Lah ti dah, la la laa…

Our job at this stage of our development, says R. Steiner, is to transform our feeling life through the I.  Huh?  What what?

The “I” is our higher ego, the one that outlives our physical body. The feeling life is the entire body of likes and dislikes, identities and aspirations, tastes, judgments, attachments, and impulses, both noble and low, that we tote around with us. And the work of the I in transforming that body of feelings is somehow connected with the deepest part of the original Christian message. That’s about as far as I can see into that.

Oh, and to get there we’re supposed to work with imaginations. These are the little (or big) insights we receive about the way things work, or thought pictures, or events we bring to life through our thinking, and through our thinking we bring higher consciousness down into the world.

As for me, I know I’m not good at any meditative discipline. Maybe in the fall I can take something up again. All spring and summer I’ve been taking grace for granted—spending from my savings so to speak—and turning away from meditation with a will. I feel like there may be a reckoning for this at some time to come; but I also know at some level I’ve chosen it and will learn a lesson from whatever the consequence is. Of course, if I’ve done harm, or failed to do some good, through my lack of a practice, I hope for a chance to restore things in this life. (More grace, please?)

Even without a practice, I’m hungry all the time for a glimpse behind the curtain. So I’m hungering and at the same time refusing to do the main thing that might feed me. The hunger, or rather the eagerness for the experience of growth and living, tells me I’m not completely asleep, and I’m trying—trying, not mastering, but trying—to be silent more and let the world speak to me through its forms. I’m trying to observe things without naming them or explaining them. That is a kind of practice, more of an abstaining than a doing, and I know it’s like scattering seeds—some will grow, but only to the degree I’ve given them good soil to grow in. The rest are not wasted, of course, but their effect is much less than it could have been.

There you have it—Summer.

Fear Feeds Itself

Green leaves reflected on the rippling surface of a lake.

If I say love operates in the world as a force, what does that say about fear? Or is that the wrong way to ask? It assumes that love is an emotion, which makes it easier to view as a sentiment or even a chemical byproduct of our bodies. It also makes it on a level with simpler emotions.

So let’s say Love is a fundamental force, like gravity or magnetism. Fear, then? They say fear is the absence of love. But I don’t feel like love has gone from me even though I have fear.

It’s asking a whole lot to say we should live in these times without fear. Fear comes out of attachment and the longing to preserve things the way they are, or used to be. Maybe it comes from a lack of faith in the power of love, or in the spiritual helpers who work and weave in subtle ways around us. It may also mean we don’t really understand the gift of freedom, which we reduce to material, legalistic terms but don’t respect in a broader, spiritual way.

Whatever the source of fear is, we have to ask now whether we can be free of it. It has begun to look like we should fear Fear itself, as though fear is being used as a weapon or a tool to keep the people in a state of emotional unrest. In this way it doesn’t matter which side you’re on, like them or despise them, pro or con, you’re resonating with fear and high-strung emotions and thereby easily manipulated. It feeds itself.

There are going to be a lot of changes that we can take as gut-punches in the coming few years: unchecked assaults on the environment, on social supports, on civil rights, on human dignity and (if we go back to war) on human lives. The effort to return America to greatness masks a desire to go backwards, to undo what modest progress we had been making toward being responsible, accountable people. We can take these all at the material level and live in a condition of chronic despair, or we can cultivate the seeds of all the higher impulses that were, and always will be, moving us forward.

There is a physical narrative and there is a spiritual narrative. Everything we do and see has a corresponding story that unfolds invisibly. In the material world we see the battles as Right vs. Wrong, but in the invisible world the stories play out between Love and Less-than-Love, Wisdom and Less-than-Wisdom. The more we seek our news in these stories the more we will be free from despair.

No Screen

I’m looking at the news coverage of a man in solider’s camouflage who got in a scuffle with the pro-immigration marchers here in Louisville. Hoo boy, I think, this’ll be good. I can’t wait to hear what idiot hate-speak comes out of his mouth! But then they put the microphone to him and pffft, he turns out to be intelligent. He actually makes sense; he just disagrees with the other people there. How disappointing!

 

Can we take some time to see ourselves in a different way from our common view? Let us see if having our faith inform both our attitudes and our actions can give us that elusive sense of hope we look to for sustenance.

