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Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

Sometimes I get to thinking about how much more difficult it is to live a mindful life while dealing with mind-numbing frustration and chaos. I’ve never read The Brothers Karamazov, but I remember being told about the exchange where the brother in the monastery was told how good and moral he was. He replied to the other brother that it’s easy to be good when in a monastery; it’s a real task to face down the troubles and temptations of the world outside. Paraphrased, obviously, but that’s how I remember hearing it.

I think of this whenever I hear of the old honored tradition of a man leaving his family life at a certain point to study Buddhism, or otherwise remove himself from everyday life to seek wisdom. (Rarely, there are stories of women doing this, but it was at times expected of men at a certain age.) I have often envied that notion — not leaving my family, but leaving off having to keep up with the everyday hassles we face.

But as I sit here dwelling in the idea, I can’t imagine that living a life of nothing more than chores and meditation would help me nearly so much as learning how to live life alongside so many others just trying to make sense of it all. It’s tough, and it’s frustrating, and it’s wearying. But the process of learning to allow it to be smoother, to become more accepting, and to find the quiet strength within… I can’t imagine that would come faster if it wasn’t so deeply needed.

While spending time recharging in quiet and calm and supportive retreat is kind of required, I don’t think it’s as helpful for that to be the only life we live. It removes us from the very purpose of being human: living with and loving one another.

I’ll let a quote from The Brothers Karamazov express what I’m feeling on what we can best learn as a lifelong spiritual practice:

Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing. If thou love each thing thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all; and when once thou perceive this, thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it: until thou come at last to love the whole world with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

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When someone asks you 
Just who do you think you are
Who is it who asks?

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In one of my favorite movies, The Incredibles, there’s the following exchange between a kid who can run superheroically fast, and his super-powered mom:

Dash: You always say ‘Do your best’, but you don’t really mean it. Why can’t I do the best that I can do?
Helen: Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we gotta be like everyone else.
Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.
Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.
Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

To me, that’s always been a perfect two-part summation of how, culturally, we can help keep each other down.  For the first part, there’s a strong pressure to “fit in”, and not make waves.  Sure, we talk about how everybody should strive to be the best there is, but once someone starts hitting that inspirational high, we then start trying to tear them down.  Part of it might be jealousy, and part of it might be lashing out in the internal fear that we could never be allowed to reach our own heights.

There also seems to be a cultural impulse to attack people who stand out with the accusation that they’re doing something arrogant and selfish for contradicting the way “everybody” expects a person to think and act.  It’s like there’s a strong resistance to anything disrupting the comfort zone of the “status quo”, sort of like how people say that in America you can have all the Free Speech you want so long as your speech won’t matter.  It’s standing out to make a difference that inspires other people to start embracing their own specialness, that’s where you start to get into trouble.

And that leads into the second part.  Everybody truly is special.  The problem is that for too many people, “special” is some kind of competition where only the winners qualify.  It’s as though “special” has to mean “significantly better than almost everybody else at something rare or spectacular”, and that you have to be the right kind of “special” to get that supreme validation as a uniquely valuable person.  That is so completely backwards.

Special means, essentially, “pertaining or peculiar to a particular person/thing, distinctive, unique”.  And that’s you.  That is absolutely, completely you.  You are a genuinely unique assembly of hopes and fears and skills and doubts and loves and dislikes and pleasures and pains.  Your world may have a lot in common with a lot of people, but only you have exactly your way of being in it.  You are special.  And this matters.

Naturally, this gets challenged.  People scoff, “Well if everybody’s equal, then how can you say that each person is so specially important?  Doesn’t that mean none of us matter?”

This makes me think of some truly beautifully intricate puzzles I’ve seen, where each piece is actually made up of smaller complete pictures.  It’s the combination of the arrangements of the tiny sets of pictures that shows the larger picture on the puzzle when you step back.  Can you picture what I’m talking about?  Now imagine if even one of the pieces was missing.  Is the puzzle still complete, or did that piece matter?

I’ll talk more tomorrow about just how much it matters.

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When Atlas Shirked Cover

When Atlas Shirked, by Nynia Chance

In honor of #MayDay, I have managed to get my new novel available in eBook form for free! In When Atlas Shirked, a dystopian Christian America uses love and fairness to forge peaceful community solutions to political & class warfare.

