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Heather Von St. James knows fear. She is a mesothelioma survivor who had her left lung removed in order to save her life. That was back in 2005. The operation and treatment were successful and Heather is a “seven year cancer survivor.” I put that in quotes because that term must, at times, still frighten Heather. We all are survivors of whatever life has thrown at us, but most of us have not had the terror that a diagnosis of cancer creates.
So to ward off any residual or persistent fear, Heather has created a special holiday in tribute to the surgery that saved her life — Lungleavin Day. Here’s what she says about it:
“With Lungleavin Day coming up, the opportunity is here to write our fears on a plate and smash them into the fire, I’m going to once again take control of my emotions and overcome. I know I have the power to do it; sometimes it is just making the choice to do so.”
The date is February 2 and its a online event as well as one at Heather’s home with her friends, loved ones and supporters.
Here’s a link to Heather’s blog in case you’d like to know more about her story.
Fear might be the most corrosive of all passions, eating away our ability to be happy. Fear is one of our most troublesome pitfalls — no doubt about it. If you are dealing with a terrible illness or know someone who is Heather’s story might just be what you need to help you deal with fear and the uncertainty that creates it.
Thanks to Heather for helping us to understand that fear can be confronted and vanquished. We fear lots of things, after all we live in the liminal space allotted to us by our nature. What is linminal space? From the blog Liminal Space:
“The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word limens, meaning literally, “threshold.”
A liminal space, the place of transition, waiting, and not knowing is…
…a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.
– Richard Rohr”
A cloud of unknowing is created by every diagnosis of life threatening disease. Its also created when we get lost in a strange city or the woods. Job change, divorce, auto accident, fire, flood, etc — all these things put us in Liminal space. How we deal with this condition will determine how happy we can be from that point on.
Years ago Muhammad Ali explained what he did when he was knocked into liminal space — in other words almost knocked out. He said that in that state the boxer hallucinates, he might see a theatrical dressing room, with a magician’s top hat and cane, clown’s costume and makeup, a zebra and dancing girl. He said if you let this place freak you out you will be knocked out. But if you look around, put on the top hat, pick up the cane and say hi to the dancing girl you should be able to clear your head and leave liminal space getting back to the fight (hopefully the bell will end the round by then!).
I believe we exist in liminal space. Constantly. To survive on earth we need a very narrow set of conditions, temperature, humidity, availability of nutrients, biological balance so that our bodies are able to ward off bacteria. We are always between a rock and a hard place. I find it helpful to explore the space afforded to me but don’t feel a need to stretch beyond my comfort zone simply to test myself. Others want to explore the entire globe and ski where no one should be skiing, etc. Whatever it takes to help us deal with being in a place of transition. Learning what we can about our liminal space is a great help.
We came from a place unknown and are headed to another one. No matter how religious or spiritual a person might be no one knows where human consciousness is headed. We live in a cloud of unknowing; in liminal space. So we need to figure out how to deal with it. I’m with Ali — let’s look around and see what we find interesting, attractive — see what and where we can contribute what we do best. After all, our time in this frightening space is short no matter who we are — best to make the most of it and enjoy the journey to the other side. Smash plates, dance the tango, ski, pray, meditate, (I take photographs!) Enjoy your liminal space!
What is the Will of God and why does it get blamed for bad things that happen to people?
Is there a God who will’s women to be raped so that a child can be conceived? Is there a God who sends storms and earthquakes to punish people who sin? Do storms appear in answer to the bad behavior of people?
Some people believe that God will do anything to create life – “Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, an Indiana Republican, turned a few heads and dropped a few jaws on Tuesday night when he said that pregnancies resulting from rape were “something that God intended to happen.”
Others pray to a God who gets angry and fly’s off the handle, indiscriminately destroying life and property because He doesn’t like the behavior of some people.
The Huffington Post reported this:
“Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of Westboro pastor Fred Phelps, has spewed a series of tweets about Hurricane Sandy since the storm first brewed in the Caribbean last week. “God sent the whirlwind. #ThankGodForRighteousJudgment,” Phelps-Roper tweeted after deaths were announced in Cuba.”
