Tag Archive | Christianity

New Sense Opening?

I am determined to become more intuitive. And it might be working. I think.

I am lying in bed last night, relaxing. I must have fallen asleep. Barry comes into bed. Wait. He opened the bedroom door, walked in, and shut the door, all without me noticing. He leans over me to kiss my arm and I feel this whoosh of his energy come over me. That has never happened before. His energy, coming all at once, made me a little sick. I wonder if turning off my other senses is what heightened the energy sense.

One issue I have run into is my feelings. How much should I pay attention to them versus ignore them? Do my emotions interfere or are they part of the message? I spent my youth and almost all my time as a Christian ignoring them because I was told they were untrustworthy. Of course, the people telling me this would claim that their feelings were reliable. Christians loved to tell me, “The Lord told me such-and-such.” How? “I just know know it. It’s a feeling.” Eventually, I realized the emotional manipulation of it all. I’m not saying feelings are always reliable indicators of what is going on, but I believe they are a valuable factor to take into account when evaluating a situation. Funny how the ministers and church leaders that wanted me to ignore my feelings were so remarkably lacking in ethics. Bottom line: they didn’t want me seeing and knowing what they were up to. Convincing people they are crazy is the tactic of all abusers. Leaving church has been one of the best things I have ever done. Now I can learn and grow.

Right now, I am waiting for validation of some of my intuitions. I will see how accurate some of them are in the next couple weeks. Then maybe I can tweak what I am doing to make them more accurate.

Transformation, Religion, and Denial

I am not traumatized at this moment. This past year has been repeatedly traumatic. I have a hard time growing, learning, and maturing when I am constantly challenged to simply cope. Being frozen in trauma postpones the learning curve indefinitely.

I don’t know how well I’ve been doing lately. I am always trying to learn something from just about every situation because I do not want to keep repeating the same stupid mistakes as I age. There is nothing sadder than an elderly person who never really matured. Age without wisdom is disheartening. So I try to learn. And so do my friends. And I am unsure of how much they’ve been learning, either. Are we just ageing without growing? Our behavior doesn’t seem to reflect much transformation at times.

I have always been obsessed with transformation. How does it occur? I read personal stories all the time. I just read a book by a black lesbian Buddhist. I have started a different book by a woman who is black, Baptist, and Buddhist. I have read conversion stories from people that have gone from non-Christian to Christian, Protestant to Orthodox, Christian to atheist, etc. I want to understand the process, the logic, the emotional components, etc. How one goes from being A to being totally different B intrigues me.

I want my life to be transformed, but I also see the value in denial. Dealing with Barry’s end-of-life issues raises the question of how much information do you really want if there is nothing you plan on doing with it anyway? A Christian friend was extolling the value of religion’s ability to comfort people, even if none of it is true. Her attitude was, “What’s the problem if it helps you and comforts you?” Part of me wholeheartedly agreed. And the rest of me realized that we were basically confirming that Karl Marx had hit the nail on the head when he said religion was the opium of the people—designed for comfort and not for growth. I never thought I would be proving Karl Marx right.

I have always pursued growth. My religion has changed over the years because of that. I am perennially looking for answers. I get along fabulously with religious leaders, until, that is, I start of grow beyond their level. Independent thinking in the Christian world is referred to as “heresy.” Then, suddenly, leaders start warning others not to associate with me. I am dangerous, apparently. That has been my frustration with Christianity is general: the promise of transformation and then the absolute refusal to allow the very factors (such as independent thought) that would enable genuine metamorphosis to occur. The complete defense of a dysfunctional status quo is the opposite of spiritual growth, as far as I’m concerned. It is not progression but rather regression to an infantile-like state. The verbal promise of growth is belied by the forbiddance of any and all information that might lead a person to make an intelligent decision. “Let us take care of you. We’ll meet your needs.” Then you join and find out the truth: now you are the church and it is your job to meet everyone else’s needs (even though no one had any real intention of ever meeting yours). It is pure deception. But maybe it’s a necessary one. Who do you know that would join a religion that promised them nothing?

Lately, I’ve been doing some Buddhist chanting. Why? Because it feels good. Does it change anything? Probably not. But I am not caring now. Perhaps it is non-transformational, but it feels refreshing. As an Orthodox Christian, I understood the purpose of a mantra: using the bandwidth of your brain to undo habitual, obsessive thoughts and clear out the mental cobwebs. Of course, Christians deny using mantras, but even a casual observer can verify their use: the rosary for Catholics (Hail Mary…) and the Jesus Prayer for the Orthodox (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God…). To say Christians do not use mantras is to not understand what mantras actually are.

