Anger Touches Death


My nephew, Drew, committed suicide on December 15.

The pastor at his memorial (which happened yesterday) said this: “People who commit suicide think that they are putting an end to their pain. This is not true. They are simply passing that pain onto everyone they leave behind.”

Bingo.

Drew’s suicide touches everyone differently, and we all cycle through the typical stages of grief.

For me, there’s been a lot of anger, self-loathing, self-disgust and discontent. A clinician would, without doubt, say that the stage of depression has been reached. I, on the other hand, do not subscribe to the pathologization of the natural descent cycle — but I do see that a descent has occurred and I’m endeavoring to embrace it for all it’s worth.

The Buddha would say that this mess of reactivity is due to excessive identification with the body, and he would be correct.

I am still in the body, and unless I consciously attain “Right View,” I definitely identify my body as “me.”

The body is not only physical, but it is mental and emotional as well.

The emotions are what assail me now.

So, I turn to a pair of companions who bring comfort through thick and thin: astrology and the Bible.

What does astrology say?

Astrology says that transiting Mars, the Warrior, planet of anger and physical vitality, has been moving directly over Pluto, the Dark Mother, planet of death and transformation, in my natal chart.

Mars and Pluto happen to be ruling planets in my chart. This means that, whenever they are “lit up” by mutual connection, I am thrust into processes that go directly to the “core issues” in my life.

Astrology says that Mars conjoining Pluto guarantees at least a month’s worth of physical, mental and (especially) emotional INTENSITY — which, of course, exceeds the boundaries of rationality, descending my emotions into the deepest, darkest recesses of existence.

My experience of what Astrology says includes the above-mentioned anger, self-loathing, self-disgust and discontent. I’m sure there are other things going on in my chart (i.e., Jupiter squaring Nodes and Saturn in the 7th, Uranus opposing Moon, and Pluto continuing to square Moon) that contribute to the seeming bottomlessness of the descent I’m in… but, for whatever reason, I can’t seem to find the lower floor, and I’m getting a little desperate.

What does the Bible say?

Here’s where I was led:

Eph 4:29-32 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

So… the remedy for my corrupt communication, my grieving of the Spirit of God, my bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking and malice… is to forgive those who are on the receiving end of my projections, and to show tenderhearted kindness toward them — no matter how difficult it may be for me to get there from here.

Whew! Tall order!

And, yet… the forgiveness piece is something that’s worked wonders in my past… because, only through forgiving others am I able to receive forgiveness for my own loathsomeness.

Yes, I am inundated by explosive emotion right now.

I feel terrible about my reactivity and my frantic corruption of communication. I feel awful about ALL my shortcomings, the totality of which seems so obvious and exposed.

In this place, I can’t seem to get over the shortcomings I see in others — I want to blame them for the pain and suffering within me.

So… I forgive everyone who has ever “wronged” me — just as I forgive Drew for killing himself.

And… I pray that my own wrong-doing toward others is forgiven in kind.

* * *

Somewhere in all this grieving, there is a bottom floor.

May my feet touch down in that place as soon as possible.

About the Progenitor of God Alone

A good Muslim friend of mine wrote to warn me about the God Alone movement, which was initiated by a man named Rashad Khalifa.  Khalifa was an Egyptian scientist who claimed to find a “Qur’an Code” based on the number 19, which he asserted as proof that the Qur’an has come down to us in uncorrupted form.  He ended up in Tucson, AZ, where he was assassinated in the early 90’s.

The above video is a straightforward presentation of the anti-Khalifa position, which is in line with traditional Islam.  I do appreciate having access to this information as I continue to self-educate around the religion of Muhammad.

Thanks, also, to my friend (you know who you are!) who was not afraid to take me to task over a very touchy subject.

God Alone

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There’s a movement within Islam that seeks to establish the Qur’an as the one and only source of Truth, leaving out the Hadith and all the other “authorities” that have been established over the centuries.

