Write Mindfulness

February 21, 2010 § 54 Comments

Last Saturday, from 10 to 1, at the Katonah Public Library in Katonah, New York  (what a coincidence!), I had the joy of leading a delightfully diverse group of people in a workshop in “Write Mindfulness.”  The name was meant to convey what we were trying,  first sitting quietly and letting life flow in through all our sense doors, then describing what was present right then and right there–and then, still grounding our writing in sense memories, we wrote about our names and times we have been lost or lost something.  How lively it became!   There were people there who had never meditated before (I could tell because they kept their eyes open, warding off group hypnosis)–and I’m sure it seemed odd to them, the suggestion to be still experience how the body links us to different places and times, different worlds.  But as people began to share what the wrote about how they felt about their names, for example, laughter started to warm the room.  France, Poland, England, Sicily, Austria, memorable relatives and other characters from all times (and the movies, including me.  I was named after Katherine Hepburn in “Philadelphia Story”) came into the room.   There was (for me anyway) a rollicking mutual recognition that we actually inextricably connected to others and to the whole of life,  even though most of time we don’t remember this.  It might have sounded mawkish  at first– my aim and hope was to help everyone there see how gifted everybody is–gifted with eyes and ears and a heart (the most sensitive recording device).  But by the end the room was full of rich, touching, funny evidence.    We are gifted!  If only we could know that more of the time.

Recently I learned that the Latin root of the word patience means to carry.  I’ve long contemplated the word “suffer” — that it also means to bear or contain.  I remember once hearing the formidable Madame de Salzmann say “You have to learn to hold a question, to carry a question (and she meant an essential question, like “Why am I here?”).   The head can’t rush answer.

Patience.  I’m thinking it’s a bit like easing into water (I live near a little lake and nobody in my little family likes it as much as I do).  It can be cold and frightening at first, then the water carries you. Liberates you! Then new experiences outside the cage of your own ego come flowing in…You are not what you think you are…….you are more…….

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§ 54 Responses to Write Mindfulness

  • Scott Pitz says:

    Hello…isn’t it fun to look at the etymology of words. One of the joys of seminary, believe it or not, is the Hebrew English lexicon. It is organized etymologically in that each word is attached to a verb root or cognate. You can see the evolution of the meaning of a word as you scan down the list of words that sprang from the verb root. Perhaps I will be a linguist in my next life.

    Speaking of suffer, one of the words I have come to love is compassion. It translates in the Latin to “suffer with” or as you allude to, to “bear others burdens with them.” Puts the idea of compassion in a whole new life.

    Shalom, my friend…

    • tracycochran says:

      yes, to suffer with….to let your heart break open to the world. why not? what better use for the rest of our lives? shalom, old friend!

  • judy godino says:

    I attended the Write Mindfulness worshop on Saturday and continue to be fascinated, provoked and in awe of the exercises and cues Tracy presented. What an opening experience and letting go. Writing about a personal experience, like origin and feelings of your name, can release the attachment or being entrenched by that story. It is just a story, a good one, a real one , maybe even amusing . Speak it from your feelings and move in on out!
    Sharing by writing or reading out loud with a group as settled and prepared,( by Tracy) brought us to the universal consciousness of we are all one or at least we are all the same even within our individual stories.
    Thanks Tracy and everyone, when can we do it again?

    • tracycochran says:

      Beautiful, Judy! Thanks! You experienced much the way I did, and it was so much fun to be together sharing our common humanity. I look forward to doing it again!

  • Who am I? Why am I here?
    These are questions that have been asked throughout our history.
    “All of Life Is a Story” was my theme for school and my fourth grade writing class.
    I would tell the students to look at the world and all the stories that have been told…the Bible….Fairytales….newspaper accounts. History books, ad infinitum.
    And then I would tell them that they too are “story tellers” For instance, when they go home from school and Mom asks’, “How was your day?” Their answer was their “story”.
    I also explained that now we are a part of each other’s story. (We had a lot of fun in my writing classes.)
    Yes, we are part of each other’s stories, and that does bring about compassion, when we open ourselves up, especially our vulnerabilities.
    It takes patience and persistence, along with a willingness to open ourselves to the world, and our God, but most especially faith and humility.
    Why are we here? Who am I? I can’t answer for anyone but myself………..I think it is to love and serve God with our whole heart and soul, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
    We are “story people” who are meant to share and to walk together, in community and understanding.
    I wish I could have attended the workshop, Tracy. It sounds like a wonderful experience!

  • Luke Storms says:

    What an amazing opportunity. I have always wanted to be part of a writing group that searches in this direction.

    Similarly, I came across a wonderful passage from Allen Ginsberg recently entitled, “Writing Your Mind.” It’s a bit lengthy for a comment, but I think it fits well with what you are describing:

    “Proclamation of the actual mind, manifesting your mind, writing the mind, which goes back to Kerouac but also goes back to Milarepa, goes back to his original instructions: Don’t you trust your own mind? Why do you need a piece of paper?

    So writing could be seen as “writing your mind”, observing your own mind, or observe what’s vivid coming to mind. For the purpose of relieving your own paranoia, and others’, revealing yourself and communicating to others. It is a blessing for other people if you can communicate and relieve their sense of isolation, confusion, bewilderment, and suffering by offering your own mind as a sample of what’s palpable, visible, and whatever little you’ve learned.

    In other words, if you can show your mind it reminds people that they have got a mind. If you can catch yourself thinking, it reminds people that they can catch themselves thinking. If you have a vivid moment that’s more open and compassionate, it reminds people that they have those vivid moments.