Phelps-Roper also cited President Obama and the gay and lesbian communities as the source of God’s wrath.
This God is like us. He gets angry and smites us when we displease him. In fact he is like our air force raining drone bombers on a village, going after bad actors and killing innocent civilians in the process. Some God. But of course that’s the God of the Old Testament. Just a little more evolved than the gods of Ancient Greece.
But a God who is so capricious? What if God, the creative force in the universe, simply is? Like the sun. Constant, implacable, disinterested in our affairs. A source of great power, creative energy and light. But not ever angry or glad, just there for us to turn to, to draw on and in existence since before people evolved on the planet, before there was a planet.
That’s the only God I can imagine or believe in. When the earth was a cruel place inhabited by monsters and slime – there was the creative force. When Hitler or Genghis Khan decided to kill his way to utopia – there was the creative force, being abused and misused beyond recognition. And also there for anyone who wanted to stand up to Hitler or Khan by fighting him or at least keeping up her spirit in the face of him.
This is the only creative force-god I can believe in. A God that is awesome but doesn’t anger, isn’t cruel (or kind) but just is. The angry vengeful God is the one that died because it never existed in the first place and people got tired of believing. People who blame storms and rapes on God are barking up a non-existent tree in my opinion.
The human qualities that are attributed to God are there because people project them. Some of us want a universe that has a ruler with personality and character. Its more friendly that way. Also less mysterious and much smaller.
All of this is conjecture of course. All of it – the Greek gods, the Old Testament God, the creative force. All attempts to make sense out of a vast universe that we barely understand, barely feel comfortable in.
So — I will not use the creative force against you if you don’t blame disasters and violent, cruel acts on your God. OK?
People (John Hanson Mitchell for one) have walked to Walden. Today we walked around Walden, as millions of others have done. The spirit of Henry David Thoreau was palpable as always. Because of his life and his writings this insignificant pond is one of the world’s famous bodies of water. Amazing! He wrote:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
To live deliberately means to be aware of one’s life each minute, every day I think. Are you? Am I? Probably not but its an idea worth remembering and striving for. Henry started the movement to save the planet when it was not obvious that it was in danger — “In wildness is preservation of the world.” What a concept — one we need more than ever now.
Here is some of what we saw today:
Lee Lozano was discovered by me at the MOMA last week. I was there with my daughter Maria and we wanted to see the huge de Kooning exhibit — which we did and enjoyed muchly.
And I was intrigued by this Lee Lozano piece — musings about form and content. Mathematical and Escher/Godel like it causes the brain to light up a bit. In case you can’t read it, here is what it says:
“I can’t be interested in form for form’s sake. Form is like mathematics: a model which might be applied to various sets of data. Form is seductive: form can be perfect.
But there’s no justification for form (in the experiments and investigations) unless its used to expose content which has meaning. The result of an experiment is the meaningful content.
Information is content. Content is fictional. Content is messy, like the universe its unfinished and furthermore it becomes obsolete so quickly when multiplied by time.
Form is reduplicable, content is not reduplicable.
Fiction has meaning but only in a given instant of time.”
Is form then the structure that we live in? We create messy, impermanent content information and it is fiction. Perhaps because it is impermanent? Fiction/content has meaning but briefly. Form is perhaps eternal.
Powerful, useful thoughts distilled into an 8 by 10 inch sheet of paper and hung in MOMA — I’m glad I saw it there on my visit with Maria.
The unity provided by religion, that is.
Here is a post I just made to Talisman9, a Bahai oriented discussion group:
It was written, “I doubt that religion — the most divisive force we have ever had — will unite us.” Yes this has been written many times and recently by me. Your comment that this is like saying unity is divisive points to a paradox and sets up a question.
If religion unites groups large and small why can’t it be used to unite the world?
The answer and more questions lie within the quote from Abdul Baha that you provided — as is often the case with his writing. He often provides answers that also contain challenges.
