Religion, Spirituality and Atheism

I read a very interesting article at cnn.com titled, The Friendly Atheists Next Door.  The author spent 10 months with the Shaughnessy’s, a white, middle-class family of five from North Carolina.  The story centers around the father, Harry Shaughnessy, an outgoing and outspoken business owner, and former Irish Catholic.  Harry has a crisis of faith of sorts, and decides that Catholicism just doesn’t do it for him, so he and his wife decide to stop going to church.  A few years later Harry decides that he is doesn’t believe in the concept of a God, and then he and other atheists decide to start an atheist congregation, which is like church but without all the God talk.

Essentially, the article explores why some people with strong religious backgrounds end up shunning their faith. What causes them to want to break with the church and what is it like to live in a country that is, to put it bluntly, quite hostile towards Atheists?  Why are people so afraid of atheists anyways?  I don’t get it.  How is not believing in the concept of a God such a terrible thing?  This is really a discussion for another post, but it’s just so baffling to me that so many people don’t trust atheists.  Moving on…

While it may not seem like it due to the strong push by conservative Evangelicals to attach their religious beliefs to every law in the country, the United States is actually becoming less religious.  According to the article, atheists now make up a larger percentage of the U.S. population than American Jews.  And Millennials are the least religious of all generations alive today.  Not only are Millennials twice as likely to identify as atheists as other generations, they are also less likely to be absolutely certain that God exists.

As someone who has had shifting views on religion during my adult years, I always find it fascinating to see how others go through their own religious metamorphosis.  For years now I have identified as an agnostic, which simply means that I don’t know whether there is a God or Gods or not.  I have many issues with organized religion, and as a former Catholic myself I certainly could relate to a lot of what Harry Shaughnessy said throughout the article (although long, it is a very good read).

I’ve also recently been looking inward and getting more in touch with my spiritual side, so to speak.  I do consider myself spiritual, but not religious.  I’ve recently learned that to be truly spiritual, you need to be more aware.  It is about becoming more conscious, and in touch with your true being (your soul).  It isn’t enough to just say you are spiritual.  Anyone can say they are spiritual, but what does that mean?

I have always felt a deep connection to the universe.  I know that the atoms that make up my body came from stars, and those stars came from other stars. All energy in the universe is connected.  So essentially, I am the universe, and so are all of you.  To quote Eckhart Tolle, “You are the universe, you aren’t in the universe.”

And I’ve evolved in how I think about God.  To me, God isn’t a human-like entity, as God is often depicted.  God is the lifeforce that is found all throughout the universe.  God really is in each and every one of us because this force is what gave us life, just as it gave life to the universe.  At the moment of creation, all that could ever exist in our universe was also created. All matter and all energy can be traced back to the moment our universe burst into existence. So I guess if you were to ask me now if I believe in God,  I would say yes.  But again, God to me is simply an energy found in all of us and everything in the universe.  It isn’t some omnipotent entity.  It is an omnipresent energy that connects everything in the universe.

I think the reason why religion never really resonated with me was because it was never fulfilling spiritually.  I found my religion (Catholicism) it to be a bunch of phooey for the most part. To me, the Bible is a book of stories written before science was able to explain most things — like evolution.  And I really dislike the general hypocrisy, intolerance and close-mindedness of organized religion.  As I’ve tapped into my spiritual side recently, I’ve felt much more at peace. I’m learning to be more present, to be more grateful, to be more accepting and loving.

“Religion is belief in someone else’s experience. Spirituality is having your own experience. Atheism is no experience, only measurement.” –Deepak Chopra

 

And even though I am not a fan of religion, I don’t blame religion for the evils of the world.  It is easy to say that religion has caused countless wars throughout history, millions of deaths and endless suffering.  And it is easy blame religion for modern day terrorism.  But none of that is religion’s fault.  Religion is just the patsy — the human ego is the true culprit of all the suffering in the world, both past and present.  But unfortunately, religion is like crack-cocaine for the ego.

