« Glimpses of observer-dependent reality on "Einstein's Lawn" | Main | One hour with my father: a story with churchless subtext »

June 21, 2014


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Belief in God, supernatural phenomena, immortality, the soul, cosmic consciousness, and all the rest of it originates in what William James called "religious experience", also referred to as "mystical" experience. Usually one undergoes such an experience when death seems imminent. Becoming convinced that you won't cease to exist, that you're going to a better place, etc., makes the act of dying easier, if not ecstatic.

Many people have the experience and don't die, leaving them with profound certainties they can't prove or provide anything but anecdotal evidence of, yet don't care, because the comfort of self-affirming beliefs acquired through an emotionally wrenching subjective experience is so gratifying.

"Listen, there's something I must tell. I've never, never seen it so clearly. But it doesn't
matter a bit if you don't understand, because each one of you is quite perfect as you are,
even if you don't know it. Life is basically a gesture, but no one, no thing, is making it.
There is no necessity for it to happen, and none for it to go on happening. For it isn't being
driven by anything; it just happens freely of itself. It's a gesture of motion, of sound, of
color, and just as no one is making it, it isn't happening to anyone. There is simply no
problem of life; it is completely purposeless play—exuberance which is its own end.
Basically there is the gesture. Time, space, and multiplicity are complications of it. There is
no reason whatever to explain it, for explanations are just another form of complexity, a
new manifestation of life on top of life, of gestures gesturing. Pain and suffering are simply
extreme forms of play, and there isn't anything in the whole universe to be afraid of
because it doesn't happen to anyone! There isn't any substantial ego at all. The ego is a
kind of flip, a knowing of knowing, a fearing of fearing. It's a curlicue, an extra jazz to
experience, a sort of double-take or reverberation, a dithering of consciousness which is the
same as anxiety."
Of course, to say that life is just a gesture, an action without agent, recipient, or purpose,
sounds much more empty and futile than joyous. But to me it seems that an ego, a
substantial entity to which experience happens, is more of a minus than a plus. It is an
estrangement from experience, a lack of participation. And in this moment I feel absolutely
with the world, free of that chronic resistance to experience which blocks the free flowing of
life and makes us move like muscle-bound dancers. But I don't have to overcome
resistance. I see that resistance, ego, is just an extra vortex in the stream-part of it—and
that in fact there is no actual resistance at all. There is no point from which to confront life,
or stand against it."

Quotation from The Joyous Cosmology by Alan Watts - which chronicles his experiences with LSD. As someone who dropped acid dozens of times in the 1960's, I can vouch for the veracity of Watts" insights.

"Usually one undergoes such an experience when death seems imminent."

--I have had a good number of such experiences when death wasn't immanent but then, death is always immanent, isn't it? Each breath could be our last.

...death is always immanent, isn't it?

No. Death is not immanent, but when it seems imminent, the brain goes into religious/mystical mode to facilitate the act of expiring.

Of course you don't have to risk death to have the experience. You can induce it by ingesting certain psychoactive substances, and thereby religiousize yourself. A lot of people have done this and don't regret having done so, having found and firmly established thereby, the precious belief they vainly sought through conventional means.

There was a character named Don Juan Matus who advised living your life as if "death could tap you on the shoulder at any minute". This , of course meant to live life to the fullest, with passion, purpose, discipline and full awareness. This advice was for a "warrior", a person who, in Don Juan's world, seeks to become a "man of knowledge", a knowledge not available to those "average people" who go through life in a sort of somnambulant, less conscious fashion, perhaps secure in the veracity of their world view, when in fact they haven't a clue.

To Don Juan, there was no time to waste. So, while most likely death is not imminent for most of us, it is there ready to tap one day. It will tap and that day could be soon. Some of us may not want to waste this short time we have in this world and take Don Juan's advice to heart and become warriors whether we seek to be a "man of power" or a lawyer.

I have found from personal experience with psychoactive substances, mostly in the '60's also, that certain insights do become available, possibly due to the breakdown/alteration of our conditioned beliefs and relativistic thought processes which are not always an accurate accounting of what is actually the case. These insights included such apperceptions as presented by Willie R from Watt's "Joyous Cosmology". I too, vouch for their veracity although I am fully aware my vouching doesn't mean much at all.

...while most likely death is not imminent for most of us, it is there ready to tap one day.

