Everything on my Altar symbolizes a piece of the whole. Hence me calling my little alter the Altar of Unity.
Dream-catcher: The Native Americans called their ideology/religion The Great Medicine. I obviously lack the culture understanding of that time, I however grasp the general gist of their spiritual connection and subsequent practices. A lot of those practices is something I do as well.
As explained by Wooden Leg in his book : Wooden Leg: A Warrior Who Fought Custer.
To get in touch with The Great Medicine they fasted for several days and spent time in sweat lodge (think sauna). Where he abstained from water and food. As his multiple days were up the customs asked to show restraint and control. He could only take a small bite from some buffalo meat and small sips of water for a period of hours after the fasting. This shows in a way how temperance, control and discipline were highly regarded traits and to some degree even demanded.
What struck me the most is how the Northern Cheyenne tribe upheld their spiritual practice. Fasting, heat exposure, prayer and deep contemplation were the corner stones of that spiritual practice. These corner stones tend to pop up quite frequently in other societies. On Jocko Podcast number 45 Jock and Echo review the life of Wooden Leg. What I found fascinating was that in his Wooden Leg was baptized by the priest in the reservation in 1908. He thought that the whites and the Indians worshiped the same god, even if in a different manner. Which I think is anecdotal confirmation that spiritual core of “Religions” are the same.
Horus: The ancient Egyptian stories are the precursor of Judeo-christian story telling, which is something I stumbled on in Gnostic and esoteric articles. The archetypal story of good and evil in Egyptian history is beyond fascinating. What took me aback is that Jordan Peterson makes a mention to it in
12 Rules for Life. More on this in the book:
Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection.
The ancient Egypt and Christianity connection can be found in several quotes and other resources. I will use one quote as illustration:
“The kingdom of heaven is within you; and whoever shall know himself shall find it." - Egyptian Proverb
“The kingdom of God is within you.”
- Jesus (Bible)
Cross: Seeing the most of Belgium was (is?) Catholic, I was raised as a Catholic Christian. Not in any fundamental or conservative way. My parents have always been cool with whatever my religious views were. Religion (Christianity) in my early days fascinated me. As I got older I started resenting the history of “my” religion, leading to it's denouncement. I've never really considered myself religious anyway. Getting to learn about the bible and other facets of Christianity have provided some value in the sense that it's history has given me context. Context about where it came from and what it's core is about. Stating the obvious that the core is the same as basically any other religion.
Stoicism books: For everything Stoicism is, most people focus on a tiny element. Not necessarily even the element that would basically benefit everyone. But fragmented and misinterpreted coldness, robot like detachment and a skewered glorification of suffering. With skewered I mean that the perpetuated perception is very one-dimensional on what suffering is, what we find within and how to deal with it. Which in Stoic texts is addressed on as many levels as they could think of, and is right fully multidimensional to account for the complexity of the organic nature of the universe and life. To highlight what Stoicism is and encompasses I quote Pierre Haddot (as I will many times down below) from his book. The Inner Citadel.
“In the first place, the “Stoic”, in the universal tense in which we understand him, is conscious of the fact that no being is alone, but that we are parts of a Whole, constituted by the totality of human beings as well as by the totality of the cosmos. The Stoic constantly has his mind on the Whole. One could also say that the Stoic feels absolutely serene, free and invulnerable, insofar as he has become aware that there is no other evil than moral evil, and that the only thing that counts is the purity of moral conscience. Finally the Stoic believes in the absolute value of the human person.” - Pierre Hadot, The Inner Citadel page 311 The Stoics identified Universal Nature in many ways: God, Nature, Truth, Destiny, Zeus, Providence, The world, Daimōn.
“God has placed next to each person, as a guardian, his own daimōn, and he has entrusted each person to its protection... When you close your doors... Remember never to say to yourselves that you are lone... for God is within you.” - Epictetus (The Inner citadel, page 159)
“Henry Bergson used to call the world “a machine for making gods” But the Stoics would gladly have called it a machine for making sages.” - Pierre Hadot , The inner Citadel. (the discipline of desire, page 161)
“The impulse Marcus speaks of (universal impulse) is imposed by a force which is within the world: The soul or mind of the world (Universe). This must not be imagined in accordance with a model which is mechanical. But rather according to an organic one; for the Stoics see the development of the universe as like that of a living being, developing from a seed.” - Pierre Hadot, The Inner Citadel (the discipline of desire, page 155)
“Self love is not the solitary, egoistic love of the Whole for itself, but rather the mutual love, within the Whole, of the parts for each other, of the parts for the Whole, and of the Whole for the parts. Between the parts and the whole, there is a “harmony” or “co-respiration,” which puts them in accord with one another.” - Pierre Hadot, the Inner Citadel (The discipline of desire, page 142)
“This interconnection or interweaving – the mutual implication of all things in all things – is one Marcus' favorite themes. For him, as for Stoics in general, the cosmos is but a single living entity, endowed with a unique consciousness and will.” Pierre Hadot, the Inner Citadel (The discipline of desire, page 141)
The Unity, wholeness, and oneness is deeply embedded in Stoic philosophy. And in my honest opinion, with out that (those) stoicism wouldn't be what it is, wouldn't be as potent and wouldn't be that integral. I can't say that this IS the way of the universe, I can however surmise that that is how I experience it on many levels and how I feel things are. I have felt interconnectedness, unity, wholeness, oneness, unity, and that interweaving on every level. That doesn't mean I always hold on to it, but by sticking to my practice I always get back to it. Which is why the practice (philosophy and all my “external” practices) are of such importance.
