Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Brigid Meditation 2: Entitlement and Boundaries

August 25, 2002

Recently I have been confronted with reoccurring themes of entitlement, obligation, and boundaries.

The first two appear to be dysfunctions of the virtue of sharing. Dysfunction may be too strong of a word, however, in the context of boundaries. If a friend continually takes you out to dinner, or buys you gifts, it is taken as an act of generosity at first. But if it is often repeated with no opportunity for return, a sense of obligation ensues.

If a person has any sense about the virtue of sharing, they will feel some guilt at being something of a “parasite”. If the giver expects something in return for his or her gifts or services, then it is not unconditional giving – there is a sense of entitlement, of getting something deserved in return. This is not restricted to gift-giving; it can happen between an employer and an employee. I work in government, where people are frequently underpaid, and this sense of entitlement rears its ugly head quite often. Two things should be borne in mind. One, non-attached giving is always more satisfactory than attached giving. In a microcosm/macrocosm sense, ideals and goals that have worldly attachments are also not as satisfactory as detached ones; one is always left wanting. The sense of entitlement in such mundane circumstances is often a reflection of the internal dissatisfaction. The second thing to be borne in mind is the big picture. Using the job analogy, one may be underpaid, but they might have airtight job security and excellent benefits. Sometimes one has a lenient employer who does not nickel and dime you for every minute worked. If one is really very unhappy and cannot rid themselves of the sense of entitlement, then it could be a sign of boredom or stagnation, in which case the best choice is to leave and find a more satisfactory situation. It should be remembered that whatever the new situation brings, it will be lacking in some area—no situation is “perfect.” To quote Amy Zerner: “Dissatisfaction results from wanting things to be as they are not. Feel the goodness in things staying as they are.”

In the case of obligation within relationships, this is almost never healthy in the long term. For example, a relationship with an alcoholic often becomes an enabler/victim scenario. One enables the alcoholic when they pick up the slack for their neglected responsibilities. Often this is because the consequences of the alcoholic’s non-responsibility negatively affects the enabler. As a result, the alcoholic/victim will always assume they will be bailed out of any trouble they cause, and do not cease in the offending behavior. In short—they never grow as human beings. The only way to deal with such a situation is to cut bait and let this person make their own way. Here we come into the domain of boundaries and detached love—you love someone enough to let them make their own mistakes. Support is one thing, taking over someone else’s responsibilities is another. The Divine/Universe never gives us more than we can handle. If the alcoholic fails, he or she has no one to blame but him/herself, which is the hardest thing to accept.

I will take a side trip here into issues of control and accountability. Sometimes we become enmeshed in another’s problems to feel good about ourselves. This is another ego attachment. I call it the “martyr syndrome”—one does good works simply to show the world that they do good works. Ammachi has pointed out that selfless giving comes only from God; all other giving has some kind of selfish motive. One of the great mysteries of human relationships is that sometimes one is more compassionate in cutting someone off than in continuing this kind of control/controller bond. Without animosity, you can let someone go, that they may find their way and not use you as a crutch. They may not learn, and may find others to fill the same function, but that is not your concern.

Being too concerned with another’s problems is often the consequence of avoiding self-knowledge. We seek to fix the problems of others, because we see reflected in them our projection of the problems we need to fix within ourselves. Projections are dangerous, and cause people to think that they must know what’s best for another human being. They rob that person of the chance to “do it themselves”. Pity is a deplorable feeling because it falls into this category. Pity says, “I feel sorry for you because you’re not like me.” It’s a hugely egotistical statement.

Speaking of “like me”—have you noticed that a definition of “normal” could be “like me”? We consider those who are not like us to be “strange”. This again is a problem of ego attachment—we identify ourselves with our myths and our worldly status, and do not see the Universe as a whole. Our lives become the model for the lives of others. “We are actors playing a role so well that we have forgotten that we are actors.” It is necessary to develop Self-awareness, to be able to discriminate between Self and worldly persona. Even if we are not fully Self-aware, this insight can be monumentally helpful in “performing right action.” No longer burdened by those illusions, we can look at other human beings with detached compassion.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


As you know, I am a huge fan of LOLcats. I have noticed that the Ceiling Cat pictures have taken on a full theology of their own, and can now be considered a religion. All the elements are there:

There is a Deity:

There is a Creation Myth:

There is a Scripture:

There is Theodicy:

There is a theology to go along with the Theodicy:

There is a Sotierology:

There is a Religious Order:

There is Proselytization:

And a few religious crazies:

Finally (so to speak), there is an Eschatology:

So, likes, everywun shud wershup de Ceiling Cat, k?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Brigid Meditation 1: The Self

