Archive for the 'mystics' Category

Mystic traditions

September 2, 2014

I don’t know enough about it to discuss it accurately, but it seems to me that a mention of Jewish mysticism is missing from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today.

Which tradition?

January 20, 2014

Richard Rohr talks about delving deep through one’s spiritual tradition, citing the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa as sources.

My sense is that the only bedrock guidelines are, open your heart and listen.  If that process leads to going with a particular current religious tradition, that’s one thing.  But if it leads elsewhere, that’s something else.

So, too, with the notion of the happy mystic Father Rohr has written about.  To me that sounds like a human interpretation, the idea that mystics will give external evidence of happiness.  Maybe the “physics” of being a mystic do necessarily produce what we perceive as happiness, but I am open to the possibility that they don’t, that there are varieties of mystic experience and that the tradition he refers to is just one of many.  To me, the issue is what serves the greater good in a particular situation, what puzzle piece fits.  It’s a logical possibility that a grumpy mystic might.  Not every partially enlightened person fulfills the same function, is doing the same job.  And I’m not sure that the completely enlightened people hang out here, I think to be incarnated we have to accept having some kind of flaw.  Even the happy mystics.

As to what religious tradition has worked for me, in terms of spiritual union, I believe it is a much older one, one which most people no longer use today, and I believe that for me that reflects that I am helping someone from the past resolve an attempted spiritual union that went awry in a complicated way.

Which leads me to a spiritual story.  It’s about someone who thinks they are getting someone else’s dreams.  Today we might think of it in terms of getting someone else’s email and wanting to forward the messages on to the correct recipient, who would know how to respond to them.  It was clear to this second person in the story that the first person was getting her stuff because he had too much of her energy incorporated within him.  If you’re impersonating someone, you get their messages.  Not surprisingly, he didn’t want her to take her energy back, just the messages.  He didn’t understand that it doesn’t work that way.

They interacted, she got the messages, did what they indicated needed to be done, stuff which he didn’t know how to do (and he knew that he didn’t).  Then the universe found a way to keep the problem from recurring.

All the rest was irrelevant detail, in the great scheme of things.  She could see that, even if she didn’t like some of the detail, and eventually she made peace with the fact that he had his own interpretation of what had happened.

For her it was a little like overpaying to recover needed information stored on a stolen computer, a computer that was now in the hands of someone who really thought it was theirs.

No one ever told her she was getting a pleasurable or easy role in the story.  It’s being of service that brings inner peace, not necessarily the particulars of what that service entails.  And within the confines of the story, she complained heartily.  It’s just that she could also see (after the fact) that it was only a spiritual story and that she was being of service by playing her role within it.


September 14, 2013

I am loving the juxtaposition, in September 16th issue of The New Yorker, of the prayers written by Flannery O’Connor with a piece on Truman delusions.  We’ve got O’Connor yearning to be a mystic and serve and also be a successful writer (“My Dear God”), and a college-age young man who thinks he is starring in a TV reality show as he lives his life (“Unreality Star,” by Andrew Marantz).

Plenty of religious or philosophical systems see our lives as illusory, they just don’t posit electronic hardware as part of the conceptualization.

The other elements discussed are persecution, erotomania, and grandiosity.  The persecuted have Job for an ur-type, and erotomania must have some parallel in the lives of saints who had such passionate relationships with spiritual beings.  I took on the grandiosity issue in a comment I wrote to a piece on NYTimes (“Caring for a Mind in Crisis”) that mentioned the phenomenon of mental health patients who think they are Jesus:  I think these people may conflate doing what Jesus taught and modeled with being Jesus, because of too much cultural emphasis on Jesus’ uniqueness.  If they could get more of their ego out of their way, their identification as Jesus I think would fall away.

O’Connor writes a lot of things that make sense to me, and some that don’t, in these prayers excerpted from her journals.  She has a willingness to serve, she senses her relationship with God is not to be had through too much thinking, and yet she gets caught up in a lot of thinking nonetheless.

In some ways I see both O’Connor and the young man as seekers who haven’t quite gotten the right sound out of their instrument yet.  (Of course, we may see one as having come closer than another to having succeeded at that.)  Or maybe it’s a little like playing Charades, where oftentimes the misses, when players guess incorrectly, sound quite off-base but understandable.

I like the issue of the relationship of spiritual development to mental health.  Maybe the situation is a little like branching out from playing classical music — there’s jazz (as well as plenty of other genres) but there’s also noise.