This one isn't that clear or as self evident as it has made out to be. This one was made clear to me by Tim Ferris. We often think we're grateful, or even that this “little” tool is negligible. It is neither a little thing nor negligible. And clear it's far from self evident or we'd all be doing it, like perhaps keeping our nutrition on point?
I think the first level of this is actually PRACTICING gratitude DAILY. There are plenty of studies that corroborate on the positive effects, changes in neuroanatomy and neurochemistry, that have been experienced by anyone that follows a gratitude practice. It's interesting to have a deeper look at most religions and spiritual (Philosophical) practices because they all have it ingrained. Clearly the ancients understood the potency of the practice of gratitude. Which is why the importance of it only keeps amplifying to me. Another level to it is that it changes your focus. And we well know, scientifically, that changes the focus of our perception changes what we see and how we feel. You start seeing more opportunities and more “positivity” when you are grateful. Which brings me to a much deeper level.
This gratitude practice is a step towards bringing the body (nervous system) out of constant fight or flight. Which inhibits cognition to a point where you feel like there is no way out of your problems. You feel stuck, you don't know “the way”, you don't see possibilities or opportunities. Because the brain region that's supposed to take care of this has reduced blood-flow and reduced volume. There are of course many other parameters and practices that help, a lot more boxes should be checked to guide your nervous system out of fight or flight. However daily gratitude is very good place to start and start acknowledging what IS good about your life, yourself, your environment and the universe. Guardian Coin: The guardian coin (not pictured). I'd like to think I got my spirituality from my mom, but no one really can give that to you. You experience it, although she fostered an environment that supported it. Her perception differs slightly from mine (which is of course fine) as she's brought up in more catholic christian way. On many occasions during my long and deep depression she would tell me about my guardian angel. A force that guards me, watches over me and guides me. Which as a child never made much sense to me, until I started my own spiritual/philosophical practice. The Stoics, Socrates, Plato and even Aristotle referred to a divine power: the inner Daimōn. “God has placed next to each person, as a guardian, his own daimōn, and he has entrusted each person to its protection." - Epictetus (the inner citadel, page 159)
Although they all had a different perception as to what it really was, it seems to coalesce in the ability to transcend or ascend oneself via our “hidden” internal (divine) power. Which other religions tend to attribute to something external. Although other spiritual and philosophical practices acknowledge it is indeed internal.
Buddha: I believe in a universal Stoicism in humanity. Otherwise these principles wouldn't pop up in different cultures at different periods throughout history. Or even now in people that never held Stoic writings or Buddhist teachings, but EXPERIENCED and REFLECTED on those experiences to come to similar and/or even the same conclusions as Stoicism and Buddhism.
We can find these findings in Wang-Fou Chic, a Chinese philosopher of the seventeenth century.
Again in China we see them much earlier in Tang Zhen during the same period as Marcus Aurelius.
We can recognize a “Stoic” attitude Miyamoto Musashi (1584 – June 13, 1645) all the way in Japan. There are many more that I'm not aware of, and many that I am aware that I am not listing. Buddhism and stoicism have many Parallels between them. Perhaps even originate in the same source, deep within that divinity.
“You have the right to work, but for the work's sake only. You have no right to the fruits of work. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working. Never give way to laziness, either. Perform every action with you heart fixed on the Supreme Lord (Stoic wording: The universe, God, Nature, Daimōn. ) . Renounce attachment to the fruits. Be even-tempered (Stoic principle: Tempering emotions.) in success and failure: for it is this evenness of temper which is meant by yoga. Work done with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender (Stoic principle: Amor Fati: loving your faith. Surrendering to life/faith). Seek refuge in the knowledge of Brahma (Stoic wording: The Inner Daimōn (The true self) ) . They who work selfishly for results are miserable.”
― Bhagavad Gita
There are so many parallels, similarities and universal “truths” that there would be too many writings to quote and connect Buddhism to Stoicism (and of course: visa versa). To me Spiritual core = love and unity, wholeness and oneness of being (with the universe). Which seems to be the findings of every spiritual practice I look into.
Dog Tags: The dog tags on the left are my Grandfather's dog tags. Channeling or speaking to an ancestral spirit (s) is a practice that is still very much alive in a lot of tribal type cultures. My grandfather was in the reserves after completing his conscription. Even though he never did anything in the military that we could describe as noteworthy, it's more of a reminder of how tough men were those days. Especially having lived through a war, your appreciation of things tends to skyrocket. My grandfathers dog tags are symbolic of all the “old time” values, valor and honor that were perhaps more at the forefront before, during and (for a while) after WW2. It's there to remind me of the sacrifices millions have made to give us the life we live to do and to stand up for what is right. What's more is that it is a daily reminder to be a good man. A man worthy not just of their sacrifices, but of their respect. A reminder that we're standing on the shoulders of giant, standing on the shoulders of the generations that came before us and how we can learn from them.
Mjolnir: More a representation of anything based on nature and myth “religion” wise. Not just Viking culture or old Norwegian culture. An embrace of making sense of our being and our universe through stories told. Alongside with practices that kept man grounded in nature and connected to the universe. There's the misconception that these “Gods” were worshiped. The old customs were not about worshiping gods, but about having respect, reverence and communion with elements of nature and the universe (life). We as species have a tendency project a figure onto an element to help identify it to ourselves. These “gods” are representations of nature. The practice thus is aimed at Nature (and the universe) and not on the identification associated with them. One might say that worshiping such identifications is the same as worshiping false idols. To me my Mjolnir symbolizes going back to the root of these practices, internally mainly.
Next to that, it's become a personal symbol to overcome adversity. The dragon head representing the mythical serpent/dragon that hoards the treasure (divinity) within us. The Mjolnir itself the power of the gods to overcome that serpent to get in touch with divinity. Which is a driving vessel for me daily.