Category Archives: religion and spirituality

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)

“Bad Faith” gets Exposed Again!!!

Mike Huckabee is demonstrating again what John Paul Sartre described so eloquently as “bad faith.” One of Huckabee’s tribe (conservative, evangelical Christians) has again gotten “caught with his pants down.” Huckabee and many others of that tribe are seeking to comfort the offender, Josh Duggar, and minimize the pain that comes from having your baser nature exposed to the public. Now Huckabee’s benevolent response is not without some merit as we should offer comfort to those of our tribe…and others…who have encountered duress even if it is self-imposed. But that comfort does not include overt or subtle excusing of the behavior, attempting to mitigate the offense with lame explanations such as “he made a mistake” or “God has forgiven him.” Yes, he did make a mistake and yes God has forgiven him but what he and many other evangelical Christians fail to see is the real offense—using one’s faith to hide behind and cover up one’s intrinsic human-ness, including “baser instincts.”

Huckabee’s “bad faith” demonstrates the biblical “form of godliness” that “denies the power thereof.” Though I don’t doubt his sincerity, his faith is a suit of clothes that he dons each day and makes him very appealing to his friends, confidantes, and political base. Of course, he sincerely does not know this. He thinks he is a humble Christian servant. But he needs to keep in mind that the Islamist extremists who are beheading people are equally sincere in what they are doing! It is often that which we are most sincere about that hides our darkest secrets.

And that brings me to a core issue in this most recent sexual scandal that is rocking our culture right now. In spite of their “innocence”, evangelical Christians need to wake up and embrace that fact that they are instinctual creatures like God created them to be and if they use their faith in an attempt to obliterate their instinctual nature, it will rise up occasionally and bite the in the butt. I do not think that Jesus intended his teachings to be used as a way of hiding from our instinctual nature but as a way to embrace the whole of our “human-ness” and express it in a mature, responsible manner. But attempting to repudiate these baser impulses always leads to projection and at times to “acting out”—“They call it Reason, using light celestial, just to out do the beasts in being bestial.” (Goethe)

I do not excuse Josh Duggar for his “mistakes.” But I understand! I remember being a horny teen-age boy and having learned that these sexual impulses were “nasty” and “of the devil.” I guess I was blessed/cursed with more guilt than was Josh and managed to not let my youthful lustfulness go quite that far. And I can identify with the response of Josh’s parents who sought to cover up this “indiscretion” for they too were, and are, but human and had this Christian “face” to maintain. But what Mr. Huckabee and the Duggar family need to learn is that their Christian faith needs to seize this opportunity to deepen and to learn that the “Grace of God” that they purport to believe in is providing them an opportunity to lose this Christian “face” and learn that they can then join the human race and still be a Christian. Then there is “forgiveness” that is not just a self-serving, postured contrition which allows one to continue in his/her blindness, to wake up again the next morning and say, “Someone wind me up again and watch me be a Christian.” I know. I’ve been there most of my life and am even now far short of “perfection.”   I have not learned even yet to live with these occasional gut-wrenching bouts of “imperfection.”

Once again the “tee-hee” part of my brain wants to smirk and ridicule when another one of the self-righteous crowd gets his hypocrisy exposed. But my “tee-hee-er” does not work as well as it used to as I feel sorry for the Duggar family in some way. It is so painful to face disillusionment and my tendency has always been to “cover my ass” and not learn what is staring me right in the face…and has always been apparent to those that know me the best.  I’m reminded of the wisdom of Shakespeare who noted, “Give every man his just deserts and who would escape a whipping.”

“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.”)

Embedded in our Own Thinking

To think is to go beyond. Thinking that deserves the name never attempts to make a cage for mystery. Reverential thought breaks down the thought-cages that domesticate mystery. This thinking is disturbing but liberating. This is the kind of thinking at the heart of prayer, namely, the liberation of the Divine from the small prisons of our fear and control. To liberate the Divine is to liberate oneself. Each person is vulnerable in the way he or she sees things. You are so close to your own way of thinking that you are probably unaware of its power and control over how you experience everything, including yourself. This is the importance of drama as a literary form. It provides you the opportunity to know yourself at one remove, so to speak, without threatening you with annihilation. Your thinking can be damaged. You may sense this but put it down to the way life is. You remain unaware of your freedom to change the way you think. When your thinking is locked in false certainty or negativity, it puts so many interesting and vital of life out of your reach. You live hungry and impoverished in the midst of your own abundance.  (John O’donahue, “Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Yearning to Belong.)

