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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Poet/Musician ‘Apollo Poetry’ preaches non-dogmatic spirituality

Apollo Poetry describes himself as a spoken word poet, hiphop artist, filmmaker, and author. He says that his work is about using “words as tools of inspiration to bridge the gap between our cultural divisions…” My work with the Spiritual Naturalist Society has recently has included reaching out to artists, musicians, poets, and other creative people to help build up this new community. Apollo’s infusion of spirituality into his work is one reason I became interested in him.

Apollo was the first spoken word artist to perform at the Billboard Awards (2007). His appearances include MTV, Showtime at Apollo, and several other shows, magazines, and venues. He spends a good deal of time traveling, and has performed and presented in over 40 states at high schools, colleges, retirement homes, homeless shelters, and other community based projects.

In his performances, he aims to take the crowd “on a deeper journey” by bringing an intensity to his work. Recently I interviewed Apollo to learn a little more about his views and how that affects his art.

DT: Thanks for your time Apollo. Your work seems to touch on spirituality a lot. Can you share with us your views and how your spirituality intersects with your poetry and music?

Apollo: My art is an extension of my spirituality. It always has been. I just had to awaken to that knowledge to recognize that. The world is a stage. Life is a poem. And the music is the soundtrack of our lives. What a beautiful gift to be able to take something invisible out of the ethereal and create it into existence. That’s what poetry, art,and music is!  The very nature of its creation contains the magic of its essence.

DT: Your website says that you have the goal to “uplift humanity through words”. How did you come to have this as a goal, and how do you envision that process?

Apollo: Words are extremely powerful. We see that with advertising and marketing. Or even when somebody blushes. How is it that a sound out of somebody’s mouth can be a symbol in somebody’s mind, and that invisible thought can make blood rush to their cheeks because of the emotion? Words are symbols and very powerful ones. Like all tools, we can use them for good or for bad. I use them to help people reflect and hopefully get inspired by them. The power that words have is to create emotion, and the power that emotions have is to create action.

DT: In your song “Spiritual Bullshit” (see video below) you seem to be saying that many people get obsessed with the trappings of spirituality and their image as a spiritual person, but then hypocritically treat others badly or fail to focus on what matters when it comes to how they live their lives. Would this be a fair understanding of that message, and what else does the song communicate?

Apollo: Yes. Any interpretation of it would actually be a fair understanding because it’s meant to reflect the viewer’s perspective on life. We are all hypocrites and judgmental in something, but we point out those two traits in everyone else except ourselves. I feel that if people come to peace with what they actually are and understand the root of their emotions, they will more easily be able to be accepting and compassionate to others who are displaying the traits that don’t sit right with us. Often times, when we see somebody doing something that gives us a strong emotional reaction, it’s because it triggers a subconscious aspect of ourselves which we are not at peace with yet.

Another part of the song is the false ‘image’ of spirituality which is marketed to us. Westerners loves to glorify Eastern religion, but it might be different if they actually visited some of these countries to see how people live. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE all world religions. But too many of us fall into the brain-washing dogma. Even people who think they’ve escaped it. What a clever trick by the ego eh?

DT: And yet, the different religions seem to have contradictory beliefs about the nature of reality and our place in it – gods, the afterlife, salvation, and so on. What does it mean to love all world religions without the dogma? Can you go into that a little more and give us your take?

Apollo: Sure. I don’t mean to love every aspect of every belief system, but to love that there are so many different ones and see what we can learn from each one. The fact that there are so many could mean many things. Perhaps the presence of a higher power is so strong, that regardless of what culture or time period a person is born, most people end up seeking a connection with the universe. And people can choose to celebrate that similarity if they want. It could also mean that religion is just part of our human evolution. It will either help us transcend our primal thoughts by witnessing the atrocities that have been committed in the name of the unknown. Or it will completely wipe us off the planet, which ironically, would be the best thing for almost every other species on this planet. I don’t mean to sound so sinister, but if you compare what humans do to the earth in the name of invisible belief systems (such as religion, money, economy), you can compare us to a cancer. Or perhaps there will be a third outcome not known to us yet. Either or, it serves a divine purpose.

DT: Were there some events in your life personally that inspired “Spiritual Bullshit”?

Apollo: I’ve seen conscious individuals talk about how they left mainstream religion because they don’t believe the Christian stories of humans walking on water and talking snakes, yet they now they believe in reptilian shape-shifters battling space travelers for the souls of humanity. I’ve seen people say Judaism is crazy because of the concept that they are the ‘chosen ones’ by God, yet I’ve seen people boasting how they are part of a special star-seed soul family who is here to enlighten earth. I know they might seem different on the surface, but they activate and massage the same part of human psychology. The concept that we have found something special or have a ‘higher’ knowledge and we are part of something greater. So when we judge people, it’s hilarious, because at the ROOT, we are sooo much like them, but we are blind to seeing that because we put on different costumes. I created the song to take off the veil and face the mirror without a mask. I’m calling me out!

DT: So, in calling yourself out, how do you plan to get out of that situation, where you’re not just accepting one set of unfounded beliefs in exchange for another?

