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What's A Sceptic To Have "faith" In?


CatBallou
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Hi, gang!

 

I'm in the military. We have various annual training requirements, one of which covers what to do if captured by the enemy. The module reiterates how faith and prayer sustains prisoners of war through tough times of imprisonment and torture until release. As an ex-xian, are there any alternatives available? I've had a terrible deconversion and am extremely skeptical and aloof!

 

Related to my querry is the validity of Deepak Chopra. What have been your impressions and experiences with his philisophy? I've also been thinking about exploring Buddhism more. Thanks for your input!

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I would encourage researching Buddhism.

 

As far as Deepak Chopra he has a habit of throwing out random quantum mechanics terms in an effort to sound smart.

 

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If you want a purely secular drop-in replacement for religion, I suggest learning how to harden your mind. With this mentality, pain will strengthen you and give you the power to resist. Something I’ve found useful in the past is to take the hate your enemy directs towards you, allow it to strengthen you instead of break you down, and then send that hate back at them through defiance. This way, the more they hate you, the stronger you become.

 

POWs are often brainwashed through sleep deprivation/abuse and the whole point is to soften up the mind to "break" the subject. The point to understand is that your captors are targeting your MIND, not your body. The body will always break if enough force is applied to it, but you can't break the mind that way. If your captors are smart then they will know that. You only truly defeat someone by awakening them to the truth of what you believe and have them adopt your point of view. Religion gives POWs something from normal life to cling to but this is ultimately a weak position to take especially if $deity fails to deliver. (After all, if $deity is so powerful, then why were you captured?) By learning how to master your thoughts and increase your resolve, you become much less likely to break easily.

 

Does this have limits? Yes. Still, its better than nothing and especially better than placing your fate in the hands of a god that may or may not exist.

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First of all, thank you for serving in the military. It can be great experience, but there are things that make that experience tough even in peace time. Being in a time of war can make things even tougher.

 

Faith and prayer are helpful to POW's and lots of people going through trying times because they believe in it. It has he added advantage of giving them something to focus on besides the immediate circumstances.

 

So, that gives us two great things to consider. I'll work backwards.

 

1) What can you to do to re-focus your attention when you are undergoing sustained painful and/or stressful times?

 

2) What do you believe in? How can you go about reaffirming and strengthening the principles you believe in.

 

Christians and practitioners of other major faith groups have their own "spiritual" MRE's: their scripture. Someone has already compiled a set of books telling them what is good and what to believe in. They don't have to assemble a "corpus" of dearly held, sustaining beliefs.

 

Free thinkers and skeptics have to be more mindful. We have to read, study, reflect and decide what we are living this life for. We have to imagine the life we want to live once we have navigated through our personal tribulations and trials. We have to decide to let our difficulties strengthen us and not get us down.

 

Good luck in you military career. And best wishes for constructing a corp of beliefs and disciplines which will sustain you through your dark times.

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The other day somebody mentioned that they pray to Captain Kirk en leu of Jesus. Sounds like a great idea to me.

 

That was me. I've had a very hard time shaking my belief in God but I feel it slipping away finally. The reason I tried praying to Kirk was because my old habits cause me to find ritual prayer to be comforting. I'm use to praying so I don't know what else to do in some situations. And yes it was just as comforting to pray to an idea I know does not exist.

 

To CatBallou:

Just to toss an idea out there for your consideration, one way to go is to replace religion with "The Honor of the Regiment". There is a type of hyper patriotism. Maybe it appeals to you. Maybe it doesn't. See the movie A Few Good Men with Tom Cruse and Jack Nickolson for an example of such hyper patriotism. Of course the men with such patriotism in the movie were also religious. Essentially so many people have served their country, bled for their country, laid their lives down for the flag and endured so many years in prison that you are honoring the sum of all that sacrifice.

