Archive for the 'Plato' Category

Pain avoidance, darkness, and evil

June 4, 2014

I think today’s Daily Meditation gives me an opportunity to approach a point I usually end up trying to make in other ways.

I want to debunk the notion that really severe pain and suffering imply some abstract, Platonic form-like thing which we call “Evil.”

I am not trying to say the pain or suffering is any less than it is, just that there is not an overarching concept beyond them.

Maybe we infer such a concept because it somehow makes bearing the pain and suffering easier in the moment.  But it gives us a dualistic world in which we suffer even more, I think.

Anyway, Father Rohr talks about people with certain personality profiles trying to avoid pain and not sufficiently accepting darkness as a part of life.  He doesn’t use the word “evil” and I agree with that.

Now I would just broaden the concept he’s promoting and apply it to “theology” and “philosophy” and ask people to accept the “darkness” there too as just a mundane, although difficult, part of life, and not try to cast it out as something foreign to (God’s) world.


Re-establishing the status quo

September 6, 2013

Nowadays we can get tracking information for our packages so we can monitor the progress of their transit.  At first this seemed to be a gain.

But now I feel that I’m back at square one.

Jordan ordered coursebooks from his campus bookstore.  He commutes and having them delivered here isn’t actually very expensive and in his case makes sense.

Some came.  Some didn’t.  But all were issued tracking labels.  Some never progressed in the system beyond that.  The bookstore says, “They must have fallen off the truck” (sic).  Jordan took an hour yesterday to get replacement copies from the store, in person.

This morning I was checking the status of a different package, and again, we’ve got a shipping label acknowledgement by the carrier.  I called the vendor, and they assured me this was normal, that the package was actually in transit with the carrier, and will indeed arrive next week.  I asked them how they could be sure, and cited by way of example the recent experience of Jordan’s books.  The customer service agent said that the lack of information that the package has made it into the carrier’s system is normal.

So tracking information has now become somewhat random.  Maybe it gives one real information, maybe it is misleading.  It is not dependable, does not give us a basis for a realistic expectation of whether the package will arrive.  It does not seem to me that it leaves us better off than we were before we had access to it, at least when the tracking information gets stuck at this stage of “label created, not yet with carrier.”

But there’s always, for me, the possibility of an analogy.  There’s always a lesson I can find in my circumstances.  The situation is not a useless exercise in frustration or in unmet expectations from what technology purports to do (and maybe even did for a time).

Here it could be how psychism interferes with faith.

For example, there’s a spiritual story about a person who “tracks” other people with some sort of supernatural powers we might call psychic.  They eavesdrop and insert messages on a frequency most people don’t notice because they don’t have enough awareness to pick out within their thoughts and emotions these intruded thoughts and emotions as not being their own.

During a subsequent incarnation, these psychic people have that same ability, but without the quality of discernment as to which individual they are communicating with.

They eventually figure this out and are quite indignant.  They think they’ve got defective machinery.

But they don’t.  They have machinery helpful for a different task and helpful for teaching them not to rely on psychism to navigate their lives.  The “different task” is empathic healing, in which it is quite helpful not to know the identity of the person being healed.  And not being able to triangulate and strategize about what move to make based on inside information forces the person back onto faith and reliance on internal guidance from their core.  They can’t track the package, or even know it will get there, they can only do their part and then wait and see, until they receive feedback actually addressed to them; and in the meantime, they can (only) do what their guidance suggests.

But they cry out and complain and sit down and refuse to participate.  Or they demand extra help to compensate for their inability to untangle the strands of what they hear and attribute them accurately to individuals.  Because in addition to being able to undertake empathetic healing, the person in the story is also capable of being one of those “mixing bowls” (like Plato mentions somewhere), and can mix various strands of energy or information in a way that forms a new whole, but they don’t realize that’s what that talent is for, either — they see it, again, as a defective device for manipulating people.  They don’t understand their function, probably because it isn’t part of the belief system of their culture.

Along comes the IT support, the spiritual geek squad, and they check out the equipment (by trying it out themselves).  And they report that it works just fine, it’s just not meant for tracking other people or manipulating them or building social relationships, it’s meant for healing shattered souls, including by creating pieces that may be missing and lost.

I have no idea whether I will receive my package.  I have no idea where it is.  I can only wait.  While I wait, I can stop scouring my external environment for clues and listen to what I hear within.

The package in question is a representation of Kwan Yin.  She would not be who she is through means of trying manipulate on the basis of pieces of external information or trying to manipulate other people.  She hears the cries of others as cries welling up within her, she navigates and heals by means of looking deep within herself and connecting with those forces.

Connections and disconnections

December 15, 2012

I was interested to read an explanation of sort for why a person might shoot small children at a school:

Often in a haze of illness, the schoolhouse gunmen are usually aware of the taboo they are breaking by targeting children, said Dewey G. Cornell, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia and director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project. “They know it’s a tremendous statement that shocks people,” Dr. Cornell said, “and that is a reflection of their tremendous pain and their drive to communicate that pain.”

That’s quoted from

Nation’s Pain Is Renewed, and Difficult Questions Are Asked Once More

Published: December 14, 2012

in the NYTimes.

I had written a comment (to Gail Collins’ op-ed column; I wrote it before I read what Cornell said in the article, but after I had heard him on the PBS NewsHour), about how I have been taken aback by the crossing of a line in the shooting of small children.  I compared it to a similar reaction I had to the slamming of planes into sky scrapers.  I want to say, “We [humans] don’t do that.”  The apparent coldness, the disconnectedness from fellow feelings for others are what strike me.

So, being the person I am, I have the urge to harmonize in some way Cornell’s explanation with my own reaction.

When I myself have felt what I want to describe as unbearable pain, the kind when you can’t stand being in your own skin, in your own body, my response has been to try to escape up into the spiritual realm until I have enough distance to process the event.  (Watching my child being beaten is an example.)  It’s hard to do in the moment, at least for me it is, because the pain seems to close the heart and my heart needs to be open to receive the help.  I suspect that this is why prudent people pursue training, usually through religious practice, to keep the heart sufficiently open even in these situations.

I wonder if people who cross bright lines in their pain lack even more on-going connection to what I call the spiritual realm, but which can also be thought of in other terms, like Plato’s forms or forces in the universe or the collective unconscious or Source.  I wonder if they are, first, cut off from themselves, and then, cut off from others and from a sense of community probably most of us have without being fully aware of it.  And if a person is cut off from themselves, I think their awareness of the universe at large and of other people is not mediated through a conduit that includes compassion — I suspect they are using a mental process that includes information but lacks other components for understanding the world.  So when pain is overwhelming for them, I’m thinking that they don’t have a safe harbor to escape to and that they don’t have in place the internal equivalent of Jersey barriers on a highway — a strong (internalized) connection to identifying with others and with community —  to keep them from crossing bright lines.

For me, then, the issue turns into how to foster people’s feeling connected and how to coach them or encourage them to locate in themselves that part of our mental apparatus through which we connect.

The quest for fusion

August 12, 2011

I’m not sure what the current status is of science’s quest for nuclear fusion.  But I am pretty sure it has a spiritual analog, the attempt to unite pieces of a unified whole.

Plato, I think, was getting at something similar in the Parmenides, with its discussion of the one, the many, the all — I don’t have it in front of me, and my recollection is that the ideas in the dialogue are even more obscure in translation into English than they are in the Greek  — the grammatical structure of the Greek helps elucidate the concept.

I tend to experience spiritual understandings with “homey” metaphors, I’m not sure why.  For me, the concept of fusion has been about a shattered soul whose shards have been scattered.  They became embedded in others’ psyches, and the project is to retrieve them and put them together, like pieces to a shattered ceramic cup.  This is done in a sort of incubating vessel, a kind of spiritual womb (Plato seems to have had a similar concept too, in the Timaeus — I think I’ve mentioned this before); and where shards have been pulverized, this mothering force supplies what is missing, like improvising where some bars to a piece of music have been lost.

So, when all is said and done, and the fusion is complete, what do we get?  (I kind of feel like when we all worked an arithmetic problem back at our seats in about the third grade, and then the teacher went around the room asking, “What did you get for the answer?”)  I got a very young and seemingly disabled female child who couldn’t tell me much but kept repeating, as if she had been trained to do so in order to remember an important message for when someone should come along and have the understanding to ask, that she was the true one, not the other who was posing as such.

For me it came across as what I refer to here as a “spiritual story” (in other contexts, I suspect it would be called a past life regression, in others a fantasy — I’m sure there are even more ways to understand it).  But if I take my ego out of the way, and stop looking at it from a point of view as a character within the story, such as a heroic shaman coming to the rescue of and healing a damaged soul, it starts sounding as if I am trying to perceive my most authentic self, my spiritual core, to get back to my original self.

I often see lost pacifiers along the sidewalks and paths where I walk, and I’ve never had a clear idea of how to interpret that (beyond the obvious fact that somebody in a stroller or something similar probably passed by earlier).  Maybe it’s about spiritual rebirth, about being born again in the sense of rediscovering who we are.  Because in getting to the point of hearing that mantra of a small child who was difficult to reach, who could communicate through emotional exchanges more than verbal ones and who was so vulnerable beneath an outer layer of mistrust and fear, I had located in myself that kind of nurturing love that allows flow to occur between self and soul, self and others, self and the universe, I think.

The over-wrought urn

August 2, 2011

There was a period in my life of a couple of years, I think, when one of my neighbors would come over on Sunday evenings and we would read Plato (in translation) together.  (He taught philosophy at a prestigious local private school, among other subjects, and has a Ph.D. in the subject — John Silber was his dissertation director way back in Texas, I think — so he knew what he was doing, even if I didn’t.)  It was actually, I think, his wife Jane’s idea of something that might help me keep my balance after Willy died (Jane helped so much with funeral and memorial service arrangements), and Bob felt he needed to reread the dialogues and thought a reading partner would help him stay with that.

I had read some Plato during college, some in the original Greek, some in translation.  This time around, one of the things that struck me was the image of a female figure as some kind of receptacle or vessel for generation.  I think it’s the passage in the Timaeus that begins at 49.

Yesterday I read a reference to Cleanth Brooks’s The Well Wrought Urn in the NYTimes Opinionator piece by Ernie Lepore.

So, today I happened to be trying to answer someone’s question about how I see myself, and I got to thinking that if I put together my image of what I do in my spiritual work with my difficulties navigating my temporal world, maybe the image of an over-wrought urn conveys how I see myself.