Archive for the 'humility' Category

“God’s Plan”

July 13, 2013

I wrote a comment to Charles Blow’s column on the Zimmerman trial, in which I questioned the apparently selective way people attribute this or that that happens in this world to “God’s Plan.”  It comes up especially when people are justifying their own behavior or trying to make sense of damaging events.  They are often not open to something else that they don’t particularly like being “part of God’s Plan.”

I don’t think there is a “God” who has “a Plan.”  But I do think there is a force driving all this, only not micromanaging it with intentionality — I think many of the forces that shape action and reaction are far more impersonal in operation.  I think at higher levels of understanding, it’s just information that is relevant.  Accident, random confluence, intentional action — those sorts of considerations and distinctions fall away.

In terms of a human need for personal comfort from forces beyond ourselves, I think there are intermediate layers of beings, like angels and guides, who can help in some ways;  I think mainly, however, we are nudged to try to dissipate what produces the desire for comfort in ourselves, and resolving the need that way — by infusing ourselves with higher and cleaner energy.

It frustrates me to hear people apparently claiming that what they did should be accepted as “part of God’s Plan,” but consequences from it they don’t like, or other people’s particular reactions to what they did, could not possibly be “part of God’s Plan,” too.  It’s one thing to say that we don’t understand how what goes on in this world looks from the bleachers, how it looks at some remove and with a bird’s-eye view, it’s quite another to ascribe direction and purpose to those things going on, in which we participate and which most of us only view from that vantage point.

The “God’s Plan” notion is so often used as a rationalization to soothe the ego, rather than as a statement of humility.


Falls and phoenices

March 1, 2013

Is that the plural for phoenix?

I’m thinking about public figures, especially politicians, who take a fall.  Some rise up again later, and I was wondering about why some do and some don’t.  Clearly behaviors that are used after the fall make a difference — the apology (or not), the PR firm hired, the length of withdrawal from the fray, the willingness to take whatever the next step turns out to be for reinvention.

What I’ve wondered recently is whether one variable could be how much the individual truly believed they deserved their (first) success in the first place.  If they harbored misgivings about how they came to be elected or land the nomination or whatever, and then they fall from grace in a scandal, do they have the wherewithal to think of their situation in terms of, “Well, this is interesting;  I wonder what will come out of it and how this all serves my greater good”?

I wonder whether people whose house has been built, not upon sand, but with a flaw in its foundation, implode when they fall.

Do we ask them to take the fall nonetheless?  I think we give them a raincheck until they can fall safely.

If they continue to repeat the pattern, eventually they will find themselves with new teachers and classmates, as the old cohort moves on.

I’ve been getting seemingly random wrong-number phone calls, on both my cell phone and my landline, in which there is a pause followed by an automated “Goodbye!”  I’ve wondered what it might represent metaphorically, and all I can come up with is what might happen when a soul is finishing up its final incarnation and makes good on a promise to bid one of those serial “I won’t jump because my parachute is defective” folks goodbye before she does.

Struggling with technology

February 25, 2013

I was using a tax software program yesterday.  In its running summary of my progress, it did not include all the information that had been entered according to its instructions.

Some of that information turned out to be there, and indeed landed in the proper boxes and lines on the forms.  Some of it I had to re-enter manually.

So it’s not just on my end, the software has idiosyncrasies.

At one point, I was on hold waiting for customer service, and I started wondering why I seem to have such a struggle with technology.  And I thought, maybe other people feel the way I do about technology, about something else that I actually feel comfortable with.  And maybe my struggles with technology are a gentle reminder to be more understanding of others who struggle with those things, and to be clearer in my explanations if I am trying to help them with that.

Thinking you remember

December 23, 2012

I wrote a post here some time ago in which I referred to computer programming in Basic, to “if … then …” structure, and as I wrote it, I could feel myself not really remembering the details, in terms of the programming, of what I was writing about.  I’m not sure it mattered in that post, the concept I think I got right.

But that experience gave me a window into what some people apparently do when they continue to act as sources of wisdom after they’ve lost the knack of discerning in a way that gives access to profound understanding.

