Beacons in the darkness: The anarchism of personal growth part II

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This article is the second in a series that was first published in the first issue of Tribe, our digital magazine. Read the first article here or by downloading Tribe on Android or iPhone. It’s a better experience reading it in the app.

When last I left you, “no gods, no masters,” was the quote by Chomsky that had been embedded into my brain.

Joining this, I had begun to follow Ruda Iande’s Out of the Box course, seeing how his radically decentralized beliefs on personal and spiritual growth might serve as a beacon of light along with a radical deconstruction of rigid belief systems.

Little did I know that the light might not always be soft and fuzzy.

In part one of Out of the Box, Ruda wrote:

“we will be challenging and breaking down, one by one, all of the concepts that come together to make up our own personal Truth.”

Breaking down personal truth is not simply a happy matter. It is not something that can be completed in an afternoon.

Instead, it is a continuous and arduous process of wrestling with the truths that you have accepted over your life.

It is the process of bringing up the systems that you accept as concrete and putting them to the stress test to see if they stand.

This is why, previously, I called this the “anarchism of personal growth” as it mirrors the political theory of Anarchy (defined by Chomsky) which seeks to limit any and all unnecessary hierarchical + political systems by subjecting them to intense, repeated scrutiny.

Ruda’s Out of the Box similarly takes aim at the mental masters of our personhood — our past, our societal expectations forced upon us, our culture, and our religious dogmas.

Learn More About Out of the Box

What lies in the wake of rubble

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When you subject these shaky castles of beliefs to these stress tests, you wind up with mental rubble.

I have made no secret of my religious upbringing, along with my being a spiritual + mystical person.

Having said that, I have, for quite some time, come around to the idea that I only identify as a Christian because of the fact I was born into the faith. I love the Passion. I love the ritual of communion. It is meaningful to me.

But if I were born a Muslim, I would be a Muslim today.

If I were born a Hindu, I would be a Hindu.

This understanding has caused me to start thinking critically about the validity of one religion as opposed to another. If I understand that I only belong to one religion because of my upbringing, how can I say that religion is any more valid than any other religion?

At the end of the day, I really can’t.

This form of open-mindedness has led me to look for systems of belief that rely less heavily on absolutes — on which is right, which is true. This gels with Ruda’s idea of “this journey is not the search for truth.”

What if there is no real way to square the spiritual circle, so to speak? What if there isn’t a way to use logic to create some grand theory of belief?

What if the truth isn’t so rigid?

Life is a dream

In module 3 of Out of the Box, Ruda focuses on the idea of how reality is far more dreamlike and far less rigid than we tend to appreciate. To Ruda, “a dream is a projection of your own mind, a constructed world that you are at the very center of.”

This definition begs the question: how is that different than our waking reality?

To Ruda, and shamans in general, reality is participatory. Reality is a limitless, endless source of raw creation — and our perceptions, our psyches bring this reality into view, like a lens. And these lenses are not objective, nor are they universal. Each person’s psyche is informed by an innate belief system that they themselves are not able to control. This belief system becomes the framework within which the psyche sits.

Basically, the underlying belief system models the psyche which perceives and interprets our waking reality.

Ok — that is a lot of heady talk, I understand. It’s a jarring idea, that we’re (more or less) dreaming up reality, but the shaman’s take is that our perception of reality is so colored by our own personal experiences, that the end result is that our reality (as we experience it day-to-day) is so different from person-to-person, so centered around our own psyche, that it is indistinguishable from a dream.

As Ruda says, “we are the dreamer that takes the dream-world to be objectively real.”

So what do you do with this knowledge? Ruda says,

“You can bring consciousness to your belief system, but you can’t make much sense of it — and that’s really not the point, anyway. The point is not to understand your psychic programming but to bear witness to it, coming to a place of contemplation of the mysteries within yourself and the world around you. Through contemplation, we take our first steps to awakening in the dream. Instead of endlessly repeating the same program of our intellect and belief systems, we can start to explore other aspects of ourselves and the world around us. Like a shaman, we can start lucid-dreaming our own waking reality.”

This really resonated with me. I can bring my consciousness to the belief system I was born into (that of Christianity), but I cannot make sense of it — meaning I cannot really come to a satisfying, logical conclusion as to the validity of it vs. other religious upbringings.

