Archive for October 16th, 2009

My whole world is a complex system of interlocking maps. My reality is self defined and, as Douglas Hofstadter has opined, a series of “strange loops”.

Beliefs fuel my interpretations and they are each made up of a bundle of assumptions. Maps of the world, while useful, are imperfect representations of the area and topography they describe.

So much of life is an admixture of personal and shared fiction blended, often subtly, with fact. We are first weavers and tellers of stories. We learn through metaphor. Symbols and signs are the ways in which things get stored in memory and then we imbue these symbols with emotional, intellectual and spiritual significance.

In an allegorical sense, we are in the Wachowski Brothers’ “matrix” where mental models ( constructions of mind) color much of what we see and do. Spiritual awakening in all religious traditions emphasizes waking up (e.g., epiphany, enlightenment, kensho, divine illumination, nirvana, bodhi, realization, satori, gnosis). So, how can we appreciate our maps in ways that free us to see beyond them?

I am a lover of  maps- maps of all varieties ( the world, other planets, the moon, and the stars). The map room in the Vatican Museum is my all-time favorite. The more maps that hang on our walls the less likely are we to mistake any one map for the real territory. With many perspectives, we are free of the constraining assumptions tied to just one.

The answer to how we get free of our mental models is to allow multiple ones to collide.

What does this look like in daily practice? The best strategy is to pose a regular small set of questions to whatever I perceive, such as:

  1. What beliefs am I clinging to as I invest in my interpretation of what’s real?
  2. What if I challenge those beliefs? How might thing change?
  3. On what experience does my confidence rely?
  4. Where does my knowledge end, and perception, guess, and imagination begin?
  5. What are my favorite sources of information? What other sources would add a wholesome set of checks and balances?
  6. Where is the “orthodoxy” in my thinking? Playing the “heretic” or “devils advocate”, how might things otherwise actually be?

We really hate change especially when it threatens treasured formulas and ways of understanding. It is itself an act of enlightenment to doubt, and bring a scientific mindset to our notions of spirit while listening intently to the tacit knowledge of the heart .


© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Baucis & Philemon were a Phrygian elderly couple in Roman Mythology immortalized in Ovid’s “Metamorphosis” for their  life-long love and mutual dedication. It manifests the archetype of a mature love: one so complete, forever fresh, and unequivocal, that it radiates out from the couple as generosity of spirit and hospitality.

According to Ovid, the gods Jupiter and Mercury disguise themselves as impoverished men, calling on both rich and poor alike, to see who would open their homes to them. None among the rich do so, but a poor couple, Baucis & Philemon, though having very little to offer, open their hearts and home to the needs of the strangers that called on them providing food and a place to sleep. The gods later express their intention to destroy the town for having rejected them but to spare the couple, telling them to climb to the summit of a mountain to avert a great flood. The flood then destroys the town and, once the water recedes,  the god’s reconfigure the cottage belonging to Baucis & Philemon into a temple over which they preside for many years together.

The gods further reward  the couple by granting them a wish. In reply, they ask only that they might live together forever and, when either of them reached the point of death, that the other would also die. After their death, the god’s transform them into an interlacing pair of trees; a lime tree and a linden, a symbol of life conjoined into eternity.

In celebrating 34 years of marriage, I am thinking about my relationship with my wife that never once seemed anything but destined. We are entering a time of rediscovering what it means to be a couple with children now grown and on their own. It is a time of re-committment to our intent to grow old together. Neither of us wants to outlive the other. Our marriage makes all of life special.

One of my great pleasures is to host an evening of friends and relatives: a time to break bread together and tell stories. Offering hospitality is a natural outgrowth of a deep and abiding love that never ages regardless of the years. There is a sacred purpose in extending the kindness that bubbles over from hearts aroused by unflinching commitment and affection.

Hospitality is a wonderful practice. It invites others into the hearth of love, into a home made warm by a romance strengthened by time with unshakeable roots. Hospitality is also a feature of many monastic communities, most notably, the Order of Friars Minor ( i.e., the Franciscans). Authentic generosity of spirit is a hallmark of true love. It is the human expression of the Beloved’s love for us. It is the sharing of bonds that exist before time and well beyond it. It affirms absolute vows and advances the human spirit to the level of divine alchemy.

The offering of gifts at the altars of world religious traditions epitomizes mature love and the higher virtues of human consciousness. We make offerings to the One we love and, in doing so, enter into mystical intimacy and a transcendent embrace.

When next you offer hospitality, I recommend a moment’s thought while preparing for it about what it spiritually represents. There is a touch of the miraculous and a taste of Eden in it.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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