Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Identifying "Spiritual Life Gone Wrong"

Today we begin a two-part series on something at the very heart of the issues of our time all over the world: what happens when religion goes wrong...

In its most extreme forms, we see the results worldwide every day - radical evangelicals preaching violence against gays, a papacy in deep denial over the scale of sexual abuse in its midst, mass rioting and random killings throughout the Muslim world at the mere rumor of an anti-Islamic publication in the West, and the list goes on and on.

Those extreme forms are just symptoms, though.  They're symptoms whose causes remain largely hidden from us as a civilization because we no longer understand a fundamental truth - not everything that passes itself off as "spiritual" is good, healthy and beneficial.  Far from it...

In fact, as a civilization we've become so divorced from real spiritual life that our ability to sort out false spiritual paths from healthy ones is marginal at best.  We no longer know the distinguishing criteria of each, the questions to ask or the tell-tale signs of each.  

In reality, asking most people today to distinguish real spiritual paths from false ones is about as useful as asking a Kalahari bushman for advice on your next family car.  

The Vital Importance of Spiritual Resilience

To get anywhere close to figuring out what spiritual resilience means, we first have to define the word "spiritual", which is no simple task.  

So let's put it this way: just as resilience itself is a path toward maximizing your potential on all levels (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual), spiritual resilience is the act of opening yourself to the deepest truths of your existence in this universe so that you can become everything you're meant to be. 

Not surprisingly, you can never become truly resilient and fulfilled as a human person if you ignore your own spiritual dimension, since that is, in reality, the deepest layer of your own being.

What I've called "authentic ancient traditions" in my bestseller, The 5 Pillars of Life*, are ancient, tried and proven approaches for doing exactly this.  And, contrary to what we assume, they have a boatload of evidence to back up the authenticity of their discoveries.  

Religion vs. Authentic Ancient Traditions

Here's a short excerpt from The 5 Pillars of Life* to help you wrap your head around the differences between what we usually call "religions" and something much deeper:


All fantasies, especially that of religion, are caused by a short-circuit at the centre of the human personality.  This short-circuit, which exists between the heart which pumps blood (the circulatory system) and the spinal cord which circulates spinal fluid (the nervous system) is only repaired by ceaseless prayer in the heart.  It is only when the short-circuit is repaired that you begin to be liberated from the realm of fantasy.
- Rev. Dr. John Romanides in “Religion as a Neurobiological Illness”[i]

Startling, isn’t it?  - A world-renowned Orthodox priest and theologian calling religion a “neurobiological illness”!  But he’s right - Orthodox Christianity is not a religion in the conventional Western sense of that word.  And for that matter, neither are other authentic ancient traditions.  What Westerners conventionally call "religion" is a term that applies almost exclusively to their own approach to life as it has developed historically over the last thousand years or so.
"Religion" in the Western sense the word has a number of particular traits.  And generally speaking these traits apply to the vast majority of Western people who "practice their religion":

  1. Religious teachings are ideological statements divorced from real life and which people subscribe to based on emotional considerations.  Teachings of authentic traditions are based on an experience of true life, and practitioners adhere to them based on observable verification.  

  1. Religion provides psychological comfort and self justification in the face of its failure to cure psycho-spiritual (noetic) illness.  Authentic traditions take you from sickness to health; religions tell you your sickness is health.

  1. Religion shifts the blame for good and evil, and for the final outcome of life, onto a deity or process (saying, for example, that illness is a punishment from God or that God decides whether to forgive you and send you to heaven or to damn you to hell).  Authentic traditions know that the Absolute Reality never does harm and that the only real danger to us in this world or hereafter comes from ourselves.

  1. Religions and authentic traditions both have a ceremonial aspect or some collective manifestation, but the religious version exists to provide psychological comfort or aesthetic pleasure, whereas the authentic version is there to lead you to self-transformation.