How many people in our culture are frozen in trauma and unable to break out on their own? Christianity could really grow if it ever learned how to help traumatized people. The gratitude factor alone would cause an explosion in attendance. Helping people get unstuck would confirm the transformative potential of religion, as opposed to revealing the church as the enemy of growth and maturity. My attraction to Buddhism has always been its profound understanding of suffering and its practicality in dealing with real life issues. (Read anything by Pema Chodron.) But its Asian, patriarchal version doesn’t always look much different than some of the more screwed-up American and European varieties of Christianity.

I think it is perfectly okay for someone, like Barry, who has cancer and a very limited life expectancy, to live in denial. But I feel like I am still way too young for this (“this” being lying to myself freely and shamelessly to make myself feel better). I soooooo wish Marx was wrong, but I see the validity of his position more every day.

Categories in the Second Half

“I could never have envisioned what my second half of life has brought, nor could many reading this. I could not have conceived of my work as an analyst, writer, teacher, and administrator. As disparate as these roles may seem, they have one thing in common—the requirement that I work as a mediator, a go-between, an interpreter. It is my vocation to work with complex material and simplify it, make it intelligible, translate it, communicate its values. Apparently I was born into service of Hermes, the god of in-betweens, or hermeneutics, and knew it not.” James Hollis Amor Fati, The Love of One’s Fate Winter 2015-2016 Parabola Magazine

This really resonated with me. I, as well, feel like a translator. I am good at explaining algebraic concepts to intimidated college students, for example. I am good at translating complex ideas into easily understood prose. I believe that I have something of genuine value to offer this world, if I ever exit this caretaking phase of my life and enter the workforce in a serious, non-dabbling manner.

The world needs go-betweens. The world is also full of us, but we go unrecognized for the most part because people do not see us. They see their opinions of us, their own projections.

The concept of intermediary is simple: someone who understands both sides or categories of people they are speaking to. Such people understand that most human categories are simply linguistic conveniences: good for making distinctions but not actually real.

Let me give an example. Back in 2012, it was a hot August night. I was channel surfing. I stumbled across the Republican convention. I watched five or ten minutes. My jaw dropped to the floor and I started laughing. I had never seen so many old white people wearing cowboy hats in my life—in Minnesota! Why was it so funny? Because I don’t live in that America. I live in a world with whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. A world with Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims. A world with straight, gay, lesbian, bi, and transgendered folks. A world with wildly overlapping and fuzzy-at-best categories.

Don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with being older, white, or wearing cowboy hats, for that matter. But if everyone you know is older and white and wears a cowboy hat, you do not live in the real world. Period.

Some of these categories are pure fiction. The “one drop” rule determining who is black is a perfect example. I have a brother that married a bi-racial woman. He did not know that at the time, but when I saw her standing next to her obviously bi-racial brother, I knew. They have two children, one of whom is a young man looking exactly like his dad. My nephew is pasty white, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and is a “quadroon” by antebellum standards. He would be classified as “black” and taken into slavery back in the day. The racial categorization of people is more fantasy than reality.

And, today, you cannot assume anything. I have seen articles about gay Muslims trying to get along with their families. And black Buddhists. And Arab Christians, because they are likely to be Antiochian Orthodox and not Muslim like everyone assumes. Most American Buddhists today are white and middle- to upper-class, and former Christians. That white man you are looking at just might be on his way to being a roshi.

This creates some paranoia among the people that do fit the stereotypes, and rightfully so. Conservative Christians lead the fear parade. For example, I have a friend with two lesbian sisters. Everyone knows they are gay—except their extremely conservative Christian mother. Why bring it up at family get-togethers? Why argue? What’s the point? One of them even lives with her partner. Are they honoring their mother by not arguing with her, or simply not seeing her as worth arguing with? Also, some Christians want to keep terrorists out of the country, which is perfectly understandable. However, with the Syrian refugee crisis, is it truly possible to make sure only the law-abiding Christians enter? (Antioch is in Syria and Syria used to have far more Christians than it does now.) The point is simple: you can’t tell by looking.