Ego controls our minds and forces us to live an unconscious life.  Only by becoming more aware can you strip ego of its power.  Ego makes us envious of others.  It stifles our confidence, and thus our potential.  It makes us angry and resentful.  It makes us defensive and causes us to dwell on the past.  It causes perpetual want so that we aren’t aware of the blessings in our lives.  When ego is in control, we become obsessed with the negative — judgement, guilt, self-pity, anxiety, worry, frustration, lack, anger, sadness, jealousy, and most detrimental of all, fear.

“In most cases, when you say “I,” it is the ego speaking, not you, as we have seen. It consists of thought and emotion, of a bundle of memories you identify with as “me and my story,” of habitual roles you play without knowing it, of collective identifications such as nationality, religion, race, social class, or political allegiance. It also contains personal identifications, not only with possessions, but also with opinions, external appearance, long-standing resentments, or concepts of yourself as better than or not as good as others, as a success or failure.”  –Eckhart Tolle

 

A friend of mine recently said something I found to be quite profound.  We were talking about religion and ISIS and he mentioned the beliefs of someone (whose name I do not recall) and how they could possibly explain terrorism.  This person said that love and hate are separated by a very thin line, and that those who are religious extremists love their religion so much that they hate anyone who disagrees with them.  They see the nonbelievers as a threat to something that they deeply cherish, and that is what causes the hate.

Think about how much you love your family, and that if anyone or anything threatened them you would defend your family no matter what the costs.  And if it was another person threatening them, you would probably hate that person. That is how much extremists love their religion.  They will defend it all costs and they view anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs as a threat that must be eliminated.  That certainly doesn’t excuse their behavior, I’m just trying to offer an explanation for religious extremism.

I take comfort in knowing that humanity seems to waking up.  We are sensing that we must change the way we treat one another and the way we treat our planet.  And I see this most in the youth.  I know that the vast majority of many Millennials — all over the world — share the desire to build a more tolerant, loving, peaceful and sustainable world.  And while this seems crazy, the fact that there is so much chaos means that humanity is, indeed, evolving. Those who refuse to evolve clearly feel deeply threatened, and therefore they are acting out.  That is why terrorism is rising in intensity, and it is even why religious conservatives here in the U.S. are becoming so outspoken.  These conservatives have repeatedly said that they are scared that so many Americans are “losing faith”, as they put it.  They feel threatened by this (well, they say it threatens our nation), so they are doing whatever they can to keep our country from moving further away from “Christian values” as possible.  Even if it means turning our nation into a theocracy where our laws are based on their very conservative religious beliefs.

It is hard to look at the state of our country and the state of the world and not feel hopeless.  But you should actually feel hopeful.  We are waking up; we are evolving.  Humanity is still a young species, and right now we are in adolescence — and we are experiencing some serious growing pains.  We will act out and we will feel confused and upset a lot of time.  But we’re progressing.  Little by little, we are progressing.  And our generation has in its lap a unique opportunity to push humanity further than ever before.

Whether with religion or without religion, humanity is destined for much more than this.  The more we learn to live consciously in the present — because the present moment is all you ever have — the more we will advance. Eckhart Tolle said, “The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment:  You create a good future by creating a good present.”  We cannot change a future that hasn’t yet happened, but we can make changes right now that will positively effect the future.  We can choose to be more tolerant and accepting. We can choose to take better care of our planet.  We can choose to compromise with one another in order to fix the many problems that threaten our future.

This is our generation’s destiny.  It’s up to us to decide right now to create a better future.

“Choice implies consciousness – a high degree of consciousness. Without it, you have no choice. Choice begins the moment you disidentify from the mind and its conditioned patterns, the moment you become present….Nobody chooses dysfunction, conflict, pain. Nobody chooses insanity. They happen because there is not enough presence in you to dissolve the past, not enough light to dispel the darkness. You are not fully here. You have not quite woken up yet. In the meantime, the conditioned mind is running your life.”  –Eckhart Tolle

 

 

Weekly Roundup

Sorry I missed this last week.  Here are some interesting reads, if you’re curious:

Happy Spring and have a wonderful weekend!

