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Posts Tagged ‘sacred listening’

Norman’s Woe is a coastal reef in Gloucester Massachusetts immortalized by the tragic poem ” The wreck of the Hesperus” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It tells of the captain of a ship, the Hesperus, who met a fierce storm off the Eastern coast of New England. His daughter was onboard. Other senior crewman offered their good counsel but the captain was filled with hubris and refused to hear it.

In trying to save his daughter from the ravaging seas, he had her strapped to the mast to avoid the threat of seeing her swept overboard by the tall and ferocious waves crashing on deck. Horribly, all perished, including the girl, who drowned as the ship capsized and, having been tied to the mast, was unable to free herself and possibly survive the calamity.

The tale of an innocent’s death and that of all crewman on the reef is a cautionary fable loosely based on a devastating blizzard that in fact did occur off the coast of New England in 1839. The story rings in my ears as I read the wonderful just published book, Breakfast with Socrates, by Robert Rowland Smith.

In this breezy and very accessible retelling of the legacy of philosophy, Smith places each of many of the great philosophers in the midst of our everyday experiences, and we get an opportunity to briefly “dine with them” and imagine conversation on the questions with which we struggle as we navigate the mysteries, triumphs, and travails of our lives. All of this got me to thinking about the enormous treasure trove that is the classics.

Each of the great books, treasures that have withstood the test of time, offer enlightened and ever fresh commentary on our condition. Each of the voices from the ancient choir of the lovers of wisdom offer free counsel to anyone with the courage and mental fortitude to embrace it. Yet, the overwhelming lack of interest, generally speaking, in the classical library remains an undeniable reality.

The cry for relevance, practical plug-and-play utility, and small-minded self-help prescriptions is deafening. It is as if two meals are served: One a banquet of culinary genius, gourmet foods and great wines, and all for free, and it is rejected; while the other,  a grease-stained bag of fast food burgers costing far more than it’s worth, offering unwholesome calories, and containing excessive undisclosed filler materials and meat shot full of antibiotics and hormones, is the one hastily chosen and enthusiastically consumed.

It is time to go back, all of us, regardless of how well versed we are in the classics in general and the writings of the great philosophers in particular, and set up a renewed daily diet of wholesome calories. Furthermore, here’s the irony, like the free gourmet meal, the classics can be downloaded for free.

It is time to learn the lesson of the Hesperus and listen to the counsel of elder sages who speak to us from the deep recesses of recorded history. We can still save the young girl,  the archetypal Sophia, who is the the very soul of Wisdom. We can still rescue her from drowning in the turbulent and vicious seas of postmodernity and 21st century egoism and spiritual consumerism. We can resuscitate her and so revel in the sweetness of her voice, the alertness of her sight, and youthful embrace of the real.

At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
A fisherman stood aghast,
To see the form of a maiden fair,
Lashed close to a drifting mast.

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
On the billows fall and rise.

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and the snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman’s Woe!

Excerpted from the poem, The Wreck of the Hesperus, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

© 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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Seated diagonally across from me in business class was a quiet couple and my attention was drawn to them almost immediately upon boarding my flight. The gentleman was very quiet, unassuming, and seemingly pensive. His wife, dressed in traditional clothing, was also very reserved, relaxed and attentive. Every once in a while, they looked at each other and just smiled. It was a smile that I recognized immediately. It’s a smile that cannot be faked and is earned only after many years of marriage. It says: ” Hello my dearest friend and my reason for being.”

It was certainly not my intention to intrude but I simply could not tear myself away for too long though I made certain that my observing was covert and unobtrusive. What captivated my interest was the depth of their comfort with each other, the simple intimacy and affection without sentimentality. It was reassuring and cut through all the thinking one does about life purpose and meaning. Here, in a moment, was the unadorned answer to the puzzles of meaning. Their worlds were defined by one another. They saw life and its purpose in each other’s eyes. The smile, like that of so many Buddha statues, was one of profound recognition and imperturbability.

