Blind Spots

We all have blind spots. Some of us have physical blind spots, but almost all of us have metaphorical blind spots. Part of the spiritual life is searching out those blind spots and working to heal them. We may well never eliminate them all, because they can pop up throughout our life. When teachers we respect suddenly reveal (most often whyblindspotsunintentionally) a blind spot, we may find ourselves making a difficult choice. It may seem we are stuck between two choices, but there are always at least three choices.

The first option is to say that the blind spot we have discovered renders everything the person may have said or offered null and void. We see people choose this option all the time, but if I am correct in asserting that we all have blind spots then this choice means that none of us have anything to offer. We will run around covering up our blind spots and other flaws for fear they will eventually render us irrelevant. In truth, those flaws render us human, not irrelevant.

The second option is to say that since we all have blind spots we will ignore the blind spots that we discover in others. We will pretend they aren’t present, and if anyone points them out we will vigorously defend our heroes by insisting they are perfect. This, too, dehumanizes them by rendering them a caricature of themselves and forcing them to run about claiming to be some distortion of a messiah figure. Denying the truth is never a healthy was forward.

The third option is to recognize that we all have blind spots. From a spiritual perspective, all people have inherent worth and value. We each have to make a decision about whether or not it is possible to have a blind spot that is so large that it destroys that inherent worth and value. I choose to take the position that there is nothing we can do to destroy that worth and value, even though there are things we can do that may necessitate our being isolated from society at large for a time. If a spiritual teacher has a long history of mistreating his or her students, we may decide that we will no longer be their student or support their organization. On the other hand, we may see that the issue at hand is a blind spot but not large enough for us to separate ourselves from them.

Can we see that if we belong to or are influenced by a tradition that says all life has intrinsic valuevalue, then we simply cannot say there are people who no longer have their basic needs met – needs for food, clothing, shelter, companionship, fresh air, and mental stimulation. A colleague I greatly respect took me to task recently when I suggested that a certain political figure had the right to have friends and human contact. In my friend’s mind, the politician in question had committed war crimes and therefore wasn’t entitled to companionship. That’s contrary to the traditions from which both of us have emerged. So how does this happen?

Emotions often cloud and complicated our decision making process. In the heat of the moment, our own blind spots may show – even in response to the blind spots of others! One of the bigger benefits of spiritual practice is that practice affords us the opportunity to work through these issues in a methodical way and at a reasonable pace – even if, in our western impatience, we want everything resolved now! Rushing to judgment is always problematic, so let’s all take our time as we assess what we can and cannot accept!

The Interspiritual Experience

From Mirabai Starr’s wonderful book, Wild Mercy:

You follow the footprints of the Beloved across manifold spiritual landscapes. You catch the same ancient, spicy aroma of love in Judaism that you have tasted in Islam. Your attraction to the lush sensuality of Hinduism does not in any way preclude the way you rest in the intellectual purity of Buddhism. Contemplating the Tao Te Ching strengthens what the Hopi elders have taught you: that the Earth is alive, that she is your Mother, that she is the love of your life.

Institutionalized religious authorities discourage this kind of roaming; they will call you a lost soul. You lie down with the Beloved in so many forms, the purists will call you a slut. The more open-minded may still accuse you of hoping to get to water by digging many shallow wells. As if you were a fool. You are no fool. You are in love, and you will use every available means to reach the living waters of love itself, which you can’t help but notice bubbling up from the altar of every sacred space you have ever entered, including—and maybe especially—the wild spaces of this earth.

You embrace your Beloved through your friendship with Jesus alone or through Jesus plus Buddha. You walk one path or three or eleven different spiritual paths that all bring you home to the One Love. Maybe you say, “No, thank you” to any kind of organized religion and, instead, cultivate a direct relationship with the Beloved in the temple of your own heart. The singular true believers will advise you against all of this multiplicity, recommending that you pick a single tradition and “go deep.” As if your polyamorous spiritual proclivities render you a dilettante. They will mistakenly judge your way as superficial and undisciplined, rather than as the mind-blowingly, heart-openingly, soul-transfiguringly rigorous spiritual practice that it is.

