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Some of us fear the woods

Some of us fear the woods


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!


Who or what made this?


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?

Frank


Chicago

Chicago Street at Night


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.


We dimly remember our fear

This is a holiday season because we have always feared the darkness. Not so much now with electricity and enlightenment. Yet still we fear death because it is the dying of the light and might be painful. Today marks the longest night and shortest day. We no longer believe that our ceremonies and rituals are needed to ensure the rebirth of the light on earth, but what do we believe about death? James Carroll wrote a good column today in the Globe “Religion, science, and the solstice.” He concludes that knowledge is holy. But what of our knowledge of the soul and its rebirth after death? Is  — as Carroll writes — today’s darkness tomorrow’s” light, or is it just more darkness?

Is our lack of knowledge proof that no rebirth is possible? I don’t think so. Yet we are in the dark about this in the same way as our ancestors were in the dark about the cycles of the earth thousands of years ago. I have faith in the economy of the universe — that nothing is wasted and that our essence has a future. Whether my consciousness survives remains for me to see (a contradiction — yes this is a contradiction and paradox). None of the proofs of the immortality of the human soul seem to work for me. And I observe no rituals to ensure its progress after death. Maybe I should seek some potent rituals designed for this purpose. Or maybe I should simply live my life knowing that I will eventually experience death and transfiguration — a process not to be feared because it is inevitable.  As  Baha’is chant — in the end “We will all verily abide by the will of God.”

What do you think? Do you fear that the light, once extinguished will not be reborn?


tom-paul-2006-06-1

What has your life prepared you for?

For Philippe Petit his life prepared him for the wire walk between the Twin Towers of New York. 

Sully Sullenberger’s life prepared him to land a airliner safely in the Hudson River saving the lives of 155 people.

A favorite story about Picasso  sums this idea up very well. 

Picasso was sitting at a table outside a Paris cafe. A woman came up to him and asked him to draw something for her on a napkin. He complied, doodling as only he could. After he quickly finished he requested the French equivalent  of $5,000. Agast the woman said — “but it only took you 2 minutes!” Smiling, the great man replied — “no Madam, it took me my whole life.”

What has your life prepared you to do?  Can you say it out loud? Do you think it is nothing important? If so I suspect you are wrong. I think there is something you are very well qualified to do, something quite important. Part of your qualification to do this is the life you have lived so far.

Do you know what it is? Tell me about it if you can.


“Night Walk” Photograph copyright Frank Winters a Canon G9 image

Night Walk

Luke 17:20, 21:

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, the kingdom cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here, or lo there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

In the Baha’i writings the thirteenth Hidden Word says:

“O Son of Spirit!

I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his journal:

“The highest revelation is that God is in every man.”

And in his essay Nature he recounts a transcendental experience:

“Standing on the bare ground,–my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,–all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God”

I believe that these passages refer to the same truth. That God is within each of us and that by turning within we may find God.

The quote from Baha’ullah is particularly interesting. Taken as a whole it seems to recount humankind’s evolution and self invention through Nature and the acquisition of knowledge. Nature is the clay of love. The essence of knowledge refers to the source of mankind’s mental growth and spiritual evolution as well as the process of discovery through science and intuition.

The Lord’s prayer says “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread…” Baha’is believe this refers to the time when Baha’ullah came to fulfill the prophecy. Many Christians believe this refers to a future time when Christ will return in the glory of the father and bring about the kingdom of God on earth.

But the kingdom of God is within you says Jesus. Baha’ullah says find Me within you. Emerson says he and all of us are the part and parcel of God.

That’s enough for me. The good news is that the kingdom can come for us in the here and now as can eternity, just as our daily bread comes. However, the kingdom is in the future for most of us because we have not achieved what Buddha called nirvana. But his views will wait for another time!

I am pleased to have reached this conclusion after thinking about these and other passages for months if not years. While I am open to finding a different meaning to them I find this understanding clear and helpful. Meditation will now be easier, I think.

A primary difficulty for me in accepting the Baha’i faith as the basis for belief is in the concept of the Covenant which says that God will send messengers every thousand years or so and humankind will accept and follow them. Baha’i believe that no direct contact with God is possible. All knowledge from God must come through a Manifestation, they believe — because that’s what Baha’ullah taught even though he also wrote the thirteenth Hidden Word.

Many Baha’is over the years have told me that they respect or are fond of Emerson yet he taught just the opposite from this fundamental (and somewhat fundamentalist) Baha’i belief. I think this is because Baha’i beliefs are inconsistent internally. Look at them or interpret them one way and they are aligned, for example, with Emerson. Take another look and they are not. But I imagine this is true of organized religion generally. (Of course I am not nearly knowledgeable enough to know if this is true.)

I’m interested in knowing what others think about this. What did Jesus mean? Are the passages above saying the same or similar things, or not? Do you feel that the Kingdom of God could possible be within you?


No Choice

A street scene during an election year. We do have choices, don’t we?