At one point, they each turned inward and simply sat quietly, as we all did, awaiting taxi and takeoff. Our flight was delayed owing to a mechanical problem so there was more time to either doze, read, or, as did so many, flip through email and send and receive text messages. The Hindu couple just sat. No reading, dozing, and no cell phone. They just awaited the next moment. Then, at one point, I noticed the distinguished gentleman ( distinguished more in character than in dress) take out and open his passport as if to read it. He opened it up and then, to my surprise, touched it with seeming reverence to his forehead.

At this gesture, I was perplexed. I wondered:” Is this a devotional, a simple prayer, a superstition, or did I see it all wrong?” A few more moments of thought and I concluded that the motion was too deliberate to be  misread. Once again, I found myself impressed. It was not a movement intended for anyone to see. It was not a grand and ostentatious motion designed to draw attention at all. I only noticed it since I was already taken with this couple. While others may know better, I surmised that this was a prayer perhaps of protection, a blessing for  a bon voyage, and an homage to the reality that we are not in control of so much that happens to us and around us.

Within the bosom of the divine, all things are reconciled. We wrap ourselves in mystery and in acknowledging it we are profoundly freed of the worry that otherwise consumes us as we work hard to take control where control doesn’t belong to us. We are creatures of ritual. I am always comforted and impressed when people of whatever faith openly practice their ritual without any need of recognition or the attention of others. When it is inspired by a profound personal identification with mystery it is full of hope and it offers that hope to any who, with eyes opened and hearts opened wide enough, can benefit from the warmth and glow that the practice affords to the practitioner.

“Where beauty and love are there also is G-D!”

© 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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Rousseau's Dream

So much of life is fantasy. We delude ourselves, collude with the self, and allude the Self. We play with existential dilemmas, anguish over them, turn ourselves inside-out, and hold ourselves too often incompetent in the face of life’s drama. This is the dark side of our imaginative capacities. We are creative spirits and we delight in the construction of new worlds including those in which we are hero and anti-hero. This is all thoroughly beautiful as long as we stay in touch with what we are doing.

So, where’s the problem? The biggest source of our suffering is rooted in forgetting that we made it all up. It was Plato who said: ” All is remembering.”

I am a novel full of intersecting plots and diverse characters ( from simple to complex, wise to foolish, grand to petty, beautiful to ugly, well-meaning and kind to selfish and misanthropic), places ( real, imagined, and an amalgam of the two), and times (the present, a distant future, or an, as-if remembered, past). This is the Kabuki theater of the mind and the manufacture of selves.

So, it’s no wonder that we love going to the theater and the movies, and enjoy the art of story-telling and having stories told to us. The state of play of our condition can be perhaps best assessed by watching the changing face of the Best Seller Lists, what makes it big at the box office, what thrives and what dies in dramatic television series. It is all the projected stuff of our nature externalized on paper, celluloid/ acetate, stage, or digital media.

So what do we then do when our own stories of self intersect with those of others, and the grand collective, interactive story that our cultures and world is ever actively weaving? What are we to do when we find ourselves caught up in challenges that we didn’t make, but that others and other forces seemingly conjure up for us?

  1. Think Less, Move More: It would be good to dance. If you are able, dance, free form or otherwise. Get lost in movement and let the cognitive circuits cool down. It can be as simple as a brisk walk, but a dance with more complex movement would be best. Tai chi or Yoga would also fit the bill.
  2. Leap To Faith: It is important to take a leap and put the logical machinery aside. Note that this is not a leap “OF” faith, or blind belief, but a leap “TO” faith, a choice to suspend analysis and go with gut instinct. If writing, switch to poetry. If not, vocalize what you feel, and know that you know what to do even if you think you don’t.
  3. Consult the Sacred Scribe Within: Many have discovered the virtues of “proprioceptive writing,’ automatic writing, or stream of consciousness writing and these are powerful tools. In addition, paying close attention to dreams, what Erich Fromm once referred to as the “forgotten language” in his book of the same name, is perfect practice. In doing the latter, watch the images. Remember, that the one who writes your dreams, the Divine Inner scribe, the Beloved, already knows all the secrets and wants to show them to you.
  4. Laugh: Find cause to really laugh because the only cure for the tragic in life, as Shakespeare knew so well, is high comedy.

