Whenever I receive an email that asks, “do you want to grow, to flourish, to be the best possible version of yourself?” I do two things. First, I check to see that my wallet is still in my pocket. The second is that I delete the email.
Why delete the email? I delete the email because I reject the notion that some person who (1) has never met me, (2) is looking to turn a quick profit, and (3) believes that a preformed, one size fits all program to maximize human potential is either possible or desirable, has anything to offer me.
Determining for any person what will maximize their potential requires establishing a relationship with them over time and thereby coming to really understand their history and their circumstances. It simply isn’t a cost effective way to run a business, so businesses offering to maximize your potential are forced to cut corners to maximize their profits. That’s why you are much better meeting with a spiritual guide or companion to investigate your humanity than a spiritual snake oil salesman.
The truth is that the divisions we create between Spiritual and political perspectives are most often a way to pump up our own egos and little more. We imagine there is some qualitative difference between a Buddhist and a Christian and theologians on both sides make a very tidy living perpetuating that misperception, but mystics on both sides agree that our commonalities far outnumber our differences. The same could be easily said of republicans and democrats.
If we look closely we will see that underneath every assertion that I am right and you are wrong lies the unspoken belief that I am better than you. That [erroneous] belief is the product of an insecure mind driven by an out of control ego. In truth we are not better and worse, just diverse, and that is really quite lovely – hardly something we should be trying to eliminate!
If you are one of those people who patrol the Internet looking for things you don’t agree with in the Hope’s of finding someone doing something you don’t agree with so you can “correct” them, I have a suggestion. Just stop. Find a hobby, grab a good book, learn to knit, or buy some rechargeable batteries for your vibrator. Maybe do all of the above plus a few more. There is nothing about policing the choices other adults make that causes you to grow and become more fulfilled. Instead, those behaviors will isolate you from friends, family, and the people you happen to meet because you will develop a negative perspective that looks for what you believe is wrong with the world. A much healthier choice is to celebrate the things that are right with the world.
Truth is not a matter of opinion. Truth is fact, and it remains the same even if someone pays you to lie and pretend that your lie is the truth. Lobbyists are liars. Spokespeople who try to spin reality to make the companies or causes they work for look better are liars. Being a liar comes at a cost. Lying isn’t going to make you go to hell or any other such nonsense. The cost is that a liar is personally diminished each time they lie. Their character suffers and their souls – in the Jungian sense of the word soul – are diminished. When we lie we become less. We may deceive ourselves and think that others can’t tell we are lying, but they can. Do you really think that Sean Spicer or Sarah Huckabee Sanders will ever enjoy credibility again? Of course they won’t, any more than the name Benedict Arnold will come to be associated with someone you can trust.
The truth is that what we say and what we do matters. Our words and actions can either build us and other up or they can tear humanity down. The way these diminishments are caused may not be visible, but that doesn’t make them any less real.
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
Is it too much to ask that for just a moment we might be honest about fundamentalism? No matter the tradition, fundamentalism is heresy and an aberration that has nothing to do with the tradition from which it deviated and devolved.
In short, fundamentalist Islam is not Islam. Fundamentalist Buddhism is not Buddhist, fundamentalist Judaism is not Jewish, fundamentalist Hinduism is not Hindu, and fundamentalist Christianity is not Christian. They are all distortions and perversions of the original religion that have moved so far away from anything even remotely resembling healthy religion that they are no longer entitled to claim to be part of those traditions.
The perceived need to shut down dialogue on any topic is always a sign of a weak argument. If I feel like I can make a solid case for my point of view, then I’m not threatened by an honest discussion or a different point of view. On the other hand, if I know my position is on shaky ground, I’ll want to end discussion before it even starts. Watch and you will see I am right.
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.
There 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.
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.
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!