The new movie about the life of Bob Dylan — “I’m not here” — has gotten raves. Dylan is played by 6 actors including a 14 year old black actor, Ricard Gere and Cate Blanchett. The movie apparently shows Dylan as a nonexistent shape shifter who changes as soon as his persona becomes intelligible.

Yep — that’s our Bob.

Would that we could learn from his life performance. Would that the rest of humanity could be like Bob, Norman Mailer (currently stirring things up in heaven) and Muhammad Ali who said something like “I don’t have to be like all you people want me to be — I can be whoever I want to be.” He said that after he became the Champ.

But we can’t be like that. We are stuck in the structure of society and economics. We must be who we are supposed to be because we got to live out our lives that way somehow (a little Dylan derivative text).

This is called structural prejudice by sociologists and other learned types. I’m going to delve into it and try to understand what that means and what if anything an individual can do about it.

Bigotry is pretty close to dead. It’s still alive but very subtle and not at all PC. The force that keeps people down is the force of the weight of the years and traditions that impel us to behave in ways that are counter to our better nature.

We are so damn smug and self centered. We are sure that we are God or no-god’s chosen bunch. Each ethnic group tends to feel this way — at least the ones I have experience with. We middle class types put real estate values above almost everything for god’s sake but do we do it because we can’t help it? Maybe, yet we must help.

Last Sunday Reverend Cindy challenged the congregation at First Parish Church to do something about racial inequity in Westford. Blacks earn 40% less than whites she said and there are only 62 whites in Westford. She asked two questions: “How can that be?” and “What are you going to do about it?”

Her suggestion was to give away 10% of our earnings. That might work — certainly if everyone did it it would help even things our.

But it got me thinking (thanks Cindy!) What is really wrong? I think it has to do with were we find ourselves today and our inability to reinvent ourselves. That’s what we need to do — reinvent ourselves – each and everyone of us.

Traditions are good unless they aren’t. We should question our traditional values all the time. Like Emerson taught. Face life each day and question our motives and what we feel we must do. Reinvent ourselves as often as possible.

I think this is what Henry Ford meant when he said “History is bunk!” Yeah, we need to learn from history but as soon as we feel it dictates our actions and thoughts we need to forget it and move on.

Just like Bob Dylan did/does.


Gandhi

(Photo of Gandhi statue in New York’s Union Square)

Faith is defined in many ways but Gandhi put it this way:

“Faith is putting your foot on the first rung of a ladder when you don’t know where it leads.”

I think belief requires more evidence. It requires knowledge, whereas faith results from the sum of many things — emotion, experience, gut feel, desire, hope — adding up to a decision to put your foot on that rung of that particular ladder.

Belief is somewhere between knowledge and faith. Yet Abdul Baha (son of Baha’ullah, founder of the Baha’i faith) said that

“Faith is conscious knowledge.”

Knowledge to belief to Faith? Does it work that way? Or must faith be a leap?

I think we require all three to live a happy, useful life. Some people focus on one or another. Intellectuals want knowledge so they can formulate beliefs. Religious people tend to have faith — sometimes for reasons they can’t articulate. Many of us have weakly defined beliefs that may inform decisions such as who to vote for but often beliefs, by themselves don’t result in action.

If you believe in God do you act as if you had faith in God? Do you really trust in God? You know God — the creator of heaven and earth who we can’t see, never meet and who seems indifferent to human suffering. Or do you define God differently? Do you have knowledge of God if you believe in God? If so how have you achieved this?

(To help answer this question, I recommend Tolstoy’s book “The Kingdom of God is Within You.” It will test your understanding of belief and faith in God.)

The longer I live the more I have faith in people. Emerson wrote that God was an Over-Soul — near as I can tell this is a collective made up of the souls of all people. To me this is another way of saying that man created God, but not as a fiction.

I am starting to believe this but don’t yet have faith in it because I don’t have enough knowledge.

Know what I mean?


Sink

This is what a Buddhist monk said to a student when asked “What is the meaning of life?”

This simplifies my life. I think of this wisdom every day and always promptly do the dishes.


Mushroom Village

In his famous essay “Nature” Emerson says that

“Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact. Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture.”

I love the essay but tend to reduce it or over think it at times.

The essay continues in the same paragraph saying:

“Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture. An enraged man is a lion, a cunning man is a fox, a firm man is a rock, a learned man is a torch. A lamb is innocence; a snake is subtle spite; flowers express to us the delicate affections. Light and darkness are our familiar expression for knowledge and ignorance; and heat for love. Visible distance behind and before us, is respectively our image of memory and hope.”

So I wonder what the meaning of mushrooms is.

Maybe they represent people of all shapes and sizes in the world. Some are delightful, others poison. They grow every where or so it seems and are very adaptable.

What do you think mushrooms ‘mean?’ Is Emerson to be taken literally? Or are mushrooms too insignificant to have any meaning?

Here are some to look at while you think:

Mushroom Couple

Tree Sroom

The photo below has two bonuses from the animal kingdom. They might have a clue re: mushroom and their meaning…..

Trio with Toad

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