August 24, 2002

There are two entirely different definitions of the word “self”. In the more familiar sense, “self” has to do with the ego—as in “selfish” or “selfless”. It is essentially worldly, because it puts the wants of the individual before the needs of others. Philip Berg (The Essential Zohar) described addiction as a misplaced longing for God. Similarly, the materialistic goals of the ego are a substitute for the ultimate satisfaction of Union with God. But, as Paul Tillich noted (Dynamics of Faith), all concerns that are not the Ultimate Concern will ultimately lead to disillusionment. Addictive behaviors, such as drinking and smoking, are temporary fixes used to contend with disappointments of disillusionment. One might be disillusioned with the government, with one’s family, with one’s church, or with a lover. Whatever it may be, it was someone or something held as a high ideal by that person. And, like all “worldly attachments”, it will ultimately let us down.

Which brings me to the other definition of “self”. This is Self with a capital “s”, for it is the realized Self. If we follow what Tillich says, faith in worldly attachments and literalist interpretations of faith that are tied up with our egos and neuroses are idolatrous. Then, if true faith is Ultimate Concern, then it has to do with who we really are and why we are here. This is why self-realization is very important. It is required to understand these very things. Introspection has no relationship to selfishness; on the contrary, it is a tool for rising above the mundane, and seeing the Divine in oneself, and in everyone else. Carl Jung, the first psychoanalyst to introduce the idea of self-realization, did not really believe it was possible for humans to become totally self-realized or “individuated”. Indeed, there are few realized Selfs walking around on this Earth. But of those who are, you would notice a lack of “selfishness”. In fact, such people are often selfless, wishing to help others fulfill their purpose and put an end to suffering.

What are the “purposes of humanity”? The Ultimate goal, which can be seen in the mysticism of any religion, is Union with God (or whatever you prefer to call that ultimate consciousness/reality). This means dissolution of the Ego and the willingness of the soul to collapse into No-Thing, which is actually a Divine Bliss. In a Kabbalistic metaphor, the Tree of Life retracts upon itself. If I may attempt to use a metaphorical image: if we picture God as a Great Man of Light, then humans are the reflection of this Great Man. There is a Jewish term for this Great Man: Adam Kadmon. The Divine Reflection is made up of a sea of Divine fires, and these are individual souls. Because they are the Divine Reflection, they are really a part of “God”. However, there is a veil drawn between the manifested Divine Reflection (which could be called “God’s creation”) and the Divine Itself, so that we cannot in fact see that we are part of the Divine. The Kabbalistic term for this veil is the tzimtzum. The Kabbalistic tradition says that the Messiah will come and the world will end when Adam Kadmon becomes fully conscious of what he Is. This would require all souls to be aware of their Divine origin and connection.

However, the path to self-knowledge is difficult, and once a soul achieves something like self-realization, it faces many dangers. This is called the Lucifer aspect of Tiphareth. Tiphareth is the middle sephiroth of the Tree of Life, and is often represented as Moses standing on Mt. Sinai—you can look up and see the “face of God” and also look down and see the Kingdom from a broader perspective. ShTain (Satan) appears at this point to see if we can be drawn back to the worldly—our worthiness is tested (see Job AND Jesus’ temptation). People who practice Satanism are folks who often reach a point of self-realization, but they think of it as a self-contained phenomenon (self rather than Self, their individual selves rather that the Whole)—and so they see themselves as Divine and no one else. Because they are tied up in self and not Self, they are often hedonistic—interested in their own material pleasures and pursuits rather than moving beyond their realization to become one with the Whole. They believe they can control others because they “are” God. An O.T.O. Brother once noted with amusement that “Satanists shake their fist at an empty sky, and yet create their circles invoking the high Holy names of God.” This is highly illogical, as you could not be protected by something that isn’t supposed to exist. This inherent contradiction is evidence of the self/Self mix-up.

The Brigid Meditations

Starting today, I am going to post a series of things that I wrote back in 2002-2003. To give you some background--I had just met Ammachi, had discovered Thelema, and was spending hours on prayer, meditation, and introspection. It was difficult to ground myself in the material world in those days, and I had frequently contemplated the idea of joining a religious order, or otherwise committing to a life of contemplation and silence. That was not to be, and I've found myself trying to integrate that silence and contemplation with my crazy/insane life.