 

 

Obama’s Uninformed Message to Young Voters

Politicians are sometimes not very in-touch with what voters want.  Case in point — President Obama’s recent “advice” to young voters about what issues they should care about most.  The President criticized Millennials for caring more about marijuana legalization than more important issues like the economy, climate change and war and peace. When an interviewer for Vice News suggested to the President that young people would consider marijuana legalization as a top item when considering his legacy, President Obama responded by stating that, “First of all, it shouldn’t be young people’s biggest priority.”  Continuing, the President said, “Young people: I understand this is important to you, but as you be thinking about climate change, the economy and jobs, war and peace, maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.”

Thanks, Mr. President.  Message received.  But let me let you and this interviewer in on a little secret:  marijuana legalization isn’t a top priority for Millennials.  Are we more in favor of marijuana legalization than all other generations, yes we are — and by a fairly significant margin.  But this issue isn’t anywhere near a top concern for us.  Like other generations, the top concern for Millennials is the economy.

According to the Fall 2014 Harvard Institute of Politics Survey, the top two issues for Millennials were the Economy and Foreign Affairs/National Security.  Rounding out the top five were Healthcare, Education and Immigration.  Nowhere in this poll is marijuana legalization mentioned.  And in a Fall 2014 survey conducted by Telefonica, a global communications company, the top issue for U.S. Millennials was the economy.  Poll after poll — over the last several years in fact — have reported that Millennials are most concerned about the economy and job creation, with education, healthcare and national security usually finishing in the top five.

So rest assured that we get it.  Marijuana legalization shouldn’t be priority number one, which is why it isn’t our number one priority.  Again, as is the case with most Americans, Millennials are most concerned about the economy.  Now if only Congress was as concerned about the economy as we are (and much less concerned with Hillary Clinton’s emails), then maybe our Congressional leaders could work together to pass comprehensive and practical legislation to address our nation’s unsustainable fiscal path.  One can only hope…

Are Millennials Actually Racist?

If asked what generation alive today is the most racially tolerant, I would guess that the vast majority of people would say Millennials.  And indeed, they would be mostly right.  However, recent events — like the disgusting racially-charged chant by members of a University of Oklahoma fraternity — have brought into question just how racially tolerant Millennials really are.  I recently came across an interesting Politico article that suggests that Millennials aren’t the post-racial generation that most people believe we are.

The Politico article works from the premise that Millennials aren’t actually racially tolerant, but are racially apathetic.  I would argue that it isn’t apathy but ignorance that is the problem.  Millennials have grown up in an environment (particularly in school) where skin color wasn’t an issue.  Yes, it is true that public schools are more segregated today than they were just after the decision on Brown vs. the Board of Education when public schools were first racially integrated, but it is also true that back then (in the 1960’s) race was still a big deal. For Millennials, skin color hasn’t been a big deal — in fact, for most Millennials it doesn’t matter at all.  And because most Millennials don’t care about race, they don’t fully realize that systematic and institutionalized racism is still a big problem in this country.  So you kind of can’t blame them for thinking that nothing needs to be done to fix a problem they aren’t aware exists. Many Millennials think that we really are living in a post-racial society, and therefore things like affirmative action and laws that prevent racial discrimination in voting or housing lending practices are no longer necessary. Unfortunately, they are.

It is also true that for most Millennials racism has never really been a prominent public issue until recently. While I am old enough to remember the L.A. riots after the beating of Rodney King, I was also born at the very beginning of my generation.  Most Millennials were either way too young to remember this, or they weren’t yet born. So the recent events surrounding the disproportionate level of police brutality towards racial minorities, and the divided racial response to them, represent a big reality check to this young generation.  It’s hard to remove the rose-colored glasses when you know that once they are off, you can’t put them back on.

