spirituality

"...they are really saving me."

Several years ago, I stumbled across this lovely little Zen poem. The book in which I read it did not name the author, but now, thanks to Google, I can attribute it to Cathy Preston:

"A Gatha for Your Journey"

Whenever the work of saving all sentient beings
Becomes too much for this present moment, I vow with all beings
To breathe in the grace of the morning star
And remember that they are really saving me.

Catholic Archdiocese of Washington thinks anti-gay bigotry more important than helping the poor

Jesus of Nazareth, that old semi-mythical Jewish mystic that Christians of all stripes claim to follow, reportedly told his followers on several occasions that they should care for the poor and hungry. For example, in Luke 3:11, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." Or, Mark 10:21, "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Nowhere in any of the gospels does he address the issue of gay marriage. Nada. Not a word on the topic.

We might then conclude that, according to Jesus (at least, as reported in the Gospels), helping the poor is much more important -- indeed, given the many-to-zero ratio of mentions, infinitely more important -- than preventing the government from recognizing same-sex unions.

Yet, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has decided that it is more important for them to protect their anti-LGBT bigotry than to continue their work on behalf of the poor. They are threatening to discontinue social service programs in D.C. if they aren't permitted to discriminate:

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn't change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

...

After the vote, the archdiocese sent out a statement accusing the council of ignoring the right of religious freedom. Gibbs said Wednesday that without Alexander's amendment and other proposed changes, the measure has too narrow an exemption. She said religious groups that receive city funds would be required to give same-sex couples medical benefits, open adoptions to same-sex couples and rent a church hall to a support group for lesbian couples.

Peter Rosenstein of the Campaign for All D.C. Families accused the church of trying to "blackmail the city."

"The issue here is they are using public funds, and to allow people to discriminate with public money is unacceptable," Rosenstein said.

...

"The problem with the individual exemption is anybody could discriminate based on their assertion of religious principle," Mendelson said. "There were many people back in the 1950s and '60s, during the civil rights era, that said separation of the races was ordained by God."

The dangers of hope

So here's the context of this musing: Earlier this year, I met, and fell hard in love with, an extraordinary woman. I've known a lot of women over the years, but I've never been with anyone who made me feel the way she does -- not just being in love (I've been down that path a few times), but a strong and definite feeling this is someone who could be, should be, a life partner.

And, for some reason, the poor woman is confused enough to like me back. But after a lot of thought and discussion, she has decided that right now there is not space for this relationship in her life. But, if circumstances change...no guarantees, but the possibility of there being a chance down the road is not excluded.

And so I'm holding on to hope.

So I've been contemplating the nature of hope recently. I mean, hope is supposed to be a 100% positive thing, right?

But the problem is that hope draws us out of the present moment. Hope is always about the future, and if we attach to thoughts of the future we're lost. As Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck wrote (in her book Everyday Zen: Love & Work):

on Eris and the "Apple of Discord", part II: the importance of clear communication

Last year at Fires of Venus, contemplating the deity in charge of my love life -- who is not, it seems, Aphrodite/Venus but rather Eris/Discordia, goddess of chaos and confusion but also of freedom and of silliness -- I had a revelation about the ur-myth of Eris, the story of the golden apple. The usual version of the story, as found in Bulfinch's Mythology, goes like this:

At the nuptials of Peleus and Thetis all the gods were invited with the exception of Eris, or Discord. Enraged at her exclusion, the goddess threw a golden apple among the guests, with the inscription, “For the fairest.” Thereupon Juno, Venus, and Minerva each claimed the apple. Jupiter, not willing to decide in so delicate a matter, sent the goddesses to Mount Ida, where the beautiful shepherd Paris was tending his flocks, and to him was committed the decision. The goddesses accordingly appeared before him. Juno promised him power and riches, Minerva glory and renown in war, and Venus the fairest of women for his wife, each attempting to bias his decision in her own favor. Paris decided in favor of Venus and gave her the golden apple...Now Helen, the wife of Menelaus, was the very woman whom Venus had destined for Paris, the fairest of her sex. She had been sought as a bride by numerous suitors...She chose Menelaus, and was living with him happily when Paris became their guest. Paris, aided by Venus, persuaded her to elope with him, and carried her to Troy, whence arose the famous Trojan war...

Last year's revelation was that this version of the story is an official history meant to make the opponents of the power structure -- i.e., anti-authoritarian types, such as Eris -- look bad. The apple was not a prank meant to stir up trouble, but rather a wedding gift. After all, who is the "fairest" at any wedding? The bride! Eris was simply giving a gift, and it was the jealousy of Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena that caused the trouble. And let's not neglect their bribery of the judge! The goddesses of business and household affairs, of wisdom and warcraft, and of love, all cheat! This explains much about how the world works, does it not?

I've just returned from this year's Fires of Venus, and as I danced around the bonfire I further contemplated this myth, as well as the chaotic state of my own love life at the moment, and was granted a further revelation to share with the festival attendees. So, yes, Eris had only good intentions and left a wonderful gift, but why did so much trouble come from it? How was it possible for the jealousy of Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena to turn a loving gift into such a disaster? Ambiguous communication. Had she clearly labeled her gift, "For Thetis, the prettiest one", the whole mess could have been avoided! And so I suggested to all present that they attempt to apply this lesson to their romantic endeavors, and indeed to all aspects of their lives. (Of course, it's easier to suggest this to others than to do it oneself.)

