Archive for the 'speech impediment' Category

Log jams

October 21, 2013

All the discussion in the media about the technological problems with the federal website for buying health insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act got me thinking about other situations in which a system was overwhelmed by more users than it can handle.

In the spiritual context, this can involve trying to achieve enlightenment, or even just basic connection to God, in order to take in fresh spiritual oxygen, through someone else, or it can involve trying discharge our spiritual detritus through someone else, looking for a place to discharge our carbon dioxide or worse, as it were.

Systems are overwhelmed, conduits become clogged.

These things can be fixed.

But to do that in the spiritual realm, religions need to become more flexible than many of them are and make corrections as needed, in my opinion.  And I am leery of systems that rely on using conduits — spiritual development requires everyone to get up off the couch and learn how to do it for themselves if they possibly can.  Accommodations are available for the truly disabled, but most people are not truly spiritually disabled, they are more like I was when I had a speech impediment and was using the wrong part of my vocal apparatus to make sounds.  It’s about finding that part of the self that comes to the fore when we pull aside the part of ourselves we identify with most of the time.  That’s kind of like the getting pregnant part of the process — it’s not the entire shooting match, but it’s a huge and necessary part of developing a spiritual life, that is, finding the part of the self through which this can actually be done.  And it’s where philosophy and other secular systems seem to me to fall down, whether or not that is a necessary result of their axioms, and where even many religions do not, in my opinion, place enough emphasis.  And don’t get me started on books in the popular press that overlook this issue.

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Conglomerations in religious thought

August 29, 2011

This is an expansion on the comment I wrote in response to Ross Douthat’s column in the NYTimes today.

When I read books about other people’s religions, or when I talk to other people about them, I am reminded of grading undergraduate papers years ago for a classical civilization class for which I was a teaching assistant.  The students were bright, the writing was fine, but an occasional paper would be what I have stored in my memory as “ingeniously wrong.” It was as if the student had gotten a couple of digits in a telephone number transposed, or something, and hence dialed a wrong number — something was off, and significantly so, but how it had happened was less than initially obvious, and I would spend a lot of time on those papers trying to disentangle what was correct from what was error (of fact, of logic, due to ignorance about something else, of how pieces fit together) so I could explain it to the student in my notes.

A lot of religious writing strikes me similarly.  It looks to me like a tangled mass of reports of other people’s spiritual understandings, misinterpretations of other people’s spiritual understandings (and misunderstandings), intellectual thoughts based on these understandings and misinterpretations, psychological coping mechanisms for dealing with uncomfortable emotional reactions to life events, psychological coping mechanisms for dealing with emotional reactions to damaged people and their behavior, creative writing, and other forms of art.

I touched on one of these in passing in my thoughts on people who think they are the messiah.  We, I think, usually criticize such people for thinking they have special understandings, but I think actually the nub of their problem is thinking that they are unique — which seems to me to be due to a confluence of the teachings of some major religion (or religions) that there is a unique messiah, with the ego of the person and its quest for uniqueness in how it sees itself in relation to others and to the whole.

I could probably try to get myself to list a bunch of what I consider misunderstandings in religions, as well as a list of understandings that I share, but I really don’t feel called to do either — and it would be a little like trying to establish peace through war, a little oxymoronic.  But I would like to report on a finding I discovered while helping a few people who were spiritually stuck.

The mind with which we think our thoughts in our languages is not our only equipment for perception.  I remember reading how some Catholic theologians and clerics were negatively disposed to having their congregants meditate, and I think something about “centering prayer” was developed eventually out of that controversy.  My reason for bringing this up is that the theologians and clerics were right, I think, in their sense that meditation will open us up in ways that can let in all kinds of things; the issue is, I think, one of separating baby from bathwater — meditation makes use of that other equipment we have, and that’s important, and, I would say, necessary.  How to use that equipment safely is a separate issue.

What I discovered with these people who were spiritually stuck whom I was helping was that they didn’t realize they were using their intellectual equipment to try to perceive in the spiritual realm — they thought an idea that they thought was a spiritual understanding.  It reminded me of trying myself as a child to overcome what people told me was a speech impediment: I really didn’t understand for a long time that a “k” sound or a hard “c” sound or a hard “g” sound were being generated in the back of the throat — I was expressing them in the front of my mouth and they were coming out as “t” sounds and “d” sounds.  Once I got that there was a difference, another way of making a sound that I was unfamiliar with, that part of my speech impediment (I also had trouble with initial “r” sounds) was gone.

So, that’s the first step, as I see it: recognizing our different kinds of equipment for perception, distinguishing between understandings such as we get through meditation and thoughts we develop through our intellectual activity.  What I think lead to such trouble in the realm of religion are other people’s intellectual ideas taught as spiritual understandings, because (1) they are idiosyncratic (even if shared by others) human ideas, (2) adoption of them is had through emotions and the intellect, not through spiritual perception of our own, and (3) they are difficult to amend or abandon because they are adhered to in a rigid and uncritical way, as a doctrine of human construction. And our intellects are involved with our egos, our hopes, desires, fears, and dislikes — so, our intellectual ideas are colored and distorted by these extraneous concerns, concerns that are not present in the information we perceive through understandings through other equipment we use for perception, such as when people meditate.  (Let me just note here that I distinguish meditation here from prayer only in order to try to communicate this other mode of perception — because I actually see prayer in its pure form as the same thing as meditation, I just think that by now and especially in our culture prayer is often engaged in by (only) the intellectual mind.  I see using pure prayer or meditation to hear the universe and then using our intellectual minds to translate what we’ve heard into our languages and with reference to consensus reality.)

The universe, I think, is pretty oblivious to our human misunderstandings of its workings — we need to separate the wheat from the chaff, the universe will not change the way it works in order to be congruent with our (mis)understanding of it.  So, I wish we would talk more about how we perceive — prayer, creative arts, philosophizing, scientific thinking, etc. — and how they fit together.  Maybe that way we would be more likely to use the apt mode for the kind of perceptual endeavor being undertaken in a given situation.