The Space God

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Ancient gods were physical, and as such, constrained. If not exactly human, they did have boundaries to their existence. They operated in realms. Athena was the goddess of Athens. Delphi had an oracle, etc. Now over time as enterprising peoples tried to extend their influence, it made sense to have the dominion of their Gods extend as well, which meant they had to go up. Mount Olympus, said to be the home of the 12 Greek gods of the pantheon, was the highest peak in Greece at 9,500 ft. Likewise, Moses ascended Mount Sinai, at 7,500 ft. the highest peak in the area. There is a strong correlation between claims of hegemony and the height from which their gods operate. When a mountain was no longer tall enough it seems, the notion of heaven was assumed. This is coincidental with the notion of exclusivity of God.

Early on, the Hebrews did not deny the existence of other gods even as they admonished adherents to ‘not have any other gods’ before their own. Their thinking evolved from henotheism (preferring one god among several) to monotheism (there is only one true god). I call the latter the ‘space God’. This is not to make fun but rather to help you imagine where the ultimate physical god has to dwell. A constrained physical God in outer space won’t actually see very much. How can He actually know everything?

Physical gods are by definition bounded. To extend the dominon of a nation, therefore, the bounds of your God have to be extended. Thus, the association of the constrained God being integrated with the unbounded members of the Trinity, i.e. God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, mitigates these limitations. This is a brilliant theology that introduces mysterious dimensions to inspire respect in the ‘otherness’ of God. Being watched over by a Jealous, Righteous and Just God necessarily introduces a sense of dread in the faithful. Dread validates the existence of an omniscient deity, which motivates the subordination of others, and so the myth feeds on itself. While cogent and historically persistent, this explanation does nothing to solve the problem of coexistence in an ever more heterogeneous population with the diversity of beliefs.

Monotheism is necessarily tied up with territorial favoritism. To Americans, to be Christian means being bounded by the domains of America. We have to start recognizing this as theocratic imperialism. It is the extension of the bounds of the Christian God to cover other lands at the expense of local gods. If this sounds obvious, stop to ask yourself if you can extract the God from the locale. I don’t mean the metaphysical God behind Jesus. Rather, can you remove notions of geography, whether it is ‘the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’, or ‘the land of the free’ from the evangelical message? I don’t think you can. In fact, built into ‘the Great Commission’, i.e. Jesus’ directive to ‘go into all the world and preach the gospel’, is necessarily a geographical expansionist mindset. It means ‘propagate Christ-god to all geographies’. Sounds like standard missionary work, doesn’t it? What is the problem, you ask? Why is this intolerant?

My point is not self-evident. Let me add some contrast to the belief in domain-exclusive gods (and I will try to be succinct for the sake of impact). Imagine, for a moment, that belief has everything to do with a locale but nothing to do with a specific god like Apollo, Osiris or Jesus having to necessarily be in that locale. Assume that all cultures have mythologies that communicate worldview via stories, which in turn exemplify desired behaviors. In this chain of belief, we have a cosmology, shared values and desired outcomes.

Now work backward from this: what are the scalable outcomes desired? The values required to support them? Based on this, create the supporting scared stories (or mythology). From this perspective, you see, you cannot take heroes or gods to be literally physical, but you can experience them in the imagination. They are a metaphor and as such, there is no competition across geographies implied. Proselytizing is not a zero-sum game in the naming of your God(s).

The competition will be in the domain of values and behaviors. If there are conflicts, the resolution is a dialog about the behaviors and values themselves and how they can be adjusted to allow for co-existence. It is hard to imagine a ‘religious’ value in this context that cannot be accommodated for the sake of loving your neighbor. Stories are then revised as a response to the accommodation, and cultures can move on from anachronistic stories that no longer serve the purpose. In other words, the outcome justifies the narrative, not the other way around. In this model, you may have very different gods ‘existing’ in the minds of the believers without having to be territorial about it. Because belief is what motivates people to act, there is a very real impact via the outcomes. 521 Main Street can believe in one God, while 523 believes in another god. Compatibility of values will make the coexistence of the gods voluntary. These are the gods of Main Street, not outer space.

— Roy Zuniga
Redmond, WA
July 2017

An Ontology

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Intro

Why talk about the ontology of art when such high-minded thoughts are a distraction to creating art work? The simple answer is that, with limited time left on earth, I want to create meaningful works. This begs the question of what makes great art. I’ve asserted elsewhere that it is the sense of presence in the works. Here I will expand on that, striving to understand what draws us into the works existentially.

Before I start, I should articulate a disclaimer about the scope of my assertions. Using a big word like ‘Ontology’ is risky because immediately your position is compared with the long history on the topic that includes the greatest minds since Socrates. What you’ll find here is a layman’s musings about being. Not only do I not have the training or time to be a scholar, I also don’t want to invest much life energy into exploring all the rabbit trails in the history of philosophy. I have too many works of art that are languishing unfinished as it is.

Moreover, it is my belief that an understanding of what causes a masterpiece to exist should be understandable by the common person. It should be more accessible, like a catechism or the stories of mythology, than like the polemics of a Princeton or Oxford.

Another reason to be humble about assertions of being is what I’ve called elsewhere ‘the n-level problem’. This was noted when I recounted my exit from Christianity. You see, even if we could assert that wounds St. Thomas touched were, in fact, those of a resurrected Christ, the very fact that Christ could be resurrected makes any other supernatural phenomena possible, such that Christ himself could have been impersonated, used or deceived by a higher power. Likewise, angelic beings might have indeed appeared to Mary and the Shepherds and said what is asserted they said. There is no way to guarantee, however, that those beings weren’t on some drunken hazing exercise to play games with humans, the way the Greek gods mucked around with them.

Once you assert higher beings who can read our thoughts, be teleported, raised from the dead, transmuted, etc. there’s no way to morally qualify them, or distinguish the good from the bad. The earth gods might have been played for fools by higher beings, just like they play with humans. Thus, if you assert the possibility of miracles and higher beings, you are also picking a side by your own faith alone. It is necessarily a personal choice, just like you chose which church to attend.

The same principle applies not only to assertions about god(s) but also to assertions about our own being. It is conceivable that genetic engineers can create a new form of life and introduce that into a laboratory experiment where existing forms of life encounter it. These creatures do not have the cognitive capacity to understand that the new creature was introduced by man. They might be so primitive as to not have senses, like eyes, for example, to detect the presence of observers. They have sensors of various types that enable them to survive. The natural, i.e. non-manmade creatures must figure out whether the new arrivals are friend or foe, etc. Let’s assume in the end they all get along, and the new creatures coexist with the old. That is, the natural creatures have no notion that the new fellas are synthetic, and the synthetic ones were engineered to not know or care about their origins.

If we cannot deny the possibility of such a hybrid experiment, who can categorically affirm that we ourselves are not the subjects of an analogous experiment by higher beings we can’t detect? We might lack the faculties to see higher beings that could, hypothetically, be engineering our own existence to watch and learn what happens.

Why is it, for example, that we are wired for story? All cultures use mythology, even in secular sectors, to drive behavior. The story ‘interface’ to our minds and psyches can be used periodically to ‘program’ entire populations and thus steer history, as evident in the construction of pyramids or the Third Reich. Stories to humans are like so much sugar water stimulating populations of slimy creatures to act.

So rather than explain Being as something integral, as an object that can be described, I’d rather describe a phenomenology of interactions between higher and lower beings to the extent they can be experienced. I look at the interaction between creator and created, and as we’ll see below, between artist and his work.

By phenomena I mean interactions like prayer. I’ve covered interaction with ‘the Universe’ previously with the notion of Uranthom, so I won’t revisit it now. Here, we’ll look at ourselves as the higher beings in relation to our creations, one of which is art. Certain art has ontological standing in relation to both the creator and the observers. While the principles may apply to other domains, in what follows, I’m thinking of paintings specifically, not sculpture or art installations.