You don’t care that much what they think anyway. You are not about to miss any opportunity to encounter your Beloved and bow down and rise up and take refuge.

Wounds

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.

Is this the best?

My wife had a sister from another mister who passed more than ten years ago now. When we went shopping with Helen, we would joke about “good, better, best,” a marketing technique popular at the time that tried to categorize products by quality – and ultimately by price. It pained Helen to buy “good,” and even “better” was a rough sell. “Best” was definitely the preferred option for her nine times out of ten. Not surprisingly, she had a lovely home filled with lovely things.

good better bestThere is a place where “good, better, best” doesn’t apply, and that place is the spiritual life. I suppose it’s human nature to wonder if we are doing the spiritual life in the “best” way possible, but ranking our practices according to perceived quality is never appropriate because spirituality is an individual thing. What makes one practice good for you might make it terrible for me, and neither of us is wrong – we are just different, and that is okay.

The most common place I see this problem playing out is with proponents of Centering Prayer, a form of Christian Mediation taught by (among others) the late Fr. Thomas Keating. I am absolutely certain Fr. Keating never asserted that Centering Prayer was the best form of prayer practice, but it’s a belief that many Centering Prayer aficionados seem to hold and love to proclaim. Recently I was listening to a podcast that I have a love/hate relationship with when one of the hosts tried to get their guest to agree that Centering Prayer is the best form of prayer and the rest are only poor substitutions. Sadly, the guest – a highly respected authority on contemplation – didn’t correct his host.

You see, when we fall into debates about who has the best method we have left the spiritual arena and moved into the arena in which we spend our time trying to prop up our egos. This always happens at the expense of spiritual growth, and it reflects a level of spiritual immaturity and competitiveness that is most unattractive. Walk your path, do your practice, and don’t look to the left and the right to make comparisons and justify your own journey. We will all be better for it.

Ego and the Spiritual Path

We are an extremely competitive society. We can turn anything into a competition – to our detriment, I am afraid. If you can measure it, we can fight over who does it best. If you can quantify it, I guarantee you mine is bigger – unless being smaller is better, but to be honest most males struggle with that concept. You might think that spirituality would be exempt from this nonsense, but you would be mistaken.

kickball betterImagine coming across a group of kids playing kickball and feeling compelled to ask them if any of them are going to play major league baseball or professional soccer. Then imagine none of the kids saying they are going to do either of those things. Would you tell them that they are wasting their time playing kickball and in fact being unfaithful to the higher meaning of playing with their balls? Of course you wouldn’t, but that is precisely what many of those who imagine they are quite far along the spiritual path do to others all the time.

Consider for a moment those who consider themselves contemplatives but then criticize ronald mcdonald meditatingpopularized forms of mindfulness in corporate and other non-Buddhist settings as “McMindfulness” because it doesn’t contain the fullness of the Vipassana Buddhist tradition. How is that any different than calling kickball “McBaseball?” Just as some of those kids playing kickball will go on to play more complicated sports, some of the people whose entry into contemplative practice is a popular mindfulness application will go on to deeper spiritual practice. More importantly, those who don’t go on may still have perfectly wonderful experiences playing kickball or practicing mindfulness as a stress reduction technique. None of us has the right to tell anyone else what’s best for them!

Fundamentalism rears its ugly head in many different settings, even on the kickball diamond. What we can know about those people who are only to eager to insist that others “aren’t doing it right” is that they are plagued by insecurities about their own practice and struggling with some significant control issues – both of which are a lot less attractive than a kickball game.

Enough

There are times on the spiritual journey that I feel a kind of hunger that I tend to (at first) interpret as a need for more input. I then find myself trying to read more, acquire more information, listen to more podcasts, feeling that there is some tidbit I need to find to open some door or window. However, when I try to do any or all of the above it all seems to fly away like two magnets with the same poles trying to come together.