The article also points out that a prominent issue with Millennials lies in the fact that there are big discrepancies in the opinions of white Millennials vs. minority Millennials.  One poll conducted by MTV/David Binder poll found that only 39 percent of white Millennials agree with the statement, “white people have more opportunities today than racial minority groups.” By contrast, 65 percent of people of color feel that whites have differential access to jobs and other opportunities. Even more interestingly, 70 percent of all Millennials agreed that “it’s never fair to give preferential treatment to one race over another, regardless of historical inequalities.” In addition, a 2012 Public Religion Institute poll that 58 percent of white Millennials say discrimination affects whites as much as it affects people of color, versus just 39 percent of Hispanic Millennials and 24 percent of African-American Millennials.  I don’t know who these white Millennials are, but they apparently don’t live in the same country as I do.

Overall, data does still support the notion that the vast majority of Millennials are racially tolerant.  However, it is also true that Millennials don’t appear to be any more racially tolerant than the preceding generation, Generation X, and in some cases even Baby Boomers.  So again, the issue isn’t that Millennials aren’t as racially tolerant as we have been described, but that we aren’t as aware of the level of racial intolerance in our country. Our colorblindness has done just that — kept us from seeing the truth about racism.  Just because our nation has a mixed-race president doesn’t mean we live in a post-racial society.  Systematic and institutionalized racism is still very pervasive in our country today.  And ignoring this issue won’t make it go away.  If we truly want to advance our nation, we have to open our eyes to the racial injustice that surrounds us — and that negatively affects all of us — and work together to fix this problem.

International Women’s Day

I missed posting about this yesterday as I was attending to a personal matter, but yesterday, March 8th, was International Women’s Day.  Every year this particular day seems to get more recognition, which is encouraging because that means that more and more people are taking the plight of women and girls throughout the world seriously, and also acknowledging that while women have made a lot of progress over the last several decades, inequality of the genders remains a critical problem.

I have remarked several times on this blog that unless women are given equal rights to men, humanity will never truly progress.  It is simply ludicrous to continue to oppress half of our species but, as the same time, expect our species as a whole to advance.  The balance between masculine and feminine energy has been lopsided for far too long.  And unless we get this energy in balance, it seems inevitable that humanity won’t make it too much farther in the future.

It’s 2015, women and men should be equal.  Period.  But…we aren’t. It’s sad and frustrating and even infuriating at times, but we must continue to push for equality.  We’ve made incredible progress in recent years, so let’s drive this equality train full-steam ahead!

I love the below video.  It was created by a fantastic organization called The Girl Effect.  It is short but incredibly powerful. Please take two-and-a-half minutes to watch this video.  You will see how giving girls equal opportunities to boys really will dramatically change the world for the better.

Happy International Women’s Day to all the badass ladies of past and present whose bravery and determination have helped to advance humanity towards true equality.  And a gigantic THANK YOU for all that have done.  As a woman and a proud feminist, I sincerely appreciate it.

Weekly Roundup

Some interesting and informative reads from the last week:

 

 

Weekly Roundup

Some good reads from the week:

  • An Idaho lawmaker asked a physician if a swallowed camera can be used for gynecological exams–the doctor advised him that swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina
  • Some sound advice for Millennials on how to deal with all the extra income they will get as soon as they can find a decent-paying job.  So maybe save this link for another 10 years when it is relevant to your life.
  • Why a flat tax rate is unfair for most Americans–unless you’re really rich, then it would be great!
  • According to a recent study marijuana is 114 times safer than alcohol, so it makes sense then that alcohol is legal and marijuana (in most states) isn’t
  • The top source of calories for Americans is grain-based desserts, followed by yeast breads, chicken and chicken mixed dishes, soda/energy/sports drinks, and pizza–it explains so much doesn’t it?
  • I really, really hope that this South Carolina 2nd grade science quiz isn’t real, but sadly I think it is
  • Here are 17 amazing benefits of meditation (have you started meditating yet?)
  • Antarctica’s ice is melting very quickly; scientists have been able to witness carbon dioxide trapping heat in the air (which causes global warming); and even though global warming has slowed the last few years, apparently that isn’t a good thing

 

Chakras and Their Connection to Our Overall Health

Hopefully you’ve read my previous post about mental health and meditation, and that you’ve started practicing meditation.  This post will delve into the world of chakras–what they are, where they are, what do they do and why they are important?  I’m sure some of you are reading this and thinking that it is a bunch of hooey.  But chakras are real, and if you don’t pay attention to your chakras, and thus allow them to get out of balance, it will have adverse affects on you and your health.