The Existence of Art

What if Van Gogh had the idea for Starry Night but never executed on it, would the art exist? Of course not, because with art the idea is not complete until it is realized, and the realization necessarily evolves the idea further.

Neither is a work masterful until it has a presence when observed. By presence I mean the sense the viewer has, when in front of certain masterworks, that they are having an encounter with a personality or domain that is ‘other’ than the physical place they are standing in. For example, standing in front of a Rembrandt portrait at a museum, I had the distinct impression I was encountering a being from another place and time who ‘spoke’ to me in ways that cannot be fully articulated. It’s true that powerful 3D movie on a big screen may have an immersive effect of presence also, so I’m not disparaging other types of art. I’ll stick with the domain of paintings here.

What makes one work have that state or being that others do not have? To me, Van Gogh’s art is more powerful than Gauguin’s. Why? Gauguin is telling a story of a journey, provoking viewers with colorful figures that ask questions. These figures are like mythical characters, like those in Aesop’s fables. Van Gogh, on the other hand, just recognizes a certain existence in his subjects that comes from deep empathy. He lived with coal miners, he took care of the destitute, he was passionate about people. Gauguin cared mostly about himself, abandoning people – even his wife and kids – in the pursuit of art. The difference comes across. Gauguin is more calculated and cerebral it seems to me.

Van Gogh’s emotion came from a real connectedness, one that in some ways was fully consummated by him as he faced rejection. Like the isolated Michelangelo painting his marvelous nudes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, art became an alternate reality Van Gogh could immerse himself in. His passion is evident in his brush work. It is not representation, but action, a visual assertion of life and existence. This comes from someone who had been fired as a minister of Jesus for being too close to the poor. Van Gogh lived among them, in a miner’s shack.

To paint like Van Gogh is to express the essentials of being. The vocabulary is vibrant and simple. We have to empathize at an existential level. We are not thinking about answering specific philosophical questions about, for example, where we come from or where we are going (as with Gauguin’s work). In Van Gogh’s work, we are present with no strings attached. There is an inevitability about viewing his works that is disarming, that draws you into his intensity.

Great art does that. It draws us into a presence that otherwise would not be experienced at that place. Put a cover over the art, and that presence is gone. This the alchemy of aesthetic moments, where everyday experience becomes extraordinary. To me, these works have a type of existence.

Art facilitates an experience that is not necessarily reproducible by making more of its kind but rather is always recognizable in the masterful instance. You cannot paint as Van Gogh did, with his colors, brush strokes, motives, etc. and necessarily have, at the end of the effort, a masterwork. In other words, the essence of great art is not in the materials or the technique, although these are necessary elements to the masterful whole. There also has to be an audience to experience the presence.

If an instance (even if the very first instance) of a painting in a style can be more masterful than others in that genre, it only follows that someone may later produce another piece of even greater quality. If by the application of fresh colors in a superlative execution an expert managed to surpass a Van Gogh with a work in his style, then the Van Gogh would be diminished regardless of being the inventor of the style. This is like the young Leonardo surpassing Verrocchio with the painting of an angel in a single collaborative work.

Of course, for collectors who know Van Gogh, a work by the master’s hand would have more value just because Van Gogh painted it. In other words, they are assigning value to authorship. This valuation criterion is external to the work and the pure artistic experience the viewer may have with it. I don’t count knowledge of authorship as a distinguishing characteristic of masterpieces. Artistic ‘parentage’, if we can call it that, is interesting information, but in a strict sense, not part of the being of the work as we’re calling it out here, i.e. that spark between the viewer and the work we call presence.

One could argue that Van Gogh enthusiasts can’t really separate the experience from the knowledge of the authorship. Let’s say, however, a previously unknown Van Gogh is found and is then copied with such superlative execution that the result is a better Van Gogh than what he himself originally painted. Maybe the original was a misfire, a good idea painted on a bad day for Van Gogh. And let’s say the impersonating artist actually pulls it off so well, that there is an experience of presence of the same quality as to be had with Van Gogh’s other works. If the experience is there, it must be recognized as such, apart from knowledge of the hand who made it.

Thus, because it is conceivable that someone could paint a more impactful and better-executed version of the masterpiece, we can assert that the essential idea of a great work, while not available to experience apart from an execution, nevertheless exists apart from a specific execution, as it did in the mind of Vincent, when he decided to paint it. Moreover, a work can exist in more than one execution, as in Velazquez’ multiple copies of the portrait of Don Luis de Gongora. When a concept instantiated multiple times in high quality, no one instance can be said to be less real than the other. In other words, the masterwork is co-dependent with at least one execution, and not restricted to a given instance.

Likewise, we don’t know who really initiated what is known as The Iliad and The Odyssey. These works were transmitted orally over many years, so that the version we know today may have been honed by many authors in the retelling. Nevertheless, the work has an existence beyond the vagaries of specific words that changed from one recounting to another.

Beyond the idea and its execution, it would all be for naught if there wasn’t an appreciative audience. If the rest of humanity disappeared and a tribe happens to eventually wander into the ruins of Amsterdam, and they valued a shapely designer garbage container more than Van Gogh paintings in the museum, would the paintings cease to be masterpieces? To the natives, the answer would seem obvious: the garbage container is much more useful. Experience is necessarily part of the presence of the work, so that the existence of a masterpiece cannot be independent, but is rather relative to its visibility in the culture. Adherents of ISIS had no problem destroying ancient Assyrian bulls and other artifacts because to them, they were no more valuable than a garbage can is to us. Yet somehow over the span of history, we must affirm that artifacts that were masterpieces to ancient cultures are worthy of protection.

So far, most of this seems obvious. There seems to be a synergy between the idea and the realization, each of which is not complete without the other. The idea necessarily came before the execution, was then modified by it, and can, in turn, inspire additional ideas for execution. If there is continuity of being between us and the rest of creation, is there some parallelism we can draw out of the ‘masterpiece’ ontology of art for the sake of understanding human experience. It seems to me that the three factors elucidated above, i.e. the idea, the execution and the acceptance, also apply to people.

Perhaps God cannot know us apart from the instances of people in the community. The idea, or better said, the ‘hunch’ of a person in the mind of God, is not the person. The struggle to produce a masterpiece person and community is evident in the ambitions of civilization and may be a categorical imperative. The driving force behind humanity’s continual self-realization towards excellence maps to the ‘mind of the artist’ so to speak, of him or herself being realized through excellence. Realizing this elevated intention without hindering others can be considered the moral life. We have to be careful because our the collective choices of intent determine the reality orchestrated.  Moreover, if the execution impacts the idea, then we are shaping the mind of God, such that it cannot exist apart from creation, nor can He/She.

— Roy Zuniga
Langley, WA
July 16, 2017

A Universal Process for a Personal Worldview

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My worldview guides me, as does yours. I believe in expressing intent as the basis for experience. This world view is also a process that can be applied by everyone. The key is to let ‘the Universe’ have its say in how our intent is fulfilled, considering the intent of others in our domain, and trusting that a suitable outcome will be orchestrated. This is fundamentally a positive outlook. It is also simple. The goal is to have humanity spend less time rationalizing manmade theological problems, and more time actually experiencing life. Nature is in danger from those who don’t know her, who don’t know how connected they really are to her.

I am approaching topics of ultimacy from the personal experience of what works. Praying to Uranthom works for me. Reflexive prayer, i.e. the notion that all spoken prayer for our own benefit, reinforces my intent. Understanding self is so important because being aligned with what makes you tick is the best possible experience for you as an existential ‘node’ in this collective and connected existence. If physical creatures can achieve a ‘heavenly’ experience on earth, why look forward to a non-corporeal existence? Consciousness without physicality is a hell. Whether our souls go to ‘Heaven’ or blend back into a mystical cosmic consciousness, I do not know. I am confident that the Universe that makes Uranthom possible will have a suitable resolution of my consciousness existence.