American poet Walt Whitman sums it up beautifully in his “Song of Myself“:

51

The past and present wilt–I have fill’d them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

52

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab
and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

In telling the tale of ourselves, let us write the story forward with exuberance.  Embrace the grays and shadows as punctuating edges and frames for our colors. Let us abandon ourselves to the weaving we do on our looms of song and image and weave from the heart.

It is a great solace to know that the grand writer, song-maker, choreographer, and artist who resides in our souls, who is our soul, already knows how it all turns out. We pose the riddles for which we already have the answers but, as a matter of right order and creative decorum, it is a compromise with infinity that we feign ignorance of them ( forgetting) lest the Agatha Christie mystery of life lose its suspenseful and electrifying savor.

© 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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We have all had the experience: moments of being 100% “on” and at the top of our game. Athletes certainly attest to these as the exhilarating moments when all the hard work and experience comes together to produce a very skilful and largely intuitive performance. This applies whatever the nature of the performance: sports, acting, dancing, singing, public speaking, drawing, writing, painting, sculpting, cooking, etc.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the books, Flow, and The Evolving Self, addresses this experience directly. “Flow” is synonymous with the peak experience, or the point of optimal performance. Arriving at that moment requires routine disciplined preparation over time held together by an unrelenting and resilient personal passion. After much dedicated practice, these special luminous moments arrive and we find oursleves running on auto-pilot and simply sailing through our diverse performances with uncommon mastery. Mind, body, and spirit all act in unison to produce a perfectly seamless, authentic and coherent presence.

I had such an experience today in facilitating a leadership development workshop on innovation. I was fully present, and engaging the group felt effortless. The words needed to frame the discussions and infuse the time with both playful energy and practical value arose as needed and required no struggle or reaching at all. We were in a dance together, and all the moving parts assumed their proper positions.

These moments of clarity and focus are epiphanies. They are the occasional taste that committed professionalism affords us of the enlightenment experience. These moments cannot be deliberately timed or manufactured. Instead, we have control only of preparation and persistent intention to reach the point of a more fully exercised sixth sense. Whatever our craft, these bursts of convergence and synchrony are the gifts of developed intuition.

The enemies of “flow” are negative self talk, doubt, lost confidence, self-reproach and self-deprecation. They contaminate the well of the soul and send these experiences into full retreat. The positive psychology movement invites us to engage with our work as small children approach their activities before the age of worry sets in, when the sense of being “just a kid”, too small to be of consequence, too young or inexperienced to feel self-assured becomes dominant.

We do well to study our experiences of “flow” when they arise to fine-tune our appreciation of them: looking at the matrix from which they arise, and the contents of consciousness just prior to their eruption on the scene when our actions feel as if they are guided by our better angels.

A major professor of mine, Dr. Nehemiah Zedek, started his medical career as a surgeon before switching his specialty to psychiatry, and then later, psychoanalysis. He related a story of being in combat serving as a medic that prompted his decision to instead apply himself to becoming an analyst.

A young soldier had been badly injured. Shrapnel had severed an artery. It was night-time in a desert in the Middle East. He rushed to the soldiers side and immediately realized there was little time to save his life. He had to stop the bleeding but to do so he needed light. The only light available, however, was that from a hovering helicopter directly overhead. The eerie illumination it provided actually didn’t help much as it was moving all about, and cast a glow that interfered with contrasts and made the entire scene even more surreal.

