so often turned sour (“Ace Backwords: loser again!”). The only consolation was that, years after I stopped chasing after them, each of these women would come back looking for me over the years; probably mostly out of morbid curiosity, or perhaps for one more hit off of whatever weird vibe I had transmitted in their direction. There’s something about the power of love that draws people to it like a magnet. Even the misdirected love of hopelessly mis-matched people.

(Sometimes it would work the other way, of course. The wrong woman would make the mistake of “falling in love” with me. I could only think to myself: “The poor dear. RUN!  FLEE WHILE YOU STILL CAN!)

But my romantic failure sort of came to symbolize, to me, where I ended up in this life:  searching for Something that I never quite found. It was the one thing I wanted — the fabled Girlfriend, the Soul Mate, whatever you call it — but I came up short. It’s weird how you can try so hard to GET something from this life, but life tends to GIVE BACK to us by its own weird accord. I guess that’s why they call it karma. This other sad sack romantic loser that I know often speculated that he must have been a Nazi prison guard in the last lifetime, who tortured and raped women to his heart’s content. And now in this lifetime, all the bitches were coming back for their pound of flesh, ripping out pieces of his pathetic heart, bit by bit. Who knows. That explains it as much as anything.

I’ve gotten my share of rewards out of this life. But somehow, my “victories” have had the feel of Booby Prizes, whereas my “defeats” have had a profound and shattering resonance to them. Somehow, I never got what I really wanted. Which was “love,” I guess. What we’re ALL searching after, I guess. As my great guru Swami Muktananda put it: “Without love, it’s all useless.”

Today, being Valentines Day, the booby prizes had a special resonance. I went to my P.O. Box like Charlie Brown, secretly hoping for the Valentine card that will never come (or worse, I’ll get one from Pepperment Patty instead of the fabled Little Red-headed Girl). Instead of “love” I got in the mail today a beautifully packaged (with ribbon and bow on it) collection of poetry mags from some guys in Chicago. Beautifully printed, wonderful stuff, they went to a lot of trouble to produce it and send it off to me. And yet, I’m “tone deaf” when it comes to appreciating poetry. It just goes in one ear and out the other. Somehow it symbolized the mis-connections that have dogged my life.

So I dragged my weary sad-sack ass up to Telegraph Avenue. This 19 year old kid, real nice guy, comes up to me: “Are you Ace Backwords?” (the question I MOST dread hearing). Turns out he had bought a copy of my book   (available from http://www.amazon.com) in a little radical bookstore in Minnesota. And so he drove all the way out here to see Berkeley. And here he is. “It’s weird how your book, the one copy probably in all of Minnesota, traveled all the way back here to Berkeley, and now my friends are upstairs at the Med reading it!” (kind of like a homing pigeon. Or my bad karma boomeranging back at me). And it was nice, and it was flattering, but it was also vaguely unsettling. You put this stuff out there, and you never know what you’ll get back.  And usually not what you particularly wanted (beautiful 19-year-old sex chicks who dig weird, burned out 48 year old losers, feel free to track me down at any time).

And it’s probably a disappointment and a letdown for the kid from Minnesota, too. Because I make myself come across better in my book than I really am. And it seems more exciting when you read about it in a book: you pack 30 years of life experiences into 200 pages, all the exciting parts, whereas most of my days are spent moping around looking for something happening that is never actually happening.

But I guess nothing ever really works out in this damn life. The mystics all say this life, this world, is like sinking sand. You want ANYTHING from this life, or from another human being, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Or as my hero Bukowski put it: “Humanity, you never had it from the beginning.”

Still, I’m convinced that this earth (and humanity) is nothing less than a ball of pure solid 100% Gold. Covered by the thinnest layer of pure dogshit. The surface shit is very compelling — and alas that’s what I spend most of my days wallowing in. But I’m convinced that if I could just penetrate one inch beneath the surface of this maya, of this illusion, of this mortal life, I would find that 100% solid pure gold that was always there, but yet, somehow, always just off in the distance.

2002_10_20 Seeker II

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By 1996, at age 40, I had pretty much failed at everything I tried. After a lifetime of going around in circles, getting nowhere, in fact everything getting worse and worse every year, to the point where my life was finally reduced to nothing but pure zhit, I finally just gave up. It was at that point that I stumbled upon the books of Swami Muktananda. He taught the great path of Siddha Yoga. Muktananda not only promised a taste of one’s divinity, he delivered it. Much to my shock and surprise. After 40 years of nothing working, finally something that worked. He imparted the sacred mantra “Om namah Shivaya” and its still the only thing that’s helped me. I can’t tell you that I was Born Again and transformed into a great new being, but Muktananda’s teachings were the first thing to put even the slightest dent into curbing the odious aspects of my personality.

But I wonder now after 6 years of study of Siddha Yoga, failed seeker that i still am, if I just found out about it a little too late. Because by 1996, I was already so drug-addled, perchance the damage to my mind and my soul had already been done. And the ship of my mind had done sailed, along with my fleeting chance for enlightenment or happiness or love or peace.

In my despair and agony and pain as a failed seeker, I can only appeal to God to the best of my abilities, to save me from life on this wretched earth; to rise me above the turmoil and sadness and tragedy of this “Hell Planet.”
Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. May all the great Siddha saints living in Siddhaloka stand behind me and give me strength and protection. May You have mercy on me, Oh Lord. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya. Om namah Shivaya.
Om namah Shivaya.