    By showing your mind as a mirror, you can make a mirror for other people to recognize their own minds and see familiarity and not feel that their minds are unworthy of affection or appreciation. It is appreciation of consciousness, appreciation of our own consciousness.”

    I also find the etymology of words absolutely fascinating. Recently I learned that the English word “inspire” originally comes from the Latin word “inspirare” which means, “to breathe.”

    warm regards,

    Luke

    • tracycochran says:

      This is really inspiring, Luke. And there were moments like that in the course of the morning, when impressions became mirrors of our common human experience–and so became liberating. I was at a small dinner with Allen Ginsburg one night, at Phillip Glass’s house in the East Village in Manhattan. Ginsburg sat taking snapshots, which he was famous for doing. But what mainly struck me was his humility coupled with intensity. After dinner, he ran off to CBGB’s with his young companion to see some band. He said he would have plenty of time to rest when he was dead.

  • artxulan says:

    I am beginning to understand that there are various ways of suffering. Unconscious suffering does not serve me or anyone else. Although; Great Nature may use it.
    Only conscious and intentional suffering, very easily misunderstood, seems to bear results which are in general beneficial to me and to others.

    For a long time I thought intentional suffering only meant ‘bearing the suffering of others’. But there is another sort of suffering which helps others. I intentionally suffer my irritations, my greed, my jealousy, my lack of caring, my dislike of the manifestations of others. I intentionally suffer my selves. The direct and indirect result of this is freedom from subjectivity toward others; to see them impartially. I may then be able to make the right gesture toward them. In any case I begin to take responsibility for my own selves and see that an end to suffering can only take place within me; not through self satisfying actions but through purifying myself of the causes of my own suffering which in turn brings me into harmony with others and therefore are not causes for engendering suffering in others.

    Intentional suffering results in death and birth. Death of the lower forms within me and the birth of something new, forms composed finer matters belonging to the worlds above me.

  • tracycochran says:

    This is an interesting facet of “Life After Death,” which is Parabola’s next theme. I’d like to know more about what it means to die to a lower form or world so that a new, finer form can be born.

  • Scott Pitz says:

    Ahhh, dear Tracy, you dost love to wrestle with such light themes….

    • tracycochran says:

      “Life after death” does sound just a tad on the weighty and ponderous side, doesn’t it? But I’m getting very interesting tips on how a person can die to their painful isolation be reborn more free, more easy, more at home in the world…honest.

  • Rebecca Grenier says:

    What a nice piece. Very timely for the universal mind. These thoughts have been with me all week long. I have been sharing with some of my fellows who are strangers to meditation. It is exciting to have validation. Keep up the great energy!!

  • This whole string of posts and responses touches on my favorite word etymology: humility, which shares its origins with the word humus, as in the forest floor. Through humility, the false self dies and falls to the ground, decomposing into the soil of my being to nourish the real self into bloom. In this way nothing—not even the false self—is wasted or useless, but part of a cycle. I think the final death, the Big Exit, must be something like this also.

    Lately I’ve been working on responding in new ways to old situations. This is like little mini deaths that leave me just a bit more free than I was. So much of my interaction with reality is based on patterns which are not freely chosen. Letting these go can be difficult, but doing so leaves me standing in the open, happy to be visible at last.

  • I love the analogy of the forest floor, “compost for a richer soil”!
    This is a wonderful theme, and I’m so grateful to Tracy for bringing it up for discussion.
    It is especially apt for the season of Lent…a time that Christians are called to fast and “give up” something…self abnegation in preparation for the feast of Easter… abstain so that we may be filled.
    Peter Russell, a favorite author of mine, speaks of “looking at things in a different way”. Is this what you mean, Peter? I know I’ve found that advice hard but beneficial.
    I agree that old habits die hard! So many times I find myself saying, “Let go, let God”!
    However, I think it’s not so much perfection as it is progress. I know that I will always struggle with something. That’s why I need to hear and be inspired by people like the ones on Tracy’s blog. We can encourage (from the word “cor”, “heart”) one another by writing or speaking from the heart.

    • “looking at things in a different way”. Is this what you mean, Peter?

      Yes, Elizabeth, definitely. And more specifically to my case:

      Trying not to respond with fear, anger, or frustration to my circumstances

      Trying to put greater faith in the support of the universe and God’s plan for me

      Trying to trust more fully my impulses and instincts regarding what I’m meant to do with my life. (The inner command, as Herman Hesse put it.)

      I struggle with these things at times. Interestingly, and relevant to Tracy’s post, I also struggle with patience. Much better than I used to be, but I still get that hurried, urgent feeling now and again. I have faith in the outcome, but I struggle with keeping my balance in the mean time.

  • Yes, I think that the word for me is “react”…I react instead of taking a deep breath and then “respond”… And I find that most times I’m reacting out of fear. Even anger, when I really look at it more deeply is coming from fear, real or, mostly “unreal.
    I think of Mark Twain’s quote, “My life has been filled with many tragedies-most of which never happened.”
    If I can manage to get my ego out of the way, shift to the other person, then I can see things from a different perspective.
    I love your trust in your impulses regarding what you’re meant to do with your life.
    I went through a very trying transitional time a few years back, and the biggest struggle was trying to stay open to what God and the Universe wanted me to see and do.
    I learned some great insights during that time, and taking the right action was a huge part of the process…”getting out of self” so to speak.
    There is s saying,”faith without action is dead”, and I believe it!
    I do think balance and patience, trusting and having faith in our God is the answer. But struggle daily, I do! And it seems that I am not alone.
    Thanks for answering me.

