How To Win Any Argument

•September 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I recently read an article (shared by Science, Critical Thinking and Skepticism’s Facebook page) entitled “5 Tips to Win Any Debate” , written by Justin Hartfield and M. Harrison of the Prometheus Institute. PI is a public policy organization that has been labeled as extremist and right-wing by some, though the little information I have garnered from them was excellent. This just goes to show you that good information can come from many sources, including from those that you don’t necessarily agree with.

I wanted to share the main points of this article, mainly because I have seen an unprecedented amount of petty name-calling, mud-slinging, trash talking and just plain childishness in the online forums lately from Yahoo to Facebook to Youtube and the television tube. And it’s coming from all sides of the argument. If you are an atheist and find yourself debating a Christian, for example, the discussion should never have to devolve into disrespect, and letting it do so reflects poorly on our cause and simply corroborates negative stereotypes of non-believers.

If you find yourself in any debate, follow these 5 rules from the article, and you will be successful in demonstrating your point:

1) Always Respect Your Opponent. The fact is, you will never convince your opponent that their position is wrong and yours is right. If you make that your goal from the onset, not only will you fail, you will waste a golden opportunity. This is true especially if you have an audience witnessing the argument, whether they are in person or reading your conversation silently online. It is THESE people, the moderates, the ones with doubts, the skeptics…these are the people you are trying to educate and set an example for. And if your opponent resorts to an ad hominem argument, attacking your position by insulting your personal character, resist the urge to attack them personally. Relax and realize that you have basically already won the argument, since they have exhausted all other points and now show desperation in attacking you. If you refuse to engage in childish bickering and choose to be the more mature opponent,  your audience will take notice.

2) Find Common Ground, And Stake A Claim On It. “You should make every effort to base your arguments off of commonly-shared viewpoints. This not only persuades a greater number of your audience, but also damages your opponents’ arguments more severely.” As the article explains, this is one of the most under-utilized techniques in the political culture today. “Socialists accuse free market supporters of hating poor people, and affirmative action opponents of hating minorities. Likewise, conservatives accuse decriminalization supporters of subsidizing pothead losers, and opponents of censorship as being pro-immorality. The list could go on.

“Instead of becoming enraged, or disregarding your opponent as a crackpot idiot, you should make your opponent look foolish by showing yourself to be aware of the same concerns that he is. Free-market proponents should make strides to explain how economic growth benefits the poor, affirmative action opponents should explain how the discriminatory policy actually hurts minorities, and decriminalization supports should explain how they support the rights of productive citizens, and not potheads. Finding common ground enhances your persuasive power. Your audience is more likely to agree with your reasoning when it is based off of commonly-held beliefs, and your opponent will be categorically denied the ability to accuse you of not caring.”

3) Concede Well-Reasoned Points. From the article: “There are generally two methods by which you can challenge an argument. First is by challenging its logical structure, either by its premises, conclusions, or use of various logical fallacies. This is effective when you are debating people like your local college student who sputters nothing but arguments dripping with fallacious reasoning. However, when you are debating more well-reasoned individuals, as you should be doing, you may need to apply the second technique, which is to concede a point yet offer a stronger alternative.

“Many issues in public policy have intelligent positions on both sides, and you will need to offer a compelling case why your position is more relevant and beneficial than your opponent’s. If your points are argued well enough, they should be able to stand down any of your opponent’s points, even without directly attacking his. Such concessions not only fail to hurt you, but they also improve your standing in the eyes of your audience. It is a skilled debater who can graciously concede his opponent’s point without skipping a beat. It will be impossible to be prepared for every argument your opponent makes. He will surely cite some obscure statistic or random study, or even make an a priori argument you’ve never heard. Rather than accuse him of being a liar, you can confidently reply, ‘Even if that were true, it still doesn’t change the reality that…’ [and then state your position].”

4) Don’t Confuse Passion With Hatred. “It is easy to agree with the first point about respecting one’s opponent. The easiest way to respect someone’s viewpoint that you disagree with is to shut up and not say anything about it. But debating is necessary for the health of American democracy, and those in a debate might likewise find it difficult to passionately advocate a position without seeming too harsh on its supporters. Your denunciation of your opponent’s position should be as passionate as necessary, as long as it doesn’t denounce the person directly. There is nothing wrong with pointing out the stupidity or ignorance of a policy, especially if you can prove it. Respecting your opponent does not mean respecting what he believes or what he promotes.”

