Archive for the 'religious tale (function)' Category

Putting the elephant together

April 9, 2014

I make reference to the Sufi tale about the blind men and the elephant fairly frequently.  It represents for me a shorthand way to refer to differing perspectives, to refer to our understanding of God and the mystery of the universe, to refer to the need for the human project of sharing.

So when I saw a tea-for-one set with an elephant, I decided to buy it.  It’s a gift for myself for a couple of occasions.

It arrived today with the cup in pieces.

Broken Item

Willy used to glue such things together, but I’m not sure even he could have repaired this one, as there are some very small fragments.

But it makes a great reification of a metaphor, actually it reifies a couple of metaphors and brings them together:  Henri Nouwen’s focus on us as broken vessels, his focus on that cup that we have trouble draining, and the Sufis’ separated parts of the elephant.

We had to send the nytimes store a picture, so that’s how I happen to have one.



Detachment and detachment

September 27, 2011

I’m thinking about the detachment of a spiritually disciplined person and the detachment of someone with a pathological emotional disorder (psychopath, sociopath, whatever we label people when there seems to be no there there).  The difference between the two approaches seems to be whether the seam of detachment includes the bobbin thread of compassion that comes from engagement with something beyond ourselves and makes the detachment only a piece of a greater interaction that includes something positive.

I think about this from time to time because I have known people who do the pathological variety, and it has struck me that maybe they (erroneously) think they’re doing something they should, because they are unaware that they are not engaged with what they’re not engaged with — how do you know you’re missing something when you’re missing it, how do you know what you don’t know, in effect, especially if you’ve arranged for all your feedback from others to be rerouted to your spam folder?  Such people are part of why I harbor such an aversion to the notion of “fake it til you make it” — faking things can be misleading to others — trompe l’oeil is fun to look at but what happens if we try to open the painted window when there’s a fire?

Once I am beyond the reach of such people, though, I can wonder what I think they should do; wear a scarlet letter so people know there’s a sink hole where there should be something positive, that there’s concavity where there should be something convex?  I think I have finally learned that one of the ways of detecting them is that when I interact with them my perception is mirrored back to me upside down and backwards — maybe their perception is that way, too, and that’s how they came to be so maladaptively self-protective.  Because if you’re constantly getting very different outcomes from what you foresee, maybe you become disengaged from the whole project of listening for guidance.  And then I start thinking of the Hubble Space Telescope and how its original mirror was misshapen.  I wonder whether some of us function as lenses that can compensate for such deformities in others and allow the disabled to make spiritual progress, and whether some religious tales have developed to explain what happens when such a lens is shattered by the person whom it is trying to help?  Lucky for everyone involved there are second chances (and even thirds and fourths and so on), but the person doing the helping needs to learn to maintain both their detachment and their compassion while in a complicated hall of mirrors and being buffeted by all kinds of difficult phantasms, as the story of Tam Lin seems to suggest.

Rescue tales

July 25, 2011

After writing about what could be called a rescue tale earlier today, it came to me that such tales may perform a function something like a cross between a placebo and an effective medication.

Let’s say a group of people has come to believe that something has gone very wrong, even if that belief is itself the problem.  Then, perhaps, the only way forward is to convince them that they’ve been rescued from their peril, however much that peril was (only) in their minds.  A rescue tale might be just the thing.