“After the moral aspect of humanity becomes readjusted, then the greatest unity will be realized; but without this moral readjustment it is impossible to establish harmony and concord, for it is a fact that war, conflict, friction and strife are but the visible results of deterioration of morality and corruption of character. But when the morality of humanity is beautified with praiseworthy virtues there will be an end to war.”
Here AB doesn’t say that religion will change the moral aspect of humanity (not in this quote) — he says that once the readjustment has taken place — then unity will occur.
I agree with this completely.
Abdul Baha was an enthusiastic supporter of many religions. He said to Elbert Hubbard that his trip to the US would have been worthwhile if it had accomplished nothing more than introducing him to Christian Science. He told many Baha’is who where troubled by the thought of a father or daughter who held onto their birth religion that they should be left alone because their faith was serving them well. I don’t believe that he really thought that everyone would become a Baha’i or that this was necessary for the establishment of a new world order and world peace.
The readjustment that Abdul Baha wrote about will occur one person at a time. There will always be many religions in the world, some making more sense and being more useful than Baha’i. But Baha’i and many other religious movements will continue to help improve the moral aspect of humanity. This does not depend on a particular belief set or particular mythology. Many belief sets and mythologies work well to move people toward Abdul Baha’s vision of moral readjustment.
The paradox of unity is divisive will be undone when people are willing to share and work together with folks who believe differently from them. Many Baha’i’s do this today, some with no intention of converting their colleagues in other religions
What is needed is not one over arching religion designed to unite the world, what is needed is a readjustment of the moral aspect of humanity. This will be done one person at a time through education, communication, study, prayer, philosophy, poetry, religion, literature, painting, photography, altruism, good causes and all of the other positive forces in the world.
The world shrinks more everyday. We know of the suffering of people on the other side of the world in minutes. People are mobilized to help. They join forces even though they probably have differing views of the heavens and earth, of the existence or non-existence of god or gods; of life after death or oblivion. As the Buddhists believe — these things are irrelevant to the readjustment to the moral aspect of humanity. It is the readjustment that is important.
In the end it is love that will unite us, or nothing will
Here is another reply to Alex, my Talisman9 correspondent who has been gracious and patient with me. Please let me know what you think — & Thanks to Sen for his comments — I will reply to him later today.
Good Morning Alex,
Thanks for your thoughtful reply.
I think with religion generally and Baha’i in particular a leap of faith as you say is required in order to buy the whole package. Unusually one must hold his nose to some degree and then take the plunge.
But this requires a set of beliefs about the universe we live in. Belief in God certainly but also belief in some very particular attributes of God. The most fundamental of these beliefs is that the nature of God includes a conscious planning process similar to but far superior to that we humans use.
You cite the cruelty of evolution and natural selection. You wrote:
“I have had to come to terms with a God who uses Evolution and Natural
selection (with all its struggle and seeming random cruelty) as part of His
cosmic scheme to produce the big wide world and creatures (us) who can know
Him and love Him. Why does He do that? Certainly the Big Picture is well hidden from us… but I can’t accept that God is “fallible” – that is all
too human an attribute. Subtle but never perverse?”
I think this is square one in the Parcheesi board of religious thinking. Is God aware of the cruelty inherent in his scheme? Or is he opposed by an evil force that can challenge him going toe to toe? (Scratch the devil of course) And does he use this inherently cruel method so he can be loved? What a cad!!
Personally I reject these ideas. The forces of life that we humans have called God for centuries is a combination of things like the collective conscious, nature, the ineffable world of spirit (invisible part of life’s spectrum) and other stuff I’m sure. Religion tries to package all of this and then tops it off sometimes claiming infallibility!! Cool but I’m not buying.
The Baha’i writings say that all the books are open, all the letters of knowledge revealed. Doesn’t this imply that the writings tell it like it is? But aren’t we still dealing with allegory here? I think the term God represents a force in nature a power that propels existence but any personification of this is allegory near as I can tell. This is my way of explaining the cruelty of life. A personified God who was allows what goes on to continue? Unthinkable. Life as a struggle for the sun light? That’s the life I know.
