Monday, February 23, 2009

Outer War, Inner Peace

"It is like a war zone in here," said a friend who is struggling to live authentically, centered in her sense of direct connection to God.

"Yes. And that is why it is a war zone out there," I instantly responded. Then I had to stop and think what I meant.

To live authentically from one's center means being present to every pain that arises without trying to fix, suppress or anesthetize the hurt. And that requires the practice of opening old wounds and being to the pain as it processes through. Watching what comes up and letting what comes come. Acknowledging that what is, is.

And maybe ('though I'm pretty sure of this) all the wars - from the dysfunctional family, tiptoeing warily around each other until the next insignificant event triggers an explosion, to international fights that burn and crush millions - maybe all are the outer, physical expression of unresolved, inner battles. Physical, worldly conflicts arise, creating huge suffering, because so many people refuse to do their own, inner work. Because so many choose instead to push pain away with various means of numbing, distracting and justifying.

So we fight wars... just to avoid being with our own pain.

As so many spiritual teachers say, "If you want world peace and an end to suffering, do your inner work."

And maybe this is true because the physical universe, along with all of us humans, is a single energy field. If we are ALL inseparable parts of one whole, it is a contradiction to say you want peace while concentrating on outward displays of anger at those you believe caused the conflict - much less physically fighting them. That is like standing in a stormy sea throwing rocks at the waves while shouting "CALM DOWN."

It only riles things up more.

Yet if just one molecule of the water became calm for even a moment, the overall calm of the whole would go up.

Because the universe is a single field, if and when, for a moment or a day, any one of us breaks through our shit to rest in inner peace, the peacefulness quotient of the whole universe goes up.

Dogen Zenji said,

"To study the Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.
To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barrier between one's self and others."

When what was perceived as "other" becomes perceived as "self," lashing out in anger makes no more sense then dropping napalm on your toe as punishment for it hurting you after it stubbed itself.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Acedia, the Writer’s Demon

When the eight “demons” of the early desert monks mutated into medieval Europe’s seven deadly sins, acedia (the “noonday demon") was folded into sloth. 

A mistake. 

Acedia deserves special recognition. It is so uniquely active, especially in the lives of writers. Besides, it can hardly be called "sloth" since, more often than not, it demands a deal of activity. 

Evagrius said this about acedia (based on the translation from the Praktikos by Luke Dysinger). Just substitute “writer” for “monk,” “desk/computer” for cell, and “book” for “way of life.”
Acedia is the most burdensome of demons…First, it makes the day appear to be fifty hours long. Then, it makes the monk look out his window, forcing him to bound out of his cell to …look round in all directions in case any of the brethren is there. [Note: the desert monks were not isolated. Twenty or thirty might live in caves within a few feet of each other. Which is why there was a lot of instruction about visiting, mean gossip, and other social distractions.]

trns: “If I don’t walk the dog she’ll never leave me alone. *Walks the dog* Okay, now I’m energized to write. I’ll just get the laundry in before I sit down. *Does the laundry. Also vacuums.* Okay, really ready to write, now. While the computer revs up, I’ll make some coffee…*Cleans the kitchen before making coffee.* Oh. It’s 5:00. Time to make dinner.”

It makes him hate his way of life. It makes him think there is no charity left among the brethren; no one is going to come and visit him. If anyone has upset the monk recently, the demon throws this in too. It makes him desire other places where he can practice an easier, more convenient craft.

trns: “The writing life sucks. And I’m no good at it. Surely I can be equally creative doing something where I’d make some money. Like an actual job, for f's sake, something useful, not the navel-gazing, self indulgence of thinking I am a writer… Especially since this book is going nowhere fast.”

It adds remembrance of the monk’s previous way of life, and suggests that he still has a long time to live, raising up a vision of how burdensome his life is.

trns: “If only I had a regular job with a guaranteed paycheck. I'd have respect, a house, health insurance, and a retirement plan. Waah!!! The writing life is too hard. My stomach hurts. I'm so sick of hitting up my folks for funds to keep going."

To be a writer is to be on intimate terms with this demon.

So I just applied for a full time, nicely paid job as administrator for the youth arts program where I've taught classes off and on for years..

Letting the noonday demon eat my soul or a sensible move in a rough economy? 
If I'm offered the job, I guess I'll have to discern which.