Before I continue, I want to quickly explain why I am talking about things like mental health, meditation and chakras in the first place.  This blog/website is about inspiring and empowering members of the Millennial Generation to create a better world.  But in order for us to do that, we have to first be better individuals.  The more conscious we are individually, the more conscious the world will be.  I will talk about consciousness in another post, as there is a lot to say about it.  But meditation is the best way to become more mindful and conscious.  And so hopefully everyone reading these posts will start meditating.  If you do, you will increasingly become more aware of your true purpose in life, which is a life purpose we all share really.  If you want to know what that is, you’ll have to wait for a future post. Sorry–it’s just too much to cover at one time.

Moving on.  In the last post I briefly touched upon the fact that we are energy, as our bodies–like everything in the universe–are made up of atoms. Proof that we are energy is that we can create an electric shock (like when you touch a door handle and it creates a shock so intense you can actually see it–ouch!). So it makes sense that there are focal points of energy in our bodies.  That’s what chakras are–main energy focal points found throughout the body.  There are seven chakra points in the body, forming a line starting at the base of the spine and going all the way up through the crown of the head. Each chakra is represented by a color that corresponds with the colors of the rainbow (remember ROY G BIV?), and is it also associated with a specific organ(s) in the body.  The chart below lists the seven chakras, their colors, and what organs of the body they control.  You’ll also notice that each chakra has a corresponding physiological or psychological aspect.

I’d like to share a story with you about the importance of maintaining balanced chakras.  About five years ago, someone very close to me was going through a difficult time.  They had just broken up with their significant other, and it wasn’t a very amicable split.  At around the same time of their break-up, they started experiencing severe pains throughout their abdomen.  This individual went to see several doctors but none of them could figure out what was wrong.  They even admitted themselves to the emergency room on a few occasions.  Numerous x-rays, CAT scans, MRI’s, and different blood tests didn’t reveal anything to be wrong.  Eventually one doctor suggested that maybe it was related to the gall bladder, and so this person–desperate for an answer–agreed to have their gall bladder removed.  But that didn’t help.  The pain persisted; that is until this person had moved on from the break-up and had gotten their life in order again.

Sometimes “western” medicine can’t figure out what is ailing us because it isn’t actually due to a physical injury or ailment–it is because one or more of our chakras is blocked.  When you have a chakra that is blocked or partially blocked, that throws off your internal energy, and if the block(s) is severe enough it can manifest as a physical ailment. Most likely the individual described above had blockages in their second, third and fourth chakras, but probably most prominently in their third chakra.

As you can see, maintaining balanced chakras is important not just for your mental health, but your physical health as well.  Most people have unbalanced chakras, and in some their chakras are severely out of balance.  This is when there is usually some sort of physical problem that is either created or heightened. Even something as common as fatigue can easily be attributed to unbalanced chakras.

Think about it, if there is an engine of sorts that has multiple parts and it needs an equal amount of energy devoted to each part, if the energy isn’t distributed equally then the engine won’t work properly. It will start to break down, malfunction and fall apart.  That is exactly what happens to our bodies when our internal energy isn’t balanced.  Think of your body as an engine.  Just like the engine in your car, your body needs regular maintenance.  This is done through both physical exercise and mental exercise (meditation/mindfulness).

As I stated in the previous meditation post, our brain and our body are in constant communication with one another, so if we are stressed our body sends signals to our brain that it is stressed, and then our brain reacts by releasing certain chemicals (like cortisol) to combat the stress.  If this is happening at heightened levels and for long periods of time, it make sense that people would start to feel physical manifestations because of it.  It’s no wonder stress is so harmful to your health!

