Reality Check Two

“I refuse to be intimidated by reality. What is reality anyway? Reality is nothing but a collective hunch.”

From “The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe,” written by Jane Wagner and performed by Lily Tomlin

In the book “Sacred Contracts,” author Caroline Myss describes the archetype of the Saboteur as the Guardian of Choice. The challenge of making a good choice is governed entirely by the clarity of our perception. If our perception is sabotaged by projection, prejudice, pride, fear, anger, distortion, insufficient information or insufficient reflection, the likelihood of making a wise and clear choice is severely diminished, hence: sabotaged.

I spent much of last Friday at the Norris Cancer Hospital at the University of Southern California. I had fasted from 8:30 AM in the morning in preparation for both a PET-Scan and a CT-Scan which were scheduled for 2:30 PM.

When I was ushered into her office, the lab technician and I recognized each other. She said, “I remember you.” Then, as she poked a needle in my arm in preparation for an IV line, she said, “We have to stop meeting like this.” I loved her for that.

As Joan Crawford once famously said, “This is not my first rodeo,” and yesterday was not my first scan. I’ve been getting them annually for several years.

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Joy As An Act of Resistance

This morning (11/6/17) when I turned on the news, Gayle King was interviewing Texas Governor Greg Abbott on CBS This Morning about the mass-shooting in Sutherland Springs TX the previous day. Ms. King said to the governor:

Ms. King

“Governor, we’re hearing stories that eight members of one family lost their lives on that Sunday morning going to church.  So now we’re at a place where you get shot at a concert, at a school, at a movie theatre, and now, in church. Do you now think we have to think this is the new normal in this country for the citizens who live here?”

Governor Abbott

“We need to understand one thing here: killing in this country is illegal.  And we’ve seen challenges in all different kinds of ways, as you know. Just last week we saw a person use a truck to mow down people in a bike lane. As you know we’ve seen bombings at concerts, in London, as well as knife stabbings.”

Ms. King (interrupts)

“But right now we’re just focusing on the guns.”

Governor Abbott

“That’s what you are focusing on.

It’s important that we understand two things: we have evil that occurs in this world whether it be a terrorist who uses a truck or whether it be a terrorist who uses bombs and knives . . . We have evil and, hence, the greatest response to evil is what I encountered in Sutherland Springs Texas last night. And that is the key focus is victims’ families that I got to hug and hold and pray with. They wanted one thing: they wanted a stronger connection to God; they wanted to be able to pray as we shared a candlelight vigil. And it’s important that we go back to the fundamentals of our faith-based nation . . .”

Ms. King (interrupts again)

“Praying and hugs are good, we all agree. But what can we do to keep these weapons out of the hands of people that you were saying yourself are evil? What can we do about that?”

Governor Abbot

“I’m going to use the words of the citizens of Sutherland Springs themselves, and that is, they want to work together for love to overcome evil, and you do that by working with God.”

Ms. King tried repeatedly, and in vain, to get Governor Abbott to address gun violence.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/texas-church-shooting-governor-greg-abbott-on-gunman-devin-kelley/

Governor Abbott’s performance reminded me, as things often do these days, of M. Scott Peck’s disturbing and essential book, The People of the Lie. The gist of the book as I recall it is: the worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves to maintain the ego’s false image of itself so we don’t have to change.

Prior to turning on the news this morning, I had begun this week’s essay this way:

“It was the first time I had dealt directly and flatly with the evidence of atomization, the proof that all things fall apart: I went to San Francisco because I had not been able to work in some months, had been paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed. If I was to work again at all, it would be necessary for me to come to terms with disorder.”

From the preface of Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion

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Calling Batman

NOTE: This post is not meant to be political or partisan. It’s intended to be patriotic and prophetic.

I try with varying degrees of failure to limit my intake of news. I subscribe to the New Yorker and to Time magazine (old habits die hard, I grew up with Time). I subscribe to the New York Times and the Washington Post on line. I try to listen impartially and open-mindedly, but not always successfully, to William Kristol and Rich Lowry of National Review. I watch Rachel Maddow and, from time to time, Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC, and on Sunday mornings I watch Face the Nation on CBS and Meet the Press on NBC, and on occasion, George Stephanopoulos on This Week on ABC.

I think of my spiritual hero, Thomas Merton, and what he would have made of 24/7 news coverage—biased news coverage.

As a citizen, I think it’s my duty to be informed. As a human being I sometimes feel like a goose being force-fed by tubes in order to produce pate. At some point the news makes me nauseous. I know I’m not alone in this. Yet, as an, I hope responsible, citizen I can’t ignore the news entirely.

