Category Archives: mindfulness

“Literary License” and Personal Narrative

I became “literary” lew when I started this blog about six years ago.  I increasingly realize that the choice of that moniker was more astute than I realized.  These six years have helped me explore further the inner recesses of my heart and I’ve learned that my early grasp of the world was very “literary.”  Then I was taught that the world I lived in was a very literal, linear-thinking world.  I dutifully complied and I’m glad I did, but wish I’d have done so with less passion! But now, pretty late in the old “ball game”, I’m using this literary license very freely and enjoying the freedom to interpret life from a less rigid perspective.  The world is multi-dimensional and I’m finding life much easier and pleasant, having slowly allowed this wisdom to sink in.

Decades ago friends introduced me to the notion that life itself is but a story and approaching it as such makes it easier to pose the question occasionally, “Now what’s the point of this story going on here, the one I’m being presented with, or the one that I find myself immersed in personally.”  This is simple use of Shakespeare’s “pauser reason” which, if employed here and there, can allow us to make better responses to parts of the story that we are presented with.  Otherwise, we will be unwitting participants in a narrative that is, unbeknownst to ourselves, setting the course for our life.  One simple example, drawn from my clinical practice of the past, is the “martyr complex” of someone who finds himself/herself constantly playing the role of the victim throughout life, not realizing that some unconscious need is being fulfilled.  When one self-created crisis has resolved itself, this person will seem to ask upon awakening the next morning, “Hmm.  Now what’s underway in my life today that will allow me to perceive myself being the victim, allowing me to start the drama mill of my life to going again?”  This person seems to pray daily, “Give us this day, our daily crisis…”

Though most of us aren’t martyrs or victims, we inevitably play some role that we are only barely aware of if at all.   I’ve found this “literary license” helpful in gaining some degree of awareness.

ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

https://wordpress.com/stats/day/literarylew.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

Thinking about Momma Nature

A Facebook friend just shared a paean to the tree by Herman Hesse which I will share here when I conclude.  Hesse so eloquently puts into words a passion I have had for the past twenty years or so for trees, part of the love affair I’ve been having with Momma Nature.  For a long time I’ve been telling friends and family that when I pass away,  “Don’t buy flowers.  Plant a tree!  Plant a tree in your yard, in a friend or neighbor’s yard, in the woods, in a park, but plant a tree!!!  There is nothing I feel would honor me more than the planting of a tree, and Hesse’s narrative helps me to understand why.

Nature is a calming presence in my life now.  I see daily the beautiful sights of Northern New Mexico and understand that I’m seeing the handiwork of God.  I’m now an avid gardener and take great delight in finding out what plants and flowers are native to this desert environment and can survive.  My sun room becomes a seedling nursery in late winter and even now still has seedlings ready to find a home outside.

One of the faulty perceptions I learned in my youth was that mankind was separate and distinct from the earth.  In fact, I learned that it was ours to master and control and not Gaia to live in harmony with.  But I’ve matured to the point where I can handle paradox and contradiction, realizing that yes we are “separate and distinct” from the earth but simultaneously “dust of the earth” just as the Bible teaches.  We walk, breathe, live, and die in the Unity of All Things.

FROM “WANDERING” BY HERMAN HESSE

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. It wants to be nothing except what it is. That is home. That is happiness.

 

The following picture is the Rio Grande meandering alongside Hwy 68 south of Taos, Nm.

blog pix.jpg

 

 

 

 

Wisdom from Walt Whitman

This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…

This is stunningly insightful, sounding like something straight out of the Old Testament…perhaps the Book of Psalms. And I really was grabbed by the advice to “argue not concerning God” as I see so clearly now the foolishness of such argumentation. His point is relevant to an observation I read recently on an evangelical blog in which the pastor noted he had given up apologetics, realizing that the primary point had always been to prove that he was right and the other fellow was wrong! The need to convert or to win someone to our way of thinking runs the risk of amounting to nothing more than an effort to satisfy our ego’s desire to have the entire world see the world just as we do.