One website I found that offers a platform for this movement is called Free-Minds.org:

“…O people of the Scripture, let us come to a common agreement between us and between you; that 1) we do not serve except God, and 2) do not set up anything at all with Him, and 3) that none of us takes each other as patrons besides God….” (The Message 3:64)

This website has been created for all people who have a desire to allow God into their lives and follow His path alone…

This website invites all people of various beliefs (Sunni, Shia, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Bahai, Agnostic, Humanist, and even Atheists) to come and examine for themselves the system of Submission/Islam which is based on God Alone.

Many of you may outwardly be content with your current faith or that which you inherited from your parents and community…but to some out there, there will always be a tugging at the back of their mind that ‘there is something more’, and that ‘some things don’t always make sense’…

If you are one of those people, then open your eyes, put on your thinking cap, and welcome to an open examination of the system of Submission/Islam which very few know about….

How is it that I am so attracted to “roots” groups like this?

The Buddha-inspired support group of which I am a member, the Great Western Vehicle, also rejects all the canonical texts accepted by mainstream Theravada Buddhism, except for the original discourses of the Buddha found in the Sutta Pitaka.

The idea is, as soon as the progenitor of a spiritual movement dies, there is a power struggle that begins almost immediately. Additions to the original teachings quickly creep in, and this process continues down through the years, until what people practice bears almost no resemblance to the original teachings.

There’s a lot to learn in terms of the God Alone movement, but so far I am intrigued. I’ll let you know what I find along the way.

A Sufi Story for a Sunny Sunday in Boulder

From Shaikh Nazim at SufiSpot:

One day a young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley.

A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart for it was perfect.

There was not a mark or a flaw in it.

Yes, they all agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen.

The young man was very proud and boasted more loudly about his beautiful heart. Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said, “Why your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine.

The crowd and the young man looked at the old man’s heart. It was beating strongly … but full of scars. It had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in … but they didn’t fit quite right and there were several jagged edges.

In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing. The people starred … how could he say his heart is more beautiful, they thought?

The young man looked at the old man’s heart and saw its state and laughed. “You must be joking,” he said. “Compare your heart with mine … mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears.

Yes!” said the old man, “Yours is perfect looking … but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love. I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them … and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart … but because the pieces aren’t exact, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared. Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away … and the other person hasn’t returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges … giving love is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too … and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting.

“So now do you see what true beauty is?”, said the old man.

The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart, and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man with trembling hands.

The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man’s heart.

It fits but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges.

The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man’s heart flowed into his.

Let’s hear it for tattered old hearts, well-used and freely-given.

Have a wonderful week, everyone.

UPDATE:  In comments, Bilal from SufiSpot informs us that Shaikh Nazim is not the actual author of this story.  Bilal says, “This story has been inspired by Shaikh Nazim’s teachings, however, this was written by one of his students.”

Thanks to Shaikh Nazim’s student, then, for coming up with this story!

True Prayer

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I’ve not been real big on prayer during this lifetime.

It always felt either like: 1) talking to myself in my head while pretending an invisible God or Person was listening to me, a minuscule human being amongst 5 billion others on this tiny third stone from this tiny star on the far edge of a small galaxy in a universe filled with countless super-galaxies; or 2) talking out loud in a roomful of people, reciting memorized formulas that, no matter how hard I try, never feel like they’re coming from the heart — mine or theirs.

On the other hand, I’ve always thought that there’s something to prayer, if by “prayer” we mean “communion” with the Infinite. In this sense, meditation can be prayer. Singing can be prayer. Nature walks, art, poetry, love-making, dish-washing — it can all be thought of as prayer.

The Orthodox tradition, with its Jesus Prayer as an all-day meditation or mindfulness exercise, has always intrigued me. So, I was not surprised to stumble upon an exposition on prayer from the Orthodox perspective — a perspective that resonates in me, a lowly ecstatic contemplative whose hunger for God diminishes not:

There is a story told in the Gerontikon, the sayings of the desert Fathers, about a visitor who goes to see three monks. And they talked all the afternoon. Suddenly the visitor realizes that the sun has set. “It is time for vespers;” says the visitor, “it is time for us to pray together.” And the monks answered, “But we have been praying together all the last four hours.” Prayer, in their experience, was not just occasional but continual; not just one activity among others, but the activity of their entire lives. It was a dimension present in everything else that they did. St. Gregory of Nazianzos says, “Remember God more often than you breathe.” Prayer, ideally, should be as much part of us as our breathing.

Sometimes people talk about having a “prayer life,” but is that not an odd phrase? We do not have a distinct and separate breathing life; we breathe as we live. But how are we to attain prayer of this kind: all-embracing, ever-present, prayer of the total self?

That brings me to another question: What is prayer? Evagrios of Pontos says in a famous definition, “Prayer is communion of the intellect with God.” So Evagrios sees prayer as an activity of the intellect (nous). Nous, like pathos, is a word that is hard to translate into English.

Another writer of the fourth century, contemporary with Evagrios (in Syria rather than in Egypt), the author of the Spiritual Homilies attributed to Macarios, has a slightly different approach to prayer. “It may be,” he says, “that the saints sit in the theater and watch the delusion of this world, while with the inner self, all the time, they are speaking to God.” There we see, as in the story I told from the desert Fathers, that prayer aims to be continual; not so much something we do from time to time, but something that we are all the time.

Also, we see from the Spiritual Homilies of Macarios that prayer is something that goes on in the inner self (o eso anthropos). This is a biblical phrase, used for example, in Ephesians: “May God according to the riches of His glory, grant that you are strengthened with the power of the Holy Spirit in the inner self so that Christ dwells in your heart by faith” (3:16-17).

There we see that the inner self is associated with the indwelling of Christ and the Holy Spirit. And also we see in Ephesians that the inner self is identified with the heart. So for Macarios, prayer is something that we offer with the inner self, that is, with the heart. Where Evagrios emphasizes the intellect, the Macarian Homilies emphasize the heart (cardia).

These two approaches are combined in a definition of prayer given by the nineteenth-century Russian writer St. Theophan the Recluse. “To pray,” he says, “is to stand before God with the intellect, in the heart, and to go on standing before Him day and night until the end of life.” So, prayer is something that goes on with the intellect in the heart, and it is continuous. St. Isaac the Syrian even says that the saints are praying while they are asleep. Sometimes when I am lecturing, I notice that members of my audience close their eyes. But then I think that perhaps they are saints, and though they are sleeping, they are also listening.

[…]

C. G. Jung, in his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, recalls a conversation he had with an American Indian, one Ochwiay Biano. [Mr. Biano is also known by the English name “Mountain Lake.”] Ochwiay Biano said,

“How cruel the whites are: their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by holes. Their eyes have a staring expression. They are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something, they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want, we do not understand them, we think that they are mad.” I asked him why he thought the whites were all mad. “They say they think with their heads,” he replied.

“Why, of course. What do you think with?” I asked him in surprise.

“We think here,” he said, indicating his heart.

Now, Ochwiay Biano is coming very much closer to what Scripture and much of the Patristic tradition meant by the heart.

[…]

Mark the Monk of the late fourth or early fifth century (also known as Mark the Hermit or Mark the Ascetic) gives a particular explication to this theology of the heart – a sacramental application. He says that through baptism, Christ and the Holy Spirit enter the innermost secret and uncontaminated chamber of the heart. By virtue of our baptism there is an inner chamber, a central shrine within us where grace dwells and where evil cannot reach. Mark believes that from our baptism there is a point or spark within us that belongs entirely to God, that is the pure glorious God in us. “By the good treasure of the heart,” says Mark, “Scripture means the Holy Spirit who is hidden in the heart of the faithful” – hidden through baptism.

So the aim of the spiritual life, according to Mark, is that we should become consciously aware of this secret presence of the baptismal Christ Who is already in our hearts, mystically. The Christian journey, for him, is a journey from baptismal grace, present secretly in the heart, to baptismal grace, experienced in the heart with full conscious awareness.

[…]

Where have I heard this before?

Oh, yes… in just about every contemplative tradition known to humanity, that’s where.

I know that, from the Traditionalist perspective, it is important to choose a Path and stick to it, so as to benefit from the religious Mystery embedded in that particular Path. I understand the wisdom in this perspective and want nothing other than to honor it.

At the same time, when I read the concluding paragraph in the collection of snips above, I am reminded that there really are many, many Paths leading to the same place.

We should celebrate this fact, rather than always seeking to convert everyone else to our particular perspective.