Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

Where Your Treasure Is, There Your Heart Will Be Also

Jesus once noted, “Where your treasures are, there shall your heart be.”  In the fundamentalism that I grew up in, I certainly understood that this teaching meant that the true “stuff” of life was not to be found in “this world.”  But now, I’ve aged a bit and I value this and His other teachings even more as I approach them from less an intellectual manner and more with a combination of intelligence and intuition (i.e. affect).  Aging, and the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” have done their work on me and I approach the whole of life, including spiritually, with more personal involvement.

One main difference in my understanding of this wisdom now lies in what back then was my culture’s distinction  between “this world” and “the other world” which I guess was heaven.  I think that the treasure that Jesus had in mind was something which we can find during our tenure on earth, a treasure which certainly is “eternal” but I don’t think “eternity” is a quantity of life anymore.  I think that Jesus was offering us an early version of the Shakespearean wisdom, “Within be rich, without be fed no more.”  Jesus was teaching us the lesson of other great spiritual teachers that there is a quality of life that is missed if we make that  what Alfred Lord Whitehead called, “The fallacy of misplaced concreteness.”  Misplaced concreteness is taking that which is ephemeral and perceiving and thinking it to be “real.”  This is very much a version of the Platonic cave allegory about what is “real” and what is “unreal.”  Jesus was telling us that if our “treasure” was in the material realm, we were missing the primary purpose of life which was, and still is, to “shuffle off this mortal coil” while still living and discover that we have something inside which satisfies where that which is “outside” only leaves us empty.  Furthermore, this is what he had reference to when he posed the question, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul.”

The emptiness of our modern day is so apparent in that we have allowed the mandate of capitalism to drive us into trying to fill that internal emptiness with “stuff.” And very much related to this, the “thing-ification” that we have acquired from our culture’s emphasis on “stuff” has turned even “god” into an item of “stuff,” meaning he is only a sterile concept. Technically our “highest value,” ( i.e. “god”) is “stuff” which is illustrated in the rampant consumerism.

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Shakespeare and the Unconscious

“I have within me that which passeth show.  These are but the suits of woe.”

Hamlet uttered these words one day when moping about the castle he was confronted by his family about his despondent mood.  He was saying, “Hey, you think this is depressed.  This is nothing.  This is only a cloak of depression; but I have within me the real thing.”

Shakespeare knew that life was but a “show”, a display of what was going on within our hearts, individually and collectively.  He was the greatest psychiatrist that we have any real record of, though I think Jesus Christ and Lao Tzu…to name but two…could have given him a run for his money if we had more of a record of their wisdom.  Shakespeare had a grasp of the human heart because he had a grasp of his own heart and could therefore convey this wisdom in the characters of his plays.  Without this ability to sublimate into thoughts, concepts, and literary contrivance he well might have ended up escaping into the abyss of alcohol or some other worser fate.

The Bard knew of the unconscious realm long before Freud and Jung made it popular.  He was familiar with the heart’s ravenous impulsivity, its abysmal darkness which knows no restraint, which would not permit civilization without the intervention of the gods who provided that marvelous contrivance which we know today as the neocortex.  And, though he had no knowledge of modern neurological science, with his God-given intelligence, intuition, and humility he knew “it” was there though he could not define it as we can today.

I look at the insanity of our world today…and reflect back on my own, realizing that it is not a thing of the past…and wonder, “Why do we do this to ourselves?”  I then am reminded of my gifted guru, Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk in Albuqurque, Nm., who has interpreted the words of Jesus who on the cross said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” to mean, “Father, forgive them for they are unconscious.” And I reflect back on the stupid, ugly, self-serving, and mean-spirited things I have done and said in the name of religion and realize just how much I had no idea what I was doing and saying.  And, yes, that ignorance is still with me, no doubt!

 

 

Neurology Challenges & Deepens Faith

The New Yorker magazine has an excellent article on a new device which electrically stimulate parts of the brain and alleviate depression and even addiction.(http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/04/06/electrified) It reminds me of neurological research of a couple of years ago that said that his religious fervor of mine can be traced to a neurological “god spot” which did not shake my faith in the least due to the intransigence of my very unique and special “god spot”!!! (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/scienceonreligion/2012/04/god-spot-in-the-brain-more-like-god-spots/)

And, seriously, my faith and the rest of my reality is not shaken by scientific exploration as I feel very strongly that my grasp of reality is a mystery beyond my comprehension and that “reality” itself is far beyond my comprehension. And since I’ve come to realize this, I’m much more accepting of myself and of others though I am often very, very angry that the rest of the world refuses to see things just as I do!!! (Just kidding!)

Consciousness is a scary thing. Hamlet said that it “doeth make cowards of us all” as Shakespeare realized that it was easier to live in the comfort of unexamined dogma, knowing that the “earth was flat” or whatever the prevailing myth of the moment is.