This is easier to see within a belief system that includes reincarnation, although maybe after I explain it that way, I will be able to see how to translate it into a system that doesn’t.

Somebody attains in a particular lifetime the ability to see beyond dualism, to no longer see things in opposition to each other but to see unity, to harmonize seemingly conflicting strands organically merging and to see unity without intellectual rationalizing.  I think what I’m referring to is what Richard Rohr describes much better in his book The Naked Now.

But they are missing something in their spiritual development and are reborn to explore that.  (I don’t think everybody develops themselves in exactly the same sequence.)  They grow up and they have a vague sense they should be offering wise counsel and they have a vague sense of how to do that.  And they have a fleeting thought that even if they don’t do it exactly right, it won’t matter in terms of whether their audience notices.

I think they don’t want to do what it would take to regain the ability to see in unity (again).  It may be that what they are looking to explore in this lifetime of theirs is the humility to relearn alongside of people learning how to discern in stereo for the first time.

That learning requires, I think, a huge amount of openness, and coming to that state of openness can be quite painful.  I suspect that for some reason the person in question just really doesn’t want to go through that, perhaps because they have a vague sense of what it would entail from having done it before, and they don’t have the vague sense that that’s just the point — to go back and do it again.

I’ve struggled with the explanation that maybe they have a good reason for not going through the learning process again, for not becoming more open.  In the end I think I made no determination on whether they could have done it successfully, because it became clear that, regardless, they weren’t agreeable with trying.  So somebody else took their place, in terms developing this particular talent.  And the original person tried to continue to offer wise advice, although now, in this lifetime, they were doing it while relying on their imperfect recollection of how to discern it.  And they did not pursue the lesson they had come to learn.

If I try to explain this without reference to past lives, I guess I would say it’s someone faking it, maybe after reading a description of how it’s done but not actually going through the process described.

For my own part, I’ve come to see that my lesson may be to learn that people don’t have to follow through on what they set out to do, that I have to stop believing their self-reporting that they will, and that eventually some other way of serving the greater good needs to be used.  Eventually, the “This is so stupid” aspect of the situation comes to trump any concern about whether finding another way to resolve it is “fair;”  who cares about who spilled the milk?  We can clean up a spill, regardless of who or what contributed to its occurrence, if cleaning it up is the important thing.

I’ve also learned not to wait around for the other person to perceive the situation as I do.  Jewel may sing about not being “made useless with despair,” I’m more worried about being made useless by waiting for something to happen that won’t.

Which brings me back to the issue of belief, or not, in reincarnation.  Because some of these people take the attitude that I should wait, that they really will get to it [in this lifetime].  What I see is that maybe they will get to it, but it will be during another lifetime.  That explains their sincerity and my disbelief.

Self-starvation,acceptance of flaws, and humility

October 22, 2012

Somebody else’s crisis got me Googling things about intentional self-starvation, and I stumbled on a practice in Jainism in which people do this as some kind of ascetic practice.  According to Wikipedia, not the best source for spiritual guidance, it is predicated on a conception of causing no harm to others even by eating fruits and vegetables, and of producing spiritual progress (if not successful completion of the task).

That’s one of those, “I can’t believe they heard that accurately” moments for me about somebody else’s religious beliefs.  I don’t think people are supposed to be air ferns.  (One of my ways of protesting when I think somebody is acting as if I have no needs is to declare that I am not an air fern.)  I don’t see it as an acceptance of “failure” against an ideal of perfection in which the person makes no claims on anyone else (supreme independence or extreme asceticism).  I see it more as embracing our muddiness — we are of this earth as well as of the spirit, and that’s okay.  We are within an ecosystem.  We have flaws.  We didn’t have to be here, we could have stayed pure spirit, I want to bet, but we’re here, and while we’re here, we participate in the material world.  Including eating.  To deny all that can even look like a type of arrogance, I think, although I tend to see it as a misunderstanding.

