Tuesday, February 18, 2014

EVOLUTION, SEX AND SPIRITUALITY

Introduction
The more that any community of life forms is in tune with Nature the more sustainable that community will be. That is as true for ourselves as it is for any other life form. After all Nature gave birth to and sustains all the life forms on earth ourselves included.
How does the human community remain in tune with Nature?
We need to recognise that this is a life and death question for us and  that it involves investigating many different aspects of human life in our search for answers.
In recent times, in my search for improved understanding, of things that particularly interest me, I have been trying to see them through the lens of evolution as I understand it. This has proved very enlightening for me and hence this paper which is my attempt to share some of the insights that have emerged as a result.
Scientific research into the history of Creation has shown, through geological and fossil records, that primitive life began on earth some 3.8 billion years ago and has culminated in the bio-sphere as it now is. Looking at life, and ourselves in particular, life's evolutionary trajectory would seem to be summed up inthis phrase ‘an organic impulse towards greater and greater consciousness’. We are the current end product of this impulse because not only are we  conscious but we are self conscious. What this means is that there is an opportunity for each of us to choose to have a conscious relationship with the over-arching consciousness, which, I sense, is the consciousness that gave birth to Creation and is present everywhere within it. However as self conscious beings we can only enter into this conscious relationship voluntarily, the entry cannot be automatic because that would be a negation of consciousness.
There is no halt to evolution but once self consciousness emerges then, for self conscious beings, evolution is dependent on the being entering into a conscious relationship with the over-arching consciousness. When we do so then our evolution under the guidance of the over-arching consciousness becomes, in a sense, super-charged. As I see it, striving for a conscious relationship with the over-arching consciousness is actually what has traditionally been known as ‘leading a spiritual life’.
As evolving, but self conscious, beings it seems that learning is an inseperable part of our evolution. What is learning? Learning is establishing in consciousness mental models of things, mental models that are, as truly accurate a replica, of the thing as we can get. Truth is determined by the degree of accuracy of a mental model, the more accurate it is the more true it is. So learning for us is a constant search for truth, true information about  our individual selves as well as everything else that exists. Science is our term for the disciplined, collective, effort to gather such information and make it public.
Sex
Like most humans I am interested in and have, over the years, grappled with my own sexuality and my  relationship to sex in general. Because of the accessibilty of information on the world wide web I have been exploring sex and sexuality as expressed on the web and have come across these websites https://makelovenotporn.tv/ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u54YSnkog5U and http://www.juicypinkbox.com/s1/home/?revid=12508
The first two sites intrigued me greatly because the creators of them want, through them, to move human sexuality into the mainstream, by mainstream I mean into public acceptability. Sexuality is in public consciousness but in a schizophrenic kind of way because it is also regarded as unacceptable, particularly any public expression of it.
The third site is a lesbian porn site and in a sense it demonstrates how pornography has become more and more mainstream as the site’s intent is clearly not so much to educate people about lesbianism but to make money from the public of all sexual orientations.
How does the above relate to what I said in the introduction?
We need to start with a question, why are some life forms, like ourselves, differentiated into two genders, male and female, which needs, the male to penetrate and the female to accept penetration, in order to procreate?
One theory that I have read, that makes good sense to me, suggests that sexual procreation was Nature’s strategy for speeding up genetic change, thus keeping ahead of any parasites that preyed on a life form. Through sexual reproduction each new generation of individuals has a different genetic make up to that of its parent’s generation rendering it less likely to succumb to the parasites that preyed on its parent’s generation. Thus according to this line of thinking we are differentiated into male and female in order to enhance the long term survival prospects of our life form. However if the two genders were not very strongly impelled into completing the necessary actions for procreation then the differentiation into male and female genders would have had no survival benefit whatsoever hence the powerful attractions that exist beween the two sexes, attractions which culminate in procreative actions.
But we are conscious beings so how does our sexuality impact on on our lives given the  reality of our consciousness?
The differentiation into two sexes was already in existence long before humans evolved thus our sexuality was already a reality when we emerged into consciousness. But, because of its power, our sexuality presented us, both individually and collectively, with a problem. It could not just be left to operate unconsciously and thus instinctively as it thrust itself into consciousness but the problem was in how we dealt with it there.
Nonetheless it would seem that our collective decision has been to try to ban sexuality from our consciousnesses. This was not a very clever thing to do because to gain control of and maximise the benefits of our sexuality it needs to be fully accepted into our consciousness.
Sexuality, like everything else that we take into our consciousnesses, requires both individual and collective learning. As sexuality itself  can’t actually be switched off trying to ban it from consciousness has only meant that we have been unable to reap the benefits that would have derived from accepting it fully into our consciousnesses. This ‘banning from conscious’ response  to sexuality has historically been particularly prevalent in the West. For example in my generation, 70 years ago now, I learnt from society, not really from my parents I don’t think, that my sexual urges and actions were something to be thoroughly ashamed of and not to be acknowledged or discussed with anybody not even a sexual partner and most definitely not in a public space.
Thankfully this oppresive/suppressive attitude is changing for the better. Now there is  public acceptance of increasingly explicit sexual information. This change has been aided and abetted by things like the Kinsey Report, HIV/Aids and particularly the ready availability of ‘live’ pornography on the internet. This latter is the reason why 'Make Love not Porn.tv’ was launched by its creators. Pornography is, as the creators say, a staged performance of a sexual activity and therefore provides viewers with a very misleading educational experience of real life sexual activity. But because of the continuation into the present of the earlier attempts to ban sexuality from public consciousness pornography, initially an underground response to public disapproval of sex, is now proving to be the major source of  sexual education for web enabled individuals. ‘Make Love Not Porn.tv’ is an attempt to provide viewers with an alternative viewer experience based on real every day and unstaged sexual interactions.
The second site ‘Cliteracy’ is an attempt to educate people about the female clitoris, which is physically almost totally hidden from public and individual view and thus largely absent from public discourse or if present  at all it is only in a negative and ill-informed light.
The third site, drawing on the power of sex, is only incidentally educational rather it is indicative of how commercialism permeates everything in modern culture
Spirituality
In my understanding, because we are conscious beings, we humans can all have active spiritual lives, if we so choose. Like most of us are, as children anyway, and actually should be as adults too, I am very interested in human spirituality, I consciously try to place it at the centre of my life.
Traditionally society’s understanding of a spiritual life was that it could only really be conducted within the confines of a religion. There are two problems with this understanding. One is that it is wrong, our spirituality does not have to manifest within the confines of an already recognised religion. Two it is restrictive because most religions are created as a result of people striving to formalise, the possibility of a conscious relationship with the over-arching consciousness, and to do so in a way, which they, and their fellows at the time of the religion’s founding, could understand.
As our overall understanding of life in the universe evolves, i.e. improves, inevitably the understanding encapsulated in earlier generations’ religious dogmas and creeds also needs to change. The bedrock, i.e. the possibility of an individual conscious relationship with the over-arching consciousness, does not change but the religious constructions which people have seen fit to erect on the bedrock inevitably need to change in line with people’s changing understandings. The trouble is that most religions do not find these changes easy to accept.
I was raised and confirmed as an Anglican and completed my secondary education at an Anglican boarding school. This schooling was later to prove spiritually useful to me in that I gained a basic knowledge of the spiritual teachings in the New Testament by rote but at the time that I learnt them they never spoke to me in any kind of meaningful way. It was only once I started regularly attending Quaker Meeting that any kind of meaningful connection with these spiritual teachings begun to develop.  My spiritual journey, in the company of Quakers, only began in my mid-twenties, however.
Our Quaker forbears recognised the immutability of the bedrock which, amongst other terms, they called the ‘Light of Christ’. They also recognised the constant need for change and adaption in the cultural accretions built on the bedrock. Thus they did not formulate any dogmas or creeds because they realised that attempting such things in an  effort to pin down their living personal experiences of the Light would be counter productive. They realised that each and every generation needs to experience for themselves the workings of the Light. They felt comfortable too in only formally passing on to succeeding generations their central practice of regular participation in silent Meetings for Worship plus any associated spiritual practices that sprang from this central practice. And they were happy to do so because they knew, through their own experience, that this way of consciously connecting with  the over-arching consciousness worked for the individuals who regularly participated in it and with the consequence that their spiritual evolution would naturally progress.
After I became a practicing Quaker I gradually became more and more open to exploring other spiritual traditions in a search for more spiritual knowledge.  It was a gradual process because having been brought up within the confines of Anglicanism I had been conditioned to be fearful of corrupting my Christianity by meddling in other spiritual traditions.
Yoga evolved as an extremely effective spiritual practice. In its spread to the West however many of its practitioners seem to have very little knowledge of this aspect concentrating on its physical benefits.
23years after I started attending Quaker Meeting it still took the near collapse of my body for me to take up the practice of yoga. Luckily for me I did so in the school of BKS Iyengar as my initial my motivation for doing so was purely physical. I wanted to see if yoga would help to counter the progressive collapse of my body under the, at that stage undiagnosed, impact of Multiple Sclerosis. Even going to a yoga lesson once a week began to improve my bodily condition so in addition to a once a week lesson I embarked on my own regular daily practice. My intention in doing so was still in pursuit of physical health but gradually the knowlege that the practice of yoga was intended to be a spiritual discipline began to enter into my consciousness and some 20 years after I started yoga practice I recognised it as an essential part of my spiritual practice.
About 18 months after I started the regular practice of yoga the dichotomous view of life, which I now realise was part of my Christian upbringing, began to create great inner distress in me.  At the same time I was struggling with the fact that Quakers have no formal teaching on meditation and in my search for such teachings I attended a lecture on Compassion given by Rob Nairn a Tibetan Buddhist. Meditation is a central practice within Buddhism and as a result it is replete with teachings on the practice of meditation. Buddhism also, I found out in due course, subscribes to a unitary view of Creation which gradually undid my dichotmous view. Two days after attending a week long Retreat given by a high Lama, in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, I awoke and just knew that I needed to take refuge as a Buddhist. I still knew very little about Buddhism so the sense that I needed to take refuge as a Buddhist was completely independent of any intellectual knowledge.
I was worried however that I would be required to abandon my Quakerism if I took refuge as a Buddhist.  Luckily the high Lama was staying briefly in Johannesburg before returning to Scotland and on querying him I was told that,  if I took refuge as a Buddhist,  I would not have to abandon being a Quaker, so I took Refuge as a Buddhist. As a consequence my spiritual learning received another boost and continues apace.
I have struggled with integrating my Quaker experience and understanding with my  understanding and experience of Tibetan Buddhism which, in complete contrast to  Quakerism, is organised  hierarchically both organisationally and spiritually because the higher up the organisational hierarchy you ascend the more you are expected to have evolved spiritually to warrant the position.
It seems to me that the hierarchy works in a fashion because the incumbents of the positions are supposed to be genuinely spiritually advanced and, usually are. However there is no absolute gaurantee of that, so things can go awry and have done so in the past and, I guess, will do so in the future. My sense is that Quaker spiritual egalitarianism as expressed through our collective decision making processes that seek collectively to be responsive to the Light is a much more certain way to proceed both for our individual and collective spiritual futures.  
Rory Short

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