The Apocalypse Within

Psychiatrist D. W. (Donald) Winnicott once observed regarding his clients, “The breakdown that is feared has already occurred.”  He knew that his clients’ reluctance to forthrightly address their issues was because the pain was too great for their conscious mind to undertake…at least initially.  Many of his clients had been subjected to trauma and had every reason to fear buried memories of the anguish.  Others, though not overtly traumatized, had not been able to successfully adapt to the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” and their denial system had compounded the problem to the point that often it approached “trauma.”  (Scott Peck in “The Road Less Traveled” noted that, “Neurosis is a substitute for legitimate suffering.”)

All of us have fears though many of them do not amount to the terror of Winnicott’s clients.  But our reluctance to face these fears can be equally intense and lock us into attitudinal and behavioral patterns that keep us from reaching the point where our life is in full flow.  We are like Hamlet and “cling to those ills that we have rather than flee to others that we know not of.”

Some whose “breakdown” was acute and merit the description “traumatic” will be prone to see catastrophe “out there” in the world rather than to address their own that are within.  Furthermore, some whose pain can only be described as “plain vanilla” still prefer to project it “out there” as their narcissism prevents them from recognizing that they have any faults.  This applies to individuals as well as groups as even groups can have a narcissistic dimension to the ideology that holds them together.

 

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Furthermore, if you will indulge my penchant for the esoteric, I even conjecture that even the healthiest individual has deep-seated memories of the catastrophe which was the birth of the ego, that primal differentiation of the ego from its matrix which in the depths of the unconscious parallels the big bang.  None of us have actual memory of this event and never will and don’t have to worry about the possibility.  We are hard-wired to have no memories of that psychic catastrophe in which the ego was born.  But I do think that sometimes refracted memories of this event filter into the pre-conscious and influence our dreams and conscious thoughts, often providing an explanation to why an individual can see so clearly why the problem is with “them” when to us looking on we muse to ourselves, “Oh, if they could only see.”  But for them to “see,” i.e. “withdraw their projections,” would entail more pain than they can bear.    Shakespeare had this denial in mind when he had Macbeth declaring, “My dull brain is racked by things forgotten.”

The Adventure of Life

“Life is an adventure,” so they say.  It is a commonplace that is almost banal, ranking right up there with “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  But, I find it really is an adventure which takes place when one begins to venture beyond the narrow confines of the way one was taught to see…and feel…the world.  But the real challenge lies in the very difficult task of becoming aware of this narrow prism through which one views the world, how the tyranny of assumptions shapes our fundamental perceptions of the world.  And to ask one to see these premises that shapes this world view is like asking a fish to see water.

It must be noted by those of us who swim in the aether of cerebral thought that most people in the world cannot ever make this meta-cognitive leap; and for them to do so would be catastrophic for human culture.  The day-to-day grind of reality depends on people who “mindlessly” go through the motions of their daily life without questioning the “basic assumptions” that I am putting on the table here.  And furthermore, for me to use the term “mindless” here merits caution as I do have a contempt gene which is too often near the surface!

We are tribal creatures and the tribal rituals are easily analyzed by people like myself who have lived their whole life “off the grid” in some fashion.  (I think one term for people like me is “pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals” or perhaps more accurately “alienated.”)   But we are a tribe, a global tribe composed of smaller tribes who must somehow find a way to live together with a modicum of harmony.  But each tribe has an innate tendency to not see beyond the safe confines of its basic assumptions and each member of that tribe learns to drink the same “kool-aid.”  That is what makes it a tribe.

But the adventure of life starts when we realize that we have “drank the kool-aid” in some fashion and are shaped by basic assumptions given to us by our culture.  Then we can begin to find a bit of freedom and can begin to play with reality.  Yes, we can even begin to “play with our self” (wink, wink) and with the beautiful human and natural world that we find ourselves in, a beautiful “Garden of Eden” in some sense.

However, it is scary!  We are hard-wired to live within those “safe confines” and to suddenly realize we are “off the reservation” can easily be a Pyrrhic victory.  To take a quantum leap here, it will ultimately bring us to the Shakespearean issue of “to be, or not to be” and can even bring one to the point of suicide.  For it is gut-wrenchingly painful to realize that one does not belong to the tribe, to be deprived of that “fig-leaf,” and to stand there on that heath like King Lear, pelted by that pitiless storm, naked as a jay-bird.

