On The Strait & Narrow
For The Path
Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and
few there be that find it. Jesus (Matthew 7:14)
Some people are content to hope for heaven after they die. They see this world as a preparatory place for post-mortem bliss. Others seek happiness now. They want to know God on this earth. This book is for the latter group, those who take Jesus' messages literally: "The kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15); "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).
I believe that Jesus meant exactly what he said--that the peace of mind inherent in knowing God is possible in the U. S. A. (as in Palestine when he spoke). I neither know, nor pretend to, about an after-life--maybe there is; maybe there isn't. In either case the religion which concerns me is focused here; the kingdom I seek is "at hand" and "within." I leave the next life to those with more knowledge or patience.
But I cannot accept the liberation of Jesus' declarations without also noting that it's easier said than done. Believing in the kingdom now and realizing its presence are obviously miles apart. Anyone can think it possible; but hardly anyone seems to find it. I find Jesus confirming here also. He said it would be difficult. He said the way is narrow and that few find it. His follower, the apostle Paul, concurred on the matter of time--"Now is the day of salvation" (I Corinthians 6:2), and also on the required labor; he spoke of "working out your own salvation." He even added "with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). That too makes sense to me. It is not the way I would prefer, but it is the way I've found things to be.
Unfortunately neither Jesus nor Paul got very specific about charting the "narrow way" or explaining the "work." They did, however, leave clues. In the course of my own pilgrimage I have explored some of these clues relative to the kingdom now. As a minister my intimate involvement in the quest of many other searching individuals has allowed clarification and confirmation of these biblical guidelines. I find certain spiritual plateaus emerging in the struggles of the earlier pilgrims and present-day seekers.
This book is an effort to pinpoint and describe ten of these spiritual attainments which seem to be common to pilgrims of all ages. Because of the faith and discipline required to achieve them, I call them "milestone events." They are steps, I believe, along the strait and narrow--inward happenings to be anticipated by serious pilgrims. Understanding is, of course, no substitute for attainment; yet it can be helpful. A clear vision of what may occur can ease the threat of the unknown and guide one's labors in the quest. After describing each major event, I include suggestions for practical things to do in reaching it.
In addition to these milestones, I have added seven procedures found to be useful in reaching the spiritual plateaus. I call them stepping-stones. Each is a smaller step, a productive thing to do in the course of the pilgrimage. Although the major milestones seem to be elusive and often unapproachable in a direct manner, attention to the stepping-stones has proven valuable in the larger quests.
Learning to use a stepping-stone is usually a delightful achievement within itself. Perfecting the art of activating any one of these human capacities can be inherently satisfying. The crowning joy, however, is reaching a spiritual milestone. The attainment of each plateau has always been a delightfully liberating experience in the lives of those I have observed. The "fear and trembling" of the struggle seems more than justified by the freedom, vision, and hope inherent in each new level.
I hope that understanding will enhance the faith of any reader and that the suggestions will be useful to those who risk involvement in our common quest along the strait and narrow way to the kingdom of God in the here and now.
Before proceeding, definitions may be appropriate:
Heaven: The experience of knowing God in the here and now, existing in communion with ultimate reality. Outside of religion, it is commonly called "the good life," happiness, or peace of mind. This encompassing, spiritual experience is a matter of rediscovering and entering the Garden of Eden on this earth.
Pilgrim: A person who is serious about knowing God now; one who actively seeks the good life, who strives to find and walk the strait and narrow way to heaven on earth--to be distinguished from the casual church-goer who simply wishes for more, expects it to be done for him, or hopes for a better life in the sweet bye-and-bye. A pilgrim is a worker, a traveler, one in a process. He has not arrived, and does not pretend to have it made; yet he strives.
Strait and Narrow: A metaphor drawn from Jesus' statement in Matthew (7:14). Strait means constricted or close rather than not crooked. The analogy implies that the way to heaven is a disciplined course, a demanding and confined path, in contrast to the undemanding, "broad way that leadeth to destruction" (Matthew 7:13). Though involving many turns, the "strait and narrow" is a rigorous way which few seem to find.
Milestones: Significant spiritual events along a pilgrim's path, massive happenings involving the total person--body, mind, and heart. Beginning with the conscious mind, each event is incomplete until achieved on the deepest levels of spirit. These occurrences are of such towering magnitude that they can seldom be reached by a direct approach. Smaller, indirect steps prove more effective. Achieving a milestone is usually a long-time process, often requiring years to accomplish--always involving great faith and diligent work.
Stepping-stones: Smaller events involving parts of the person, procedures useful in achieving the milestones. These skills are potentially productive in treading the strait and narrow way to life. They are the daily activities of pilgrims who are striving for the major events. If one asks: what can I do to reach the milestones?, the answer is: learn to walk on the stepping-stones. Each can be practiced regularly and has proven valuable for others in the salvation process.
Cutting the Cord
And he answered them, saying, 'Who is my mother . . . ?'
Certain events in the life of Jesus point clearly to this first spiritual milestone. Consider the following: "Now it occurred that as He was saying these things, a certain woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, 'Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts that You sucked!'" But in response to this open invitation to praise His mother, He replied: "Blessed rather are they who hear the word of God and obey and practice it" (Luke 11:27-28 Amp.).
On another occasion "His mother and brothers arrived at the crowded house where he was teaching, and they sent word for him to come out and talk with them: 'Your mother and brothers are outside and want to see you,' he was told." Presumably a respectful son would answer his mother's call, at least by going to see what she wanted. But, "He replied, 'Who is my mother?' . . . Looking at those around him he said, 'These are my mother and brothers! Anyone who does God's will is . . . my mother'" (Mark 3:31-35 L.B.). What a strange way for a son to respond to his mother's visit!
A third event: "Two days later Jesus' mother was a guest at a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee, and Jesus and his disciples were invited too. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, and Jesus' mother came to him with the problem" (John 2:1-3 L.B.). Traditionally a good son helps his mother with her problems. But consider Jesus' reply: "Jesus saith unto her, 'Woman (not mother), what have I to do with thee?'" (Or as the New English Bible translates: "Your concern is not mine." John 2:4.)
What a way for a son to talk to his mother!
Perhaps the explanation is revealed in his reply to Nicodemus in the following chapter. This ruler of the Jews came asking about eternal life. Jesus' answer was brief and to the point: "Verily, verily (of a deep truth), I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." When Nicodemus asked for an explanation, Jesus answered, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:3-5).
To the many explanations of this encounter given through the intervening years, I add my own. Each of us is born once "of water." The enclosing watery sac in the womb is broken, allowing us to move to the outside world. When the doctor cuts the umbilical cord (our last remaining tangible tie to mother), we become separate, self-contained persons with all life-support systems built in. Physically we have arrived.
Unfortunately, spiritual independence is not synonymous with physical birth. The nursing, feeding, tending, stroking, and caring of mother commonly result in spiritual ties which, though invisible, are often more binding than the womb and umbilical cord. Though physically thrust forth, we may never leave the spiritual wombs in which we rest as newborn infants. Life for many is one massive effort to maintain the old spiritual womb, or to replace it with newer, more comfortable models. Rather than risking the faith to move into the world as self-contained, spirited persons, we are tempted to remain spiritually unborn, living out our days in the emotional wombs of others.
To all of us Jesus came with the example of his life and the confirming message: The water birth is not enough for entrance into God's kingdom. We must also be born again, this second time, "of the Spirit." The emotional ties which bind us to mother, or her later substitutes, must be cut, even as was the umbilical cord in the beginning. The major difference is that while someone else can cut the physical cord, only we can sever spiritual ties.
The biblical glimpses of Jesus' personal encounters with his mother cited above indicate that he had done his spiritual homework. He was under no compulsion to praise (or condemn) her, to stop his activity just because she had come to visit, or to take on her problems. The verbal exchange with Nicodemus but reflected what had already occurred in Jesus' own life. He knew from experience, I believe, that a second birth is also required before one can even see the kingdom of God.
One element in spiritual rebirth is, I conclude, cutting the intangible cord with one's mother and all substitutes for her. With thanksgiving for their values, and full appreciation for the temptation and temporary delights of spiritual wombs, I believe that the path to the kingdom of God requires leaving primal securities. Cutting this cord becomes a major milestone on the strait and narrow way to heaven in the here and now.
What is this second womb from which we must also be born? How can we visualize this invisible nest which both encourages and prevents spiritual birth? First, we must understand these words as symbolic. We use the birth imagery (the womb and umbilical cord), to represent a spiritual event unrelated to physical birth. The womb as used here, refers to the mothering function, rather than one's actual maternal parent. Primary mothering may come from someone other than one's real mother, as in the case of orphans.
Cutting the cord refers to severing spiritual ties, either to an actual mother or any mother substitute. In this milestone event, one leaves mothering behind; he becomes motherless in the world. Such a reborn person can reasonably ask, as did Jesus: "Who is my mother?" This does not mean that overt physical relationships are necessarily severed, but that all ties between a person and the mothering function are broken.
But how can we describe a spiritual womb? What are the elements in mothering? Three terms which I believe summarize the mothering function are sustenance, security, and stroking. The common activities of a physical mother can aptly represent these spiritual functions.
First, mothers sustain life. Before birth, both food and oxygen are supplied via the umbilical cord. Post-birth, mothers supply milk by breast or bottle, and later, food from the table. Long after a grown child leaves his mother's breast and table, he may continue to look for others to supply his food. The common knowledge that "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach" reflects this lingering tie.
Providing physical food becomes far more significant than merely sustaining the body; it symbolizes the gift of spiritual life also. The good feeling which comes in being fed by another is a reflection of the spiritual sustenance associated with physical feeding. One's spirit, as well as his body, may be enhanced by such symbolic giving. Even when the food is detrimental to current health (as with excessive calories), the spirit may seem to be enlivened by motherly feeding. Common male attraction to female breasts may also reflect a primitive association to the spiritual food which came during nursing periods.
Secondly, mothers provide security. The warmth and protection of the womb is, ideally, later replaced by spiritual security in the form of love and understanding. Along with tangible shielding from outside threats (cold, heat, harm, etc.), mothers give emotional support to the spirit. Mothers understand! Their unmerited love is an intangible womb. In innumerable ways they boost a baby's ego, providing a sense of security in the child's spiritual world. And the common human temptation is to continue seeking external spiritual security through the love and understanding of substitute mothers. Marriage may be but an adult attempt to replace the lost ego-support of a maternal parent figure.
Stroking is a third motherly function. Mothers bring a child tactile pleasure through holding, touching, petting, and rocking, as well as taste sensations through offering the breast and food. These forms of motherly stroking are the child's avenue to his first experiences with pleasure. Later forms of stroking include praise, encouragement, and compliments. The temptation is to continue seeking pleasure through the stroking of substitute mothers, rather than cutting these older spiritual ties.
To summarize: Mothering, as a symbol of the spiritual womb, includes sustenance, security, and stroking--providing food, warmth, and pleasure for the infant spirit. The mothering function may or may not come from one's biological mother. Sometimes fathers do more mothering than mothers. Often a relative or maid may be one's primary source for this function.
