Archive for the 'spiritual practice' Category


August 1, 2015

I generally have a negative reaction when I am treated in a way that makes me feel I am invisible to other people.  This happens regularly at the deli counter, when I answer to my number being called or to a “Who’s next?” and get passed over nonetheless.  It happened at a meeting about a week ago, when the chairperson kept flinging his arm across my face as he called on other people.

I mentioned my invisibility problem to Gita yesterday, after she had told me that she thought a recent positive change in me was the result of my finally having been heard — I said that that was interesting idea in light of my having felt so invisible at this meeting so recently, and she recounted for me a teaching of Patanjali that frames being treated as invisible as a positive benefit from certain attainments from spiritual development.  This made me feel loads better about feeling as if I am being treated as invisible, regardless of whether my invisibility stems from that — at least invisibility can be seen as a positive thing (I think she used the word “fruit”), rather than as a putdown or dismissal.

The positive change, by the way, I am thrilled with — it feels like something shifted, and my energy level and outlook feel much more like my usual ones.  While I can see what I contributed to this happening, the “having been heard” part of the transaction I had no control over — someone else had to hear me.  I think I had been waiting for four years for this.



May 25, 2015

I was frustrated that T.M. Luhrmann’s column in today’s New York Times doesn’t have a comments section, so I thought I’d write what I might have written there here.

The column is called “How Places Let Us Feel the Past.”  The part that caught my attention was about the “Jerusalem syndrome,” which I don’t think I had ever heard of before.  I was aware of people thinking they are Jesus or on a mission, but I don’t think I had heard about it tied to having visited a holy place or even tied to a particular acute episode of some sort, as far as I understand the case histories I read about before eslewhere.  Professor Luhrmann writes about people visiting a holy place and becoming overwhelmed by a spiritual experience there and ending up in a psychotic state.

In the example Professor Luhrmann starts with, a rabbi advises a person who has gone through such an experience to, in effect, put it aside and keep studying.

It is my understanding that Judaism requires long study of the law before mysticism is attempted, and I take the rabbi’s advice as consonant with this and with my own sense that the problem described has to do with insufficient prior training and interior development:  if you’re going to engage in sword-swallowing, you really need, if you’re like most people, to have learned some technique first.

So with this Jerusalem syndrome, it seems to me it’s a result of people not having pared down their ego first;  so the holiness experience becomes about them, gets caught on their ego-self, instead of being something that passes through them cleanly, which they view from an outside perch.

In our culture, we don’t take mysticism seriously, I don’t think, so we don’t talk about what it entails.  Reminds me of not recognizing what stay-at-home moms do.  We may talk about God, or even angels and demons, but we have ruled off many other phenomena to the realm of pathology.  People didn’t used to believe that microorganisms existed, either, because they couldn’t see them.  Wind we cannot “see” but we see its effects.  If observing the Jerusalem syndrome is like observing the tree branches blowing or the devastation from a micro-burst, maybe we should rethink what we are willing and unwilling to discuss.


February 7, 2015

While I was helping my mother unpack into her apartment in November, we came across some pieces of lava, probably souvenirs from a vacation trip abroad.  My mother didn’t want to keep them.

I was thinking about them this morning.  I was thinking about a spiritual practice Gita was encouraging me in some time ago, to connect deep within in the direction of the earth.  I think it’s harder to conceptualize infinity in that direction, but, analogous to the idea of physics on a level of particles and strings and such, I think it’s possible.  This is in contrast with prayer connecting me upwards and outwards to the cosmos.

When I connect inwards and in the direction of the earth and its molten core, I tend towards conceptualizing in imagery of soothing reddish-brown substances welling up within me.  When I pray up and out, I usually end up with light or water images.

Anyway, it occurred to me this morning that lava can be so porous and yet it is a rock of sorts.  Can I use this combination to help me feel well-dressed to deal with other people?  I am protected by something hard and yet it is a porous substance allowing for exchange of some sorts of things.

