Tuesday, May 24, 2016

More on experience as the root of and guide to spiritual pilgrimage

Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice,, hate tyranny, hate greed---but hate these things in yourself, not in another. (Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, social critic, and spiritual guide. Born in France 1915 died, 1968)

The discipline of the spiritual life is never glib or facile.  It is rather an often painful acknowledgement of attitudes, traits, qualities and tendencies in ourselves that we have perhaps ignored, denied, rationalized, dismissed, or even failed to see. On the other hand, even the process of such acknowledgement is never taken as a solo flight; there is always another holding the hand of the seeker. And there is never only darkness in the process of bringing to the light those previously secreted hates, or injustices. The human spirit is deeply steeped in a eternal light for which none of us can claim authorship. The light, in which we all walk, sleep, reflect, meditate and even prayer, is part of a larger light that keeps our universe from  fully imploding in despair and in total darkness. And each of us is a small beacon of that eternal light, flickering however faintly barely perceptible to the naked eye, yet always there in a corner of each picture painted in our imagination.

Choosing a spiritual path for many includes shedding many of the kinds of threats and predictions of hell, fire and brimstone, especially given our overwhelming burden of evil and sin. Those teachings, so long an intimate and frightening voice from many pulpits in many Christian churches, so deformed our images of ourselves as pathetic, hopeless and most importantly worthless, at least in the eyes of God, and the often important person whose larynx was vibrating with those judgements. Young children are unable to discern the difference between the ethic/religious import of a judgement such as “You are no good, and you never will be any good!” from the kind of psychological damage such venom inflicts on a young, and for the most part innocent, child. Even giving the speaker the benefit of the doubt, and interpreting such judgements as motivated by a stern and lofty aspiration of making the young child “fear God” (through fearing the parent or the teacher, the coach, or even the boss), there are unmeasureable and permanent psychic scars from such interactions. Hatred of the agent of such encounters is the most likely response from the early adult who looks back on such abuse of power. And, as one moves into the third, fourth and fifth decades of one’s life, there is going to be time for such hate to become the healing elixir it was meant to be. When one comes to the place where the hatred of the agent of those early judgements is replaced by the hatred of that hate that has seized so many of our unhealthy responses without our even being aware of why we were hating, long after the initial experiences.

Each of us has a sack full of experiences from which we learned our responses to another’s tyranny, another’s greed, another’s injustices. And, because those experiences were often extremely painful, and also depending on our age and our embarrassment and the depth of impact the experiences had on our psyche, we may have kept them deeply buried, secret, long after the date of their occurrence. Such entombment of our deepest and most painful emotions only keeps us focused on the person and the reason for our pain. It does not address the impact of such experiences, locked, on our psyche, nor our spirit. As we find the support, and the culture in which to  begin to unpack those previously locked-boxes, often even sealed vaults of painful experiences, we begin to imagine how we experienced those moments, and how we might do such moments differently today, if they presented themselves to us, in a similar way. Just as, when we read a deeply moving and sensitive piece of literature, one that moves us both to admire and to despise certain characters, attitudes, behaviours and  uttered words, we similarly are moved by deeply imprinted life experiences. And both through a formal discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of literary figures in novels, plays and movies, as well as through our own painful encounters, we are repeatedly introduced to those traits that help drive the world’s human dramas, both traits like love, compassion, forgiveness, empathy and integrity, as well as those less admirable, such as those noted in Merton’s quote.

As we each accept full responsibility for our own clinging to our negative potential, we thereby help to rid such elements from our environment.

And we need not paint and carry placards that shout our vehement opposition to war, nor engage in street conflicts with those who support “bombing the hell out of ISIS” for example (as Trump advocates), nor mount propaganda campaigns in our determination to stamp out human conflict. Our unique, authentic commitment to focussing on our own hatred, tyrannies, greeds and the like, ( a much more demanding and  challenging course than parading through the streets,) and beginning to see these traits perhaps for the first time, in a light that wraps us round in love, support and compassion, while at the same time, shining brightly into the dark corners of our hidden spiritual demons, for us to become fully familiar with those experiences in which we inflicted harm, hurt, pain through our own tyranny, greed and hatred on others. And from the “film” that emerges from the darkest recesses of our memories, into our consciousness, also comes a new awareness of just how important this healing actually is.

It is not some hokus-pokus, smoke-and-mirrors spiritual seduction; rather it is a new getting to know, to love, to accept and to find  a new gratitude for the release of these ‘demons’ fully, like entrapped encaged doves into the atmosphere of eternity. Significant and universal demonstration of the validity that spiritual growth, developing a relationship with the self and with God, whomever and however you might envision that to be, refers directly, intimately and unreservedly to each individual’s experience, both in the initial encounters as well as in the reflective, meditative, prayerful unpacking of those memories.

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