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I have to confess that I am now a lapsed Buddhist. For a good while I was a regular attendee of the local Dewachen Buddhist group here in town, complete with its own travelling ordained nun, the wonderful and venerable Tenzin Namdag, who is based in Mackay but tends to a very scattered flock as far north as Cairns and as far south as the Sunshine Coast.

I have always been a huge fan and follower of Buddhist philosophy and practice, but eventually I came to discover that I do not have a devotional bone in my body. Or soul, to be more accurate, I guess.

While nearly every core Buddhist teaching resonated strongly with me (with the exception of reincarnation, but more of that at another time), very little of the iconography, language, and even literature spoke to me. So I have forsaken the formal side of Buddhism and taken with me what is the most practical and useful: the regular of meditation and training of one’s attention.

These days I am attracted to a very pared-down spirituality, a minimalist mysticism. I eschew all forms of spiritual lingo (in fact, I do not even like the term ‘spiritual’) and prefer deep truths expressed in as simple a language as possible. I am very attracted to modern Advaita and people like Adyashanti and Rupert Spira. Simpler is more sophisticated, as Da Vinci once said. And it gets right to the heart of the matter: presence and clarity.

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Illness and plain laziness have kept me from the blogosphere for many moons, but I am rectifying that. Now, obviously.

Since I wrote the Planetary Types: Science of Celestial Influence, I find myself immersed in the skeptical community, relishing the exercise of my own critical thinking. Which you might think is odd, since my first book tries to make a good case for the influence of the planets on man.

However, the success of failure of the book and its ideas rests on empirical tests, and  there are still pending investigations for those interested in assisting with research. Go over to http://planetarytypes.wordpress.com/ and sign up. Planetary Types is actually one the most critical books of astrology, despite being an attempt to sort out the wheat from the chaff on the subject.

I am also prepared to wear the results. There are far too many other fascinating things in the universe to discover to lament and try to bargain over any negative result. Way too many other interesting things to ponder and investigate. Of course, if we get a positive result, then we might have something interesting. We shall see.

I can tell you that I have begun work on my new book, which will deal with scepticism from a spiritual point of view, and with spirituality from a sceptical point of view. To give you an idea of its direction, my completed reading list for research is included below.

Krishnamurti biographies by Jayakar and Lutyens

Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon – Peter Washington

The End of Faith – Sam Harris

The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins

On Being Certain – Robert Burton

The Supersense – Bruce Hood

Why We Believe – Michael Shermer

Buddhism is not what you Think – Steve Hagen

The Universe in a single atom – Dalai Lama

The Transparency of Things – Rupert Spira

If you grill any good skeptic worth their salt, they will tell you that true scepticism means being less sure about a good many things. Those who have made their minds up once and forever more rarely learn any deeper secrets of the universe. I have learned to question things much, much more than I used to. And I was pretty rational before.

The surest thing I am sure of is the need to purify my instruments of perception – to train my attention to see things clearly. That is what I am trying to do and hopefully I will be able to judge things with some clarity..

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(Transcipt of my book launch at the Bundaberg library.)

When people ask me what my book is about, I find myself torn. It’s not a simple answer. Lately I have been giving the short answer, which is that the book is about whether or not the planets influence us, as astrology asserts that they do. But as soon is I give that answer, I realise that it sells the book way short. So I am grateful to have a few minutes to really tell the story of the book, what it contains and how it came to be.

I will just say briefly, what a huge rush it has been to have a book, any book, published. So few books make it further than the slush pile. Less than one percent, I believe. So for a publisher, even a small press publisher like Bardic Press, to see real value in your work is a great tonic for a writer’s ego. And the drive to keep writing and hopefully produce more work of even greater value. How this little book came to be involved a little serendipity, but more of that a little later.

Many years ago, as a result of my search for answers to life, the universe and what I was supposed to be doing in it, I found myself in a spiritual school based on the teachings of Russian mystics George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky. The aim of the school was to help one to wake up, to shake off the fog we live in, to develop awareness of ourselves and others, to basically be better people. One of the tools that was used exclusively in this school was a system of body types developed by one of Ouspensky’s students, Rodney Collin.