  1. Religion is always reduced to a compartment of life, whereas training in any authentic tradition involves every moment of life.

  1. Religion's "transformation" of human life is limited to the superficial aspects of the personality, is often based on a tedious list of prohibitions and is geared toward social acceptability.  Religion produces nice people; authentic traditions produce extraordinary ones.

  1. Real self-transformation is not a goal of religion; the knowledge and methods required for self-transformation are absent and there is no access to a lineage of transformed people.  Life degenerates into “salvation by association” (I’m saved because I’m part of the group) and “salvation by conviction” (I’m saved because I hold a particular opinion).
  1. Religion is ignorant of the technical terminology of self-transformation and interprets it in a general and nebulous way.  The religious version of a tradition will seldom have any real idea what the authentic version is talking about, even if they use the same language.   
  1. Religion is comfort-loving and presents no real challenge to its adherents, whereas authentic traditions take you beyond your comfort zone and into realms that religion knows nothing of. 

  1.  Religion abhors mystery and tries to explain everything with concepts.  These concepts can be controlled and manipulated by a cadre of “experts” for the good of the institution, whereas transformed people – saints, immortals or bodhisattvas - are notoriously hard to control.

Given these traits of religion, it is not too surprising that Father Romanides classifies religion as a "neurobiological illness".  What this means is that religion has its origin in the fallen state – where the neurobiological malfunction characteristic of life in the fallen world has not been healed – and that it perpetuates this unhealed state as if it were normal.  So it is not surprising that religion prevents countless millions of people from finding true fulfillment and happiness.  And like all illness, it leads to untold suffering and misery.

[i] Pages 1-3.  The order of the elements in this quotation has been slightly rearranged for the sake of clarity.  Several Orthodox writers of the twentieth century noted that the word “religion” as commonly used among peoples of  European ethnic origin does not correspond to Orthodox Christianity. 

*The 5 Pillars of Life is available on the website or through

Next time, we'll talk about some of the real "dark side" of the religion and spirituality that's out there now - how to identify it and avoid it.
~ Dr. Symeon Rodger 

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Fasting Part Two: Fasting for Spiritual Purposes


Ageless Beauty – Timeless Health:
Building a Lifestyle that Automatically Creates the
Health, Immunity and Longevity You Want

Toronto, Canada: June 4-5, 2011

Over the course of human history, fasting for spiritual purposes has been at least as widespread and quite probably much more so, than fasting for better health.  We also need to remember that non-Western and pre-industrial cultures did not tend to divide life into categories of "physical" and "spiritual" as we do out of (bad) habit. 

Goals of Spiritual Fasting

There are many different ones.  As I write this, tens of millions of Eastern Christians are beginning their Holy Week fast leading up to Pascha (Easter).  For them the goal is to become more open to divine influence and to actually participate in the events they're celebrating.  Of course, there are many different spiritual reasons for fasting:

  1. To become more open to divine influence
  2. To receive divine guidance on a particular issue
  3. To receive healing, whether physical, emotional or spiritual
  4. To help someone else receive what they need, whether healing, guidance or protection
  5. To prepare for a spiritually difficult task

In reality, of course, the majority of people who would say they practice spiritual fasting seem to do so on a semi-conscious level at best.  They often think they're fasting, when they're simply practicing a form of abstinence, or they're not clear on how fasting works or exactly what they wish to achieve.

Is fasting a form of sacrifice that God demands imperiously?  Is it a form of punishment for human sin?  Well, if you read the ancient Christian spiritual sources carefully, such as the various collections of "sayings of the desert fathers" from the fourth and fifth centuries, it's quite clear this isn't the case.