  • That’s an important distinction: react vs. respond. But sometimes even when I pause, breathe, go through all the preparatory moves, I still end up wrestling with fear, anger, frustration, etc. So lately I’m trying a different approach. I’m sort ‘experimenting’ with new responses—deliberately chosen responses.

    It really helps, that element of choice. I’m almost enjoying it.

    : )

  • Scott Pitz says:

    Hmmmm…it’s hard to know where to begin on a topic such as Life after Death…I know, God!

    How ‘bout some God etymology? The Greek word for spirit is pneuma which originally meant air. From it we get pneumatic such as the pneumatic wrench that mechanics use to tighten and loosens tire lugnuts. Lugnut, nice word, may have to write a poem about lugnut…and knucklehead. Anyhooooooo, pneuma came to be identified with spirit and later was mated with hagios, which comes to us in hagiography, the study of the holy ones or saints. Thus, pneuma hagios means the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

    Ah, per usual, the Hebrew is even better. Ruach means moving air or wind in Hebrew. In Genesis, ruach appears and moves over the waters…God’s Spirit, or ruach, moves over the waters and begins the Great Creative Act. Also, God “spoke” creation, from his mouth came creation, word and Spirit. Hence, Jesus became known as the Word incarnate for he was there at the moment of creation, begotten of the Father and through him, the Word, God spoke into being the world (Genesis becomes more fully disclosed through the revelation of Jesus Christ as seen in the prologue to the Gospel of John, perhaps the most beautiful piece of literature in the entire Bible).

    Also in Hebrew there is another word, nephish. Nephish was originally the word for throat. It evolved over time to also mean breath, that which moves through the throat. This further evolved to mean breath, that is, the breath or spirit that animates all life. So breath moved from the biological to the transcendent animating spirit of all life. This is not to be confused with ruach which is the divine Spirit, nephish is the spirit that animates each of us. It is interesting to note that Jews historically have viewed the moment of new life to be when a newborn takes its first breath. That breath is the spirit that animates, or brings life, to that child. This is in contrast to pro-life advocates who see life beginning at conception. For Jews are an ancient race and in the days of the ancients life began when a child took its first breath. How much sense this makes when placed in an ancient context when the infant mortality rate approached 75%. There was so much death that life only began when that first breath was drawn.

    So air and wind and breath foster creation and life. Gotta love the ancients!

  • Scott Pitz says:

    Peter, you are a wiser man than I when it comes to react versus respond. This also relates to suffering and Death In Life. I was in a very toxic marriage for ten years that was filled with drama and high emotion. My ex had a tendency to fly into rages, uncontrolled “reactive” rage. I used to try to reason with her, then I tried responding in anger…nothing worked. She continued to be trapped by her rage and there was nothing I could do. She died to herself in those moments and became solely her emotion of the moment…there was nothing else present. It begs the old saw that you can’t argue with a drunk.

    Me, on the other hand, quickly learned that I simply could not communicate with her so I had two choices, I could react in return, I could stand and simply “take it” or I could walk away. Because I had three children, I thought it necessary to show my children calm in the midst of the storm so I would do my best to be calm in the midst of these rages. As time passed, I found rather than being the eye in the hurricane, I became dead inside. I would not allow myself to react in order to be calm but, ironically, I was simply repressing my reaction, or emotions, becoming DEAD in the process. Again, Death in Life.

    Interesting, isn’t it. A complete surrender to reactivity or emotion led to death in life for both of us.

    It has taken much therapy and much meditation to reacquaint myself with my emotions. I became dead to them and now I often find I have to look for physiological manifestations as a sign of what I am feeling. I learned that when I was shaking in an intense conversation that I was angry. I was so afraid of letting the anger out, given the learned experience of my wife’s rages, that I clamped down on the anger and the only way it could get out was through physical trembling.

    One of the other manifestations of lost touch with emotions is physical torpor or listlessness. This is a very common characteristic for adult children of alcoholics, codependent loved ones of alcoholics and for people suffering clinical depression. Suffering, and a dysfunctional adaptation to suffering, has led to death in life. A loss of God-given emotions due to trying to deal with extra-ordinary stress. I have exited my depression but still find that have depressive reactions to certain situations. Recently I found that I had no energy, I couldn’t get anything done. After a couple of weeks of this and talking to my therapist about it, I realized that I was sad. My listlessness was a red flag pointing to sadness and resignation. It is probably hard for you to believe that I was so out of touch with my emotions that I didn’t recognize sadness and resignation but that is what can happen when one dies in life.

    I recently heard a woman speak who suffered unspeakable horror as a child. Her mother was an alcoholic but the family were respected members of the community and her father was a leader in the local Scot Presbyterian church. This woman began having flashbacks, or recovered memories, as an adult that she thought meant that her father had intercourse with her as a child. She confronted her mother about it and her alcoholic mother simply looked at her and said, “It was your job.” The woman, utterly devastated, went to her father and asked him if it was true. Her father simply said, “It’s too painful to talk about.” For years, from before memory until her first period, her father had intercourse with her.

    Pause and take in the horror of all this. Visualize and “feel” the emotions that this poor woman must have felt as a child and then again as an adult when something beyond imagining became real.

    This woman died in life…

    Like me, she died to her emotions…

    Suffering CAN bring death while still living…

    Life can only be regained by living through that suffering again…by speaking the words out loud…

    Sometimes the words have to be spoken over and over again before life can emerge once again…

    Even then, this woman has lost touch with her emotions…they are like disembodied entities she sees in the distance, shimmering like a mirage.