I think it’s a form of humility to accept our place as animals as well as human animals and spiritual creatures.  None of these identities is exclusive.  I don’t think we should over-indulge in any of them, but I don’t think we should renounce any of them completely either.  I’d guess each of us finds a different balance of these components in our lives.

My older son used to worry about whether weeds feel pain when we pull them up.  Jains (or some Jains) apparently feel similarly about eating fruits off of trees or vegetables off of plants, and the like.  Being reminded of others’ pain can help us do what we do with compassion, and I do get frustrated with some other religions’ practices that can be exploited to easily redeem past harm we’ve done to others without much increase in self-awareness, but it just strikes me that if the “answer” is self-starvation, something has gone wrong in the process of arriving at that conclusion.  (I am not talking about the process at a natural end-of-life in which the person stops eating and eventually even drinking as the dying body shuts down.)

Okay.  On to something more cheerful.


Red Shawl

September 8, 2012

I wrote about red dresses the other day, in light of the recent political conventions, and yesterday I had my own humbling experience with a red garment.

I got an email ad for a sale on a red prayer shawl I liked, so I ordered one, and it got a little complicated, because I didn’t want to be charged sales tax on what could be considered clothing, since clothing below a certain price threshold doesn’t trigger sales tax in Massachusetts.  And then the company’s different departments had trouble communicating with each other, and my order fell into that gap, and they went out of stock before filling my order, and I was frustrated, in part because when I had placed my order by phone (so I could flag the sales tax issue), the rep had gone on about how it was a good thing I was placing my order then because they had very few left but I would get one.

So the company told me, in the course of straightening out the sales tax issue (none charged), that they were getting more stock in, and at some point, someone at the company (which is also in Massachusetts) told me she lives in Cambridge and would drop it off for me at my house yesterday to mitigate the delay.

I was touched and thrilled. Especially in light of the family medical emergency I’ve got going on in another state — it was like a little gesture that made me feel a whole lot better while I’m feeling generally stretched further than I find comfortable.  (The sorting out of my responsibilities under the circumstances is stressful to me, especially since I’ve got responsibilities here, too.)

I thought the customer service rep was going to drop the shawl off on her way to work in the morning.  Turns out, she needed to pick up the stock during the day and then drop it off, but I didn’t know that.  So when the shawl still wasn’t on my porch at almost 4 p.m. and I was concerned and frustrated.  And I was not very successful in reaching anyone at the company, and that concerned me, too.

My better angels told me to chill, it would get worked out, but in the meantime, my (over)reaction precipitated an insight into one of those old pieces of unfinished karmic business, and I could see how a spiritual seeker had been impatient to receive his monk’s prayer shawl and had arranged to get initiated through someone privately who was not qualified to do that work, in order to achieve that sooner.  And the would-be monk was so focused on the article of clothing the shawl.

And I had that flash, which I’ve had before, that it’s not the accoutrements, or even the position in the material world that makes the person with spiritual insight a person with spiritual insight, it’s their inner state and their developed ability to access the universe through their inner self.  The shawl doesn’t confer the ability.  (I’ve heard this idea centered on a story of lost prayer beads, where the person who lost them had already lost his access to insight but blamed the loss of the beads and the person he held responsible for that spiritual loss.)

I had a friend in college who was very involved in gymnastics.  Her family took in gymnasts who were training locally, too, so she really was exposed to a lot of aspects of the sport.  She used to observe that the really talented gymnasts had the most tattered and unassuming warm-up clothing.  (She’d pick them out on opposing teams — whom to watch for — at meets during warm-ups that way, even.)

I think that’s analogous to what I’m saying about the prayer shawl issue.

I need to call the company Monday and tie up a loose end or two, including offering an apology for my misunderstanding and misplaced concern.  Privately I really do have to work on my impatience and the unhelpful concerns it can give rise to.  I’ve been trying to help my relative in the hospital with their impatience about being there — it seems so clear to me how to deal with that manifestation of impatience.  But it’s my own I need to work on.  In my relative let me see myself and learn something.

It’s a humbling experience.