I didn’t post a blog last week because I overdosed on news and it left me with a rotten hangover.

I wonder if there is any correlation between the onslaught of 24 hour cable news and the opioid crisis. Do the farmers raising the geese ease their agony with painkillers?

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The Divine Ms. Myss

I had never heard of Caroline Myss when I dropped by the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in West Hollywood CA in mid-June of 1997. The center of the new books display was devoted to Caroline’s latest book, Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can. Since I had been diagnosed with cancer less than a week earlier, I thought it was worth investigating. I bought the audio cassettes and listened to them as I drove about Southern California meeting with radiologists, oncologists, nutritionists and others in an effort to discern the best treatment options for me. And there were lots of options.

A week later I returned to the Bodhi Tree and bought the audio cassettes for Caroline’s previous book, Anatomy of the Spirit and a recording called Spiritual Madness. I’ve listened to Spiritual Madness dozens of times over the years and it remains my favorite of all of her teachings.

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I’m Being Called To Be What???

In February of 1979 I became acutely aware of the fact that I see things differently, that not everyone— maybe not anyone—sees the way I see. I don’t remember when I began to see the sacred in secular symbols. It always seemed normal to me and it didn’t occur to me for a very long time that not everyone saw things this way.

This way of seeing likely developed in high school and college where the Jesuits taught us “to seek the presence of God in all things,” a core spiritual practice of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

I don’t remember committing to this practice consciously. Then in 1979 I attended the Advocate Experience, an intensive coming out workshop for LGBT community. A friend of mine recently referred to the encounter I had there as a “Baptism of Fire.”

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Mirror Ball

“In the rabbinic tradition, they talk about scripture having seventy faces. So when you read it, you keep turning it like a gem, letting the light refract through the various faces in and unexpected ways.

“You keep turning the gem turning the gem, seeing something new each time.” 

From What Is the Bible? by Rob Bell

 

 

Before I read Rob Bell’s book, a birthday gift from my wise, dear friend, Lorena (a wonderful book, by the way—funny, challenging, inspiring and insightful), I had begun to think of these essays as the mirror fragments of a disco ball. When the light reflects on one of the fragments, it illuminates a memory of a friend or teacher or family member and I write about it. Each mirror fragment is a piece of the whole of my life. It’s impossible to see the whole at once. The pulsing light that reflects the mirror ball changes rhythm with each new song. Some fragments are illuminated frequently; some are only rarely kissed by the light. The mirror fragments are not illuminated in a linear way, but in a seemingly random way; “seemingly” is the key word, in my soul I know there is nothing random about the illumination of the fragments.

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Mystery School: An Overview

In 1997, as word of my cancer diagnosis spread, the phrases, meant to be encouraging, that I heard most frequently were “You’ve got to fight this” or “you can beat the ‘Big C’”. (Thank you, John Wayne.) The problem is that I did not have then nor do I now have now more than trace amounts of warrior energy. But I tried. I tried really strict eating regimens, even macrobiotic (although not for long), and came to the conclusion that if this is how I was going to eat for the rest of my life, I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to live.

I spared myself the suffering that comes with the question “Why me?” I’d gone through a different version of the question during the worst years of the AIDs epidemic when I found myself asking, “Why not me?” The best answer I could come up with is that God would never give me a disease that has an unexplained weight loss. I kept that conclusion a secret until I let it slip at a dinner with a couple of HIV-infected friends and they howled with laughter at the gallows humor.

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Quality Time

I could easily write “The Idiot’s Guide to Emergency Rooms,” I’ve found myself in so many over the past 20 years.

There was the ER in Cusco, Peru, where I was delivered by helicopter after falling off of the Inca Trail at Machu Pichu, breaking my right ankle and spraining my left.

I was carried out of the jungle on a makeshift stretcher (heavy blankets tossed over what seemed to be a short ladder) by four Peruvian jungle rangers armed with rifles. Peruvians are, in general, short and built close to the ground. The five-foot long stretcher reflected the difference between my 6’1” height and that of the Peruvians. I was unable to stretch out on the stretcher—either my head would fall off of one end or my injured ankles would dangle precariously off the other. I sat erect on the stretcher as I emerged from the jungle and was borne across the ruins. Fellow travelers took pictures of me as I exited from the wilderness; I could think of nothing else to do than to wave at them in the manner of Queen Elizabeth II. A few people formed a ragtag procession and followed the jungle rangers as we made our way to the infirmary. I was, of course, in shock, so I can’t swear to the fact that a weeping Caroline Myss rushed toward me much like St. Veronica encountering Jesus on the road to Calvary. That said, the memory, hallucinatory or not, remains vivid all these years later.