What emerges is a bit more complex.  Because fasting cleanses the body, it also makes the mind more lucid.  If you consider that the desert dwellers who pioneered Christian spiritual fasting were totally dedicated to remaining in an unbroken state of inner "prayer of the heart", this lucidity of mind was very important.  The bottom line from their experience is that abstinence from heavy foods and periodic fasting will enable you to maintain focused inner attention and will cut down on the inner dialogue, swirling emotions and physical symptoms that ensnare your attention.  That's obviously a vital consideration for any sustained program of prayer or meditation, and explains why spiritual fasting has been so widely used worldwide for millennia.  

So if we ask how spiritual fasting works, it's clear the explanation bridges the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual planes of our being, creating a cleansing and unifying effect.  It's not simply a matter of fulfilling an abstract divine commandment; it has to do with how your mind-body organism is intended to function.  This is something that Orthodox Christian ascetics, Kriya Yoga practitioners and many native American medicine people, to name just a few, will tell you.  

Here's a really interesting video on spiritual fasting that also ties in the health aspect in an admirable and well thought out way.  Be sure to pause it to give yourself time to read the text, in addition to listening to the excellent commentary:

A Spiritual Warrior's Explanation

Without contradicting any of the foregoing, the Coptic Orthodox Monk, Matthew the Poor, offered this explanation of fasting. When he uses the word "self", he is using it in the sense of the "ego" or "false self":

"[When we fast] we must reach a state of accepting not the partial, but the complete annihilation of the self, and this can only take place by an act of deliberate volition.  In other words, if we begin by any exercise, such as fasting, which brings us to the partial overcoming of the self, we need to supplement the feeling of satisfaction that comes from accepting this state with an acceptance of the total destruction of the self.  This is obtained by the mental acceptance of death itself, with no dismay or restraint.  'But we received the sentence of death in ourselves' (2 Corinthians 1:19).  

"When our father Abraham offered Isaac his son, he did so partially with his hands, but totally in purpose.  When Abraham proved his willingness to offer Isaac, his only son, God did not leave him to carry out the slaughter; when the offering had been only partially made on the physical level, God considered the sacrifice to have been actually carried out.  This, and only this, is why God redeemed Isaac with a ram - a symbol of Christ - who was to redeem the souls of those whose self was destroyed partially by their actions, but wholly in their intentions."1.

In terms of spiritual fasting, that's certainly "food for thought"!  Think about it.  Better still, try it.  Just remember, though, as with fasting for health, the same advice and warnings apply here, so go back and read the previous post before you start!


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger :-)

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Fasting Part One: Fasting to Improve Your Health


Ageless Beauty – Timeless Health:
Building a Lifestyle that Automatically Creates the
Health, Immunity and Longevity You Want

Toronto, Canada: June 4-5, 2011


This is Holy Week for most Christians and a time when tens of millions of people will be fasting.  So what better time to do a two-part series on the value of fasting?  Why two-part?  Because there are two main reasons people fast...

We fast in search of better health or we fast as a method of spiritual purification.  As we'll see the two are related.  Today, though, we'll focus on fasting to create health, immunity and longevity....

What Exactly is "Fasting"?

That's not as stupid a question as you may think.  That fact is, there are lots of misconceptions out there about fasting.  Some people believe that simply abstaining from certain foods or food groups, either temporarily or permanently, is "fasting".  That's most definitely not fasting.  That's "abstinence".  

Fasting is going without eating solid food, and sometimes liquid nourishment as well, for a defined period of time.  That could be a matter of hours, days or weeks, depending on what you're trying to achieve and how.  

The Health Benefits of Fasting

So why would you bother?  Perhaps because there are few if any other health tools in your arsenal that give you such bang for the buck.  Here are just some of the primary benefits of fasting:

  1. Initiates a detoxification / cleansing reaction in the body, enabling you to rid yourself of accumulated toxins.
  2. Enables weight loss.
  3. Puts the digestive system, and the body as a whole, into "rest mode", allowing the energy usually devoted to digestion to be diverted to healing.
  4. Clears up skin problems and the whites of your eyes.
  5. Naturally lowers blood pressure without drugs.
  6. Makes it easier to overcome bad habits and addictions, and to make a fresh start with a new, healthier diet and lifestyle.
  7. Reduces inflammation throughout your body.
  8. Reduces water retention throughout your body.
  9. Pacifies many allergic reactions and sensitivities.  
  10. Historical and biological research strongly suggests proper fasting promotes longevity.

