Category Archives: religion and spirituality

Shakespeare & Binary Thinking

“There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” This might be one of the richest bits of Shakespearean wisdom that I have gleaned from the treasure of his work. He is pointing out that it is our ability to assign labels that creates our world and in so doing carves this world up into categories. This notion is intriguing for on a superficial level it seems to mean that even something like murder is “murder” only because of thinking. And, well, in a sense that is so but that doesn’t mean our labeling it “bad” is a problem.

With this observation Shakespeare again takes us into the depths of our collective heart where distinctions were made even before we are rational human beings. He realized that somewhere in our ancient past we determined that labels (i.e. words) are necessary even before we were capable of formal thought. It is there, in our collective unconscious that we decided, “Hey, some of this stuff going on here is a problem” and from that subconscious realization we began to evolve a capacity to assign labels. But also, at that some point in development we started the preliminary process of assigning labels to the whole of God’s creation, illustrated so beautifully with Adam’s “naming the beasts of the field.”

Without this ability to assign labels and to categorize our world we would still be beasts of the field. But with this skill we were beginning to acquire the ability to create human culture, making it possible for life as we know it to unfold. But unfortunately, this spiritual phenomena of becoming verbal also had a price tag—it separated us from the splendor of the natural world and left us with a feeling of loss and an unconscious want to return to that Edenic bliss. It also created the capacity to take these labels too seriously and to forget they were only “pointers” and not the thing- in-itself. These made it possible for ideologues to climb out of the primordial slime with the rest of us and these ideologues take this verbal world to be the only world, not realizing that words have meaning only when their ancient, primordial, (i.e. pre-verbal) roots are engaged. When we reach this point of spiritual development, we understand that a simple word like “god,” for example, can cease to be a mere “idea” and the “experience” of God in the depths of our heart can begin to surface. When we reach this point of our life we then begin to “wrestle with the Lord” and can come to realize that in some sense we are also wrestling with the very core of our being, our very self. We are, as W. H. Auden puts it, “waging the war we are.”

It is such a challenge to recognize and to experience the limits of binary thinking. In a sense, “binary thinking” is the only thinking there is but only in a sense. With this marvelous neo-cortex, we have the God-given capacity to learn how deeply we are embedded in our own thought. When we reach this point of maturity and have the courage to enter the struggle that follows, we recognize that yes, there is “good” and “bad” in our world but we understand that the distinction between the two is more nebulous than we used to think. This understanding makes us less sure when assigning those particular labels though we can,, at the same time, have the courage to judiciously utilize them. Yes, there is “good” and a “bad” in this world and even more so, in the very depths of my own heart. This neo-cortical phenomena of meta-cognition allows us to hold in our mind and heart “contradictory” notions at one and the same time and we can begin to cavort about in the Unity of all Things.

Lunacy in Religion Surfaces Again!!!

Christiandom has given Bill Maher and other stand-up comedians more fodder for there routines as a 53 year old former fundamentalist pastor has been arrested in Brazil to face 53 charges of sexual abuse. I will offer a link to the story as it is really creepy, primarily many of the parents willingly “followed God’s leadership” and entrusted their teen daughters into the care of this man’s reclusive and isolated ministry with a promise that he would make these girls God’s women! (http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/01/us/victor-barnard-brazil-caught/index.h)

I see so much lunacy in contemporary religion. And, history has many other stories of additional religious lunacy enough to bring anyone to the point of consideration, “Is all of this just nuts?” And I look at contemporary Christianity and am amazed at how intelligent, educated people can believe some of the things they believe in the name of Christ; and, yes, on the fringe I see many “nut-jobs.”  However, the social context that produced me some six decades ago would label me “nuts” also, or some variation of that term And, in a sense, they would be right for it is the context that gets to define the terms and in reference to the context from which I hailed I certainly merit some disapproving label.

Spirituality deals with the issue of meaning or our quest for meaning. And meaning is always found in a search into the depths of the heart. Unfortunately, the “depths of the heart” are chaotic to say the least and contain good and bad, a veritable Pandora’s box of mischief and worse. Sometimes one’s spiritual quest will take one right into the “Heart of Darkness” and there are times that temptations leads to catastrophic decisions, often “in the name of God.” An equally sordid route is when someone is so fear-bound, so fearful of that dark realm in his heart, they will not allow the Spirit of God that he professes to believe in to lead him in the depths of the heart in the first place. This person will keep it all in the head and become an ideologue, one picture of which we have today is Isis but in Christianity in my country there is Westboro Baptist Church.