God, the imagination, and books

September 4, 2013

Some people are open and some people aren’t.  Some people even make an art of not being open.  They always hold something back, behind fear, behind, vanity, behind pride.

Being open allows us to see ourselves from multiple perspectives, not just the way we would like to think we are.  We allow ourselves to see the secondary consequences of our attitudes and behaviors on others and we adjust our attitudes and behavior  accordingly.  If we refuse to look at the negative impacts we have on others, we close ourselves off from not only them but from ourselves.

I suspect meditation helps get around that by being a way to put aside the carapace, albeit only temporarily.  Some people do, in contrast, make their entire life a living prayer — they are always open.

When we are open, we can perceive through other than our monkey minds.  What we perceive includes what some people label “God.”  It is not perceived through our imaginations, which are part of our monkey minds.

Willy was a very open person, whether or not he believed in God.  He was kind and generous.  He also had that quality I associate with men of being ready, willing, and able to defend his turf, however.  But he knew that sometimes the most helpful technique is to allow the other person’s energy to become their own undoing, that deflecting that energy can be key.  To me he demonstrated that a person can be a conduit (for the forces of the universe) without being conscious of it.

A close friend of his shared with me that he considered Willy a mystic.  I liked hearing that.  It gave me a way of understanding his sitting cross-legged at the kitchen table to eat, for example.  Or drinking directly from sink faucets.  He was so fastidious about other manners that these behaviors called out for interpretation.

We can teach intellectual ideas through others.  We can disseminate them in books.  These may provide touchstones for others as they try to gain a sense of themselves and of life, analogous to consulting with a village elder, but they also present a hazard, namely encouraging people to believe that the development of the person is, or can be, had through the intellect.  The intellect is a helpful interface between experience and communication, but the significant things a person needs to go through in order to develop into the person they have the potential to be will not be experienced through reading or through learning in a classroom.

Willy had that sense, too, I think.  He was continually frustrated by new hires who thought of life as a problem set and he had little patience for academia.  He fled college (with his degree) in three years and went into the Peace Corps.  He finished his dissertation while working full time, in large part because he much preferred working and solving real problems;  even with the added demands of working, working at a job gave him more energy for his dissertation than remaining a full-time graduate student would have.  In primary school he had experimented with focusing on the niceties necessary to gain complete approval in academia, and he reported to me that he had found the rewards hollow.

I think this blog is my compromise.  I’ve got people in my life who want me to write, and I what I really want to do is to walk.  I think writing is in some way inherently misleading, but the snippets that are blog posts perhaps come closest to those momentary understandings we become privy to through interfacing with the universe through prayer and meditation.

Experience and explanation

February 12, 2013

I’ve got a bunch of Daily Meditations open in my browser.  I’m not sure I’m going to comment on each of them directly, but I wanted to write something about spiritual experience and explanations of spiritual experiences — just to say that some people do one, some people do both, some people do neither.

I take “mystics” to be those who have the experiences, regardless of whether they explain them or not.

People who teach about them without having them I think take great risks.

And people who have them but don’t explain them may be trying to increase in some other way the likelihood that more people actually have such experiences.

People who do both I think must have tremendous patience and a firm sense of self, in order to go back and forth between the two states and not get disoriented.

People who do neither I think are sort of en vacances.

Atheism as a red herring

November 11, 2012

I’ve met plenty of people who robustly don’t “believe in God.”  And plenty of people who profess to “believe in God” and to “have faith.”

It occurred to me, in thinking about people who feel called to teach religion (I was reading something in the newspaper), that for me the contrast among people is not avowed belief or disbelief, but actual openness through which the universe (or God, or divinity, or whatever a person chooses to call it) shines through them or obviously permeates them, and the opaqueness of  people whose divinity seems to be hidden somewhere deep down inside them.  Not that the latter group of people necessarily behaves badly or are the sort labeled by some as “evil,” they are rather just kind of inert in some way, regardless of their intellectual grasp of (religious) concepts and ideas.

For example, I know people who are musicians who don’t believe in God at all, but who clearly commune through their music with something universal which other people call God.  So, too, with some scientists I know.  They’re not believers and I would never label them as such, but they operate quite similarly in the world to other people who are open the way they are and/but process in religious terms what ensues from that openness.

