After I got an email pitch for a book that demolishes religion but promotes a free-ranging scientific and mystical inquiry into the "wild wonder of it all" I soon found myself handing over $13.47 for a copy of Lew Paz's "Pushing Ultimates: Fundamentals of Authentic Self-Knowledge."
It's a self-published book, which I have absolutely no problem with -- having done the same with my own examination of ultimacy, "Return to the One."
Paz is well-informed and positively disposed toward science. He's also well-read in an impressive number of other subjects: mysticism, philosophy, politics, psychology, history, anthropology, to name a few.
I enjoyed the book, but finished the final chapter feeling disappointed.
Somehow I never got a feel for what Paz was promoting, except, perhaps, his own approach to coming to grips with the meaning of existence.
This last observation isn't a putdown. It's almost unavoidable in the spirituality and mysticism genres. People, including me, write about their own search for truth and what they've learned along the way.
I've got no problem with that, so long as it's recognized that "my way" isn't taken to be the only Ultimate Reality Highway.
Paz's life has been footloose and fancy free. He's traveled a lot. He's sampled sundry psychedelic substances. He's spent countless hours in libraries delving into the wisdom of the world. He's explored various systems of meditation and consciousness raising.
Yet every time Paz asserted that a similar sort of quest is how the highest understanding of truth is attained, I couldn't help but think "This was your way, but is it everybody's way?"
Here's another problem I had with the book: either something can be said about the Ultimate, or it's a mystery.
If you know what the Ultimate is like, please tell me. Or at least give me some specific guidance about how to learn what you know. ("Keep on searching" doesn't cut it.)
If you're clueless about ultimate reality, then admit it. As a similarly clueless reader, this makes me feel bonded to an author in honest who-the-hell-knows? perplexity.
Paz, though, bounces back and forth between these stances. Obviously he wouldn't write 375 pages unless he felt he had something important to convey. Yet I ended the book not being sure what this was.
In the final chapter, "Concept of God," I hoped to find a wrap-up that would encapsulate Paz's philosophy of life. Early in the chapter I resonated with this:
OK. Agreed. A few pages farther on I also gave a hearty churchless thumbs-up to these thoughts.
That an individual can, through persistent spiritual discipline, personally have epiphanic contact with emanations of the Absolute Infinite, does not imply comprehension.
Right on. I also liked this forthright bit of self-revealing.
I hear you, Lew. However, as I neared the end of the chapter I started to use my highlighter to put question marks next to some questionable passages. Such as:
Though this whole area of angels, allies and higher masters of a meta-spiritual sort, is rife with theosophical and religious distortion, and prone to delusion, hallucination, and egoic aggrandizement, something definitely wondrous and spiritual is going on
The skeptic humanist is going to start hyper-ventilating here, and justifiably so, considering all the simple-minded crap about angels that has flourished in both the New Age and traditional Christian ambits, not to mention Hollywood's contribution of the past decades.
And yet, by now, the reader should know no doors can be slammed shut when it comes to paranormal-spiritual realities. Let us recall that the universe and the numinous dimensions of the human mind are not only as strange as we have seen, they are most likely stranger than we are capable of seeing.
Well, Paz was right.
I did start mentally hyper-ventilating when I read those words, because they undermined what I'd enjoyed about the book up to that point: it's emphasis on open-minded not-knowing what the cosmos is all about.
Then I got to the next page and found...
Hmmmm. So now we have a firm statement about objective reality: angels and gods exist.
And supposedly we know (or rather, Paz knows) that they existed before human consciousness did -- though I have no idea how a human consciousness could know that.
But there are so many "maybe's" if, as Paz said above, we don't close any doors "when it comes to paranormal-spiritual realities."
Maybe Jesus saves. Maybe Allah judges. Maybe gurus enlighten. Maybe angels guide. Maybe departed souls communicate. Maybe space aliens visit.
I don't know. Maybe some or all of these "maybe's" are true. All I know is that I don't know. And if someone else claims they do, I want more than a trust me from them.