Varieties of Fasting

You may have heard of many types of fasting for health, including water fasts, juice fasts, total fasts and many others.  Natural health pioneers like Dr. Bernard Jensen and Victor Irons used fasting together with colon cleansing to achieve remarkable results for their patients and clients for about half a century each!  More telling is that both of these great pioneers lived healthy lives to nearly age one hundred.  

Here's a video with Dr. Nicholas Tancheff, a chiropractor who has founded a fasting retreat facility in Hawaii.  You can learn a lot by listening to how he went from the typically disastrous North American lifestyle to learning how to self-heal...

Warning: Avoid the Traps!

There are several traps with fasting, so here's my advice on how to get started:

  1. Check in with your physician or a licensed health-care provider to help you get started.  This is particularly important if you've never done this before or have a pre-existing medical condition.
  2. Be clear on what you would like to achieve with the fast.  This will help you select the proper type.
  3. Don't make it up on your own: follow a program based on reliable and tested information.
  4. Don't overdo it.  Fasting for just a few days can provide enormous benefit!
  5. Don't become addicted to fasting and cleansing!  These are activities you should do periodically, not constantly.  Once your fast is over, start giving your body all the nutritious food it needs to stay healthy!

If you would like to learn a whole lot more about fasting and cleansing directly from people with a lot of experience, you should consider coming to the health workshop I'm doing with Michael Morningstar in Toronto, Canada on June 4-5.

As you've heard from the teleseminar we did last week, Michael really knows his stuff.  And we are confident that you'll leave our event with the knowledge and the confidence to take your health to a whole new level.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger



Thursday, 14 April 2011

Liberation from the "Shame, Blame and Guilt Game"

Few psychological conditions in life are as debilitating as what I call the “shame, blame, guilt game”.  As you’ll see below and as you may have experienced in your own life, the emotion of guilt can lead to chronic anxiety, mental anguish, depression and worse.

Yet many cultures live on a steady diet of shame and guilt.  Sometimes these are religious cultures, sometimes just individual family cultures.  Whatever the case, though, if you’ve been a victim of this kind of psychological manipulation – and all chronic guilt-tripping is a manipulation designed to gain and maintain control over you – then you need to know how to free yourself from it.

On the other hand, guilt can also be the inability to forgive yourself for something you’ve done or failed to do.  That’s when you feel like one of the characters in this amazing video…

Religious Guilt Culture

The epitome of neurotic guilt culture in the West has certainly been the Roman Catholic Church.  Here are just a couple of abridged accounts from emotionally abused “recovering Catholics”:

1. From a young woman:

“I experienced this guilt most intensely during high school. Every morning I would wake up with the most painful guilt. In my mind, I would walk back through the day before trying to remember what I had done wrong, but I could never come up with anything. Then I would get in the shower and say the our fathers, hail mary's and glory be's until the pain had passed. At the time I had no idea why I felt so much pain and guilt.

“I've been trying to understand better how the Church operates psychologically. It most certainly makes claims to Truth where questioning Truth is coded as sin / evil.  And the weekly embodied ritual seems to embed Catholic doctrine into people's psyche in a way that people can't explain. The mass also provides an embodied ritual which is meant to both teach people that they are sinned while at the same time relieve people of this sin.  It is this aspect of the mass that creates a kind of addiction - I've heard some people state that they just have to be Catholic and receive the body of Christ each week - but they can't explain why. It seems that it is this imparting and relief of guilt and sin that people feel they have to get through the mass each week.”