I don’t think the universe has an opinion on whether we voice religiosity or not, whether we process the world through the prism of spiritual language or experience.  I do think it helps when we are in sync with the universe, at least for part of the time we’re awake, and I think that’s actually accomplished through openness, not belief, especially not the intellectualized variety of belief.  So for me, the operative categories are openness and not, not belief and not.

Stolen paintings

November 3, 2012

I forget whether I’ve mentioned this before, but someone I know recently picked up from her lawyers’ office some paintings returned by family members as the result of a lawsuit, I believe.  And it turns out they’re not even the right paintings, the specific paintings in dispute.

Having been to the Isabella Stewart Gardner this past week, stolen paintings were also on my mind — those blank frames are so sad, the museum is such a well-crafted and unified aesthetic whole that their absence has repercussions to the experience of what is still there.

But as I was doing yard work this afternoon, it occurred to me that in the spiritual version of this, it’s not that specific paintings — that is, visions or insights — are missing, even though some of the participants complain as if that were so.  It is that the ability to see has been lost.  If it was lost due to the consequences of damage inflicted by someone else, perhaps the participants view this as its having been stolen.  But the good news is that it’s not like stealing particular objects or particular crafted art or even like stealing someone’s glasses.  The ability to “see” again can always be restored, it’s not something finite and able to be permanently removed.

So stolen physical art is a material loss, disappointing and painful.  But the mystical analog of art, even if it misplaced or temporarily difficult to locate, can be regained and without needing the cooperation of any thieves.

Brain space

September 24, 2012

I was reading Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today, about “Mystical Love.”  There’s some contrast being made between prophets working in the world and mystics in their hermitages and what to do with some perceived tension between priestly concerns and prophetic concerns.

I think the issue is actually about brain space and energy usage.  I’m wondering whether it’s analogous to grieving; when a person is grieving, even if they don’t realize it, some part of their brain seems to be processing the grief and that “distraction” seems to be related to the uncharacteristic mistakes in the checkbook or misplacements of items in odd places around the house.  I am thinking that communing with God or the divine or the universe takes up brain space.  It would not surprise me if there’s less left over for things like navigating in the material world.  I suspect what I’m calling “brain space” also involves available energy for the various applications.

My guess would be that different people make different decisions, knowingly or not, about how much brain space and energy to devote to what.  It does also, I think, involve patterns of thinking and the energy it takes to speak in multiple languages and switch between the two, but if I just focus here on brain space and energy, I would say that people who participate in mystical love and who are also involved in social action have one sort of allocation going on while those participating in mystical love more exclusively just “stay up there [in the spirit realm]” and don’t allocate space and energy for many of the usual mundane tasks of human living and social interaction.

I came back in May from a trip to NJ more “up there” than usual, due to a complication in the drive home, and for me at least I experience a difference in how I relate to the material world depending on how much of me is oriented toward the spirit world — when I get enough of me “out of the way” in order to let more spirit through, less of me is available to interact with others and with the world.  Later, when the situation has passed, I have to almost consciously bring back out those parts of me I got out of the way, like taking out my winter clothes when the seasons change.  I’m thinking that those in hermitages keep more of themselves out of the way more of the time than those engaging in social action in this world — they keep their winter clothes in storage, as it were, and live in the world wearing very little, as least metaphorically-speaking.

Of course, there may be people who are able to do both (that is, engage in both worlds), either by toggling back and forth better than I can or because they have more brain space or energy to begin with.  Or maybe I don’t take into account in my own situation how much of my brain space and energy is used in care-taking of other people — without that function in my life, who knows how much brain space and energy I would have for other ( including worldly) pursuits.  I suspect such a change would also have other consequences, but I don’t know.

Getting unstuck

June 3, 2012

I have felt myself stuck on an a comparison between art and mysticism in which art is an inferior medium, artists are missing the understanding of their message, and people enjoying the art are getting too caught up in something that provides pleasure but does not lead to where we need to go.

I think I wrote about how after Tony networked my computers and printers together I could see things differently.

It occurred to me that my getting stuck on a bad attitude toward art needs to be examined in light of art’s role in one of those very large spiritual experiences in my life.  It occurred while I was watching a concert on PBS.  Why would I denigrate something that had been so instrumental in that sort of Road to Damascus experience?

I can see that for me it was a means to, if not an end, then at least a further stage, that the art led to something I found more important and profound, and that that is different from celebrating art in and of itself, art for its own sake.  I can also see that art for its own sake is appropriate or helpful for some people.  I can see as well that since that experience, art has sometimes provided me with cues and help as I move along a path that is more mysticism than art.

What interests me here is my reaction to the art piece — it certainly facilitated, even birthed my experience, and yet something in me wants to disavow it.  I don’t really know why.  I don’t think it’s because I can’t do what artists do, I think it’s more because I think artists are stuck themselves and shouldn’t be.  Maybe I think more people would develop their mystical selves if artists didn’t sell them on art for art’s sake alone.  I’m not sure.

And I am not at saying my attitudes are helpful or admirable or “correct” in any way.  But I lay them out because I wonder whether other people do the same sort of thing in other contexts.  Perhaps atheists who denigrate religion or conservatives who reject liberalism or scientists who put down the humanities — perhaps these people too would not have reached their own station in understanding and affiliation without the help of the very thing they are rejecting.

I think these issues can fade into unimportance if we can find a place in our worldview for the discipline or field or belief system that makes us uncomfortable, find a way to integrate it in some way instead of excluding it.  I’m thinking that if we stop seeing opposition and dualism, and fold together the dry ingredients with the wet, then we lose the need to pronounce relative judgments on them, they are all needed for our coherent belief system.  Maybe I just need to bake some cookies.


Faxes, phones, and copiers

May 17, 2012

I was on my way to a meeting this morning, sitting on the bus, and it occurred to me to wonder if I had left my computer printer on.  It’s one of those 3-in-1 things that combines fax, printer, and copier.  The way it’s set up now, if it’s on and somebody phones in, I think they end up with the fax screech rather than being transferred over to voicemail.

I got to thinking further about this all being filtered through one machine (it’s got a phone, too).  And that got me thinking about poets and mystics.  (I’m also reading Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now, so that may be an influence here.)

I’ve probably said this before, but I often wind up with poets in my life and I think my mind works in ways similar to theirs, so I think that may be the basis for the apparent affinity.  But like songwriters I have known who were even more explicit about it (“I’m just a songwriter, it’s just a song.”), many poets tend not to go all that deeply behind what they write, unless they also participate in what we might call mysticism.

There is a fairly loud strand within me that sees mysticism as purer than poetry, as somehow more valuable, important, or primary.  It’s not the only strand but it is there and it can get pretty loud.

Thinking about the fax/phone options in my printer gave me maybe a more neutral way of looking at it — maybe poets process faxes, mystics take phone calls (from the universe, the collective unconscious, whatever we’re all tuned into).  And some people probably do the equivalent of making copies.  (Printing from the computer is actually what I associate with the way I revisit past lives — I kind of play them out and then look at them.)

That’s my main point here, this metaphor, but while I’m on the subject, I will give voice to another loud strand within me.

Some people communicate on what I think many people call the astral plane, as well as on the physical one.  I suspect that different people who do have different ideas of what those connections or relationships mean, how to integrate those astral plane connections into their physical plane lives — or not.  I think there can be real problems when one person treats them as no different in significance from ones on the physical plane while the other person doesn’t.

Example:  an obvious beacon on the astral plane whom some people interact with as a muse but who is just another person and who therefore expects interactions to be reciprocal when they involve any part of the ego structure, and observes and experiences a distinction when we pull that aside and let our souls communicate and commingle.  The part of this “muse” they could communicate with without engaging in a personal relationship is different from this “muse’s” astral plane presence.  That interaction with the “muse” on the astral plane is sometimes experienced as “hacking,” when it’s surreptitious, and when it’s more overt, it can be experienced as deceitful or teasing if there is no bona fide relationship behind the interactions.

Sometimes I think this “muse” issue arises when the person being thus perceived is having trouble pulling her own ego out of the way, and that’s probably true, but if she’s also mirroring back the ego of her interlocutor, then there’s not much she can do to keep the egos out of it altogether, though she can keep repeating that “This is not what I’m about.”

This, I think, is a danger of astral plane interactions between poets and mystics — some ego gets in and then we’re off to the asymmetrical races.  This muse thing may work for the poet, but it doesn’t seem to for the muse.  I think it occurs at length and not for the good when the muse has interior damage she hasn’t resolved, so I do think she contributes to the dysfunctional relationship.

This is not to say that mystics and poets or poets and others or mystics and others can’t have astral plane relationships, just that for some of us, there is no meaningful distinction between an astral plane relationship and a physical plane one, and this muse relationship is just plain uncomfortable.