Rodney Collin was very interested in synthesising the esoteric knowledge that Gurdjieff developed with modern science. One of the fruits of this synthesis was the connections he made between the ancient planetary archetypes of astrology with a scheme of types based on endocrine gland dominance, developed by a pioneering endocrinologist, Dr Louis Berman. Finally, it seemed, astrology had a biological link between the heavens and man. The endocrine glands produced very clear and definite physiological and psychological characteristics, which were almost identical to the ancient planetary types.

When I first learned how to recognise the types I was continually bowled over by how accurate they were.  Not only were the physical characteristics very clear and obvious, but the psychological profiles that accompanied these body types were deadly accurate. And what’s more, the types scheme contained unique psychological insights that I had not seen anywhere else in my travels, either in esoteric knowledge, or in clinical or even pop psychology.

One of these insights was the idea that there is one central core element to our psyche that manifests both as a chief strength and a chief weakness. It is like the axle to the wheel of our character, around which everything else revolves. If one could discover their chief feature, they would have unlocked one of the biggest mysteries of their inner selves. The insight I have gathered from unlocking my own chief feature has been a very powerful tool in the quest to understand myself and my relations with others.

And that is really the main purpose of the book. Though it deals a lot with science and the links between the planets and life on Earth, at its heart, the book is a little guide map to unlocking the undiscovered country of ourselves, to knowing what makes us tick. To help you unravel some of your own mystery.

Now, while I have always had a strong interest in classic spirituality and esoteric knowledge, I have always been equally fascinated by science. Like Rodney Collin, I have always been looking for ways to reconcile science and spirituality, physics and metaphysics. So, after I became convinced of the accuracy and value of these types, which all were named after the planets, I had to investigate whether there was any real, physical connection between these types and their planetary parents, so to speak.

So I researched astrology research itself, to see whether anyone had uncovered any scientific evidence for celestial influence. It soon became very clear that there was none. Almost every feature of astrology — the zodiac signs, the astrological houses, the aspects, its ability to predict events and outline destiny, etc had been tested over and over, but had failed every test. With one exception.

French scientist Michel Gauquelin spent over twenty years studying the relationships between the heavens and man. He had an avid interest in astrology since a young age, but grew critical when his own research revealed the faulty foundations of many astrological principles. Basically, he was looking for evidence but found none. Until he tested the planets.

Gauquelin’s first positive result in his investigations was using birth times of members of the French Academy of Medicine. Doctors who had achieved academic distinction were selected, and the pattern that emerged was that these eminent physicians tended to have been born when either Mars or Saturn had just risen, or had just passed the midheaven, well above the number expected by chance alone.

Gauquelin’s investigations seemed to link planets with certain professions, and he repeated his studies in other countries like the USA, and the results were identical. He also sent his findings to other scientists to verify his statistics. What distinguishes Gauquelin from other researchers into astrology is that he repeated his studies many times over, always with similar results. The most-repeated test was the association of the planet Mars with sports champions, which became known as the Mars Effect, whose positive statistical results still endures today, despite the attempts by the professional Skeptics organizations to demolish it.

The types Gauquelin studied were almost identical to the planetary types developed by Rodney Collin, so I had to satisfy myself that there was some scientific validity here, so I did my own tests. I collected nearly 400 horoscopes of well-known individuals along with photographs of each. My aim was to determine their body types to see where the planets fell. (Part 2 tomorrow)

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The continuum of belief

Saturday night I watched one of the most delightfully quirky, funny and moving films I have ever seen: Dean Spanley. Sam Neill plays a priest who, under the influence of rare and expensive Imperial Tokay, recounts his former reincarnation as a dog. In the process, he unlocks the heart of a crusty old curmudgeon played brilliantly by Peter O’ Toole. At one point in the story, O’Toole’s son played by Jeremy Northam asks O’Neill if he believes in reincarnation, to which he replies; “Only the closed mind is certain.”

I could not thing of a better creed for someone who seriously investigates reality and paranormalities. Since I began asking pointy questions about what is, it seems par for the course is to actually embrace uncertainty. Mundane facts, like what color my coffee is, elicit comforting certainties, but larger and deeper questions rarely do.

My posterior is planted firmly on the fence for a lot of subjects, and my feet can dangle either way, depending on the evidence and argument. I am reading B Allan Wallace’s “Mind in the Balance,” and his argument about the independence of consciousness on brain function and its significance for reincarnation has my feet swinging towards the positive side.

I have always felt that Ian Stephenson’s amazing research on the subject was convincing evidence, despite the attempts of the hardcore skeptics to shred it.

It’s okay not to be certain; it’s also okay to change what you believe from time to time.

Discovering just exactly what you can be certain about is an exciting journey in itself.

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Polishing the lens

Short post this week, as the weekend is taken up by a visit from the teacher of my Dewachen Buddhist centre, the Venerable Tenzin Namdag.

Above all, the teachings so far have been a reminder that we must be sure that we are looking at things through the right lens. We have to have a filter-less view of reality in order to be sure of what we are seeing.

I do my best, whenever I can, to clear away the muck and grime from my lens, and try to see things as they are.

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The Middle Way

I’ve always been a closet Buddhist, until last year when I came out and joined a local Tibetan Dewachen group here in town. It felt like coming home, and I have become an keen meditator. ‘Nothing to extreme,’ and ‘moderation in all things,’ seemed to have been the constant watchwords throughout my life. And, so too when it comes to paranormality.

There seems to be no unequivocal evidence of the existence of UFOs, ghosts, NDEs, telepathy or astrology, although there are staunch supporters of the last three who consider that there is, and debate the finer points of experimental protocols as to the validity of their proof.

The pursuit of finer states of consciousness is one of my passions; the other is the intersection of physics and metaphysics. What happens when belief in higher realities meets the world of facts. Hence the blog. And my book.

Despite the lack of proof positive of paranormalities, I feel there are still nooks and crannies of paranormality to be investigated, but they have to be examined from the middle of the road. My book ‘Planetary Types: the Science of Celestial Influence’ is one attempt to re-examine the basic tenets of astrology from a cautious, objective viewpoint. I believe there is a strong possibility of achieving positive experimental results from testing the physical characteristics of the seven types against natal chart subjects.

But, to be true to my Buddhist quest for clarity and objectivity, if, after several rounds of testing, the results aren’t forthcoming, I will humbly acquiesce. I am no paranormal evangelist, just a curious chap who thinks there just might be a cosmic umbilical that connects us to a higher world. To completely understate the obvious, I think that would be an interesting discovery.

However, the backbone of the Science of Celestial Influence is the scheme of types, whose reality I am convinced of. They are a unique, accurate and utterly ‘organic’ model of human types. If it turns out that the current explanation of their connection to the planets via the endocrine glands does not fit, then the next exciting chapter will be finding out their true biological causes. But in the meantime the there are experimental roads to try out.

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A shot in the dark

I haven’t really had what you would call a serious brush with the paranormal – no messages from the beyond or even premonitions of impending danger that most people seem to have experienced at least once in their lives. My collision with the unexplained is not your garden variety spooky encounter but it is rather perplexing, mainly because no-one has been able to explain it to my satisfaction. Maybe someone out there can offer me one I haven’t heard before, and that will go someway towareds clearing up this mystery.

I was sitting at my computer early one morning when I heard a god-awfully loud CRACK behind me. A good approximation is the sound of slapping a thong (or flip-flop for my US and UK readers) or sandal very hard on a tile floor. More like a THWACK! This was loud enough to make me jump in my seat and get my heart-rate going a little. Now, I live alone in a small flat with one large main open living area, and the sound was in this lounge/dining/kitchen area. No-one else was in the flat and nothing was out of the ordinary. It sounded a lot like a very loud electrical discharge so I checked all the outlets and appliances but nothing was amiss. The TV was on, but it didn’t skip a beat. Simply put, there was no trace of anything that could explain such a loud retort.

Some explanations that have been offered were large insects or small lizards (I live in Queensland) or mice running across faulty connections. But there was no evidence of a short or anything like that. Another is that moisture inside old TVs can build up a static charge with accumulated dust and deliver a loud crack, and this seems the most likely, but I still can’t believe it would be so loud. I mean, this was really loud.

Suffice to say that most of the explanations so far have been unsatisfactory, not because I want to hold out for a paranormal explanation, but simply because they don’t fit the facts of my experience. Some have even suggested I could have been mistaken about the volume of the sound and its location. Of course, I can only stand by my conviction that everything seemed to me exactly as I describe it.

My niece has had similar experiences with identical lack of obvious sources. Once she heard the same loud crack when entering a completely empty house for the very first time.

I am in logical limbo here. Please rescue me.

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