There is a wealth of information out there about chakras and how to balance your chakras through meditation. ChakraEnergy.com is an excellent resource for information on chakras.  They even have a quiz you can take to see if any of your chakras are out of balance and they give you tips on how to unblock and strengthen them.  And if you search YouTube for “guided chakra balancing meditations” you will get plenty of options.  I did one last night and it was very helpful.  I recommend doing a chakra balancing meditation at least once a week, if not more.  At first you will likely find that you need to do it every day until you start to feel that your chakras are cleared.  You’ll know when this happens because you will be able to sense or feel it.  And you can also find meditations that target one specific chakra.

I hope that this information is helpful to you, and that you will start making daily meditation and mindfulness a priority. I promise it will produce a powerful and positive change in your life.  In a future post I will get into the spiritual teachings of Eckhart Tolle.  I just finished reading his books The Power of Now and A New Earth and both have had a profound impact on me.  I will discuss how and why in the next post.  Until them, namaste my friends.

Why I Left Facebook

Over the past weekend, I decided to deactivate my Facebook account.  I didn’t delete my account, because that is eight years worth of accumulated activity, and a lot of happy moments in my life were documented on my Facebook page. I don’t want to loose that.  But lately I just felt like I needed a break from the consuming world of Facebook.  I asked myself if Facebook was really necessary–does it add any substantial value to my life, or does it maybe do the opposite and take away from my life.  I realized that it is more of the latter, and so I decided to take myself off Facebook indefinitely.

Honestly, I’ve been thinking about doing this for a few months now.  I just want to focus more of my time and energy on the present moment, and Facebook takes away from that.  Not that I am on Facebook all the time–I check it a few times a day usually.  And I might post something 2-3 times a month. But I realized that when you are scrolling through your Facebook feed, you aren’t really connected with the present moment.  Instead you are scrolling through life in a way.  You are watching other people’s lives instead of focusing on your own.

Studies have shown that Facebook can cause depression in some people.  They see their family and friends getting engaged or married, buying houses, starting new and exciting careers, having children, going on amazing trips around the world, etc.  And this causes people to feel bad about their own life, or to think that is isn’t fair that these wonderful things are happening to others and not to themselves.  I admit, I’m guilty of this to a certain extent (as I think most people are).  I have been envious of others who were traveling to exotic places in the world or starting their dream job, and I had no money to go anywhere and was stuck doing a job I didn’t really enjoy.

But it makes no sense for me to compare my life to anyone else’s.  In doing so, I am focusing on the lack in my life instead of being grateful for all that I have.  And when you focus on what you don’t have, the energy you are putting out into the universe is that of lack, nonexistence and nothingness, and thus you will fail to attract better opportunities for your life because you can’t attract something that you don’t have. If you are grateful for what you have, the energy you put out is positive and invites more abundance into your life.  In his best-selling book, A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle wrote, “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”  Why? Because you view life as gratifying and welcoming and therefore you are welcoming more abundance to come into your life. So I may not like my job, but at least I have one.  And I truly am very grateful for my job.  I need to remember that and to focus on that.

It is futile to think that life isn’t fair because something wonderful is happening to someone else instead of you. If I want to take a trip to somewhere exotic, I can save up money to do so.  And if I want a more fulfilling career, I should focus on finding my passion (my soul’s purpose) and figure out how I can use my passion to make a living.  My life is my own to live.  But the big down-side of Facebook is that the focus is usually on seeing how others live and then comparing their lives to yours, which oftentimes causes envy and unhappiness.  Eckhart Tolle also wrote in A New Earth, “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” How absolutely true.  (Note:  I plan to write a blog post or two about the teachings of Eckhart Tolle. I recently read two of his books and they have made a major impact on my life, including helping me realize that right now I would be better off without Facebook.)

I may go back on Facebook at some point in the future, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. Again, it wasn’t adding value to my life.  If anything, it was keeping me from fully recognizing how fortunate I am.  I want to focus on the Now.  I want to be more present and aware and grateful for the blessings in my life.  And honestly, it has only been three days since I left Facebook and I already feel liberated.  The hold that my ego has had on my true self is weakening, and I am waking up and enjoying the present much, much more.  I am finally beginning to consciously live.