I don’t know, but I find a theme of my life is looking for a way to interact, as myself, with others and without becoming too damaged by the interaction.  I don’t see sealing myself off, I prefer not to withdraw from interaction, but I am as porous as the day is long and I don’t think I am supposed to change that or to incur crippling damage either.  So I am always open to figuring out a way to feel protected and porous at the same time.  And while I can “turn over” to the universe particular difficult situations and interactions, and I do, I feel that I need to improve my overall posture so that I have a more continuous, baseline sense of well-being.

One practice is to let incoming assaults pass through me instead of engaging with them.  I can feel them become diluted and dissipate through my connection upwards and outwards, as clean energy mixes with such incursions.  But that does not speak to my sense of being a sitting duck sometimes for material from others I don’t want to deal with, especially stuff they should be addressing to forces greater than ourselves, not to other human beings.  In this category lies huge anxiety and distress and a sense that everything is terrible — I have people who try to interact with me who have more of those than I can process comfortably, and my posture is that they should stop trying to get me to process it on their behalf.  But they continue, I suspect because we have an instinct to survive that does not always get channeled in constructive ways.  And so I look for what I can do at my end to maintain my equanimity while they do, because it takes a lot of time and energy of my own to clean myself up after being slimed by such incursions.

I think lava may be a helpful concept for me to do that.  I think it can help me feel strong and soothed and protected and porous.  Hardened it is brittle, molten it is suffocating (I think), but like light being both wave and particle in some way (again, my caution that I may be misunderstanding the science), I think it is possible in some way to think of lava as both protective and porous, flexible and brittle.  If lava can participate in all of these characteristics over time, then I am hopeful that on a spiritual plane, without the constraint of time, I can participate in those characteristics simultaneously.  Surely one of our human difficulties is holding paradoxical ideas in our limited heads — doesn’t mean that such paradoxes cannot be understood in other ways.


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.


May 25, 2014

Gita has told me that learning to discern is an issue in my life, but the context of discernment she has had in mind has never rung a bell for me — I see what she’s talking about, but I have a fairly strong understanding that I’m not supposed to practice what she’s calling “discernment” there, that instead part of my portfolio is not to discern in that way in that context — to not discern in the context she has in mind is part of allowing anonymity, and that can be something that serves.

So today I read Richard Rohr on discernment (it, too, about “‘discern[ing] the spirits'”) and he’s got something else entirely in mind — something about distinguishing what is our false self from our illusions.  Again, I think I see the point, but while I am sure I struggle with what he’s talking about, I don’t think that’s my discernment issue either.

But the compare-and-contrast of Gita’s and Father Rohr’s respective versions of the discernment issue precipitated in me the thought that my real weakness in discernment comes in the very mundane context of discerning between people who take advantage of me and people who don’t.

I think it was Ann Landers who said something about how people can only take advantage of us when allow it.

I suspect my challenge is something related, namely, to find a voice and a posture to deal with people whose behavior, whether intentionally or not, asks too much of me.

Safe spiritual practice

May 18, 2014

I know I can’t teach it, I am not even sure I can describe what I do to achieve my own, but I do know that it’s an important issue for me and one that plenty of teachers of prayer and meditation don’t pay enough attention to, from my point of view.

I am thinking about it this morning because of a comment I read to a NYTimes piece about college campuses grappling with the issue of students having traumatic memories triggered by works they encounter in class and the question of whether instructors should provide warnings.  The comment was by someone who writes as “GrammyofWandA” in Maine.  She wrote about how meditation foisted on her during class by a teacher triggered flashbacks, the difficulties she had with that, and how she handled the problem.

I wrote a reply, because I was grateful that someone had raised the issue.  I’ve encountered a version of it.  If someone insists I follow a guided meditation or meditate with them, I can run into real trouble.  I can even run into trouble with meditation at home, again, especially if I use a guide on a CD or something.  My mind can go much further afield than is intended, I can get flashbacks, I can get all kind of emotional stuff bubbling up from within me (I’m not even sure all of it is mine), and boy, can I get “spam.”

But I do have plenty of ways to engage in prayer and meditation that work for me.  I have no idea whether they would work for others, what else about me factors into why they apparently work for me.