There was nothing to do but feel his way to the wound and inside of it. He knew he had one shot to stop the bleeding or the young soldier would die. In a moment of sudden inner calm and crystal clarity, time stopped and he felt with one hand, actually closed his eyes altogether, and with the other hand, took a grand leap of faith in his own gut-instincts, and hit the precise spot necessary to stop the hemorrhaging on the first try. From that mystical moment on, he vowed to leave surgery and dedicate his life to the study of mind in general, that made such a thing possible, and schizophrenia in particular.

I do wonder if we are sacrificing our peak experiences in being spread thin, in multi-tasking and looking for shortcut techniques, and not investing in the cultivation of deep expertise and the transcendent and intuitive Self. The enlightenment experience awaits us just around the corner.

  • Will we be present for it?
  • Will we recognize it when we see it?
  • Will we have prepared in that focused way that earns us the right and conditioning needed to abandon ourselves to it?

Peak experience is an eternity in a moment and reveals our sacred heritage.

Strange as it may seem, life becomes serene and enjoyable precisely when selfish pleasure and personal success are no longer the guiding goals. when the self loses itself in a transcendent purpose – be it to write great poetry, craft a beautiful piece of furniture, understand the movement of galaxies, or help children be happier – it becomes largely invulnerable to the fears ans setbacks of ordinary existence. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, The Evolving Self, 1993

© 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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Dry river bed of the Rio Grande, at Big Bend National Park, with the United States on the left and Mexico on right. Photo Credit: SCEhardt, available in the public domain

The moments of special dread for writers, composers, scientists, artists, and mathematicians are the mental “dry spells.” A fertile period of easy flow when, for the writer,  the words seem to come readily with a life all their own, are invariably followed by times when it looks as if s/he’s run out of ideas. These gaps can last for what seem interminable periods and are often experienced as deeply frustrating, frightening, lonely, and as occasions of depression and shaken confidence. In these desert times, with no oasis in sight, anxious hours of work bare little, if any, tangible fruit.

Many artists have talked about these lacunae in inspiration, but one came to mind tonight that puts it all together with unparalleled spiritual insight: poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who wrote in his poem, The Poet:

O hour of my muse: why do you leave me,
Wounding me by the wingbeats of your flight?
Alone: what shall I use my mouth to utter?

How shall I pass my days? And how my nights?

I have no one to love. I have no home.
There is no center to sustain my life.
All things to which I give myself grow rich
and leave me spent, impoverished, alone.

As only Rilke can, these few stanzas capture the sense of being abandoned by the inner voices of inspiration for protracted periods of seeming “emptiness.” However, the anxiety surrounding these dormant intervals are no less significant and pregnant with meaning as the bulbs planted late in the growing season that will surely rise in their full splendor come the Spring. These dry spells are zones of incubation. Consciousness doesn’t take a holiday, nor does inspiration leave us. Instead, the ground of inspiration for the next creative foray is being refreshed in the winter cycle. As the mythic Persephone must descend into the underworld until the following Spring, so too the depth of the later expression wholly depends on the fullness of the Winter’s descent.

The anguish that we experience when the muse goes silent betrays our narcissistic attachment to the times of fruitful expression. We see the words or the notes or the equations flowing through us and, after a time, we grow too fond of our reflection in the words, the musical phrase or the beautifully elegant mathematical expressions that never really belonged to us. We serve as the vessels.

We fall in love with our reflection in the “pool” of flowing ideas and sounds and images. It is our nature to become thus attached. When we do, we are actually breaking off our open channel to the collective unconscious. In that moment of ego ownership, the river becomes blocked upstream and so the waters begin to run shallow until they go dry altogether.

Rather than being a time for anguish, worry, and melancholic insecurity, the dry spells are gifts to be celebrated. Instead of loss, they are a corrective in the psyche for these attachments. The winter cycle forces  a time of incubation and relaxed opening to the root system of all ideas and images.

Much like sleep and dreaming, the dry times serve the important purpose of allowing ideas to settle in, self-organize, await the right moment when new combinations and synergies are sparked, and the springtime of the mind returns with all of its luscious diversity. As spiritual practice, replacing consternation with celebration when the well runs dry quickens the soul’s journey to penetrate ever deeper toward the Source.

In his poem, A Walk, Rilke alternatively captures the fullness of living in the time just before the inspiration and revelation, in the in-between, in the time of waiting in wonder:

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Here is the paradox of the creative soul. The greater the time spent in the desert is directly proportional to the depth of the revelations that will surely follow for the heart that remains fully opened. Isn’t it interesting that in the mythology of the church much is made of the 40 days and nights that Jesus spent in the desert where he was tempted. Only then, was he ready to assume the role of a soter. The writer’s priesthood ( and that of all creative artists) is purified and enriched in the crucible of those times when nothing seems worth writing about, the words won’t come, and the river runs shallow.

Then, suddenly, the skies open, and it rains again.

© 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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The recent attempt of a misguided young man from Nigeria to set off a bomb on a flight to Detroit has the Nation once again on edge. While the attempt was thankfully foiled, and the matter of poor co-ordination of intelligence has become the current political football, I find myself thinking more about the psycho-spiritual aim of the terrorist organizations and our own spiritual estate.

Terrorists are, as the name clearly suggests, merchants of fear. An even casual look at probabilities, and one discovers quickly that we are each far more likely to be injured driving, and our greater threats include drunk drivers, and, of course, those who insist on talking on cell phones, or worse, texting, while behind the wheel. Undeniably, our Government needs to improve the intelligence system and also work with other nations to create a more reliable set of checks.

However, the central motivation of the terrorist is to engender fear and the great cost we incur in chasing after the holes in our security that need plugging after each new means they devise to thwart our systems. The media hype and the attention it gives to the madmen perpetrating these crimes against humanity only reinforce their nefarious resolve.

They only need an attempted bombing, not a successful one, and they are guaranteed weeks of press. In an election year especially, the minority party will, and has already, begun to call for congressional hearings, issuing daily diatribes against the current White House. Guaranteed, the issue will remain center stage for a long while. In this scenario, the terrorist is rewarded.

Even a failed attempt clearly pays dividends if it generates fear ( and one need only listen to the airwaves for just a few minutes to see the extent to which that has already occurred). Whatever intelligence and security policies and apparatus get implemented, and however the risks are thereby mitigated, the greater question, for each of us, is what we will choose in how terrorism affects us.

The President’s speech today included a crucial reminder that we give evil a great victory if we “hunker down” and submit to fear. Fear creates hatred and that leads to the commission of evil to counter evil (like torture), and that is a terrible and deeply costly Faustian bargain.

As a society, this moment is a call to reassert a sense of our collective spiritual resolve, resilience, and character. It is not a time in which to devolve into angry men and women packing pistols and looking for blood.

I recall FDR’s magnificent statement after the bombing of Pearl Harbor:

The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.

So, tonight, inspired by the events of the day today, I am meditating on the matter of fear and the spiritual significance of it. The antidote, as defined by the world’s great Teachers is clear: love, compassion, and imperturbability.

How is that achieved? Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author of many wonderful books, including, Peace in Every Step,  captures the challenge and the way forward eloquently:

In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate, so we will rally behind them. And if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilize us.

And once we have the condition of peace and joy in us, we can afford to be in any situation. Even in the situation of hell, we will be able to contribute our peace and serenity. The most important thing is for each of us to have some freedom in our heart.

The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the physical, material, and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves “inside the skin” of the other.  We “go inside” their body, feelings, and mental formations, and witness for ourselves their suffering.  Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering.  We must become one with the subject of our observation.  When we are in contact with another’s suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally, “to suffer with.”

This gentle and enlightened soul describes the illness and the medicine. First, what we fear is often the result of manipulation by those who would want to win political points, or fulfill a power agenda, by using fear to make it seem that our choices are binary: do what they are suggesting, or suffer more terror. That’s something we are hearing today from certain right-wing quarters.

The terrorists use fear to disrupt our lives, create distraction, and the anxious sense that we can go nowhere without dread. People are too often seduced into relinquishing their highest ideals and values in the name of safety in such circumstances. Deceitful power brokers exploit this fear.

The medicine is to turn off the endless chatter of doom and gloom. We need to return to the breathe, just sit and listen, and really see. The path to compassion is deep understanding. There is no way to understand what’s really happening, and the ways in which people who feel hatred toward us are themselves suffering, if we fear them.

We need to step back. Let the heart slow its rapid “flight-or-fight” beating, re-center ourselves, and activate the greatest weapon we have in our arsenal to defeat the princes of darkness:

Thinking & Knowing!

© 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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Aurora taking leave of her lover Tithos. Having asked Zeus to make him immortal, she failed to also ask that he not age.

In all things, nature seeks a steady state. Young lovers, like the mythic Aurora depicted in the public domain image above, leaving her now aged and enfeebled Tithos, last only for a season. Thereafter, love must take on new and changing features.

The neurotic pursuit of eternal youth fails to appreciate the natural order of change and re-balancing. There is nothing so pitiful as an older man lusting after a girl who could be his daughter, or an older woman pursuing a much younger man. These couplings are contra-natura and, as such, cannot long prevail.

Mind-body-spirit are continuously being recalibrated to new realities, and finding the “sweet spot” at each station on life’s path is our spiritual task. Neurosis simply reflects our failure to find it. Homeostasis is the capacity of animals to regulate physiological limits to secure a balanced system. Whether we speak about the endothermic animals who have inherent self-regulation of such parameters as temperature or exothermic, who carry out control by behavioral adaptations, the aim is the same: support an equilibrium around a mean value developed in evolutionary time. Such regulatory mechanisms include insulin production, kidney regulation of water and ions, conformance to circadian rhythm, and the sleep cycle to name but a  few.

As in matter so too in spirit, we see homeostatic feedback loops at work as we thread the needle of insight. Carl G. Jung spoke often of the need for complementarity and balance of feminine and masculine,  Shadow and self. The human ecology shows the same socio-spiritual dynamic. As a long-time facilitator of team meetings (large and small), I can anecdotally attest (as so many of my colleagues will as well), that a meeting of all men is a very different meeting than one with mixed gender representation.

The discussions tend  to have more sharp edges with an economy of time invested in discovery and willingness to live in the question. On receiving a facilitation assignment, the first thing I look over is the roster to see just how gender diverse it is. In any event, in such gatherings, mixed representation ensures a better return from extremes to balanced views as issues clarify and strategies are developed.

(more…)

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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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There is arguably no greater symbol of suffering, except for the Cross of Christ, than his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest. The canonical Gospels tell of his unspeakable loneliness while his principal disciples slept unaware of what Jesus knew too well: that he would be taken and condemned to die on a cross.

Suffering is the single largest conundrum facing those who believe. We struggle with it and try to make peace with it. We often hear that “it is G-d’s will.” This merely rationalizes suffering as fulfilling a grand purpose of which we are unaware. At best, this is a clever dodge, a sophistry. Alternatively, others contend that if God is all-knowing and yet allows suffering, he cannot be good, or if he’s good, and not the source of suffering, than he cannot be all-knowing.

Wars, rumours of war, unspeakable violence committed against people, and grotesque, evil acts perpetrated against entire ethnic groups, raise our doubts about G-d’s goodness, or we dismiss it as beyond us, and simply avoid thinking about it to the extent possible. Of course, until the next moment of genuine despair. How do we reconcile the tragedy of the world in which we live with a theistic mindset?

Buddhism rightly acknowledges that suffering is everywhere. The Bodhisattva’s mission is not to simply fly off into a paradisiacal rapture, but to return to those who do not yet know the truth, and end suffering. What is the truth that the great teachers of righteousness sought to share?

We are the Buddha and the Christ for one another.

Buddha sets himself the task to return from samadhi to bring knowledge to all. The Christ points the way to heaven in the here and now, not later, in seeing beyond the profane, mundane, and seemingly real, to the sublime, eternal, and more real than real. Both promise knowledge that is not of reason but of the Heart.

Suffering differs from pain in that the former involves strong emotional perseveration. We suffer  in direct proportion to the degree to which we hold on to our pain and add anxiety, dread, anger and fear to it. We magnify it and so the pain endures. Suffering is the scarring of mind and spirit associated with pain and loss. It is at the core of the human tragedy.

Pain is a given. Tragedies occur. Suffering, however, is a matter of consciousness, and increases the more we are asleep to the Sacred Mysteries.

One of the loveliest and most enigmatic of the apocryphal texts in the Nag Hammadi Library is “The Acts of John,” attributed to Leucius Charinus, a second century disciple of John, the Beloved Disciple. It has within it the Hymn & Dance of Jesus, a poem that narrates mystical events occurring on the night before Jesus was put to death ( captured in an exquisite musical composition by Gustav Holst) . It is a remarkable homily on suffering and, like so many of the Nag Hammadi scriptures, is a theological bridge between Western & Eastern mystical traditions.

This morning, I focus my meditation on one section of the Hymn in particular, one in which Jesus prepares his disciples for his death on the Cross; an event that surely was an inconceivable loss for them after having given up everything to follow him. The Hymn offers explanation, however, with emphasis on the esoteric significance of the event, and not simply the personal and sociopolitical reality of the moment.

The hymn transcends the events happening to Jesus alone and the disciples closest to him. In preparing them for the tragedy to come, he orients their vision toward the cosmic significance of it ,while dancing and singing in praise of the Mystery

His intent is a conversion of consciousness, achieved by a dance, that creates a shift from ordinary discourse to a dialogue with the noumenon.

Now answer thou unto my dancing.
Behold thyself in me who speak,
and seeing what I do,
keep silence about my mysteries.

Thou that dancest, perceive what I do,
for thine is this passion of the manhood, which I am about to suffer.
For thou couldest not at all have understood what thou sufferest
if I had not been sent unto thee, as the word of the Father.
Thou that sawest what I suffer sawest me as suffering,
and seeing it thou didst not abide but wert wholly moved,
moved to make wise.
Thou hast me as a bed, rest upon me.

Who I am, thou shalt know when I depart.
What now I am seen to be, that I am not.
Thou shalt see when thou comest.

If thou hadst known how to suffer,
thou wouldest have been able not to suffer.
Learn thou to suffer, and thou shalt be able not to suffer.

What thou knowest not, I myself will teach thee.
Thy God am I, not the God of the traitor.
I would keep tune with holy souls.
In me know thou the word of wisdom.

Again with me say thou:

Glory be to thee, Father;
Glory to thee, Word;
Glory to thee, Holy Spirit.

And if thou wouldst know concerning me, what I was,
know that with a word did I deceive all things
and I was no whit deceived.
I have leaped:
but do thou understand the whole,
and having understood it, say:

Glory be to thee, Father.

Amen.

Jesus says: “Learn thou to suffer, and thou shalt be able not to suffer,” and “Behold thyself in me who speak.”

Much in the realm of Spirit is paradox. Much of what is true and real befuddles the mind. But here, as in Buddhist scriptures, the answer to suffering is to know how. The how, it seems to me, is to dedicate oneself to removing it wherever we find it among our brothers and sisters.When we face losses, to embrace those who also have them is to step beyond suffering. Our loss propels us toward and not away from others.

To say that suffering is G-d’s will is simplistic, reductionistic, and projects a finite perspective on infinite things. All scripture presents the truth as very different from the “G-d’s Will” point of view. The natural world is a dangerous place. Bad things happen to good people, and it doesn’t and will never make any sense.  So, we best stop trying to “make sense of it.”

Rather, the Beloved’s will is that we learn to not suffer by being the Christ and the Buddha for others. In finite space-time, things begin and end, are born and die, rise and set. This is the way of chiaroscuro, light and shadow. The dance of opposites is the nature of the world ( the Dance of Shiva).

But all this polarity sprang from homogeneous nothingness. To see with finite eyes into the Heart of the Infinite requires a collapse of opposites and the birth of a new consciousness. It is the call of the Cosmic Heart to recognize who and what we really are.

It is the Hero’s Mystical Journey of return to where we’ve already been ( before our birth), but now adding to the Cosmic consciousness as we take part in the infinite dance of all toward the Teilhardian Omega Point, the fullness of the Christic Path!

© 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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Doughnuts!

At the center you’re on the edge.

Yes, that’s right. Whether you fancy Dunkin Donuts or Krispy Cremes, the true doughnut ( the one with a hole in the middle), is a fitting metaphor for the spiritual life. Forrest Gump’s good and ever wise mother notwithstanding, chocolates are not the most fitting symbol. What I am talking about is the geometry of the Spirit. When you travel along an edge of the doughnut, you are also moving around the center.

Mathematicians refer to the doughnut shape as a torus, and its shape is “liminocentric”. So, what’s the meaning of this obscenely multi-syllabic word? In the case of liminocentricity, traveling along an edge, or, an outside part of the shape, is paradoxically also traveling inside of it. Many who talk about this kind of shape refer to the “chinese boxes” by way of analogy, wherein a series of smaller boxes fit inside larger ones. To be liminocentric ( limen, denoting thresholds, and centric, for center) small and large details of the shape are also the same.

The term was first used by Psychologist John Fudjack in his 1995 paper, Liminocentric Forms of Social Organization. The word has caught on in circles as diverse as physics, art, and consciousness studies. So, what’s all the fuss about?

In living spiritually, thresholds matter a lot. The moments of insight are most often threshold moments: we feel on the verge of some discovery. Perhaps we see something with fresh eyes, as if for the first time, or we are challenged in a way that seems to pull us into a new, unfamiliar space. But in opening ourselves to it, we are somehow closer to the center of reality, nearer a compelling truth.

Moses’ metaphorical encounter with the “burning bush” was liminocentric. He was at an unprecedented threshold, having stepped on holy ground where nothing was as we generally experience it. A bush burns without being consumed, and his relationship with the One embodied in the heat of the flame is at once personal, transpersonal, and Other. According to the Jewish Study Bible, the voice of Yahweh signs himself by uttering the words,” I will be what I will be.” The  burning bush was wholly and fully present, and also alive to all possible futures at the same time.

Moses stood on a mountain facing an awesome and, no doubt, terrifying visage, face to face with the ineffable, and they spoke: A Divine Q&A. He stood on a precipice, an edge, a verge of unknowing, and, at the same time, entered into the Bridal chamber, was at the center, at-onement with the Intimate Mystery.

Mathematicians and astrophysicists have gone far in exploring the geometry of liminocentricity. In fractal geometric terms, it is an apt model for the topology of the universe. The torus shape is ubiquitous: storm systems, galaxies, and black holes. There is no finer meditation than to open one’s eyes to the shapes of nature all around.

As we perceive the varieties of beautiful forms, we come to fully experience the outward topologies in deeply personal ways. Consciousness, it seems, is shaped as nature is shaped. Gazing inward, we experience our own threshold moments in which we are traveling an edge, and yet are closer to the center. We are involved in something seemingly small in finite time and space, but mindful, as a result, of the incomprehensibly vast.

  • Being present at the birth of one’s child;
  • The moment of awe standing on the perimeter of a volcanic caldera;
  • Holding the hands of a loved one as they pass away;
  • Hearing a lover’s heartbeat while feeling one’s own;
  • Being really awake in that fleeting split second in between two thoughts and listening to true silence;

As I move through this last day of the holiday weekend here, I will be taking special notice of things liminocentric, and of those moments that are both edges and centers, and where the structure of small details mirrors the large.

In any event, my next doughnut promises to be a very special treat indeed.

© 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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