Archive for December 3rd, 2009

Strive we must to use all our faculties to feel the gentle breath and touch of the Beloved. We bring all our questions to the altar of this moment. We learn to live in the waiting, and when we reach the end of our tether, the stillness does the talking.

A reading from the desert Fathers:

Theophile of holy memory, Bishop of Alexandria, journeyed to Scete, and the brethren coming together said to Abbot Pambo: Say a word or two to the bishop, that his soul may be edified.

The elder replied: If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my words.

© Brother Anton 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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Eulogy is literally the saying of “good words” about a deceased person. I delivered one for my mom when she passed away. It was a profound threshold experience for me to craft it and deliver it.  I then officiated at the site of her internment, and later at a mass in her honor.

In writing the eulogy, I considered the story of her life, her challenges, how she overcame them, her strength and resolve, her love of family and what each person meant to her. It was an homage to character and legacy. It was a portrait of courage and commitment and of a life in love with life.

It’s interesting what doesn’t go into a eulogy: the smaller moments that seemed so important once. No mention is usually made of the fumbles and foibles, unless in jest and illustrating the person’s idiosyncratic nature of which our fondest wish is to have it back in our lives. The focus is on the arc of a life. What makes the person so special to us, and why the world was better for having him or her in it.

Today, my client lost a brother very suddenly. It is still not known what took his life. Again, our conversation went to the things that endure.  In our mourning, all those daily things that nibble away at our heels in ordinary time become insignificant. The “Lion of the Senate,” Ted Kennedy, passed on having had the great blessing of time to complete his memoirs: a gift to all who knew him and loved him, and one to anyone who may read it.

All this has me thinking about the place of eulogy in our lives. We wait until a person is no longer around to write such things. Some practice the living eulogy at which the person about whom they are writing is in attendance at the reading.

More significant and powerful is writing your own. Autobiography is an exercise in self-analysis. It looks at our adventure from the standpoint of a future time. It provides the necessary moments, often not taken, to look at one’s life in the sweep of our history. What is the story-line? What are the side-trips off the planned path that shaped us the most? Whose are the shoulders on which we humbly stand?

While unrelated to eulogy in its origins, elegy (ἐλεγεία) captures the meaning of a person’s passage and the large hole it leaves in our lives. It gives voice to lamentation and it, too, has a place in the work of the living, though, regrettably, it is most often nowadays talked about as a quaint antiquity.

The elegy has a  rhyming structure: a couplet with a line in  dactylic hexameter followed by a line in dactylic pentameter. The poem of Thomas Gray in 1751, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” is a prime example of the few elegiac poems written in English. To quote one well-known stanza:

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Today, as I prepare to attend a wake for my wife’s great-aunt, who passed on earlier in the week, and the funeral service tomorrow, my thoughts turn to the place and importance of eulogy and elegy in our spiritual lives. It also suggests the value of the practice of writing one’s own elegy to life’s mysteries as part of a broader autobiography, as a gift to ourselves, and those who see less of us than they would like owing to our frenzied activity and travel.

None of us know the time when we will breath our last. There’s no time to waste. As we live large, and extract the full measure of what it is to dive head-long into the great adventure, it is a wise practice, I think, to pause regularly and  get down in writing one’s own thoughts about the meaning of life. In handing it on to those who matter most to us, and to whom we matter so much, we also stretch our own consciousness toward the transcendent and eternal verities.

The eulogy stands as a testament to our effect on and need for each other. The elegy stands as witness to the primacy of deep feeling and longing which is emblematically human. Together, they help make sure that these moments in our lives are also the  stuff of epiphany.

© Brother Anton 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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Eclecticism, eklektikos, εκλεκτικισμός, emerged among the schools of Ancient Greek Philosophy in response to stoicism and epicureanism that placed the pursuit of practical happiness and virtue ahead of truth. It also represents a response to the skeptics, “skeptikoi,” σκεπτικισμός, who argued that, while obtainable in theory, truth, in practice had not yet been discovered nor demonstrated.

I stand with Philo of Larissa, Posidonius, Seneca and, especially, Cicero. The truth is obtainable by use of multi-modal, multidisciplinary and multidimensional methods to increase the odds of finding it. Truth is a matter of probabilities, not absolutes. Purists apply a more dogmatic stance on pursuing truths through use of a single way applied with rigor, discipline, and fidelity to tradition.

Certainly, discipline is crucial and is not the enemy of enthusiasm. A chosen structure is freeing to the extent that it removes the need to constantly reinvent process. On the other hand, the danger of reifying the system itself over time, mistaking its own assumptions for truth, is real and significant. We are constantly interpreting our world, and it is a struggle to separate interpretation from reality. After all, believing is seeing!

My postgraduate training is in dynamic psychotherapy. I chose to enroll in a decidedly eclectic training institute for my post-doctoral certificate. While adhering to the three pillars of classical training (personal analysis, supervision, and coursework) the goal was to discover one’s own style and approach from among the many orientations available.

Though I am dispositionally Jungian, there is so much to learn by looking deeply into classical Freudian thought and practice, the work of the neo-freudians, the Sullivanian interpersonal model, the works of Heinz Kohut, Lacan, R.D. Laing, Zezek, and many others. The truth lies in the between spaces.

In the same way, the greatest future revelations will emerge from the cognate fields of biophysics, the new psychophysics, interdisciplinary consciousness studies, psychoneuroimmunology, the spiritual  psychotherapies, and integrative psychology. In my practice, I also make routine use of clinical hypnosis, Jungian dream analysis, and the best of behavior analysis, biofeedback, and meditation.

Fresh hypotheses and deep insights are often more arresting when viewed from the edges among current schools of thought. The polymaths of the 21st century will pave new ground, break down old barriers, and throw open the windows of established fields to a fresh breeze. They will be resisted. The orthodoxies will repel all boarders. Yet,  changes will come in their own good time; changes already well underway.

I do respect the contrary view with which I enjoy an open and critical dialogue. The purist’s perspective warns, correctly, against the dangers of superficial dabbling, or dilettantism, and the possibilities of a shallow treatment of the subject at hand. As a true eclectic, I agree! Reaching across boundaries is no excuse for simplistic thinking, vague generalities, or gross analyses without a feel for the nuances.

The key to eclectic integrity is to set up and follow a rule of study, prayer, and living: a discipline that avoids skimming the surface. It is much harder to carry out than a deep dive into one model, structure, framework, and literature. Nonetheless, it’s a good and right struggle. Inevitably, a new language coalesces around a nascent field, or cognate discipline, along with its own journals, dialogues, and investigations. In time, this too gives rise to the next specialization and the cycle continues.

We are creatures of habit and we like things well systematized. There is a permanent tension between staying fresh, with eyes wide open ready to see things in new ways, and the wish for “knowledge” that leads, hopefully, to laws (of behavior, the universe, living systems, microbes, etc.).

For me, the way of the eclectic is exhilarating, and tension between going wide and the deep dive of narrow specialty is a wholesome one that keeps us honest. It all boils down to the question: What do we know, and how do we know it? The physical sciences are in a state of revolution as we speak. Physics has now long acknowledged that observing phenomena has effects on them.

And so, how do we come to know the “truth?” We keep at it with beginner’s mind, deep respect for diverse angles of view through many lenses, and a youthful readiness to lead from the edges.

My meditations today will revolve around this idea: How do I lead form the edges? How robust is my discipline in integrating my pursuit of knowing through mind, heart, and spirit? What discipline is worth honing, adding, or amending?

© Brother Anton 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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