Apollo: It first begins by admitting what we are. Tiny specks of dust floating on tiny specks of dust. If you take all the animals on land, sea, and air, and all the tiny micro-organisms, human beings are an extreme minority. And our planet is even more of an extreme minority compared to all the flying rocks and stars out there. Not only that, but there are also 1000′s of religions and 1000′s of translations within many of these religions. Don’t we see that we are mostly by-products of our environment? Do you think it’s a coincidence that most people have the same religion as their family upbringing? It’s not a BELIEF system that most people have. It’s an installed piece of software. How could you believe in one religion over another if you never studied them both?

It’s okay to have a belief system if it’s attached with a little bit of flexibility and open-mindedness on a very simple notion. I might be completely wrong! If we approach it with that humbleness, perhaps we won’t have the need to kill people over it. Perhaps we will focus more on the philosophies that create happiness.

DT: It seems people can identify with your work from a variety of different beliefs. Is that intentional? What kinds of topics would you think all people could find useful regardless of their beliefs about the supernatural (or lack thereof)?

Apollo: There are many paths to get to the top of the mountain, but once we are there, the view is the same. Why would I get mad at you for taking the Eastern route, just because I’m taking the Western path? Why would I want to bomb you and destroy you because you’re talking the Southern trail? Why would I hate you because you’re not on the same journey as me? If the mountain didn’t have many angles, it wouldn’t be a mountain. There would be no journey. It is the many paths that makes it beautiful just like the different colors of the rainbow. If I feel happy doing what i do, as long as it’s not stopping you from doing what you do and vica verca, why can’t we co-exist? I believe that once we know how to take care of everybody and be honest, starting with ourselves, and show mutual love and respect, we can create peace. As long as we keep attacking and trying to prove what’s right and wrong, there will be war. All religions have something to teach to humanity. At the core, most humans just want peace, love, safety, sustainability, and companionship. I focus more on the philosophies of the religions, more than the separatist dogma, which was likely created by corrupt power-hungry political and economic systems.

DT: Is there anything else about your work that you’d like to mention?

Apollo: I have so much going on that it’d be hard to focus on one thing. I’m making films, acting, doing photography, trying to launch some inventions and business ideas, traveling, making a music album, a poetry album, writing a book, and a whole lot more. My time here is limited, so I’m just trying to make the absolute best out of it. People can stay in touch at my site,
Thank you for everything.

DT: Thanks for the great discussion!

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Special thanks to Karma Camilleon for making me aware of Apollo Poetry!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Why Spiritual Naturalism is the future

I've recently published an article over at the Spiritual Naturalist Society that my readers might like to know about...

6 Reasons you will see more of Spiritual Naturalism in the future

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Friday, May 4, 2012

May the 4th be with you!

The little, green (but powerful)
Jedi Master Yoda, meditating.
What can Star Wars teach spiritual naturalists?

Today is May 4th, a fan-created holiday to celebrate all things Star Wars. Aside from the play on words "May the force be with you", May was the month the original Star Wars movie and several others came out in the theaters.

Star Wars is such an integrated part of our popular culture in many nations that this hardly needs to be said, but it is this science fiction franchise that has brought us the Jedi Order, a religious order of knights who guarded peace and justice in the galaxy. The Jedi were able to tap into 'the Force' - the central phenomenon around which their practice was based. This allowed them to have many magical powers.

At first glance, this doesn't seem very naturalist, but rather supernatural. However, as any good science fiction fan will tell you, the best science fiction isn't about the spaceships, lasers, and explosions (or, in this case, magical powers), but about the message behind those trappings.

Stylistically, the Jedi seem to be an amalgamation of many different religious elements of our world - East and West, combined into one and given a generic kind of gloss. This fulfilled the needs of creator George Lucas' story in having the feel of some kind of universal wisdom to it. As such, the Jedi in the Star Wars films can be seen behaving and speaking in ways that exemplify ideas, perspectives, and philosophies many people may have been unfamiliar with otherwise.

Of course, in a film series, you don't have time to go into the depths of a philosophy and you only really need a few lines dropped here and there, some costume and architectural references, and so on to give the feel that there is something deeper there. Therefore, the Jedi religion, as such, is not really deep or rich enough to constitute a real practice strictly on its own - and was never intended to be. But what Star Wars has done for the exposure of these philosophies is similar to what Star Trek has done for fields like engineering and science. Fans growing up enjoying these films have been intrigued by the ideas they reference, and have been inspired to investigate them further, in their real life traditions here on planet earth.

In Star Wars and Philosophy, Kevin Decker and Jason Eberl take us on just such an exploration. While many people will recognize the obvious Buddhism, or even Taoist themes in the Jedi, they point out the equally rich connections of Western Stoicism underlying the characters' thoughts and behaviors in the films. They also explore Star Wars' approach to moral ambiguity, determinism, and more.

In The Dharma of Star Wars, Matthew Bortolin gets into even more detail regarding the real Buddhist perspectives and practices the Jedi can be seen referencing in the films. Here the Jedi approach to mindfulness and focus, the roots and causes of suffering, and 'the ways of the Force' (i.e., the ways of nature).

Not only has Star Wars been a gateway for many in exploring these ideas, but in its eclectic mix of inspirations, Star Wars engages in just the kind of exploration many spiritual naturalists pursue, and reflects the kind of 'take what works' approach we will take here at the Spiritual Naturalist Society. The 'powers' of the Jedi thus serve as a metaphor for the empowering nature of these sources of wisdom - the power to lead more mindful, happier, lives of virtue and contentment.

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