As a people, we love looking back, but looking back is a mixed bag. The elderly love to reminisce, as I learned when I worked in long-term care. You cannot turn around in a long-term care facility without seeing a copy of a magazine dedicated to reminiscing! I have wondered if there is a hidden, archetypal truth in that folks with dementia tend to forget in reverse – the newer things first and the oldest things last.
As a trauma survivor, I have a problem in that trauma impacts memory. In layman’s terms, trauma is a terrible file clerk. Our trauma impacted brain essentially misfiles memories to make room for coping with the crisis at hand. Unless and until we address the impact of our trauma, it will seem to us that we don’t remember much about our past because our memories are hidden in the wrong file cabinet. As we go through the work of therapy, our memories gradually return because we have hired a new file clerk to sort through the tangled mess left by the trauma clerk. I know this to be true because I have experienced it.
For some of us, however, our memories and the past they represent become a prison. The door to our cell is unlocked and we are free to walk out, but we keep pulling it closed. I believe this happens because it is much easier to see ourselves as the enraged, offended party whose life circumstances are outside our control. The problem is that perspective, while perhaps necessary for a time as we come to understand how we got in the situation in which we find ourselves, becomes a self-imposed prison that limits and eventually destroys us. Many of us have seen the angry, red-faced protester screaming for peace, unable to move past their anger at past injustices to effectively work for the peace they deeply desire.
If we are going to be the change we want to see in the world, as Gandhi suggested, we are going to have to surrender our obsession with the past. To do that, we have to give up all hope of the past ever being different than it was. We can, and should, clearly state what was wrong about the past so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past in the future, but we cannot continue to dwell in the past if we are going to have a future. To do so is to leave that ineffective file clerk in charge of the office and continue to repeat the same mistakes, all the while mystified as to why nothing changes! There is a word for that letting go of the past, that choosing not to spend all of our time seeking to change what cannot be changed and demanding reparations that will never be paid. That word is forgiveness.
I confess I find it more than a little amusing when charismatic spiritual teachers and leaders of any stripe complain about the cult of personality in western culture. Maybe they don’t realize the irony, or maybe they are just trying to avoid the dance.
The biggest spiritual lie is that we need something outside ourselves to be happy, complete, and just the way we are supposed to be.
Various spiritual traditions purport to want to help us discover our true selves while at the same time being duplicitous about the qualities of priests, ministers, gurus, teachers, and other leaders. This is anything but helpful, and as we have seen time and again can lead to terrible abuse.
The priest stands at the altar in personna Christi, and the next thing you know this esoteric teaching has both priest and people believing he is somehow other, somehow more Christlike than the rest of us. The Catholic Church claims the Pope is infallible, and people extrapolate the his subordinates must be semi-infallible. Protestants, whether they admit it or not, feel the same way to varying degrees about their clergy.
Buddhism, in the Tantric traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, teach that students should see the guru as the Buddha. This is parallel to in personna Christi, perhaps even more pervasive. Zen priests frequently turn student interviews into grab and grope sessions, but those who are violated are reluctant to speak out because of the esteem in which the priest is held. The real question is whether either Christ or Buddha seek to bed the faithful? Of course not.
Sadly, there are an endless number of other examples I could cite. The solution to the problem is to agree that when any human being holds themselves up as somehow qualitatively more than another, they are functioning out of ego and need to be watched very closely, indeed.
Almost universally, those of us who enter the helping professions do so because we have been wounded ourselves. If we have done and continue to do our own work, we are in a unique position to help others along their own path. If we have not done our own work, however, we are likely to use those we are supposed to serve to medicate our untreated wounds. In the process we will inflict trauma on those who have trusted us, and so need to be removed from positions of authority to work on our own issues. Nothing less will do.
If you are anything like me, you have experienced more than a few incidents of self-sabotage over the course of your life. At the time, you thought what you were doing was perfectly reasonable. You just wanted to think things through, develop a plan, avoid mistakes down the road, make sure you don’t embarrass yourself, anticipate problems, avoid conflict, make sure you took care of the details in advance, had everything down pat, knew your subject matter forwards and backwards, talked to the right people, got the right permissions, ran some feasibility studies, grabbed a nice dinner…and, to your great surprise, you never started your project.