But, this issue is ultimately a human issue and not the fault of the religious/spiritual impulse though certainly that impulse goes awry and we see catastrophe. We are complicated little critters because in those hoary depths of our heart monsters do lurk and sometimes our adaptations to them are inadequate, even in our faith. And this realization keeps me a little less rigid than I used to be though often I will find myself relapsing into an arrogance even with my “liberal” and “open-minded” and “all-inclusive” notions of Christianity. And this realization always brings me back to the basic emphasis of spirituality—chopping wood, carrying water. For all of our lofty and noble thoughts, what are we doing to make this world a better place for our kiddies?

 

 

 

Modern-day Tent Revival Coming to Taos, NM!!!

In the “old days” of my youth in the American South there were tent revivals, even tales from my mother of “brush arbor revivals”, and other examples of evangelical fervor run amok. I received a mailer last week regarding the modern-day equivalent of this type of event which will be held in the comfort of a local motel on the north end of the main street in Taos, NM. The flyer (fortunately addressed impersonally to “boxholder) announces—THE BIBLE…AMERICA…WHAT’S NEXT? Inside the flyer, some of the topics to be addressed are: How near is His return?; The Signs of His Coming; Will the United Nations Rule the World? The Power Behind the Beast & the Anti-Christ. This is a glossy, full color, four-page flyer and it will bring the crowds in along with their hard-earned money. The evangelist will leave town 11 days later with his coffers fattened and the desperate souls will leave with the fears heightened and their desperate ideologically-based faith intensified.

In my youth, I loved it when these guys would come to town, though I was born late enough that brush arbors and tent revivals were almost a thing of the past and I never got to participate in one. But these evangelists would hold us in awe, driving up in their expensive cars, wearing their handsome suits, and trotting out all of those impressive diagrams and charts which offered positive proof that the end-times were near and that Jesus was coming back to bring his children home and wreak havoc on all those left behind.

Yes, part of me is snickering at this scene that will unfold in this lovely community and part of me would like to attend a night or two and gawk. But I’m pleased that I’m now mature enough that the snickering is overshadowed my a profound sadness, especially for the children who will be mortally wounded with the terror of the atmosphere and many will “come to Christ” out of a fear of hell and will spend the rest of their life under the tyranny of ideological Christianity.   And I don’t think the evangelist is necessarily a shyster. He probably is caught up himself in this institutionalized hysteria and is merely playing his role…as we all tend to do in life…in a collective mindset that has him at its beck-and-call, his life being merely the “toy of some great pain.” (Ranier Rilke)

God is love and perfect love casteth out fear.  And I wish I could tell you that I now embody “perfect love” and all fear has been “casteth out” of my heart and life. But it hasn’t. But God is working on it and I will continue to let Him. And now the fears are more readily exposed and I’m finding the Grace to acknowledge, embrace, and “go swimmin’” in them occasionally.

 

Our Spiritual Search for Meaning

During the impeachment preliminaries of President Clinton, his response to one difficult question was the famous, “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” A lot of fun was had with that verbal finesse, but he was very right. The use of “is” is contextual and the nuances are important.

Words are ephemeral like the rest of reality and from time to time we have to “wrestle with words and meanings” as T. S. Eliot put it. For words become stale over time and lose their value, face value being taken at some point for what was once a powerful emotional and/or spiritual experience. It is simpler to not worry about “meaning” and take everything superficially and that can get you far in life but it doesn’t answer the gut-level issues that led Henry David Thoreau to declare in the mid 19th century, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.”