I recently rediscovered these writings, when I was looking for notes for a book I am currently working on. Given the state of mind I was in when I wrote these, I find them very interesting. I'm curious to see what you think. Feel free to comment!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

American Government and the Will of the People

In the last couple of weeks, I finally finished the book “Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution” by Woody Holton. The book is an account of American government during the days of the Articles of Confederation, and all of the chaos that ensued from the economics of that period. Paper money was virtually worthless, government bonds couldn’t be repaid, and there was little actual gold and silver to go around. There was a constant battle between debtors and creditors that often caused taxes to go unpaid, and gave the new nation a bad credit rating with other countries. Holton goes into great detail about these things, quoting extensively from primary sources. This should be interesting, but frequently it gets tedious. In certain parts of the text, I felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again for pages at a time. This is why it took me so long to finish the book (about 3 or 4 months).

Towards the end of the text, Holton discusses the Constitutional Convention. It was supposed to be a session for the revising of the Articles of Confederation, but many of those attending the Convention had a total overthrow of the Articles in mind when they sat down to the table, though they did not mention this to their constituents, or at the Convention, at least not initially. If they had told their constituents what they had in mind, they probably would have never been sent to the Convention in the first place. Amid this discussion, there was a quote that stuck with me: “[An] elected representative is not simply an instrument of his constituents’ will. He is instead an independent thinker who ought to execute justice as he himself defines it” (p. 181).

This is fascinating, as much as it is ironic. If the members of the Convention had not been swayed to this type of thinking, the Constitution may not have happened, and the United States may have failed as a nation.

So, in turn, I find myself thinking about our current governmental situation. Most of us who despise Bush as a President do so because he is often deaf to the will of the people. He most certainly “execute(s) justice as he himself defines it.” A characteristic of the Constitutional Convention had been the economic standing of those present—all the delegates were wealthy men, and represented their own interests. One criticism of the current Republican government is the favoring of the wealthy and of big business. In short, things don’t appear to have changed much ideologically. What is interesting is that this attitude is what saved our country early on, but currently it appears to be destroying it.

What is the difference here, or more importantly, what is the historical lesson? It seems to me that this lopsided representation doesn’t have to have a negative result. I am not implying that I think Bush has made the right choices in his tenure. If anything, it may prove that ideologies have spectra within themselves, and no one ideology works for all situations. The same medicine obviously does not cure all ills.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI and Relativism

Recently, the new Pope came to the United States. I did not go to see him; however, I did watch a couple of specials on him on the Catholic channel (EWTN). There was an article on him in the New York Times, and another in the Newark Star Ledger. I haven't read either of them yet. However, from what I've gleaned from recent news articles and the Catholic channel specials, there is more to Pope Benedict that initially meets the eye.

For one—I share one great passion with him: books. He begged John Paul II not to take him away from his great library in Bavaria. If he hadn't joined the Church, I'd bet the man would have become a professional cataloger. He fits the stereotype—shy, bookish, not wanting to go out and entertain the general public. As a professional cataloger myself, I run into this stereotype all the time; I sort of fit it, but not in an extreme way. In any case, I understand the desire to be buried by books and avoid the idiocies and politics of the organization. Part of his negative reputation no doubt stems from his introversion—he is not charismatic in the way John Paul II was.

However, there is a downside to his insular, bookish approach to Catholicism. For all of the theologizing Benedict has done, it has isolated him in some respects from the real world and how it operates. This does not make him unique compared to a lot of priests, but it's more noticed because of his office—previously as a Cardinal, and now as Pope.

Before becoming Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger made some interesting statements. He blames the Church for turning the Mass into an empty recitation of formulas. The hollowness of much Catholic faith clearly disturbs him, and he is right to be disturbed. But it was one telling statement in particular that made my eyebrows go up, even though it really shouldn't; Ratzinger talked about the rise of “relativism” in Church culture—by telling the faithful that there are no absolute truths, they fall prey to a relativism that has a selfish egoism as its goal. I seem to remember him throwing mysticism of certain types into that category.

This is where I disagree with Ratzinger's theology, or at least it shows how Church theology does not square with life as people experience it. The goal of relativism is not egoism. The problem is that the faithful are told that there is only one version of the truth, and then their life experiences teach them in no uncertain terms that this cannot be so. Their life experiences do not jive with Church teachings. Certain issues like abortion and homosexuality are NOT black and white issues, and the faithful come to an uneasy realization about this that leads to conflict.