The familiar course in life is to eventually leave the original source of mothering, only to unconsciously repro-duce it in countless other forms. Although many grown children continue to seek spiritual support from their actual mothers, most replace the mothering function throughfriends, lovers, or spouses who are used to provide the ego-support that was originally found in the parent. Lovers commonly give the love and understanding which firstcame from mother. Spouses are often but thinly-veiled reproductions of earlier mother figures.
Even houses, professions, government, and institutions may be used to symbolically replace the original spiritual womb. Pets are another familiar substitute. Human imagination can easily conclude that a dog "loves and understands me." The church can be used to symbolically provide spiritual support and security not received from other human mother-substitutes. For example, the Holy Mother Mary, mother of Jesus, may be symbolically viewed as the perfect substitute. Even God may be viewed as a type of mother-figure who "cares and understands when no one else does."
The spiritual event of cutting the cord involves severing all emotional ties with the mothering function. Just as the umbilical cord is cut when the baby leaves the womb, so the spiritual tie is severed when a person is reborn. Dependence on any external source for spiritual food, security, or pleasure is ended.
Only a complete break with mothering in any form can free a pilgrim to pursue God with his whole heart. This milestone event is critical in the quest for heaven in the here and now. To whatever extent one remains dependent on mother or her replacements, to that same degree he excludes himself from knowing God--"Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
WHAT TO DO
As previously noted, milestone events are massively significant spiritual happenings to be pursued as ultimate goals. Direct or frontal attacks are seldom effective. Because the spiritual cords are likely to be deeply buried in the unconscious mind, one cannot simply snip them at will. For instance, the overt act of refusing to write or visit one's mother may not at all affect a deep spiritual tie to her. Divorcing a spouse on whom one is emotionally dependent for mothering is unlikely to change the spiritual fact. Instead, replacement is highly predictable.
Thus, though cutting the cord is far more complex than simply deciding to do so, there are specific steps which can be useful in the process. Here are some:
Accept the goal of becoming independent of mothering. Until you set your mind on the possibility, success is highly improbable. You must decide first if you truly want to take the chance. Certainly the goal is contrary to the obvious direction of the average person. Most people seem bent on finding better mothers, rather than giving them up. Perhaps you too have preferred the common way.
You must now decide if Jesus' life is a good example, if his insistance on spiritual rebirth is valid, and if I haveinterpreted him correctly for you. If you do conclude that mothering is to be left behind, then set your sights on a time when your spiritual cords will be cut. Anticipate embracing the spiritual freedom which is your birthright.
Examine your current ties. Before attempting overt moves, consider the current status of any existing spiritual cords. Who is now a mother for you? Who fulfills the mothering functions of feeding, protecting and stimulating your spiritual life? Who provides your comfort and support? To whom do you turn for love and understanding? Does your biological parent still mother you? Have you replaced her with a friend, lover, or spouse? On whom do you depend for spiritual support? Do animals or institutions provide your mothering? Is the church your mother? Many of your spiritual ties are likely to be invisible to you. Be alert to their possible existence in each current relationship. The more clearly you discern the presence of these cords of dependence, the moreeffective you can be in cutting them.
Start letting go of obvious mothers. Let your actual mother become human for you. Rather than keeping her on a godly pedestal in your mind, free her from your lingering fantasies of any inhuman ability to make you happy. Stop looking to her for approval and support. Grant her the right to all the human foibles, as well as strengths. Abandon any fantasy that "mother knows best." Though this was probably true when you were a child, the chances are that it is no longer accurate. Your own experiences, added to what you learned from her, should make you more knowledgeable of what is best for you.
Though enthroning your mother may seem virtuous, it probably hinders an honest relationship, and certainly it will delay your own salvation. Consider her human--subject to being both right and wrong, reasonable and unreasonable--and then relate to her accordingly. Do the same thing with a friend, lover, or spouse who currently mothers you. Start letting go. Let each down from exalted places in your mind. Stop looking to them for love and understanding. Quit using them to boost a sagging ego, provide emotional warmth, or bring you spiritual pleasure.
Take the mothering function on yourself. Learn to provide your own food and security. Instead of grasping for someone to "help you make it through the night," learn to cope alone. Divert the energies which you have given to finding and keeping someone who understands you, to the more rigorous but productive path of self-understanding. Instead of seeking love from outside yourself--either from an individual or the general public--get involved in learning to love yourself. Let previous efforts to get love be given to being loving, e,g., learn to do it rather than try to get it.
While some persons may expend massive amounts of energy in getting strokes from others (being liked, gaining public approval, building a reputation), you can now resign from such fame games. Instead, learn to stroke yourself. Look to yourself for affirmation, rather than trying to manipulate others into giving it. Whenever you find yourself tempted to seek any element of mothering externally, resist the old pattern. Turn rather to the challenging process of learning to mother yourself.
Abandon the breast quest. Either consciously or unconsciously many people seek a return to the womb, or at least to the breast. Their deeply-ingrained goal is total external security (in this life or an afterlife), to be completely loved just as they are, and to have it all done for them. Once having made a decision to give up any current mothering, they immediately seek to replace it with even better mothering. In your quest for cutting the cord, resist every temptation to return to the womb or breast.
Recognize the temporary nature of all such childish satisfactions, and turn instead to embracing the freedom which is inherently yours. When offered mothering, do both yourself and the other person the favor of respecting your mutual rights and responsibilities for spiritual independence; politely decline their invitation. Immerse yourself in the process of spiritual rebirth. When some mother comes knocking at your door, remember Jesus' example. Strive to reach the point where you can honestly reply. "Who is my mother? My mother and brothers are all who do the will of God."
Do not call any one on earth father . . .
Jesus (Matthew 23:9 Amp.)
A fascinating event occurred when Jesus was twelve years old. He had gone to Jerusalem with his parents and a group of relatives and friends to celebrate the Passover feast. Afterwards, presuming Jesus to be with other relatives in the caravan, the family began the return trip. After a day's journey they started looking for him, only to discover that he was not with the group. Frantically they returned to Jerusalem searching for him. To their amazement they found him in the temple courtyard discussing theology with the learned teachers. Mary said, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Here your father and I have been anxiously looking for you, distressed and tormented" (Luke 2:48 Amp.).
Such a parental response might be anticipated, but his reply is what fascinates me. Said Jesus with an apparent air of innocency, "How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" Luke further records, "And they understood not the saying" (Luke 2:49-50). Perhaps we still don't; yet one point is evident: Jesus' tie with Joseph had already been broken. With respect to his father, he had shifted his allegiance in another direction. What his earthly father and mother thought of him was obviously insignificant in proportion to his concern with spiritual matters.
This fact is further attested in later events during his ministry. When a potential disciple asked for a delay before following so he could bury his father, Jesus responded: "Let the dead bury their dead" (Luke 9:60). Whatever the reply may have meant, it certainly placed no premium on a son's devotion to his father.
Concerning family harmony, Jesus said on another occasion: "Do you suppose that I have come to give peace upon earth? No, I say to you, but rather division. They will be divided father against son and son against father" (Luke 12:51, 53 Amp.).
The necessity for this shift in loyalty was firmly stated to the crowds: "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father [that is, in the sense of indifference to or relative disregard for (him) in comparison with his attitude toward God] . . . he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26 Amp.).
Although the subject in these events was discipleship, they also clearly imply a necessary break in the common bonds between a child and his father. If one is to be a pilgrim on the strait and narrow, he must, as Jesus said, "be about his (heavenly) Father's business" rather than busy with maintaining family ties. Plainly he instructed his disciples: "Do not call any one on earth father, for you have one Father, who is in heaven" (Matthew 23:9 Amp.).
Becoming fatherless is a second milestone event for the modern-day pilgrim on the path to fullness of life in the here and now. Before we can achieve right standing with God, we must give up earthly fathers. The emotional ties that bind a child to his parent prevent the necessary allegiance to the heavenly Father. As long as we have a father here, we cannot be free to respond to God. The serious pilgrim must release all daddies. Those intent on the kingdom of God cannot remain dependent on a father or father-substitute.
Yet how are we to understand this break with a parent? Obviously, one's biological father remains his father. The facts do not change with age, distance, or even death. The division is, I think, a spiritual one. Pilgrims must abandon having a father, not physically, but in the spiritual sense. They must give up dependence on the fathering function--this inward tie to something which daddies do and to the place they hold in the spiritual life of a person. Since the bond is spiritual, the presence or absence of the biological father in no way affects it. In fact, an abandoned or orphaned child may have stronger ties to the fatherly function than does a child who lives with his father.
How can this symbolic father, or fatherly function be defined? What is the nature of the fathering which must be abandoned by a serious pilgrim? Father-figures commonly embody three functions; they protect, provide, and direct. While mothers sustain, fathers protect. A father-image is of someone who is strong and who keeps you safe. He takes care of you, stands up for you, and fights for you. A father shields a child from the threatening outside world. While the mother's function is to feed, the father stands guard and keeps the enemies away.
Secondly, he provides for your needs. Mothers cook, but fathers bring home the bacon. They provide the food to be prepared--or, at least, money to buy the necessary food, shelter, clothing, and transportation. The fathering function includes making available the required physical materials for functioning in the world.
And finally, it is the father who traditionally gives directions. The difficult decisions (where to go, what to do, how and when to do it) are eased by good father-figures. They guide and discipline. Fathers point out acceptable paths, give praise when followed, and otherwise dispense punishment. The challenges of facing the unknown are made easier by the guidance of the father.
Obviously these three functions are not always supplied by one's biological father. Often a mother is more fatherly than is a daddy. Sometimes the role is filled by a relative, a foster parent, or a minister. Later in life the function may be supplied by a lover or a spouse who protects, provides for, and directs the loved one. The point is, fathering is a function which cannot inevitably be identified with any particular person. The predominate father-figure in most cultures is one's biological daddy, but not necessarily.
In this second milestone event, the pilgrim risks giving up his father-figure, either real or imagined. He severs emotional ties with fathering, just as he cut the cord to mothering in the first milestone event. He stops looking for protection, provision, or direction from others. The quest for an authoritarian person to look up to or lean on is abandoned.
Independence replaces his earlier dependence on someone else to take care of him, to fight his battles, to protect him from the dangers and problems of life. He begins instead to stand up for himself. Energies formerly devoted to seeking and maintaining a father-image are now given to looking after his concerns personally.
He also assumes the functions of support. Instead of expecting his father to provide for him (as he did in the past), the pilgrim becomes self-supporting, no longer expecting food, clothing, shelter, money, or transportation from anyone. He pays his own way in all endeavors. After this milestone event, the pilgrim would not expect a parent, friend, spouse, or government to support him, either tangibly or spiritually.
Nor does he look to others for direction in life. He seeks no external source of discipline and guidance. Instead of seeking out another to tell him what to do or leaning on a person or group for direction, he becomes a spirit-directed individual (self-directed versus other-directed) who makes his own decisions and disciplines his course without outside force. A social occasion might warrant such a pilgrim's asking, "What would you like to do?" out of concern or respect, but he would never use this as an escape from making personal decisions.
Before this milestone event, father-figures are commonly held in adoration if they have performed well, or degraded to low esteem if not. But, whether looked up to or looked down upon, they have been effectively removed from the level plane of humanity in the mind of the person who has looked to them for fathering. After this event the pilgrim restores his father-figures to the human condition--no higher or lower, stronger or weaker, better or worse, than anyone else. They are granted the right to all human finitude--to be sometimes right but often wrong, to be subject to failure as well as success, sickness as well as health, sanity as well as senility, and finally, to be destined to die.
In other words, they are granted all human prerogatives, without the regret, shame, or disappointment of the formally dependent, childish one. The death of a previous father-figure, though saddening, neither devastates nor diminishes the spiritual pilgrim any more than that of another intimate acquaintance. Already he is fatherless.
WHAT TO DO
Get a clean mental picture of the occurrence. First, understand the event as spiritual rather than merely physical. The goal is inward independence, not tangible separation alone. Many circumstances can result in a geographical gulf (time, distance, or death) without lessening the tie, to be broken in this milestone event. Conversely one may have many contacts with a former father-figure, as family business often requires, after the dependency is left behind. When this is so, transactions with a father are made at arm's length, that is, conducted just as objectively as with any other human being.
Respect the depth of your wishes for a father. The needs for good fathering are crucial in early life. Without these functions the child could hardly exist. That everyone develops deep-seated desires for a father is very understandable. Those who have effective fathers naturally come to depend on them for protection, provision, and direction. Those with weak or absent fathers may be even more desirous of what they have missed. The resulting dependency on a wished-for father can be stronger than if he had actually existed.
The great challenges of living, coupled with the fact that we all begin as dependent children, make the wish for continual fathering both predictable and acceptable. If you want a father-for-life, consider yourself normal. The crucial point, however, is not the desire or its absence, but rather the tie, either tangible or imagined. While respecting the wish, the earnest pilgrim proceeds with all due haste to move beyond actual dependency.
Begin to free yourself. Start the countdown from obvious current dependencies on father-figures. Begin the faith-requiring process of learning to be independent of others for protection, support, and guidance. Begin, for example, to break financial ties. Stop expecting some sugar daddy to support you. If possible, stop immediately. If not, taper off as rapidly as you can.
Start supporting yourself. Provide your own food, clothing, shelter, money, and transportation. Pay your own way. Stop depending on others to buy your ticket to life. If you are in some contractual partnership, such as marriage, where someone else provides the money, see that you carry your own weight through services rendered. Sever any emotional ties maintained through constantly borrowing from others.
If you now depend on someone else to fight your battles, to stand up for you, to provide your safety, start freeing them from this responsibility. If you expect someone else to tell you what to do or to back up your decisions, stop looking for such direction or support. Instead, start taking care of yourself. Begin to defend yourself against attack, either physical or spiritual. Stop letting your spouse, children, or friends run over you. Don't look for someone else to protect you. Pilgrims provide their own defense. Learn to stand up for your rights. Liberate yourself from all oppression. Stop looking to or longing for a perpetual father to shelter you from the trials of life.
Learn to choose your own way. Let the Spirit guide your decisions, rather than continually seeking father-figures to direct your course. Practice making up your own mind. Avoid the temptation to elicit guidance from your loved ones. If advice is needed, go to a professional; pay for services rendered and avoid spiritual dependency. Do not look to the public or your friends for direction in what to feel, think, or do. Become self-directed, rather than other-directed. Give up worship of public opinion. Let what other people think be their business, instead of your god.
Assume the challenge of self-discipline. Give up the use of substitute fathers for structuring your path. For example, don't expect someone else to make you stop smoking too much, lose weight, get up in the morning, work diligently, find a hobby, or go to bed at a decent hour. Furthermore, avoid the temptation to brag about your self-discipline as a means of eliciting fatherly approval. If you jog for exercise or lose two pounds, don't tell anyone. Let your secret affirm your power to discipline yourself.
If you have children of your own, either biological or emotional, remember that the goal is to free them, not to keep them dependent. Continual fathering of others, beyond the point of reasonable physical necessity, is often but the projected wish for personal fathering (we may do for others what we wish to have done for ourselves).
If you are currently providing protection, support, or guidance for another, in any except a professional relationship, consider the possibility that you are doing both them and yourself a serious disservice in the final analysis. Even if they appreciate your fathering and you enjoy giving it, you may be perpetuating a dependency which will be increasingly more difficult to break; or you may be subtly continuing your own projected wishes for a father.
In the case of your own children, your fathering responsibility is effective only if they learn to do without you. Be a good father who is diligently trying to work himself out of a job. With friends and other loved ones, carefully decline any invitations to play daddy. If you are already involved in such destructive games, hand in your resignation--gradually, if necessary, but as rapidly as possible.
For instance, if you are currently playing the role of advisor for a friend who is having problems with a spouse, return to the more reasonable stance of a friend. Be with your acquaintance as you choose to, but carefully avoid pretending to be his spiritual father. If you are playing daddy for a spouse or lover, whether by choice or set-up, quit the game.
Beyond your family responsibilities, resign from all appointments (whether acquired or given), as the father of another human being. As you become fatherless, cease unnecessary fathering also. Strive for that point in personal independence where you can follow Jesus' directive, both verbally and in practice: "Do not call anyone on earth father" (Matthew 23:9 Amp.).
Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee . . . So Abram departed.
The history of the Jewish race and organized Christianity hinges on this single event. Though it must have seemed strange, or perhaps inconsequential at the time, Abram's leaving home became a historical milestone.
So it is, I believe, in the spiritual life of each successive pilgrim. Personal histories also hinge on such a milestone event. Entering the new spiritual land invariably requires leaving the old. God always seems to redeliver this ancient message: "Get thee out of . . . thy father's house." This spiritual separation becomes a third major milestone on the path to the kingdom of God.
Jesus confirmed this essential break to a potential disciple who made the simple request, "Let me first say goodbye to those at my home" (Luke 9:61 Amp.). It sounds reasonable enough. Who could ask one to become a disciple without at least granting him time to go home and say good-bye? Yet Jesus did: "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62 Amp.). The break must be complete, if we are to follow him. As long as we have a home back there, we will, to that same extent, be excluded from the kingdom of God. Another milestone event in every pilgrim's path is leaving home.
The goal is to become homeless with regard to our father's house so that we can be at home wherever we are. Home, of course, is to be understood symbolically, not literally. The event is far more profound than simply leaving a house, town, or even a country. Moving out of the parental abode may or may not be involved in this milestone event. In either case, the happening is spiritual rather than physical. Geographical distance has no inevitable correlation with emotional independence. In fact, running away from home may only serve to submerge and maintain the ties that bind. The pilgrim's call is one of spirit, not locale alone.
But how are we to understand home as the word is used here? What is the reality represented by this symbol? How can we mentally grasp that which is to be left behind? "Home is," as has been said, "where the heart is." It is a place to which one is spiritually tied; a locale where a part of one's spirit is left behind or displaced. A once-popular song voiced the message, "I left my heart in San Francisco." Home is any such place which still contains one's heart--one's feeling of well-being, of belonging, of being at home--in any exclusive sense.
Common elements in such a place include the privileges of being oneself--doing, saying, thinking, whatever one pleases. Home is where you can relax, kick off your shoes (emotionally as well as physically), and feel accepted as you honestly are. Pretense is not required at home. Competition, the mainspring of social and business life, can be laid aside. At home one does not have to measure up or try to please everyone else. "A man's home is his castle"--the place where he exists as a king; it is an island of unqualified acceptance and personal liberty in a sea of rejection and subjugation.
Obviously these elements are not always present at one's childhood residence, so the symbol is not to be identified solely with the parental abode. Often home, in this spiritual sense, existed outside the place where the child slept at night. Or it may not have existed at all in a physical sense. The need, wish, or longing for such a place may have been transferred to the dream world. Finding himself unable to be at home in his father's house, a child may have created a mental home in the midst of rejecting circumstances. In such instances his imaginary home would have been invisible to others. In fact he may have rebelled and run away to look for his dream home in some other place.
The point is, the symbol stands for any such place--the actual land of one's childhood or an imaginary place of his dreams. In this milestone event, a pilgrim severs ties to either. He gives up emotional dependence on the house or town of his youth, or on the dreamed of home in his mind. He no longer has a "haven of rest," back there in his past, or out there in his dreams.
He has no external place, physical or mental, which is home to him. Literally, he is homeless--unattached emotionally to any place. Only through the traumatic spiritual event of leaving all homes can the pilgrim return to every home in this garden of Eden on earth. Any tie elsewhere prevents one's being at home here. We can't be free and bound at the same time. The diligent pilgrim unbinds himself from distant homes, so he can be fully present with heart wherever he finds himself.
What are the results of reaching this milestone? How can one tell when it lies behind him? Obviously departure from one's homeland is inadequate evidence since emotional ties know no geographical bounds. The first valid sign is the loss of any magical significance in the old home place--the house, community, town, or country of one's childhood. The angels and/or demons are gone. No ghosts remain. Should the house of one's childhood be standing, a return visit would be only a visit, not a disturbing emotional event. Naturally, familiarity would evoke a wealth of memories, but the place would be neither sacred nor haunted. Since all ties are severed, it could burn or be removed by urban renewal, without the pilgrim experiencing pain or joy. The disappearance of the place would not diminish his spirit.
In like manner one's "old home town" loses all its magic or threat and ceases to be a source of pride or shame. No longer is it better or worse than any other place. The departed pilgrim has no reason to brag about where he is from, or to be ashamed if his geographical roots are revealed. His home town is simply where he is from--in a literal sense--he no longer lives there spiritually. His heart is not left in San Francisco, "buried at Wounded Knee," or anywhere else. He is actually from wherever he is from (has most recently been).
Just as he is freed from the towns of his past, so the pilgrim reaching this milestone is unattached to any imaginary places. He has no dream home he is striving toward. He seeks no locale for emotional warmth or unqualified acceptance; no wish for a "home over there" beckons or distracts him from present fullness of life. Although striving to be more at home where he is, he anticipates no distant place of bliss. The earnest pilgrim assumes that this is it. Though he has not yet fully arrived at being here, he believes that, as Jesus said, the kingdom of God is within (among us, presently here).
A second valid sign of progress is an increasing sense of being at home wherever one presently is. To the extent that one has truly left home back there or out there, he will feel at home right here. A sense of acceptance and honesty will pervade, no matter where he is. Even in a strange or unfamiliar place, he will have a feeling of belonging. Outward rejection--the expressed dislike of other people--though unpleasant, will not destroy his kinship with the place where he is.
His present town will be his home town. If someone asks "Where are you from?," he will immediately think of where he is right now. He may return to his parents' home, or go back from whence he came, but he will not think of himself as going home again. Consequently he will have his roots where he presently lives. His current community, no matter how long he plans to dwell there, will be perceived as home. Contrary to those who merely visit every place they live after leaving their home town, the pilgrim involves himself in the affairs of each abiding place. He never thinks of himself as "just passing through." The problems of each current locale are his concerns also. The people where he lives are his people. Differences in geographical or ethnic background do not deprive him of his family. At home in the world, he has joined the family of mankind. All people are his people. He is truly at home wherever he is.
WHAT TO DO
What is the current direction of your life in regard to home? Making allowance for your unconscious aims, as well as conscious desires, where are you now? Are you trying to return home? Do you keep going back, being careful to remain in contact? Or have you rejected it? Believing with Thomas Wolfe that "you can't go home again," do you avoid your old home? How attached are you, positively or negatively, to the home of your past? Are you looking for a better home in the future? Do you seek to duplicate or improve on the one you had? Are the energies of your life being expended, wittingly or unwittingly, in search of some ideal home?