    Over time, through intense therapy, prayer and love, this woman has closed the gap with her emotions, the distance has shrunk and she now recognizes them by what she describes as a delayed intellectual experience of analyzing her physiological cues as signs of what she is feeling…

    This is the downside of suffering…the death to ourselves in life from which we can recover and gain wisdom…but often at the cost of being in touch with our emotional selves. It’s like we suffer such pain and the wounds are so plentiful and raw that we go into emotional shock to protect ourselves, to protect ourselves from the pain. The wounds may heal but when I heard this woman speak, she still had to pause while she teared up, took a deep breath and started her narrative again.

    There are some things so terrible that we can only turn to God…a pain so deep “that we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (NRSV, Romans 8:26ff)

    • artxulan says:

      Scott vividly communicates the possible terror and power of the emotions which have been wrongly educated. In the western world there is much attention given to educating the intellect, at least at its lower levels, but little attention is given to educating the emotions. They are formed, in the young, accidentally and randomly depending on circumstances.

      This, increasingly in our world, is being reflected in violent and painful ways.

      In cases where there is still the possibility of becoming somewhat normal, and this is not always the case, there are Paths for change of Being.

      Questioning how my functions are manifesting is a significant step. Then comes another question; how to Attend them?

  • Scott, thank you for being so honest and open, baring your soul and your experiences to those of us on this site!
    As for God and breath, I couldn’t help but think of what my sister said to me this summer when she was visiting from the U.K. “The first thing we do when we are born is breathe, and it’s the last thing we do when we die.” So, breath is life and without it we cannot live. I believe that it is God’s Life in each of us.
    Your next post is so much to take in and think about!
    It must be difficult to have gone through what you experienced in your marriage!
    I hope that you can look with some compassion on your wife because forgiveness is so important. Otherwise it’s like a poison to our psyche! But you probably know this better than I.
    When shutting down our feelings, we become “helpless”. At least that was the case for me.
    I was in an unhappy marriage too, but what I found was that I became passive-aggressive.
    So after much pain and sorrow in our marriage we have become wiser, better people, but not without some irreversible, painful memories. We have both had to forgive one another for our part in the dynamics, and our marriage is stronger today.

    I have been told that faith is the opposite of fear. However, I have a close family member who struggles with addiction. When I went to my spiritual advisor and told her that I was afraid of what might happen, and then added that fear is the opposite of faith, so I should not“fear”, she corrected me!
    She stayed with me in that “fear” and validated it, taking me through the whole experience of what I was feeling, all the way to his possible death, and then acceptance of how sad that would be. She told me that I had done all I could, and that God is with me and my family. I don’t remember her exact words, but something to the effect that in some mysterious way, God is with us, and that we don’t always know the mind of God.
    I walked out of that meeting with a much lighter heart. I believe that she took me through what is called in the 12 Step program, the first three steps: “I’m powerless, God is in charge, and turn my will and life over to His care.”
    As I said in the beginning, you have given me a lot to think about. You are a very wise person, and your children are very fortunate to have you as their father! I suspect that they know this! :~)

    • Scott Pitz says:

      Elizabeth,

      Thank you for your response. Something you said was echoed by a friend today. Something so simple and straightforward that I forgot about it until now. Something so obvious that I could not see.

      It goes to the redemptive value of suffering. I will get on my soapbox for a moment for, if I am not mistaken, the redemptive value of suffering is at the core of the Christian message. Jesus was the Messiah. First century Jews expected the Messiah to be an earthly warrior king, a successor to King David, the King above all kings. The paradox of Christianity, which Gandhi and MLK Jr. embraced, is that strength is in weakness, that Jesus’ willingness to go to the Cross, the ultimate act of submission, unleashed the greatest power of all time. Isn’t it amazing, I go to seminary, read the Bible, study the Greek and Hebrew, learn church history and I cannot apply the most basic message to myself.

      Today, at this moment, thanks to you Elizabeth, I finally realized that my suffering was not for me but for my girls. When you hurt so bad you collapse into yourself and cannot see beyond your own ego horizons. Now I know clearly that all of this has been for my kids. How does a father forget that?

      Thank you, Elizabeth.

      • Scott,
        I don’t know what I and someone else said that caused you to have this enlightening experience,.
        I do know that you have been suffering. Sometimes when things happen and we do the best we can, we still have a hard time forgiving ourselves because it’s not the way we want things to turn out.
        And the last part of my last response above still stands!
        Shalom, Peace

  • Scott Pitz says:

    My heart smiles with the knowledge that you and your husband were able to fight through the hard stuff and get to the other side together. I am sad that my wife and I were unable to do that.

    My heart also smiles that you have a spiritual director that takes you fully through your fear to the other side where God awaits.

    Shalom!

  • Scott Pitz says:

    I would agree that we do a poor job of educating our own in terms of emotions. I have had the privilege to be educated over the last few years about our emotional make-up, how to recognize body cues, the rainbow of emotions and how to begin to recognize emotions in myself. This last step goes to what Peter referred, being able to respond rather than react. The crucial step is to move the emotion from the lower brain to the upper brain, from the primal reaction center to the higher functioning brain. The simplest step is to say “I am angry. Why am I angry? Ok, what do I want to do with my anger?” Just a rational recognition of emotion allows one to act upon it but with an element of choice. Thanks, Peter.

