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Archive for June, 2011

My family is heading to the beach to do some camping this weekend.  I’m hoping to read and relax.

I’m currently reading The Wind is my Mother by Bear Heart, a Native American medicine man.  I’ll be bringing that with me.

Bear Heart has some wise and interesting things to say about the connection between faith and healing.  His observations seem very relevant to being a therapist and how one sits with a client with respect both for the person in front of you and for Spirit.  Healing, he says, come not from the healer but from the Great Spirit.  I also appreciated his observation that if one uses one’s gift for medicine or healing on oneself, one loses the ability to heal others.

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Noreena Hertz: How to use experts and when not to.

In short, listening to “Experts” turns off one’s critical thinking which can have disastrous consequences.

Critical thinking can be fostered by encouraging dissent and discussion.  There is value in disagreement and difference and ultimately this discussion makes us more intelligent.

We should challenge experts.  We should ask questions, even when it makes us feel uncomfortable or bothersome.  We can ask: What are the assumptions on which this are based?  What was the methodology?  What are the limitations of that viewpoint?  What are the pros and cons of that course of action?  What are some alternatives?

There are great implications here for religious institutions in addition to medicine, education, economics, and public policy.  We should listen to people with whom we disagree and hold up minority viewpoints as worth of discussion.  This is something I learned growing up in a Jewish household where discussion and debate are held sacred.  I am grateful for this.

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Waiting on God

I stayed up late last night reading back entries of Anna’s blog where she writes/video blogs about her decision to convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church.  She said one thing that struck me: that in the past her spiritual inquiries had been intellectual “head trips” of trying to figure out what religion had it right (which wasn’t very profitable) and that she was moving to a place of not knowing and relearning about God.

I can relate to that because I’m currently in the former state.  I have spent a lot of the last 6 months intellectually consuming information about different faiths and trying to suss out my leanings while attending various churches and meetings.  I’m not getting anywhere.  I am treating this as a puzzle to solve and nothing seems to fit/no one seems to definitively have the right answers.

I realized last night as I was reflecting on Anna’s words and sitting in silent prayer, that I have been approaching this the wrong way.  If God is here and reaching out to me (as I feel S/He is) then S/He will guide me to the spiritual home where I belong.  It is clear to me that the primary spiritual attribute/virtue that I am supposed to be working on in my life right now is Faith.  Faith has always been a hard one for me – I tend to be pretty high-strung and controlling (not of people, but circumstances) in my everyday life.  I want to find a spiritual home where Faith is emphasized.

And it occurs to me that I cannot just convert to a religion that emphasizes Faith based on something I read or thought about and try to generate the faith intellectually.  First, that would be really hard, and second, that would probably land me in yet another cult or cult-like group, because it would be artificial.  So, if the right spiritual community is out there (which may or may not be the case, I’m open to this being a path I walk alone), I need to be prepared for that path.  And so it occurs to me that God may already be leading and guiding me, but that there is a process of finding a spiritual home that cannot be rushed.  God is already working in my life and I am already walking the path I am supposed to be on.  So it’s not like I need to hurry up and pick a spiritual path to walk because I’m losing time (yes, that’s how it feels some days).  I am already on the spiritual path.

And last night and today I am working on being open and receptive to God working in my life.  And I go out in Faith that S/He is guiding me and will help me find the place where I belong.

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Headcovering

I’ve been avoiding writing this post.  I know that I am anonymous here and that there are only 2 or 3 people currently reading my blog (:waves:) and that this blog is mostly just for me to sort through my thoughts and track my wanderings as I explore my spiritual leanings, but still, this is on the internet and, well, sounds crazy.

So, at the risk of sounding nuttier than I already sounds in my previous blog entries, here goes.

I have been drawn to religious headcovering for several years.  It started out as a vague interest in the Amish because I have always been interested in simple living and homesteading (still am!).  I felt drawn to plain dress and stumbled upon Quaker Jane.  Isabel (Quaker Jane)’s story of feeling called to plain dress (and bonnets) and becoming a Quaker fascinated me and I found her style very appealing.  I read her site for several months and then pushed my interest aside because it seemed bizarre and random.

In the last year or two I have been increasingly drawn to images of women in plain dress, modest dress, and wearing religious headcoverings, primarily but not exclusively Christian styles.  About a year ago I decided to indulge my interest and experiment with buying and wearing some headcoverings.  I also bought a couple of modest dresses (a cape dress and several jumpers).  I love the jumpers and feel very “right” when wearing them – more grounded, peaceful, and feminine.  I wear them only occasionally, mostly when I know I won’t be leaving the house, because I feel very self-conscious.  My feelings about the headcoverings are even stronger.