In the midst of whatever your current directions may be, can you accept this milestone event of leaving home as a reasonable goal? Does it make sense to you that only by leaving home can you truly be at home wherever you may be? If so, consider the following suggestions:
Start saying goodbye. Jesus' demand, "Don't look back," must have been appropriate for that particular disciple; yet for most of us it seems too harsh. We need practice in leaving; we need to return in order to more fully say goodbye. So I suggest that you begin by going back (if that is still possible) to the scenes of your youth. Return, if you can, to those places which you called home in the past. Spend time alone, going back through the memories. Sit and reminisce.
Bring the past as fully as possible into your present mind. Then begin to say goodbye. Walk around saying, "So long," instead of, "See you later." Many trips may be necessary to complete this transaction, but at least, begin the process. Stop unnecessary returns. For instance, break the habit of going back on holidays simply because you have always done so before. Begin weaning yourself from the old home, as a child does from a pacifier.
Conversely, if home was bad and you have rejected it consciously--perhaps by leaving at an early age--reconsider the possibility of negative ties. Go back and see if the ghosts are truly gone.
Deal with significant objects. If you have left significant objects (mementos, scrap books, collections, furniture, any things) back home, begin dealing with each in your current life. Unwittingly, each can serve as an unconscious tie to the old place. Either let go if the significance is gone, or go get them if it has not. Transfer meaningful objects from the past into your present. Get yourself and your things together, so you can be, as completely as possible, where you currently are.
Adapt your thoughts and talk. If you are in the habit of calling some previous place of abode home, shake the habit. Change your patterns of thought and speech. Begin to speak of your present house and your current community as home. Of course the milestone is far more profound than a change of speech or thought; yet breaking the mental habit can keep you alert to present facts. For instance, instead of saying, "I'm going home for Christmas," say, "I'm going to my parents' house for a visit."
Begin thinking of your current house or apartment as truly your home. Do not let the possibility of later moves distract you from the fact that, for all you know, you may die where you now live. Let no briefness of residence prevent you from thinking of this as your home town.
Put your roots down. Can you imagine a transplanted flower saying, "Oh, I don't think I'll be here long, so I won't waste time putting down my roots." Roots bring life. Plants seem to know this; people often do not. In terms of spirit, the excuse, "We don't plan to stay permanently" is comparable to "Oh, I won't waste time breathing, since we will only be here two years."
The fact is: You may not be anywhere in two years. For all we know, this may be all the time we have. Thus, it behooves a diligent pilgrim to make the most of whatever time he is granted. In terms of home, this implies living at your current location as though it may be permanent. It may be!
Therefore, translate your thought, "This is home," into your living. Put down roots, even if you suspect you will move later. Involve yourself in community life. Register to vote; find a doctor, lawyer, and minister. Join the organizations which reflect your concerns and get busy making yourself at home.
Don't wait to be invited. Like a plant, take the initiative in rooting yourself. As you have abandoned other homes--back there and up there--be equally diligent in making this your home. Being homeless opens the door to being at home. As Christian history hinges on Abram's leaving home, so your history hinges on your own exodus. Be busy in both leaving where you have been and arriving fully (with heart) where you presently are.
From now on, let . . . those who have wives be as if they had none.
Paul (1 Corinthians 7:29 Amp.)
This strange bit of advice to the Christians at Corinth rings an unfamiliar note to the modern ear. Today the message is more likely to be, "Those who are married should act like they are." What did Paul mean by such a heretical message? That married men should ignore their wives and act as though they were single again? Certainly this would be impractical, even if desirable by some harried husbands. Some have explained away Paul's advice as being outdated. They say he thought the end of the world was imminent and was simply telling men to attend to kingdom business, since time was so short.
But perhaps Paul was more alert to an appropriate marital stance than we give him credit. His directive reasonably follows an even stranger message of Jesus. When the Sadducees attempted to trap Jesus with a tricky question regarding who, in heaven, would be the husband of a seven-times married wife, he replied, "In the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage" (Matthew 22:30).
A popular explanation of this passage, which cleverly avoids the issue of marriage on earth, states that Jesus was referring to ethereal relationships in an other-worldly afterlife. Such a conclusion, however, misses the thrust of his answer. In effect, Jesus told the Sadducees they were missing the point. He said that God is the God of the living, not the dead.
If so, then how can we interpret his statement about marriage? I suggest that both Paul and Jesus were speaking of spiritual relationships rather than bodily logistics. Although their hearers were concerned with legal or physical matters, I believe that these spiritual giants were speaking to more pressing issues of the heart. I think their answers are perhaps more relevant today than they were nineteen hundred years ago.
But before attempting to reinterpret these strange statements about marriage, I call attention to a popular marital stance in our society: American marriages are commonly based on romantic love. Arranged marriages, or even marriages of convenience, are quite rare in our culture. Partners are attracted to each other; they marry because they are in love. Marriage is popularly viewed as a worthy goal in life. "Getting married and living happily ever after" is a familiar fairy tale dream of starry-eyed youths. Either consciously or unconsciously, many look to marriage as the ultimate source of happiness and the solution to all their problems. The institution is viewed as a savior of singles, a rescuer of maidens in distress, not only from bad homes, but even from themselves.
Lovers-to-become-spouses are commonly viewed as knights in shining armor, as combination Mother-Father-Gods who are expected to literally bring happiness. It is the nature of romantic love to magically endow the loved one with super-human powers and divine qualities. When one falls in love, the lover becomes everything to him.
Consequently the altar promise to love, honor, and obey, becomes far more than a public commitment to a legal contract. Recently I heard a bride say to the groom as he signed the marriage certificate in my office, "Don't forget, honey, you're signing your life away." If the union was typical, this statement in jest may have been near to the truth. While making their vows, many silently sell their souls into the keeping of the other. They barter away their spiritual birthrights for the promise of perpetual happiness to be brought by the Mother-Father-God, called spouse.
Thereafter, they become emotionally dependent on each other. Rather than standing independently together, each leans on the mate. Some even brag about how much they need one another. "I couldn't get along without you" is a common compliment. "I'd just die if you left me" becomes a realistic threat. Having signed their lives away (having placed their spirits in the keeping of the spouse), they are literally subject to spiritual death at the hands of the mate. Worse still, they have unwittingly broken or prevented fulfilling personal relationships with God. Belonging to one another, they cannot, of course, belong to God at the same time. A dependent marriage carries the price tag of personal salvation.
A predictable tragedy eventually occurs in most such spiritual marriages. Sooner or later, one or both of the partners awakens to realize, "It's not working out." The illusion of salvation found in romantic love is notoriously short-lived. The capacity of the Mother-Father-God spouse or lover to make one happy diminishes speedily. Soon one is right back where he was before he fell in love--lost again.
At this crucial point, two options are familiar. Since the spouse is losing his or her ability to "make me happy," many begin to look for a replacement, for someone who "understands me better," "loves me more," or can "turn me on again." Emotional affairs, sometimes under cover of sex, commonly follow. Since the marriage didn't work out, many spouses divorce and look for a better one.
A second familiar option, especially common with religious and/or cowardly persons, is resignation to disillusionment. Believing the contract to be sacred or else fearing to start again, such persons accept and try to make the most of a bad situation. They live out their marital days in noisy squabbling, quiet desperation, or "for sake of the children," because "divorce is wrong," or because they lack the will to begin all over.
This summary description of American marriages is given to make one point: I believe that a fundamental flaw is inherent in the whole concept and that, contrary to the popular image, marriage is in fact a practical legal relationship containing no more inherent happiness or salvation than any other civil partnership. I believe also that while legal marriage is potentially useful, marriage in which one sells his birthright, trades his soul, or places his spirit in the keeping of another human being, is a fundamental error. A proper goal of marriage is: two responsible individuals who love, respect, and share with each other; it is never an attempt to make a Mother-Father-God of the spouse.
I believe that the messages of Paul and Jesus point to a realistic possibility which corrects this popular error. Paul encouraged married men to be as if they were unmarried. The as if is the point, I think. To presume a reference to physical acting-out (disregard for the tangible responsibilities of marriage) would conflict with his other teachings; to presume a spiritual reference would not. Paul's overall perspective of marriage was certainly in conflict with the popular and religious ideas of today. Said he: "To the unmarried people and to the widows, I declare that it is well--good, advantageous, expedient and wholesome--for them to remain single even as I do" (I Corinthians 7:8 Amp.).
Marriage, for him, was a concession rather than a goal ("It is better to marry than to burn" I Corinthians 7:9 Amp.). In this perspective the as if makes sense. While not encouraging physical separation ("Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed." I Corinthians 7:27), he could reasonably advise spiritual division, or living as if one were unmarried.
In this same light, Jesus' cryptic response to the Sadducee's loaded question makes sense. Those who have been resurrected into new life are not given in marriage--in the spiritual sense, they remain responsibly single, even though legally married. They do not commit their spirits into the keeping of another person. Their devotion and allegiance is to God only.
Since the popular concept of extolling and participating in spiritual dependence on a spouse is in direct conflict with this biblical view, a radical correction is required for those who are already so married. Spiritual bonds to another human, which necessarily prevent a proper communion with God, must be broken before a married person can enter the kingdom of heaven. Although married, pilgrims must become as though they were not. They must get what I call a mental divorce.
I use the legal term divorce to symbolize spiritual separation. Just as civil divorce involves certain physical separations--community property, common domicile, and sexual relationships--so mental divorce involves division of spiritual property. Elements of spirit that have been given into the keeping of the partner, and parts of the heart projected onto the spouse, are carefully withdrawn. Separate spiritual bedrooms (resting places of the heart) are established. Spiritual property, such as, virtues and problems, are divided.
For instance, instead of basking in a spouse's virtues as though they were one's own, or worrying about his or her problems for the same reason, these properties are divided in a mental divorce. Afterward, one neither takes pride in a spouse's good points nor takes his or her problems onto himself. He learns to say, "That is your problem." No longer is a mate expected to understand, support, boost one's ego, or make one happy, as though he or she were the Mother-Father-God of one's spirit.
Instead, a spouse, like a legally divorced mate, is returned to the level plane of humanity in the partner's thinking. The mate is de-magicalized--relieved of the burden of projected magical wishes and expectations. He becomes a human to be loved, respected, and cared for, but no longer is he a god to save you, or a devil who makes you unhappy. Mentally divorced spouses are allowed to have all common human frailties, including the right to weakness, failure, insanity, and death--without the approval or denial of the spouse.
Whereas spiritually dependent spouses are notably blind to the imperfections and limitations of the mate, after mental divorce they become acceptably alert to each such attribute. Because such a one is spiritually independent, separation (of either mind or body by insanity or death), does not destroy his spirit. As a separate one, he continues to exist with heart, no matter what his spouse's condition may be.
Divorced in mind and hence not dependent on his spouse, he is consequently freed to love her. One may use and adore what he depends on, but he can never truly love that which he finally must have. Releasing a spouse from mental possession, a pilgrim is in turn released to love him or her as a person.
Note that mental divorce is an entirely inward matter. While civil divorce is handled in a court of law and becomes a matter of public record, this spiritual event occurs in the courts of the mind. Though the results may be evident, none but the person involved need ever know. Nor is the event limited to the legally married only. Even without benefits of a ceremony, many lovers are more inextricably bound in spirit than are their civil counterparts. So the spiritual event described here is equally applicable to secret lovers as well as to open spouses.
WHAT TO DO
Your thinking is the first issue. Before doing anything you must decide if you can accept mental divorce as a worthy goal. Many couples consider mutual dependency to be a virtue; the more they can lean on the other, the better they like it. Any independent action or sign of personhood becomes threatening.
First you must decide if the price of dependence is worth its benefits. Do you value the possibility of communion with God more than the benefits of leaning on your spouse? I think that no person can enter the kingdom of God and remain dependent on a mate. This milestone event is, I believe, essential for the serious pilgrim. Still, you must decide for yourself. If your answer is yes to the idea, the following steps may be appropriate.
Begin thinking of spiritual independence. Before doing anything externally, start considering your right and responsibility to be a separate person as you were before marriage. Instead of being a wife or husband who was formally a person, think of yourself as a person who happens to be married. Wifing and husbanding are things to do, not to become. The point is: be in your mind's eye, a married person instead of a wife or a husband. Be somebody who incidentally is married rather than one who is attempting to find your identity as John's wife or Joan's husband.
Stop using possessive pronouns--his, hers, my, mine--except to indicate relationships. Let the possessive implication be figurative only. Think of yourself as Joan, not as John's wife. If someone asks, "Are you John's wife?," say, "I am Joan. John and I are married." Stop thinking of yourself as belonging to your spouse. No matter the length of your marriage, you are in fact still a single (one) person. Think accordingly.
Accept your right and responsibility to function as a person. While respecting your contract and commitments to your spouse, reclaim your soul. To whatever degree you have stopped living as a separate person with certain marital responsibilities, begin again. For instance, just because you are married, you need not do everything with your spouse. Even if you are committed to sexual fidelity, you should not be obligated, for example, to eat every meal or attend every movie together. If you have given it up, reclaim your right to dine out or go to the movie without your spouse.
Marriage between separates should never involve a total loss of privacy. Let your intimacy be chosen, rather than expected or given without thought. If relinquished, reclaim your right to close the doors of your heart, mind, body, or room whenever you choose. Grant access to your feelings or thoughts when you choose to, but never turn over the keys of your mind or heart to your spouse. Never answer questions like "How do you feel?" or "What are you thinking?" automatically. If you have a private room, see that a closed door is respected.
For practical reasons you may choose a joint bank account, but let this be a choice rather than dictation. If there is loss of integrity or privacy involved, maintain separate accounts. Unless you are extremely secure as a separate person, your joint account should be listed as John and Joan Doe, not Mr. and Mrs. John Doe. If you are the man, the latter may tempt you to possession; if the woman, to being possessed.
Begin listening through your spouse's language. Dependency encourages taking on a mate's problems, rather than seeing them as his or her own. Spouses commonly fall for the projections of the other. If you are to become a person in your own right, you will need to hear through your mate's words, instead of to them only. Possessive spouses often speak you language; that is, they speak about themselves in terms of the other person. They project personal messages onto the mate, sounding as though they are actually talking about the other person.
In my opinion you language is about ninety percent projection. For instance, if a husband says, "You are dumb" (you language) it sounds as if he is making an objective declaration about your intelligence. "You are a good lover" appears to be a description of your loving abilities. However, if we hear through the language, we may suspect a personal message about himself, translated into you language.
"You are dumb" is probably his way of bragging about himself. Ninety percent of the message is likely to be his testimony: "I am smart." And if a wife falls for the "You are dumb" projection, she may feel attacked and defensive, as though he is speaking about her only. The good lover compliment probably cloaks a personal confession of appreciation, instead of being a hundred percent objective description.
When one is in the process of mental divorce, he does well to drop the habit of taking on any such projections. He will listen carefully through all messages from the spouse, in order to preserve his own integrity.
Start weaning yourself of spiritual sustenance from your spouse. Many dependent mates expect their partner to provide ego support, sympathy, understanding, and love--foods for the spirit. Such gifts may be graciously received, but they must never be expected by an independent person. If you are in the habit of expecting such support, mental divorce will require weaning.
With deliberate haste, begin the withdrawal process from this serious spiritual addiction. For example, when tempted to elicit a compliment ("How does my suit look?"), resist the temptation. Devote your energies to self-understanding instead of trying to get your spouse to understand. Learn to love yourself and your spouse, rather than constantly attempting to get loved.
Looking to a spouse for spiritual nourishment tempts him or her to false godhood and deprives you of legitimate growth. If you have problems, go to a professional--a minister or psychiatrist. Avoid using your mate as your doctor. Even if he is professionally qualified, his emotional involvement with you will likely render him ineffective. If you would be mentally divorced, begin to care for your own spiritual needs.
Stop playing god for your spouse. As you begin your own weaning, so you will gradually cease feeding your mate spiritually. Nourishment for the spirit should come from God, not you. If you attempt to play god for your spouse, you do both yourself and your mate a disservice. It may appear kindly or nice at the time, but the final result is usually disastrous. Successful marriages are between persons, not between a god and a baby. If you play god, either at your own initiative or at the request of your spouse, you risk destroying the only proper basis for a productive relationship.
Respect your partner's wish to get ego-strength from you. The desire to use one's spouse as a source of understanding or sympathy is common and predictable, but even so decline the invitation, after counting the long-range cost. In the final analysis, you cannot give what is wanted. You can only participate in an illusion. Realizing this, short-circuit the destructive procedure as rapidly as you safely can.
To summarize: mental divorce is a milestone event to be approached with all seriousness and diligence. Respect the scope and consequences of such a spiritual happening. It is a plateau to be reached only after a long and careful climb. Most of your practice may have been in the opposite direction. You will likely be exploring unknown spiritual territory and should not expect support from your spouse in the endeavor. Even so, with the kingdom of heaven as your goal, the cost can be counted as naught in comparison to the prospective reward.
As you divorce yourself from dependency on your spouse, you open the door to love and to establishing the necessary basis for a productive marriage, as well as greater communion with God.
Don't trust anyone, not your best friend--not even your wife!
(Micah 7:5 L.B.)
This biblical directive stands in sharp contrast to the popular habit of depending on one's friends. Although some would dismiss Micah's advice as the pathetic wailing of a disillusioned old man, I think it aptly points to this fifth spiritual milestone.
Other texts confirm his message. In the 38th Psalm, David laments his spiritual condition: "I am bent and bowed down greatly; I go about mourning all the day long. I am faint and sorely bruised--deadly cold and quite worn out; I groan by reason of the disquiet and moaning of my heart. My heart throbs, my strength fails me." Then he adds this pathetic, yet all too common, human complaint: "My friends stand aloof . . . and my neighbors and my near ones stand afar off" (Psalms 38:6, 8, 10, and 11).
He continues, "Even my own familiar friend whom I had trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted up his heel against me" (Psalms 41:9 Amp.). Perhaps from this and other experiences he learned the lesson which emerges in the 118th Psalm, verse 8: "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man." Later in a hymn of praise to God, he adds, "Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man" (Psalms 145:3 Amp.).
Jeremiah wrote: "Thus saith the Lord; cursed be the man that trusteth in man. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord" (Jeremiah 17:5, 7). Whereas the common type of friendship keeps one indebted to his friends, Paul advised: "Owe no man anything, except to love one another" (Romans 13:8 Amp.). At no point does the Bible promote the currently popular idea of placing trust in people. Continually the call is, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart" (Proverbs 3:5).
I conclude that the current, prevailing virtue of having friends on whom one relies for spiritual sustenance is in contradiction with biblical teaching. If one would be a pilgrim, his trust must be placed in God only. Although society encourages and most people seem bent on having trustworthy friends, the serious pilgrim will move in the opposite direction. While others may seek and maintain possessive human relationships, one on the strait and narrow path to heaven in the here and now will be equally diligent in freeing his friends.
Instead of getting and having people whom he can trust and rely on to support, encourage, and otherwise make him happy, he will muster the faith required to release those he already has and avoid any future temptation to capture anyone to meet his spiritual needs. Literally, he will have no friend, so that in turn, he can be friendly with anyone. Through freeing all friends, the pilgrim opens the door to the state of becoming friendly to all.
Because having friends is so common, the true import of this milestone event may be difficult to grasp. Does it mean that pilgrims are to be unfriendly? Is it wrong to be trusting with people? How can we mentally grasp this event?
First, the possessive nature of typical friendships must be understood. Commonly one who has a friend, does just that. He possesses him in an emotional sense. In the realm of spirit, he owns (feels that he has) his friend. The possessive pronoun in the expression, "my friend," is far more than a grammatical device for indicating a relationship.
Too often possession is emotionally literal, and the owned friend is depended on, just as is any other tangible possession. One relies on his friends; he expects them to perform in certain ways. They are supposed to support or comfort in times of weakness or loss, to be companions in loneliness, to approve achievements, and to guide decisions. One leans on his friends. If they fail to live up to expectations, he feels let down or betrayed. Though he may not think so, one who has a friend in this manner has literally placed his trust in a person.
Such a trusted friend may be a neighbor, fellow worker, relative, lover, or spouse. Who you have as a friend is incidental. The critical issues are possession and the consequent trust. First one gets (literally) a friend; then he places his trust in the possessed one. Thereafter he leans on his friend, drawing spiritual strength from him or her. Such a friend becomes, in effect, one's god and supplants eternal God in the daily living of the person who so places his trust. Placing one's trust in a friend inevitably eliminates trusting in God.
A more subtle, but equally damning alternative to having a friend, is being had by one. On a deeper level, one may maintain dependence on friends by being possessed rather than overtly possessing. Instead of owning and using, he is owned and used. The result is the same.
On the surface he may appear independent, since he does not outwardly turn to the friend for support. He does not seem to need the friend in the way the friend needs him. However, a closer look reveals his need to be needed. Bypassing direct dependency, he engages in indirect dependency. His friend needs him overtly; he needs the needing of his friend covertly. Each has the other to take the place of God.
Note carefully that the reference is to an existential bond; it is not a mere matter of grammar. The issue is stance, not speech, possession, not words. The point is actually having or being had. In deference to common language, one may speak of "having a friend," when no spiritual possession is involved. On the other hand, avoiding the term, my friend, does not affect an actual relationship of dependency.
To be technically correct, a pilgrim's goal is being friendly, rather than having friends. He frees possessed friends, so that he is, in turn, freed to be friendly. The paradox of possession is that having prevents being. On the surface we may appear to be friendly with our friends, but on a deeper level the bonds of possession make the desired goal impossible. Only by abandoning ownership (having or being had) are we freed for friendship.
But the ties are so subtle! How can one discern hidden bonds of ownership? Here are some clues: First of all, spiritual indebtedness indicates possession. If you owe them anything, or have them indebted to you, possession is probable. Paul's advice to "owe no man anything" implies this bond. If you feel that a friend owes you one, or that you have a debt to repay, the chances are that one of you has the other to some extent.
If you are subject to being emotionally offended (being hurt, or jealous), ownership is implied. For instance, if you are jealous of your friend's attention to someone else, or if you feel hurt when he ignores you (fails to write, call, or speak), you probably have ties binding you.