We get into trouble when we make ‘authoritative’ and exclusive assertions about God the way both Muslim and Christian theologians have over the ages. Conflict arises when the respective believers take the God-speculation literally and defend mutually exclusive absolutes. The line of thought that tries to define God is a dead end. We can be believers without absolutes. In this mode, all world views are necessarily individualistic, which is what I think happens anyway, even to those who believe in the ‘heaven first’ approach where guidance comes down from God.

If you find your mind caught in a web of theological conundrums, it may be helpful to trace back the chain of ideas that led to your beliefs. I did, and it led me to start fresh, from scratch. What kind of conundrums? For example, conflicting ideas about free will vs. predestination; obsession with a physical God who cannot be touched; someone we talk to but who never talks back.  Reconciling undeserved mishaps and tragedies with God’s good purpose for pious people. Talking about both love and eternal punishment in the same conversation. Advocating the never-ending exploitation of a finite earth. Advocating equality of genders while keeping the man as the ‘head.’ Preaching compassion and acceptance while attributing people’s sicknesses and disabilities to sin or laziness. Teaching forgiveness while always finding an enemy to fight. Asserting world peace is on the other side of a war. Thinking like this is making our planet sicker, and we need to change it.

Trace the origin any one of these ideas and you find they go far back, some thousands of years. The writers we read were influenced by ideas they might not properly credit. The Christian worldview goes back to the Greek philosophers, the Stoics, Christianity, kings since Charlemagne who believed in the divine right, the Protestant Reformers, and American conservatism. For example, we celebrate Easter because it recalls Christ’s death and resurrection. Why did He have to die? Shed blood was the atonement for sin. Why can blood atone? Because of pagan beliefs that God(s) demand it for transgression, and to earn favor. Why did Christ specifically have to die? Because he is God incarnate, and as such can atone all of humankind. Why does God have to be incarnate? Because of the theological tradition that requires God to be involved in human affairs, and the certainty that God(s) have to exist somewhere physically, like the Greek pantheon on Olympus. Change your worldview, and you change your destiny.

The tumor of over analyzed worldview tends to grow bigger as each generation tries to sort out one conundrum or the other, resulting in more spaghetti theology. Topics like ‘how do I stay out of hell?’ and other questions become irrelevant. That is all a huge distraction that myopic and weak-willed theologians debate ad-infinitum. Like addicts, they can no longer recognize the simple life and how good it can be. To those invested with years of study of treatises and intellectual traditions, real happiness and peace are a sign of apathy! They can not recognize a completed human being if she was sitting next to them in Sunday morning pew because such people are only expected in heaven. We could play their game and argue with every position that has been taken since Socrates. I do not have the life-energy to do that. Theology for its own sake only produces secure employment for professional mental wrestlers. We have to keep it simple. We can just snip that chain of beliefs at the source, let the weight of conundrums fall to the floor. Life goes on, and we can experiment with alternate foundational principles.

The fundamental worldview question we have to answer is ‘how should we live?’ I have arrived, for now, at a process build on existence as an experience of intent. Intent is simply an affirmation of the desired outcome. This is just a hunch, but so far, it is working for me, manifesting peace of mind and a good life. Note that intent is not the same as will. To will something implies a certain coercion, even if it is your own actions, which is a more aggressive stance that may in fact work against you.

Intent is a passive internal assertion that can be either be silent or can also be reinforced through vocalization, by saying it aloud (as in prayer). Lack of vocalization does not diminish the power of the intent. The ‘Universe’ realizes your intent based on an orchestration process that is opaque to us. I do not see the value of postulating what ‘God’ or ‘the Universe’ thinks and does since by definition it is beyond our grasp. This is why I invented the notion of Uranthom, which is my abstraction layer to what happens ‘out there’.

We express intent many times a day, thinking ‘yes I want a new shirt’, or ‘we pray for a new school for those missionaries, amen!’, or ‘I’d like to sleep in this morning’, or ‘I’d like to be paired with a woman (or man) like that’, or ‘my energy is better spent painting’, for example. We often try to execute on the intent, and this is where we should rather pause and listen to the Universe. Mindfulness is important before taking action, as is patience. I call it ‘manifesting’, which simply means that given some time for processing, those outcomes you intend will be orchestrated along with the intent of others for a more satisfactory resolution. It may not be exactly what you had in mind to start, but examining those desires in light of the outcomes, you will find a good state, one, which inevitably leads to new intent. Thus life evolves in a dialectic with Uranthom, the receptor of our expressions of intent.

If you have a communal intent, like ‘I wish to go to the ball game with my friends’, or ‘we need supporters to donate money to pay for fuel for the ship’, then expressing it helps align the intent of others. The expression can be a post on social media or a prayer in church. Because intent is bubbling up regardless of whether you are in a religious house or not, we do not distinguish between prayer and other expressions of intent. Intent that aligns with that of others is more likely to be realized. This is a driver for social awareness and political action, because, without the expression of an alignment on values, we are not likely to get our way.

Happiness comes from a realization that as you let go, and the manifestations are real, you stop being frustrated about what happens (or doesn’t happen), and start being present to recognize and enjoy goodness. This is parity for the assurance religious people feel when they believe ‘it’s all in God’s hands’. This mindset does not come overnight, especially if you are mired in the conundrums your ancestors fed you with our mother’s milk. Intent that aligns with that of others is more likely to be realized. As is intent that aligns with the progression of the Universe towards harmony, (this assertion, by the way, is an expression of my own intent). If we all share that intent, it will be. The simplicity of the model is the conscious expression (internal or external) of your intent, coupled with a letting go so ‘the Universe’ can manifest that intent.

This all sounds so simple and even mystical. What about all those conundrums that theologians and philosophers have spent lifetimes debating. Are we going to address those questions? I believe a lot of it gets sorted out on its own when you pivot on intent. For example, we don’t have to account for an all knowing God, since ‘God’ knows through our experience. I don’t believe in a God object, a person-like entity who somehow both sits on a throne and at the same time knows everything everywhere and has all power as Christian doctrine affirms. God may, in fact, have some of those attributes, but it is in a distributed fashion.

It is my hunch – and you don’t have to believe this, it’s just my way of dealing with categories of thought that need an accounting – that the ‘the Universe’ achieves omnipresence and omniscience through physical instances of people and other creatures who are embedded within it. ‘Creation’ is a mechanism for self-discovery. Good and evil are really just relative ideas based on the quality of the outcome of intent. Suffering is not a consequence of sin, but rather a consequence of intent and actions that don’t align with a viable existence. Mistaken experiments fail, people learn and change their intent. Look at the Chinese stance towards pollution. They have gone from not caring about it to engineering forest cities. We just have to learn from misguided policies, improve, and move onward towards a healthy expression of a society that doesn’t leave people behind.

Predestination is a moot point, since you are the agent of destiny, if you intend it, it was meant to be. As you realize it, it is also known. As the universe experiences and understands itself through each one of us, this universal consciousness grows. As we expand our experience, we expand the instantiation of knowledge of that area. And we move on. Now don’t ask me about the mechanics of all this. It’s just a myth that helps me explain things I don’t understand, as all good myths do. All this assumes positive intent and has yet to be proven. What will be the intent that wins out in an over-populated world?

Now don’t ask me about the mechanics of all this. It’s just a myth that helps me explain things I don’t understand, as all good myths do. All this assumes positive intent and has yet to be ultimately proven good by humanity. What intent will win out in an over-populated world?

Since you are so important in this whole evolutionary process, it is important to understand the criteria by which you affirm intent. This is the domain of values. Decisions are based on what you consider worthwhile. Some of these are instinctual and innate. We naturally want intimacy or a fun night out with the guys (or gals). We dote on our children by nature. Some behaviors are learned. We defer to elders, distrust strangers or hate to accept help from others. Some values are ideological, such as patriotism and loyalty to a class structure.

Good values come from a common humanity. Despite all the theological conundrums, good values undergird every major religion and provide the redemptive glue that gives them longevity. This is where ‘culture forming’ or ‘cultural engineering’ come into play. What you call it depends on your temperament, but the gist is the same: we understand the dynamics of how humans internalize worldviews, i.e. through prevalent myths, which program the depths of the mind that impact the process and scope of decision making. The arts define these myths, and thus through art, we can change the operating system of the psyche.