It is hard to explain and doesn’t make much sense but basically these feelings consist of the following:

  • Feeling drawn to images of women wearing headcoverings and plain or modest dress
  • A vague urge that I should be also be wearing a headcovering
  • A physical sensation on the top of my head and hyper awareness – sort of like feeling naked

When I explore these thoughts and feelings I am coming up with the sense that

  • This is about spirituality (not fashion, comfort, etc)
  • This is about being reminded of God’s presence in my life and my own humility

When I do wear a headcovering that I feel comfortable in (mostly kerchiefs, scarfs, and snoods) I feel more spiritual, more grounded, more centered in myself, and calmer.  When I pray wearing a covering I feel more focused, authentic, and connected to something.

Sometimes I am convinced that this is a calling from God or the Universe to a spiritual practice and sometimes I think that I’m just very weird and for some reason these things feel good to me.  Sometimes I think its all in my head.  I have wondered if there is simply something physiological about having something on one’s head that is calming or helps with focus (as Sikh’s attest).  There might be something to that.  Some Pagans I know suggested that it might be a past life habit that I am remembering.  That idea is not ringing true for me.  It feels like a calling.

I’ve been resisting/struggling with the desire to cover for over a year now because it does not make sense.  I do not have an explanation and that bothers me.  I don’t know how I would explain to someone why I am dressed that way because I’m not part of group who practices headcovering for specific doctrinal or cultural reasons.  Also it draws attention to me, which is something I am very uncomfortable about.

However, this urge has persisted for some time and is not showing signs of abating.  I am slowly coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter why I am feeling the way I am and that I should just go with it.

Last night I was in a bad place because of the anxiety I’ve been dealing with lately and I decided to pray.  Through my prayers I came to the conclusion that I should wear a headcovering today, that I could commit to just one day and see how it goes.  So today I am wearing a headscarf and even left the house.  A friend of mine came over and we had a long talk and I decided to disclose my struggle and confusion about this leaning with her.  She had something very interesting and affirming to say.

My friend suggested that our bodies/cells have memory and a way of understanding/”thinking” that informs but is distinct from our brains.  She has a background in Chinese medicine and had read some stories about organ transplants that gave this idea to her.  She said that there may be something that my body knows that my head doesn’t.  Maybe there is a calming influence to wearing a head cover and my body knows that that is what I need right now.  She said that this does not invalidate the God/calling hypothesis, because a loving God or spiritual energy would certainly be connected to everything else including my body and sending a message in answer to my current needs.  Regardless of whether the source is internal or external I should listen to the message.  And it doesn’t have to make intellectual sense, because this may not be an intellectual matter.

I found her thoughts and her acceptance affirming and encouraging.  I feel very grateful.

I’m going to close with one last link to an interesting perspective.  Anna at veiledglory.wordpress.com suggests in her video (headcovering-as-podvig) that headcovering can be viewed as a spiritual practice (using the Buddhist meaning) that some (but not all) people may be called to due to their particular spiritual ills.  A practice requires mindfulness, effort, and sacrifice.  It may not be clear why an individual is called to a particular spiritual practice or another, but every spiritual practice is a medicine for a particular ill or restlessless of the spirit.  What Anna says strikes me as true and applicable to what I am experiencing.

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I have just started reading no death, no fear by Thich Nhat Hanh.  I am only a few pages in and am already struck by the depth of his wisdom.  He writes that the world suffers greatly from our tendency to be dogmatic.  Freedom is freedom from our notions and concepts which can trap us and cause personal and interpersonal suffering.

“The Buddha said that if you get caught in one idea and consider it to be ‘the truth,’ then you miss the chance to know the truth. Even if the truth comes in person and knocks at your door, you will refuse to open your mind. So if you are committed to an idea about truth or to an idea about the conditions necessary for happiness, be careful. The first Mindfulness Training is about freedom from views:

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help us learn to look deeply and to develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill or die for.”

If we are to be free, we must have an open mind.  We must be open to revelation.

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I became a Buddhist for a reason.  This was after many years of living without faith, without religion.

In my late teens I faced a prolonged period of personal and familial hardship.  My mom had attempted suicide.  My parents were engaged in acrimonious divorce proceedings and  both wanted me to take care of their emotional needs and join their side of the battle.  In a desperate act to preserve my sense of self and not be used up by the manipulation and emotional incest, I cut my parents off.  I was painted as a traitor by my sisters and extended family for this action.  It was a time of intense personal pain and isolation.  Prayer didn’t seem to help and I experienced a loss of faith in God, Gods, or even a benevolent (if unresponsive) Universe.

Several years later I returned to religion consciously and with a purpose.  I knew I didn’t have faith but I was determined to have it again because I had been happier when I believed in something.  I had been a better person too.  And my panic attacks were getting worse.