    • tracycochran says:

      It’s as if a space opens, when we recognize anger, resistance, fear–and recognize in the sense of allow, accept. Thich Nhat Hahn tells people to “take good care of their anger,” to hold like you would hold a suffering, inarticulate child (not indulge, just hold). At any rate, it’s those moments when I fully admit my anger, resistance, burdens, lack that a space opens up inside. I can respond, and sometimes more…sometimes I can dimly make out a finer kind of feeling, a wish to be one with everything…even to help.

  • Scott Pitz says:

    Tracy, you are right, it IS as if a space opens. There grows a space and a distance from the emotion so it does not overtake you. That space gives you the time and presence of mind to understand or hold the emotion, turning it around to look at it. I like the holding it like an inarticulate child…letting the anger abate as it would it an two-year old’s meltdown…overcome with emotion but unable to verbalize it. Nice….

    Is Thich Nhat Hahn the Buddhist who became good friends with Thomas Merton?

    • tracycochran says:

      Yes. Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and peace activist, met Thomas Merton in the ’60’s. They were kindred spirits, believers in “engaged spirituality.”

  • I think the emotion that Tracy describes at the end of her recent post is close to “agape”.

  • I attended an eight-day intensive family systems therapy clinic about ten years ago. I will never forget the moment when I realized with bone-deep knowing that my intellect had been, for my whole adult life, trying to do the job of my emotions. I learned in those eight days that my being comprises regions in which all of my aspects are relevant, but in which some are better suited to lead than others.

    Scott, your story is amazing and reminds me of a relationship I once was in with a person who would literally disappear from view, replaced by someone I did not know. My therapist actually called it a form of possession, not by an entity, but by an energy, perhaps that of a past abuser which overpowered part of this person and came to take up “residence.”

    Tracy, thanks for mentioning Tich Nhat Hahn. I love his advice to think of the abuser as a small child, being abused. This is intended to free us from our anger without rejecting it, so we can manage it with compassion and have greater courage about acknowledging where it comes from.

    Artxulan, I agree with you when you say that our emotional miseducation “… increasingly in our world, is being reflected in violent and painful ways.” But I firmly believe that the “Paths for change of Being” remain open to us all no matter what our state might be starting out. In fact I think that the more we need those paths, the more tributaries exist. We have never seen a world where transformation is the true priority, but I’m convinced that creating that world is why we are here.

    Elizabeth, your therapist sounds like my therapist! Lucky you!

  • Scott Pitz says:

    Peter,

    It’s funny you should mention the idea of a possession by an energy. I remember talking to my ex-wife one night and she was telling me about something that someone had done. The “event” was extremely innocuous and I could not understand her extremely negative interpretation of this someone’s motivations. Suddenly I had this very clear sense that there was a giant blackness deep inside my wife and from this blackness out of her mouth came a stream of darkness. This was years ago but I still remember my jaw hitting the floor.

    I related this event to a friend of mine whose father was a recovering alcoholic. She nodded her head and told me for the first time that her father’s mother had warned her once to stay away from her father when his eyes turned black…that only happened when he was drinking…my ex struggles with alcohol.

    I recently received an e-mail from a young woman who was upset that I had brought up the topic of evil. She is a PhD candidate in psychology and does not think that evil exits in the world. Maybe it’s my advanced age 😉 but I firmly believe that evil exists. An energy, per your therapist.

    I have seen this evil inside of my ex-wife. It wasn’t her, it was something inside of her. Something lives inside of her, this person I was married to for 25 years and I have no idea what it is. She is profoundly frightened by it but refused to admit it exists. She is trapped in the midst of this terrible thing, memory, entity, energy…you name it.

    Evil does exist…sometimes it is simply cruelty made common, sometimes it is a snide comment that causes damage for years to come and sometimes it is something so catastrophic that people will still deny its existence, i.e. the systematic extermination of 7 million Jews or 5 million Congolese. I have no trouble with the theological assertion that we live in a fallen world.

  • Peter and Scott,
    Yes, I too believe that evil exists. I suppose that some would scoff at exorcism, but I don’t.
    As for alcohol, I believe that the Latin saying,
    “Spiritus contra Spiritum” applies. I have seen it too!
    It’s such a mystery, isn’t it?
    I sure don’t have the answers, but I do believe that Good will ultimately overcome evil.

  • Very mysterious. Kind of scary. I went to a Jesuit high school and had a teacher who was fond of telling exorcism stories. Nothing memorable, really. I think he just liked to remind us of its existence. I wrote a paper on demonology — a high school sophomore’s take on it mind you — that drew a lot of attention.

    The work-a-day world grinds on and there is so much swirling around us. Around us and within. But I lean more toward some kind of final integration than toward a triumph of light over dark. I have this idea that the story of Jesus will not be complete until Satan himself returns to the fold.

  • artxulan says:

    Evil and not evil – and degrees in between. My view based on my experience is that denser matter is more ‘evil’ than lighter matter. I can be aware of the different densities of matter within me. Negative emotions are dark and have a strong gravitational pull – a pull toward dissolution and annihilation of my life. This can be experienced when one is quiet enough to allow Attention to see the density of a thought, of an emotion or a feeling.
    In seeing the wrong functioning of emotion I come to the question of the useful and proper use of my emotional function. Every emotion in me is ‘mine’. It exists as I live. How to Attend. I cannot think that ‘squashing’ would be the way to go, just more violence, more of the same. What is needed to transform this energy (in my body) into something higher? What is the process of this transformation? Do we have any real knowledge of that?