The quest for meaning is a spiritual enterprise and churches and spiritual traditions have offered guidance to men and women who have been on this quest. Recently Pope Francis described this as a “risky journey,” one that is not only a quest for God but also a search for one’s own personal identity. Francis understands that spirituality is not idle abstraction but something that involves our innermost being, something which will often challenge our most basic assumptions about ourselves and about life itself. Otherwise we often are pursuing what he called only a “caricature of God.” Here is a link to a report of his message:

http://americamagazine.org/issue/pope-santa-marta-courage-restless-heart

Relevant to this spiritual quest for meaning, here is one of my favorite excerpts of W. H. Auden’s poetry, taken from “A Christmas Oratorio.” Here the Star of the Nativity is speaking:

Beware. All those who follow me are led 
Onto that Glassy Mountain where are no 
Footholds for logic, to that Bridge of Dread 
Where knowledge but increases vertigo:
 Those who pursue me take a twisting lane
 To find themselves immediately alone
 With savage water or unfeeling stone,
In labyrinths where they must entertain
 Confusion, cripples, tigers, thunder, pain.

 

A Caveat re this Awakening “Stuff”

There is a note of irony re this “awakening” business that I’m discoursing about. When you have awakened, all you get is the knowledge that, technically, you never have been awake and never will be! All you get is the knowledge…and experience…of the darkness in which you live. You will never be able to say anything but that you “see through a glass darkly” and if you have any honesty you will come to realize that your glass is a lot “darklier” than you could ever imagine!

Oh yes, I believe that “Light has come into the world” but we can only catch a faint glimmer of this Light before it is immediately beset by our ego needs which the Apostle Paul called “the flesh.” This merely means that there is always that tendency to interpret things…and certainly spiritual things…in a self-serving manner and a great resistance to acknowledging this. Of course, we see this so readily with that vast population known as “them” but it rarely dawns on us that we are guilty of the same. Since I found the temerity to acknowledge this, I have frequent “Rick Perry moments” when I have to say “Oops!” as I realize that once again I am just full of myself with some of my blather and that I am using my “enlightened” discourse to merely avoid reality.

Now, when this happens I try to not castigate myself and I certainly am not trying to say that I am a bad human being. I am not. I’m just a “human being” and it is human nature to take ourselves too seriously and not accept our shallowness and ego-centricity. And it is just so very “ok” to be “guilty” of being a human but it is important to acknowledge it! This helps me to snicker less when others are caught being guilty of the same.

There is a note of irony re this “awakening” business that I’m discoursing about. When you have awakened, all you get is the knowledge that, technically, you never have been awake and never will be! All you get is the knowledge…and experience…of the darkness in which you live. You will never be able to say anything but that you “see through a glass darkly” and if you have any honesty you will come to realize that your glass is a lot “darklier” than you could ever imagine!

Oh yes, I believe that “Light has come into the world” but we can only catch a faint glimmer of this Light before it is immediately beset by our ego needs which the Apostle Paul called “the flesh.” This merely means that there is always that tendency to interpret things…and certainly spiritual things…in a self-serving manner and a great resistance to acknowledging this. Of course, we see this so readily with that vast population known as “them” but it rarely dawns on us that we are guilty of the same. Since I found the temerity to acknowledge this, I have frequent “Rick Perry moments” when I have to say “Oops!” as I realize that once again I am just full of myself with some of my blather and that I am using my “enlightened” discourse to merely avoid reality.

Now, when this happens I try to not castigate myself and I certainly am not trying to say that I am a bad human being. I am not. I’m just a “human being” and it is human nature to take ourselves too seriously and not accept our shallowness and ego-centricity. And it is just so very “ok” to be “guilty” of being a human but it is important to acknowledge it! This helps me to snicker less when others are caught being guilty of the same.

Sleep Walking in the Spiritual World

An “awakening” is an interesting notion as it implies having been asleep before.  And it brings to mind the notion someone posited that we are a “nation of sleep walkers” in reference to not apparently having any idea what we are doing.  And the notion that one is not “awake” is disconcerting to say the least.  It can threaten one to the core and technically should do so as the “core” is where the “stuff” of life is found.  There we find the heart.

Spiritual traditions usually have awakening as a primary concern for spiritual teachers who help formulate these traditions always “see through” the falsities of life and want to bring them to the attention of others.  And this was certainly so with my spiritual tradition, Christianity.  But the spiritual truth that Jesus offered to the world was wisdom from the depths of the heart and this wisdom cannot be put into words.  Jesus, of course, used words but knew these words would only rattle around in many heads and never make it into the depths of the heart where meaning could be experienced.  This is what he meant by “having ears to hear, but hear not” and “eyes to see, but seeing not.”  For He knew that the real “stuff” of life takes place deep in the bowels of the heart and words can furrow there but only when great resistance is overcome.