2. From a young man:

“I consistently beat myself up, and put myself to shame, and live with debilitating bouts of depression and anxiety.  Not because of anything I've done, but because I have thoughts and feelings...  natural thoughts and feelings that the Catholic church of my upbringing would have called 'sinful'. 

“I was raised Catholic of course, and I went to 12 years of Catholic school, during the 70's and 80's.  I believe that much of what we were taught to believe can only be described as insane and medieval.

“Let me just say that the Catholic Church has done many wonderful things, in ways of charity and meeting the physical needs of people.  Things like creating hospitals, homeless shelters, food-shelf's, etc.  But when it comes to meeting the emotional and psychological needs of people, the church has done tremendous damage and abuse to the psyches of millions (billions?)of people.

“And I was taught that to even think lustful thoughts was the same as doing the act.  I was a teenage boy, coursing with hormones and natural impulses on a regular basis.  I've read that research shows that young males have sexual thoughts and impulses roughly every 30 seconds or so, and I was certainly no exception.   At 15, all it takes is for an attractive girl to walk by, the hormones jack up a bit and boom, mortal sin, eternal damnation, the fires of hell... it's all there.  To be able to feel that I was safe from the fires of hell would mean that I would need my own priest following me around so that I could make constant confessions.    Not having this accommodation, I concluded that I was doomed... that my soul was destined for hell.  Unless I could somehow shut off all of those impulses and feelings, and feel nothing!!!  So, I became a robot. 

“The only logical way to save myself from eternally being on Satan’s This is the definition of spiritual death and being un-human.   And an ironclad recipe for chronic depression, anxiety, self-loathing, self-abuse and self-punishment.  In short, not much less painful than Hell.
And to top it off, we were taught that to suffer here on earth, was a GOOD thing, something to be STRIVED for.  We were to be martyrs, living in self-induced pain and suffering.”

You’ll Be Shocked to Learn Where This Came From…

The origin of Catholicism’s rampant guilt culture is not Christianity itself and proof of that is the general absence of the neurotic guilt complex in the history of the Eastern Christian tradition (a lot of my own pastoral work as an Orthodox priest has been cleaning up the emotional messes left by the rampant guilt culture).

The guilt culture has theological roots that stem directly from Augustine’s teachings on “original sin” back in the fifth century.  Basically, he taught that all human beings have in some mystical way participated in the sin of Adam and Eve, and are therefore automatically “guilty” from birth on.  In other words, guilt is a condition you inherit!

Where did he get this absurd notion?  Amusingly enough, from an error in biblical translation!  You see, Augustine didn’t know Greek and had to depend on St. Jerome’s translation of the New Testament into Latin.  Just one problem…

Jerome made a minor error when he translated Romans 5, verse 12.  By translating a single conjunction as “in whom” instead of “because of which”, he accidentally provided Augustine with the basis of a wrong theology that has screwed up the lives of countless millions of people ever since. 

That’s why the original Christian tradition regards the whole notion of original sin / inherited guilt as lunacy.  You can’t be held responsible for something you didn’t do (seems pretty obvious, right?).  And, of course, Augustine’s theory requires a judgmental God who condemns your failures, as opposed to the God of direct mystical experience who, as the original tradition says, “only bestows blessings and never does harm”.

Remember, though, that an individual family culture can also be based on chronic guilt-tripping and other forms of dysfunctional manipulation that may or may not have a religious basis.  Whether religiously motivated or not, your task is to find your way out of that culture and undo the damage to yourself.  So how do you do that?  This way... 

Freeing Yourself from the Shame, Blame, Guilt Game

If you’ve been a victim of this form of crass psychological manipulation and realize you need to break free, there’s a simple 3-step process to follow.  It may still take some time and effort, but the steps will certainly help you get there:

1)    Recognize it!  Take stock of the full extent to which it has impacted your life.
2)    Treat it!  The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is certainly one excellent tool you should always have with you.  There are also support groups available, and you may derive some value from talking to a therapist or counselor.  Be sure to find the help you need!
3)    Resolve Not to Play!  Identify those people in your life that use this guilt against you and take steps to terminate or minimize contact.  If you can't avoid them entirely, learn to recognize their behavior and call them on it.

