Archive for the 'spiritual life' Category

“Spiritual beings having a human experience”

January 20, 2016

I heard that this morning and I really liked it:  “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

The person I heard saying it was quoting it from someone else, and they thought it was a fairly old summation, not original to their source, either.

The person I heard it from had had a very negative experience of religion growing up, and found the distinction between spirituality and religion a welcome surprise when they discovered it later in life.  I think what’s reflected in this quotation was part of the spiritual outlook they came to as an adult.

It makes plenty of sense to me, and I think its formulation helps put the biological underpinnings of our material life experiences in a better perspective.

Hearing these words this morning I started wondering why I don’t spend more time with people who see things this way and less time trying to explain such a perspective to those who are dismissive of it — which often feels to me like trying to get someone to see the other picture in one of those specially-drawn sketches that include two entirely different depictions visible as alternatives.

With my younger son’s color blindness, he’s aware he’s missing something and has work-arounds to distinguish many purples from blues or reds from browns or greens from grays, depending on other clues and cues.  People who dismiss the spiritual tend to not discern any of what they are missing, in my experience, although I have known some atheist rationalists of a scientific bent who will admit to having intimations of something when they stare up at a starry night sky, to take one example.


November 6, 2014

When I read something that suggests that I am falling short in my attitude and behavior, I can sometimes see clearly that the frontal approach of trying to change my attitude and behavior directly (and conform to what is being suggested) is not going to produce what’s needed.

Instead, I need to address a broader issue, and if I do so, then more helpful attitude and behavior will follow.

“Fake it until you make it” has never seemed to me a preferable method, I prefer to put in backfill and arrive at the surface after having built a foundation one step at a time.

This approach is also helpful if my task is not to arrive at the final goal but to go back and fill a missing stage of development.  (I think if one believes in reincarnation, this concept makes more sense.)

So I check in with my guidance:  I bring only my willingness, I open up my heart, and I listen (and I don’t mean “people pleasing”).

I’ve heard other women lament having given away their power and needing to reclaim it.  That is a Scylla I am aware of, as I am also aware of the Charybdis of following my own ego-driven ideas.

What I am called to do may also not look like what others recognize as being helpful in and of itself.  I think that makes sense if what one is doing is filling in a missing piece that isn’t very pretty and is an intermediate (ugly duckling?) stage in something larger.  That missing piece may involve learning to hear, trust, and follow one’s own inner guidance, for example, and not privileging another human being’s teachings over one’s own understanding.  One can be not only too rich and too thin but also too deferential to human guides, it seems to me.  Of course, there is a difference between oppositional defiance and independence as a part of personal development.

Sometimes what I need to do is to strengthen my spiritual practice;  that will fill in what needs filling in and attitude and behavior will organically change as a consequence.

How much?

April 15, 2014

I suppose it is not necessary to believe we have through reincarnation multiple opportunities to develop spiritually to believe that it may be preferable for people to do what they can in terms of what Father Rohr’s tradition calls “dying to the self” instead of aiming to do more than they can safely accomplish.  In the reincarnation model, we can think of it in terms of laying a strong foundation (for future layers), but even without multiple opportunities, we could think of it in terms of progress made — how far we have come from where we started — and see “delta” (change) as what we are looking for.

I have concerns about everybody feeling they should be able to achieve it all, and hence not trying at all or trying in a way that actually results in harm, such as regression or implosion.  I’m in favor of taking solid steps, however small, towards becoming aware of what about us is flawed and ephemeral and what about us is timeless and stable.  Rome was not built in a day.  Every stage of development is important and having people at different stages of development is important.  I would rather see people moving slowly in a helpful direction than not moving at all or incurring too much damage from tumbling backwards after trying to take too large a step on difficult terrain.

Where I do see privileging one stage of development above others is in being able to see a bigger picture and being able to encourage others not to get stuck in limited thinking, in mistaking a part for the whole, or in clinging to a stage as if it were a permanent resting place.  Being able to suggest an overview can be helpful, but the actual nitty-gritty of coaching individuals, in terms of where they are and what may be helpful to their progress, I think is something else.

A spiritual parallel

November 21, 2013

The creative gap-filling I wrote about in my last post I think has a spiritual analog.

We’re here, live human beings.  We’ve forgotten why we’re here, and we are unaware that we’ve forgotten.  And so we get creative and try to fill that gap.  The result is all kinds of human art, technology, innovation, production, and consumption.

