Change: Source of Suffering, Source of Bliss

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Also on this website:

Toby Johnson's books:

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

SECRET MATTER: updated, revised & expanded edition from Lethe Press with Afterword by Mark Jordan

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE: A romance novel set in the 1980s and the 1890s.

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story


THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell

About ordering

Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

  Articles and Excerpts:

Read Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

About Liberty Books, the Lesbian/Gay Bookstore for Austin, 1986-1996

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

Why gay people should NOT Marry

The Scriptural Basis for Same Sex Marriage

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

Second March on Washington

Why people need homosexuality to be a sin

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

 The cause of homosexuality

The origins of homophobia

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Queering religion

Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

The Gay Succession

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Monastic or Chaste Homosexuality

Is it Time to Grow Up? Confronting the Aging Process

Notes on Licking  (July, 1984)

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the  "Statement of Spirituality"

"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths.

Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging

You're Not A Wave

What is Enlightenment?

What is reincarnation?

How many lifetimes in an ego?

Emptiness & Religious Ideas

Experiencing experiencing experiencing

Going into the Light

Meditations for a Funeral

Meditation Practice

The way to get to heaven

Buddha's father was right

Cutting edge realization

What Anatman means

The Myth of the Wanderer

Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

The Two Loves

Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

The Gay Agenda

Gay Saintliness

Gay Spiritual Functions

The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Proposal for a study of gay nondualism

Priestly Sexuality

 "The Evolution of Gay Identity"

"St. John of the Cross &
the Dark Night of the Soul."

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice


Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

The upsidedown book on MSNBC

Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

The Hero's Journey as archetype

Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Not lashed to the prayer-post

Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"
Adam and Steve

The Life is in the Blood

Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"

Seeing with Different Eyes

The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby
Part 2:
The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
Part 3:
Jesus and the Resurrection
Part 4:
A Course in Miracles

The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

About Alien Abduction

What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?

The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

Kip and Toby, Activists

Toby at the California Institute

Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.

Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement

About Hay and The New Myth

About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"

About Michael Talbot, gay mystic

About Fr. Bernard Lynch

About Richard Baltzell

About Guy Mannheimer

About David Weyrauch

About Dennis Paddie

About Ask the Fire

About Arthur Evans

About Christopher Larkin

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

Our friend Tom Nash

About Kimberley McKell

Book Reviews

Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter

The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois

Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass

Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen

War Between Materialism and Spiritual by Jean-Michel Bitar

The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion
by Jeffrey J. Kripal

The Invitation to Love by Darren Pierre

Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A Helminiak

A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides by Andrew Harvey

Can Christians Be Saved? by Stephenson & Rhodes

The Lost Secrets of the Ancient Mystery Schools by Stephenson & Rhodes

Keys to Spiritual Being: Energy Meditation and Synchronization Exercises by Adrian Ravarour

In Walt We Trust by John Marsh

Solomon's Tantric Song by Rollan McCleary

A Special Illumination by Rollan McCleary

Aelred's Sin by Lawrence Scott

Fruit Basket by Payam Ghassemlou

Internal Landscapes by John Ollom

Princes & Pumpkins by David Hatfield Sparks

Yes by Brad Boney

Blood of the Goddess by William Schindler

Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson

Change: Source of Suffering, Source of Bliss

Toby Johnson

The Buddha said change, “impermanence,”(anissa) is the source of all human suffering. Seeking happiness people cling to what cannot be clung to because it necessarily changes in the grasp. All things end.

The modern day process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead echoed that in proposing that the nature of evil can be expressed in two propositions: “things fade” and “alternatives exclude.” In order to enjoy novelty, we have to let the old pass from consciousness even for what is old today was yesterday’s novelty. Time as “perpetual perishing.”

The gay-popular horror genre novelist Anne Rice expressed this idea mythologically in Interview With The Vampire in her main character’s explaining that the world hasn’t filled up with vampires because such immortal creatures regularly kill themselves after a few lifetimes because they are overwhelmed with the experience of loss that comes from watching everything you knew and loved change and disappear into the past.

The rock group Kansas sang plaintively, “Don’t hang on. Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky / It slips away and all your money won’t another minute buy. / All we are is dust in the wind.”

The gay a cappella singing group The Flirtations offered an answer to this suffering. They sang, “The secret of life is enjoying the passing of time / There ain't nothin' to it / All you gotta do is do it / Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill / Since we're on our way down / Might as well enjoy the ride.”