Thinking about how much I don’t want to describe either these factors or how I engage in prayer and meditation reminds me of people who really don’t want to peel off their layers and open themselves up.

But, as I’ve written about before, what I want to avoid often seems to be what would unravel a knot for me, even when I am unaware I have such a knot.  Maybe I’ll give it a try, that is, try to explain what I do and how I got here, but it will probably be piecemeal, in separate posts, if I do.  If I had to take the whole thing on at once, I would probably quail, just like someone faced with the task of trying to actually develop a spiritual practice in one fell swoop — I think it makes more sense to try to take such a project in steps.

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.

Trying to help

April 7, 2014

How do we help people who feel miserable?  Many of them want us to hold their misery for them.  It’s too heavy for most of us, and it’s not a good idea for us to try to hold it;  if we receive the misery, we need to be able to pass it on to the universe for disposal.

Therapists, Reiki masters, clergy, all kinds of people know how to do something like this.

But if the miserable person still has no way of ceasing to produce feelings of misery, the situation has not been sufficiently addressed.  The person feeling misery needs to find a different way to intersect with the world, a different emotional posture.

Some people find such a posture through cognitive behavioral therapy, others through 12-step programs, others through religious creeds, and I’m sure some people pick up another attitude from other sources, even from individuals or from literature.

I think part of what happens when a person is developing an attitude in which misery is not being regenerated constantly is that the person becomes looser and more open.  This helps negative feelings, when they do arise, become diluted.  And eventually, I think, the person is able to more directly and efficiently dump their load of miserable feelings onto the universe — they figure out how to work the dump truck  so that the universe and not a human interlocutor receives the load.

I think that’s important.  Our misery should not be passed around like a hot potato or spewed out into the environment like greenhouse gases.  And people who just want to dump their loads onto me constantly, happily refilling their trucks and driving them over and over again to my place, well, to them I would try to communicate as gently as possible (and sometimes the gentleness I’m sure does not come through) that I can’t participate in that.  I wish they would also examine why they are not motivated to find an alternative to refilling their truck.

Behind damaging behavior

November 26, 2013

I’ve written about this before, I’m pretty sure, but I thought I’d follow up my last post with a brief explanation of how I see the rest of what other people call “Evil,” the part of the phenomenon that lies behind the behavior.

It’s a force, I think.  Like the force I’ve heard when people in the throes of suicidality or psychotic depression speak and can’t be reached through rational thought.  May not be the same force, but I think the same process is going on.

My sense is that it’s an energy that the person is encountering, that it’s welling up within them.  If the person can’t get enough of themselves out of the way, either through applying a technique in the moment or through having cleaned up their issues and trained in techniques in advance, then the force spills out embedded in difficult behavior, including in damaging behavior.  It impels such behavior.

Maybe we see this state reflected in brain chemistry, but I don’t believe brain chemistry, or anything else in the material world, is the prime mover or original source of anything.

I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically “bad” about the energy, just as there’s nothing intrinsically “bad” about a horse that gallops fast.  You just have to be a better rider (I know very little about riding, but I suspect that there’s an analogy in there somewhere that works).  With energy from what I think of as “God’s Dark Side,” there’s nothing wrong with it, but to let it pass through you without harm to self or others requires either the innocence of a baby in an original incarnation or a lot of clean living, prior interior work, and technique;  otherwise it gets caught on our fears and desires in a way that produces big-time problems.

It could be thought of, in the alternative, as a force of creative destruction, if we don’t want to use the vocabulary of faith.

My point is that it does not have a nasty attitude, it’s more like a tornado.  It’s when it mixes with human emotions and behavior that we get the kind of package that we find so difficult to handle, whether it’s implosion or explosion, and label “Evil,” I think, in some ways out of desperation, frustration, a sense of impotence, and fear.

Thought forms and not thought forms

October 15, 2013

Since there is no comments section, at least as yet, to a piece in the NYTimes about thought forms, I thought I’d just speak my piece here and point out that there are things that are thought forms and things that are not thought forms.  Conflating the two categories is not helpful.