Shakespeare addressed this issue in his first sonnet in a challenge to a friend who was so embedded in his own thinking that he was unable to make the commitment of marriage. Shakespeare described him as “contracted to thine own bright eyes,” telling us that being entrapped in a verbal prison limits us in our ability to see beyond the end of our own nose. Persons like this live in an echo chamber and their private prison is reinforced as they usually gravitate toward social groups that view the world from a similar prison. Conrad Aiken described it as “seeing only the small bright circles of our consciousness beyond which lies the darkness.” Those who do not see the world as they do, those who believe differently and often even vote differently are seen to be in that “darkness” and in some instances are seen as “going to hell.”

Now those of you who drop by from time to time recognize that this is a favorite subject of mine. Yes, “you spot it, you got it” applies to me also! I grew up in a very close-minded view of the world and have not escaped it yet…at least not fully. As O’Donohue noted, even beginning to see what I like to call “epistemic closure” has us in its clutches is often so frightening that we refuse to give the notion another thought. And he noted that “annihilation” is the subconscious fear for ego-identity (our persona) is a verbal construct and for even one plank in this artifice to be threatened evokes primordial fears of disintegration. It is easier to just cling dogmatically to what has been “tried and true” and is validated by our peers and go merrily along our way.

Meditation has been immensely helpful to me to find some degree of clarity or “spaciousness” so that I can catch myself immersed in repetitive thought patterns of non-productive value. And when you can learn to “catch yourself” at “stinkin’ thinkin’” the poisonous thoughts often begin to diminish in power. Until we begin to pause, catch ourselves interpreting things in a worn-out manner…which must be boring and annoying to others…we will remain ensconced in the story that we tell ourselves daily.

Tribute to My Dear Momma!

Mother’s Day in my chlld hood always meant wearing a white rose to church, announcing to everyone that our mother was still living.  Wearing a red rose was what those would do if their mother had passed on.  (I might have the colours reversed.)  And the event was always successful in its purpose,  as it brought the attention of myself and my five sisters to how wonderful our mother was.

And, she still is today; for, she does live in our hearts even now and always will as her presence is etched deeply in our memories, even pre-conscious memories when she was the source of everything good.  And, even everything bad—I remember vividly crying obsessively, “Momma why’d ya do it, momma why’d ya do it, momma why’d ya do it” when I pulled a boiling cup of tea off the table and inflicted third degree burns on my four-year old chest and arm.  Of course, momma did not “do this” but at that age “cause and effect” are being burned into our hearts as this time-and-space continuum that we live in demands.  For, in a developing mind, if momma is responsible for everything good then it stands to the developing linear reason that she is responsible for everything bad!

But that occasion was one particular moment when momma employed such skill and good judgment, drawing on her memories of life on the farm in central Missouri and then covering my wrinkling skin with lard before she went out to tackle starting, and then driving, an old pick-up truck when she had not yet learned to drive.  But she figured out how use the hand-crank on that old jalopy, fire it up, and drive me and my younger sister and I to a neighbor’s house who would then drive us to a physician.  During the whole trip my refrain of “momma why’d ya do it” continued but she did not allow her own personal anguish to interfere with the task at hand and, with the help of a neighbor, got me to the doctor.

This is but one demonstration of what I call momma’s faith.  I don’t know what went on in her heart at the time, but I know that she often called upon the Lord to address difficulties in life and I’m sure she did on this occasion, even as she simultaneously called upon her inner resources. And she faced many, many crises when raising her six “needful things” and at times found it overwhelming.  But, even when seriously ill, she would rise up from the bed and “gird up her loins” and get the job done…and this is faith!  Now, she does not have my style of faith which includes the wisdom of various spiritual traditions and quotations of the likes of Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, and W. H. Auden.  And even today, sitting up there in the comfort of heaven, she will often smile and chuckle when I’m knee-deep in my ethereal faith and whisper to me, quoting Hamlet’s mother, “Oh, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown.”  But it has never even crossed my mind to dismiss her faith…or that of anyone else…knowing that faith is expressed in different ways through different people.  But I remember so clearly the courage she demonstrated in difficult situations and the affirmations of her faith and see so clearly the value and validity of a faith unlike that of “literarylew.”  She showed me so clearly that one dimension of faith is doing what needs to be done in one’s day to day life, an employment of the “Will of the Species” which is very much related to what my spiritual tradition calls “the Spirit of God.”

 

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Anti-intellectualism and “Mindfulness”

I find the current anti-intellectualism craze in my country fascinating though my fascination is mitigated by fascinated by the worry about its consequences.  As indicated earlier this stems largely from my past life in an hyper-conservative Arkansas community when conspiracy theory was one of my favorite “comfort foods.”