The writings of Emerson tackle these issues pretty effectively — but not completely or infallibly. I’m reading (wading through is more like it) Kant now and therein lies lots of wisdom regarding how we arrive at ‘judgments’ and make decisions, learn. All good grist for the mill, but Kant is so dense and difficult that there is no consensus re: what he was trying to tell us. I still read Bahaullah and Abdul Baha from time to time but find them no more infallible than Kant or Emerson.
But lets suppose for a moment that Kant was and his writings are infallible. Would it matter? Put 5 expert philosophers in a room and you will have 5 differing views re: what Kant was actually trying to tell us. So Kant’s infallibility would be of no use IMO.
The same is true of much of what Bahaullah wrote. Some of it is very clear (as you say) — the laws for example – other parts are subject to interpretation and will mean differently depending on the reader. Other parts seem haphazard and not well thought out (The Aqdas). Of course the Baha’i answer to this amounts to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” (That is – don’t judge God by human standards.)
I think at two ends of the Baha’i story there are important questions — was Bahaullah constantly in touch with the Godhead? Was he damn near God? (as Bahaullah implied and many Bahia’s believe – or even more extreme — many believe he was God). Did a God who knew exactly what she was doing put him here on earth or was he the outgrowth of a natural process? And at the other more worldly end of the spectrum is the Baha’i way of elections the best way and is the supreme governing body of the Baha’is — the Universal House of Justice — infallible here on earth?
If the answer to either or both of these questions is no then we humans are better off taking from Baha’i writings the nuggets that are helpful and leaving the rest behind. That’s my path; what about you, Alex?
Religions tend to claim infallibility. Its either overt or implied — infallibility.
Perhaps this is a result of dealing with the infinite. If a being, text or object is infinite, perfect or immortal then it is infallible. But this idea raises questions: infallible when, were and to whom? Situational infallibility — is it possible?
We live a life wherein nothing is infallible. Some of us long for an absolute source of guidance.
Below is a post I wrote on Talisman9, a discussion group among Bahais, ex-Bahais and etc. Some background first. Many Bahais believe that the Bahai faith will become the state religion of one country then another and then finally at some point — of the world. They also believe that the governing body of the Bahais is in some matters infallible and will become the governing body of the world in the future. I am responding here to someone who I think believes both things.
Excellent post Alex — thank you for it.
I sincerely hope we will never have another “state religion.” How a state religion and at the same time the separation of church and state is possible eludes me. Your post implies that over time people will see the need for a state religion but I hope not.
“The Guardian’s vision of the future of the Baha’i Faith was inspired by God
(i.e. “infallible”). Accepting this we go on with our lives and try to help
the Faith as best we can, believing that eventually it will bear fruit no
matter how long that might take.”
You equate infallible with inspired by God. This is so very dangerous and extreme. Many ideas are inspired by spiritual sources, the ultimate source is of course ‘God’ the unknowable essence. Sublime poetry is inspired that way. Brilliant flashes of insight as well or at least so it seems to many. If we have tablets of stone that must be followed where is the room for further growth? Of course the Guardian’s vision included a succession of Guardians and that vision he himself rendered impossible. Why did this happen? It happened because people cannot infallibly foretell the future.
Inspired by God is a good term if its is used properly. Inspired by one’s muse perhaps an even better one (after all we can’t know God — “unknowable essence”) By used properly I mean that even ideas inspired by God must be tested and corrected if necessary. We have no choice in this matter as I think the history of Baha’i proves.
Infallibility does have its uses. It is the glue that holds many religions together. But as others have implied, it is only any good to those within the religion claiming this. It is of no use to outsiders and is in fact generally repellant to them (a paradox). And certainly any government that seeks guidance from an infallible source is a dangerous, potentially uncontrollable and monstrous thing. We humans are part of an organic, growing apparently flawed universe. Whether the universe is becoming more perfect or less is as unknowable as God herself. We do know that God makes mistakes — deformed babies born every day prove that.