As I’ve written elsewhere, Community Mythology is a technique that uses the arts to ‘craft’ a world view into a culture. The idea is that we collectively agree on the set of behaviors, and their underlying values, our common humanity, as colored by the experience of mistaken communities of the past (such as the Nazi experiment). A group comes to mythic awareness by recognizing when cultural artifacts, such as movies, advertising, and political rhetoric are impacting their value system. Awareness is the pre-requisite to a conscious decision process, a kind of ‘pre-qualification’ of the values we let into our intentional decision making. Allowing certain values into our lives is itself an intent.

Make no mistake about it, this a powerful ideological cocktail. The power of the Universe is harnessed with intent, and intent shapes its destiny with humans. Mis-guided collective intent results in ‘evil’, and people consequently suffer. Properly guided intent results in goodness for all those involved. Based on values we deem to be sacred, we have to express our intent, and then, as the saying goes, let go ‘and let God’.

— Roy Zuniga
Langley, WA

Why Heroes?

Many cultures can look back at a ‘heroic age’ where Gods and men interacted directly. The Homeric Iliad tells of encounters between capricious Gods and sailors on epic journeys. The Egyptians and the Hebrews likewise recounted the meddling of Gods in everyday human events. These are ages in the imagination of a culture when the normal rules do not apply.

When ‘normal’ rules apply and the Gods don’t mess with us directly, people still look to influence events with their help. Especially when society gets too corrupt, we long for the heroes who can work their super powers and set things right. On rare occasions, someone comes along to whom the normal rules don’t apply, like Jesus who came millennia after Zeus stopped sleeping with women. But Jesus’ age of miracles is also now past.

If they no longer care enough to touch us, we should ask ‘why do we need heroes?’ Now that men and women don’t interact directly with God(s), why do we then pray to them? What is this hopeless optimism that enables us to believe?

In other posts, we’ve explored the dynamics of myth in relation to:

  1. Explanations for what is not yet understood, like the creation myth accounting for life on earth.
  2. A justification for domination, like a king or emperor claiming ancestral descent from a God in order to shore up his claim to power.
  3. A mechanism for a community to internalize shared values through stories.

What we still need to explore is the need to have a mythical hero ‘pull strings’ with God to influence current events on our behalf. This faith comes in part from experience. Many of us (myself included) have experienced answers to prayer. Is there something in the expectation of an effect that perhaps impacts the actual outcome?

We’ve all seen believer remain faithful even if things don’t go exactly her way. For the believer, the very expression of intent through prayer impacts the perception of the outcome:

  1. If the outcome was inevitable, there is submission to God.
  2. If the outcome goes against our intent or prayer, we look for a lesson because God knows better and he loves us.
  3. If the outcome is in our favor, we remember it especially well and tell others.

So regardless of the true outcome, it seems that formalizing an intent through prayer gets the issue tracked, and the results are parsed according to the rules of the world view. Thus, religion is reinforced even if someone who never prays gets a similar experience.

There is a fundamental positive belief about the dynamics of faith: we smile at the universe believing it will smile back (eventually). Hope is not rational, but it makes us feel better because we’re not alone in the universe. This triggers more confident action. Belief makes the world go ‘round. From the diminutive turtle hatchling scrambling out of a sandy nest, sniffing for the ocean, to the college student cramming for tomorrow’s critical exam, belief in the movement towards a more agreeable existence is the driving force of life.

Thus, hero myths are a mechanism for internalizing the direction we want to take. They need to come from an age of heroes that is culturally accepted in order to give such talk legitimacy. We’re hopelessly optimistic about good things happening. We assume, of course, that prosperity is possible. However, what happens when things can only get worse when overpopulation restricts cramps our expansionism, when it’s no longer possible to breathe air that is as clean as what our parents had? How do we then pray in a world where prosperity is a zero-sum game? When consuming means being cruel to other life on earth?

Some will get irrational and look towards a prosperous future on Mars, even though that option is generations away. Others simply stop being optimistic. Lack of faith only results in a depressive, lethargic, living death. Others will rationalize prosperity as something internal, as a spiritual journey that doesn’t need stuff. If we don’t check out of life, we must believe in something positive, and mythical heroes are there to help.

 

— Roy Zuniga
Langley, WA

Abstracting en Plein Air

Recently I challenged myself to invent a visual language while painting on the field, and the effect on my mind was startling. The process got me thinking about the inception of art movements. How exactly did rogue painters of the past invent a new movement in art? For one thing, they willingly created a new language of artistic expression. What aspects of a new visual language makes it successful? Obviously, it has to draw you in. Beyond that, as we’ll see below, the motif must be recognizable and express the specific as something universal.

This week, for the first time, I painted an abstract landscape in real time outdoors instead of working from photos back at the studio. ‘Abstractscape’ is a term I coined for abstract landscapes, like the ones shown here painted in the studio.

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Lake Pearrygin

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Abstractscape 2

I had leveraged photographs as inspiration for abstract paintings like ‘Lake Pearrygin’ and ‘Abstractscape 2’.

While the process of imagining colors for a painting is commonplace, it usually doesn’t happen outdoors in a ‘realist’ painting scenario. There, in the field working directly from nature and deliberately using radically different colors, I experienced the ‘language shift’. This was a big step for me because so far, all my Plein Air work has been predictably realistic. You observe, correlate to a color, simplify the form, and try to give the impression of what you are looking at.

Having been inspired by Van Gogh, who created art outdoors, I added an emotive filter to my own rendering by changing colors dramatically. Brushwork does of course also enhance the message, but this was nothing new. What became more important is the range of colors available, which bound the aesthetic potential of the painting. If you’re going to replace natural color, you’ll want choices. The richness and translucency of opaqueness of colors, the range of hues available at different values (tones) and other characteristics of the paint will determine how exuberant your painting can become.

How is this different than just painting abstracts in your studio? Pure abstraction is inherently inward facing, where the subject matter is only what the artist can conjure. In my opinion, this results in a work that is very private. Abstract art is alienating to many because the source reference is unknowable; the topic came from within the artist’s mind, in a place we cannot go or may not want to go. Thus, while purely abstract art can be impactful, it is not communicating an experience most of us can relate to.

Painting from life, on the other hand, is inherently open, outward facing. Depicting a recognizable motif is a defining characteristic of this type of art. It is present in the works of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne and other post-impressionists who introduced abstractions into their work. By establishing an understandable context, the viewer can then see a difference in how an artist perceives a subject matter the viewer knows. This allows the viewer to get outside her own way of seeing. Experiencing another’s difference in perception is an aesthetic thrill. It brings us closer to the artist and expands our own artistic vocabulary.

I had looked at clouds and mountains and water and thought, ‘I’ve painted this before’, meaning that I’ve already experienced rendering this subject matter in a worthy manner. I had already learned from it. ‘Normal’ representative painting was no longer rewarding enough for me. What’s so inadequate about repeating what you have already conquered? Surely you can still improve your realistic work? We probably could have asked Monet or Cezanne the same question. Why did they break with a worthy tradition? Was it an excuse for poor talent, incompetence or laziness? In my case, I have already achieved very good results painting realistically.

In my case, I have already achieved very good results painting realistically. Why is articulating in a new way a priority? It is more artistic restlessness than anything else. One is not just looking and responding to creation; one is also re-creating it as art that is both allusive to its inspiration and at the same time a new visual experience.

Thus, I emoted the colors based on instinct and in the context of other ‘unreal’ colors on the canvas. I was inventing an abstraction language just like Van Gogh and Cezanne had done. This is liberating. You never have to look at anything in a conventional way again.