So these fruits of our creativity are not necessarily bad, on this view, just kind of the equivalent of going off “on a frolic and a detour,” to use one of my favorite phrases from law.

Opportunities or losses?

October 3, 2013

Clearly, both.  A loss is painful, but it is also, often, an opportunity to reach further into ourselves and the divinity within us (or out to the divinity outside us).  It can be the proverbial broken eggs needed to make an omelette, a spiritual omelette.

(These are my thoughts after reading today’s Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr.)

I think one of the reasons this reaching is done within the structure of an organized religion is that, without that context, we are left as individuals to counter other people’s negative interpretations of us and our lives when we develop a spiritual approach to our temporal lives and make progress in our spiritual lives.  Not only can that negative feedback be painful in itself, it can also have a negative impact on our ability to maintain our new perspective and continue to enjoy its gifts.  The advantage to doing it as an individual, however, may be that we can expand even secular people’s sense of consensus reality — if they don’t write us off as daft, or worse, first.

The other thing I would add in addition to the traps of self-pity and resentment is the trap of feeling like a victim and entering the cul-de-sac of feeling more virtuous than others, of lording it over perceived perpetrators.  I think that, too, cuts us off from ourselves, God, and others, and is an impediment to our own progress.

Evening out the highs and lows

September 20, 2013

I don’t disagree with the idea that suffering and love, and great suffering and great love, are related.  I read about that in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation.  I agree that great suffering can break open a human heart, and that as a result, that heart can encounter, and access, great love after.  It’s quite a roller coaster.  Lots of drama.

I don’t, though, think that’s a helpful place to rest ourselves for too long, in that stage.  I think we need to even out those highs and lows, through detachment.  I think Buddhists talk about this a lot.  I got cued to this piece (by Pema Chödrön) recently, and I really liked the idea of “no big deal.”  She writes,

This was one of the biggest teachings from my teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: no big deal. I remember one time going to him with what I thought was a very powerful experience from my practice. I was all excited, and as I was telling him about this experience, he had a look. It was a kind of indescribable look, a very open look. You couldn’t call it compassionate or judgmental or anything. And as I was telling him about this, he touched my hand and said, “No . . . big . . . deal.” He wasn’t saying “bad,” and he wasn’t saying “good.” He was saying that these things happen and they can transform your life, but at the same time don’t make too big a deal of them, because that leads to arrogance and pride, or a sense of specialness. On the other hand, making too big a deal about your difficulties takes you in the other direction; it takes you into poverty, self-denigration, and a low opinion of yourself. So meditation helps us cultivate this feeling of no big deal, not as a cynical statement, but as a statement of humor and flexibility. You’ve seen it all, and seeing it all allows you to love it all.

I think it’s what I’m getting at here.

Perilous adolescence

September 1, 2013

I met a social worker at Dana Farber years ago who had adolescent sons.  And he shared that he thought parents’ task is, at least in part, sort of like damage control until the kids emerge from this period of development, so that the kids will have as many options as possible.

I am thinking about humanity in general this way, as we try to deal with issues like climate change and chemical weapons use.

I think it will be a while until there is a critical mass of people who look at life in a more helpful way than most of us currently do.  I think where religious leaders often go wrong is assuming there is a shortcut from here to there.  A lot of spiritual development is rooted in the experience of life with an open mind and an open heart.  Hiring a substitute or avoiding the experiences or trying to have them vicariously through learning about them as ideas just keeps us stuck in earlier stages.  I see (over-)intellectualizing as an excuse, something that masks a much more profound wound that needs healing.


June 12, 2013

I don’t see how people who don’t see ourselves as reincarnated beings deal with the fact that some of us appear to “get” spiritual teachings in a fundamental way, and shift their consciousness as a result, while others merely process the information through their intellects and superficial behaviors.  For me the explanation is that some of us have already been through other stages in previous lives and that these stages have made us ready for a next step.

Which brings me to a further point:  some teachings produce damaging results in people who have not yet gone through some of the previous stages.

I don’t think compassion is awakened through learning at the feet of a teacher.  If the teacher’s compassion seemed to be awakened through such an experience, or if the teacher’s compassion seemed to be awakened through the practice of techniques, such as prayer and contemplation, then I suspect the teacher already had had their heart broken open (through difficult experiences?) in a previous lifetime.

I know that what I “know” I myself didn’t learn all during this lifetime.  I am quite sure it is the same for others, whether or not they recognize it.  We create all kinds of unfortunate spiritual knots in people, and in the world, when we encourage them to take steps that are not the next ones for them.  And in doing this, we are also enabling, if not encouraging, people to avoid some of the more difficult stages of spiritual development, I think.  You gotta break a few eggs to make that omelette at some stage of the process.  Nobody can experience that brokenness for us, and if we do try to experience it vicariously, we will not undergo the changes necessary in ourselves for subsequent steps.

It’s my personal belief, no offense intended, that some spiritual and religious teachers and leaders throughout history have been impatient with this aspect of spiritual development and the limits of teaching.  And I think some of this group ended up overwhelmed themselves by their frustration.  We can only do so much.  It’s a group project — a BIG group project — over time and across geography.  We do our piece and then we cede the stage.  The concept of reincarnation I find helpful for understanding and accepting this.  If there are other ways to do this, great, but I am concerned with worldviews that facilitate a sense that it can all be done here and now, through one person, through a set of teachings.

Weeds in the lawn

May 5, 2013

My grandfather, my mother’s father, lived with us for a few months after my grandmother died, until he found a retirement home he liked.  While he lived with us, I watched more baseball (with the sound off).  I want to say it was the Mets, but my mother doesn’t think so.  But I do clearly remember he thought the dandelions in the lawn should be left alone.

I think I have that thought about what I have thought of as spiritual spam — miscellaneous stuff that comes in when I open myself up to the universe at large.

Gita made the obvious point to me not long ago that there’s a difference between the psychic and the spiritual.  We were talking about a neighbor of mine, and Gita commented that she could be psychically and not spiritually developed.

I think, maybe, I am too tolerant of the psychic because I think it contains the potential for spiritual development.  Maybe I’m wrong about that.

I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about how the psychic and the spiritual relate to each other beyond that the former seems to me to be about relationships on a horizontal plane and the latter about relationships either along a vertical axis or into other dimensions.  But I think I’ve thought that the apparatus used is the same — like using the same cell phone for different types of phone calls.  But that’s just an unexamined assumption I’ve been working under, and it may well be wrong.

So I am going to let that issue percolate somewhere within me:  what do the psychic and the spiritual have in common and how are they different, including in terms of technique and apparatus?  Are they related to one another?  Can one mimic the other?  Has that confused people and deterred them from spiritual development?

Gita has counseled me for a long time to practice better spiritual technique so that my spam problem dissipates.  I don’t know if it’s willful laziness on my part or heeding a deeper call that I don’t.  Gita calls me a kinetic sponge, and that seems to be a pretty accurate summation.  Maybe that’s how I’m supposed to be, I don’t know, in order to do what I do (or have done), but I suspect that issue is entangled with my tendency not to distinguish the psychic from the spiritual — I open all channels, take it all in from whatever means the sender can muster.

Willy got a kick out of garment tags that caution the buyer not to mistake the “slurbs and nubblies” in, say, a sweater, for mistakes and defects.  (I think they’re called “slubs,” I suspect “slurbs and nubblies” was Willy’s contribution, maybe modeled on “nooks and crannies” from the Thomas’ English Muffin commercials, but maybe a riff on a phrasing that was actually contained in a tag.)  I wouldn’t want to do something similar.  Certainly we try to figure out an appropriate posture for dealing with the slurbs and nubblies of our humanness.

But I know I run up against an unpleasant pattern of being caught up short by having mistaken a person’s abilities of one sort for abilities of another, and that doesn’t serve anybody.

If nothing else, I can be aware of all these factors even if I’m not sure how they fit together — a little detachment is often a first step towards sorting something out.

Teaching issue or learning issue

March 25, 2013

Teaching and learning are obviously interactive processes.  When the learning does not take place, it’s sometimes difficult to locate the source, or sources, of the problem.

Maybe it’s a matter of inadequate texts, or deficient teaching materials of other sorts, maybe it’s a matter of inapt teaching methods or teaching devices ill-suited to the learner.  Maybe we need direct modeling by the teacher of what the student needs to do.  Maybe, even, the teacher hopes they can provide, if not a teaching method tailored to the student’s learning style, some kind of short-cut to the desired goal.

But what if the problem arises out of a lack of willingness on the part of the student?  In spiritual learning, that’s necessary — willingness.  What if the element that is missing is nothing the teacher can provide?  What if all any teacher can do is to try to coach the student into enough awareness to locate their own internal learning device?

I think what we get in this case is too much external intellectual apparatus for what is essentially an internal process involving becoming as simple and innocent as a baby, and, like a baby, crying out for help.