Her Passing

My mom passed away Sunday evening. She had been hanging on, despite the fact that all of us had individually encouraged her to let go. However, when all three of us–my brother, father and myself–did so together, and assured her that nothing, not even death, can break our bond to her, she left quickly.

My brother and father had to take a phone call in another room, while I sat by her bed, held her hand and sang to her. While I was singing The Sloop John B., she quietly stopped breathing.

I want to go home
Just let me go home,
I feel so broke up,
I wanna go home.

Please keep my family in your prayers.

Thanks.

The Boy from Lebanon

The Boy from LebanonThe Boy from Lebanon is a thought-provoking and intense depiction of a true story, a plot by Hezbollah to assassinate then-president François Mitterand by using a child. It’s one of the most striking foreign films I’ve seen in the last few years, and it far surpasses “Syriana” in showing how rather ordinary young people become terrorists. But The Boy from Lebanon is a more than a mere consciousness-raiser about the plight of children in war-torn areas—it’s a shocking drama, and an wonderful portrayal of the power of friendship.

Djilali (Teufik Jallab) is a scant eleven years old when he’s sold—literally—into terrorism. Djilali is emotionally shattered, detached, and empty. Even his hatred of “the Jews and the infidels” is something he holds out of duty, and his lack of emotion and whole-hearted dedication to his mission makes him ideal for Hezollah’s purpose.

To get close to the French president, though, he must not only go to France, but meet and prepare to take the place of Karim (Younesse Boudache), a Lebanese-French kid who will meet the president at a Christmas party. Karim, who knows nothing of the plot, is practically Djilali’s direct opposite, an ebullient Huckleberry Finn of Paris’ Arab slums, who hates no one.

To play his role, Djilali must live with Karim for a few days, and the interaction between them is the heart of the film. Djilali regards Karim as despicably frivolous, while Karim sees Djilali as hopelessly out-of-it. The few days they spend together will shatter both of their worlds completely.

Sometimes it gets a bit confusing; shifts between Karim’s French slum and Djilali’s flashbacks are difficult to catch at first, and in my case I had to watch it a second time to understand everything. In addition, the adult actors are sometimes less-than-convincing, but The Boy from Lebanon isn’t about them. The main characters are memorable and masterfully portrayed by these child actors. The director, Gilles de Maistre, is an award-winning French journalist, who presents the characters compassionately, along with a side of Paris that most movies assiduously avoid.

My teacher commented on the Virginia Tech massacre with the observation that Seung-Hui Cho had had no friends, and wondered would he have done what he did if he had. A similar question is brilliantly posed by “The Boy from Lebanon.”

Watch it. You’ll be glad you did.

Into the wild

Into the Wild

I could write a thousand-word review about this movie. I could call it the Walden of our times. I could tell you how it is an ode to the beauty of America as The Constant Gardener was to that of Africa and Spring, Fall, Summer, Winter… and Spring was to that of Asia.

I could tell you that its five chapters, Rebirth, Adolescence, Manhood, Family, and The Getting of Wisdom, form a remarkable portrait of renunciation and self-discovery in the mystical journey. I could tell you how it reminded me of my teacher’s wise counsel to me when I was “hell-bent” on getting enlightenment as soon as possible. (And, of course, I just did.)

But there’s something about profound experiences that demands a restraint of the tongue, a savoring of the sublime, and a respect for silence, so that the fewer the words, the better.

You see, watching Into the Wild is a sacred act. It is prayer. And, as prayer, there is nothing to say afterwards but “Thank You,” or “Amen.” Thanks to Trev for pointing me to this inspiring, but insightful and honest examination of one man’s incredible journey.

No-Mind and Love

I’m going through a book this year which I bought long ago and never read: The Old Hermit’s Almanac by Fr. Edward Hays. It’s an unconventional book of days, full of delightful fun and deep wisdom. Here’s part of today’s entry for January 15, Non-Spectator Day:

As the Zen masters say, "When you eat, eat; when you walk, walk." Living in the present moment as fully as possible helps satisfy the itch to monitor yourself and still be yourself. As in theater, so in life — the true artists are those who are so fully possessed by what they are doing that they have no time to watch themselves.  When they forget to be possessed in this way and give into the temptation to observe their wonderful performance, then they usually stumble.

Practice today the virtue of self-forgetfulness, which is at the heart of making love — being totally engaged in what you are doing or in another person.  Those who make love daily by self-forgetfulness find ectasy in celebrating the love they have been making day by day.

 

Mysticism and sexuality

 

lingam.jpg

 
 

I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post. I also want to clarify and dig deeper into part of the huge area I addressed in it. What I was really wondering when I asked "why is it so often the renunciates who are the one who elucidate sacred sexuality," I didn’t mean simply sexuality in general, which comes with strong conditions attached to it in virtually ALL cultures, but the tantric, spiritual aspect of sexuality; sexuality as a reflection of the union of the soul with the divine. Why is it celibate Buddhist monks who are the ones who present the yab-yum with the Buddha and his consort? Why is it St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa who present us with the erotic images of the soul in passionate union with God?

