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Archive for November, 2020

HOW DOES ONE LOSE ONE’S ‘SELF’?

One finds in all religious, spiritual and mystical traditions the idea that one must lose oneself in order to find oneself.  How does one lose one’s ‘Self’?  My experience is that I always seem to fail when I TRY to lose something.  Yup.  The harder I try the harder it gets; stuff just won’t get lost.  On the other hand, I frequently lose things when I am not trying to lose them.  I lose things when I am not aware.  Then there is the similar idea of dying to oneself.  How does one die to oneself?  Well, I’m not talking about death — suicide if you will.  The mystics don’t tell me to kill myself; they tell me to die.  For the mystics causing pain to myself, causing suffering to myself would be self-defeating and self-violent.  It would also be counterproductive.  A spiritual guide once told me that I would never fulfill myself when I am in pain.  I have never been more focused on myself than when I was depressed.  On the other hand, when I am ‘happy’ (content, at peace, in balance, living in the now, etc) I am not aware of myself. 

Think about it.  We are quite conscious of ourselves when we have a toothache and when we don’t have a toothache we are, for the most part, not even aware that we have teeth.  The same holds for headaches.  When we have a headache we are really, truly, very much aware of our heads.  When we don’t have a headache we seldom think about our head. 

So?  Consider, gentle reader, that it is quite false, quite erroneous, to think that the way to deny self is to cause pain to self, to go in for mortification.  The mystics tell us that to deny self, to die to self, is to understand our nature, to be aware of our ‘true’ self.  When we are able to do this then we will disappear — like the healthy tooth or non-headache, we won’t be aware of the self. 

The great mystic Catherine of Siena told us that in one of her conversations with God, she was told by God ‘I am He who is; you are she who is not.’  The Eastern mystics liken this to the dancer and the dance.  God is the dancer and God’s creation is the dance.  It isn’t as if God is the big Dancer and we are the little dancers; we are, in this analogy, the dancer at all.  We are ‘being danced.’  To tell you the truth, gentle reader, I don’t really understand this completely, but at times I do have a sense of it.

I once had another spiritual guide say to me that to lose self is to suddenly realize that you are something other than what you thought you were.  I used to think I was my depression; now I know that I am feeling depressed; I am not my depression.  Most healthy four-year olds believe they are the center and then they learn (hopefully) that they are not the center, they are more like a satellite.  I have to caution myself.  These are simply analogies; they are images.  They are not to be taken literally.  They give me a clue, a hint, a glimpse — they help point me in a certain direction. 

Those mystics.  They certainly give me a lot to contemplate.  I suppose if this were really easy stuff then we would all be doing it — losing self and dying to self, that is.  But I-You-We are more likely to think we are our depression or our fear or our pride or even our humility.  We want to be the one dancing, not the one danced.  I know that I can easily, at times, forgot who the creator of the dance really is and that I am the dance that was created. 

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SEASONS OF LIFE. . .

As you know, gentle reader, I love stories.  As I was meditating this morning the following story emerged into my consciousness.  I cannot remember when I first heard this story, it seems as if it were many seasons ago.  I offer it to you this cold near-winter morning (cold near-winter where I live).

Many years ago there lived a husband and wife and they had four children, two sons and two daughters.  One day the husband and wife decided that it was time to provide their children an opportunity to learn.  They gathered them together and told them that they were going to send them on a journey.  The eldest, a daughter, was to leave in early winter, the next eldest, a son, was to leave in early spring, the next, also a son, was to leave in early summer, and the youngest, a daughter, was to leave in early autumn.  Their task was a simple one.  They were to travel by foot to a certain valley, find and observe a certain fruit tree.  Then they were to travel home.  After they had all returned home they would gather together and share what they had experienced. 

The eldest daughter left in early winter and returned before spring.  The two sons left early in their respective seasons and returned before the beginning of the following season.  The youngest daughter left in early autumn and returned before winter set in.  About a week after the youngest daughter had returned home the parents gathered them together and asked them what they had experienced.

The eldest daughter said that the tree was bare, broken, bent, and looked as if it were anything but alive; it was, she concluded, quite ugly.  The oldest son, who had traveled in spring, looked surprised and said that the tree was full of buds and was standing strong with possibility and potential.  The next son said that the tree was full of leaves and fragrant flowers; it was life-full and was, in fact, quite beautiful.  The youngest daughter said that the tree was full of ripe, luscious fruit and she had spent an extra day sitting and savoring the shade of the tree and the sweetness of the fruit. 

The parents smiled that smile that knowing parents sometimes offer their children and then they spoke together.  ‘You are each correct in what you observed,’ they said.  ‘Each of you had seen only one of the seasons of the tree’s life.’  They continued, ‘Like the tree, you cannot judge a person’s life by only one season; the whole of each of us is contained in all four seasons of our lives.’  ‘These seasons of our life, like the seasons for the tree, contribute to a life-lived.  Our lives are measured by all of the seasons we pass through, not just one season or one cycle.‘  ‘The winters of our life offer us the opportunity to die to ourselves, to let go of that which stunts new growth, to embrace the dark night of the soul, and to prepare for new growth.’  They paused and watched their children’s faces.  The parents’ faces were full of love as they looked from one child to the next.  ‘The spring,’ they continued, ‘offers us new growth, new hope, new possibilities.’  ‘Spring is that time of expectation and new beginnings.’  ‘Then comes the season of summer; a time of blossoming and of embracing and living into and out of the new growth.’  ‘Finally, the autumn of our life is the time to share the fruits of our life with others.  The fruits also hold the seeds of new life and new potential.  Autumn is a time for sitting and savoring.’ 

‘All four seasons are crucial to each of us.’  ‘Too often we judge a person or we judge ourselves by only looking at one season; it is the four seasons over a life-time that truly demonstrate who each of us is.’  Again the parents paused and looked with deep love upon each of their children.  ‘Embrace each season of your life.  Care deeply about each one.  Seek to continue to love yourself and others as you journey through each season.’  ‘And. . .’ they paused again, ‘remember that each season has its time and that each season will pass; no season is permanent.’ 

‘Winter,’ they concluded, ‘is the most important season for the trials of winter reveal your true character and they provide you the opportunity to learn from them.  The sorrows and tears of winter nourish the seeds of healing.  The failures of winter help you to be humble and are reminders that you are not perfect.’  ‘The other seasons are important AND YET they need the season of winter in order to exist, survive, grow and thrive.’  With this final statement, the parents drew each of the children close and hugged them with the hug that only comes from deep care, compassion and love.  

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TO KNOW ABOUT, PART II

A person born blind comes to me and asks, ‘What is this thing called green?’  How do I describe the color ‘green’ to one who was born blind?  Well, one uses analogies.  So I say, ‘the color green is like soothing music.‘  ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘it is just like soothing music.’  The person leaves ‘knowing’ what green is like.  An hour later another person blind from birth approaches me and asks me ‘What is this thing called green?’  I happen to have a soft leather wallet in my pocket so I take it out and I hand it to the person and I say that ‘green is like soft leather.’  ‘Ah,’ the person says and walks away ‘knowing’ green. 

Later that day I happen upon the two and they are fighting and yelling and screaming.  ‘I know green; it is soft music.’  ‘You are an ignorant idiot; anyone who knows, knows that green is soft leather.’  And on it goes.  Neither of them knows the ‘truth’ or the ‘reality’ of green.  Yet each is convinced that they do and will go to war over their belief.  Now, a year later I meet the first person again and through the wonder of science the person can now see.  We are standing in a beautiful garden — the shades of green are deafening.  I say, ‘now you know what green really is.’  The person looks at me and replies, ‘yes, I heard some soft green music this morning.’ 

A spiritual guide once pointed out one of my ‘errors.’  She said, ‘you don’t know God because you know ABOUT God.  You are missing God because you think you know about God.’  This is one of the terrible things about religion.  That’s what the gospels tell us — ‘religious’ people KNEW and so they had to get rid of Jesus. 

Aquinas might well have been right; the highest knowledge of God is to know God is unknowable.  There is, it seems to me, too much “God Talk’ and too little awareness; too little love; too little compassion; too little caring; too little healing.  There is too little dropping of illusions, dropping of errors, dropping of attachments. 

In the East there is a saying: ‘When the student is ready the teacher will appear.’  To what extent am I open to and ready to receive the teacher in my life?  Perhaps my teacher is just off stage waiting for me to deliver the line that will call him or her forth to center stage or perhaps the teacher is standing just out of sight and all I have to do is turn just a bit to my right or left and he or she will come into view and with a nod from me will step into my life.  I close my eyes. I turn, I open my eyes. Now what?

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TO KNOW ABOUT, PART I. . .

The ancients from the East tell us that ‘those who know, do not say; those who say, do not know.’  IT cannot be said; only the opposite can be said.  The teacher cannot give you the truth; this type of truth cannot be put into a formula — much less into words.  Your teacher can point out your errors.  When you drop your errors, you will come to know the truth; you will come to know reality.  I remember a scene from a movie where an elderly professional had just pointed out to a younger professional the error of his ways; the younger professional turned and looked at his elder and asked with some energy, ‘Who do you think you are, my teacher?’  And the elder smiled (as all elders smile at these times) and replied, ‘That I am!’ 