    For me all things are fragments, parts of one Whole, One Source. Some people call that source God, others call it the Absolute or something else. Because I believe that everything is a part of one whole and it is the Source or Whole who has created and (still is all) then evil is a part of God. For me there is nothing that is not a part of the Whole, The Source. My struggles are to move toward the Source. But expansion of awareness, of consciousness is always an increase in awareness both of the higher as well as the lower. Fragmentation and dissolution, the dark, ‘evil’ nether worlds are very far from God, The Source, but none the less still a part. Without darkness there could be no light. Without no there would be no yes. Without evil there would be no good. There appears to be a universal law here. The law of three, affirming, denying, reconciling, the father, the son, the holy ghost, positive, negative, neutral. And in these forces one cannot really say one or other of them is evil or good. It all depends on their relationship. One affirms, the other denies. What reconciles?

    • Scott Pitz says:

      Words are very dangerous things because they only approximate meaning and there is too much room for misinterpretation. All of which we speak is mystery and we cannot “know” the answers, we can only speculate and guess. I like to try speak from my tradition because it arose within the history of the culture I know. The vocabulary has developed over 3000 years. I, as best as I can, understand the words, the nuances and meanings. Words are only labels that describe something, something they are not, simply abstractions. They are as one-dimensional labels in a three dimensional world. Not only are they inadequate to describe our reality as we know it, but imagine the inadequacy of these labels to begin to describe infinite dimensionalities such as God. It is all mystery…

      That being said, within my tradition, I know that the greatest minds of the West have pounded away at these ideas over 3000 years…men and women much smarter than I. There is a river flowing through time of which I am a single molecule…it would be arrogance for me to represent any of these ideas as my own for they are simply part of who I am…ideas and words that come down to me out of a great tradition…I have nothing original to say that has not been said…I am nothing…a cipher…an empty bag of water that I offer to God to use as he would will…these ideas and words are bequeathed to me as my genes…something over which I have no control but something which defines me nonetheless.

      The western tradition has described evil in many ways and the understanding of evil has certainly evolved over time…I think the ancients have done amazing things…the writings of Iraneus and Augustine and the church fathers are incredibly profound. They had time to think and reflect, we do not truly allow ourselves to do that…

      The word that matters to me in this context is theodicy – the area of thought that grapples with God, evil, justice, human freedom and God’s freedom. The tradition encompasses all of which you speak, and much more. There is a wonderful book by John Hick’s “Evil and the Love of God” that lays out clearly that different views of God, evil and freedom…none of the views are right, for who knows but God. But, I have found answers that make sense to me within these streams from the tradition.

      Hick is a Christian who has lost the believe that Christ was divine. It is interesting that his theodicy relies heavily on Iraneus, a saint of the 7th century who is a great counter-stream to the great Augusting. Iraneus ideas were picked up again by Kant and Hick builds on that. But in the book noted above, he seems to objectively describe historical views of theodicy. If you want to read it, just focus on the chapter dealing with the different streams of thought on theodicy. If the language is obtuse, then go back and read the earlier stuff so you have better context, or give me a shout.

      Anyways, out of all this, what I have taken away from the tradition is this…that God is fully good and all powerful. The classic formulation of the question of theodicy is couched in this equation, that the idea of theodicy is simply a statement of the sentence above. To be specific, one can say that God is fully good and God is fully powerful. You could say that God is fully good but not fully powerful or you could say that God is not fully good but is fully powerful or that God is neither fully good nor fully powerful.

      Whichever understanding you embrace is really a function of your understanding of human AND divine freedom. As an example, evil as being the absence of God can exist under multiple scenarios. One could say that God is fully good and fully powerful and that evil IS a manifestation of God. If one continues the logic of this line of reasoning, then man has no free will and God has infinite freedom. But you could also say that God is fully good and fully powerful but that man does have free will and God has infinite freedom. In this line of reasoning, one could argue that evil is not of God, that it arises out of man’s free will. Now this does not explain natural disasters but that’s another topic. Under this and every line of reasoning one can always say that we do not truly know evil because we cannot know the mind of God and what he is up to…what is evil to us simply IS to God. And on and on it goes…

      So who am I to describe Truth? I choose to believe that God is fully good and fully powerful. I choose to believe that God is infinite freedom to act or not act. I choose to believe that I have free will but am so inadequate that I cannot know the mind of God or begin to understand evil. Who knows……..

      My choices are based on my own experiences of God and me, who I am…the one who is formed by all those things that form me. I KNOW by God as a being of pure love. I KNOW this because of experiences I have had where I KNEW I was awash in divine love…I can describe what happened to me and you can approximate an understanding of it but you will never fully know my experience. I know others that describe experiences similar to mine but I can never fully KNOW their experiences. Now, because they have bodies built out of the same stuff as mine I can deduce that most feelings they have are similar to mine but I know for a fact that some of my experiences of God’s love could only be sensed exactly by a man and would be sensed in a different way by a woman.

      Anyways, that’s a lot. I should end there.

      Bottom line for me, evil exists because God, in his love, gives us free will. In our freedom we make choices that may lead to goodness or evil. We likely never fully know the consequence of our actions, we can not fully see the fruit that our choices yield…

      Again, I use a vocabulary from my tradition for in these words I know what I know and I understand the nuances implicit in these one dimensional labels. I seek not to offend but only to explain what I believe in as transparent a way as possible. I am fallible and ignorant beyond my imaginings so I have to depend on that great cloud of witnesses that have come before me, those that have put language to the unknowable, those that try to quantify the infinite, the unquantifiable, the God of infinite love who in my understanding created all things so that I and all might exist to know and love him…that we might struggle in our own little ways to love him and others in the tiniest of echoes of his love. It is my understanding that he sent his Son so that we would fully know his love and that we would behave in a way that is consistent with his character, a character that is unknowable to us. BUT, he so loves us that he came to us in human form (made himself incarnate) so we could all know him and grow to be more like him because he have an example of his character writ in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. That is all I know and for me, it is sufficient.