This issue is very relevant to my spiritual history.  I was “Christianized” from early on.  I imbibed the “stuff” from even before I was conscious and one might say that since then everyday was summarized by, “Wind me up and watch me be Christian.”  And, yes, I grew up and got an education and dared to become a “damn liberal” and then it became, “Wind me up and watch me be a liberal Christian.”  Same song, different verse.  Only in the past decade or so have I realized just how I was embedded in my own thought, including in my own Christian teachings, and was largely just an indoctrinated automaton.

So, what is the solution?  Atheism?  Agnosticism?  Self-indulgence?  All of the above?  Well, I don’t know if I have a “solution” but I do know that I have been granted awareness of my self-serving faith, I have been made aware that ego-gratification was one of its primary intents.  And with this awareness, or “awakening,” I have suffered the disillusionment that I think is necessary at some point in life.  But this descent into the darkness has taught me that there is some inner resource I have other than the ego and its trappings.  I am finding a Center that is solid which words and spiritual traditions can only point to.  Yes, I still think of that “Center” as God, or even the “Christ child” that is within us all but I’m aware that these are only words.  I only know that in the depths of my heart I am a mystery, and that the whole of my life is a mystery, and that I’m living for a while longer in a beautiful world that is full of mystery, part of which are you!

So often I conclude with the observation, “But I have no need to convince anyone or to convert anyone.”  In my spiritual tradition, the spiritual passion has always led to an urgent need to evangelize and hope that others will “join the team.”  Not so in the least now, and that is one indicator that I’m growing up.  Changing others is no longer my job.  Changing my own life is the issue and gawd is there work to do there!  And I firmly believe that as I focus on “working on my own salvation with fear and trembling” any impact on others that needs to take place will occur.

Symptoms of Spiritual Awakening

I’m going to share a list of 12 symptoms of spiritual awakening that I found on Face Book, formulated by David Avocado Wolfe in “recoverytradepublications.com.” But I’d like to focus briefly on three of them which pertain to the subject of judgment: 9) A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others; 10)A loss of interest in judging others; 11)A loss of interest in judging self.

Philosophy posits the notion of “the faculty of judgment.” My take on this notion is the necessary function of interpretation of our environment and even of our own subjective world. With this “function” we carve our world up into “categories” which is much related to the task of assigning words or “names” to things. And in so doing, we are accomplishing what my background in clinical work describes as “object separateness.”

But this very important and necessary function of our psyche sometimes can run amok and we use it to isolate ourselves from life, hiding behind these “categories” even to the extent that we even know our “self” only in terms of “categories.” We have subscribed to the cultural demand to become “objectified” and in some sense lose our very soul. We become an “idea” and cease to be a fluid, dynamic, subjectively alive spirit.

My life has been a fine example of this problem. I will soon wrap up a 20 year career as a licensed mental health professional in which I utilized my “diagnostic knife” to help the “mentally ill.” And this role in our culture was, and is, a valuable and necessary role. But I realize now even more than then that this clinical detachment was present in my life from my earliest years and that I’ve used to “stand up there” and make detached observations about people, my world, and even my self. I sometimes call it my “god complex.”

W. H. Auden once noted, “We drive through life in the closed cab of occupation.” I still have that “closed cab” of detachment but, having gained this insight, it is much less “closed.” I have gained insight to what I’ve been doing and am much better at just turning it off, recognizing that whatever I am observing “just is” and does not always need my labels or interpretation.

Here are Mr. Wolfe’s list of “Symptoms…”

  1. Frequent attacks of smiling.
  2. An increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
  3. Feelings of being connected with others and nature.
  4. Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
  5. A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience.
  6. An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
  7. A loss of ability to worry.
  8. A loss of interest in conflict.
  9. A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
  10. A loss of interest in judging others.
  11. A loss of interest in judging self.
  12. Gaining the ability to love without expecting anything.