Taking some time: Even the act of stepping back from the urgency of opinions to look for another viewpoint alters us.

The question we are used to asking ourselves is, “What do I think about that?” We look at a situation–something in the news, for instance–and form an opinion on it. To a greater or lesser extent, then, depending on our interest, we develop a “stake” in the situation. We develop a greater or lesser concern for how the situation comes out. Having views on the conditions of the world becomes part of the structure of our lives–part of the dwelling we construct for ourselves. Forming and holding views becomes a ritualized habit that contributes to our very identity.

A different question shifts the focus from an idealized view to one of participation: “What do I do?”

The atomizing effects of our cultural evolution, and of our mass media and technology choices, reinforce a tendency to see the world as something “out there” that happens to us, around us. We tend to retreat into our minds and view the world as if on a screen. Asking “What do I do?” helps to lower the screen and put us in the scene with all the other players.

Mother Teresa famously said, “There are no great deeds. Only small deeds done with great love.” Deeds done out of love have the immediacy of impulse because love is brought forth in the moment. Yesterday’s calculation, or the opinions I formed of the people around me and their actions, do not produce the effects of love in the present. In our time only the conscious application of our will to love can have a transformative effect.

“What do I do?” means, “What could my impulse to love do to make this situation better?” Rather than separating people through our judgments, and in doing so defining ourselves as “different” and “other” from them, we might look at the healing power we have right at hand at every moment. And what happens in these moments, when we consciously apply love in our interactions in place of judgment, takes place within ourselves.

Let’s not mistake love that arises from our identification with other people for a kind of pitying condescension that comes from moralistic judgment. Moralism only reinforces our separation. It’s through our ability to see “the others” in ourselves, and ourselves in them–an ability that’s cultivated–that the screens come down. It’s then that we open ourselves to something not of our own creation. When we sacrifice our will to judge or correct others in the moment, we enact love and generosity.

Likewise, in looking to faith to inform our actions, let’s not consider faith as merely the dictates of our particular religious creeds. We will not embody faith by falling back on rules or recitations. Rather, we look for the fruits of these within us and hope to express them in what we think and do. Rudolf Steiner talked about faith as not just a sufficiency of love, enough to fill the heart, but an overflowing of love. I think the emphasis is on the action.

The question I feel I should pose myself every day (many times) becomes: “What would it feel like to stream love out like a burning sun, to everyone I encounter?” I will try to construct a new dwelling out of this.

 

Old poems never die…

Many-colored rectangles colliding peaceably at angles, with a broad stripe winding across on a diagonal.

Here is a poem from two decades ago that still has some resonance for me as I try to pay my debts with love. I’ve posted a bunch more of these old soldiers and am making them march around again (see the link to Poems up near the top of the page). If you’re interested, please go see them so their efforts won’t be in vain. (Thank them for their service, you know, that kind of thing.)

 

       After the Demonstration
Nothing makes me as lonely as being told
how unified we are. The cell swirls
in jubilation and I am expelled into orbit.
There is great freedom in wanting different 
from anyone else. In my life, I have evolved:
First I despised the haters. Next I looked down
on those who despised them. Now, adrift and rolling away,
I have the next person trapped in me, and I despise 
my righteous isolation, my mirrors, my need to judge.

The Pentecostals (whom  I now love
for their holy separation) cut through the rain
seemingly on their own band: He made a change
in my life. He made a change in My Life.
My wheels keep beat for me, as if pulling me down
will make it so. For a moment I slip back to the world
and am jarred by the normalness of myself,
a man in a jacket. Possibly a complete vessel.

If I could prolong that motion--grow
from human to artwork--I would long
to drop in the world's pocket, wait
there to be found and judged, yes, held

in the sweet above and below of the human world.
But I am away, untethered, again--
Adam. Where a word would have saved me, I veered
toward loneliness. It seems this will not 
be the day my wary heart finds
a back door to its categories, lets in
the next person, the one for whom
no body has been made yet.

Am I That?

The voices we need to hear now are the voices of compassion. We have to move past detailing our differences in ways that isolate us.