      • Scott Pitz says:

        Crap, I just proofed this after I submitted it and there are a bunch of mistakes. Where is my editor?

  • This is a really interesting subject, and I am taking in all that you have to say!
    Peter, I wonder what helped you to come up with this idea? It’s fascinating!
    And artxulan seems to flesh out your idea, I think.
    If we are made in the image and likeness of God, then God must have some evil too. I’m sure there isn’t too many who would disagree that man is capable of horrendous evil, as evidenced in history. Scott pointed that out.
    I read a book about scapegoat by Rene Girard…anybody heard of him?
    He espouses the theory that we “scapegoat” others and project our failures on others, thus relieving our own conscience. This is also done in a crowd…can’t remember the name for that. We also see it in wars. Things aren’t going well in a country and there’s “tension”, so the country projects the “problem” onto another country, thus starting a war, and then there’s relief. I’m just giving a light synopsis of the book It’s called “I Saw Satan Fall like Lightening.’
    He is writing about violence, but certainly violence is a form of evil!
    Yes, I think you are both right. .. God is Whole, and we strive to be “holy”, but to integrate means exactly that…good and bad integrated into the Whole.
    I think that Parker Palmer, another author, put it best. He wrote:” Wholeness does not mean perfection. It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”
    I would like to hear more on this subject!

    • I think I got that idea after reading Paradise Lost. I found the Satan character in that story very compelling, in a literary-villain sort of way. But I’m not sure exactly what led me to that idea. It’s just been “what I think” for a long time. I remember having a spirited conversation with a fellow monk years ago, who insisted that the idea was crazy. She required that Satan be punished for eternity. (She was also a big fan of Paradise Lost.)

      As for the integration idea, it’s just the only thing that makes sense to me when I think it all through. How could something be left out? More reconciliation of opposites! I just have this idea that we’re living a story, a vast, ancient story that still contains many chapters full of outrageous surprises. At the end, if Satan is still brooding in the frozen center of hell, well, it won’t really be the end. The final act will be a long conversation between God and Satan, (maybe all three persons of the Trinity and Anthony Hopkins plays God the Father) in which God finally convinces his favorite angel to come home.

      The obvious sticking point is exemplified by Hitler. Even Hitler has a place at the table? Well, yes, at the end of a very long road of growth and transformation. But that road — Artxulan’s Paths for change of Being — is the road we all take. The mind blowing part is, even Jesus took that road. It led him to the mount of transfiguration where his humanity and his divinity became fully interoperable (if I may get all Web 2.0 on you for a moment), and that is the prime example of the integration we’re talking about.

      Trying to pin this idea down with language can really keep you busy. But this topic is one of the reasons why we need our variety of world religions. Each has a different take on it and each has something to add to the truth, and nobody has it exactly right. We’re talking about the most basic nature of reality.

      • Scott Pitz says:

        Wow, you guys rock my world. Evil and God, or however you choose to describe it. This is the great debate within Christian circles in the West. To use the language of theology, it is known as Theodicy…the relationship between God, evil and justice.

        I am always amazed by the level of anger implicit in aetheists’ arguments. How can a loving God allow evil to be? How could a loving God allow for a tsunami, an earthquake in Port au Prince, my wife to become an alcoholic, the rape of a 4 year old by her father.

        The ultimate answer is that we don’t know…that it is a mystery to us until it isn’t…not until we know all at the end of this age, our age…

        The most cogent and persuasive reasoning I know is that evil is the absence of God, not necessarily the opposite of God (as in Elizabeth’s fear vs. faith). Evil does not exist at 180 degrees to God, it exists at zero degrees of God. Got to go for scones. I’ll be back…

  • artxulan says:

    Thank you Peter. I feel that what you say is true ‘LOVE reconciles’. Why do I not remember that?

    Thank you Elizabeth for making the connection with projecting ‘faults’ onto others as a means of not feeling conscience.

    Apparently LOVE and Conscience are sorely needed by us human creatures. I now have a clue about how to uncover Conscience but since I tend toward the view that LOVE emanates from the Source in a way similar to that of light coming from the Sun I am in the predicament of not knowing very well how to receive and to allow LOVE to influence my actions.

    • The old definition of Love is : the efficacious desire for the well being of another.

      I don’t think love is a feeling. Affection is a feeling. Love is a conviction, or a way of life. To want another’s well being, and to do what you can to ensure it, that is love.

      I’m convinced that 90% of the teachings of Jesus are intended to clue us in to how much work we have to do. Love my enemy? What?

  • Peter,
    Yes, “Love”…true and real Love is a commitment. And part of love is forgiving.
    I love the gospel story where Peter thinks he’s going to make some “points”, so he asks Jesus how many times we have to forgive, seven??? Jesus replies to him that 7 isn’t enough more like 70 times 7!
    I think in that statement, Jesus is trying to tell us that forgiving isn’t always a one time matter. If the hurt and resentment go deeply it may be a commitment to an on-going process.
    I have been told that what helps to forgive is to pray for the person that you are having problems forgiving. Pray for everything that you want! So, may this person be happy, be healthy, have an abundance of prosperity, and be at peace with the world and themselves…sort of a metta kindness meditation. And when we do this, many times our resentment is lifted. That’s a huge part of love too, I think.
    Jesus is my Master too!
    Many thanks for your message!

