John Allison [odinkirk]
Can you provide a link to a web site or blog where we can learn more about you?
My general blog can be found at http://odinkirk.com. This used to be my self development blog, but I have since turned it to personal use.
Do we think too much? Why is it so difficult to feel here and now?
It's not that we think too much or feel too little. We let our head get filled up with trivial concerns and images of what we're supposed to be, what we're supposed to want and have and so on. With practice (and in my experience, that includes meditation), you can learn to keep one foot in the day-to-day world, but be able to "step out" when you need to.
How do you deal with discouragement, despair, a sense of setback, etc.?
Depends on how soon I catch it. If I catch it in time, then I can handle it the easy way. Otherwise, it's going to have to be handled the hard way. The easy way is to recognize what's going on, release the bite of the emotions, and then use the emotional energy that's left over to rebuild momentum by making a positive step forward. If any one of those fails to happen, I find I get stuck in the doldrums and almost can't move until the Universe tells me to get up off my ... you get the idea.
Are meditation and prayer cultural variants of the same thing?
Meditation is an act of paying attention and opening yourself up to the Universe (or the Force, or God, whatever title you want to give it). Prayer is talking at God. As George Carlin famously said, the way most people pray is no way to treat a friend. I will occasionally ask for something if I really need it, but I find I do much better if I spend my time listening.
Is faith necessary for spirituality to work?
In a word, no. Here we get into a gray area, as spirituality means different things to different people. To me, spirituality means living while being mindful of your inner spirit. The best spiritual teachers will to tell you to take nothing they say at face value; that you should test it yourself. I use faith very little in my spiritual practice. On the other hand, I don't really need to. I can see auras and disperse clouds whenever I wish. I've gone walking at night (with no chemical assistance) and seen the lines of energy interconnecting everything as I witness an entire ecosystem of beings of energy existing all around us that most of us never see and none of us can imagine.
You can use faith, but faith can be shaken and broken. Direct experience is scary, but far, far stronger.
Is it necessary to have a teacher to find the way?
It is not strictly necessary to have a teacher to find the way. It is also not strictly necessary to have a tow truck to get a car that's out of gas 10-20 miles to a gas station. You certainly can do it yourself. But, to continue with the analogy, what if you have somewhere you have to be today? Spending all day pushing and steering that car to the gas station will make your day entirely about that. Similarly, while the spiritual journey is important, it is very very difficult to maintain focus and awareness without a teacher. The world conspires to reduce you to the greatest common denominator. Get up, go to work, buy the latest and greatest, have kids, get in debt, go to bed. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with any of that. In a sense, that's what we're here to do. But for anyone with a spiritual yearning, that won't be enough. The world will drown you in noise until you can't hear the music. A teacher helps with that. Eventually, you progress enough that the teacher becomes less and less important to your quest. Always good to have around, though.
Is it necessary to have a purpose to find meaning in life?
That depends on you. For many people, the need for an overarching purpose isn't a strong drive. Put simply, the purposes of right now are sufficient to give them meaning. Gotta get through school. Gotta find a good partner. Gotta get a better job for the baby. And so on.
For some, however, the need for a deep and lasting purpose is a strong need, and if no purpose has been found yet, I would suggest making that purpose known as their top priority. Without that purpose to act as a compass, they will be wandering, lost.
Is it wise to believe in things that do not exist if it helps you to be happy?
Yes. Only if it actually gets the job done, though. If it helps you to be happy, then go for it. Happiness seems to be in short supply right now, so I'm all for anything that helps people to be happy. Happy people are healthier, contribute better to society, and in general make the world a better place. Even if their beliefs are false, the happiness is real. This, of course, doesn't count if those beliefs allow them to trample on the happiness of others.
Additionally, for the sharp mind, the quest for the truth about the universe won't allow this in the first place, unless you count the following taken from Terry Pratchett's book/mini series Hogfather:
Death: Humans need fantasy to *be* human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.
Susan: With tooth fairies? Hogfathers? (The Hogfather is that world's version of Santa Claus.)
Death: Yes. As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.
Susan: So we can believe the big ones?
Death: Yes. Justice, mercy, duty. That sort of thing.
Susan: They're not the same at all.
Death: You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged.
Susan: But people have got to believe that, or what's the point?
Death: You need to believe in things that aren't true. How else can they become?