If you find yourself trying to impress your friend (to make him think more highly of you), suspect attempted possession. If you "put on the dog," change your manner in order to please, or otherwise go out of your way to make a person like you, probably possession is the goal.
Emotional dependency is the surest sign of ownership. If you have someone to boost your ego, understand or comfort you, make you happy or give you love, ownership is inevitable. If you can't get along without someone (or they without you), or if you would be emotionally destroyed by a friend's move or death, you may be assured that possession or dependence is involved. If anyone can let you down, obviously he was holding you up. Such dependency of spirit reveals the bonds of ownership.
A pilgrim's goal is to untie these familiar bonds with friends. He loosens himself from all possessive human relationships so that he is freed to trust God and be friendly with all men. Both having and being had are left behind. Possessed friends are freed; bondage to others is broken. The serious pilgrim diligently stops using friends for any purpose. Nor does he continue to be used by anyone. In freeing his friends and himself from his friends, he opens one more door on the path to God's kingdom.
WHAT TO DO?
If you determine to strive for this milestone what can you do? What steps can you take? How can you begin freeing friends?
Examine your current relationships. Before acting, thinking is appropriate. Consider your present friendships. How many friends do you have? Who are your best friends? After listing them, think about each one. To what extent do you have them in an emotional sense? How strongly do you depend on each one? Whom do you trust? Which ones could you not do without? How bound are you in an overtly dependent way? Whose death would destroy your spiritual world?
Consider hidden dependence also. Who has you? Even if you do not consider certain persons your friends, how many of them "have your number (can get to you with their needs)"? Whom do you need to need you? Whose problems must you take on? Who will you drop everything for, should they call for you? As best you can, look carefully at your current circle of friends and admit the extent of both your having and being had by them.
Start freeing them. Considering the eternal price you pay for these temporal possessions, begin the countdown of letting them go. As rapidly as your faith will allow, release your hold on each one. Begin by stopping your efforts to keep them. Cease trying to impress people as a device for maintaining possession. Stop going out of your way to please your friends by dressing, talking, thinking and behaving according to their standards. Abandon the games designed to maintain power over another. Stop doing things to keep them on the string.
Pay your debts. If you are actually in debt--have money or things which belong to friends--repay or return them. Do not use physical indebtedness as a way of maintaining spiritual strings. If you do borrow from friends, be certain it is an arm's length transaction rather than a brother-in-law deal. Don't let your spirit be bought by a thousand dollars or a cup of sugar. Prefer to borrow your money from a bank and to buy your own sugar.
Stop depending on friends for emotional help. The price you pay is exorbitant. Learn to endure your pain, keep your secrets, and contain your joy, without dumping them on your friend's emotional lawn--even if he asks for them. If you need help, instead of trying to get it free from a friend, go to a professional and pay for it. Free advice is usually not worth its later cost. Because of the vested interests of emotional involvement, spiritual direction from a friend is notably dangerous. Go to friends with your overflow, not with your lack. Friends are to meet, not to use.
Start freeing yourself. If you discover that your need to be needed has entrapped you in the web of another, break out. This covert dependency is even more dangerous than the overt variety. Stop playing god for your friends by pretending that you can handle their problems, objectively advise them, or otherwise direct their lives. You may miss your halo temporarily, but the relief of your assumed burden will more than justify your small loss of omniscience. Besides, it is all a game.
As Paul noted, "Every man must bear his own burden." A true friend will assemble the faith to stand with, but will never play the game of taking over. Even when invited, politely decline the invitation to run someone else's life. The odds of being trapped as their god are great. Certainly you must not risk ownership by any person if you are serious about being a pilgrim.
Begin trusting God. Shift your devotion from princes of man to Lord of Lords. As the Bible exhorts, place your trust in God rather than friends. Rely on the ultimate in reality, instead of finite manifestations of reality. Listen to His Spirit as given to you, rather than running to a friend for direction. You are created with the possibility of a primary relationship with God. Activate this capacity. Let previously ill-founded efforts to find support in frail friends now be given to a productive trust in God.
Learn to be friendly without possession. True friendship is always without strings attached; there are no expectations beyond the event of the encounter. As you escape the bonds of possession you can open the door to becoming friendly in this delightful and fulfilling manner. Try your wings.
As your time permits and faith allows, be friendly with those you meet. When possession was the goal, a person had to meet certain qualifications before he was eligible for your friendship. He had to measure up first. This is no longer true. Beyond having or being had, you are free to be friendly with whomever you choose. They need not even like you or be like you. They can be smarter or dumber, richer or poorer, higher or lower. They need not be trustworthy. They can be of different races, colors, religions, or beliefs.
Freed from the necessity of ownership, you may now pray the prayer of Edgar A. Guest: "Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man." In your pilgrimage toward His kingdom, freeing friends will be a milestone event.
Letting God Down (Or Up)
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.
Jesus (John 4:24 N.E.)
Jesus gives this gem of spiritual insight in his dramatic encounter with a five-times-married woman of Samaria. When she realized he was a religious man, she initiated the all-too-familiar game of asking a tricky religious question. ("Where is the right place to worship?"). Ministers often encounter this double-bind procedure whereby either answer is a trap. Artfully Jesus evaded the trap and proceeded to astonish her with this jewel of religious knowledge which I consider to be the most profound recorded theological statement of Jesus. And how unique that it should be given to an adulterous water-bearer rather than to the priests at the temple! Fortunately, it has been passed on to us.
The context of the question was a tricky attempt to locate God or, specifically, the right place to worship him. The question, "Where is God?," is apparently as old as mankind and as new as today. Outgrowths of this question are: "What is he like?," "What does he do?," and, "How can we influence (use) him?." Since Eden, man has attempted to pin God down in his thinking, to figure him out, and to use him to man's advantage.
Through all time, Jesus' insight remains relevant. By implication he said: "Locating God is impossible, since he is by nature spiritual. If we are to worship him, our only option is to be truthful in spirit." Regrettably, we still resist his message. Many biblical translators--from the King James Version to the modern Amplified Bible--assist our avoidance by inserting an article that is absent in his answer. Contrary to the ancient texts, they have Jesus say, "God is a Spirit." The use of the article a (which implies define-ability), obscures his insight. I think he is saying the opposite. Rather than limiting God to being only a Spirit, I believe Jesus is freeing God from all categories. To all who have located God, he says, "He is Spirit," and therefore, incapable of mental apprehension. Only by being truthful in spirit can man know God.
And what does this mean for us? The message I hear is that modern-day pilgrims must also free our God from current Jerusalems or Mount Gerizims, such as, church houses and doctrinal concepts. We too must let him down from whatever mental locations we have boxed him in. We must free him from being our God, before he can become God to us. We must loose him from our mental traps before we can worship him in spirit. Having a God, even as a Spirit, brings illusionary advantages, but at the cost of eternal life. Freeing him is a major milestone on the path to his kingdom.
But why? The fact is, possession prevents communion. The responsibilities of ownership inevitably take precedence over the requirements of communion. We can know about what we own, but we can never know what we have objectified. Mental information is possible with objects; spiritual knowledge is not. We can only commune (in an ultimate sense) with that which is beyond our possession. What we have can be idolized or patronized, looked-up-to or down-on, used or abused, but it cannot be worshipped in spirit.
To the extent that we own something, someone, or a god, we are proportionately prevented from experiencing communion with that object. For example, one may love a person he does not possess. He may experience the heights of spiritual communion with this free individual; as soon as he succeeds in capturing the loved one, however, the essential prerequisite for communion is lost. Henceforth he may manipulate, exhibit, be proud or ashamed of his possession, but no longer will communion be possible.
The same is true for a possessed god. That which is ultimately desired with such a god is prevented by the very act of possession. Hoping to enhance communion through capture, we regrettably render it impossible. Although we eliminate the necessity of faith (which is a temporary relief) we pay with our own salvation. Our possessed god can no longer save us.
But what is meant by possessing a god? How can one have a god? Primitive savages may have owned their idols, but how does this apply to modern intellectuals? Surely we are beyond such ancient idolatry! Certainly, modern Americans have advanced beyond the image-on-the-mantle stage of primitive religion. We may look back pridefully at the gross practices of our religious ancestors.
A closer look reveals, however, that we have only succeeded in internalizing what our forebearers externalized. They had their god out there; we have him in here. They had him on the mantle; we have him in our minds. The basic possession remains the same; it is only shifted in location. The critical issue in regard to salvation is not where we have him, but that we have him. Whether boxed in a temple on a hill or boxed in a category of the mind, he remains boxed-in. Accordingly, he may be used or abused, idolized or rejected, but he can never be worshipped in spirit and in truth so long as he is had.
Consequently, every pilgrim on the strait and narrow path to the kingdom must face the same challenge which Jesus presented to the woman at Samaria. We too must let God down from our own sacred mountains of the mind before we can worship him truthfully. Hence this necessary milestone.
What are today's holy cities and sacred theological mountains? Where have we moderns presumed to box God in? Where in our minds have we pinned God down? Primarily our mental boxes fall into four categories: theism, deism, naturalism (pantheism), and atheism. In the first three we pin him positively; in the last negatively. In all, we presume to know about God, and in so doing, we prevent our knowing him.
Theism is the most prevalent form of mental idolatry. It is belief in a god out there or up there. This transcendent image is given different names by different religions: Allah, Jehovah, or God, and understood in various ways by each subgroup. In common, however, he is seen as the creator of the world, the controller of history, the manager of the weather, and the father of man. Beyond this, mental boxing varies from denomination to denomination and from person to person. Some figure him to be more personal--an unseen friend to help them make it through the night--others consider him more remote--a distant grandfather to save our resurrected souls beyond the sunset.
Deists claim to be more reasonable than their theistic brethren and conceive their god in a slightly different way. They also believe that he is the creator of the universe, but they disagree with the gross supernaturalism of the average churchman. They figure that after creation, God abandoned the world. He set it in operation, but he then turned it over to man and assumed no further control over daily life or influence over natural phenomenon.
Naturalists, the third group of mental idolaters, focus more on God's immanence than his transcendence. Their specific images are more divergent, but include such categories as force of life, powers of existence, and ground of being. Contrary to the theist's conception of God out there, naturalists believe him to be in here, that is, at work in the forces of life or the laws of nature. Those more intellectually inclined conceive him as the grand scheme of things or the guiding pattern in the natural world.
Fringe religious groups often incorporate their immanent idolatry in practices based on the idea of God within. In my opinion, the current charismatic movement, Jesus-freak groups, and quasi-religious sects, plus meditation clubs and other Americanizations of Eastern religions spring from the naturalistic idolatry.
Atheism, the fourth popular form of mentally boxing God, is the direct opposite of the first three. Theism, deism, and naturalism each say, "There is a God." While defining him differently, they all agree on his independent existence. Atheists object. While others say, "He is," atheists say, "He isn't." Three groups are for; one is against. On the surface they differ; on a deeper level they share the same mental trip, differing only in direction of travel.
While atheists do not have a god, in the positive sense, they participate in the same idolatry. They too have him figured. "The others are wrong," they say. "We are right; we know there is no God." Idolatry lies in assumed knowledge, not the content of that knowing. Both believers and non-believers are excluded from communion with ultimate reality by virtue of their mental certainty--their intellectual possession--plus or minus.