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A Few of My Favorite Things (Gift Guide)

This time of year I like to be even more mindful that usual of all of the blessings in my life. And I am blessed with extraordinary friends. Some of these friends bless me doubly and triply because they are also my teachers. Each has a body of inspiring and provocative work and I’d like to share some of my favorites with you.

All of these would make great holiday gifts for others or you may hint to others you would like some of these for yourself.

CAROLINE MYSS

My wonderful friend, teacher and author, Caroline Myss has written many wonderful books but I especially love her recordings. Unless you’ve been at some of Caroline’s recording sessions, you may not know that she doesn’t read from a text. Although she prepares in SpiritualMadnessadvance, she speaks ex tempore. This gives immediacy and intimacy to the recordings that puts her right in the room with me.

I first discovered Caroline and her work when I was diagnosed with cancer and came across her recording of “Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can.” The wisdom in that recording has guided me through 17 years of cancer treatments.

My personal favorite of all of Caroline’s recordings is “Spiritual Madness.” I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to it, but I always find something new with every listening.

A wonderful companion to “Spiritual Madness” is the lesser known “Your Primal Nature.” It’s fascinating.

All of these are available at www.SoundsTrue.com and Amazon/Audible

MARK MATOUSEK

wyfd_lg1I’ve known Mark Matousek since he was sixteen years old and was around him a great deal until he went away to school. He chronicles this part of his life in “Sex, Death, Enlightenment” one of the finest spiritual memoirs I’ve ever read. The follow-up memoir, “The Boy He Left Behind,” avoids the sophomore slump of many writers, and is, if anything, even richer than the first book. I have a particular bias toward his book, “When You’re Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living,” because I’m interviewed in it and that the interview put me in the company of Joan Didion, David Steindl-Rast, Dr. Rachel Remen and Bill McKibben.

Mark is also an exceptional teacher. He regularly offers a six-week on-line course called “Writing As a Spiritual Practice” and he’s just released a seven-part audio course called “What’s Your Story.” To find out more about Mark and his work visit him at www.markmatousek.com

WILKIE AU

EnduringHeartWilkie Au is a spiritual director’s spiritual director. I can say this with certainty because I have been blessed to have Wilkie as my spiritual director for over fifteen years. Alone, and with his wife, Jungian analyst and spiritual director, Noreen Cannon Au, Wilkie has written a quintet of invaluable spiritual guides, each of which focuses on a specific quality of developing a richer spiritual life and practice. If you are unfamiliar with their work, the two books I most recommend are “The Enduring Heart: Spirituality for the Long Haul” and “The Grateful Heart.” The former is a reassuring reminder that the essence of spiritual life is, like marriage, relationship. The latter is an activist’s handbook for living a life rooted in and committed to gratitude. For more information visit: http://wilkieandnoreenau.com/

ELLEN GUNTER

Earth-Calling-book-coverEllen Gunter is a woman on fire. She’s a prophet and gadfly. Her book, “Earth Calling” is an impassioned education and wake-up call about the multiple environmental crises that threaten the planet. What sets her book apart is that on every page you are reminded how much Ellen loves the earth. This book isn’t just good science, it’s a love letter. The book is available on Amazon.

RICHARD ROHR

Father Richard Rohr, OFM, is so prolific, it’s hard to settle on just a few recommendations. If you are unfamiliar with his work his three volumes of daily meditations—excerpts drawn from his books, articles, sermons and workshops—are like mini-anthologies which are wonderful in YesAndthemselves or may guide you toward one or another of his complete works. The three anthologies are “Radical Grace,” “Yes . . .And,” and “On the Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men.”

Among Father Richard’s audios, I particularly like “True Self, False Self” and “Great Themes of Paul” (Richard’s series on Paul provides compelling evidence that Paul is a great mystic whose writings have  interpreted literally and damagingly. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I fell in love with the St. Paul revealed in these recordings. www.cac.org

JAMES FINLEY

James Finley was one of my teachers when I was  training to be a spiritual director and ContemplativeHeartbecame a colleague when we taught together at CMED.* I don’t know that there is any substitute for encountering James Finley in person. If you ever have the chance to spend a day, a weekend or a week in his company, sign up immediately. To find out about his retreat schedule check his website: http://contemplativeway.org/ . His book “Merton and the Palace of Nowhere” is a contemporary classic and essential reading for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Thomas Merton’s teaching. James has collaborated on audio books and recorded seminars with both Caroline Myss and Richard Rohr. You can find them at either www.soundstrue.org or www.cac.org  Ally of them provide rich material for reflection and contemplation.

Happy Reading! Happy Listening!

Love,

Jim