The great mystics show us; they model for us.  The great Catholic mystic, Thomas Aquinas, toward the end of his life, wouldn’t write or talk; he had ‘seen.’  He kept silent because he had ‘seen’ and what he had ‘seen’ could not be put into words. 

During my third journey to Singapore I was introduced to Durian.  After returning to the States, folks would ask me to describe Durian.  ‘What does it taste like?’  ‘What does it smell like?’  Now anyone who has experienced Durian knows that these questions cannot be answered.  ‘Durian smells like well-worn sweat socks and tastes so sweet.’ It is illegal in Singapore to bring Durian indoors because of its odor. 

Most people seize upon the words and assume the words are reality; assume the words are ‘truth.’  Some of us take the words, not the experience, and write our doctoral thesis on them.  Some become experts without ever having experienced ‘Durian.’  There is a man who wrote many books during his life time and was considered to be a management guru; he was always puzzled by this for as he said, ‘I have never managed anyone.’  He had observed others with their ‘Durian’ but he never directly experienced it himself.

How about ‘God,’ rather than ‘Durian?’  Our mystic Thomas Aquinas wrote: ‘About God, we cannot say what He is but rather what He is not.  And so we cannot speak about how He is but rather how He is not.’  Aquinas tells us that there are three ways of knowing God: (1) in the creation, (2) in God’s actions through history, and (3) in the highest form of the knowledge of God — ‘to know God as the unknown.’ 

The highest form of talking about God is to know that one does not know.  Now, this is no Zen Master speaking to us, this is a mystic of the Catholic Church — To know God as Unknown.  Aquinas even stated that God is ‘unknowable.’  Truth, reality, God, and love are unknowable; they cannot be comprehended by the thinking mind.  If one believes this then many questions would be set to rest because the illusion that we know would be set aside — we would ‘see’ the error and we could then set the ‘error’ aside. 

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WHICH PATH. . .

When you reach the fork in the road, take it. –Yogi

A common metaphor for life is that ‘life is a journey.’  As we travel along we have many choices; one of these is which path to follow.  We can choose a wide path or we can choose a narrow path, for example. Many of the ancients suggest, if not directly tell us, that the wide path leads to destruction and that the narrow path leads to life. 

What might this mean?  I am not sure, but not being sure has never stopped me from speculating.  So, consider the following.  The wide path indicates an expanse so broad and vast that we can bring along with us anything we want.  We do not restrain ourselves, we do not seek discernment as to what might be nurturing and what might be depleting.  There are no limits as to what we can bring with us — anything goes.  I don’t have to stop and step back and reflect.  Oh, I will at times be reactive but I might not be response-able nor responsible..  I don’t have to think of consequences — the effects upon me or upon others or upon my relationships with myself, with the other and with the transcendent (or God or Allah or Mazda — the god, not the car). 

There is so much stuff that comes with me when I travel the wide path that I am easily distracted by a wide variety of . . .[you name it].  I can easily become distracted from one or more of the four dimensions that constitute my being — my Physical dimension, or my Intellectual dimension, or my Emotional dimension or my Spiritual dimension [my P.I.E.S.].  It is then an easy step to move from distraction to ignoring them with the consequence that I will begin to deplete them and I will enter into a life of dis-ease.  Choosing the wide path is, for me, a cause for considerable concern.

The narrow path, by its nature, is limiting.  I have to be more discerning as to what I will carry with me.  I still have choice AND the narrow path provides me the opportunity to stop and reflect before I choose what to carry with me along my journey. 

There is a paradox here for me for the narrow path feels constricting and the wide path feels liberating; my experience is, however, that the opposite is the reality.  The narrow path is liberating in that it provides me the freedom and discipline to choose and to be response-able, responsible and accountable.  The narrow path also provides me the opportunity to become discerning regarding my ‘call.’  It provides me the opportunity to become aware of my life’s purpose.  The narrow path provides me the opportunity to gain clarity about who I am and who I am choosing to become.  The narrow path provides me the opportunity to discern and choose what will be more nurturing and less depleting to my P.I.E.S.  The narrow path also provides me the opportunity to take the time to savor my life experiences and to reflect upon them and hence to learn from them. 

For me, these paths run parallel to one another; they are so close that I can — and at times I do — easily step from one to the other.  At times they intersect and even merge into one path.  If I am not awake and aware, if I am not intentional and purpose-full, I can easily ‘get lost’ and not be aware of which path I am traveling (my personal experience is that when I am not awake or aware or intentional or purpose-full then I end up walking the wide path). 

As I sit here this morning I can see the seductiveness of the wide path and I can feel the anxiety that the narrow path generates within my heart and soul.  I can easily react to the seductions of the wide path; in order to choose the narrow path I must be response-able and intention-all.  Excuse me, I need to pause and look about me to see which path I am on today. . . oops. . .more later.    

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