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If you're asking specifically on what to do to prepare mentally in case you end up as a POW, I'd say spend some time getting to know your own mind. For me, I use meditation for that, and some Hindu and Buddhist text have given me pointers. But just learn what your own mind feels like when you're not busy, and also when you're stressed. Observing your thought patterns will let you see what you're doing right and where you can improve, and practicing that self-awareness when you're not stressed out will help you better handle yourself under difficult situations. Also, this doesn't require you to believe anything, and can be a very skeptical exercise as you learn to see yourself as you really are instead of what you've assumed about yourself. That will make it harder for anyone to turn your mind against you, because you'll be on your home turf.

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The fear litany from the Dune saga is a good one.

 

I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain

 

 

From the orginal and terrible moive. The first line of the Mentat Mantra.

 

It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of sapho that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion

 

 

From my own extremely layman's perspective, I would think that if you are captured, anything you can do to see the beauty instead of the horror of the situation would allow you to focus the mind on other things.

 

From the tv tropes website under Survival Mantra I found this gem.

 

One for a program on an attempt to run back to back marathons in Death valley. The support team noticed the runner had created his own mantra.

 

Pain is a sensation.

Sensations are to be enjoyed.

I am in ecstasy

Sometimes that's what you need.

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If you become a POW, just tell them what they want. Who cares? It's not like the military is going to give one person secrets useful enough to harm them. If they do, then they aren't as smart as I give them credit for.

 

Most POWs are used for propaganda purposes anyway. Who cares if you make a video that says Uncle Sam sucks cock? It's better than getting bamboo shoved up your fingernails.

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I like Will02's approach of steeling the mind. The brain is capable of some amazing feats when trained.

 

As for Mr. Chopra, I found myself listening to and reading his work with a smile and nod of agreement, when I realized he hadn't actually said a damn thing. Out of the hours of material out there, I still don't think he's actually finished a thought.

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The module reiterates how faith and prayer sustains prisoners of war through tough times of imprisonment and torture until release. As an ex-xian, are there any alternatives available? I've had a terrible deconversion and am extremely skeptical and aloof!

 

Related to my querry is the validity of Deepak Chopra. What have been your impressions and experiences with his philisophy? I've also been thinking about exploring Buddhism more. Thanks for your input!

Regarding Deepak Chopra, he's one of the bridges of legitimate Eastern philosophy to Consumerist Western Pop Culture. Not everything he says is clothed in pseudoscience speak, and I suppose as a door to Eastern thought in the West he serves a purpose. But the problem in the West is that it is too literalistic, as opposed to symbolic, in their thinking and thus hears this language of his as some sort of truth grounded in the physical sciences. I see him as trying to speak to that vast audience that is somehow stuck in that sort of expectation.

 

As to the actual question about faith and skepticism, I would say that the two should go hand in hand. Skepticism is healthy and valuable. We should always keep where we are going balanced through good sense. Setting aside the pop-culture lingo of Deepak, I'll quote from someone of true depth, the Buddha,

 

“On life's journey faith is nourishment, virtuous deeds are a shelter, wisdom is the light by day and right mindfulness is the protection by night. If a man lives a pure life, nothing can destroy him.”

 

Faith is a thing beyond reason and beyond beliefs as well. But it is steered by a good healthy skepticism, as well as a balance of beliefs, actions, and knowledge. I liken it to a sail we put out to capture the wind, but the rope holding that sail and steering it is a clear, steady, disciplined mind that sees and responds wisely to changes of the sea. To make a distinction that may help, skepticism is not the same thing as what we today call cynicism. Cynicism is that naysayer that eschews faith because they see those who lack a good healthy skepticism and discernment go sailing their boats right off into the rocks. Their eyes were on their beliefs, and not listening to the wind and discerning the movement of the boat. They were busy reading some navigation map they found in an old box somewhere that people said to use, rather than listening to the wind.

 

Faith is that voice inside you in response to the wind. The inner mind beyond the voices of analytic thought that listens to its movements from nature and helps propel that boat on its course. Faith is not a set of beliefs. It may use beliefs, but it can use many beliefs at different times. Back to what the Buddha said I think says this well....

 

“To insist on a spiritual practice that served you in the past is to carry the raft on your back after you have crossed the river.”