I think seeking the infallible is not good for human nature — having been born into a world created by a fallible God we should use methods that allow for fallibility. Checks and balances, skepticism, rejection of “foolish consistency,” and a recognition that our progress will all ways be one of step wise refinement AKA taking two steps forward and one step back. No infallibility no matter how it is defined. Inspired by God does not mean — “oh than it must be true.” Not all inspirations are ‘true’ not all apply to this situation or that. All must be tested.
Bahia’s are taught not to judge God by human standards. Herein lies another danger. We have no standards other than those we ourselves have developed through the age-old process of formulate (through thought or inspiration), test, reformulate (seek further inspiration) — IOW step-wise refinement.
I have an old friend who was visited in a dream by Abdul Baha. He discussed an idea during that dream and than awoke to tell the world about it. It was a very good idea and my friend went on to develop it and it was a very good development. But I wish he had kept his dream a secret. It is very difficult to challenge an idea inspired by Abdul Baha. I’m pleased that the idea was developed and tested and proved to be good. But I am fearful of ideas that we can’t challenge.
Thanks again Alex for your good work.
I have often come across references to Immanuel Kant’s most famous work — “The Critique of Pure Reason.” So I finally decided to read it. One of the causes of this impulse is that I have a Kindle reader now and I felt that it might help me with this formidable task. So far I’ve read 10% of the book (according to my Kindle) and it turns out that the Kindle is an enormous aid to reading difficult material.
First of all when using a Kindle a reader has immediate access to a dictionary. Place the cursor next to a word and — bingo — there is the definition. And — as you read you will come across passages that have been highlighted by others. Pay attention to these — sometimes the highlighted passages are keys to understanding. And of course the reader can easily highlight passages for herself and read them later in summary together or singly.
What I’ve found really helpful is to be able to reference other texts along the way. I came across a book by Bertrand Russell entitled “The Problems of Philosophy.” This is a much lighter, shorter book that has a chapter called — “How A Priori Knowledge is Possible.” This book and especially the chapter on a priori knowledge, is very helpful in decoding what Kant was writing about and the points he was making. Russell disagrees with Kant’s conclusions but it is useful to note that Russell writes that there are many differing views among philosophers regarding what Kant’s point actually are. So Russell could be disagreeing with something that Kant did not mean to be saying!
So far I understand the purpose of “The Critique of Pure Reason” to be at least two fold: firstly to “… Make the experiment whether we may not be more successful in metaphysics, if we assume that the objects must conform to our cognition.” Kant writes that there is no good science of metaphysics. He wants to see if it is possible to change that. He wants to address the “… unavoidable problems of mere pure reason … God, freedom (of will), and immortality.” He writes that metaphysics has made miserable progress such that it does not exist as a science.
Secondly, knowledge of God and related concepts can’t be determined empirically, hence this knowledge might be determined via “synthetic a priori knowledge” — intuition, so to speak. But how does this work and can there be a science of it? In Kant’s attempt to define a science of intuition he writes “Time is the formal condition a priori of all phenomena whatsoever. Space, as the pure form of external intuition, is limited as a condition a priori to external phenomena along.”
BTW — a priori simply means preceding — a priori knowledge is that which is obtained prior to any experience in the world of evidence of that knowledge. Or so I understand thus far.
I was able to reference the Russell work and my notes on the Kant text via my Kindle — with great ease. Its simply an excellent aid to reading difficult material.
More to come in my blog about Kant, Russell and the Kindle.
I came across this quote “Anxiety is the fundamental mood of existence” — attributed to Martin Heidegger — in Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson. Markson also wrote that Van Gogh could make everything — even a pair of boots — seem to have anxiety. I don’t remember who he attributed that to.
Wittgenstein’s Mistress is a marvelous book — the height of the experimental novel, according to David Foster Wallace who committed suicide — probably due to his anxiety. But I don’t want to write about the book right now. I want to think out loud about the idea of Heidegger’s about the fundamental mood of life. Is it anxiety for most people? Is anxiety the fundamental mood of your life?
I discussed this with my wife. At first Aurora was skeptical. She is a very positive and cheerful person so ideas like this don’t usually sound right to her. Then, later after thinking for awhile she said something like — “you know it makes sense. We are in a mode (not mood) of survival — always deciding to flee or fight when pressured. And we are often pressured.”