I really liked Whitman’s admonishment, “argue not concerning God.”  Now, I ask, “Why bother to argue?”  I now have firm, faith-based, confidence in God and have no need to argue for His existence.  In fact, arguing for God’s existence has a predicate of profound doubt of His existence; for, otherwise, why would you need to argue?  From my experience, the need to “prove” that God exists springs from a deep-seated existential doubt of my own existence.  It is almost as if I’m saying, “Hey, I am so insecure about my own existence that I must believe in a God who is “out there” and as I long as I can do so I will know that I exist.  The need to argue for His existence was always to prove that I was “right” and in compete disregard for the “Rightness” that was given me in the person of Christ.  But, argumentation always kept the matter within the realm of my ego, that dimension of the human heart which is what Jesus had in mind for us to escape with…and I paraphrase…his admonishment, “Get over yourself!”

Oh, sure, I understand the “transcendent” and “immanent” dimensions of deity…so, yes He is “out there” and “in here” but why sweat the issue if you really believe that?  I believe the message of Jesus was, “Chill out.  I gotcha covered.  Don’t sweat it.”  But that is not enough for guilt-ridden Christians who are still enslaved by the law that Jesus said he had fulfilled.

“You Spot It, You Got It”

Conservative Christians in my country are currently beset by a rash of “sexual indiscretion” scandals, personally or with their close associates. In some instances their response is to minimize the “sin” with the pious platitude, “God has forgiven me” but what they fail to address is how that often their lives have been characterized by ardent stances on moral issues and quick judgment of others on sexual matters. Yes, I firmly believe God has forgiven them and he will forgive them of a more serious sin that is present if they would deign to acknowledge it.

This “unacknowledged sin” I can address because of personal experience, past and present, demonstrating once again the wisdom of a psychologist, “You spot it, you got it.” I knew one of the notable figures alluded to above and helped educate him in the practice of being what I now call a Christianoid. I was in the position to do so for at that time in my life I was a Christianoid and each day could have said, “Wind me up and watch me be Christian.” My Christian faith was a “thing” that I had acquired from my culture and it provided the core of my persona. Without it I would have been a “no-thing” and would have had to deal with the intense existential anxiety that comes when you begin to realize, cognitively and emotionally, that one is “no” thing.

One could use the term hypocrite to describe me at that time in my life for the word means simply “actor” and I was merely an “actor” in the whole of my life, including my faith. I didn’t know anything else. And I was not a “bad” person nor was I a “hypocrite” in the usual sense of the word. I just was very immature and had not enrolled yet in the “school of hard knocks” which always facilitates an identity crisis. And I lived in a culture and practiced my faith with people plagued with similar immaturity.

One thing that Christians need to learn from this current “mess” that they are in is that the God who they believe in so fiercely…the same one that I do…is trying to tell them something about sexuality. Basically, He is saying, “Hey, I made you sexual beings. I did it deliberately and it is a good thing. But trying to deny, avoid, or repress it will get you or your children into trouble.” And it is very apparent that those who have the gravest concern about the sexual behavior of other people and want to control it have the gravest issues with their own sexual impulses. “You spot it, you got it.”

The sexuality issues of Christians is part of a more fundamental error they are making which is a denial of their very body. And this is very personally relevant for myself as I took this to an extreme and have spent my whole life denying my body, placing too much emphasis on cognition rather than emotion. A misplaced emphasis like this will always turn one into an ideologue in which the “idea” is valued more than the “thing” which the idea refers to. Thus I had to discover that the “Jesus” that I purported to worship was only an idea and that I was actually, in some subtle sense, only worshipping myself.

Let me emphasize that I believe firmly in moral codes and in self-restraint, or, as the Greeks said, “measurement in all things.” But when the external boundaries become too strong, when they are emphasized excessively, the spirit within is squelched, and “acting out” will occur often in the form of “sexual indiscretion.” It is almost as if the gods are saying, “Hey, you think you are in control and a bastion of virtue? Just watch this!” And then they send a vixen our way, we imbibe readily, and are taught that we are not what we were pretending to be. We must not fail to learn the lesson that we are always “actors” in some sense and that “none is good, no, not one,”; or as Shakespeare put it, “Give every man his just desert, and who would escape a whipping?”

Hiding behind “God’s forgiveness” is not enough. Sure, it is there and will always be there. But our indiscretions always reveal issues in the depths of our heart and in those depths is where the work needs to be done. But with Christianity that I used to teach others there was no awareness of those depths and barriers actually in place to avoid discovering them. This is the “bad faith” that John Paul Sartre wrote about.