Keep it positive, people.

5) Sometimes The Best Debating Technique Is Not To Debate At All. Let’s face it. There are just some situations where you should shut the hell up and keep your opinions to yourself. Situations where, even if you are engaged by an opponent, you should refuse to debate. This mainly includes situations where it is more important to show solidarity, compassion, and teamwork, rather than to be divisive. Such settings include the workplace, weddings, funerals, public functions, social engagements where it would be inappropriate, and (lol) first dates.

So there you have it. As you can see, the main theme of this article is that you should maintain respect for your opponent in any argument, and remember that it is not really your opponent that you are trying to convince, but those listening in silence all around you, waiting to see how you will handle yourself. Keep them in mind before you fly off the handle, and remember to approach all situations with wisdom, mindfulness, and compassion.

Now go save the world.

Cosmic Perspective

•August 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Right now, at this very moment…

Gravity is holding you onto the side of a rock that is rotating around its axis at a speed of around 1,038 miles per hour (when measured at the equator). This rock is Earth, your home, and at this speed the Earth makes one full rotation once about every 24 hours.

The Earth is orbiting around a middle-aged, medium-sized star, our Sun, at a speed of around 67,000 miles per hour. At this speed, it takes the Earth about 365 days to make one full rotation around the Sun.

The Sun (along with all of its planets, asteroids, comets and chunks of ice and rock) is itself located in one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way Galaxy, and it is orbiting around the center of the galaxy at a speed of around 550,000 miles per hour. At this speed, it takes the Sun and its satellites about 200 million years to make one full orbit around the galaxy. Since our sun is around 5 billion years old, it has made this journey about 25 times, and since it is a middle-aged star, it will make the trek about 25 more times before it goes nova and dies, burning Earth up in the process.

The Milky Way Galaxy contains between 200 and 400 billion stars, and it is flying through space at a speed of about 1.2 million miles per hour, or about 340 miles per second.

The Milky Way is around 13.2 billion years old, almost as old as the Universe. It has several small satellite galaxies orbiting around it, and it is located in a cluster of galaxies known as the Local Group. The Local Group cluster contains the Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy, along with 52 other smaller galaxies all orbiting around together in a group. This cluster is flying through space along with many other clusters of galaxies, in a large group called the Virgo Supercluster. This supercluster contains around 100 different galaxy clusters, and there are millions of galaxy clusters in the observable universe.

I’d like you to think about that, and then think about your tiny place in this grand universe. It tends to make one reevaluate how significant our daily frets and worries are, and how lucky we truly are to be a part of it all.

The following video is a fly-through animation of a small part of the observable universe consisting of around 400,000 galaxies. These are how the galaxies actually look and are shown in the correct positions as mapped by astronomers.

(click on YouTube icon to view in fullscreen on YouTube’s website)

What Is Humanism?

•July 24, 2012 • Leave a Comment

This following is not an original work by me, but a document developed by the American Humanist Association to explain what Humanism is and what it aims for. Though I have no official affiliation with the AHA, I think this does a good job of summing up what I stand for as a Humanist. I have reprinted it here in its entirety for your use. For more information, please visit the AHA website at  http://www.americanhumanist.org/Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_III.

Humanist Manifesto III, a successor to the Humanist Manifesto of 1933

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

Humanist Manifesto is a trademark of the American Humanist Association-© 2003 American Humanist Association

Top 10 Misconceptions About Atheists

•July 15, 2012 • 3 Comments

Atheists have been getting a lot of attention these days it seems, as non-believers have been organizing on social networks like never before and conflicts involving religion continue to find a spot in the headlines of news media outlets across the globe. Things are heating up, and atheists are in the middle of it.

With all of the cross-talk being continuously splattered across the online forums and yahoo comments sections from both believers and non-believers alike, a few misconceptions about what it means to be an atheist have developed and seem to come up over and over in my conversations. To set the record straight and to help you learn a little bit more about this part of my Humanist philosophy, here are the Top Ten Misconceptions About Atheists:

1) If you’re an atheist your life is meaningless. FALSE. As an atheist I don’t believe that there is any objective meaning or plan in life ordained by a supernatural power, but that does not mean that I can’t have personal meaning in my life. I’m sure there are atheists that go through life without much direction, just like there are Christians and Muslims that walk through life aimlessly as well. But there are many atheists who lead very productive and meaningful lives. They have jobs, families and mortgages; they have children and they pursue goals in life in accordance with their own personal meaning, just like everyone else. I personally feel that life holds more meaning and satisfaction for me now that I am an atheist than it did when I was a Christian. Please read my blog post about the meaning of life.

2) If you’re an atheist you have no morals. FALSE. Many religious people claim that their morality comes from God. In other words, if you don’t believe that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell, and if you don’t follow God’s commandments, then you have no morals. Many religious people even suggest that this is what attracts people to atheism in the first place. This is incredibly insulting. If you as a Christian are saying that your belief in an imaginary God is the only thing keeping you from stealing, murdering, lying and raping, then there is something truly wrong with you. I have morals because I have a conscience, and I can tell the difference between what is right and wrong. In fact there are even many species of animals that display moral and ethical action and thought, and they certainly don’t believe in a higher power. Please read my blog post about what religion gets wrong about morality, and also my blog post about the true nature of good and evil.

3) All atheists are miserable and mean. FALSE. Atheists have a reputation as being cranky, pretentious know-it-alls who constantly bash religion and hate their own miserable lives. While I’m sure there are some atheists who fit that description perfectly (just like there are many Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus who also fit that description), this of course does not describe every atheist. Many atheists are, however, particularly outspoken against god and religion or are simply lost or depressed due to bad experiences with religion in their past, and some non-believers, unfortunately, can be very mean to those who choose to believe in God. I do not endorse this behavior. Please read my blog post about how to speak out against bullshit without being mean.

4) There are no atheists in foxholes. FALSE. Some people believe that atheists actually believe in God deep down and will, when faced with a life and death situation, cling to the idea of God once again and even pray for help or guidance. Again, this is insulting. If a person is an atheist, then they do not believe in God. Period. I have been in several scary instances where I could have lost life or limb and I did not once think of God or pray. In fact, in a crisis situation, I would think it’s much more productive to focus on how to stay alive rather than praying for divine intervention. Please read my post about the existence of God.

5) Atheists worship the devil, eat babies, and hate our country. FALSE. Atheists do not believe in ANY deities, including the mythical figure of Satan, nor do we worship them. We do not eat babies. I honestly don’t know how that one got started. And we most certainly love freedom, equality, justice, and have national pride. Here in America, where the separation between church and state is guaranteed in the Constitution, being an atheist can be especially patriotic, and we are often very politically vocal when a religious group infringes on this establishment of our founding fathers.

6) Prove that God doesn’t exist. IMPOSSIBLE. You cannot prove that something does not exist. I cannot prove that God does not exist, any more than I can prove that a omnipotent Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn’t exist. Atheism is not itself a claim, it is a rejection of the claim that God exists. I don’t believe that there is enough evidence to say that there is such a thing as God, and I do not personally believe that there is a God. In fact, I think the evidence leans to the negative by far. That is what it means to be an atheist.

7) Atheists worship science. FALSE. Atheists do not worship science, or evolution, or Darwin, or nature. We see no need to, although many atheists do have a great reverence for life and its processes. And atheists do not have faith in science, as religious people have faith in God. Faith is the belief in something without the need for any evidence. Instead of faith, I trust in and use reason, logic, and the processes of science to look at the evidence to figure out what is going on here. It also helps that science is a self-correcting discipline, meaning the story can change with better evidence as time goes by, and that is perfectly normal and okay (even expected and hoped for!), while religions tend to not change much over time, clinging to dogmas that are thousands of years old despite better evidence to the contrary.

8) Atheists hate God and his followers. FALSE. Atheists can’t, by definition, hate or be angry with God, since we don’t believe in a God or Gods. We also don’t hate people just because they are religious. As I said before, there are many atheists, like myself, who are outspoken against the harms of religion, and there are, unfortunately, some atheists who personally attack Christians and others on the internet or in person. Again, I do not agree with this behavior. I believe in the power of having positive conversations. Please read more about that in my blog post about saving the world.

9) Atheists don’t believe in anything. FALSE. Atheists are very individualistic and are free to make their lives significant in any way they see fit. Some atheists want to make the world a better place, and some just don’t care. Some are very compassionate and do a lot of charity or activist work, and others don’t bother. A movement called Humanism, which is what I identify with, is made up of people who don’t believe in God or a higher power, but they do believe in the power of humanity to be ultimately good and successful, provided that we change the way we humans are handling things at the moment. We believe in logic, reason, education, and compassion, and many are working to help our fellow humans to “wake up” to what’s really going on here.

10) Atheists believe we all came from nothing. FALSE. Most atheists, if they subscribe to the findings of our best science, believe that our Universe was created in an event called The Big Bang. We do not believe that nothing magically came from nothing. We don’t yet know what came before the Big Bang, but perhaps one day we will know the whole story. As for life on Earth, we don’t believe that humans evolved from nothing. We admit that it is remarkable that molecules came together in forms that could process energy and replicate, but after billions of years, that’s exactly what happened. Apparently that’s what stardust does.

To quote atheist author Sam Harris, “The truth is that atheists are free to admit that there is much about the Universe that we don’t understand. I mean it is obvious that we don’t understand the Universe. But it is even more obvious that neither the Bible nor the Koran reflects our best understanding of it.”

So remember, we non-believers aren’t all bad. Help make the world a better place…hug an atheist.

A Little Atheist Humor

•June 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

When we can begin to take our failures seriously, it means we are ceasing to be afraid of them. It is of immense importance to learn to laugh at ourselves.”

– Katherine Mansfield

I think we’re losing our sense of humor instead of being able to relax and laugh at ourselves. I don’t care whether it’s ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, or whose ox is being gored.”

– Betty White

Laughter, and most importantly laughing at ourselves, is essential to finding happiness. The role of the jester, the clown, and the comedian has been around ever since our earliest tribal days as a functional and necessary part of society. These sharp-tongued wielders of wit have the immensely important job of forcing us to take a closer look at our innermost insecurities and flaws with their satire. Laughing at ourselves can motivate us to do better. And let’s face it. Life can be a big ol’ bitch. Sometimes you just have to take a load off and laugh to keep your sanity!

Here’s a few bits of my favorite humor with an atheistic theme from the internet. Please take a moment to laugh a little. It’s good for you.

P.S. Some of the language in the videos is not work or kid-friendly!

XXI. How to Save the World

•June 24, 2012 • 7 Comments

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” 

~H.G. Wells, The Outline of History

“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.” 

~Albert Einstein

“Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.”

~Marianne Williamson

How do we save the world? Well, we can’t. At least not literally…but hear me out. The Sun is going to go nova in around 5 billion years, absorbing the Earth and anything that remains on it back into the fires of hydrogen and helium from whence it was forged. The question is…will our descendants live on in any form at that time, and where will they go? That is a question that we cannot possibly answer from this side of that horizon, but we can give them a fighting chance.

In order for the human race (or whatever the human species evolves into) to survive into the cosmic ages to come, we first have the incredibly difficult task of surviving the present moment in our history. This has always been our task and greatest challenge since the beginnings of time: to survive. It is instilled in our genes and has shaped our entire evolution for billions of years. Whether or not we make it does not matter in the whole scheme of things, but my point is this: we have a grand experiment going here, a happy accident in which a species evolved consciousness to the point that it can take part in its own evolution and destiny, and it would be a shame to see that go to waste. I say we keep the game going as long as possible, just for the fun of it, just to see what happens when stardust wakes up.

So how do we keep civilization going? How do we “save the world”? I’m glad you asked. It’s kinda the whole point of this website.

1) Be Awesome.

Our human world is made of up individuals, working together, or at least, existing together. Our culture as a whole is the sum total of all of the individual contributions and actions of its people. The government is in debt because it is made up of indiviuals, who are people just like us with self interests, and most people are notoriously good at spending more money than they earn and living in denial about that. Billions of people live with poverty and hunger while billions of others live in comfort and excess, even throwing away tons and tons of food every day. The planet is currently facing one of the biggest mass extinctions of species it has ever seen, and guess who’s the major cause of that? These things go on because humans are notoriously good at shirking responsibility and remaining deaf and mute about the world’s problems. Our planet may await a distant fiery death, but right now it is our home, and we need it. Unfortunately, we’re pretty busy making a dreadful mess of the place, and apparently no one is coming to save us.

But there is hope, and it starts with you. Simply be awesome. I’m serious. Take responsibility for your own life. See past the illusion and learn as much as you can about the Universe and your place in it. Use the example of your higher self as your guide. Employ logic and reason as tools to help you find truth, and use wisdom, mindfulness and compassion to help you improve yourself and navigate the moral landscape of life.

2) Have Conversations.

As you begin to take charge of and improve your own small corner of the world as well as your self, you will begin to become an example for others around you. This is the most important thing you can do: Be the change you want to see in the world. Good ideas are very contagious, and our world desperately needs a good idea like this one right now. If you are being the most efficient, intelligent, compassionate and badass person you can possibly be, you WILL see start to see happiness and success in your life, and those around you will begin to look up to you more and more. This is your sphere of influence. Use it wisely.

The most important thing you can do at this point is to have conversations with people. Have the difficult conversations with people that need to be had, and don’t be afraid to call people out on their bullshit. Discuss what you’re learning, throw good ideas out there and see if they stick. Encourage and help people to better themselves. Be honest with the people you interact with, and don’t be afraid to discuss your ideas with others, even if your opinions differ dramatically. If you have a respectful conversation with someone who sits on the other side of the fence, you both will learn something valuable, and the world will be better for it. Remember, the world is just made up of individuals, and the more people you help wake up, the more people there will be out there waking others up, thus increasing the consciousness of the world as a whole.

3) Fight Apathy.

Apathy is defined as “a state of indifference, or the suppression of emotions such as concern, excitement, motivation and passion. An apathetic individual has an absence of interest in or concern about emotional, social, spiritual, philosophical and/or physical life.” Apathy is a disturbingly widespread mental disfunction, and it is killing us. Those that don’t care consequently don’t care to do anything to make positive change. We are all guilty of this emotion, but it goes beyond simple laziness and fatigue. Apathy is on the rise, and not just among the youth but in all generations, because of four main factors:

1. People lack meaning or purpose in their lives, or that meaning and purpose is distorted by faulty thinking. This is a problem that has a solution. Please read my blog post about it here.

2. Individuals feel powerless. The system has been designed this way, to give less power to the individual and more power to the institution. It does not have to be this way, and I will be posting about long-term solutions to this problem in the future. For now, you do have power and influence over your mind, your life, and the lives of those you come into contact with. Cultivate those relationships as much as possible. Also, taking more responsibility for positive change in your community can be deeply rewarding and empowering. Long-lasting change often occurs from the bottom up rather than the top down. Donate time, money, your vote, your signature on a petition (take a look at www.change.org) or whatever resources you have towards causes that you feel are making a positive difference.

3. Our society is becoming distracted and desensitized. Whether it’s money problems, personal problems, relationship problems, anxiety about war and the economy, video games, over-saturation of the media, reality TV, mindless entertainment, the dark wormholes of the internet, porn, commercialism, consumerism, drugs, alcohol, prescriptions or pain pills– we are tuning out, and again, the system is designed that way. Now I’m not saying that entertainment and technology are bad things, but when they are stuffed down our throats at all moments of the day they can become crippling addictions that leave us powerless, mindless, and controllable, which brings me to my next point:

4. Our society is being dumbed down. We know so much less but about so much more than our earlier ancestors. With all of the complexities of modern life it can be daunting comprehending just a fraction of it, much less the whole picture. Not to mention that massive amounts of information are constantly being spewed at us from countless sources, and unfortunately, most of it is insignificant, misleading or just flat out wrong. No wonder we’re apathetic. But it is possible to gain enough understanding of this world to not only stop destroying it, but to thrive with it. The secret lies at the heart of all change, and it has always been the most crucial factor determining the survival or extinction of any society. I’m talking about education.

4) Educate the Masses.

In order to save the world, our world as we know it, I believe that we must all be on the same page. Every person in every village in every land on the globe. Education starts in the womb and stops when we take our last breath, and it is the key to everything. It’s why I started this blog. And what kind of shape are we in? Our child-rearing skills are laughable. Our public education system is terrible. Our collegiate education system is suffering. Our adult educational system is practically non-existent. Billions of people in the world can’t read. We suck at this, people. But we used to be good at this, and we can be good at it again, even to the point of ensuring that every single person on the planet is as properly educated as everyone else. Can you imagine how badass we could be as a united, global society of educated humans who share common knowledge but encourage individual search for truth, questioning, and understanding?

I believe that religion is one of the biggest culprits of spreading misinformation and apathy, which is why I spent so much time discussing the pitfalls of religion, the innacuracies of our religious dogmas, what happens when we die, and the existence of Gods in my earlier posts in this series. I believe these big questions are something we will have to come to terms with if we are to ensure the survival of our little human species experiment on this planet.

And what lies beyond that? You can look at each member of the human race as a single cell of a giant neural network. Just like when you unite the conflicting parts of your brain to find happiness and your higher self, what could we achieve if the individual cells of humanity all worked well together? We would be akin to the Earth’s brain cells, literally a planet waking up. And if we travel into the wilderness of the stars, and perhaps make contact with others like us out there, we would then be creating a neural network between stars….the galaxy would literally be waking up.

Perhaps that is the truth that we have been struggling with for so long regarding God. Perhaps we ARE God, the intelligence of the Universe, in the earliest stages of waking up. Perhaps God is not an all-knowing creator, but an ever-learning consciousness that we create instead. And if we, acting together, become a God for this particular universe, will we choose to be gods of hate or of love, creation or destruction?

Can we save our world as we know it, our little civilization of stardust? We can try. But it’s up to you.

You’ve been feeling it. Open your eyes now. It’s time to Wake Up.

Prev: Finding Yourself

***This post concludes my 21– part series on how to save the world, entitled “Wake Up.” I am indebted to you, faithful reader, for taking the time to consider what I have to say. Please feel free to improve upon the information you have found here and pay forward anything that may have helped you towards others who are also searching. Best of luck to you on this journey.

Sincerely,

~Chris

XX. Finding Yourself

•June 3, 2012 • 2 Comments

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
~Mark Twain

“People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself.  But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.” 

~Thomas Szasz

“Never mind searching for who you are.  Search for the person you aspire to be.”

~Robert Brault

What is it exactly that keeps us from realizing our greatest potential? What stands in our way, keeping happiness and success hidden when we most desire them? Why can’t we truly be the individuals that we so strongly wish to be? Take a look in the mirror. That person is your greatest asset and your most crippling liability. They and they alone have the  power to bring your dreams into reality. That person facing you in the reflection is your best friend and only hope for salvation. Maybe you should hear what they have to say.

In my previous post, I explained that happiness can only be experienced in the present moment of now, which in your brain lasts about 3 seconds, and I discussed several ways to cultivate happiness in the present moment, which is all you really have to work with. However, true happiness that endures over time can only be realized by stringing several moments of now together with a delicate craftsmanship that allows you to strengthen your relationship with the rest of the Universe. It’s less about making the world a better place and more about making your mind a better place.

To change your mental experience, you literally have to make physical changes in your own brain. Luckily for you, evolution has developed a way to do just that. When you ponder a thought, electrical impulses and chemical signals are traveling along a chain of firing neuron cells in your brain. This is called a neural pathway. When you think the same thought over and over, your are strengthening the bonds of that associated group of neurons, literally creating a well-worn path. This process allows thinking to be faster and more automatic, and it happens whether the thought is positive or negative, wrong or right, beneficial or harmful. If you want to challenge negative or incorrect thoughts, you have to literally forge a new neural pathway through the wilderness of your mind. You have to take the road less travelled, and it can be hard. But because of the way the brain works, if you change your thinking about something, you change that pathway. And the more your reinforce that new thinking, the stronger the links between the new associated brain cells will be.

So how do you determine which thoughts to challenge and which thoughts to keep? As it turns out, you have your own private spiritual teacher available and ready to assist you at any time. In fact they have always been there, waiting for you to simply ask the right questions. This guide is your higher self, but this higher self is not an entity or a divine connection with God or a soul. It is nothing more than a very powerful idea:

Imagine the highest ideal of the most awesome version of yourself that you could ever think of, and then simply ask yourself, “What would that person be doing in this current moment of now?” How is he or she dressed? How in shape are they? What is their profession, and how well does that person do his or her job? How much do they enjoy it? How confident are they? What kinds of foods do they eat? How does he or she act around others? What type of home do they live in? What are their friends like? What is their love life like, and how often are they having sex, and with whom? What does that person do with their free time? What are his or her hobbies? Where have they travelled, and what are they working to accomplish?  This highest ideal is your blueprint for how to be awesome, happy, and thriving. Whenever you are faced with a decision, ask yourself how the most awesome version of yourself would handle it, and then follow suit.