Since the age of 8 or so I have suffered from anxiety attacks that would come on when I would consider existential questions.  These make up an intense “death anxiety” but is more than just a fear of death, more a fear of ego-obliteration or equally terrifying, a fear of ego-permanence in a meaningless and unsatisfactory Universe.  The attacks would come on mostly at night before falling asleep, but could also be triggered by other circumstances.  Dark movie theaters used to bring it on for me when I was young, looking at the expanse of the starry sky (which was overwhelmingly large and made me feel overwhelmingly small), or classroom lessons on astronomy.  My father was aware of the extent of my anxiety but had nothing more reassuring to suggest than that “no one knows what happens when you die, but that I would feel differently when I was older.”  Psychotherapy or pastoral counseling would have been helpful but this was never suggested and so I endured years of paralyzing anxiety and tearful bedtimes and eventually found ways to cope… mostly distraction.

Throughout the years periods of more intense anxiety (attacks multiple times of day for months on end) would alternate with periods of lesser anxiety (a handful of attacks or less over the course of several months).  Periods of attacks were worst when I had less religion and spirituality in my life.  The idea of faith – of saying that it is okay to not know the answer and to trust in a benevolent and loving Universe that things will work out in a way that I cannot understand as a mere human – helped.  Acceptance was the antidote to anxiety.  I discovered this as a Buddhist.  My anxiety lifted.  Religion was an answer for me.  Faith was an answer.

This is not the answer for everyone.  Irvin Yalom, a famous (Atheist) Existential Psychologist, wrote a book entitled Staring at the Sun, which deals with overcoming fear of death from a non-religious perspective.  His work is noteworthy.  Krishnamurti suggests that mental enslavement comes from running from fears to religious institutions or attitudes that soothe.  I am cognizant of that.  I sometimes wonder if my need for religion implies weakness or a desire for ignorance.

… but I don’t think so.  I don’t think that my need for religion is weakness because I have lived both ways and I know I can live both ways.  I am strong enough to endure my fears.  I have done so for many years.  I don’t think that my need for religion implies a desire for ignorance because I understand that I have a choice and I make my choice mindfully.  I have considered the costs and the benefits.  It is not only my anxiety that leads me to religion.  I consider also the sort of person I am.  When I had God or the spiritual path in my life I was kinder.  I had a sense of purpose and meaning.  I avoided wrong deeds.  I felt connected to nature and to other humans.  I felt joyful and in connection with something greater than myself.  When I did not have God or the spiritual path in my life I felt isolated, closed off, purposeless, and anxious.  I had an easier time rationalizing wrong-doing.  I want to be the better person.  I want to be the person who is loving, kind, forgiving, generous, and lives a life of meaning.

So here I am again.  In the last 6 months I have read so much about cults, destructive religions, and manipulation that my faith is in jeopardy again.  I am disenchanted with Tibetan Buddhism.  I am distrusting my spiritual experiences.  I am back at the crossroads, the dark night of the soul.  And my existential panic attacks have returned.  And I know where this path leads and I do not need to go there again.

I am here at the crossroads and I know now that I am someone who needs religion.  I need faith and spirituality.  And maybe they are all tainted with cult tendencies.  And maybe they are all a little wrong just as they are all a little right.  And I think that maybe it doesn’t matter so much which one I pick, which path I follow next, so long as I have a path to follow.

Would Krishnamurti be disappointed?  Maybe.  And maybe that doesn’t matter.  He’s just another guy after all.

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Action, Karma

Tonight my daughter had a rough night.  Every time we put her down to sleep she would start howling as she was lowered into her crib.  We picked her up, rocked her until she was drowsing and again she’d start howling as she was lowered into her crib.  I tried this 4 times.  I could have let her cry it out.  She would have survived.  I asked my husband what we should do, did he think she was in pain?  He said that he thought she just needed to be held tonight.  Holding is the answer.  I said okay.  My husband went to bed and I stayed up and held and rocked my daughter for an hour.

And it made me think about the difference between good intentions and the right actions.  Good intentions without action would have tried a few times and then left her crying while hoping for the best.  Right action was giving my daughter what she wanted and needed to the absolute best of my ability.

I spend a lot of time thinking that I am not doing a good enough job as a mother.  I understand intellectually that that is part of our culture.  Mothering in our culture is a job with impossibly high standards.  Tonight I understand that what matters is my actions.  Regardless of my thoughts and feelings, taking action to meet my daughters needs is what makes me a good mother.  Actions determine who we are.  Actions change our thoughts and feelings.  Actions help or harm the people around us.  Sure, intentions can influence actions, but actions hold the power.

I used to think that intentions mattered as much as — or even more than– actions.  This was a nice intellectual/philosophical perspective.  I thought that our mental/emotional attitudes awere what determined our happiness and were how our karma was embedded in our mind stream.  As a parent, this perspective is no longer practical.  An actual person is deeply affected by my physical actions.  I am in turn re-created from the outcomes of my actions (in terms of my mind as well as my environment and my relationships).

I am a good parent in accordance with my actions.  Though actions I become.

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