Sunday, August 28, 2011

At present you need to live the question
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

So will you also frolic with me on the edge of this ominous time and wrest from it whatever it may offer
~ Friedrich Schleiermacher, Letter to his Bride

In Western culture we confuse renunciation and sacrifice. We see our nature as inherently “bad” and regard the slaughtering of our heart's desire as the necessary payment for original sin. We understand our redemption literally as an exchange or trade-off rather than as something freely given up in the true spirit of offering.

Moreover, there is an urgency to expiate the badness that we are uncomfortable holding, a need to eject it from ourselves as quickly as possible. This is the origin of confession, but also of pornography, projection and scapegoating. Unable to contain our forbidden parts, and if we cannot either secretly indulge or confess them, we will project them onto others whom we will then publicly shun, exclude or otherwise attempt to cut off from ourselves.

This disembodied moralism and its dark side (moral perversity) have been sealed on our collective consciousness since the age of Enlightenment. Their coolness is, I think, best illustrated by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant who extolled moral duty as arising in the mind in strict obedience to a moral law borne of reason alone:
Duty! Thou sublime and mighty name that dost embrace nothing charming or insinuating, but requirest submission .... but merely holdest forth a law which of itself finds entrance into the mind, and yet gains reluctant reverence.
(Critique of Practical Reason)

The performance of a duty that demands submission or sacrifice is an act of violence. Renunciation, on the other hand, is an act of generosity that arises from the body itself and manifests as a stirring of the heart. It is warmth, not coolness. Love, not reason.

It is not necessary to be emptied of bodily desire, made hollow like a shell in order to be made holy. It is not necessary to be pure. On the contrary, to be whole, we cannot leave any parts behind. Muddy roots must be included, just like the lotus.

What is renunciation then? What is given up if there is no sacrifice? Paradoxically, it is the act of “letting go of holding on and holding back” (Pema Chodron; The Wisdom of No Escape)

It is not effortless but is in fact, as Gurdjieff says, “intentional suffering”, as we need to make an extraordinary effort to stop trying to sort things out and, as the saying goes “stop doing something and just sit there”. We need to tolerate ambiguity and overcome the quick-fix mentality, we need to learn patience. Rather than aspire to the dissolution of complexity into manageable parts, aspire instead to its resolution into clarity and savour its darkness and mystery.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

He said, "Neville, you must first start with self. Find self, don't be ashamed ever of the being you are. Discover it and start the changing of that self"
~ Neville Goddard, Changing the Feeling of "I"

Becoming "awake" involves seeing our confusion more clearly
~Cogyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom

Maturity entails regression. By this I mean that, beyond a certain point in our development, we begin to go backwards. We spend our youth and early adulthood building ourselves up, physically and mentally, acquiring language, knowledge and other skills, to forge ourselves an identity. We invest all of our energy into becoming somebody. Then, at some point, when we experience love and loss, suffering and impotence, we enter a crisis and everything that we've built turns out to be mere scaffolding for the real inner work that we must do.

It is truly like a seed falling to the ground.

First, in love, the outer shell drops away, uncovering the naked and vulnerable baby that has never grown up. If anything, it has only grown into a monster that bellows and moans, whines and rages jealously against just the threat of separation from its lover, our parental imago. To comfort ourselves we sleep in the same bed, like children alongside our mothers.

Then, in loss-- of a job or loved one we depended on, or because we experience personal failure or the inevitable loss of virility, beauty or power that accompanies aging--, we are stripped down another layer to the bare and fragile bones of “I am”, the universal human condition, revealing beyond pride that uniqueness is what we all have in common.

Finally, old age, illness and death, the ultimate humiliation.

Something must die for the something else to live. This is a law of nature and its truth is echoed by all wisdom traditions, whether Christian, Jewish, Sufi or Buddhist. It is the essence of spiritual transformation. Thich Nhat Hahn calls the transformation “composting” (Peace is Every Step) and Pema Chodron all but calls it a pile of shit (“it's a kind of interesting, smelly, rich, fertile mess of stuff”; The Wisdom of No Escape). Poets allude to it more discreetly as a kind of ripening or fermenting, as in Shakespeare's “Ripeness is all” (King Lear). I personally prefer Chogyam Trungpa's “It's one insult after another”.

Through spiritual practice and prayer or meditation, or just by being eroded by life, the mature self is constantly regressing. Back to child, to the baby, back to the fetus asleep in the womb and into the darkness before life, this is the direction of becoming genuine and authentic, awake to the dream "unclothed in full and final self-forgetting" (The Book of Privy Counseling).

Sunday, August 7, 2011

We want to be at the center: at the source of power; and we want to be at the center: the center of attraction. Indeed ‘look at me’ could be called the cosmic game.
~ Albert Low, I Am Therefore I Think

Men seem to have a very difficult time with shame, the flip side of the legendary “male ego”. They experience vulnerability as a threat to their survival and tend to seek external validation as proof that they exist. When a fight breaks out between two men, it is often due to one of them having felt insulted or humiliated. When a man fails to provide for his wife or family, he feels deflated and depressed. Grandiosity is mistaken as an expression of masculine pride when in fact it is an attempt to compensate for feelings of impotence and inadequacy.

Women, on the other hand, seem to struggle with insecurity, the flip side of the legendary “do I look all right to you?” They need reassurance and understanding, everlasting proof that they are loved just as they are. When a fight breaks out between two women, it is often due to a breach of empathy. When a woman is ignored by her lover, she feels cut off and alone. The need for attention and connection is often mistaken for emotional dependency when in fact it is an attempt to compensate for feelings of unattractiveness.

Although the core struggle for both sexes is one of personal recognition (“look at me!”), there seem to be distinct variations on the theme depending on one's gender identity.

How does one explain this?
Albert Low, in I Am Therefore I Think (an ebook to be published in the fall of 2011), takes an innovative look into gender dynamics in terms of the play between what he calls “me-as-center” and “me-as-periphery”. The masculine container for this oscillation, he believes, is more identified with the center as “power”, whereas the feminine is more identified with the center as “attraction”.

Without suggesting that gender identity is a fixed thing (and I would agree with Albert Low that we are fundamentally androgynous beings who oscillate between center-as-power and center-as-attraction) masculinity does tend toward a center-as-power that is distinctly phallic. It is power that is exerted by pushing or penetrating. The feminine center-as-attraction, on the other hand, is more womb-like. It calls or pulls toward itself, a power that can be both seductive and nurturing but is always subversive and alluring.