Life hands us all a variety of wounds. These wounds are of different sizes and depths, different intensities and duration, even of different quantity and quality. Our task is not to avoid them, but work through them; not to pass them on to others or try to ignore them, but to understand and heal them.
These important parts of life aren’t always fun. Quite often they cause pain and struggle. This important work is, in part, what our spirituality should equip us to undertake. Doing this work constitutes enlightenment, salvation, awakening – whatever your word for the goal of life may be. We do this work best in community, which is why friends, colleagues, and groups to which we belong are so important.
There are things that are clearly out of the ordinary, beyond the pale, tragedies of great scale and scope that can set is back financially to a profound extent. I have no problem with people turning to social media for support both emotional and financial in such situations. If your home is destroyed and you lack the resources to rebuild, by all means ask for help! At any time if you need to vent about something, I believe social media can be a great platform on which to do so. If you vent constantly I may unfollow you for my own sanity, but I will still support your right to vent.
The other day I saw an actress with a net worth of two million dollars begging for money on Social media because her child had been the victim of a crime. The reason she needed the money? To catch the criminal. Apparently she feels that law enforcement can’t do the job and she can’t liquidate enough of her assets to hire a private investigator? Are we serious?
Then there are the average people who seem to think the world should contribute for their normal, daily expenses. I struggle to understand why anyone would ask for help paying for their Kleenex when they contract a cold, or for cremation expenses for a beloved pet, or to pay for home remodeling, or any of a number of other routine expenses that are simply a part of daily life. Are we really that entitled?
Life brings with it a fair amount of adversity. Working through that adversity is how we grow and mature. At times it may feel as if you are the only one who has ever struggled with a certain kind of adversity, but I can assure you that you are not alone. Trying to make a quick profit off of daily life isn’t only unattractive, it stunts your growth.
Asking for emotional support or that a neighbor bring a casserole on a difficult day builds community. You won’t find that kind of community in the Internet. You can find it outside your front door, but you would do well to say hello to your neighbors today rather than wait for the crisis to arrive. Can we think of other, more healthy ways to seek support in our lives?
People may say all kinds of terrible things about you – even family. People may run you down, treat you to a seeming endless list of what they perceive to be your flaws and short comings, even to the point where you start to believe them. If this happens to you, ask yourself one question. Ask yourself if what they say is true, why do they keep coming around?
Should you find yourself in this situation, trust yourself – and kick your critics to the curb. Nobody, and I do mean nobody, has the right to continually heap criticism and abuse on you.
As someone who lives with chronic pain, I can tell you from my experience that it can be a tremendous spiritual teacher. It can also make you want to eat a bullet. Most of the time, I find I sit somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. You might say that if we constructed a scale in which eating a bullet was a zero and experiencing great spiritual insights was a ten, I live my life drifting between two and nine, with rare peaks at ten. In truth, you only get a brief stop at zero, and I don’t think I will ever be there. At the same time I believe it is important to acknowledge the possibility of zero.
I have read a lot of spiritual teaching from the eastern traditions that suggest we can reduce our experience of pain by not allowing ourselves to be attached to it or to resist it. If I am honest, I must admit that I never really understood what either of those things meant until I came up with my own words to describe what I believe they are trying to get at. In my experience, I struggle more with my pain if I believe that I am not supposed to be in pain. In the past I used to believe that I was too young to have this kind of problem, or that it shouldn’t happen to people like me (whatever that means), or some other similar nonsense. I call it nonsense because such beliefs fly in the face of what is. If I am in pain then there is a reason or reasons I am in pain. Therefore, to say that I shouldn’t be in pain flies in the face of reality! I may wish things were other than they are, but that doesn’t change that reality is what it is. If I can drop the idea that things should be different then I can begin the much more important work of dealing with what actually is! In this way, I free myself from the possibility of feeling persecuted or of having been treated unfairly and am freed to live in the present moment. If there is one thing we know, it’s that the present moment in the only moment we can impact.
I would suggest we can apply this reasoning to many life situations we struggle to grasp. If we feel we shouldn’t be pregnant, or bald, or working where we do, the first step to dealing with whatever underlies the issue is accepting that it is, in fact, the truth. If our issue isn’t the truth we can rejoice, because no action is necessary, but if we are bothered by something it is probably true and it is probably exactly how it is supposed to be. Now we can start asking ourselves if it is possible to make a change that will impact our situation.
Believing that things aren’t supposed to be as they are is a kind of denial that our mind creates to help us deal with the unpleasantness surrounding our condition. While denial can help us if we aren’t quite ready to deal with whatever is going on in its fullness, it also can stop us from moving forward if we don’t release it. That is a realization that can help us in many areas of life, if only we will embrace it!