Instead, I can contemplate it. I can accept it as being a critical element of my development, and thus a critical component of how I perceive reality.

The contemplation on aspects of one’s being ultimately settles into an acceptance of one’s being.

Ruda compares this to when you watch a movie. You’re not actively criticising and re-writing the plot of the movie while watching. But neither are you unconscious while the story paves out in front of you. Instead, you are actively watching, engaging, and contemplating the film as it unfolds.

This is how Ruda + Shamanism suggest that you engage with your being — your psyche. There is no “change your worldview quick” system to rewiring your brain; it cannot be done.

Instead, you have to embrace that your personality isn’t a problem to be solved. Your nature is, critically, something to be embraced.

Meeting Rudá

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Rudá Iandê is a world-renowned shaman. He is the creator of Out of the Box and author of “Laughing in the Face of Chaos.”

I had been engaging with Ruda’s Out of the Box for a while when I finally reached out to Ruda to learn more about his journey with shamanism. I had really been enjoying the course but wanted to learn more about how he came to understand such a unique belief system.

So, I reached out to speak with him. Luckily, he was more than happy to walk me through his journey, as well as some of his beliefs.

I had never met a shaman before, much less spoken with one at length about the essence of what it means to be alive, so I was a little apprehensive. What might I uncover? What beliefs will he put to the test? What will I learn?

I learned quickly that these fears were unfounded. Speaking with Ruda was a profoundly philosophic and respectful conversation.

Our nature

One of the things that Ruda continued to stress (which he also stresses in Out of the Box) is how we are connected with and a part of nature. We are made of the same things as the plants, as the animals, as the stars, as other people.

Not only that, but we have an entire ecosystem of different microorganisms that inhabit our bodies — working with us in symbiosis.

To believe that we, as humans, are above nature (that somehow man is different than nature) is misguided at best, and arrogant at worst.

We are nature. And though we may have these great minds which can contemplate, we are ultimately beholden to our physical nature. We perceive and participate with the world through our physical nature — our bodies.

We are a complex mixture of millions upon millions of cells, microorganisms, chemical reactions. And this mixture, this intelligent union of these diverse elements in concert, is what Ruda dubs “sacred intelligence,” or “instinct.”

And this sacred intelligence, this union of so many diverse elements of nature within us, is a vehicle for our psyche to experience and interact with reality.

Embracing ourselves

To this end, Ruda + Shamanism posit “if instinct is the product of billions of in union interaction — if our bodies are the product of this union of nature — and our minds are able to perceive the universe due to our bodies being their vessel, then why are we fighting so hard against them?”

Why are we divorcing our minds from our nature?

Why are we dividing our own personalities into “good and bad?”

Why are we not embracing the chaos of our own selves?

Why are we, more or less, stripping our personas of anything that we believe doesn’t adhere to our idealized versions of ourselves — the versions of us who achieve all that we want to achieve, that society views as the most productive, that are what we would deem “good?”

Why are we shunting aside what we view as “deviant” which is an inherent component of ourselves?

To be clear, Ruda differentiates between “being” and “doing.” There are actions which are immoral, which bring harm to others.

But there is no being which is immoral. Being is existing, and we have allowed society to decree that some of us exist in an incorrect state.

And due to the influence of society, of our culture, our parents, our religion, we fight against our perceived flaws — hoping to deny ourselves part of our being.

We fight to remove part of ourselves in the hope that the “good part” will suddenly become the whole.

In the process, we hope to erase ourselves.

The shadow

This is what Ruda deems “the shadow” — the powerful part of ourselves that embodies darker, rawer chaos. It’s the part of us that we view as “unacceptable,” the elements of shame, pain, anger, sadness, and negativity.

This is a real part of us. To pretend it isn’t is to deny our being.

The anarchy of being

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Ruda’s speaking on embracing our nature — our shadow and our light — led me back to my grappling with my faith — particularly my somewhat syncretic and omnist beliefs.

As a Christian, I have always been taught that there is one true God, and that all others are false. While some religions (Judaism, Islam) worship the same God, others (such as paganism) worship false idols.

I’ve had a hard time accepting this. It feels unlikely that one religion has “got it right,” so to speak.

And I firmly do not believe myself to be an atheism — I am a religious person.

So, I fell at an impasse: if I could not bring myself to believe that no religions are real, then how could I bring myself to believe that all except one were false?

I had to, in some way, believe that they all have validity.

