Table of Contents
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
THE FOURTH QUILL, a
novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story
THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET:
An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The
Dimensional Structure of
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"
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
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
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
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.
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
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated
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
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