As you begin listening to that constant and patient inner voice guiding you on how to proceed to fulfill your ultimate potential, you will pass through 4 stages of awareness: 1) making the wrong decision and not realizing it (most people in the world are stuck in this stage); 2) making the wrong decision and realizing it; 3) consciously choosing to make the right decision; and 4) unconsciously choosing to making the right decision. This process strengthens as the neural pathways involved with making decisions become well-worn roads, and right thinking becomes more automatic over time. It all depends on your degree of mindfulness in the present moment. As you continue to make choices more in line with the example of your higher self and witness the positive results, this process will become easier and you will begin to trust yourself more.

Many times, changing your thoughts will mean you will have to do things that you find uncomfortable. When you step out of your comfort zone, your brain floods your body with fight-or-flight chemicals, which you interpret and experience as anxiety. How would the most awesome version of yourself handle this? They would be mindful of the brain’s chemistry, and step out of their comfort zone anyway. Remember, your body is just trying to keep you alive. Be grateful for your body and its protection. Don’t try to suppress negative emotions. Instead, as you would during your meditation practice, acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, watching them flow by like the current of a river, gently letting them go and not being entangled with them. Take a few deep breaths. Relax your tense muscles. Feel centered and grounded. Gently remind your brain that the situation you are in, though intense and very important to you, is really very small in the entire scheme of things. You may have attached meaning to the moment, but none of it really matters when compared to the sum of all existence. You are simply a tiny spec of stardust doing what stardust happens to be doing here on planet Earth. Let the truth of this realization empower you with the freedom to do whatever needs to be done in the given moment, using wisdom, mindfulness and compassion as your roadmap and logic and reason as your guide. You absolutely have the power to make the moment yours.

Aligning your life with the ideals of your higher self involves many tasks that you will have to accomplish. This is what we are doing here on Earth as humans. Remember, you are a human, being. Even our name reminds us that we are a process in constant motion. Here’s some things to remember to help you on the journey of finding yourself:

* Since the Universe apparently did not come with its own meaning, it is up to you to find meaning for yourself. Set goals for yourself in line with that meaning, and work toward those goals in a meaningful way, every day. Set realistic goals for where you want to be in 6 months, 2 years, and 5 years from now.

* Develop your natural talents and use them  to serve others. Make a positive difference in the lives of others with your gifts, however humble or insignificant you may incorrectly conceive them to be. You are important no matter how hard you try not to be, and as I have said before, this world needs you if we are going to survive.

* Challenge inaccurate thought processes such as “all or none thinking” or “diminishing the positive”. Click here for an excellent article with many examples of these thought traps that we all succumb to and how to challenge them. Learning to challenge and change the faulty thinking that you have learned over your lifetime is crucial to overcoming your mental roadblocks.

* Celebrate every single success, no matter how minor or “insignificant”, and then, if possible, go about the business of figuring out how to do it better.

* Heal the wounds of your childhood and past. It is the instinct of a wounded animal to hide. So many of our mental and behavioral issues in the present moment come from earlier experiences, and you must address these wounds in order to realize your full potential. For some this takes years of hard work, but you can never move forward until you let yourself let go of the past.

* Get in touch with your body on a daily basis by experiencing the wonders and mental benefits of things like walking outside, receiving and giving a massage, dancing, eating great food, having great sex, exercising, and a getting a good night’s sleep. You ARE your body. Take care of it.

* Get your relationships in order. Treat yourself and others with compassion. Be assertive yet understanding with those that you share this planet with. If you are in an abusive relationship, get out. Now. You’re worth far better, I promise. Find out why you put yourself in these situations, be mindful of that in the present moment, and make relationship decisions that are more in line with your higher self.

* Develop your spiritual relationship with the Universe. Experience the natural world; get out and get dirty. Be grateful for something– anything– several times a day. Take nothing for granted. Try to find beauty in every moment.

* Don’t take yourself or anything else too seriously. Embrace the absurd. Laugh at the world and life itself. Laugh often, laugh deeply, and laugh with people that you love.

* Remember that we’re all in this thing together, and everyone struggles with the very same things as you do for the very same reasons. We have the same thoughts and feel the same feelings. We are the same, you and I, and we are all literally one. Let this guide your compassion as you reach out to others.

“This above all, to thine own self be true.” Embrace that, and finding yourself will be as easy as looking in the mirror. Your higher self has always been there, waiting to be expressed out into reality. This is the opportunity you have been given. This is your gift to the Universe, and this is how you will save the world…..

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