In all seriousness, the title of this post is not the start of a joke! Okay, well maybe it is…
C is one of my very good friends and a recent house guest – visiting Melbourne for a conference and then a bit of 4WD and motorbike fun. When he first asked if he could stay I kinda assumed his conference was to do with his job, and only just before his visit did he come clean about the Atheist Convention he was attending!
Which made me giggle. See when we first met, C was doing yoga and meditation which is part of the reason we had so much in common. We dated briefly almost ten years ago, and we’ve been good friends ever since. But somehow C veered into atheism and threw the baby/yoga out with the bathwater. Like many people, C didn’t have the best of times growing up, he has chronic health problems (which I suspect are related to suppressed anxiety), and one of his brothers passed away not long after we met. Outwardly he’s a very happy-go-lucky, adventurous, fun-seeking, kindly and generous person but when it comes to matters of the heart, I suspect he shut up shop long ago.
Over the years, it’s like there was a proportional relationship between my immersion in yoga and his into atheism. Nowadays he considers Richard Dawkins a hero, while I’m a fan of kirtan… But it’s cool. We love each other enough for that not to matter.
C added another twist to his Melbourne stay though. Two of his friends (a couple) were also coming to Melbourne for a few days motorbike riding (C drove to Melbourne with his bike and their’s on the trailer behind his 4WD) and I agreed they could stay at my place, too.
The only reason I’m mentioning their visit is because it meant I had to give them my sofa bed and C had to sleep on a blow up mattress in my small second bedroom. Which doubles as my yoga room – all decked out with my altar, many images of gurus, Hindu gods and goddesses, a huge sparkly print of Ganesha, prayer flags, chakra posters, incense and candles… And so the atheist had to sleep in the room in which I meditate, do yoga, chant and various other spiritual activities!! Not that he minded and I did warn him about my decorating before he arrived, but I still found it amusing (heehee!). Must be my somewhat childish sense of humour.
Anyway… I took last Friday off work so we could hang out. We were meant to be heading out on his motorbike that day (we’ve a long history of adventuring around the country on his bike). But rain was threatening and being on a bike all day in the rain aint much fun (it worked out okay coz we went riding on Saturday which was awesome!).
So we took the 4WD on some very rugged back country roads. It was fun and very beautiful, and yet I felt a little uneasy. It’d been quite a while since we spent a whole day together and our views on the world differ considerably these days compared to when we first met.
Also, it seemed to me we’d both been carefully avoiding the atheist vs yogini conversation – personally I don’t have a problem with anyone’s views as long as they aren’t evangelising. However, I really didn’t want to argue with someone who’s been a good friend in my life for such a long time!
But on our 4WD trip C asked me about my “world view”, what I believed in. And ahhh… where to start when someone who doesn’t believe in anything asks you about your “world view” when you’re a yogini from a classical non-dual Tantrik tradition? Ahem!
We talked about karma for a bit (because he asked) and I explained what I could, including that most people use the term incorrectly. Generally speaking, of course. But that’s an entirely different post…
So I started explaining that my world view is an ever-unfolding path. That it’s not about “belief” for me – never has been. That what I’m interested in are my direct experiences and relationship with reality. And I told him I didn’t believe (as he does) that consciousness is just a trick of the chemicals in our brains, or that after we die there’s nothing. But I also said I didn’t know for certain, because that’s true. How can I know?
I’ve been given a lot of teachings over the past ten years and some of them are still just concepts for me. There are things I “believe” are possible – as in, they could happen – but I can’t say for sure they are true. However, some of those things have turned out to be true in my own experience. Which equals direct knowledge, and not just buying into a concept as it’s taught without any personal experience to back it up.
And sure, I understand the atheistic view – that those experiences I think I’m having could just be delusions. But how do you prove that I’m delusional? I mean, I’m an otherwise (relatively) sane person but whenever I have an experience that doesn’t match with the general consensus of reality, it *must* be a delusion? It sounds like a very convenient argument…
C asked what kinds of experiences I was talking about. But hey, those things are difficult to explain even to other yogis sometimes. So instead I talked about how what we think of as reality is really quite limited. For example, we generally don’t see light as the spectrum of rainbows that science proves it to be. And we don’t hear every sound that’s out there – things that a dog or a whale can hear. Our experience with reality is limited by our senses and just because we can’t see, feel, sense or logically explain every darn thing that happens, doesn’t make it not true. And that sometimes as a result of my practice, I find my senses expand (permanently or temporarily) in some way and I experience the world differently. Which helps me unfold/unpack reality a little more for myself.
I explained how my guru encourages all of his students to see Tantra and yoga as hypotheses, and our body and mind as a laboratory in which we can run as many tests as we like. Experience. Sense. Feel. Think. Reflect. Consider. Witness. Do. Be.
Don’t just take anyone’s word for it!
C asked me how any of what I’d been explaining can be used practically. So I got to the point – Tantra, yoga, meditation etc affords me the ability to see the world as non-different. The concept of non-dualism posits that nothing is really separate or different they way we tend to see things in day-to-day life, which helps me understand that not everything is about me.
For example, I was eventually able to see how some angry guy using me as a punching bag was not in any way personal. It just so happened that I was there and he was reacting to his own experience of reality and chose to get violent. Actually, it had nothing to do with me at all!
To get to that realisation is HUGE, especially when you’re crippled with PTSD and depression – it is NOT an easy path to come back from.
I told him how many people who go through things like I had, end up on medication for the rest of their life. Or they end up dead or destroying their lives in some way because they can’t cope. And that everything I’ve studied and practiced, hand in hand with therapy, is what helped me extract myself from the pit of hell I’d landed in. Therapy alone could never have given me the world view that I learned through practice and study.
And then I told C that actually, there is something I believe in: a (crazy) little thing called Love.
I believe that Love is pretty much the only thing worthwhile in this world. That getting to know your heart intimately and being connected to your emotions is important. That compassion and empathy and accepting people just as they are, no matter how different they are from you without expecting them to change… that that’s what I believe in, if anything… and I just silently hoped that my message of love was heard, loud and clear because even an atheist can’t argue with that, right?
**Update** @Skipetty asked in the comments how my friend C reacted. To be honest, he said very little. Possibly it’s because I said a bunch of stuff he didn’t agree with and he didn’t particularly feel like arguing with me, either. But I also hope I gave him a few things to think about in that science-driven noggin of his. And hey, maybe he took it all in the way I intended, which is not meant to be a threat to what anyone else believes. It’s all just my point of view in the end, isn’t it?