I think there are at least two lessons to be learned from contemplating the nature of change. One has to do with the importance of adopting developmental models of life and ethics. The other has to do with learning an attitude of enjoyment toward the future.

Traditionally in Western (Judeo-Christian dominated) culture, ethics and morality are based in the nature of the action at issue, not the age or life-stage of the person performing that action. To use sex as an example—because so much of traditional Western morality is obsessed with sex—if sexual procreation of offspring is only valid in marriage, then it doesn’t matter what age or situation the people involved are in. There’s no justification for sex before marriage and none for sex after, i.e., for widows, for instance, who are past childbearing age.

Yet the reality is that in our modern world of choice and courtship and serial monogamy, it would make much more sense to distinguish different phases or stages in a person’s life in which different sexual moralities would apply. Husbands and wives with children to raise have a certain obligation to maintain monogamy and not jeopardize their marriage. But young adults seeking to train themselves about emotional relationships and looking for suitable partners have an almost opposite obligation to pursue a kind of promiscuity in the interests of experiencing variety and a pattern of serial monogamy to test themselves in relationship with others. And seniors, perhaps now in “widowhood,” past the procreative period and, hopefully, fully satisfied with the joys of long-term togetherness might be encouraged to give and receive sexual and affectionate comfort with a renewed promiscuity that isn’t looking beyond the present moment.

In each case, the “sexual morality” is derived from who the people are, not what the “act” is. For the role of the “act” changes throughout a person’s life.

Similar phases, of course, apply to gay men and lesbians, though the emphasis then is not about creating a nest for children, but supporting a fulfilling and stable environment for the individuals. But again the point is the same: the morality isn’t in the sex act, but in the situation and developmental stage of the individuals.

These same phases can be applied to alcohol and drug use. And the criteria isn’t the legitimacy of using mind-altering substances, but the stage of life of the persons. Children shouldn’t use mind-altering substances because their brains are still forming and need to maintain healthy growth conditions. The young adults, on the other hand, are in their phase of adventure, risk-taking, and discovery. Having formed their characters and identities, they might benefit from realizing the arbitrariness of ego and reality by taking acid or tripping on ecstasy. Those middle aged stable people, again, are probably supposed to maintain reasonable sobriety since the developmental task of their life stage is achieving stability and satisfaction. But the seniors can again be liberated to explore the limits of consciousness.

Embracing change means understanding that the guidelines and good advice for people’s lives is also always changing. Lives go through identifiable phases; Erik Erikson devised his eight stages.

Relationships go through stages and the feelings and interpersonal needs involved change predictably, and need to be honored for the sake of strengthening the bond; the late psychologist couple David McWhirter and Andrew Mattison wrote brilliantly about these stages in the lives of gay men. Faith and religiousness go through stages: what’s true for a child is not necessarily true for an adult—belief in Santa Claus is the archetypal example, with Biblical literalism the religious version; James W. Fowler described six stages of faith.

One of the biggest flaws in traditional moral theory, I’d hypothesize, is that the “rules” that are supposed to be applicable to everyone are made by males in late middle age when they’ve achieved the standing and authority to make rules, but also when the fires of youth have died down in them and the freedom of old age has yet to dawn. So the rules of stodgy old men have become the official morality of civilization. Hmmm.

The joke about the human condition is that “nobody gets out of here alive.” The way to “get out of here” is to do so while you are still alive. This is the esoteric meaning of the myths of afterlife and of “heaven.” The time to get to heaven is while you’re still alive and aware enough to experience it. The function of the myths of afterlife is to inform your meditation and spiritual practice to wake you up to blissful consciousness now.

This is what The Flirtations meant when they sang the James Taylor song: “Since we're on our way down / Might as well enjoy the ride.” Remember the title of that song: it’s a lifesaver of an aphorism: “The Secret of Life is Enjoying the Passing of Time.”

Whitehead described this shift in attitude when he wrote: “Time has then lost its character of ‘perpetual perishing’; it becomes the ‘moving image of eternity.”

Buddha said the answer to suffering is being more and more conscious and attentive in the here and now.

You know, we might be but specks of dust blowing in the wind. But it’s a lovely day. The sky is perfect blue. The sun shines warmly bestowing life and raising the winds. The great rush of movement that is driving us through our lives is showing us a marvelous view, even if sometimes it hurts and sometimes we have to grieve. “All we are is dust in the wind” is great occasion for joy and expectation and hope. It’s a great ride and you never know what might be coming up next.

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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.

Johnson's Lammy Award winning book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated book  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are available now from Lethe Press.

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