Listening to Ruda speak on embracing our shadow — and on embracing our nature — caused me to reflect on why my views on faith were causing me such anguish. Why was I so upset that I was giving validity to other faiths?

The reason was that by believing in the validity of other faiths, I was violating the concept that there was “one true God.” And this violation upset me.

So, I brought consciousness to this and attempted to logic my way to finding a solution. This proved to be futile.

But, according to shamanism, this is misguided. I shouldn’t be trying to brick over these theological differences. I shouldn’t be trying to remove this violation in order to stop feeling upset.

Instead, I should just be upset.

I should accept that there is a contradiction, and not let that contradiction hinder me.

Limit unnecessary hierarchies

Returning to Chomsky, perhaps it was time to question the validity of these hierarchies and institutions in my mind.

Perhaps it was time to ask “do I need to be beholden to the dogma of my faith — the theological writings that seek to define and codify the supernatural?” Or is it time to ask them their purpose — and grapple with the spiritual ramification?

In Genesis, there is a famous story (aren’t they all famous) where Jacob is stopped by a man while attempting to ford a river.

“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

I’ve fallen back upon this passage many times when I have struggled with my faith. One of the greatest patriarchs of the Jewish faith, Jacob, literally wrestles with God and is not punished or shamed.

Instead, he is proclaimed Israel: he who struggles with God.

What a beautiful story.

What a beautiful, anarchic story. Man, servant to God, rises to meet God in combat. And Jacob is not overpowered.

Jacob is blessed.

Celebrating and trusting yourself

In Out of The Box, Ruda writes,

“We have been doing so much against our nature, trying to repress and block our emotions and experience, trying to be someone else other than ourselves. It creates a split inside and it takes so much of our energy. When you stop fighting against yourself, your whole energy starts to change. You’ll notice that it becomes easier and easier to accomplish your goals in life. That sense of oppression — I’m doing it wrong, I’m not successful enough — is not necessary. It’s pure illusion! You can create and conquer so much without this.  Celebrate the miracle you are!”

Celebrate the miracle you are.

I love that. It’s incredible. We are, as far as we know, the most amazing things that will ever happen to ourselves. We’re alive! We’re conscious. We have been given an incredible gift (for whatever reason): the gift to live, experience, perceive, dream, and exist.

It’s time we stop looking at a gift horse in the mouth.

Our being is a gift, and we are continuously looking to modify the gift, conform the gift, chip away at the gift, and make our gift operate like what we envision this gift should be. How pointless is this! It’s a gift, given freely.

All of this is a roundabout way to say, life is what you make of it. Embrace it!

It’d be simple to say quit allowing societal pressure to hold you back, but that’s too pat. The reality is, that our gift — our psyche — has been molded by our beliefs, our culture, our society, and we cannot wash these molds away. Instead, we have to embrace their existence, as we likewise embrace our own being.

After all, these beliefs are a part of ourselves. And it is impossible to divorce them from our being.

So where does this leave us?

This leaves us (me) at an interesting point. Whereas at the halfway point through the course, I felt that the castles of my mind had been knocked over by a battering ram, I now feel that there is a winding path that leads wherever I wish it to.

Along the path, seem to be warm lights to dot the way — lights that champion accepting our nature.

Out of the Box is not a solution. It is not a path to truth (Ruda would say any system that promises the truth should be avoided — as it inhibits growth and learning). Rather, it is a way of thinking that hinges on accepting your truest inner self, warts and all. By accepting who you are, and accepting the systems that molded you, you can stop spending your energy fighting against things that are ultimately meaningless.

When you accept yourself and embrace that you are an element of nature, not against nature, you can begin the process to living a life that makes you fulfilled.

What that life looks like — who knows? It may change. What’s important, though, is that it is something that you discover, not something that is demanded of you.

No Gods, No Masters.

Life is a gift. Embrace it.

Check Out the “Out of the Box” Workshop

Picture of Nathan Dennis

Nathan Dennis

Nathan Dennis is a Manhattan based playwright and poet of Floridian extraction. A graduate of NYU Tisch Department of Dramatic Writing, he served as a Rita and Burton Goldberg Fellow, and was awarded Outstanding Writing for the Stage in Spring of 2015. His most recent play, Lord of Florida, was workshopped by PrismHouse Theatre Company in the Fall of 2017.

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