Ebey's II - WIP

Ebey’s Landing II

The work should also draw you in. In Van Gogh’s art, we sense a sincere and creative response to what he was looking at. There is an ethos of fidelity expressed through the filter of his peculiar formal language. It was one only he could speak at the time, but one which everyone can understand. The viewer’s mind is expanded as he or she understands a familiar subject matter as seen through Vincent’s unique interpretation. Moreover, as we accept and admire his work, we are expressing tolerance and openness.

What’s more, the lack of precision and realist fidelity in portraying a specific individual helps puts Van Gogh’s work in the realm of universals, which have broad appeal. He starts with the individual but ends up portraying a type of person – a potato eater, a jolly postman, a depressed laundry lady, a field of corn, irises, fishing boats, etc.

While many artists have taken radical leaps over the centuries, to me it feels like uncharted territory. Inventing a new vocabulary is not a process any realist mentor can teach to you. One must invent rules to prescribe the new world within the work. Yet what you render must have a sense of inevitability. Anchoring it with a recognizable subject matter that has nevertheless been abstracted to represent a type makes the work appealing.

Allow me to get a bit mystical for a moment. If we believe that what we experience is not merely visual perception, but input into a greater consciousness, then seeing with your mind and manifesting this expands this consciousness. With new artwork, you augment the beauty of creation. You are participating in the same creative stream that spawned the diversity of creation. Inventing a language also provides a mystical sense of comradery with those who have founded movements across time. Even if your work doesn’t result in a new ‘ism’, nevertheless you belong to a brotherhood of the innovators.

Inventing a language also provides a mystical sense of comradery with those who have founded movements across time. Even if your work doesn’t result in a new ‘ism’, nevertheless you belong to a brotherhood of the like-minded. Paradigm shifts large and small are memorable moments in culture that imprint on our collective consciousness.

— Roy Zuniga
May 2017, Langley, WA

 

copyright (c) 2017 Roy Zuniga

Nature’s Creativity

Evolutionary ‘creation’ means that organisms improve, not because of the designing hand of an external God, but rather through the unceasing movement of creatures interacting with others that occasionally results in notable improvements. Some writers have projected a guiding will onto the earth, with the revelation of humans as a manifestation of its consciousness. This goes a bit far, in my mind, blending science with superstation in one story. As I’ve written elsewhere, I prefer to keep them distinct. Weaving inputted intentions into the scientific narrative puts a magical agency in the planet, which only makes us wonder about the location of its brain and the mechanism of expressing a terrestrial will. Certainly humans, with all our terra-deforming activity can’t be the highest expression. Not yet, at least.

Be that as it may, the notion of unplanned discovery leading to the creation of something wonderful is intriguing. It’s a dynamic I’m looking to emulate in painting. This is not a scientific experiment, but rather an artistic one aimed at realizing a different type of personal awareness, one that has symmetry with the evolutionary process. It is also nothing new; painters do this all the time.

Look at the work of Van Gogh – you rarely see strict outlines. Rather, there is a hail of brushwork that both integrates and separates forms. Line is not indicating boundary; rather your mind is perceiving patterns and interpreting them as forms. A wave of green-black becomes a cypress tree, and a similar pattern in blue becomes sky and clouds as the brush work swirls within the boundaries of the canvass. It’s a kind of discovery through brushwork. Vincent was very connected with the earth and those who toil it. It’s no surprise that his art broadcasts a message of organic life that is nevertheless not a descriptive representation of individual things.

The human mind is rather analytical, and Vincent’s letters are replete with reflection, comparisons and analysis of the work of others. Yet he was able to oscillate between analysis and execution. For Vincent, growth as an artist can in the execution itself. His strong will precluded a scientific approach. There was a relentless will that drove the action of painting, and you can see this manifested in the frenetic brushwork itself. This speaks of the principle of life finding a new existence. Vincent mutated the way we see – no one had ever perceived through art like he did. Today, after you take in his canvasses, you cannot go outside and see things the same way.

Is this mimicking the evolutionary discovery process in art? How do we teach others to make similar discoveries? The thinking that brought the Vincent’s innovations is not the thinking that will bring the next. Rather, the lesson is the discovery process itself. It’s an attitude, a methodology of discovery. The rational Vincent set himself up to be able to explore. It is possible to get in the exploration mindset through a controlled process that allows discovery to playout within the ‘world’ of the canvass.

To similarly achieve this, we just need to define conceptual equivalences. Since we cannot mimic the entire evolutionary process, we can setup a micro-session. The idea is to conceive of you hand and brush as a creature, and constrain exploration within the canvass. Think of the act of pushing paint around the canvass in terms of this metaphor: the ‘creature’ is exploring its boundaries, being attracted by certain things (other colors), assimilating with its surroundings, pushing here, giving way there, being assertive and defensive in one area, and merging, blending in other areas. The behavior is determined by a number of factors, including the color loaded, perceived associations and contrasts with other colors and the ‘boundaries’ of the composition.

The goal is to become one with your brush, letting it lead, exploring surroundings, allowing intuition and the ‘laws’ of art govern your reactions. The visual energy of the loaded color will react to other colors and forms. Conceive of your brush as a perceptive creature, as the ‘active agent’ in its own world. Do not guide it by a preconceived design, but let your inner conditioning as an artist, based on experiences from the past, guide your reactions. Be very mindful of every turn, of surroundings, of what your active agent wants and needs, how it reacts. Don’t think of your hand as the executor of your mind’s plan. Rather, let your mind be the mechanism of perception and response to what your hand is doing. Add and remove color, blend or differentiate. Execute intuitively without analytical reasoning. We can’t quite describe it because the process is both intentional and not rational. You shouldn’t be thinking ‘the form turns, so I need to make it darker’, or ‘here is red, which needs to be enhanced by the application of a compliment’.

That would be like having a pro basketball player thinking ‘now I’m going to take a shot, so I have to have my feet plated and my elbow under my hand, bend knees first and let the jump flow with a final flick of the wrist’. The masters of basketball or any sport do not deconstruct their movements when they are ‘in the zone’. The movements are just natural. For the master, whatever they do should be done. There is no need for a book of instructions, or coaches planning every play. Their actions are normative by definition. Masters do what they do because they are masters; they don’t act to be justified. In the same way, allow yourself to get into an execution zone. Get in ‘creative creature mode’ as you execute brushwork.

Not every mutation in nature yields pleasing results. Likewise, sticking to this discovery mode may not immediately yield artwork that should be framed. You may not be a master yet. Nevertheless, the process is more about how you think and perceive than it is about the outcome. By allowing your fingers to do the thinking, you will be present and open to responding, and the process will be teaching you based on outcomes. It is trial and error, unfolding as a dialectic when you interact, discover and then step back to understand, reload your brush and go back in. As you get into an action-response rhythm, the act of painting becomes meditative. An evolving progression that builds a work of art from the inside-out.

The discovery mindset will remove boundaries and pre-conceived notions and lead to unexpected ‘mutations’ of the subject matter. As Michelangelo ‘freed’ the figures inherent in the blocks of marble, so you too will release a work that is both yours and beyond yourself. This is a mystery in art, as the creator is not really a designer, but more of a responder, a liberator of worlds. You get the sense that you are participating in a slow revelation.

Nature is full of recursive patterns – the spirals of galaxies are mirrored in the spirals of conch shells. Fractal branching can indefinitely recursive. Your creativity, when in discovery mode, is a recursion of the creative process of the earth and the universe. That revelation is mystifying and wonderful. It will give you a new sense of being, and an empathy with the creative process of nature.

— Roy Zuniga
Kirkland, WA

Copyright © 2016 Roy Zuniga

Exploratory Creativity

Painting is creative precisely because it differentiates, explores highlights, loses and finds forms represented by a variety of strokes of paint and color. Art renders the artist’s perception, not of what he or she sees with his eyes, but what is projected by the mind and will as notable. This is not strictly a reflection of reality, but a recreation by the directed hand of the artist, who is exploring.