The novel is part Orwell, part #Occupy, part Christlike-Christian, and all Hope. It’s the antidote to the selfish and cruel version of atheism* of Atlas Shrugged, as it explores the powerful force of a community combining forces to defeat the poverty and isolation that had overtaken their alternate America. In comparison to Ayn Rand’s infamous novel, I like to say it’s All the Politics, Half the Page-Count, and a Hundred Times the Heart.

*Note: This novel is not anti-atheist, it’s anti-bigotry, anti-hate, and anti-malice. It explores the concepts of equality, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights and Social Justice through the experiences and evolving Biblical understanding of a young Christian woman. Others’ views have a voice in her story as well, showing that there is also another side to Faith or even simply reasoned Philosophy. Take a look. You might be surprised.

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Recently I was talking again about the so-called Crab Mentality.  I don’t know how accurate this is about actual crabs, but the idea is that when you’re out gathering crabs from the shore, you don’t need a lid for your bucket.  You just need two or three in there, and they’ll keep pulling each other back down if one of them starts to make it out.

I’m sure we’ve all got examples the analogy brings to mind.  What I’ve started to think of lately, though, is how we’ll pull ourselves back and hold ourselves down, rather than wait for someone else to do it for us.  We’ll keep our heads down and our mouths shut rather than let us put ourselves out there or otherwise break free of our quiet little rut.  I’ll bet that idea brings some examples to mind, too.

Now don’t think I’m saying we oughtn’t be mindful of how and when we put ourselves or our ideas forward.  I’m all for the habit of taking a moment to think about how something you do or say may come across.  Big-headed arrogance not only puts people off what you’d otherwise have to share, it obscures your own view, too.  The little voice that says, “Did you think this one through?” — that’s worth listening to.

But the voice that starts off with “Do you really think you deserve…”  That’s the Crab Mentality.  When we start to share our thoughts and talents, the Crab Voice butts in with “Do you really think you deserve to take the spotlight?”  When we step forward to take our turn, it pokes at us with “Do you really think you deserve to go ahead of all those other people?”  And worst of all, when we stop to appreciate all the beautiful gifts life has given us, our hearts are weighted down with an oppressive, “Do you really think you deserve these things when there are so many who want?  What makes you think you have a right to be happy, when there is so much misery in the world?”

That last bit is what hit me this morning.  I was thinking of my fantastically wonderfully rewarding life, with enough food to eat and safety and shelter and so much love and joy and plenty, and I actually started to feel guilty for being so lucky.  As though receiving these blessings meant another had to go without.

And this is even though I already know that’s not how the world works.  Life is a place of plenty, and the more we enjoy and share that bounty, the more of it there is.  If this was about wasting water or gobbling up limited resources, that’d be one thing.  But this was about treasuring the fulfillment of simple wants, and basking in the glow of tender moments.  You know, the sorts of things that make the world greater, not less.

I know that taking suffering into your own heart doesn’t remove it from others.  I know that you can’t lessen the hurt in the world by embracing pain.  I know that the world needs happiness and joy to be shared within and among as many hearts as possible, that this is the only way to reduce the misery and pain that’s out there.

That’s why it feels so silly to admit I actually felt bad about being happy.  Because I know better.  I guess that just goes to show that being aware of the subconscious push to commodify and objectify happiness, doesn’t always make you immune.  It’s so easy to let yourself be just another prisoner of the war against a more peaceful world.

So I decided that’s what I’d write about today.  I still feel a nervous twinge of guilt, but it’s fading.  Cause as I’m sitting here typing I realize I have a choice: I can either subtract from the joy in this world or add to it.  Everything else aside, it’s just so darn much more fun to choose the latter, so I’m gonna practice that.

And as much as I hear unspoken voices asking me if I have the right to indulge in this happiness, I can’t help but ask, “Voices, what makes you think you have the right to add to the misery in this world by demanding mine?”

And a poem for National Poetry Month…

It’s what you wear from ear to ear
at least, that’s what they say
But when it’s time to curse or praise,
they tell it another way

“Who does she think she is?” they ask
if she’s too pretty or too plain
“He’s drowning in denial,” they sneer
if his failures don’t show enough pain

“Money can’t buy happiness”, they nod
while they try to sell you a slice
All while they claim to measure Success
not by merit, but by amortized price

So they hound as they hoard and condemn as they preen
While they suckle at wealth they demand we all wean
If you hurry after them, you just might see and be seen

But for my part,
with a peaceful heart,
I’d far rather bask in the glory of Nature’s green.

Join me my friend,
and through to the end,
and we’ll hold court with life’s true kings and queens.

