Action vs. Meaning

The problem with how most people approach scripture and other mythical stories is perhaps best illustrated in the clip below from The Bird Cage.

Anyone can read a selection from any written account and parrot back what the action was in the story. The problem is that action doesn’t always convey the meaning that lies underneath it. The dancer in the above clip interprets standing still to be standing “like an idiot.” Armand tries to convey the meaning under the action – the excitement of Martha Graham, Madonna, or others.

If you want to understand mythology, it’s not enough to describe the action because the meaning lies under the action. For example, the Christian scriptures tell us that when Jesus was crucified there was an earthquake. If you understand this to be a description of a geological event, you miss the point. What the writer is trying to say, at the very least, is that this was an Earth shaking and shattering event. The problem with literal misinterpretation is that, by remaining on the surface of the account, truth hinges on whether or not the superficial event actually happened – and the point of the story is lost.

To do this work takes time, and we have to sit with whatever scripture we are studying as we would a poem or a painting. It will reveal its meaning to us when we are ready, and not a moment before.

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Searching for God

The biggest mistake we ever made was allowing people to convince us that (1) God was outside us, and (2) that they could tell us how to find where God was hiding.

hiding_jesus2Of course, that’s a wonderful racket if you can sustain it, and many people and institutions have done very well for themselves sustaining it, but in the end it has to fail simply because they are telling us to look in the wrong place. God isn’t “out there,” just waiting to pop out from behind a tree once we get it all right. Once we stop saying “fuck,” or going to Wal-Mart wearing something absurd, or drinking too much, or anything else, then surely God will pop out from a really surprising hiding place.

Let me ask a simple question: Can you leave your body? Even if you think you can, and on some level I might agree that some of us can but only in part, the truth is that we remain in our bodies even if we venture out for a walk or a visit with Shirley McLaine. It only stands to reason that if it is possible to find God then God must be accessible to us in our everyday lives where we are living them. If we want to “find” God, we need to look within. That means we have to clear away the things that distract us, not accumulate more of them. That means that any teacher who tells us we need special equipment or a special location in order to succeed is selling us a bunch of nonsense. The teachers we need will help us journey within, because that is where what we are looking for resides.

Spiritual Attainment

If someone tries to tell you that there is some sort of spiritual attainment that can only be achieved under special circumstances or conditions – celibacy, withdrawing from life, ABalone_Shell_Terrarium__58465.1496177011remaining single, or any other such nonsense – and that stepping out from under those conditions will fracture the attainment, then it is no attainment at all. Rather it is a precious little state of mind for fragile souls who need ego support and to feel special.

Anything that’s real, and kind of spiritual gift or progress, will play on the street the same way it does in the monastery – or else it’s no gift at all. If some aspect of daily like causes the “gift” to fail, then it was never a gift at all.

Stop Saying, “This Is Not Who We Are.”

America please, seriously, stop saying, “This is not who we are.” That statement is trump_baby_blimp_getty_0categorically false. This is precisely who we are: a country that has elected a serial sex offender; a small minded, profoundly mentally ill, petty dictator President of the United States. We have filled Congress and the Courts with people who think this is a great idea; we have a malignant, obstructionist, pathological liar leading the Senate; and a woman who should be posing for advertisements for the local assisted living center leading the House of Representatives. A significant number of people running for President in the Democratic Party are or soon will be wearing adult diapers, making that job the only one we feel our elders are fit to do because we sure aren’t hiring them in the private sector to mentor young people.

WE THE PEOPLE created this mess, WE THE PEOPLE are responsible for it, and this certainly is precisely who we are. Before you start shouting that Hillary won the popular vote, I would remind you of four things. (1) Most Americans didn’t vote. (2) She won by less than one percent of our population, a stridently unimpressive margin. (3) We allowed the DNC to torpedo the campaign of Bernie Sanders so that someone who was, at best, a second choice power broker could lose the Presidency. (4) WE THE PEOPLE created the system that allows the person who lost the popular vote to inhabit the White House and WE THE PEOPLE are either unwilling or unable to change that system. So, yes, this is precisely who we are.

September 29, 2015All of the ugliness, the confederate flags, the children in concentration camps, imperialistic foreign policy around the globe, all of the misogyny, even Alyssa Milano trying to resurrect her flagging career by hoping that we will forget that actors can cry at the drop of a hat – it is precisely who we are. Denying it isn’t going to help because denying reality never helps. Protesting it isn’t going to help, because protesting simply burns off the energy that might be used to effect change.

As Thomas Merton pointed out when he wrote  …for, you see, when “I” enter into a dialogue with “you” and each of us knows who is speaking, it turns out that we are both Christ… the only way to change this is to enter into dialogue with our neighbors. That dialogue need not be about things of any substance, because what is needed is relationship. You can’t build relationship by entering into it with a political agenda, you build it by entering with no agenda beyond getting to know your neighbor. It takes time, it’s messy, and we are not always successful – but it is the only way to build relationships, decrease suspicion and mistrust, and begin to see one another as human beings rather than political pawns.

Many of us subscribe to the religion of politics, and it is an idol just as surely as golden calves are idols. Politics is a human construct and as such has only the power we give it. Relationships, on the other hand, are the point of human existence. We need to develop these relationships not only with those who are our physical neighbors and therefore are mule1probably very similar to us, but most especially with those who live across town and whom we perceive to be different from us – because they are not, and we need to overcome that mistaken belief. Most of all we must come to see that, as Thomas Merton pointed out in No Man is an Island, “…truth never becomes clear as long as we assume that each one of us, individually, is the center of the universe.” We need to get off of our asses, and start building relationships.