  • Scott,

    Yes! If I may add some of my potentially misguided thinking…

    “Evil is the absence of God.” — Maybe, evil is the inevitable result of a personality which will not allow God access.

    “How can a loving God allow evil to be? How could a loving God allow for a tsunami, an earthquake …” — Maybe these things are the inevitable result of the vast collect of personalities that will not allow access to the transforming power of the mere presence of God.

    Maybe even the natural world is put out of balance, in some cases horribly and destructively distorted. And this imbalance with it’s teeth and claws can and will come for any one of us at any moment. It spins out of balance and out of control until we all, or at least enough of us, do the work of consciousness that will allow God into our lives, and therefore into the world, in sufficient “quantity” to restore balance and reveal the original idea of creation.

    What if God has, quite voluntarily, given us the power to allow or deny him access to his own creation? He made rules to govern his creation, and even he must abide them?

    This is how I make sense of free will, which for me is the answer to the objection of the atheists you mention.

    God doesn’t allow suffering. We do.

    Enjoy your scones. Yogurt and granola here.

    • Scott Pitz says:

      Peter, I enjoy your curiousity almost as much as the white lilac cake I had instead of scones. “I’m in heaven, i’m in heaven…

      I’ll go back to the language I know…the second creation story in Genesis, not the ruach moving over the waters but the story of Eden and Adam and Eve says what you say in your “maybe even the natural world is out of balance…” It is a theological explanation of our relationship to God. Because of our pride, we are separated from God and act out of own free will. Because of that, we live in a world where God allows us to make mistakes and grow…to grow back to the place from whence we came…Eden…a new Creation…the post-apocalyptic heaven…the kingdom on earth or heaven itself. It is all metaphor but it is all to say that God has put us in a place where we are allowed to make mistakes…we have the freedom to fully screw up. You hit the nail on the head, brother.

  • artxulan says:

    I am a bit reluctant to attempt to say anything further but exchanges such as these are so much needed in the world that I will make the attempt.

    Feeling, emotion, touch. The English language is lacking. Touch is distinct from feeling yet the expression is often used, ‘feel this’; meaning ‘touch this’. When referring to emotion one often hears ‘I felt’ when what is being referred to is emotion. There is no English word for I emoted. My way of differentiating between emotion and feeling is by way of the different densities and speeds of vibration of emotion and feeling; which I perceive by way of sensation under the light of Attention. A direct experience of a quiet Attention aware of the matter and energy of the sensations of feeling and emotion, not their content. The same for thought, of which there are levels, also, as with feeling and emotion.

    Because of these exchanges I see that my understanding is limited and I need as Tracy quoted Madame de Salzmann as saying “You have to learn to hold a question, to carry a question.”

    So it is with the question of LOVE which for some time I had settled ‘on knowing’ that it was a feeling, not emotion. Now because of what Peter said about LOVE being a conviction or way of life I see that my understanding has not included the other functions of a human, the intellect, the body, and Will which I am pretty sure I barely have.

    Lord Pentland in Exchanges Within said; “So I come back to my experience again and again. What can be, for me, an act of will? It would have to be something very small because I can’t even control my attention.”

    • I’m lately looking much more closely at the vibrational or frequency related aspect of behaviors like love, compassion, forgiveness. It must be true that these things have a physical effect on the mechanisms of the universe. Love is not just a nice or good thing to do, it’s an actual force of nature, like gravity or sound.

      When Dante called it the power that “moves the sun and the other stars,” he was being literal.

      When St. John says that we love because we have first been loved by God, maybe he means that when we love, we tap into and direct a force that is always there, waiting to be accessed.

      Maybe to learn to be available this power would be to become powerful in the manner of Christ, who said we would do greater things than he.

      Imagine a world populated by such people…

      • Scott Pitz says:

        God, I love you guys. Energy is good, energy is sufficient…I know this energy as Spirit, the Holy Spirit that descended on the apostles in the Pentecost (The Book of Acts in the New Testament, Chapter 2).

      • Scott Pitz says:

        I guess I know this energy as love too…a vibrational frequency that has rolled over me leaving me with a sense of profound well-being and joy and a smile on my face that I could not repress. It felt as if I was cocooned in pure love…

        …but I guess this is where Tracy is going on her next post.

        P.S. I seem to lose many of my long posts too either through my own mistaken deletion or by being timed out by the network. Ah, the perils of technology…

        Shalom.

  • I just wrote a long response to what you have all written, but unfortunately, I am on my little laptop,and erased the whole thing!
    So, I’m going to try and write it one more time!
    Theodicy and Universalism are both addressed, or implicityly looked at in “The Shack”. Did anyone read it? I think it was really good!
    It is a book that has touched many people. A young man that I know who lost his 5 year old in a tragic auto accident recommended it.
    I also think of Paul on Love. In 1 Cor13:1-13.
    He tells us about love,and how to practice it. But also he says that” we see now in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face, and I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.”
    This means to me that I am not seeking everything clearly and I don’t even really understand myself!
    and, yes, “coincidence of opposites!
    I see it everywhere in all the writings…
    I’ve been on the road with my husband,and we will be for another couple of days. So I’ve missed all the dialogue, but at least I can reaad the comments at night and in the morning.
    PeAce and blessings to ALL!

    • Scott Pitz says:

      Blessings to you Elizabeth. I read the Shack and enjoyed its story of redemption as well. The theology also was well considered as well. It left me in tears. Have a good trip!

  • Burt Chabbez says:

    I got here from Yahoo and have got to say this is a excellent blog for skating!

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