Note: Evagrius was a proponent of Origenism. He wrote extensively on the passions – their vice side and their virtue side (yes, each vice, turned around, is a virtue). His writings were declared anathema in the mid-500s, along with Origen's, when their theology
- that included reincarnation and universalism - was declared a heresy. Yet Evagrius' teachings on monasticism infiltrated - and greatly influenced - the Western church through the writings of an ex-follower, Cassian.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The only way to be clear is to be clean

19770 days an addict and 5 in recovery... more or less... today I used for 45 minutes... But I am committed. I will be clean.

O.K, so maybe it's not fair to count addiction back to my baby years. But the seed behaviors (and feelings) that became addictions were already comfortably well worn before my earliest memories (at three). So how early does addiction start?

All my addictions happen to be legal. I have three: simple computer games (like solitaire), TV, and children's books. A reading addict gets no respect, but people now accept that the computer game rush is just like the gambling rush and even TV changes brainwaves, so it's no biggie to say they are addictive. Shoot, I don't even like most television. It makes me queasy. But I will sit for hours flipping channels (and inflaming my thumb tendons), all the while telling myself, "Turn it off. Now. Off." And I don't enjoy computer games either. What better sign is there that these are addictions?

Yet until recently I had no desire to give addiction up. Or at least, I'd gladly be clean of TV and computer games, but stories. They have been my life.

Still, I'm a binge reader. Every few weeks, I loose a weekend or read till dawn and spend a day too bleary to work, or break a social commitment at the last minute because I can't put the book down. It is fairly easy to get along as a binger. Fairly easy to keep yourself off bottom.

Besides, I've been pretty good at removing temptation. I gave my TV & VCR away (no DVDs then) when I quit DePaul University (it's a long story... I had a vision... see "An Interfaith, Pantheist UU Is Called By Jesus: Part II"), No TV, no temptation. Each new computer, I'd play additively till dawn a few times and then in a spasm of disgust delete all games the hard drive - staying clean of games for some years.

Until last fall when I stumbled on the internet versions. I need parental controls for my browser, but can't seem to figure out how to get them. Now my writing environment is always dirty with a quick click all that stands between me and temptation. This led me close enough to bottom that I finally wanted to quit, really quit, not just have a long, binge hiatus.

Not stories, though... Those have been my refuge since before I could read. By age five, I was very proud that I could sit perfectly still for hours WITHOUT EVEN MOVING A FINGER (every so often I'd check my body to see). Because I wasn't there. I was off watching a movie in my head.

Give up stories? All these years, I have simply refused. I declared myself an addict most definitely NOT in recovery. Until a few days ago. Until spending most of the last two weeks on a binge. Until seeing how sickened this made me - just like TV or computer games - and how it made me hate myself and how that led to despair and how despair destroyed any will to write. Leaving me easy prey to a demon who whispers of the joy of getting lost in another world.

The thing is, not long ago I experienced what could happen if I lived clean. In the monastery, I was clean for 14 months. Oh, make no mistake. There are plenty of addicts in monasteries. And when I entered I worried. I could remove games from the clunky old computer I used, and I had no way to get kid books, but there was a TV in the basement of the house. Would I sneak down there to watch?

Turns out, I needn't have worried. I soon became like a clear, open conduit for something much more satisfying than any addiction - the thing I truly desired, the thing that maybe my addictions were fogging me up so I didn't know that that was what I was really after - the thing I now refer to with the misleading, short hand word "God." That amazing flow of joy/light/warmth/being-completely-known-and-loved energy that filled me, flowed through me, surrounded me and similarly flowed through every other person, animal, plant, rock, star and thing.

I didn't even watch the few approved TV shows (news and nature). The sisters were big on movies. But more often than not, I went for a walk instead - just to breathe/drink/swim in that light.

Of all the things I cried over after loosing monastic life, that connection was the main one.

I want the clarity that let me open to the great flow of divine energy. Only I can't perceive the light - which I know is always there - through a welter of buried feelings, unhealed wounds, and the fogging addictions I use to numb out feeling and prevent healing.

If I want to be clear, I have to be clean. No fog, no numbing. I have to be present to all the feelings, open and heal all the wounds. None of that can happen if I'm using.

The only way to be clear is to be clean.

So here I am. Painfully, haltingly in recovery. Five days and already: falling down, getting up, falling down, getting up.

So help me God.