There certainly are exceptions: the Sufi poets, married Indian gurus, etc. But I’ve never heard a Christian layperson say anything like, "what you are doing is expressing the passionate giving of God pouring his love into the world. You are being God for each other, the soul for each other." However, the mystical meaning of sexuality is quite often, in East and West, presented most strongly by renunciates.

A couple of comments suggested that it was double-speak or sexual frustration on the part of the celibates. I think there’s something deeper at work. As I said before, desire is tricky… I think that some degree of spiritual growth is necessary for sex to be even be able to be seen as something essentially giving. The desire to "get" permeates sex: Get some, get laid, get off. I think it takes some degree of taming the "getting" engine of the ego, before sexuality can be seen as spiritual activity… one certainly doesn’t have to be a celibate to do so, but the monastic traditions, East and West, were created largely for that purpose. Now, things are beginning to change a bit… millions of laypeople are discovering mysticism within their faith, and sacred sexuality is beginning to be addressed. You might hear of Christian tantra sooner than you’d think.

sex

 

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Ah, so I got your attention! Yesterday, I wrote my first poem in Esperanto… unfortunately, I neglected to save it on my computer, and when my machine did one of its random reboots, it was lost and I haven’t been able to recover it. However, I wasn’t going to post it, anyway. It was, ahem, a very tantric sort of prayer, very personal, and let’s just say it didn’t hold anything back!

It was born of a powerful impression I had upon awakening, of the union of sexuality and spirituality. I sat in meditation, and while I just focussed on my breathing, the poem, in images and words, impressed itself upon me. It wasn’t marked by really any particularly strong feelings, despite some extremely passionate imagery. Horniness was the metaphor, not the message or the vehicle. (Well, a little bit of the vehicle, but not as much as you’d think.)

Sex is not only the ultimate physically unifying action, it’s also a powerful image of unification. That seems to be where my poem was coming from, the awareness that God/man, heaven/earth, Unmanifest/manifestation, are not separate, not-two, but one, no matter how it appears in this wonderful world of phenomena and differentiation.

Some questions… Did the poem come to me in Esperanto because the relative unfamiliarity of the words in that language gave me more freedom to receive them afresh… getting past decades of hearing them as "bad" words in English? Was my determination beforehand not to post the poem a tacit acknowledgment of a taboo? What is the taboo, and why is it there?

Sexuality and spirituality are considered so distinct, if not opposed, in Western religion, that it’s difficult to imagine them seriously being addressed at once. And Western religion is virtually devoid of images of sacred sexuality, something that I almost don’t notice, until I consider the yab-yum icon of the Buddha simultaneously in mediation and coitus, or the Hindu shivalingam portraying the meeting of God’s feminine and masculine qualities, graphically portrayed as yoni and lingam.

It’s as if in Western religion, the only icon of sacred sex is the hidden icon of man and wife behind closed doors, not to be seen as a whole by anyone but God alone. And even there, the spiritual symbolism is almost never touched upon, despite St. Paul’s teaching that we are the body of Christ, and that God desires for us to be united with him.

 

ecstasy

 
 

Yet to mystics, it occasionally breaks through here and there when allowed, most often in the form of poetry. The Song of Songs is eight chapters of ecstatic holy erotica, but I’m willing to bet you’ve never heard a sermon on it that didn’t bury it under ridiculous layers of symbolism.

The Spanish mystics, Sts. Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross, bring it forth in some of their mystical writings as well. The sculptor Bernini showed that he understood the relationship of Spirit and passion in his wonderful portrayal of "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa," wherein a key mystical experience of hers is given an undeniably erotic, though modest, treatment.

But the Spanish mystics were talking about spiritual experiences, not sexual ones. What is the place of sex in spirituality? Why have so many mystics for thousands of years, been renunciates? Why is it so often the renunciates who are the ones who elucidate sacred sexuality?

I suspect the reason lies in the tricky nature of desire. Even love is constantly confused with the desire for receiving, and sex is even more prone to seek its own fulfillment. As there is a true love that expects nothing in return, but purely exists to give, there must be a place in sex where you exist solely to give yourself away. In that place, there is nothing that is not God.

In the past, gods demanded blood and bodies. Now, Christ has given his body and blood completely, and you are that.

There. I said it; now let me have it!

The Swimming Pool

swimmingpool1.jpgIn January, 2006, I had an experience that I sometimes think of as “the empty holodeck.” It was jolting and mildly disorienting, but I consider it one of the most important spiritual experiences of my life. This last January, I had another, very brief feeling of a something in that no-thing. And as I’ve written some of these later posts on love and the “law of attraction,” there’s been a metaphor in my mind that I haven’t shared yet: the swimming pool. The “holodeck” appears to be empty to the mind that seeks to know. Although every manner of experience is possible in the holodeck, investigation reveals it to be nothing more than an interactive program that changes patterns of light in mesmerizing ways.

But there remains a medium. So another analogy might be that of a swimming pool. In a swimming pool, the medium is very, very obvious: water. Experiencing water is the whole point. Water is fluid—it parts to accommodate whatever comes into it.