This post is the first in a series of occasional posts about the future of religion and spirituality in Western civilization.
I have long been of the opinion that, before it is possible to build something healthy to replace something that is in the process of dying, it is important to clear up mistaken notions from the dearly departing tradition. Nothing from the death rattles of institutional religion is more harmful than the idea that human beings are inherently broken.
This belief takes many forms in different traditions, but perhaps the best well known in the idea of Original Sin in Christianity. Less well known, but even more dysfunctional, is the Calvinist Christian notion of the total depravity of humanity, often expressed with the delightful metaphor that we are “worms.” Coming in a close second is Luther’s preoccupation with feces and bowel movements, which led to some very unfortunate metaphors indeed.
All of these beliefs stink. The fact is that the idea that human beings are inherently defective is not only inaccurate, but harmful because it removes all hope. There isn’t any objective support for any of these notions in the scriptures of any tradition, leaving us to conclude that they are projections unfortunately recorded by their authors that caught on. Particularly for those ideas that caught on in the Middle Ages, it’s not hard to understand why they became popular. When everyone around you is dropping dead from one or another plague, it’s easier to hold onto a lousy explanation than to sit with a mystery. What’s more, Neuroscientists tell us that the human mind has a bias toward the negative. It is easier for us to understand and recall the very things which tear us down than those that lift us up.
You can’t have a healthy spirituality if that spirituality doesn’t recognize that its adherents can, in fact, be healthy! A religion that understands its primary task as undercutting the hope of its members is little more than an enemy of those same people. Do human beings make mistakes? Of course we do, some of us quite frequently, but it is in making those mistakes that we learn an grow. That means that even mistakes are good things.
The next time someone tries to peddle you some nonsense about how bad we all are, send them packing. You deserve better. More importantly, you need better.
M. Scott Peck, of The Road Less Traveled fame, liked to save everything is multiply determined, which sounds much cooler than “has multiple causes” but isn’t quite as clear, so I surrendered coolness for clarity. That may be the story of my life, but that’s another post.
I was in a room full of people gathered around a common purpose last summer. As they moved about I suddenly saw quite clearly that they were all responding to one another out of the dysfunction of their histories. I could only see that because I knew some of the people, but the insight was powerful. In effect, they weren’t responding to one another at all but rather to a great combination of people past and present, most of whom (and in some cases all of whom) weren’t physically present. There were, however, dozens of uninvited guests who were psychically present.
It was as if everybody had been handed a script as they walked in the door. Since there weren’t enough copies of the same script for everybody, copies from three or four different plays had been randomly distributed. Nobody wanted to be rude, so nobody mentioned the different scrripts. They simply read their lines at what seemed to be the appropriate time, whether or not they made any sense. At the end of the night everyone went home confident that a great time was had by all – except, of course, for anyone who tried to make sense of it all. Those people were mostly silenced by the others who were afraid that the mystique would be broken and actual sharing might occur, opening the door to emotions and other messiness not generally encouraged in polite company.
As a result nobody was transformed, no one experienced growth, no connections were made, and those with some level of awareness noted that they left a room full of people feeling somehow more lonely. Getting to the bottom of such things required time and, most often, some assistance, so most people prefer to just put such things away in a closet in the basement of their live. They carefully padlock the door so nothing can escape, but as the contents of the closet sit unattended they grow. The roots of the issues become entangled and potbound, depleting the energy of their host, until one day they demand attention and refuse to be ignored.
Far better to open that closet now.
I confess, I am a bit uneasy about the current batch of lawsuits against big pharma for its role in our self-proclaimed “opiod crisis.” It’s not that I have any affection for big pharma, quite the opposite. Nor am I am addict, though you can’t swing a dead cat at my family gatherings without hitting one – and several if the cat’s tail falls off. I did, however, spend a decade working in healthcare, the vast majority of it in inpatient behavioral health settings. I have assisted in more than my share of medical detoxification of patients who were addicted to various chemicals. I have led talk therapy groups that included addicted people, and the biggest lesson I learned from those folks is that recovery begins when the addict takes responsibility for their actions.
To be clear, I believe that addiction is a disease. I also believe that as long as an addict can blame someone else for their problems they aren’t at all likely to recover. What I see all of these legal actions saying is that big pharma made people addicts. To that I say, “nonsense.” Big pharma didn’t push those pills down anyone’s throat. They may have underplayed the addictive potential of these medications and that may have resulted in physicians over prescribing them when they first came out, but it has been a very long time indeed – decades – since anyone, especially physicians, believed that opiods weren’t highly addictive.