Some people’s kids…

When over the decades you have moved in a steadily more progressive spiritual direction as I have, you are sometimes reminded that there is still something of traditional sensibility left in you. Yesterday I had to caution a visitor that there was no humping during the Eucharist. She barked and ran away….

Trauma and A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far is a World War II movie about an Allied offensive that tried, as the title

a bridge too far poster

implies, to go a bit too far. Released in 1977, I loved this movie – but I probably wasn’t aware of all of the reasons I loved it. Elliott Gould was definitely not one of the reasons I loved it. For those too young to know, Elliott Gould was an earlier incarnation of Jeff Goldbloom – the kind of guy some women seem to love, but who most men would prefer to bitch slap until he cries, force him to wear a tutu, and then make him get us a beer. I digress, however.

Those of us who are trauma survivors are only too aware of the mentality that launched this offensive in WWII. In fact, if we could go back in time and examine the histories of those who pushed these kinds of overly ambitious plans into action, I would wager we would find more than a few trauma survivors among them. In a much more pedestrian way, those of us in civilian life who have endured trauma frequently push ourselves toward a bridge too far, failing to respect our limits because we have been taught to ignore them. If taking the dog for a two mile walk is good, then taking her for a four mile walk is twice as good, and an eight mile walk even better. Never mind that after eight miles our feet (and quite possibly the dog’s) will be blistered and bloodied. Never mind that we will be so stiff the next morning that we will walk as if we’ve spent the night riding a horse.

a-bridge-too-far-lg
Elliott Gould.

Trauma survivors tend to be disconnected from our bodies in varying degrees because we have been taught that bodies and feelings don’t matter. Only appeasing our abusers mattered. I sailed through basic training because no matter how many screaming lunatics in military uniforms and smokey the bear hats you lined up, they had nothing on my family of origin. In fact, they reminded me of Elliott Gould. As I see it, the biggest problems for trauma survivors as they move through life is that (1) we don’t respect ourselves, and (2) because of that we are easily manipulated.

elliot gould
Elliott Gould

When you are in your twenties you may be able to literally run through walls, but by your forties you start bouncing off them. We may not respect our limits, but at a certain point in our life cycle the universe starts enforcing them. Wherever we are on life’s journey, now is the time to start listening to our bodies and our feelings. If we don’t know how, a good therapist can help us. Living life while disconnected is not living a full life. In fact, it will make us reach for A Bridge Too Far.

Spiritual Practice

So, you say you want to start a spiritual practice? You say that first you just need to read these books, attend this retreat, or sign up for this class?

You’re fooling yourself. You’re also being fooled by the spiritual marketplace that has commodified spirituality and turned it into a cash cow.

Want to start a spiritual practice? Pick one, pick a ten minute instructional video on YouTube, and start. You can learn more along the way, but you need to start today.

There are no Gurus

The fascination that has grown in the west over the past several decades with eastern spirituality has become problematic, especially regarding gurus. As spiritual teachers and so-called gurus have moved from east to west, one thing that has become apparent is that they have a propensity toward sexual misconduct with their students. This in turn creates not only the problems that come with every form of sexual abuse and misconduct, but also a problem with the whole notion of gurus.

A guru is supposed to be a fully enlightened being. By definition, a fully enlightened being would never act out in any way – including and perhaps most especially sexually. The simplistic approach would be to say that anyone who acts out sexually is not a true barkley guruguru. I would agree as far as that goes, but what this approach leaves unanswered is whether we should just head on down to the next guru or whether the whole idea of guru is somehow part of the problem.

It seems you can’t scratch the surface of many so-called gurus without finding problematic behaviors. Whether they have quietly amassed fortunes, built large networks of volunteers who work for them without pay, have a secret stash of luxury automobiles, abuse their students physically or sexually, throw lavish parties that celebrate hedonism more than spirituality, or some other unacceptable behavior, many if not most highly regarded teachers who have migrated to the west have fallen from grace. What is the problem?

The problem is that most gurus achieve recognition as gurus in a highly protected environment. Living as celibate monks in a monastery, they are able to make spiritual progress is what is a very sheltered environment. In these environments money, sexuality, fame, and western style social interactions simply aren’t an issue. What these systems generate aren’t fully enlightened beings but rather semi-enlightened man-children. In a sheltered, cloistered environment they are just fine but they fall to pieces when they step out of the monastery and into the world. Stated another way, when they have to cope with the same things everyday people like you and I cope with, it becomes apparent they aren’t so enlightened after all. Go figure. You can’t “educate” someone in a sheltered environment and believe that will equip them to function well outside that environment. It’s not just ill-advised, it’s stupid.

We have this notion that spiritual leaders should live in an environment where they guru fraudnever have to navigate the complex web of human relationships (most especially romantic and sexual relationships) or be responsible for their own financial well-being. Then we let them into the world and they set about raping and pillaging. Would you give the keys to your brand new car to someone who had never seen a car, much less had any driver’s education or driving experience? Then why in the world do we send these adult children into the world and give them the keys to our spiritual well-being?

Spiritual teachers are precisely that – teachers. Since no human being is perfect, whatever enlightenment may be it cannot be equivalent to perfection. We still need to exercise our best judgment and to understand that when it comes to our safety, our opinion is the only one that counts. Never do something that feels wrong because someone you trust tells you it is right. The external guru, if such a thing exists, is there to show you the internal guru – and your internal guru would never betray you!.

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If aliens from another planet tried to learn something about us from advertising, what would our priorities seem to be?

  • Weight loss
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  • Cosmetic surgery
  • And?

That’s a sad statement!

Sometimes the truth hurts

You may not like this, but it’s true. Voting for someone because of their sexual orientation is just as stupid and NOT voting for someone because of their sexual orientation. There is so much more to like than who we sleep with that it should be a non-issue. Their are both competent and incompetent people in all corners of life. Look more deeply.