Authenticity is an issue. For example, I understand where Hollis is coming from to some extent. I can hardly believe what my life looks like in its second half. My choices are perfectly authentic, for the 25-year-old Cindy. I am married and not working. Externally, I could be any wife of a retiree. But I am also Buddhist. With an MBA. My life will not feel authentic until I enter its next phase, if I ever do. I am honoring choices I made over twenty years ago. I am trying to see things with a new perspective and set myself up for a decent future, one that I no longer assume I even have.

This moment is the opportunity. We cannot let our fear run our lives. And we need to listen to everyone, not just the people that look like us. People like me fit into greatly diverse and surprising categories. We have a lot to offer. Can you see me?

 

Without Holiness

“Emperor Wu of Liang asked the great master Bodhidharma, “What is the highest meaning of the holy truths?”

Bodhidharma said, “Empty, without holiness.””

 Emeror Wu had been trying to earn merit and Bodhidharma was unimpressed. Wu’s efforts, such as building monasteries and ordaining monks, were simply irrelevant.

What I love about the encounter is the negation of holiness.

As a former Christian, I have some understanding of holiness and, its Latin cousin, “sanctification”. Holiness and sanctification are excuses for egomania. The roots of these words is to be “called out” or “set apart.” To be set apart, in my mind, is also to be “set aside,” or useless in the ordinary business of life. Even in the church, people talk about folks that are “so heavenly-minded they are no earthly good.” I have seen clergy that revel in their “set apart” status and demand to be treated specially. They seldom get what they desire (or, more accurately, desperately need for ego satisfaction), making their pastorates never-ending sources of frustration. Their demand for respect comes at the cost of actually earning the respect of their flocks. It is painful to watch and I’ve seen enough of it for several lifetimes and then some.

Bodhidharma had no patience for such nonsense.

“Without holiness” translates into: useful in the real world, intimate with reality, up-close-and-personal, no separation (duality), humble, etc.

I am at a point where I am letting go of all that is not useful. Nothing is being treated specially. I don’t have the resources (time, energy, and money) to invest in things or people that serve no positive purpose right now. I am not capable of looking down the road more than two weeks. If you poke me too hard, I will break down in tears. I am barely coping with life this moment. If it’s not helpful or useful right now, it’s got to go.

Depletion greatly simplifies life and instantly prioritizes everything. Everything I previously considered holy is now gone. I had set them apart (aside) and, consequently, rendered them useless. Perhaps I could have found uses for some of these things (such as icons and bibles), but that would have “desecrated” them. That’s the irony: everything “holy” that demands special treatment is worthless in times of need. It just takes up space. It adds no value or merit to one’s life.

Bodhidharma was smart. He got it.

 

Should I increase reducemy stress?

I’ve been trying to find ways of doing zazen without falling asleep. I know this is not a rare problem. I’ve been experimenting with breathing faster, adjusting my focus, etc.

I seem to be one of the few people I know that is not ADD. My attention goes somewhere and sticks, like a bulldog. I am definitely more OCD than ADD. If I start to focus on controlling my breathing, I instantly relax, giving myself subconscious permission to let go of stress. This is hazardous. Perhaps I should hold onto the stress. This seems counter-intuitive. The reason I mention any of this is that I am friends with an ever-growing number of ADD people and talking to them stresses me out simply trying to keep track of what they are saying. I am Asperger-y and find listening to them highly annoying and it makes me want to have less contact with my fellow humans in general. Not good. So then I try to do more zazen, and snooze. I trip over myself.

I’m not sure of how much of this is my personal issue, how much of it is inherent in Zen, and how much of it comes from McMindfulness. My problem with Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (and other corporate-friendly attempts to reduce stress via meditation and mindfulness) is that that is not what Zen is or ever has been intended for. On the one hand, our culture desperately needs to develop ways to deal with increasing sensory input and emotional turmoil. Stress can kill people and exacerbate virtually every disorder. On the other hand, using Buddhism to relieve stress accomplishes about the same amount as turning Christianity into just one more self-help venue. The serious stress-reducer and the self-helper can always find more effective non-religious means to accomplish their same ends. No philosophy or doctrine required.

Clarity in purpose is required. Zen is not for relaxing. It is for an ever-growing awareness of my own mind and how it functions (or not, as the case may be).

Stupid Spontaneity

I have been wrestling lately with “the present moment” versus planning for the future, or maybe it is “spontaneity” versus “discipline.”

My stumbling block is McMindfulness, where the focus is incessantly on the present and the pretense (perhaps “pretense” comes from the same root as “present”, just as “shrub” and “bush” and “brush” seem to have the same letters rearranged to give a final similar result) that this moment is all there really is. I understand that if you don’t use the present moment well, odds are that your future won’t be that great, either. I see that every day in the people I know. To some degree, the focus needs to be on what you can accomplish today with the resources currently at your disposal.

However, our sensory-overloaded culture keeps saying, “Relax. Enjoy the moment. What’s all the fuss about?” There is a word for that: ignorance. It is rightly called a “poison” by Buddhists everywhere.

Ironies abound here. I was looking at an article on Buddhism Now regarding the Dalai Lama focusing on the present moment, saying that there is no future or past without the present. It seems that the people pushing this “present moment living” are also the people who have consciously, deliberately developed vast reservoirs of spiritual discipline. Another example is the Taoists out there, memorizing vast quantities of their scriptures so that they can “spontaneously” respond to a given situation properly. That’s not “spontaneity.” That’s called “training.” Any HR manager will tell you that. All HR professionals know, through experience, that people do not rise to the level of expectations placed on them. Rather, people fall to the level of their training. Martial arts are also built upon the same unfathomable depths of discipline to enable their practitioners to respond properly in stressful situations. The only way to behave harmoniously in a variety of circumstances is to have already made a strong, conscious choice to behave according to previously-chosen principles. This is hardly my definition of “spontaneity.”

I have some of the same misgivings relating to spiritual experiences that people attribute to The Universe, God, or whatever. Let’s just be honest. Most spiritual environments are designed to invoke certain feelings, such as beauty, clarity, holiness, warmth, community, peace, etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Who wouldn’t rather be in a clean, beautiful, warm room/building/whatever (as opposed to a dirty, cold, ugly place)? I, for one, am always trying to declutter my house and clean it better to make it more inviting. I am only advocating truth-in-advertising. As an Orthodox Christian, I could look up whatever Sunday it was (such as the fourth Sunday of John, e.g.) and know precisely what scriptures would be read and what the hymns of the day would be. It was no secret, and there you go. However, in the Protestant world, there was a huge pretense of spontaneity and everything being a “move of God”—even as absolutely every detail was orchestrated and choreographed within an inch of its life. All details were manipulated and canned. The artificiality was palpable. I actually found the in-your-face predictability of orthodoxy refreshing and, uh, unpretentious.

My point is that I feel a certain confusion when I hear about how primary this moment is, as compared to all other moments, and then turn around to find my current choices being constrained by prior, poor choices I made years ago. My future choices are, likewise, being constrained by the quality of my current decisions. Maybe my issue is simply the fact that I am middle-aged now and routinely live with the good and bad consequences of previous choices. I want to take young people by the collars and try to communicate somehow to them that they will eventually have to live with the consequences of their choices from today. I have seen, personally, how a time comes to us all when we can no longer make choices. We have to accept the fallout or fruits of previous attitudes and actions. Our ability to make new choices has passed and we are left with what we did or didn’t do years ago.

There is a very steep price to be paid for stupid spontaneity. My friends and I are all paying it. This is the amount due for living a life with the attitude of Alfred E. Neumann: “What? Me worry?”

A Mind Obsessed by Compulsive Thinking

“For minds obsessed by compulsive thinking and grasping, you simplify your meditation practices to just two words—“let go”—rather than try to develop this practice, and then develop that, achieve this, and go into that. The grasping mind wants to read the suttas, to study the Abhidhamma, and to learn Pali and Sanskrit, then the Madhiyamika and the Prajna Paramita, get ordinations in the Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana, write books and become a renowned authority on Buddhism…” [emphases in original] Ajahn Sumedho, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry”, p. 134, Jack Kornfield
This is part of what I want to avoid in Buddhism, having already “been there, done that” as a Christian. Part of me wanted to go back to some imaginary original purity. That’s how I ended up Greek Orthodox. The New Testament was originally written mostly in Greek and I wanted to be able to read the text as first written, not some dubious American translation. I took three years of modern Greek, which does enable me to understand the Greek NT surprisingly well (as well as being able to recognize some Russian words, due to Russian being invented by the Greek evangelists Cyril and Methodius).
I went to all that trouble for what? To be trapped in a patriarchal religious system inimical to independent thought and questioning. I intellectually and emotionally regressed to a frightening degree. I shudder at my infantilization. I am still crawling out of that hole.
I am now (and always have been) looking for transformation. Letting go is a spirituality all by itself. It is profound and immediate. It’s not easy, but it is effective. We can only do our best to be responsible. At some point, letting go is the only option.
I understand the whole “spiritual bypassing” concept. Don’t we all want to avoid our issues? At the same time, being obsessively intellectual quickly gets annoying. It only reinforces the very part of the personality that needs antidepressants to cope. Being intellectually impressive to others is small consolation for an enduring lack of peace.