I am concerned that as settlements and legal judgments roll in against big pharma we will send the message that big pharma is responsible for your opiod addiction. We will also send the message that your physician wasn’t complicit in the problem in that they prescribed opiods far too easily. We may very well offer addicts another excuse to avoid recovery, something no amount of money can justify
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the horror of things that we never get around to asking why they happen. I don’t say that as a criticism at all, I think it’s just part of how our mind works. We hear of something so out of the ordinary, or at least out of what we are ordinarily exposed to, that our minds seem to get stuck at the initial hearing and not dig deeper.
Some tragedies don’t really have an answer to the “why” question, or don’t have one we are capable of discerning or understanding at this point in human development. We know why hurricanes happen, but we really can’t explain why they turn at the last moment and destroy town B instead of town A. These kinds of things are relatively isolated incidents. I am wondering why we can’t discern the answer to the “why” question for trends, for things that seem to happen repeatedly.
Here’s a question I believe we need to address with urgency: Why all of the sexual abuse and sexual violence? It’s pervasive. It happens in the home, in our schools, in the office, in our places of worship and spiritual practice. It happens to children and adults, men and women, boys and girls, and the perpetrators come from all areas of life. We never seem to get around to asking “why,” or when we do the answers are so simplistic they are really no help at all. We tend to prefer single cause answers, but most problems are much more complicated than that. If we are going to change our culture around this, we are going to have to get serious about asking “why?”.
Many people have one or more chronic concerns. These may be things from their personal or health history, newly arisen medical issues, or simply things they worry about. If I had a nickel for every person who described themselves to me as a “worrier,” I’d have a lot of nickels. Other people believe that if they go to the doctor to ask about an issue that’s been troubling them that the doctor might diagnose the problem and then it will become “real.” Children often believe there is a monster under their bed and as long as they don’t look the monster will stay there and not harm them.
Of all the people listed in the last paragraph, only children get a break. It is developmentally appropriate for children to engage in magical thinking. Adults, not so much – yet that truth doesn’t seem to stop adults from trying to protect themselves by using magical thinking. That magical thinking is quite harmful, as cancers continue to spread and psychological dysfunctions continue to grow as we hide out for fear that a diagnosis is the thing that makes us sick. Rationally, we know that is absurd (I hope), but our rational minds aren’t always in control. An African American friend tells me that his black friends won’t go to see a therapist because they believe that doing so will mean that they are “crazy.” In truth, that belief reflects a lot more on their mental status than any trip to the therapist ever could.
One thing is certain – whatever the issue might be, waiting to get it checked out doesn’t solve a problem. Suppose nothing is wrong. Would you feel better knowing that? Suppose something is wrong? You will feel better beginning a course of treatment. It’s a no-lose situation. Make that appointment today!
If the exercise of your “rights” harms others, then you are not exercising “rights.” What you are doing is evil.
Like many progressives, I’m not big on the idea of any person being evil nor do I believe in a personal devil, with or without red pajamas. I do believe that actions can be evil, beliefs can be evil, and while I prefer to separate person from behavior it is pretty hard to make a case that someone who spends most of their time engaged in evil actions isn’t an evil person.
You may be asking yourself, “How can we tell when an action is evil?” I feel that sometimes we don’t look deeply enough when trying to decide where evil exists. Over the weekend a man was fired from his job went on a shooting spree with an assault rifle in west Texas, killing seven and injuring more than twenty people. Was he evil? I suspect that something in him may have snapped when he was fired, and I don’t believe that people who have a mental breakdown have enough volition to be judged evil. That’s not to say there isn’t evil at work here, however.
Jesus and all the other great spiritual teachers and leaders were quite clear about our obligation toward children and other members of what we today call at risk populations. One of the victims in west Texas was a seventeen month old little girl who was shot in her face. When we fail to protect and care for children and other at risk populations adequately, we are committing evil. There is no appeal to the Second Amendment or any other “right” that justifies such a failure.
If those who continue to insist they have a right to assault weapons in this country want to see evil, all they have to do is find a mirror. Innocents – in fact, all people, but especially innocents – have the right to go about their daily lives as free from danger as possible. The fact that some members of our society want to pretend to be soldiers, cowboys, or terrorists doesn’t override that right. There is no debate to be had.
If you want to see evil, all you need to do is find a meeting of your local chapter of the NRA or find a politician who opposes gun control. It’s just that simple. The question that remains is, when will we wake up and make the necessary changes no matter the cost?