We are all “guilty” of many things, for sure - that's part of the human condition.  However, we’ll never get anywhere unless we free ourselves from the chains of guilt that bind us emotionally.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Learn Life Skills for Extreme Situations

The sun was blazing, the terrain barren and unforgiving, and the instructors were working us hard.  The extra twenty pounds or so of gear we were wearing just added to the fatigue – a Kevlar vest, knee and elbow pads, sometimes a helmet, a pistol strapped to the right thigh and an American M4 or Russian Kalashnikov assault rifle in hand…

                            At the firing range, carrying an M4 assault rifle

That was last week for me.  I was privileged to attend an elite training course down in the deserts of the south-western US, a course taught by special forces veterans and frequently attended by everyone from members of such elite organizations as the British SAS or Canada’s JTF2, to ordinary people facing deployment to the world’s most dangerous trouble spots. 

(The trip also allowed me to explore some issues of leadership, teamwork and corporate culture with these people.  Did you know that what we consider the most advanced leadership and corporate culture solutions in the corporate world today were actually developed by special forces units decades ago?)

The “Yang” Side of Resilience Training

You may have noticed I like to divide resilience training into its “Yin” and “Yang” aspects.  And I tend to talk more about the Yin or “soft” aspects, such as meditation, mindfulness, Qi Gong, Yoga, nutrition, relationship skills and the like. 

However, we should never forget the other side of the coin – those Yang skills that will keep us and our loved ones alive when the unthinkable happens.

In North America we live the pleasant delusion that we personally will never face an extreme situation.  That situation could be street crime, a home invasion, a natural disaster or something as commonplace as a car accident out in the country, where you’re on the scene and the nearest first responder is still twenty minutes away.  Meanwhile, the accident victim on the ground in front of you may only have two minutes to live, not twenty, unless you personally take some very specific and simple actions.  Do you have the skill sets required?  Do you have the right medical kit with you?  What if that victim were your spouse or child? 

                            Rescuing a man down, moving him and applying 
                                          a tourniquet to save his life

Our delusion is the ingrained belief that we don’t need those skills because the paramedics will save the day.  Likewise we assume we don’t need to know how to carry an unconscious person out of a burning building or know how to defend ourselves because the firemen and police will do it for us. 

Yet the stark reality is that when the s**t hits the fan, you will more than likely be on your own for the first five to fifteen minutes of any serious event.  And by then, it’s very often too late.

The Value of Acquiring Extreme Skills

One of the most challenging features of last week’s course was that you never knew what challenge the instructors would throw at you next!  This is when you find yourself worrying about whether you’ll screw it up and look like an idiot, whether you’ll have the energy, and whether the back muscle you pulled yesterday will hold out…

                            Participant learns how to escape when tied up
                                          with rope, hand-cuffs, etc. 

And then you realize that you just need to surrender.  You can either continue wasting energy worrying about what comes next, or you can surrender, live in the present and mentally let it all go.  So one of the greatest benefits of the kind of training that tests your physical and mental limits is that you learn a lot about yourself. 

Some of the other specific benefits of learning some of life’s extreme skills are:

  • Improving your personal resilience
  • Passing on these skills to those around you
  • Boosting your self-esteem
  • Becoming a greater asset to your family, workplace and community
  • Acquiring the confidence to face extreme situations
  • Learning how to function effectively under extreme stress
                                          Clearing rooms and rescuing hostages (hint: 
                                          the way you see it done on TV shows will get
                                          you killed)

So although the Yin side of resilience training (improving your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health) is absolutely vital, it’s important not to forget the Yang side of resilience training, where we acquire the personal power and the critical skills to handle life’s most extreme situations. 

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger