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An essay donated by Susan Humphreys

"Stopping the World" theme from
Carlos Castaneda's book "Journey to Ixtlan"

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The final book by Carlos Castaneda in the initial series of his many books is “Journey to Ixtlan” and the main theme of this book is about “Stopping the World”.

I don’t have trouble comprehending metaphorical concepts. There are many that do and the phrase will just turn those folks off.

“Stopping the World” are those moments when we suddenly find ourselves caught short as the saying goes, when we are dumbfounded, knocked off our block, thrown for a loop, stupefied. I must admit, once I started to think about it, I have had many such moments.

These are the moments when our perception of the world, of the way the world is supposed to be shifts, when we discover the way the world actually is.

These are the moments when our narrative, our mythos and logos, run into a solid brick wall and the only way we can get over that wall is to change the narrative, or the mythos and logos.

Many simply give up and refuse to try to get over the wall. I think they are poorer for it and I don’t mean financially poorer, I mean mentally, intellectually, and spiritually poorer.

The first “world stopping” experience I had, although I didn’t understand it this way at the time was when I was in Junior High PE class. Some black girls were harassing a white girl, I didn’t know any of them, the PE class was large, BUT I stepped in and told the black girls to leave the other girl alone, she wasn’t bothering them. The black girls then turned on me and said they’d be waiting for me after school. I was surprised. BUT I forgot to mention that I had a swim class after school. By the time I got out of swim class there wasn’t anyone around. I had been nervous all through the school day and was nervous walking home, I had a mile to walk by myself. In the next PE class they didn’t harass me or the other girl and I realized they were all bluster and no muster. Up until that time I expected everyone to like me and it was shocking to learn I could be hated for my skin color AND for my willingness to standup for someone being bullied. That experience changed my perception, how I saw and understood the world.

Another experience, many years later in college. A bunch of us were getting ready to go out for a pizza and we tried to talk one of our suite mates into taking a break and going with us and she refused, she had to study. I don’t remember any of the conversation but at one point I caught myself, I almost slapped her. I was stunned. I had never felt inclined to hit anyone (other than my sister) before. It made me examine my priorities and the other girl’s priorities. By the way, she graduated with honors, got accepted to medical school and became a pediatrician. Needless to say I didn’t graduate with honors, (I had less than an A average and greater than a B average), nor did I have any desire to go to med school or to become a doctor. I had my first encounter with someone who’s goals were very different from mine.

Another college experience happened one day on the rim of the Grand Canyon after a great back packing trip. We had a great trip, down and thru a part of the canyon and back up to the rim. Our trip didn’t last as long as we had expected and we had one day on top before we had to return to Albuquerque and classes. We visited the museums at the Grand Canyon village on the south rim than headed to a point on the rim away from the tourist areas where we ate our lunch and just “chilled out” for the rest of the afternoon. The sun was warm. This was November, I found a comfortable spot close to the edge of the canyon, with a rock to my back, where I could watch the Ravens riding the thermals. No one talked, there were no traffic noises, and I slowly became one with the wind, and the sun, and the rocks, and the ravens, time seemed to stand still. Years later I read a book by Edith Warner about Peggy Pond Church, “The House at Otowi Bridge” and a passage jumped out at me.

“This is a day when life and the world seem to be standing still—only time and the river flowing past the mesas. I cannot work. I go out into the sunshine to sit receptively for what there is in this stillness and calm. I am keenly aware that there is something. Just now it seemed to flow in a rhythm around me and then to enter me—something which comes in a hushed inflowing. All of me is still and yet alert, ready to become part of this wave that laps the shore on which I sit. Somehow I have no desire to name it or understand. It is enough that I should feel and be of it in moments such as this. And most of the hatred and ill will, the strained feeling is gone—I know not how.” 1

I had another very different experience a couple of years ago. I was in a discussion via email with a “friend”. He was trying to convince me that the Bible and God are against homosexuality and that I needed to change my ways and accept Christ as my savior. I had already pointed out that I wasn’t a Lesbian, but in his mind I would have to have been one, why else would I support their rights if I wasn’t one? I suggested several online resources he could read if he doubted what I was saying. Several were resources on the Religious Tolerance web site. After one encounter I said to him, “you haven’t read any of those resources I suggested have you”. He replied no, to do so in his mind would be to “commit spiritual adultery.”

To say that I was flabbergasted is to put it mildly. All I could think was what arrogance, what self-righteousness, then how sad to be so afraid of your own beliefs that you refuse to show respect towards other people by learning a little about their beliefs.

Fortunately this was in an email exchange and I had the time to “gather my wits” and I responded that:

“IF there is any truth to his beliefs they will withstand learning about other people’s beliefs. IF his beliefs are false it is true they won’t stand the challenge. IF his beliefs are false they will still be false whether or not he learns what others, even what other Christians have to say about the Bible and Christianity.”

He hasn’t talked to me since then.

There have been many more experiences. All have stopped me short, caught me by surprise and helped me alter my perception of the world and her people. They have enabled me to see people as they are not as I think they should be. Actually to be more honest I should say it has enabled me to see people in a “new light”, a light still colored by my own perceptions but one that is different from the way I “saw them”, understood them before.

That is what “Stopping the World” is, as I understand it, all about.

As I wrote this I realized that “Stopping the World” can be a problem for folks, if they aren’t able to restart it. If they aren’t able to get over that brick wall I mentioned earlier. I think this happens to many service men and women. It is called by the psychiatrists “post traumatic stress”. I think that explains the symptoms not the cause.

I think the cause is that their war experiences have “Stopped the World” for them, they have been so thoroughly shaken from their normal understanding of life and the world and people and religion and they don’t know how to integrate their new perception into their old perceptions/ways. They see the serious disconnect between what they once thought and understood (what they were taught by parents and religious leaders and learned in school and sometimes what their military superiors told them) and what those they left behind when they went overseas still understand and the world as they now understand it to be. Their eyes have been opened, the blinders have been removed and they don’t like what they see, about themselves and others.

There is another trite but true expression, “once the genie has been let out of the bottle, there is no way you can stuff it back in”. Once your perception shifts there is no going back. This is why some folks are so afraid to learn anything new—about Science, History, other people and their beliefs. Which is why my “friend” tried to justify his self-imposed ignorance about homosexuality and what the Bible actually says about it by claiming his refusal to commit “spiritual adultery”.

I have had many people say to me “why can’t you just become a Christian”. I respond back that I have moved beyond Christianity to what is for me a higher level of spirituality (you might say understanding) and there is no going back. There is no way I would even consider back sliding, reverting to what would be for me a lower level of ethics and morality.

I have been very fortunate, my struggles have been inconsequential compared to the struggles some face who have had their perception changed through traumatic physical or emotional injury whether from war, or natural disaster or accident. Shifting your perception can make you feel uncomfortable at the least and be totally earth shaking, like having your feet knocked out from under you at its worst. Pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone is the ONLY way we learn and grow. The discomfort is temporary and the rewards are far greater than anyone can imagine.

Once your perception shifts the best we can do is accept that we have passed one obstacle and that there will be more in our path, BUT if we want to grow and become the best that we can be, we push ahead, there is no going back.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Edith Warner, “The House at Otowi Bridge,” University of New Mexico Press, (1973), Page 69. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. Brief Amazon.com review by reader Marjorie G. Martin:

    "Beautifully told by Peggy Pond Church, it is the story of Edith Warner and her life near Los Alamos during the thirties and forties. How she created a simple home from nothing and how it became a mecca for her neighbors the world famous physicists of Los Alamos and also the local Indians. They came to her house for dinner, to take a respite from their secluded work at the Lab and in coming to enjoy her good food came to enjoy her friendship and serenity. She live in close proximity to the Indians of San Ildefonso, and also became their friend, loving them, their children, watching them grow and enjoy with them their ceremonies and rituals. It is a poetic book of simple life and a good one and the great beauty of northern New Mexico. We need more Edith Warners in this world."

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Originally posted: 2014-JAN-03
Latest update: 2014-JAN-03
Author: Susan Humphreys

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