Even agnosticism--that is, mental uncertainty about God--can easily become an escape from faith required by open communion with mysterious God. Current so-called agnostics are often but mental drop-outs from the cults of theism and atheism, and their related sub-cults. They straddle the fence by saying in effect, "I give up. I don't know who is right. Maybe there is a God; maybe there isn't." Their agnosticism is simply a stance of mental doubt rather than embraced mystery.
The pilgrimage toward the kingdom of God in the here and now requires a movement beyond each of the isms, including the popular agnosticism. I call this milestone spiritual event Letting God Down, Or Up (in case one is an atheist). Possessed gods must be freed from all mental categories, positive, negative, or undecided. Until God is loosed from definitions, plus or minus, he remains, to that same extent, unknowable.
Mental possession, paradoxically, prevents spiritual encounter. Only through giving up his possessed god does a pilgrim open the door to heavenly communion with God. The great tragedy of organized religion has been the promulgated illusion that mental knowledge is the door to spiritual experience. We have tried (God, have we tried!) to encounter God by comprehending him. Regrettably, we have merely substituted thinking about God for knowing God. Pilgrims must reverse this course.
Before exploring the path of abandoning mental idolatry, we might pause and pay homage to some of its practical uses. Each of the isms can be useful, both externally and internally. Either of these beliefs may serve as the stabilizing basis for a family, club, church, or society. Our American system is founded and structured on belief in a God. Our coins carry the commitment: "In God we trust." Our courts, until recently, had us swear on the Bible. Our moral fabric is predicated on belief in a God and legal codes evolved from the ten commandments of the Old Testament.
Even our patriotism has been founded on the premise that God is on our side. The current breakdown in American morality (rising divorce rates, family deterioration, juvenile delinquency, crime, and anti-patriotism) can, in my opinion, be attributed, as critics of religion are inclined to do, to a declining devotion to traditional religious principles. Although the blame cannot be placed entirely on the church's failure to do its job, it does properly relate to a falling away from our previous allegiance to a conception of God.
Of course it goes without saying that almost all churches and religious groups structure themselves on certain beliefs in God and the moral codes emerging from their own particular definitions. Members are accepted on the basis of commitment to established beliefs, promoted according to allegiance, and excommunicated for disbelief or disobedience. The stabilizing value of beliefs is obvious.
On the personal level the same benefits accrue from allegiance to an ism. Internal stability can be maintained by beliefs, just as social structuring can. Countless churchmen have found their inner security in rigid devotion to a particular belief about God. Accepting as sacred the codes emerging from their belief, they have a relatively easy avenue to virtue.
When righteousness is based on legalism, good and bad guys are simple to distinguish: "Good guys wear white hats" (behave in prescribed ways). The path to heaven is made easier by the reduction of faith to the relatively simple mental trick of believing the unbelievable and trying to live right.
The manifold values of having God figured would be difficult to overestimate. Unfortunately, the inherent dangers are ultimately fatal. First of all, mental certainty promotes self-righteousness. One who has a god (presumes to have God figured), can hardly escape the sin of pride. We tend to be proud of a new suit or hair-do; imagine having a god! The self-righteousness of those who think they have God on their side may not be evident to them, but others easily see it. Often they are condemned by the so-called godly ones.
Lack of practice in faith is a second danger of presuming to know God and his ways. When possession of beliefs is substituted for the experience of believing, one gains no regular practice in exercising his faith. The common result is a faithless person who mistakes mental blindness (believing the unbelievable) for personal faith. The existential faithlessness of those who wear the "true believer" label is abundantly clear to any careful observer. The point is that having God mentally captured cheats an individual out of valid and necessary learning experiences in developing his own faith.
The predictable result is eventual disillusionment. Our limited definitions of God and how he works are likely to fall apart when tried and tested in the arena of reality. Prayers often go unanswered; virtue commonly fails to get rewarded! Rain falls on our parades; loved ones die and tragedies have a way of happening to us as well as others.
The god we counted on to work for us is apt to fail us at crucial times; and the familiar result is disillusionment. When the ideological framework of god-possession cracks in the storms of life, the breakup of false faith is often disastrous. These dark nights of the soul are but one predictable disadvantage of assuming certain knowledge about God.
Finally, and worst of all, beliefs (or their correlative disbeliefs) exclude us from the kingdom of God in the here and now. I believe no person who owns God (mentally) to any extent can enter into God's presence. Possession, as previously noted, prevents communion. For all the value of beliefs about God, we pay with our own eternal life.
As contradictory as it seems, knowing about God intellectually costs us the experience of knowing him personally. Only through giving up comprehension of God do we open the door to finding him in our daily lives.
WHAT TO DO
How can we cease religious idolatry? How do we go about letting God down (or up) and abandoning theism, deism, naturalism, or atheism, so as to become believers? This is the challenge facing all pilgrims on the strait and narrow. Those who have set God up, must now let him down; those who have conceived him, must un-conceive him. He must be freed from all mental boxes. If we have defined him or accepted the definitions of others, now we must undefine. We must loose him from all definitions, plus or minus, before we can meet him, ultimate mystery, in each present moment. But how?
Examine your current beliefs, or disbeliefs. Experiential progress can best be made from a clear perspective of where you now stand. Which label best fits you? Theist? Deist? Naturalist? Or atheist? Do you have a god? If so, how do you have him at this moment? Do you think you know where he is? Up there? Or, in here? Do you think you know what he does? Does he make the weather? Run the world? Control history? Answer prayer? Do you know how to get to him, or how to gain his approval?
Do you know what God wants? Do you presume to know what kind of beliefs, feelings, or behavior will influence God positively and negatively? Or have you rejected the idea of God? Have you concluded that God is not? Or do you straddle the intellectual fence? Whatever your current position, bring it into as clear a mental focus as you possibly can.
Evaluate the premise of this milestone. Can you allow that my reasoning makes sense? Do you believe that mental idolatry is a sin or a virtue? Can you accept the goal of freeing God, rather than the more familiar quest of figuring him out? Do the benefits of fixed beliefs seem worth the price which I have suggested you must pay for them? Can you honestly take the chance of letting go of your god-image? If so, consider these further steps.
Begin freeing God in your mind. Start letting him out of whatever mental boxes you have used. If you have been a strict theist, presuming him to be up there running the world, let him down to be in here also; add immanence to his transcendence. Think of him as omnipresent--immanently here in this place. If you have been praying to "our Father in heaven" and thinking of him as up there (or somewhere), begin thinking of the heavenly father who is actually closer than a brother.
If you have practiced male chauvinism in your religion by limiting God to the masculine gender, allow femininity as well. Catch the humor of the joke about the man who returned from heaven and stunned his anxious inquirers with the godly revelation, "She's black." Proceed beyond all anthropomorphism--God in any human image, male-female, black-white, old-young. Loose him from mental personification. Advance to naturalism; free God to be present in all the impersonal forces of nature, as well.
Finally, free him from being either out or in, or both. Then move beyond the dichotomy of transcendence and immanence. Proceed beyond agnosticism, then atheism, and finally beyond all certain knowledge. Relinquish any vestige of mental grasp about God. To every question concerning God's existence and nature, learn to say honestly and without shame or pride, "I don't know." Embrace ultimate incomprehension of God, evading even the escape of atheism. Let God be God--who, what, or wherever he (or she or it) may be--so you can be freed to become man.
After abandoning the thought quest, proceed with experience. The mental gymnastics of letting God down or up are only a beginning. Next comes the real challenge: meeting God. Let energies previously devoted to figuring him out, trying to use him, or avoiding him, now be given to encounter.
Without a concept, seek communion. Use the word, God, as a language symbol for ultimate reality, rather than a name for a definable it. As your faith allows, risk encountering ultimate mystery in each current moment. Practice God's presence wherever you are by remaining aware that God is present always and remaining open to the possibility of knowing him in each moment and in all that you encounter.
Jesus said the time will come, "indeed it is already here, when true worshipers" will worship God "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23 Amp.). A pilgrim on the strait and narrow will attempt to become such a worshiper.
And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.
(Genesis 1:31 Amp.)
He has made everything beautiful in its time.
(Ecclesiastes 3:11 Amp.)
Come, my beloved! Let us go forth unto the field . . . There will I give you my love.
(Song of Solomon 7:11-12 Amp.)
Sexuality is a basic human element. Appropriately embracing this capacity is another spiritual milestone. In facing this challenge, we turn first to the Bible. Jesus' sexual ethics can be discerned only by reading between the lines--observing the context of his limited expressions and the patterns of his living. His most widely quoted statement relative to sex concerns adultery: "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). Commonly this is interpreted to mean that it is just as bad to think about it as it is to do it.
Based on this conclusion, popular Christianity has historically condemned sexual desire and activity in all but the most carefully restricted relationships, circumstances, and positions. Generally these have included heterosexual marriage, sex activity hidden in the night (primarily for procreation), and the missionary position.
Anything beyond these severe limitations has often been considered evil. In accord with almost all societies and religions, Christian cultures have maintained the incest taboo. Self stimulation has also been wrong: Good boys and girls don't play with themselves. Remnants of the masturbation-will-drive-you-crazy idea still persist. Premarital sex has been condemned. Chastity and virtue have been synonymous. "Keep your virtue" means "do not have sex before marriage."
Homosexual activity has also been condemned: this "abomination" in the Old Testament (punishable by banishment) has continually held its position as a big sin. Adultery, or extramarital sex (meriting a place as one of only ten ancient Hebrew commandments) has also maintained high priority on the sin list. Though the older practice of punishment by stoning to death (usually for the woman only) has been dropped, verbal stoning by most churchmen has continued unabated until today. Jesus has been commonly drawn into this stream of condemnation by the popular church to support its suppressive practices.
However, a closer look at his life and teachings makes this identification at least questionable, and probably impossible. To begin with, the oft-quoted adultery statement is lifted out of context in order to support prevailing condemnation of extramarital sex. It occurs in a list of other examples Jesus used to point to the limitations of the law insofar as righteousness is concerned.
The overall message is that no legalism (rule-keeping) can lead to right standing with God. Jesus' concern was fulfilling the law through human completion or maturity; it was not a mere amplification of legalism.
The common interpretation would negate his entire message. By having him expand legalism from the hand to the mind--strengthening the law by pushing it beyond activity to feelings as well--he is made to out-do even the far-fetched Jewish legalism which he neither obeyed or promulgated in his ministry.
His response on another occasion confirms his refusal to support the theme of righteousness through sexual legalism. To a woman taken "in the very act" of adultery, and about to be stoned by legalistic scribes and Pharisees, he replied to her after dispersing the crowd, "Neither do I condemn thee" (John 8:4,1.1). This would be an illogical response for one who considered thinking to be as bad as doing.
In the next recorded encounter with perhaps the same Pharisees, Jesus said, "You set yourselves up to judge according to the flesh--by what you see; you condemn by external, human standards. I do not set myself up to judge or condemn or sentence anyone" (John 8:15 Amp.). This hardly sounds like one who had out-legalized the Jews by extending law to the level of desire.
Furthermore, his life style cannot be reconciled with the harsh legalism attributed to him by later churchmen. He often associated with "loose women (adulterers and even prostitutes)." Had his attitude been as restricted as has been attributed, these associations would be highly improbable. His openness to feminine companionship outside of marriage is further attested in numerous other recorded encounters and friendships. Such close female contacts at least imply a sexual openness which would be highly inconsistent with the modern sexless image of him.