The crisis is ours to work with. There is no one to take care of it but us, because we ourselves are the crisis! We can’t look at our politicians, our “leading class,” with contempt and despair, because we have allowed them the power they have. And that is as it should be. They may be an expression of self-serving and corruption in our own souls, and truly when we look at them we are looking at ourselves.

We look at ourselves, too, when we look at each other in the common run of life. The heroic or saintly people who give freely with no expectation of return, or conniving cheats steeping in greed and malice, or everyone in between (all those whose basic decency we recognize but whose actions we are eager to condemn)–each is a version of our humanity that we have brought into being.

The message “Thou art That“–the call to see yourself in the other and act out of a feeling of shared humanity –is more than enough to occupy our thoughts with for a lifetime. But consider it as more than a call for compassion and fellowship. Consider that, in your reaction to these words, “Thou art That,” you contribute something, however small, to making the world the way it is. If your thought is, “No, there’s nothing in common with that and me,” or “Yes, I admit I can see something of myself there,” you enact a small moment of either separation or union, antipathy or sympathy, between yourself and the world. This doesn’t have to be called good or bad, but it occurs. Knowing that it matters, then, we can act as if it matters.

Doing Without

Can I say that I reject hate as a response to killing, to deceit, greed, exploitation? If I do I’m being false–no attitude is called for. I will either hate or not in the moment; there is no position to adopt or uniform to put on to establish a side.

Yet, I don’t have children or relations who have been killed or suffered harsh deprivations. These words, or anyone’s, don’t prescribe a treatment for hatred, anger, or grief. The choice we have is what to put into practice, judgement or receptivity.

The change that may come about will be known for what it is not. It won’t bear the marks of premeditation. It will not advance hatred or vengeance as its motive. It is not a model of forgiveness being put into action, but a continuing experience of withholding any judgements that isolate us from anyone or anything else.

Yes, we want it darker

Here are a couple of disgorgings from after our elections–blaarrghh. I’m posting them here only because I want to show the mixture of feelings, thoughts, associations I’ve had, and to be honest about the anger that was so strong at the beginning. None of this is final realization; it’s all just cups of water scooped from the stream at various points.

*************************************

Time for confession: I feel angry now over the injustice of having to struggle among uncaring people. I’ve been angry at the voters who, out of their reckless sense of anger and deprivation, struck a huge and spiteful blow that will break, for some time, our country’s spirit. Even allowing that such a break may bring about changes for the good that we never would’ve achieved through the old ways we were pursuing–and that’s my hope–it was done by people with spite in their hearts and that was irresponsible.

(Step out: As I write about why these people shouldn’t have done this thing, I get a whiff of my own arrogance. What qualifies me to say whose version of change is good and whose is childish? If I embrace freedom–not just freedom to vote etc. but spiritual freedom–then I have to be all-in with it.)

Now I’m thinking of Gollum and how we’re told that the ring quest never would’ve succeeded without him–greedy, grasping person, stuck in the past, inflicting pain and danger on everyone for no reason except his own inability to take up his own life–and yet “he  has a role to play.” And, in sympathy to Gollum, he was deeply torn within himself, though he couldn’t overcome his dependency in the end.

I shouldn’t slam the voters as sick creatures. We are all caught up in the material world to different degrees at different times. My anger, now I look at it, is over the hand we were all dealt: that there will be people who think and care about the consequences of their actions, not for themselves alone but for the world, and others who cannot look beyond their own feeling of injury and who let someone else do their thinking for them. It’s the resentment of having to be the designated driver.

I can see full well that love is absent in this view. I hope not to spend much time here. I won’t completely turn my back on the gift of being human and being free, or deny other people the same.

(Later:)  Analyzing these feelings today, but not feeling them like I did when I started writing it down. I’m getting more sanguine with the thought of what may come over the next few years. I don’t want it to feed my ego, i.e., further lock me into a set of packaged opinions and reactions, but there is a potential for me to grow into a more trusting, open-hearted relation to the world and the powers of love and faith.

So, more darkness by which to know the light.

First Response

Try making your first response to news you hear, things you see, “Hmmm… that’s interesting.” Then look for what is genuinely interesting in it.

Don’t name it; stay with the act of finding interest. The goal is not to form a reaction or an opinion–try to break the dependency on those–but to experience your attention. Observe how the world operates without your reaction. What’s different?