Jung on writing and the soul

“I should advise you to put it all down as beautifully as you can — in some beautifully bound book,” Jung instructed. “It will seem as if you were making the visions banal — but then you need to do that — then you are freed from the power of them. . . . Then when these things are in some precious book you can go to the book & turn over the pages & for you it will be your church — your cathedral — the silent places of your spirit where you will find renewal. If anyone tells you that it is morbid or neurotic and you listen to them — then you will lose your soul — for in that book is your soul.”

The New York Times Magazine covers the forthcoming publication of Carl Jung's "Red Book", a personal journal of visions and dreams that became the root of much of his work.

The quotation from Jung above called to mind Whitman:

Camerado! This is no book,
Who touches this, touches a man,
(Is it night? Are we here alone?)
It is I you hold, and who holds you,

Brave New World and the right to be unhappy; Island and sanity

I've been re-reading Huxley's Brave New World. There's an exchange near the end, between Mustapha Mond, World Controller of the insane civilization that encompasses most of the world, and "the Savage", product of the lunatic barbarism outside, that rather sums it up:

"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."

"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."

"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."

I think I shall have to spend some time rereading Huxley's Island next to balance things out. Written near the end of Huxley's life, Island is in many ways his alternative to Brave New World, his portrayal of a thoroughly sane society.

You've probably not heard of this book; its positive outlook on the use of psychedelics, and its positive portrayal of free sexuality, means that you're unlikely to see it added to any high school reading lists. The philosophy found on Pala is a blend of secular humanism and Mahayana Buddhism; its key text, quoted throughout the novel, is Notes on What's What, and What It Might be Reasonable to do about What's What.

Me as I think I am and me as I am in fact---sorrow, in other words, and the ending of sorrow. One third, more or less, of all the sorrow that the person I think I am must endure is unavoidable. it is the sorrow inherent in the human condition, the price we pay for being sentient and self-conscious organisms, aspirants to liberation, but subject to the laws of nature and under orders to keep on marching, through irreversible time, through a world entirely indifferent to our well-being, toward decrepitude and the certainty of death. The remaining two-thirds of sorrow is homemade and, so far as the universe is concerned, unnecessary.

...

Dualism. . . Without it there can hardly be good literature. With it, there most certainly can be no good life.

"I" affirms a separate and abiding me-substance; "am" denies the fact that all existence is relationship and change. "I am." Two tiny words, but what an enormity of untruth! The religiously-minded dualist calls homemade spirits from the vasty deep; the nondualist calls the vasty deep into his spirit or, to be more accurate, he finds that the vasty deep is already there.

LaSara FireFox on Facebook

Tripped across the Facebook fan page for LaSara Firefox. She is "is a writer, coach, and educator. Ms. Allen helps her clients find balance in their lives, and more full alignment with their personal and family-held values." She's also a frequent presenter at Starwood, where she's famous for giving a flirting workshop that incorporates some ideas from NLP.

For those of you who've been to my workshop "How *Not* To Flirt With A Goddess" at FSA's Beltane or Fires of Venus, she's the person who encouraged me to develop it (and suggested the alternate title, "How Not To Be `That Guy'"). So a tip of the hat to her, and if you're on Facebook, why don't you go check out her page?

How Shall We Live?

First rough draft of a new chapter for the book. (Almost up to 58,000 words total now!)

How Shall We Live?

One of the perks of being an American in Japan is that many people want to practice their English on you. Strangers will come up and start conversations, buy you drinks or even dinner, just to chat.

You get to meet a wide cross-section of people. Usually it's just small-talk, "Hello", "Where are you from?", and so on. But one Osaka businessman gave me a interesting lesson in ethics along with a round of drinks.

I had come to an jazz club (called, charmingly, "Rugtime") to see my friend Eric's band play. Eric is a former Buddhist monk and acupuncturist, current elementary school vice-principal and drummer in several bands. During a break Eric and I were chatting, and an older Nihonjin gentleman approached us and asked in (extremely good) English if he could buy us drinks. We of course readily assented.

We engaged in some of the usual small-talk, and our new friend asked us our impression of Osaka.

Now, Osaka has a unique place in Japanese culture. It's known as the home of both gangsters and of comedians, and for its unique dialect. It's the place where people cross the street against the light and park their bicycles right under the signs that say "No Bike Parking" -- compared to other Japanese cities, that's wild behavior.

Osaka has always been a mercantile hub, and because its merchants were key to keeping the imports of foreign luxury goods flowing during the centuries that the shoguns ruled Japan, they were always granted a little extra latitude. So Osaka never quite fell fully into line with the social norms enforced in Tokyo.

I tried to explain to this gentleman how I liked Osaka's energy, its hustle, its willingness to make a deal and get down to business.

His eyes lit up. "Yes, yes! Let's do business. Make everybody happy!"

The idea that a business transaction should leave everybody involved happy is something that we rarely hear these days, drowned out by talk of quarterly profits and shareholder value. Going deeper and considering not just the customer satisfaction but the effects of our business dealings on broader world, we see what Jacob Marley learned only after his death: Mankind was his business.

In Buddhism, this is the concept of "right livelihood", a big part of Buddhist ethics.

on suspicion

From the Taoist philosopher Lieh-Tzu (trans. Lionel Giles):

A man, having lost his axe, suspected his neighbour's son of having taken it. Certain peculiarities in his gait, his countenance and his speech, marked him out as the thief. In his actions, his movements, and in fact his whole demeanour, it was plainly written that he and no other had stolen the axe. By and by, however, while digging in a dell, the owner came across the missing implement. The next day, when he saw his neighbour's son again, he found no trace of guilt in his movements, his actions, or his general demeanour.

'The man in whose mind suspicion is at work will let himself be carried away by utterly distorted fancies, until at last he sees white as black, and detects squareness in a circle.'

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