What people are calling the “law of attraction” seems to me to be the recognition of the responsiveness of the medium we are in. Receiving water, when you’re in water, is as simple as opening your hand. All you have to do is make a space. Space for receiving has to be created, and in this medium in which we “live, and move, and have our being,” everything we do has some effect… thoughts, feelings, and actions all are felt, all move the water.

Whatever motion you make is felt to some degree throughout the pool. Smooth, gentle motions create smooth, gentle waves. Harsh, choppy motions create harsh, choppy waves. And whatever waves you create will come back to you.

Also note that the water cannot be controlled. People want the water to assume this shape or that. Creating the manifestation of something particular requires energy and action. Having water is effortless—more than you have it, it has you. Even though you are mostly water, you’ve been given a shape of your own for a while, and cannot breathe it directly. You can’t support the water. You must let it support you.

Like all metaphors, this is terribly imperfect. But when you consciously love others, you feel the love you send, not as something leaving you, but as something coming to you. This is because it is just there. Love is there, as God is there, as the water in the swimming pool is there. The water itself hardly moves at all. Waves are energy moving through the water.

Note that “pushing-against” actions are very inefficient in the pool. Try to push the water away, and it does more than instantly refill the gap, it prevents a gap from ever being created. And when the wave you make hits the edge of the pool, it will bounce back to you.

As The Secret briefly mentioned to its credit, “anti-” activities are not very productive. Anti-war movements often have the effect of prolonging wars. Wars on poverty, drugs, and terrorism are “pushing-against” actions which ultimately have no effect on poverty, drugs, or terrorism except to give these forces even more energy. And wars in general usually have little effect except to plant the seeds of resentment that spring future wars.

Yes, you can push against another person in the pool, but the result will be that you move away from them more than you make them move in any intended direction. You can not change another person. You can only move yourself. Learning to move efficiently in the water is a skill that takes practice. Fortunately there are teachers who not only know the water intimately, but who also live in the awareness of what is beyond the pool.

The edge of the pool is the only thing that you can really push against. When you’re in contact with it, you can launch yourself and move rapidly through the water. Even though you live out this life in the pool, what’s beyond the pool remains important. As the pool holds you, there is That which holds the pool. It is the foundation of the universe.

The Golden Path has been shortened

Every now and then, I see a message in something objectively ordinary and meaningless, but subjectively a divine message. Today, as I walked away from work to my car, I took a shortcut through a Dillard’s store. There, on what must have been at least a dozen signs, written just for me, was the message:

The Golden Path has been shortened.

Bam! It had my attention. Although I still haven’t written about it yet, Children of Dune is one of my favorite sci-fi and spi-fi (spiritual fiction) films. The theme is the “Golden Path” that the protagonist must discover to become a bodhisattva and save humanity from disintegration and self-destruction, a path that demands he undergo an unprecedented transformation.

I often call my practice “the Path.” If “the Golden Path” has been shortened for me, I believe it’s largely due to my discovery of the power of consciously loving people, rather than the usual substitutes, unconsciously unloving, or (at best) consciously acting as though I did love people. My friend Julie and some others rightly questioned why feeling is a necessary part of love… isn’t the action of love (acting for the good of another) most important?

Let me clear up one thing. The feeling of love I’m talking about isn’t the needy, “oh, you make me feel so wonderful,” or “I need you,” romantic love. It’s agape, a perception of the inherent worth of each person as person, as the image of God, no matter how tarnished that image may be. It’s a felt desire to act (or not) in such a way that benefits those you love. To the extent that this love is a feeling (what a vague word!) it’s outward, a willing motion of the heart to see things as they are. If a return feeling of bliss or “being loved” is felt, that’s just frosting on the cake.

I no longer think that actions without feeling are quite on a par with those that are. Loving actions without loving feelings are inherently conflicted. There’s something that at best dilutes, and more likely, contaminates the “love” that’s being expressed. It may be a sense of duty… “Of course I love you, you’re my (fill in the blank). Or it can be an external reference (What Would Jesus Do?), which isn’t “bad” by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s an only an entry point.

Practicing “WWJD love” should naturally dissolve because, like Jesus, we are “moved by compassion” to act with love, as the Gospels describe his motivation repeatedly. When compassion becomes second nature, the motor of one’s being, one is becoming like Jesus in that regard. And one’s actions, whether or not they seem “compassionate” on the surface will be rooted in the medium as love demands.

The love that lacks feeling gives rise to all sorts of ego-boosting structures. (I didn’t want to, but I gave a coin to that beggar on the street. Hey, guess I’m loving after all!) Evil conflicts can easily be justified when felt love isn’t present. “Security,” “Freedom,” “The RIGHT thing to do” and other abstractions are easily adopted to dress up the ego’s actions. I don’t think the war on Iraq could’ve begun if our leaders felt unconditional love for all people. You don’t readily bomb people whom you feel love for.

But why this message, for me, today? It sure wasn’t because I was on the top of my game. Rather, it was a reminder. I had spent the workday feeling ill, put upon, and sometimes quite consciously unloving. I need to remember that the Golden Path has been shortened.

(Oh, and what did Dillard’s think they were telling me? To buy socks!)