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As I’ve mentioned, I don’t tend to like talking religious specifics, but that’s only because I tend to view them as rather personal.  It’s absolutely not a matter of not being familiar with them.  Though I will admit I tended to see the specifics differently from how many would say I was supposed to view them.

I was raised in the Mormon tradition by a very traditional Mormon family, and studied some of the religion at the very traditional Brigham Young University.  I grew up reading the Book of Mormon and other Mormon scripture as well as the Bible, every single day.  Read all of them cover-to-cover a few times, and came away with a very loving, giving and forgiving message.

To me, the Word of God was all about treating one another with unconditional love and compassion, answering every need with charity and every hurt with tenderness.  It was not our place to judge what others would choose, merely to offer what we felt was a wise example through our kindness and support of their troubles in life.  We were expected to keep only what we needed for ourselves, sharing the rest so that all may be cared for, in body as well as in spirit.  All were our brothers and sisters, to be sustained through the bonds of community without judgment of who (or what) others would call them.

Yeah, like I said, some would say I wasn’t getting the message.  However, I came across an article the other day that reflected my own thoughts back to me:

Ironically, while Romney would prefer to discuss wealth inequality in “quiet rooms,” the topic consumed both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young’s sermons and writings. For a short time in the Book of Mormon, the Nephites abandoned their love of riches and established “Zion” — a classless utopia that “had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, but they were all made free.”

The Nephite story provided the template for Smith and Young’s social experiments with communalism. They would both try repeatedly to replicate the mythic Zion. Smith repeatedly told his followers, “if you are not equal in earthly things you cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things.” Young also championed wealth redistribution, “We have plenty here. No person is going to starve, or suffer, if there is an equal distribution of the necessaries of life.”

When Mormons Were Socialists: Why the Mormon Church’s Founders Would be Very Disappointed in Mitt Romney by Troy Williams

I remembered seeing a church musical all about a young pioneer woman who resented the communal economy of the early city of Zion, only to become disillusioned with the soulless materialism of the world outside.  She returned to find them throwing out their communal values to chase the American Dream, and imploringly sang to them the same chorus they had sung to her about the shininess of materialistic wants: “It doesn’t matter!  It doesn’t matter!”

I found it pretty goofy and overblown for what I figured was an old message that went without saying.  I was pretty disappointed when I realized that it still needed to be said, and to people who continue to profess more public Mormon piety than I ever felt I should.

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Today I’m blogging off a comment I put down for Jo Ann J. A. Jordan, one of WordPress’s many genuine poets.  While writing it, I realized I want to tell this to everyone, and for them to feel the truth in it. Let’s see how this goes…

One of life’s tragedies is that we feel as though we have to seek permission to honor in ourselves the ways we follow the calling of our souls.  It’s like we don’t have the right to be who we know we must become, unless some group of people with sufficient authority grants us their permission through honors or awards.

Alan Watts got it right when he said it’s a mistake to to try to separate something being done from the thing that’s doing it.  As I ended up writing it once, truth lives not through nouns, but through verbs.  We are what we do.  If one writes, one is a writer.  If one sings, one is a singer.  If one dances, one is a dancer.  If one creates, one is a creator.  That’s because a writer is one who writes, a dancer is who sings, and so on.  Descartes had it backwards: I am, therefore I think.

Somehow, we lost that.  I won’t get into my theories on how this happened, but we got trained to look outside for validation.  This oppressive need for outside validation is part of what makes people arrogant and obnoxious over whether they or others have a rightful claim to particular nouns.  Some people get pompous and ridiculous over nouns they seize, further discouraging the humble among us from feeling like we can use them.

Forget about all that.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is who you do, because this is what creates who you are.  You create to feed a hunger in your soul.  Let it feed you.  Don’t question whether you have a right to how good the soulfood makes you feel — it’s yours.  You need it.  EAT IT.

Would it be great for more people to find and enjoy and reward you for your work?  YES!  Is that needed for it to be valuable?

No.

You are a part of this world.  That means your presence inherently makes a difference in what the world becomes.  You can’t escape that.  When you care for yourself and find value in this, then your difference is a good one.

And that’s what matters.

So please, do what brings you joy.  Remember to smile at yourself, and feel the warm glow of doing what you cherish.  That right there is the greatest service to world peace.

If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.

Thich Nhat Hanh

And because I promised, a poem on sports for the Poem a Day challenge:

My doubt falls away

I no longer need to win

Running is the race

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