It is at those moments I finally realize that what I need is not more flow of information but rather quite the opposite. I need to shut off the information faucet and sit with what is already there, substituting silence for intake. I need to process, to steep, to just be with what is already there.

You would think, after going through this process repeatedly, I would figure it out sooner than I do – but you would be wrong. Perhaps that is my growing edge, my thorn in the flesh, my reminder to slow down. Whatever it is, I believe the important thing is that I recognize that it is, and sit with that, too.

Critics

Critics are perhaps most to be pitied, for they produce no art of their own but rather exist to limit expression. While they may lift some art up, they are most in their element when they tear art down.

The irony is not lost on me that in pointing this out I have become a critic of critics. Perhaps criticism is different from serving as a critic, for whom criticism is a lifestyle. Some things are, in fact, rightly criticized. Some things must be brought into the light of day and exposed for what they are – but this is not the function of a critic, is it?

In what areas of our own lives do we serve as critics, and how might we change that?

There is a God…but not THAT one!

If we spend enough time in reflection and silence, and by “enough” I am speaking in Prayer-topterms of years rather than days, we will find that the popular understandings of God have little to do with God at all. Those understandings are perhaps a necessary foundation for the next step in the spiritual journey, but they aren’t the goal of that journey.

When we reach that point of having spent that time on the path, we may start to understand that the things most of the world imagines are the concerns of the Divine are in fact nothing more than the projections of our own petty concerns and intolerance. We also notice the things that are dismissed as foolishness are anything but. I can’t teach you these things, you wouldn’t believe me – but I can teach you how to sit and discover them for yourself.

The Spiritual Battle of the Sexes

You don’t have to be an anthropologist to know that spiritual and religious events across traditions are attended by more women than men. Leadership in this events tends to be more male than female. Both are huge problems. One of them impacts power and control, the other programming. Both alienate half of the population.

holding handsThe role of religious and spiritual leaders in congregations of all faiths has transformed over the course of my lifetime from pastoral leader to administrator. In the Christian world we can see this in the decline of the quality of preaching in many churches, in the decline and sometimes virtual disappearance of pastoral care in any form, even on the deathbed. These things have happened despite the fact that church attendance is down across all denominations. It’s true that the Roman Catholic Church has a clergy shortage and so their deficits are a bit more understandable, but virtually everyone else has a clergy surplus. What’s the problem?

When your pastor is primarily a business, marketing, and financial manager, he or she simply doesn’t have the time to do the things most of us want a pastor to do. In some settings, lay people have been appointed to fill roles such as parish administrator, director of religious education, pastoral care committees, and other roles in an attempt to take the load off of the pastor. The training these people receive varies broadly, but since the preponderance of regular attendees at houses of worship are women, those filling these roles are mostly women. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s a good thing in a world that was dominated by male clergy – though that trend is beginning to shift.

enemaThere’s just one hitch. One of the results of all this is that women are designing programming for women (understandably), and most of that is about as attractive to the average man as an enema administered through a bazooka. That trend continues across religious and spiritual organizations. Retreats and conferences across traditions offer specific programming addressing such topics as the Divine Feminine, and that’s great. Programming for men? Not so much. Presenters at the upcoming 2020 conference of Spiritual Directors International include one man. One. Remind me again why we are supposed to feel welcome?

You see, whether we like it or not, men don’t want to hold hands during the Our Father or sit in a circle facing one another and singing. We certainly don’t want to jump to our feet and engage in some ecstatic dance. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, they just aren’t our things. What are men concerned about?

  • the changes of aging
  • job security, or finding a new job over age fifty if we need one
  • are we still attractive?
  • why has our marriage become sexless?
  • understanding our roles in our families
  • finding meaning in our lives

The truth is that unless and until those issues start being addressed, don’t expect us to show up any time soon.

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.