By choosing to perceive the work of art, the viewer in turn participates in the both the exploration of the artist’s handiwork and the outcome he or she came to. The work is notable to the community if it was exhibited, and then perceived by you, the observer, who explore and move on. This is the ecosystem of meaning, where meaning is defined as the perception of notable events. You have to make a selection in order to perceive, and evaluate to accept the notable. This is akin to how evolution happens, when certain notable traits crucial for viability are selected through an exploratory process.

Mother earth tried billions of molecule combinations before arriving at one that enables photosynthesis, for example. Artists create by exploring a domain, one area at a time. The evolutionary principle that gave us photosynthesis also works for aesthetic creation. Pushing paint around with an exploratory mindset is akin to the biological process that gave us critters.

In an afternoon painting session we can imitate what the earth did in a million years. In this sense, we behave like the earth does. Explore through creation, accepting and rejecting what to perceive, and evaluating what to recognize as notable, and as an artist, you are a recursive instance of ‘earth-thinking’, which in turn is an instance of ‘galactic-thinking’, and so on. In other words, through exploratory art you are expressing creation through an accelerated version of the creative process that made you.

Nature does not have a systematic set of experiments that it executes to evolve itself, like a planned research project has. Evolution is not centrally directed, as atoms, molecules, cells and organisms interact with their surroundings according to their own agency. Creatures are not really planning life out. They just move about as best they can. Moreover, the discovery mindset is the antithesis of looking for revelation. You are not discovering when you are looking for an authority to interpret and prescribe life for you.

Evolution advances when things stick together in new ways during the various epochs of life. From the way the elements were formed from a few primal molecules, to the way life evolved from single celled to multi-celled organisms, to the way multiple species of primates, and eventually humans evolved. There is a kind of meandering about with chance meetings triggering new interactions, responses and eventually a stickiness of things that get along well until notable transactions result in a meaningful process.

Have you had meandering thoughts as you walk, without trying to have a specific outcome, you just think about life and things, and then somehow come to some worthy insight or conclusion? If you wander through the galleries and find art, you learn to see in a new way. Wander outside after being saturated with new ways of seeing, and things look different. The experience of perceiving the work of art can change the meaning of something that you had seen in the past. In other words, the present has changed the past because now you have recognized something as notable that previously was undervalued. In this process, you changed the meaning of your own past by more or less choosing which works of art to look at.

Exploration is not linear; we can evolve creations from the past. The early work of an artist is given context and meaning by the late work. How we resolve our remaining existence on this planet will give meaning to all the struggles and achievements that came before us.

This pattern is happening to religions that once brought us meaning and drive. When we realize that the world view is not sustainable, what we elevated to being notable is no longer so. For example, the religions that propped up an extractive industries diminish in value as we find we can no longer drink the water or breathe the air because of them. Thus religions with immutable truths are routinely changed in the mind of the newly ‘no-longer-believers’, and that’s okay. Letting go of the old is the flip side of becoming available for the new. That is the essence of creative evolution.

— Roy Zuniga
Kirkland, WA

 

Copyright (c) 2016 Roy Zuniga

The Plane of Uranthom

Disclaimer: what follows is a human-authored myth. Any association with science is unintentional. Although this story may contain insights that are true for you, the author makes no claim to universal or exclusive Truth. Side effects of reading this may include cognitive dissonance.

We long to be connected to something out there that can’t be pinned to a location. Sure we try, for example by talking about ‘the ascension to heaven’, etc. The more we think about that, the more nonsensical it becomes. Where exactly is this platform in the sky?

On earth, we strive to attain a sense of place, of where we are. We compare our physical self with people, places and things around us; we increase or diminish our sense of importance and worth through correlations. The comparison game is what we do, and depending on how we visualize the prescient void, we can either build ourselves up, or tear ourselves and each other down. We sense we can influence the comparison, and so influence the outcome. We feel lifted up when we believe we’re doing well in the comparison, that we’re ‘doing what we’re supposed to’. We feel depressed and worthless when we fail God.

Moreover, how we succeed or fail in our earthly comparisons impacts our spiritual comparison. If a parent always put you down, you will feel put down by God. On the other hand, if you were the apple of Daddy’s eye, you will be succeeding with God. Thus the belief we bring, makes the difference. To succeed with God, therefore, you must change your comparative belief.

We can’t really compare ourselves with our spiritual source, which is not any of the things around us. Yet because we’ve been programmed for comparison as finite agents in this culture, we can’t help but to compare ourselves with that distinctive spiritual something ‘out there’. How to get a handle on it? How do we really interact with it in a meaningful way?

To make the comparisons with this other presence, we need real images, so we make up representations of aspects God via prophets, saints and mythological creatures. Myth-making goes hand in hand with the intent of our beliefs. We attain a system of spiritual comparison that leverages perceptible icons, imaginable heroes and villains to anchor our comparisons, according to the belief we bring. The approval or disapproval of parental figures in our youth to a large extent determines how we believe. That’s why religions spread geographically, passed on over generations. If you’re not satisfied with what you inherited, how do you change your beliefs to attain a positive comparison with God? It takes a lot of mental and spiritual discipline. Do this you will be changing the game you grew up with and hopefully find a better center for your being and a good life. Many do in fact onboard to another religion. We must realize that this whole religious game is there just so we can get up in the morning with a sense of purpose.

The thirst for meaning and the fact that there is a comparison game going on clues us into the fact that there is something else going on. We must become aware of the mechanisms of perception for this ‘other’ presence. We are receivers and transmitters, and we don’t sense how the information flows though us. How do our prayers get to the other side? We know we are connected, but we don’t see any wires, so to speak, or perceive the transmissions themselves. This is because it happens at a level of being we can’t perceive directly. It’s like looking a leaves waving from a distance. We assume there is a wind even if we’re not feeling it directly. This flow to the other can only be described by metaphor.

Let’s give this ‘other plane’ a name. I’ll call it ‘Uranthom’. We’ll also call the traditional comparison game we play on earth ‘malgod’. I want to replace malgod as my primary mode of obtaining meaning and importance. We may have to make up more names for other concepts later. To keep it simple, this will do for now. Uranthom is the place, and malgod the game. Both will be defined as we explore the ideas here.

Let’s think Uranthom as a plane of existence devoid of time. Our interaction with it can be thought of in terms of spiritual transmissions. Keep in mind, this is only simile and not accurate from an engineering perspective. Instead of meaning by comparison with others on earth, let’s look at meaning by quality of the experience transmitted to Uranthom. We could combine the comparison games by sharing the quality of experiences with others. However, we’ll keep the two games apart for now, and assume that the Uranthom transmissions are for their own sake. Others may be involved, but the goal is not to have them validate you by comparing each other’s experiences.

What exactly is being done with these experiences on Uranthom is not something we have any firsthand knowledge of. Perhaps we are the eyes and ears of God, and since he’s bored being Other, he built in a connection with creatures so that He could know everything that happens through us. Uranthom could be a massive accumulation of information that God uses for his own assessments. After all, how do you know you are all-knowing? We can explore the Uranthom mythology at another time. For now, let’s concern ourselves with the phenomenology of the transmissions.

Since we are concerned with meaning, not every transmission to Uranthom is the same. Some matter more than others. I appreciate excellence. Others may have a different intuition. Experiences necessarily involve other people, places and things. We can consider them transactional in the sense that one thing interacts with another and there’s an exchange of some kind. You can’t really have a meaningful experience without interchange, which is foundational to our sense of existence.

In this life, we can choose to engage or not. Other things and people will either respond to your action, or poke your inaction. In either case, there is action/reaction and these are experienced by both parties in the transaction. The meaning of the transaction is subject to interpretation, as there is no true ‘fact of the matter’, there is only perception of the importance which is imputed by the actors and the spectators around who happen to be watching and who are also impacted by that same transaction.

Actors transact with other actors, who in turn push others, and on the game goes on, as we all bounce around existence like kayakers in a stream. We can apply our will through the paddles, for example, and influence where whether we park our kayak in a safe eddy to rest, or drive head on into the whitewater. We have that choice, and either is important based on the interpretation you give it.