Many of us feel like we are fighting a war. Business is war. The economy is survival of the fittest. In America when its time to file your income taxes it is always anxious time for most of us. We speak of the dog eat dog world. Even our holidays create anxiety. Getting away for a vacation is a source of anxiety for most of us too.
So is the purpose of philosophy and religion to help us over come this anxiety? There is another cause of anxiety — a kind of background noise for our existence as super-sentient beings — the knowledge of our impending, inevitable death. As I read about Buddhism I am learning that one purpose of meditation is to figure out how to deal with knowing that we will certainly die but at a time that is unknown and not of our choosing. Some Buddhists meditate on that daily and afterwards decide how to spend the day — which could be the last one for any living person.
Mortality is one of the truths about life Buddha woke up to. Its a pretty fundamental truth but many mortals do not face it until late in life if ever. By face it I mean think through what it means and how this knowledge should inform our daily life. Buddhist thinking has it that we can only be sure of the present moment. The past is gone, tomorrow may not come and is unknown if it does. Some western religions ask us to focus our attention on ‘the next life.’ Live in a way that will ensure entrance to heaven. Of course Buddhists — some Buddhists — believe in Karma and reincarnation. Karma = actions and the associated reaction of the laws associated with Karma. So this amounts to the same thing, I think.
Meditation is good practice whether dealing with mortality or trying to calm jittery nerves. So is being in nature if one really is there to enjoy it. Real work can also relieve anxiety but there isn’t as much of that around as there used to be. By real work I man doing something for the joy of the work itself and what it will accomplish. Some of us still have that kind of work, others seek it and make it out of an avocation. But there is no doubt that real work is a big help. And maybe the most favorable way to calm down to to help others. I think after meditation there are Buddhists who decide to do just that as well as Catholics, Unitarians and atheists as well.
I recently read a book entitled “Buddhism Without Beliefs” by Stephen Batchelor Its a condensed introduction to Buddhist practice and thinking without the mysticism. A little like Thomas Jefferson’s bible — Jefferson cut out all the mysticism and miracles from the New Testament and made a book that was mostly the sayings and wisdom of Jesus. I highly recommend it. It might help you deal with your anxiety — it helped me with mine.
First of all Shepard Fairey’s exhibit at the ICA Boston is stunning visually, impressive politically and I want to see it again. Fairey is an artist of the streets who made it to the legit museum and gallery world. He graphically shows us how confused we are. Guns and roses, life and death, love and hate etc.
His arrest on the way to his own opening over an old graffiti rap was stupid and put Boston in a bad light. The local cops apparently didn’t know that their acions would be picked up around the world and that they would seem odd to most people who care about art. Sure private property needs to be protected but Fairey’s deal is that he can appropriate private property, use it to communicate his own, highly worthwhile message and he seems to expect to usually get away with it (“art is what you can get away with” saith the Warhol).
Well, I get it. His street work is clever and intriguing so I guess if he doesn’t tag my house I’m ok with his methods ;>) Or to put it another way, urban public spaces are usually enhanced by graffiti of this caliber. I guess. Its a matter of taste and will always be controversial.
Yeah but wait a minute — something strange happened on my way to the museum — Because I asked I was told that no photography of Shepard Fairey’s work would be permitted. In other words I couldn’t appropriate his stuff for, say my blog or even just to show my friends. Yet the brochure handed out at he museum said — “Know the words” — and the first word is “Appropriate!” Yep, that’s what Shepard does, but he doesn’t want any appropriations of his stuff. Is that fair or or does it even make sense?
So I only took one sneaky photo (see below). Also took some legit ones of the building and surroundings – shots of the architecture are ok according to the young man in black who sold us our tickets. (He was in black so he must be hip..)
It would be ironic to be arrested or kicked out for taking photos of Shepard Fairey’s work (which mostly have appropriated photos and other stuff in them) — know what I mean? What do you think?
(BTW — I pulled the ‘Obey’ tag from a random place on the internet. It is available world wide for your appropriation and delight!)