But epistemology is relevant.  These anti-intellectuals are not without intelligence; in fact, some of them are very well educated and have powerful posts in our government.  But intelligence is not a static phenomena, or shouldn’t be.  For intelligence to be meaningful it must be accompanied with the capacity to view things critically, even belief systems that are near and dear to their own heart.  Without that critical capacity, one will find himself in a closed mind which does include the “comfort” of not knowing one has a closed mind.  And one who lives in this prison…self-imposed in some manner…will automatically dismiss anything that threatens his view of the world.  This is the “epistemic closure” or “confirmation bias” that I address here so often.

 Intelligence is not objective.  With the anti-intellectual crowd, they have intelligence but they have used that intelligence to formulate a comfortable world view and then said to themselves unconsciously, “Ok, that’s enough.  I don’t need to know any more” and will spend the rest of their life viewing the world and themselves through that narrow little prism.  Instead of “thinking” they will be spend their life “thought” by a body of ideology comprised of preconceptions which have never been questioned.  Their thought life will be a daily regurgitation of these preconceptions.  And having that narrow view of the world pierced would be extremely painful so most who are within its “safe” confines just will not allow it to be pierced.  For this “penetration” by reality would evoke a deep sense of being existentially “wrong” which is related to why so many of them often avow a deep conviction of being “right.”  And this “wrong” that they fear is not a conscious “wrong” of having done something amiss but of “being” wrong which would evoke what I have posited earlier is the experience of “the judgment of God.”  The experience of “being” wrong is at an extreme unmitigated terror and that is why we have been given a persona without which we could not function.

But if we live our whole life knowing ourselves only as the ideology-based persona that we trot out every day, we will not have understood the question posed by Jesus, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”  Our persona can survive, and even thrive on self-scrutiny but our ego will always tell us that it can’t.  And therefore, when threatened, we cling even tighter to our persona rather than experience some version of the aforementioned terror.  And for most of us the “terror” will only be some degree of discomfort,  i.e. “cognitive dissonance.”  But usually we “cling in panic to our tall beliefs” when “Truth holds our her hands” and proceed to “shrink away like an ill-treated child.”  (Auden) We prefer the comfort of our ideas rather than addressing the “Reality” that lies beneath and beyond these ideas.  We cannot bring ourselves to declare like W. H. Auden, “Oh blessed be bleak exposure on his sword we are pricked into coming alive.”

It is no accident that the fundamentalist Christians who are the driving force of this anti-intellectualism vehemently oppose meditation and yoga, often denigrating it as “Of the Devil” or “Straight from the pits of hell.”  And, they are right…in their way of looking at the world!  For the “mindfulness” that is in the vogue in our culture with many of us “damn liberals” emphasizes awareness of one’s subjective experience that precedes our “fall” into the realm of cognition.  The “awareness” that mindfulness disciplines offers is frightening to one who is an ideologue and trapped in his ideological “comfort food.”  This “awareness” frees us from the bondage to our thinking.

 —-AFTERTHOUGHTS—-

“Words,” wrote John Maynard Keynes, “ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking.”

 

A very thoughtful assessment of this current anti-intellectual craze is found in the magazine Psychology Today:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201407/anti-intellectualism-and-the-dumbing-down-america

 

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The “Unity of All Things” in a Poem

I love the way poets can bring things that are totally disconnected together to make sense. Of course, that is because we, and everything about our lovely world, is very connected in the first place. But lost in our illusion of separateness, it takes poetic courage to “Dive into the Wreck” and put the unity of all things into words so that pedestrian traffic like “moi” can appreciate it:

Trinity
Small things have a different logic to them.
Drop an ant from fifty times its height.
It survives. But a man, a mammoth, a bomb …
well, quantum particles tell us, size is fate.
So when Robert Oppenheimer gathered
those great minds, each with his specialty,
they chose a boy’s schoolhouse in the heart
of an enormous nation, its sons at sea.
Those days were never simple: the squeak of chalk
against the darkness, the dread of failure,
of success, inside each uneasy thought
the dull knowledge that, hell, if not here,
then some other hell, and so they worked
against the clock, the hammer of its hours.
Trinity. That was their goal, their test site
that drew its name from a line by Donne,
who invited God to batter his heart,
God who was three-person’d, and so one
conscience split into ravishing light.
The way men long to be that usurpt towne,
no doubt it frightens them: the blank slate
that reason fills for all the wrong reasons.
What Oppenheimer saw there, God knows.
Perhaps it was the words knocke, breathe, shine, 
and seek to mende. Perhaps the overthrow
of one god for another, for one who blinds
the doubt, so we might lie against our shadows
and fall, too deep to fathom, too small to find.

BRUCE BOND
For the Lost Cathedral
Louisiana State University Press

http://poem.com/today.php