Whether you are a watcher or an action maniac doesn’t matter. What matters is the meaning you impute to it. You may work in a corporation and be ‘winning’ by not being the CEO, or alternatively only ‘win’ by becoming the CEO. It is up to you. Of course, if you can’t become the CEO due to lack of qualifications, then that’s not a game you want to play. We all adjust the games we participate in, but not all adjust it in a way they can win. Many will adjust the game, but not enough, and so they are always losing.

Finding a romantic partner in life is a similar game. Those who are in a lifelong marriage have adjusted to their partner. Those who value freedom may orbit around another, but never quite fuse their lives. Both can be happy. Miserable is the one who wants a lifelong partner and picks a partner who only wants to orbit. She may bend the rules of the game to accommodate, but if she doesn’t change her own game fundamentally, she will be miserable in the unfulfilled co-dependency.

Defining your game means selecting the people you interact with so you can have successful transactions. Transactions with the wrong people may be collisions and ultimately both parties will learn. So both defining the game and picking who to interact with can have a huge impact on your sense of importance and place in the world. Getting in a zone where both the game and the transaction partners are in harmony means you have found peace in life.

In a way, conceiving the metaphysical Uranthom, the metaphorical ‘plane of the other’, is an example of a transactional relationship. Lack of transactions is lack of meaning, and not all transactions are meaningful. Sitting without interactions can be quite miserable (unless you’re a meditative monk), and so we disturb the peace by interacting with others. We get to decide what is notable. For example, as an artist delighted with artistic excellence, high quality paintings are meaningful to me. Great art, as I’ve written elsewhere, is art that connects you with a perceived personality. For you, on the other hand, it might be meaningful to jump off a high mountain in a squirrel suit, drive the fastest cars, complete a round trip to the North Pole or sign at Carnegie Hall.

I want to eliminate the sense of linear progress that is required by the malgod game, where continual improvement is required, and riches can be amassed. Richness to me is an aesthetic moment. Achievement is not imputed to a lifetime; it is likewise a moment. A great achievement in a career does not define you for life. Neither does a failure. There is no need for forgiveness; we may learn from failure or pay the penalty for our actions. Once the transaction has played out, you are the tabula rasa, the blank canvass on which to paint your next great experience. This is a project-oriented existence where you define success, and it can change from project to project.

Uranthom has no time, and it is not finite in any sense. We can only talk about Uranthom in metaphor, so we’ll think of it as a plane. Notable experiences appear as blips of varying sizes on this surface, and the size of the blip corresponds to how notable the experience is, and each of us gets to define what notable is. Prayer and heartfelt affirmations of experiences are our way of identifying what we consider notable.

Uranthom is not cyclical either, since the notion that all things originate from nothing and dissolve back to nothing is nonsensical to me. Such a view makes existence a meaningless game, and any sense of purpose, progress or success is perceptual only, i.e. it has no objective meaning other than being an example of an archetypical behavior in the mind of God. No, everything we think is notable appears in Uranthom. We project importance to the ‘timeless’ event.

Since there is no time in Uranthom, we don’t even have to use words like ‘timeless’ and ‘eternal’. By definition, what we chose to project to Uranthom abides and becomes the core of our soul that we can interact with during our lifetime. It only follows that we can access these notable experience ‘blips’ on the plane of Uranthom at any point in our life. You can access lessons you have not yet experienced because the plane of Uranthom has them all simultaneously. Even now, if you chose to receive all your experiences, you can, including ones you’ll project in the future.

Note that even horrific experiences can be projected and received, so that we may be forewarned and avoid certain types of situations. Note that the reception is devoid of details. I can’t see great paintings I will make because those exist in time. However, I can tap into the emotions and evocations of my notable transactions. There is no need for death to do that. Thus without projecting experiences, spiritual life is dull. We must experience and project and we will develop a drive for more.

Learning from both the negative and positive experiences evolves our consciousness. The collection of these is our consciousness. In our lifetime, we can share our notable experiences with others so they can perhaps evolve their own consciousness. Thus we have collective improvement as humanity.

Uranthom is not finite in any sense we would understand. It can receive transmissions indefinitely, as far as we are concerned. Everyone can transmit. Moreover, what is meaningful to one person in a human-to-human transaction may not be meaningful to the other. I’m not interested in creating another rule set-based religion.

The myth of Uranthom provides principles that help me focus on the quality of aesthetic creations and the transactions that influence their creation. I can get into a zone when creating without regard to time, and this experience has deep meaning because I can project the best onto the plane of Uranthom. I also don’t have to worry about a career progression, or the feeling of inadequacy that not having an artistic trajectory brings with it in the traditional model. You are insulated from the insulting eyes of those who might judge you.

The plane of Uranthom also provides a framework for change, as we can adopt new goals for meaningful experiences and likewise cast those on the plane of Uranthom. It provides a framework for recasting your life from time to time, which is essential not only in our various life stages, but also in times where world-view shifts are required for us to keep the possibility of differentiated experiences on a healthy planet earth.

— Roy Zuniga
Kirkland

 

Copyright (c) 2016 roy zuniga

Cultural Micro-shifts

Building faith around something you want to hold sacred requires defining success criteria. Otherwise, how do you know you’re focusing on the right behaviors? How do you know you’re done?

To start, we’re not talking about creating an entire religion. Religions impact our sense of the Holy, elicit certain emotions, like awe, wonder, fear and reverence. They provide us with ultimate meaning. Religions are associated with cosmologies, origin stories, an ontology of spiritual beings, dogma about the nature of God and life after death, existence before birth, social norms, rituals and holy days, and the identification of exemplary believers and saints. They address universal themes like reconciliation, brotherhood and forgiveness. They use archetypical characters, like the Devil, angels of light, sages, tricksters, etc. Some participants have religious experiences they assert have physical manifestations, like ‘baptism in the spirit’, accelerated healing from sickness, and deliverance from spiritual forces. Religions have a corresponding rich body of art and literature. They cross geographical boundaries and can extend across the world. Incubating a new religion takes many years, even lifetimes.

The urgency of the climate challenge should shift our focus to changing crucial behaviors in order to reverse environmental degradation. As the environmentalists say, we’re now at ‘decade zero’, meaning that if we don’t drastically change greenhouse emission this decade, it will be too late to avert catastrophic climate changes. Thus taking time to create a broad religion seems like the wrong approach for now. What we need are tactical shifts in beliefs that impact crucial behaviors. We can call these ‘cultural micro shifts’, i.e. a modular faith building.

Let’s review a specific example:

  • Crucial behavior – consume less fossil fuels
  • Supporting values – high standards for the environment (clean air and water, etc.), reverence for the earth and its creatures
  • Success criteria – no fossil fuel used in daily transportation

As this case illustrates, cultural micro shifts aren’t necessarily easy. They can be a big deal for a given individual. They are ‘micro’ shifts because they don’t require the person to change any other dimension of their life or religion, although inevitably there will be a cascading effect. The shifted behavior is in fact somewhat of an arbitrary definition for the sake of measuring progress.

For me to achieve this shift, for example, I have to change a good cross-section of my value system. I drive an SUV and feel entitled to have the option to go off-roading if I want. I feel entitled to drive alone to work, and to go out on a whim. I see this as part of many rights as a consumer. I value my freedom, and it’s very hard to change that mindset. This is where we can apply the tactics of community mythology in order to:

  1. Gain awareness of the existing and new values, where they conflict, and where the shift that has to occur.
  2. Envision alternate outcomes – use the power of story and art to paint a picture of a better life with the new values. In other words, create a sense of that alternate reality that is very specific to the person and their community. Think of this as community-driven propaganda.
  3. Embrace, embellish and enact the new story – become a true convert, and socialize the new behaviors to others. Become an example and an activist, i.e. a ‘saint’ and an ‘evangelist’ for the micro shift selected.