Yes, it's a sobering thought, but it doesn't awaken the brain to the significance of death that trauma does, whether induced by a near-death experience or a psychotropic drug. And even once awakened, what might seem to be profound insight into the nature of existence may be merely what the brain cooks up to make death more palatable.

If an insight arrived at through trauma or a drug awakens you to greater comprehension and understanding, that's good. But if it amounts to belief in something that can't be tested or verified, that's religion.

...death is always immanent, isn't it?

Intellectually I always knew it, but until the tests results this spring and the specialists espoused it, i never really experienced it. Suddenly my oncologist is giving me 11/2 to 2 years max. I'm young, healthy, so I thought. WTF? Denial ensued, and while I'm still in it, I can tell you everything changes after that. Everything i thought was important, fun, a goal, a plan, a worry, a problem. Everything. Just like that.

Religion? Never had it, don't need it. The way I see it, if I'm done and that's it, I won't care. If there's more, I'll find out. It doesn't impact on how I spend the next 16 to 24 months. Oops, i guess I need to subtract a few months now... Counting down. Good thing my faith in the accuracy of doctors' prognoses is not much stronger than my faith is gurus.

Skeptic... wow. Thanks so much for sharing. I admire your courage, your outlook. I only hope I'll feel the same way when my own death approaches.

But I'm 65. Sounds like you're considerably younger. That makes things tougher to deal with. At least, I assume this. The older I get, the more accepting I seem to become about death.

"Seem." I really have no idea how I'd react if I were in your shoes. I just hope, as I said, that I'd be able to share your attitude and outlook. You're an inspiration for me.

Doctors' prognoses are proven wrong every day. Best wishes to you.


So, there we have it. Skeptic's tap has come or at least a warning shot. The tap is always close, as far as we know, whether it be by illness or being sucked into a sinkhole.

What if it is closer than you think? What would you do differently? How would you live differently? Maybe something you did recently that is important to you is the last time you will ever do it as Brian pointed out. What if someone you saw recently was the last time you will ever see them? This knowledge can inform our lives and activate us. For others it can elicit no more than a shrug of the shoulders.

I think a lot of us waste time. We think our passing is way down the road, but what if we don't have any more time?

Thanks Brian, yup 14 years younger, but it's one day at a time. What has been awe inspiring to me is what my illness has brought out in others. An unbelievable amount of love and support from so many I can't even begin to express. If god is love then all it takes is something like cancer to bring it out in everyone, which is the most authentically spiritual experience I've ever had. It's made it crystal clear to me that generally speaking people are filled with love once something like this explodes away instantly all the worldly crap that most people are preoccupied with and that gets in the way of them experiencing it and expressing it.

We think our passing is way down the road, but what if we don't have any more time?

There's no way of knowing, and trying to live as if you'll die tomorrow works only if you're highly susceptible to suggestion.

So live dangerously and have a near-death experience, or take a psychoactive substance and have a bogus insight. Do what you want, pretend you're acting deliberately, indulge your illusion that you can do good or "make a difference" because, as Alan Watts said, "There is no point from which to confront life, or stand against it."

There is no free will...just the illusion of being a free agent acting deliberately, in a meaningful, purposeful way. Whatever you do or don't do matters only to those who think they know what matters.


Appreciate your sharing here. I hope that you're considering Alternative Medicine (as opposed to strictly allopathic medicine) for your treatment.

A few sources include:




The internet has made available tons of information on holistic health care formally unavailable to many of us.

Wish you the best!

Who'll Call me Brother? Brian; Mike Williams, Tau, CC, Tuscon, ??? Have I burnt all my chances?



Thank you for your sharing. Your observation on how love is within everyone but it takes some powerful clearing of wordly crap to show itself is powerful!

I appreciate your courage and strength and look to you as an inspiration for your honesty and courage.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)


  • Welcome to the Church of the Churchless. If this is your first visit, click on "About this site--start here" in the Categories section below.
  • HinesSight
    Visit my other weblog, HinesSight, for a broader view of what's happening in the world of your Church unpastor, his wife, and dog.
  • BrianHines.com
    Take a look at my web site, which contains information about a subject of great interest to me: me.
  • Twitter with me
    Join Twitter and follow my tweets about whatever.
  • I Hate Church of the Churchless
    Can't stand this blog? Believe the guy behind it is an idiot? Rant away on our anti-site.