Set Apart

“According to Bodhidharma (and to Zen), if we make enlightenment—or enlightened people—into something special and set them apart from others and from ourselves, we abuse them. In the process, we also abuse ourselves. Thus enlightenment becomes remote, otherworldly, mysterious, and (seemingly) virtually impossible to realize.” Page 53. Buddhism Is Not What You Think by Steve Hagen
This paragraph gave me Aha! Moments.
Learning about Buddhism, especially Zen, has given me an appreciation of intimacy with the immediate moment and situation. The more space there is between me and what is going on, the more opportunities there are for delusion. Life is just smoother going from one immediately obvious task to the next.
Another epiphany comes from the wording comes from “set apart.” “Set apart” is one definition of “holiness” in the Christian world. The problem is practical: How do you set something (or someone, as in the self-important clergy) apart without setting it aside? Setting something aside involves looking at it and saying, “I’ll pick you up later when the time is right.” If your life is like mine, it does not take long for that item to get buried and totally forgotten. Its purity is maintained at the expense of its usefulness and reason for existence. That’s the challenge: maintaining purity and usefulness simultaneously.
Something that is set on a shelf gets no exercise, fresh air, or exposure to the real world. It is easy and comfortable to live in one’s own little world, surrounded by people exactly like oneself. It’s just not real. No use and no circulation amount to mold-covered obsolescence. It really is a form of abuse. Living in social isolation can be a very comfortable form of self-abuse.

No Promises or Debates

“This is part of what I like about Zen: using impermanence to your advantage. Skillful means are meant to help you appreciate the present moment. Once you are in the moment, the means can be abandoned. There is no promise or debate regarding eternal security.” The Direct Experience of Reality, Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi 

Loori expresses my sentiment: gratitude and relief that even the means of Zen are disposable. “No attachments” applies to everything. Once you’ve crossed the lake, you don’t need to strap the canoe to your back. Means can be adapted to circumstances when necessary.

“No promises or debates” is a big part of what I appreciate about Zen. I spent too many years as a Christian in the realm of promises and debates. When a religion is language-heavy and action-short, after a while, all I hear is, “Blah, blah, blah.” I’ve spent too much of my life already listening to theological debates and believing unfulfilled promises. Zen makes no promises. Your life is what it is.

You deal with it openly and honestly and, even if your life does not dramatically improve instantly, you help create a less chaotic world. By taking responsibility for oneself, the world becomes more tractable. Changing others’ opinions is never part of the equation. When people see your life becoming simpler and more manageable, that speaks for itself more eloquently than any form of evangelization ever could.

 

 

 

Keeping Silent

 “Keeping silent and refraining from discussing the Way is a truly extraordinary practice. This is hearing what is impossible to hear, encountering what is impossible to encounter.” Planting Flowers on a Rock, Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori Roshi, True Dharma Eye, Case 232

Part of what attracted me to Buddhism was its emphasis on silence and its investigation of the mind. It labeled even thoughts as a form of mind-talk. True silence is about more than not babbling.

As a spiritual seeker, I saw that the what of religions varied widely (gods or atheistic, hierarchical versus more democratic, etc.), but the how of various religions was eerily similar. For example, the average day of a Buddhist monk and a Jesuit monk are so much alike that they could probably switch lives without a glitch. I have even heard the theory that Christian monasticism is based on Buddhist, due to the variety of cultures all living in the Middle East in Jesus’ time and the centuries immediately following. It would make sense. After all, Buddhism is a good half a millennium older than Christianity.

Silence is one of those universal values. Refraining from unnecessary conversation is almost always helpful. Much talk is useless, serving no purpose other than to paste over an uncomfortable silence. Personal depth often has an inverse relationship with a person’s chattiness. There is something to be said for the “still waters run deep” personality. When they speak, people listen.