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If you want a purely secular drop-in replacement for religion, I suggest learning how to harden your mind. With this mentality, pain will strengthen you and give you the power to resist. Something I’ve found useful in the past is to take the hate your enemy directs towards you, allow it to strengthen you instead of break you down, and then send that hate back at them through defiance. This way, the more they hate you, the stronger you become.

 

Will, I wish you would expand on this. I would love to know how to harden my mind.

 

I know there has to be a way to take hate and anger and direct it more 'healthily'. I have often heard the phrase in my life:'' the best revenge is to show them you will make it'' and then do so......................

 

P.S. By the way -I prayed to the moon, the stars, the 'universal force,' the power behind it all', as a last resort last night. Gave me some comfort.Wendyshrug.gif

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Something I’ve found useful in the past is to take the hate your enemy directs towards you, allow it to strengthen you instead of break you down, and then send that hate back at them through defiance. This way, the more they hate you, the stronger you become.

Are you sure that is not an simply an illusion of control? True mind control breaks the chains of hate. You can still be a prisoner physically to another without being in your own chains of hatred. Thus you are not a prisoner to them and they have no power over you.

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If you want a purely secular drop-in replacement for religion, I suggest learning how to harden your mind. With this mentality, pain will strengthen you and give you the power to resist. Something I’ve found useful in the past is to take the hate your enemy directs towards you, allow it to strengthen you instead of break you down, and then send that hate back at them through defiance. This way, the more they hate you, the stronger you become.

 

Will, I wish you would expand on this. I would love to know how to harden my mind.

 

I know there has to be a way to take hate and anger and direct it more 'healthily'. I have often heard the phrase in my life:'' the best revenge is to show them you will make it'' and then do so......................

 

P.S. By the way -I prayed to the moon, the stars, the 'universal force,' the power behind it all', as a last resort last night. Gave me some comfort.Wendyshrug.gif

 

 

I can help you with that.

 

Some people can harden their personalities and make themselves more resistant by sheer force of will alone, but this process is difficult and once you start doing that it can be very difficult to undo. Instead, it is far easier (and safer) to learn to put up walls to keep unwanted influences (like brainwashing/manipulation efforts ) out of your head. You always have the luxury of dropping these walls momentarily if you need to.

 

A simple visualization/meditation exercise is the best way to get started:

 

1. Start by finding your center. This is the part of your mind where your awareness and consciousness resides. This is YOU. This is the part of your mind that needs the most protection since it determines how you view the world and what you believe. Since anything that affects this area inevitably changes you as well, anyone who wants to utterly control you will target this area if they know what they are doing.

 

2. Next, visualize walls going up around your center. Imagine them being made out of light, brick, stone, metal, or whatever works best for you. Imagine these walls surrounding your consciousness and shielding it from all external influence. Imagine them protecting you and not letting anything get through and it will be so. Make these walls with care...there should be no holes or weak spots.

 

3. Can you feel the walls in your mind? If so, good. If not, keep practicing. Focus on keeping them solid. You will know when you get it right... your consciousness should feel safe.

 

A word of caution...you should only use this technique when you feel like you need it. Most of the time you won't need this level of protection. If overused, it can quickly turn into a habit where you shut everything out without meaning to. (even more so if you make the walls too thick or too strong) The most I would recommend for constant use is to keep a paper-thin transparent wall up at all times... you can always strengthen and reinforce it instantly if need be. Once you become proficient with the technique, it works at the speed of thought so preparation is only needed when you first begin. Treat this like a martial art.. it takes dedication and practice to get it right.

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Something I’ve found useful in the past is to take the hate your enemy directs towards you, allow it to strengthen you instead of break you down, and then send that hate back at them through defiance. This way, the more they hate you, the stronger you become.

Are you sure that is not an simply an illusion of control? True mind control breaks the chains of hate. You can still be a prisoner physically to another without being in your own chains of hatred. Thus you are not a prisoner to them and they have no power over you.

 

Perhaps I should clarify... you are using their hate to power your resistance efforts, not responding with hate of your own.

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I try not to deny pain in my life. When pain comes I try to embrace it. I bring it inside and accept it.

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Something I’ve found useful in the past is to take the hate your enemy directs towards you, allow it to strengthen you instead of break you down, and then send that hate back at them through defiance. This way, the more they hate you, the stronger you become.

Are you sure that is not an simply an illusion of control? True mind control breaks the chains of hate. You can still be a prisoner physically to another without being in your own chains of hatred. Thus you are not a prisoner to them and they have no power over you.

 

Perhaps I should clarify... you are using their hate to power your resistance efforts, not responding with hate of your own.

I see what you're saying, but I would guess that rather than putting up walls of resistance that can be shattered with force, you learn instead to be porous and pass everything straight through you. Which survives a violent whipping storm better, an oak or a willow? If you are already free in your mind, you aren't a prisoner. If your center is everywhere, then no one idea can move it.

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I see what you're saying, but I would guess that rather than putting up walls of resistance that can be shattered with force, you learn instead to be porous and pass everything straight through you. Which survives a violent whipping storm better, an oak or a willow? If you are already free in your mind, you aren't a prisoner. If your center is everywhere, then no one idea can move it.

 

The problem with "bending in the wind" is that even the most flexible trees won't survive unscathed. Simply bending a tree like that de-laminates bark and creates micro-fractures in the wood that ultimately weaken the tree until it has repaired itself. Lots of trees can bend to a certain point, after which they snap. People are no different.

 

Also, how do you define freedom?

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I see what you're saying, but I would guess that rather than putting up walls of resistance that can be shattered with force, you learn instead to be porous and pass everything straight through you. Which survives a violent whipping storm better, an oak or a willow? If you are already free in your mind, you aren't a prisoner. If your center is everywhere, then no one idea can move it.

 

The problem with "bending in the wind" is that even the most flexible trees won't survive unscathed. Simply bending a tree like that de-laminates bark and creates micro-fractures in the wood that ultimately weaken the tree until it has repaired itself.

It's a metaphor, not a science examine. :HaHa:

 

Then think of Kung Fu, since you brought up martial arts. You absorb the blow and let its force flow through you by bending with it as opposed to rigidity. It's easier to bend and takes much less exertion of opposite force. Besides, in the metaphor, the mighty Oak shatters long before a threat to the willow. The greater the resistance, the less strength it has. A bridge in only strong because it bends. To use another metaphor.

 

Also, how do you define freedom?

Not bound to a fixed point.

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I know your willow example is a metaphor, but I still think it's flawed. You say that if something is rigid, then it has less strength. How then is something that is freely yielding considered strong?

 

Although the body is limited by the structural tolerances of flesh and therefore can't withstand blows with impunity for long, the mind is altogether different. Anything that is directed against the mind/spirit can be met with equal force if the subject is capable enough, has enough determination, and can maintain enough concentration. The mind is a muscle that needs to be developed as much as anything physical.

 

 

I define freedom as the ability to do what I please (within reason, of course) Your view on freedom is interesting.

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I know your willow example is a metaphor, but I still think it's flawed. You say that if something is rigid, then it has less strength. How then is something that is freely yielding considered strong?

Because it can withstand a direct assault of force better through flexibility. That's physics. The stiffer, more rigid it is, the point of force to break it is less that required to destroy something that is flexible. Do the wings on an airplane hold stiff and straight, rigid and inflexible, or do they bend in huge arcs, allowing them to not snap off from the force of wind? Same thing. They are 'stronger' in the sense of being able to resist destructive force better than rigidity. Which plane would you rather fly in?

 

Although the body is limited by the structural tolerances of flesh and therefore can't withstand blows with impunity for long, the mind is altogether different. Anything that is directed against the mind/spirit can be met with equal force if the subject is capable enough, has enough determination, and can maintain enough concentration.