To give an example: my Mom told me about a Sunday in her church where the priest passed around a “pro-life” petition that all parishioners were asked to sign. He actually watched to see who signed and who didn't. In the end, most parishioners didn't sign. Why? Because they're in favor of abortion? Probably not. But they are uneasy with the idea that abortion is wrong in all cases. What if a father rapes his daughter and she gets pregnant? That's a tough one. Could you blame the girl for wanting an abortion? The alternative is to have no safe alternative, and we know the kinds of horrors that occurred prior to Roe v. Wade. The Church's hard-line teaching on abortion didn't come about until the 19th century—prior to that, they believed abortion was wrong after the second trimester, which is in line with Jewish teaching as well. So what changed? Did someone suddenly have a revelation from God that all abortion is wrong? Of course not. The Church was losing members. By not allowing the faithful to have abortions, and disallowing birth control, they hoped to increase the Church population. The reasons are political, not spiritual. And it has ballooned into a huge political issue, a sort of "litmus test" of a good Christian in more conservative circles who actually think being a Christian is a prerequisite for public office.

When “good Catholics” who are sincere about their faith find these things out, it causes serious struggles psychologically. This can cause them to either break with the Church, disregard most of Church dogma in favor of relativism, or embrace its doctrine in a “forced literalist” kind of way.

So, if the Pope is looking to keep members who are “healthy” Christians, he really needs to think his position on relativism, as do the theologians of the Vatican and elsewhere. I agree with Pope Benedict when he says theology should be a “guideline”--guideline necessarily means that it is not an absolute interpretation. From a faith point of view—how you can determine or control the will of God? Who says that God follows the rules you've laid out? It's pure hubris to think that the Ultimate only works within the limitations of our own religious thinking. The Ultimate is beyond our comprehension, and our level of surrender must therefore be flexible, open to whatever we are presented with. Too often the lessons learned from experiences do not jive with man-made doctrines, no matter how inspired or well-thought-out. Discriminating between right and wrong is not usually simple and straightforward.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Robyn Hitchcock and Nick Lowe at Manhattan Center

I saw Robyn Hitchcock and Nick Lowe at the Manhattan Center last night. I met up with a friend and colleague of mine and her husband before the show at Tir Na Nog’s, which proved to be a great find—there aren’t too many great restaurants right around Penn Station. After some chaos with line management (not to mention that you need to take the elevator to the 7th floor to get to the Grand Ballroom—is that a fire hazard?), we got into the venue, and were surprised that there were assigned seats. After having some cabernet, I left my friends to return to my own seat.

Both sets were purely acoustic, and both performers are great performers. They keep the show interesting with their patter, and the songs they played were great. Robyn Hitchcock came on first. I have to admit that I do not know Robyn Hitchcock’s catalog of music that well—the couple of albums I do know I absolutely love. With a lot of songs I often find the music moves me more than the lyrics, but Robyn Hitchcock is a great lyricist, so I find the reverse is true with him (not to slight the music, which is also excellent). He chattered about Ghandi sleeping with a Fender Telocaster (which he never touched—he just kept it there to prove he was above temptation), and how tuning a guitar is representative of “consensus”—there are 3 strings that need to be tuned. He is tuning 2 of those. The third one is probably already in tune, but he needs to coordinate it with the other two. A sort of metaphor for “consensus” on the Iraq war, he noted. He played for about 50 minutes, and ended with a song he was asked to write for the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights document writing, which was amazing (though he couldn’t understand why they didn’t ask David Crosby instead of him).

Nick Lowe came on next. He was suffering from a throat infection that he “smuggled in” from the UK, and had a sort of pride in the fact that American medicines for this sort of thing just could not take it down. This was by way of apology for the fact that he would probably hit some strange notes that evening, and we would probably be able to pick them out.

Nick is releasing a new album, and re-releasing much of his old stuff as well, hence the tour. The show was a little over an hour. He didn’t play too many new songs—he noted that when people pay good money to see a show, and the performer says “We’re going to perform a new song”, the audience tends to fall into two camps. The first camp says, “Bring it on, we can’t get enough of it,” the second camp says, “How long will this take?” Nick confessed to being one of the second camp, and assured the “second-campers” in the audience that it wouldn’t take long at all. The new song was called, “I Read a Lot,” and was more in the country style that Nick seems to prefer on his later albums. I had been hoping he would play my two favorite songs by him—“Cruel to be Kind,” and “All Men are Liars,” and he delighted me by playing both.

Here is the set list, not necessarily in perfect order. If I’m missing songs (and I feel like I am), feel free to correct me if you’re reading this and attended the show:

People Change
What’s Shakin’ on the Hill
Long Limbed Girl
All Men are Liars
I Trained Her to Love Me
When I Write the Book
Lately I’ve Let Things Slide
Has She Got a Friend?
I Read a Lot
Cruel to be Kind
Without Love
Hope For Us All
Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day
I Live on a Battlefield
Shelley My Love
Man That I’ve Become
I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock ‘n’ Roll
What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding?