Ataraxia: The Steamboat Principle

I think it’s a truly extraordinary moment in SBNR writing…

… SBNR: Spiritual But Not Religious. Writing the Webster rebuttal has made me realise I identify with that term and its history… it’s proving a useful opportunity to crystallise the concept’s importance, the culture associated with it that we can and should be proud of, but aren’t, I think as a result of commercialism and easy answers… and we may be neglecting important stuff… this is what allows Webster to and claim in what looks to the uneducated like a coherent fashion that we need to ‘scrap spirit altogether’… I think it is time for a reappraisal of SBNR and a reminder of what it is and has been, apart from 2012 nonsense…

… pursuing his OBE activities, Robert Monroe (Far Journeys, 1985), who invented the term “OBE”, wants to reach the nonphysical space where some beings he is in touch with reside. They tell him he couldn’t tolerate the atmosphere. He will need to undergo a set of experiences first, which will change him. He agrees… following is one of the experiences.

Monroe was a totally SBNR individual, a man with an engineering background who one day found himself floating on the ceiling. He invented a vocabulary and set of techniques for nonphysical exploration (still very much in use at the Monroe Institute he founded) that is entirely independent of all religious culture and has some degree of technicality in its vocab and feel. As a result, some thought he was a little ropey on human emotions. The truth is he had great understanding of them and repeatedly wrote far more interestingly about them than many supposedly more right-brained people.

Judge for yourself:

. . . Our little dog with the funny name, Steamboat, he is walking with
me along the road in early morning . . . he is such a friend . . . his
bright gladness at seeing me . . . he actually grins when he wants you to
know what a nice guy he is, just because that’s what his human close-by
god does . . . his seeming need to be with you, enthusiastically do what
you want to do . . . just a word from me, and he comes running to me
joyfully . . . it’s much more than the fact that I feed him, most of what
we do has no relationship to such . . . we have a bond that might be
called friendship, he’s succeeded in making friends with his god, doing
things together, that’s pretty good stuff, making friends with your
god . . . now he’s been diverted into the wooded bank alongside the
road, eagerly seeking an ever-elusive rabbit, but after a short search, he
will return, bounding across the road to walk just in front of me again .
. . then I hear a vehicle, a car or truck, approaching behind the blind
curve and I call to Steamboat to come to me, stand and be where it is
safe . . . it is a truck, and it comes around the curve quickly, too quickly
. . . just ten feet away from passing me, Steamboat leaps down the bank
from the woods and directly under the wheel of the truck . . . there is a
rending scream as the wheel grinds over the lower half of his body,
flattening it completely . . . the truck moves away and stops, and the
driver gets down from his cab, sadly apologetic . . . I get to where
Steamboat is still trying to come to me, his front legs trying to drag the
crushed half across the road to where I am . . . I sit down on the road
in front of him, and he stops trying to move as I reach out and rub his
head, tears forming in my eyes as minuscule evidence of the deep
sorrow within me . . . through my hand, I feel the heavy tremors
moving through his body from the pain, and he licks my hand and looks up
at me, asking, hoping his god will take care of the pain . . . I look at his
body, the damage so irreparable there is no hope . . . he licks my hand again . . . and I accept the responsibility . . . I get up and move to the waiting truck driver, removing
my pullover shirt as I go . . . a look passes between us and he knows
that I do not blame him, that he should harbor no guilt . . . sadness
shared, yes . . . but no guilt . . . I was responsible, not he . . . I move
to the truck, remove the cap from the gas tank, and push the shirt into the
tank, soaking it with fluid . . . then I remove the dripping cloth and
move back to Steamboat, who has watched me expectantly, too weak to
do more . . . I sit down, and his head drops into my lap, eyes looking up
to me, asking, asking . . . gently, I move the cloth over his nose with one
hand and place the other on his head . . . his eyes look at me deeply and
the tremors in his neck subside slowly and are gone . . . I see and know
the closeness we share is eternal, and he somehow knows this, too . . .
the conscious awareness in his eyes dims and is gone . . . and they are only eyes with my tears in them . . .

Suddenly he exits this reality —

— which has been set up by these beings as an environment in which to learn a specific lesson. All of this has been taking place out of body.

Instantly he knows Steamboat is fine — “somewhere near my physical body”.

Yes, Steamboat is fine. The designers of the experience explain that this was a reliving of an earlier similar event in which a different dog died, and that in the earlier event, Monroe himself was helpless:

You did nothing to fulfill your responsibility. In your present state of awareness, you exercised the control that is so important […] The paradox attached to such vital energy, emotion as you call it, is the opportunity for growth it provides and the simultaneous possibility of stasis and retrogression. Control and direction thereof thus becomes a prime purpose in the evolving human experience. Understanding and comprehension is the resultant and flows without effort…

I relate this to what I’ve been thinking in the last couple of weeks — ataraxia involves the ability to be peaceful amid any flow. Neither to stop the flow, nor to lose the peace amidst the flow, that is the conundrum. ‘Control’ is ‘so important’, a ‘prime purpose’. “Control of” means “maintenance of awareness (implied: parasympathetic) amidst the change of”.

Monroe’s aesthetic is that of an engineer (“understanding and comprehension is the resultant…”) but know the meaning of emotion? I think he did. Very well. ‘Negative emotion’ means something to us humans. Dumbed down into ‘the chance to grow’, Monroe’s thought pegs suffering as a precisely targeted attempt to get us to reach and hold the underlying truth beneath surface entrainments.

After he got through all those environments, he did get to visit the place he wanted to visit. I remember Epicurus: “We believe many pains to be better than pleasures when a greater pleasure follows for a long while if we endure the pains.”


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