Sunday, December 14, 2014

what is spirituality?

What is spirituality? 

I’ve heard so many people say they don’t like that word. I used to think spirituality was other worldly, but now I think that can be escapism, or spiritual bypassism. Still, I want to use the word. I feel like I opened up a file in my head when I found Buddhism, and filled it in with something that wasn’t there before. Maybe that’s an illusion. I’m not sure donating time to the local sangha is somehow inherently more spiritual than doing other things.

A part of spirituality is about striving for equanimity and not getting flustered and flummoxed so easily. There is a kind of emotional transcendence, not numb, still present and feeling, but somehow not fully embroiled and overwhelmed with horrified anxiety. The half-smile. I can do the facial expression, but are there corresponding thoughts? The guys that serve me food at the Sri Chimnoy restaurants have a goofy smile that feels forced. I’m very concerned about aping spirituality, pretending to be spiritually evolved. And yet, even trying is a good thing I think sometimes. It’s a balance. Authenticity is very important.

One sense in which spirituality makes sense to me, is that it’s non-materialistic, it’s not about your personal gain. But then again, people like to brag about how giving they are. There is nothing wrong with being proud about helping others. So doing things for others because that makes you feel good and proud of yourself is OK. But is there anything inherently “spiritual” about that. Is spirituality just not being egotistical? Thinking about others? Realizing our interconnectivity? I’m inclined to say that’s a piece of it, but it’s in conjunction with clarity of mind, with deep insight.

I would say there is an inner/outer journey to connect to something larger, a higher power. That includes being less egotistical and having equanimity, but it’s also true and authentic, not pretend. Does it matter what your higher power is? People will tell you absolutely, and fight wars over it, but that feels very worldly, materialistic, exploitative, and egotistical. I’m not prepared to say any spirituality is OK, cults are bad by definition, and you hear of religious practices that you don’t feel like they will stand the test of time. People could go on a journey, and not just join a group to enhance status. Secular humanism is a fine higher power, in my opinion.

Can I drive to work in a spiritual way. I don’t know. When I listened to talks all the time, I felt a little more spiritual. But now I don’t listen to those talks or read the books so much. I do feel less spiritual, but I also feel more independent, and filled with stuff. I think spirituality sometimes is about unfilling, emptying.

I still want to somehow progress. What does progress mean? You can get ordained, that makes people feel like they have achieved something. You can work for your community, build community, build a building. You can reach deeper states of meditation. You can be less ethically messy. You can be kinder. You can relate to people better. You can communicate better. You can feel a continuity of purpose, feel certain kinds of confusion less. Does the number of blog posts make me more spiritual. I think not, but I am at that moment trying to do something spiritual, so in a way it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Being spiritual depends on what you mean by it, but if you’re not clear about what it means. People say they know it when they see it.

The religions will tell you what to do if that’s what you’re looking for. I find connecting and giving to others very fulfilling. I like to read and learn. I’m curious about psychology and how people work. I like to study great people, I liked watching a documentary on Thomas Merton and reading his books and journals, I like spiritual giants. I feel like some people throw themselves at spirituality, but they’re not very spiritual. There have been times in my life when I felt very reverential towards the Buddha, and the community. There were times when my gung ho attitude pushed people away.

The people standing on the street just waiting to talk to you about something, the evangelists are really trying hard. I feel like they’re also pushing some rigidity, so I don’t like to engage, I feel like helping them, and that feels presumptuous, so I just don’t.

What about the dark night of the soul when you don’t get any reinforcement for being spiritual? Is that the true test, or is just how people open others up to manipulation? That’s the other thing. With so much exploitation through religion, you really have to watch out for that. Nobody sees being exploited as being spiritual. Sacrifice yes, but exploited, no.

I like the phrase “open handed generosity” because it conveys giving that has no regret or qualms, but is not just indifference or aping behaviors. I remember after my first retreat, I just felt like putting money in the dana bowl. I wonder if it was exuberance that was misplaced, but I was just so grateful and I wanted to try it out. The complications of an organization can be confusing, the human and non-spiritual motives. Giving without regrets and qualms can sometimes be a hard ideal to reach. I think there are spiritual ideals that guide people, but what are the best ones for you? That’s to be discovered, I wouldn’t say there were necessarily universal ones for each religion. I find the differences between the many kinds of Buddhists in the word pretty amazing. There is something of an extreme in some spiritual approaches, but I think balance can be very spiritual.

So balance, generosity, energy, community, relationship, equanimity. The answers I tried to just pour forth could easily be put into the 7 noble truths. How would I know if I’m aping another’s ideas? Is originality important? I don't think in this case. Authenticity is important, “start where you are,” and all that. Becoming an individual, personal development seems an important aspect of it, regardless of spiritual development.

Religious organiations will give you a format to understand your spiritual experience. The Buddha is notorious for saying, "check it out in your experience." I believe in experience, that is non-denominational. The advice to Bahiya is about putting your experience into the right place, and thinking into the thinking category. Thinking is wonderful, I often have quite a lot of joy with my thoughts. But Keats' negative capability, not hankering after facts and theories, helps one to keep open to the information instead of quickly categorizing and taming it by boxing it. A better program for assimilating experience into the whole. I believe in experience, including the thinking that tries to make sense of it, and the negative capability that allows things to flower without quickly trying to control it.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

No Short Cuts

She mentions sitting on the therapist's couch, sitting in the meditation hall...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mary Oliver poem


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Insight Timer

creating meaning out of mistakes

The phrase "god has a plan for everything," rubs me the wrong way. I don't really get what god is. My therapist said, "him" last night, and I asked him what would it mean for a god to have gender. He wasn't sure. At least he admitted that, I can still work with him. 

Object relations school of psychoanalysis take it that your relationship to god is just a relationship to your parents writ large. And that's a good thing to figure out. Was Jesus just an object relations therapist helping people to resolve their daddy issues?

But, when you eliminate a being controlling things, and just focus on conditionality, "everything happens for a reason", can be a statement about how you must create the meaning for what has happened to you. (This insight was when I liked Wild) Even when everything underneath you seems to crumble. Do you understand the artificial structures you create to soothe yourself, and what do you do when you realize they are just illusions? Can you tolerate this crisis?

I made a huge mistake and I've been working to not get subsumed under the tidal wave of negativity. I did not take up the existential meaning, the spiritual lesson, I was pulled out in the undertow of my own negativity, lost the shore.

John Wellwood talks about spiritual bypassism. My imperfect approach to the spiritual life, from my imperfect being, lead to certain kinds of mistakes. Many people have made many mistakes in their life, even the greats. Sangharakshita admits his experiments in sexuality yielded no concrete positive knowledge. 

Some people have built a community around them, so that they are accepted when they make mistakes. They are seen in their totality, such that a huge mistake doesn't eject them from a community. 

My superficial relationships revealed themselves to me. My family, my friends, ended up being true support in my rough times. I played my part by pushing people away, to be sure. But my true friends and family would not let me push them away. They had the true commitment to me. I'm not saying I deserve a true commitment from people who didn't commit to me. I'm just saying, among other silver linings, I have had to face some stark truths. I had not developed enough of a relationship to earn that loyalty, and that is just the light of the day. Donald Trump talks about the time when he owed more than he was worth, and how many people deserted him.

Someone asked if the spiritual life is escapism. I do think that I brought a kind of out-of-this-world intellectualism to my approach to Buddhism, that is kind of escapist. But I think that meditation is fundamentally not escapist, and that's why it is so challenging, that is why it is so valuable, and why I find it so hard to face my mistakes these days, after years and years of a dedicated meditation practice.

I could confess my faults, but I think the lesson I learned is that self doubt, on some level hurts one, and that shame is a self attack that does not help people to recovery. We can be presented with challenges that we're not up to. All we can try to do is respond as best we can, if we wake up a little bit. Gentle accountability that takes into account how people feel is important, if you want to stay in relationship with someone. Even with gentle accountability people can be upset by the content. 

There is a delusional aspect to America. The society encourages you to lose touch and try and salve your wounds with material. But it's not just America, everywhere humans try to get social status, what ever the terms of the society are.

The punctured narcissism, the wake up bomb from high self esteem, is a true gift, if you can look it straight in the eye. To the stick thrower, the lion doesn't chase the stick, but faces the stick thrower (Milarepa). When you taste your own blood in battle, do you fight harder (Shantideva)?

The modern world is so strange in that there is such a plurality of possible inspiration. I become obsessed with things. My first ex-wife used to not like the way I liked jazz. I liked the idea of it, but sometimes not so much the execution of it. Today I listen to what I like, now that I've scanned the landscape. It is one of many possibilities, past my obsession with the new, trying to figure out the new. And yet jazz is so rich, I will never master it. Deep things can be endlessly explored.

As a person lead around by ideas, theories, thoughts, it can be artificial, disembodied. Coming back to my body, taking deep breaths, I recenter myself, come back to myself. You have to become an individual first, before you can tear down the walls of the ego, as Sangharakshita so liked to point out. The balance between all the input, as the Buddha pointed out, is essential. As I age, I see how choices create paths beyond our comprehension. To not get subsumed in the tidal wave of circumstances is a kind of goal of Buddhism. But not by escapism or bypassism, but by swimming in the stream of what is, and not what you wish it was. To gently accept it when you realize your defensive strategies to care for your wounds. The spiral towards enlightenment will come back and back and back to the same things. Hopefully you're higher up in the spiral, but it's OK the other way too. It just is.