Of course nobody wants to look like a fool, but none of us are perfect. We make mistakes. In fact, you might say that the only person who ends up looking like a fool is the person who believes they won’t make mistakes. If something is worth doing, then it is worth taking some chances and actually doing it! We can’t succeed if we don’t start, and quite often it is our fear, not of failure but of success, that keeps us stuck! We don’t know who we would be if we tried something new, so we settle for our current situation. The devil we know is better than the angel we don’t.
And, at the end of our lives, we just might find we never lived. Don’t let that happen.
When we are born, we are our true selves. By the time we can communicate, we start becoming someone else so that we can please others. The problem is that our true selves get buried more and more deeply with each presentation of who we imagine others want us to be. The bigger problem is that we will never be happy pretending to be someone we are not. Nobody can thrive living in a closet.
When I was a child it was quite popular for grown ups to ask children what they wanted to be when they grew up. Over time when that question was asked the adults started to shape our answers. When we were four years old, it was fine to want to be a cowboy. By the time we were twelve the cowboy answer was discouraged if we lived in the city. Gradually, who we wanted to be wasn’t who we wanted to be at all, but rather who everybody else thought we should be.
To move toward reclaiming your true self, the first step is to discover who your true self is. We need to ask ourselves questions like, “What do I want to do right now?” You may well find it’s hard to do that at first, but over time we bet better at it. Eventually we gain enough confidence not only to identify what we want and don’t want, but also to communicate that truth to others. That really is very liberating, and the first step to becoming who you really are!
Spiritual teachers, no matter the tradition, should never be sexually involved with their students. Period.
And it’s about to slap the Sakyong on his ass big time.
Spiritual teachers who are sexually involved with their students are not, in fact, qualified to be spiritual teachers.
The notion that one can be partially enlightened but somehow not have that awakening reach their genitals and attitudes toward women is nothing other than absurd apologetics for rapists and an ill disguised attempt to help them avoid responsibility for their actions.
You cannot be awakened and a perpetrator of violence at the same time. You cannot be awakened and commit crimes against at risk populations at the same time. You cannot be awakened while at the same time making excuses for your bad behavior.
Is it clear yet?
Most of us, I would even venture to say all of us, have been told things about ourselves that are not true. Sometimes we were told these things due to an honest mistake. Other times people wanted to manipulate us or to get their way. Some of us have encountered evil personified, a person wanting to do damage to us for reasons that are not clear. Even if those reasons were clear, they would not be sufficient to justify what happened to us.
The way out of this lies in the old adage that the truth will set you free. By asking ourselves some questions about what was said, we can begin to move through our pain toward healing. We might ask ourselves, “Is what was said true?” Even if we believed it was true at the time, from today’s perspective we may well see that what was said was not true. If it was true, we then should ask ourselves, “So what?” In other words, is this truth really something bad? In my case, I was repeatedly and drunkenly told that my problem was that I was a “goddamn adolescent.” In point of fact, I was an adolescent. The statement was true, but the rage and accusatory tone with which it was delivered was not justified by the truth that I was an adolescent. Neither were the seemingly endless hours it was repeated at full volume, with great regularity, for hours in a drunken rage at our family dinner table.
Often times we need the help of a trained counselor to help us with this work. We need to see that there was no substance to our “crimes,” and to stop believing the people accusing us were in any way right. I would even say we need to come to the place where we see no merit whatsoever in that person’s opinion so we can begin the hard work of deciding who we really are. It’s a long road, but it begins with the truth – which will set us free!
I have spent a good part of my life studying spiritual belief systems and religious traditions, as well as psychology. As you might imagine, more has been said and written about these things than any one person could read in one lifetime. Even if a person did manage to read everything that might be read and closed the cover on the last book just as they breathed their last breath, they wouldn’t have had time to integrate what they had learned into any kind of organized system.
There is no shortage of people who are only too happy to take advantage of this truth. They try to sell us a prepackaged system of belief, and do so by hoping to convince us that theirs is the only true system. The funny thing is that when you start to examine all the different belief systems that people employ you discover that they agree more often than they disagree.
The short version is that we all need to find a way to make sense of our lives and our world. If the way we do that stops working for us, we need to change it. None of us need to share the same way of seeing the world, but if our view are too divergent from the great majority we may need to reevaluate our beliefs. The truth is that what we believe is far less important than that we believe. Anyone who tries to tell you something different is trying to manipulate you. Don’t listen to them.