Sheer force of will can be broken much easier than a pliable mind. Ever know someone wound so tight the slightest pressure will snap them? Apply enough pressure, enough stress to a mind gripping onto something through an exertion of will, and cracks will form, then finally *snap*. If the mind is not fixed to a single idea, a single truth that it tenaciously holds onto and defends, then an assault on that 'thing' is less impaction. The weakness is resistance itself. If you are defending that you as you suggest, to build up "impenetrable walls" around that "you", then those walls are all that exist between that 'you' and destruction. But if you did not put walls around you, but rather simply removed 'you' altogether, then there is nothing there. "You can destroy the body, but not the soul," so to speak. If that 'center' is nowhere, because it is everywhere, then there is no object to attack, no "me" to defend. There are no walls to build, nothing to protect. It is invulnerable because it is nothing. Yet is is not unconsciousness, but full consciousness.

 

The mind is a muscle that needs to be developed as much as anything physical.

Is your consciousness itself a feature of thought control? Or does it still exist even when you are in dreamless sleep? Does it go away and come back when you wake? The thought is what is part of the waking mind. The notion that that 'me' is an object of ideas and cognitive thoughts is an illusion. The mental control is to remove the mental obstacles that creates the illusion of self to shift identity beyond objects themselves. If you are not an object, and construction of things that you call me, then there is nothing there to attack. They attack what is not you. Yet you exist, free.

 

I define freedom as the ability to do what I please (within reason, of course) Your view on freedom is interesting.

Exactly. If you are bound, you are not free and not doing as you please.

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Your views on the mind are interesting. I've been thinking about it for awhile today before replying. How do you diffuse and decentralize your mind like you mentioned? None of my mentors have ever taught anything like that. I'm always open to new ideas. (to say that my way is the only way is to become like the christians, and that is a mentality I don't want to fall into again)

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I like Will02's approach of steeling the mind. The brain is capable of some amazing feats when trained.

 

As for Mr. Chopra, I found myself listening to and reading his work with a smile and nod of agreement, when I realized he hadn't actually said a damn thing. Out of the hours of material out there, I still don't think he's actually finished a thought.

 

LOL! Chopra bugs me sometimes because he's held up as this deep source of wisdom to the point that it makes people who actually HAVE wisdom seem unworthy to even explore further. i.e. once someone has determined Chopra is full of shit, it's easier to just put everyone and anyone in that category. Also, Chopra seems to be invoked any time there is a theory of physics that is suggestive of a non-materialistic reality. If that theory is condensed into a book for the lay reader you can almost bet that Chopra will be called upon to blurb the book. The problem with that is... something which may actually be somewhat logical is now largely discredited based on who is endorsing it. But book publishers are interested in targeting a certain demographic so they don't care if they undermine the message with an inappropriate blurb if it sells more books.

 

To the OP: I think meditation can be beneficial, and Buddhism as well (though of course I speak from my own bias here). Although many Buddhists do have specific views/beliefs about the nature of things that differ pretty significantly from a materialist atheist, it's not just a religion, it is also a practical and experiential philosophy. No one worth their salt in Buddhism is going to DEMAND you "believe" the "right" things.

 

re: POW situations specifically, it would be foolish for me to advise in something like that because I think no one really knows what they would do. I think people will do whatever they have to do to survive until the will to survive leaves them. Then they'll do whatever they have to do to die. I think what one needs to do to accomplish either goal is going to be too dependent on the individual circumstance. Though if religion was any part of it, I would "convert" as soon as possible, merely because if you deny deny deny while someone tries to break you down, they are at an advantage when they finally reach your threshold and you give in. If you can convince someone you agree with them and will comply with them, they might not work as hard to break your mind down. As long as you have your mind, you have a small piece of your freedom, but once that's gone, it's game over. At the same time, it would be naive to believe that people in that position wouldn't be aware that this might be a tactic and it could just as easily be used against you. And there are also only so many times you can verbally give in to something before your mind falls in line with it. You would have to be doing some pretty powerful mental deprogramming simultaneously and with sleep and sensory deprivation as well as hunger, I think it would be hard for even most very strong people to stay that focused.

 

But, having said all that... people with a long term meditation practice who have trained and honed their own minds have a better chance of lasting longer, so meditation can only help you even if you don't feel the need to attach any kind of belief system to it.

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