This is where faith comes in for me.  But the temptation here is to take one’s tribal faith, make a fanatical investment or re-investment in it, and hold on “come hell or high water.”  And all fanaticism (i.e., “addiction) has its roots with this deep-seated existential loneliness.  The tribal religion that my culture offered me was the Judeo-Christian tradition and I have certainly allowed it to be in my life the “opiate” that Karl Marx described.  But opiate does not work for me anymore…or at least that one does not! (I do drink too much!)  I find that my “tribal religion” offers symbols, stories, traditions that are very valuable as I stand here on this heath with King Lear and others and find that there is hope and even purpose.  This “adventure” I am discovering now beyond those aforementioned “confines” involves death, for pushing limits always involves a death-wish of some sort but the Christian tradition teaches that death and live are intertwined and that to “die” is to “live.”  To put it succinctly, there is no “life” without “death.”  Oh yes, there is existence but there is no experience of human-ness, being a live body and soul for this brief moment we have in this time-space continuum.  This is what Jesus meant when he told his disciples who wanted to delay going with him for to help with a burial party, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

However, here is an important point that I’ve already touched on.  It is easy to interpret that quip from Jesus to mean that everyone else in the world who did not follow him was “dead” and therefore would “burn in hell one day.”  That is how I was taught!  But I don’t think so.  Jesus was playing with words, telling his disciples that they needed to follow him and let the burial party take care of its business, that it did not need them.  Jesus was saying that the rest of the world was okay and “dead” was only a metaphor to say they were not amenable to his teachings, that their role in life was to see things differently and to live different lives within “safe confines.”  Jesus realized that the “adventure” I’ve described here was not for everybody but that their life also was “ok”. 

Do We Dare Let Go of Guilt?

Huffington Post offers a very insightful article about dealing with guilt and escaping its clutches. (Huff Po =— http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/01/dealing-with-guilt-iyanla-vanzant_n_3472594.html)

How do we let go of any emotion that has tyrannized us such as guilt has. Sure, I accept the notion of the forgiveness of God offered in the story of Jesus, for example. But that comes to us first as a rational, conceptual “idea” and does not necessarily burrow into the depths of the heart where the “real” guilt abides; for the “real” guilt is in the affective domain which controls how we use our rational mind. Thus, our guilt can make us “guilty” believers of any stripe which will always make us so fanatical and legalistic that people who come across us will want to put up the “sign of the cross” when we approach and run away. For, guilt-ridden faith offers no “human” quality and therefore has no “godly” quality to it. It is just an “idea” devoid of any experience; or, better yet, it is an “idea” devoid of any Spirit, as in the “letter of the law killeth but the Spirit maketh alive.”

Guilt so often is so intrinsic to our being that we can’t fathom living without it. Letting it go would make us feel like a duck out of water or a fish on dry land. It would be scary and even fatal in a sense in that our ego would definitely be threatened by the loss of this core element which allows it to cohere. My dear friend, brother, spiritual mentor, and soul mate, Bill Shakespeare said it so eloquently, noting in Hamlet that we would prefer to “cling to those ills that we have, than fly to others that we know not of.” Our guilt is so comforting because it is the only thing that we have ever known. And, we are validated daily for living in this guilt as it is guilt (and shame) that binds our world together in the dog-and-pony show that the Hindus’ call Maya and fundamentalist American Christians call, “Well, it’s just the way things are.” And many faiths depend on guilt as without guilt attendance of their churches, synagogues, and mosques might decline, worship palaces fall into disrepair, clergy go underpaid or unemployed, and its constituents left with the challenge of dealing with Reality…which always requires faith in a Beyond which I often label our Source. And, I am of course referring to a transcendent deity who is, paradoxically, immanent; and the appreciation of this powerful truth requires ability and a willingness to hold contradictory notions in the mind at the same time. In other words, this notion “ain’t makin’ no sense” to many people and it never will!

But, there is always “method to our madness,” individually and collectively. The best we can ever do is muddle through and believe fervently that there is a “wisdom that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.” (Last two quotes from “Bill”)

 

Tree Therapy

I am so horribly uncreative, but I did create “tree therapy.” “Tree therapy” is what I used to suggest to my counseling clients who were having trouble getting out, or verbalizing, re haunts that were obviously troubling them. I told them to go into the woods and talk openly about what was troubling them to a tree, encouraging them to “just put it into words.” A similar ploy was to have them put “it” into writing and then ceremonially burn the paper. Sometimes I would encourage them to tell of their woe to a pet, and later to a friend, or a pastor, or family member, or to myself. But the point was to verbalize, to “get it into words,” or (borrowing from Shakespeare), to “unpack my heart with words.” And, to complete the process, it is necessary to take the advice of Richard Rohr and tell of the anguish or self-loathing to one other person, this being tantamount to “confessing our sins one to another.”

It is tremendously powerful to put thoughts and feelings into words. “The grief that does not speak whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break,” said Shakespeare. And George Eliot advised, “Speak words which give shape to our anguish.”

Now, there is one other dimension to “tree therapy.” It was also very therapeutic to encourage clients to plant a tree, or any type of plant, or flower and care for it. This was to facilitate “getting out of yourself” which is a basic problem with most garden-variety neuroses.