Archive for the 'convent' Category

Holding back

December 16, 2011

I started thinking about this issue, and at about the point at which I got to wondering whether love includes the desire to protect the loved one, I decided maybe I should reason this out in less fleeting words.

The “holding back” I was thinking about has to do with celibacy and one of its contrasting states, having a family.  Because my impression is that to perceive the highest forces of the universe through our spiritual apparatus (instead of, say, through measuring them with technology and describing them in equations) without distortions and damage, we have to have a very polished piece of apparatus, one with nothing on which these forces can catch and snag, and part of that has to do with not holding back, with complete willingness and surrender.  To put it another way, holding back is kind of like drag on an aircraft; it’ll bring it down under circumstances in which it would otherwise stay aloft.

I don’t want to say that children and spouses can be a drag (how loaded is that?), but I will say that our love and energy for them is love and energy not being applied to higher spiritual relationships — it’s being addressed to them (the kids and spouse), I don’t want to say “diverted,” but it simply is not going vertically upwards.  Loving children and spouses is a good thing but like the saying “You can’t have your cake and eat it to,” if we love our family members and they absorb our love, we don’t have it for other relationships, including with the divine at the highest levels.  I don’t doubt loving one’s family is compatible with a spiritual life of some sorts, and it may even help people find their capacity for loving and help them keep their hearts open and in these ways help them make progress on their spiritual journey, but at some point, I think we need all hands on deck, all the love we are capable of receiving from God to be gifted back to God if we want to experience God at that level.  I think that’s just the “physics” of the situation, and I could be wrong, but that’s my sense of it.

I think going into an advanced spiritual journey with caveats such as, “as long as it doesn’t harm my children,” is very understandable, even endearing and laudable by some measures, but I also think it is dangerous.  It leads to not looking at God head on, but rather with a glancing, indirect gaze.  If we look at God head on, like looking into mirrors on opposite walls in a room, we are drawn into an infinite regress, and if our egos (monkey minds, desires and fears) are out of the way, this is a very positive experience, perhaps the ultimate positive experience.  But if there’s stuff in the way, like an imperfection in a some kind of glass, I think it/we will shatter from the influx of what is being poured in.

So, I got to thinking about what it is about love for our family members that may be getting in the way.  Because I don’t think love per se is the issue, I don’t think love per se does get in the way.  I suspect we tend to include an element of protectionism in love for our near and dear.  I don’t want to be circular in my thinking, and I do realize I started with, “I want to enter into an advanced spiritual relationship but just don’t let it harm my kids.”  But I know that for me as a parent, there is a strand of my love for my kids that is about protecting them.  It’s most appropriate when they are babies and, at the other extreme, can cross the line into being a helicopter parent or an enabler in a dysfunctional relationship under some circumstances.  But I think it’s difficult to have kids, even grown kids, and not feel some kind of desire to help them be safe and happy.

Now, here’s where I think the crux of the issue is: having the thought without turning it into a desire.  That requires some kind of compassionate detachment (and probably other techniques to rearrange the thoughts and emotions, like bundles on a donkey or items in a suitcase, so that the load is carried differently), and what that looks like probably varies with the age of the child, and will be less or more compatible with having spiritual energy for other relationships.  I suspect it’s why celibacy can be helpful, or even just prescribed, for fostering a spiritual life.  So, I think that the ability to love one’s children may be wonderful, it may lead to an ability to love other people’s children and even all people, but that loving relationship with specific family members itself may be an impediment to being able to have spiritual progress after a certain point.

That’s where I think the way human beings can link to one another comes in handy (this idea is somewhere in Plato’s dialogues).  This way, someone can have that intense and monogamous relationship with the divine and also find a compatible way to relate to the person who is the next link in the chain, and so on down the line until everybody is joined, regardless of how many degrees of separation, or whatever we call distance from the source.  The more people who have that primary, monogamous relationship to the divine, the better, but I think that in theory, all it need take is one.

Communal silent prayer

December 1, 2011

Well, now at least I have an explanation for my encounter with Friday night services last week.

In a discussion about Blake and mysticism, someone pointed out that it has been observed that mystics of different religions have more in common with one another than with fellow members of their religion.  Someone else had already advised me that silent prayer was more usual in cloistered communities, not in Jewish services (actually, I think he said silent prayer worked better in cloistered communities than at Jewish services).

So, I’m feeling a little better about looking for communal silent prayer and having trouble locating it, but I’m also feeling not so encouraged that I’ll find something that I’m comfortable with.

Amateur Hour

September 23, 2011

I am cognizant of the fact that people have to make a living, but there is a tension between engaging in spiritual work and receiving money for it, I think.  Discussion of the issue of whether college athletes should be paid and what it means, or has meant, to be an amateur, may be kind of illuminating on this subject.

The idea, in the context of amateur sports, that “[t]he amateur ideal was a restraining code that emphasized fair play and honor” (David Brooks in his column today in the NYTimes, which is what I linked to above) recalls to my mind that there is a different dynamic in spiritual work when one’s means of support comes from elsewhere.  Maybe it’s that we are more of the non-material world if that work remains unconnected to receiving money in return, and that we can understand and hence communicate better to others what we hear.  I don’t know for sure, and since there’s no convent that is affiliated with my somewhat idiosyncratic set of spiritual beliefs for me to apply to, I’ve basically muddled along on my own.  I am respectful of the fact that others have a different sense of how to strike a balance in their own lives between their spiritual work and their earning a living, and I believe that they are in the best position to know what that is for them.  But what I have always heard for myself has been to keep the two realms (work for pay and spiritual work) separate, and I’m thinking today that maybe it has to do with helping keep accessible to me whatever “restraining code” I am supposed to be internalizing and modeling through my own life.