Each of us can use our talents to build up the new storyline. If you’re an artist, you may create a film, write a short story or paint an image to drive home the negative of current behaviors, and the positive of the future. Repurposing your talents is the same type of thinking societies adopt during times of war, when factories and technologies used for civilian life are retooled for making arms and vehicles. We are at this level of urgency with regard to the climate. Business as usual is not an option. To win the race against climate disaster, we all have to retool our decision making.

Thinking about climate change as a mission reminds me of when I forsook art 30+ years ago to become an evangelical missionary. For two years I joined 300 young people from 35 nations on a ship visiting 18 countries. While my fine art production came to a standstill, I did apply my artistic talents to becoming the ship’s printer and a graphic designer. Thus the idea that we can personally retool our talents for a period of time for a cause is something I have first-hand experience with. I left everything to join the mission, and it was exhilarating. Now I’m thinking about retooling my art production for a different cause: the viability of a biodiverse ecosystem.

— Roy Zuniga
Kirkland, WA

 

copyright © 2015 roy zuniga

A New Sacred, a New Faith

Having come to understand that we, as humans, have always created our own mythologies as explanations for life, and that cultures everywhere have done this with astonishing variety, you’d think there would be a religion for each of us. How do we pick?

Consider that every religious person has in fact picked their religion, whether he or she realizes it or not. If you are religious, you picked one church or temple over the other, or chose not to worship in a building but rather connect with God in the woods. If you grew up Catholic or Jewish and just accepted the faith of your ancestors, recognize that some person in your past picked the religion you now call yours. So the faith that you hold to be absolute for you is actually a relative choice. As such, it cannot be absolute for everyone.

Understanding this is both the beginning of tolerance, and if we’re honest, the recognition that our understanding of God has been made up by people. After all, if your God is not the same as another’s, and both were picked by the faithful, then neither can be ‘True’ in the absolute sense. What may be true to your faith, catalyzing the dynamics of belief in your life and functioning as The Word of God, is another man’s mythology. Others cannot be compelled to accept it based on some objective veracity. For one person, Christ was resurrected and ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father God. For another, that’s a superstitious story about a middle eastern blue collar worker being elevated into the outer atmosphere without a space suit to sit next to his Dad. For yet another, aliens abducted the so-called Christ.

I haven’t found a religion that satisfies me completely. I do like elements of Christianity, like the emphasis on responsibility, on loving your neighbor, on non-violence on keeping bad spirits out. I like elements of Zen Buddhism, like the polar thinking that recognizes the background space is just as important as the subject (in art). I like the Mormon emphasis on family, social cohesion and preparing for disaster. I find fascinating native dances and rituals that are artistic portals to the ‘world behind’. I like indigenous peoples’ emphasis on humans being part of a family of creatures, which leads to respect for nature. I like the Catholic church’s sponsorship of the arts (especially in the Renaissance). I like Buddhist notion that we are part of a process and flow and are one with our environment, the earth and ultimately the universe.

On the flip side, I’m not fond of the mystical idea that the earth expresses itself and humans are the universe becoming conscious of itself. I don’t like the pagan-ish idea that blood atones for sin to satisfy a rather blood thirsty god. Nor the idea of God sending souls to hell to be tortured for eternity. Nor do I like exclusive thinking about an individual human the ‘one way’ to God, or the corollary that a priestly caste has to mediate. I’m also not fond of the faithful holding on to centuries old stories from a Holy Book (take your pick) that get shoe-horned into present relevance by a dutiful expositor constrained by theology. I’m not superstitious about spells and smells changing our future, or about casting bones or cards to predict it. I also don’t like the counter-intuitive teachings of Buddhism that make my life just a drama being played out by a self that doesn’t recognize it’s all an illusion. Anything to do with passive fatalism and introspection doesn’t sit well with me, especially when our planet needs urgent regenerative intervention.

Instead, I desire a belief system that can catalyze passionate, principled action in my life. I want to focus on cherishing, nurturing and protecting the sacred. You know, we actually get to choose what is sacred! Not in an arbitrary way, but based on principles deeply ingrained in our humanity. How do we choose to not choose greed and exploitation? Doesn’t humanity have a negative imperative that is as strong, and often stronger, than the will to do the collective good? The simple answer, for me at least, is that I have to have faith in humanity.

Where there is education and well managed prosperity, people settle into peaceful co-existence. When there’s a collapse scenario at play, otherwise ‘normal’ people can turn to cannibalism. The longer we see required lifestyle changes as just lifestyle choices, the closer we come to a collapse situation. In other words, the absence of an effective religion will only expedite the rise of an oppressive one. Dictators get power when people are oppressed, poor and powerless to change things themselves. We really have no other choice than to believe in humanity.

So what should we believe in? How should we then live? Today, there is no more an urgent topic than reversing climate change.

Imagine if the earth’s environment was more sacred to us than our right to consume whatever we like from Fred Meyer or Amazon. Not only would we save money, but we would drive demand for different types of goods and services. For me today, doing the right thing for the planet is just a lifestyle choice. I may choose to buy organic, or to advocate against extractive industries, raise awareness for alternative energy sources and recycle my new monitor’s box. However, I still feel entitled to drive a SUV, to have two monitors on my desk and drive alone just because I like my own mind space. If I fail to eat 100% grass fed beef, I don’t really feel deeply about it. I think factory farmed meat is unethical and will share YouTube videos about its cruelty, and consequently look for local sustainable beef (as long as it’s available on my way home from work).

Here’s the problem: while such lifestyle level of choices are laudable, they are not stopping climate change. We need something more drastic that is at the same time not externally coercive. Governments may set quotas, and industries may cooperate if they can find profits. The more hurricanes, floods and droughts we see as the result of extreme weather, the more we will shift behaviors for the sake of survival. Yet all of this will not be enough, and it won’t stop the exploitative instincts of those with power to find new ways to influence the green NGOs into compromise. We need to change the human heart, and here is where religion comes in.

Think of the transformative power Christianity has had on Western civilization. While there have been dark periods, at the same time, the happiest countries in the world have Christian roots. The faithful will of course impute the power of change to Christ himself, and interpret success as evidence of his divinity. I look at it differently, however, i.e. more in terms of changed behaviors. The Christian religion catalyzed people to behave in certain ways that were conducive to a civil society. It wasn’t just Christianity that helped. Local culture and values morphed the religion into an effective, cohesive social structure. Once those values and behaviors become deeply embedded in the society, countries can secularize.

Early faith is fanatical. Think about the level of personal sacrifice that religious extremists are willing to suffer. Ascetics deny themselves food, live in the desert, make pilgrimages on their knees. Believers will fight holy wars, and fanatics blow themselves up in the hope of a getting a direct pass to heaven. What drives these people to extreme behavior? It is their world view, the internalized story line that they have accepted for their lives. I’m not advocating that people blow themselves up to stop logging trucks, no. But I do see the power of the commitment to defend what is held as sacred, like the Sea Shepherd activists putting their boats between the poachers and the whales. We need to define a new sacred worthy of sacrifice.  

So while all kinds of external pressures from the harsh environment, from dutiful governments, corporate philanthropy and peer group shaming can drive us towards good behaviors, there’s nothing more powerful than people making dramatic lifestyle choices based on their own conviction of faith.

Thus, when we combine the notion that religions are manmade, and that faith systems are the most powerful internal motivators, along with the imperative to save the planet, we can create new faith that drives people to action.

Do we start a new monolithic religion? Isn’t that politically untenable? Won’t we find peace only on the other side of major religious wars? I don’t think so. We can’t spread the new sacred through political and military power. It has to spread person to person.

Rather than startup a new major world religion to compete with Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and the like, we should instead teach communities to self-serve. This is all made possible through an understanding of the democratic nature of dynamics of faith. Historically, we have looked to the religious elites, to the prophets and holy scriptures for the contours of our faiths. Now we can use the principles of community mythology to put structure around faith building. The result will be an endemic set of shared values expressed in a plethora of local cultures.

— Roy Zuniga
Kirkland, WA 

 copyright (c) 2015 roy zuniga