Chief Seattle Offers Wisdom for Today

My fascination with non-duality, the “unity of all things” continues. I stumbled across a letter from Chief Seattle in 1844 to President Franklin Pierce which suggested he had been reading the Eckhart Tolle of his day:

There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities. No place to hear the leaves of spring or the rustle of the insects wings….

What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to man. All things are connected….

The whites, too, shall pass—perhaps sooner than other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will suffocate in your own waste.

But this “unity of all things” is so subversive, so much “non” sense! It rattles my cage and will do so for the rest of my life. The flux of life cannot be reduced to linear thought as much as our reptilian brain wants it to be. Life is a flow. I am a flow. We attach ourselves to stories to convince ourselves otherwise. But we are always merely a “process in a process in a field that never closes.” (W. H. Auden)

“The Closed Cab of Occupation”

THE CLOSED CAB OF OCCUPATION

W. H. Auden declared that “We drive through life in the closed cab of occupation.” Auden was, like myself, an alienated soul sentenced to life as an “observer” of life rather than a “participant.” But being an “observer” with the capacity to even “observe” himself, i.e. self-reflect, he realized that even his occupation of poet was a “closed cab” and he was fated to view life through the prison of metaphor. And I’m glad he accepted that imprisonment as his work has been a god-send to myself and to many others, though he suffered greatly under its torments.

My “occupation” from very early in my development has been to “observe” life rather than to experience it, a stance that eventually evolved into the “closed cab” of a diagnostician, a mental health counselor. In the comfortable confines of that self-imposed prison I could…and still can…categorize and label this beautiful mystery that we call life and keep myself insulated from its hoary depths which are often frightening. But, mercifully I have the gift that Auden had and can self-reflect somewhat even about my “self-reflection” and thus my clinical detachment is breaking down. Yes, the prison-bars are bending and with a “little bit of luck and a strong tail-wind” I’m gonna be able to slip between those bars at some point and come out to play for moment before that damn Grim Reaper has his way with me!

A recent phrase I stumbled across on a Paul Tillich Facebook page is someone’s observation that Tillich’s teachings had taught him “just how much I am embedded in my own thought.” This “embeddedness” is a critical dimension of life that is difficult to grasp; for, to grasp this nuance of life is to see and experience a schism in the depths of one’s heart and he/she begins to realize there is more to one’s “experience” that what can be “thought.” This insight can be the beginning of recognition of one’s “closed cab.”

I want to share with you the insight of John O’Donohue about this discovery:

Thought is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. The way you see things makes them the way they are. We never meet life innocently. We always take in life through the grid of thought we use. Our thoughts filter experience all the time…Even your meetings with yourself happen in and by means of thinking.

 More often than not we have picked up the habits of thinking from those around us. These thought-habits are not yours; they can damage the way you see the world and make you doubt your own instinct and sense of life. When you become aware that your thinking has a life of its own, you will never make a prison of your own perception…In order to deconstruct the inner prison, the first step is to see that it is a prison. You can move in the direction of this discovery by reflecting on the places where your life feels limited and tight…”Heidegger said, ‘To recognize a frontier is already to have gone beyond it.’” (“Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong.”)

More Confirmation of my Biases!

I just love it when I find something that confirms that my thoughts are valid. No, in my case this is not “confirmation bias” (epistemic closure) this is God telling me once again, “You are right!” And, btw, if I read something or hear something that does not offer me this reassurance, my immediate response is, “Of the Devil!”

Seriously, “Brain Pickings” is a wonderful Face Book page and on this occasion it has offered something that is relevant, and reassuring, of a line of meta-cognitive exploration I’ve pursued for decades. (http://www.brainpickings.org/2013/10/30/daniel-kahneman-intuition/) The author describes research that has explored perception and intuition and concluded that we do have the tendency to believe and think exactly as we wish to. Or as someone said once, “Our thinking is the belated rationalization of conclusions to which we’ve already been led by our desires.”

So, my friend, you are reading the “coinage of the brain” of one man who is comfortably ensconced in his “delusional state!” No, I don’t really mean that but I do realize that the mind trotting this “stuff” outs springs from a heart that seeks homeostasis. Yes, this narrow little prism through which I view the world is the latest version of one which I’ve had for 63 years and I do not want its subtle premises questioned. I will say, however, in fairness to myself that being blessed…or cursed…with meta-cognition running out of my backside, I find some willingness for this homeostasis to be shaken occasionally by Reality so that I’m increasingly able to make room for other people. May it always be so!