Although no recorded statements seem relative to homosexuality, Jesus also maintained an obvious close relationship with numerous men including an all-male group of disciples. I conclude that the historical Jesus bears an unreasonable projection from later sexually-repressed churchmen. His popularly conceived stance is hardly consistent with the limited facts available to us.
The suppressive attitude prevalent in popular Christianity seems inappropriate for other, more current reasons. Sexual repression, though religiously virtuous and socially practical, often has disastrous personal consequences. The resulting inner-division and conflict are well known in the modern church.
Two familiar results are self-righteousness and debilitating guilt. Those who succeed in maintaining the virtuous ideal of a no-desire-outside-of-marriage stance, almost inevitably fall victim to an intolerable degree of pride and/or shame. Since curtailment of passion is best achieved through the repression of all desire, marriages of such self-righteous saints are often equally sterile.
Those who do succumb to the "evil desires of the flesh" commonly suffer such pangs of guilt and remorse as to render normal living ineffective. A pervading sense of guilt about sex is perhaps the most common earmark of a diligent church member of today. The all-too-familiar result of the church's repressive sexual stance is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" kind of fatalism. Virtue, according to popular theology, can best be achieved through a negation of humanity. Mental illness among the religious is not an uncommon result.
A second, current problem with the prevailing ethic of negation is its eroding social effectiveness. The old legal system of repression is due vast credit as a stabilizing force in the organization and maintenance of societies, families, and personal lives. Even the Old Testament commandment against adultery seems primarily designed to protect the property rights of fathers and husbands--an essential structure in the early Hebrew society.
The modern-day idea of adultery is far removed from this ancient understanding. In earlier days the application was primarily to maidens, who were considered the property of fathers who expected dowries when their daughters were sold in marriage, or to wives who were then the property of the husbands who had bought them. This adultery law apparently did not apply to unfaithful husbands. Men were free to have sexual relations with unmarried females, with prostitutes, or even to have as many wives or concubines as they could afford to purchase. Solomon is said to have had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.
I believe that law against adultery has also been effective in keeping "women in their place" and consequently stabilizing societies based on overt dominance of females by males. Later interpretations that give more attention to men have been equally useful in stabilizing societies based on monogamous family structures. The long-term success of the nuclear family can be partially credited to the diligence of organized religion in condemning adultery and divorce.
On the personal level, the utility of rules against sexual expression is unquestionable. Even the condemnation of desire is effective in stabilizing social life.
Potentially disruptive deeds are obviously curtailed when nipped in the bud at the level of desire. Personal legalism in the sexual area reduces the necessity of faith in everyday living. If one has already ruled out sexual response, no faith is required in regular decisions. The long-term tragedies can be easily ignored in face of immediate advantages of living an essentially non-sexual life.
Changing times, however, threaten the historical values of sexual repression. The advent of the automobile, drive-in movies, and the pill, as well as increased personal freedom (including women's and gay liberation movements), have all served to undermine the old system. Psychiatry has revealed the inner price of repression; even religion itself has unwittingly trained us for greater liberty. Consequently, many now face the challenge of a new era in which an old ethic, though respected, is progressively outmoded and increasingly ignored.
Beyond the practical advantages and disadvantages of an ethic of suppression, the greatest tragedy has, in my opinion, been an unfortunate by-product. The deeper fact is that salvation lies through the path of embraced humanity, one element of which is sexuality. Effective negation or limitation of sexuality, though socially expedient, may be eternally damning. As Jesus was attempting to teach in the previously cited discourse, we please God only in fully becoming who we are, rather than through legal exactitude. Salvation is through the perfection of completion and maturity, not the perfectionism of total human negation.
Although Jesus never expounded a doctrine of omnisexuality, I believe this stance is far more consistent with his life and teachings than the popular image of a sexless Christ. Furthermore, this stance seems reasonable in the light of current psychological knowledge, as well as practical in a post-repressive age. I believe it to be an essential milestone on the serious pilgrim's path to the kingdom of God in the here and now.
What is omnisexuality? First, the reference is to an inner condition (a state of being), rather than to external activities. It is a way one becomes, not something he does. Commonly, the word sex is used to refer to the physical act of intercourse and related grappling. I define it here in an expanded way which may include overt acts as an expression but is certainly not limited to them.
In fact, this inward condition may fully exist without any form of outward activity. One may be sexual in this sense without doing anything. Conversely, so-called sexual activity may occur without one's being sexual--as I use the term. One might have sex without being sexual (make love without being loving), or be sexual and yet remain chaste.
What then is the nature of this existential condition? To be sexual is to exist in a state of open responsiveness, to be inwardly turned on. The word sensuous, understood literally, is descriptive. When one is being sexual, senses are openly operative. One is responsively in tune with the surroundings via his senses; he sees, hears, and smells what is around him.
Furthermore he responds inwardly to the stimuli received by his senses and allows himself to be pleased or excited. The capacity can be graded from mild pleasure to extreme excitement and on to passionate joy or spiritual rapture. One being slightly sexual might say, "I am delighted." With total activation of the capacity he might say, "I am in ecstasy."
Stimuli perceived while one is in such a state are commonly described as beautiful or attractive. If one has responded in this manner to the sight of a person, he may say, "She is beautiful," or, "He is attractive." If the stimulus has been a sunset, one may say, "It turns me on."
Because we most easily see ourselves in reflection (projected on outside objects), we may even conclude that it literally "does it to us"--that the perceived object actually "makes me excited." This, of course, is projection. Beauty really is "in the eye of the beholder." We choose, awarely or unawarely, to respond positively to any stimulus. This favorable response, which may be made in many degrees, is what I refer to as being sexual.
In ordinary living, we have the option of embracing or negating (suppressing) this human capacity. We may exist turned on or turned off--or at many stages between the two. Commonly, sexuality is carefully curtailed by a severe limitation of accepted external stimuli.
For instance, one may only get turned on by particular members of the opposite sex who conform to a narrow range of requirements (facial and/or bodily proportions). This is called heterosexuality. If one gets similarly excited by beautiful scenery, music, art, or poetry, it is called "love of nature" or "appreciation of art." When the list of acceptable stimulation is expanded to include members of one's own sex, the response is called homosexuality. When the arousing objects are mentally imagined in organized religion, the same inward condition may be named "love of God" (or Jesus).
Whereas society chooses to define and regulate this existential state according to the external stimulus (love of God is good, homosexuality is bad), our present concern is the condition itself. Although this state is commonly perceived in relation to the stimulating object, our definition refers to the inward state, regardless of the focus of its projection.
Omnisexuality is this positive, inner condition of delight, whatever it happens to be focused on. Omni means all. The implication is that a pilgrim is to become all-sexual, that is, able to see the beauty in all things--people (men and women), plants, animals, and nature. His goal is to become fully sexual--sensually responsive to the entire continuum of creation.
No element of reality is to be beyond eliciting his passionate response. Some may see no beauty at all, others only in specifically proportioned males or females, while still others only in intangible religious images; but the pilgrim reaching this milestone will find everything beautiful in its own way. He will perceive God as revealed in every aspect of creation. Accordingly he will respond to the omnipresence of the ultimate in an omnisexual way. Everything will turn him on; he will exist turned on, fully alive.
This expansive human capacity has traditionally been split into two major parts, with sexual intercourse (biological sex) at one end of the scale and worshipping God at the other. The two have been assumed to be unrelated. Being sexy is commonly considered the very antithesis of being godly. One is low or earthy; the other high or heavenly. Although the same word, love, is used for both ends of the scale, understanding is entirely different.
Making love and loving God are seen as diametrically opposed. The first is called animal, the second Platonic. The traditional Christian goal has been all of the second and none of the first, or at least with animal love (sex), limited to legal marriage. In either case, no connection is perceived between the conjugal bed and the church altar.
The idea of worshipping God through sexual intercourse would be completely irrational to traditional thought. One might have some religious association with appreciating the beauty of nature, but appreciating a beautiful body would seem unrelated or even contrary to religion. At church we might sing, "In the arms of my dear Savior, oh, there are ten thousand charms," but the charms of dear Susy or Sam would seem obviously sacrilegious.
Not only have sex and God been viewed as unrelated, but they have often been thought to be mutually exclusive, as though one is at war with the other. Sincere churchmen have sought union with God through sexual negation. In turn, religious dropouts have tried to rebel against God by acting-out sexually. Between the extremes, average church-goers have often understood the two to be in opposition. Sexual misbehavior is commonly taken to be against God, while conformity to repressive codes is assumed to please God.
Whereas a valid distinction exists between simple biological rutting and the climactic experience of union with God, the difference, I conclude, is one of degree rather than fundamental opposition--a matter of quality, not quantity. Making love and love of God are divergent points on a single continuum, not contradictory types of experience.
Love making, which at its lowest common denominator is only an animal function shared by man with other creatures, becomes, at its zenith, one of the purest forms of communion with God. Whereas God can be met in vision of a sunset or beauty of music, total involvement of body, mind and heart in sexual intercourse offers one of the most natural avenues to His presence. The same capacities, minimally required for orgasm, are fully required for worshipping God.
Any attempt to know God through sexual negation is, I believe, ultimately destined for failure, since successful negation of any capacity also kills human elements essential in knowing God. Abstinence may prove useful for those who have become absorbed in sexual fantasy, since it allows attention and development of deeper sexual capacities. After a certain point, however, denial of biological desire phases into negation of the basic capacity and thereby defeats the seeker. Finally, to try to love God while hating sex is to place oneself in a double-bind which at best makes a mockery of religion, and at worst promotes mental illness.
Omnisexuality is based on the premise of wholeness of man, the unitary capacity for sensuality, ranging from intercourse to worship. It assumes that we cannot appreciate the beauty of nature without being sexy; that Platonic love, though valid as a name for love without intercourse, is literally impossible; and that true religion is sexuality fully activated rather than totally negated.
The pilgrim's goal is to completely embrace this part of humanity in a responsible way, realizing that it is one element in his avenue to God. If one has completely repressed sexuality, he will begin the pilgrimage through heterosexuality, homosexuality, and finally omnisexuality, until he learns that "everything is beautiful in its own way."
Being sexual as an inward condition of responsiveness is obviously to be distinguished from any particular outward act. The capacity is to be fully embraced, yet all behavior is to be conducted in a responsible manner.
After one becomes sexual in the universal sense, he perceives and responds inwardly to ever-present beauty, but he always acts outwardly in a judicious manner. Physical intercourse may never be in order, or perhaps occur only in a marriage relationship. In either case, a pilgrim learns to exist as a continually passionate person, responsive to beauty wherever and whenever it appears, at the same time functioning responsibly in every situation.
WHAT TO DO
Again, the first issue is your thinking. Can you accept omnisexuality as a goal in your pilgrimage? Aware that most social pressures, including traditional religion, will be directed to suppressing rather than embracing sexuality, can you tolerate the idea of moving in the opposite direction? Alert to the pragmatic values of being relatively non-sexual, can you risk the faith required to become this part of yourself also?
Do you have the courage which may often be necessary to both feel responsive and yet act responsibly? On the other hand, are you willing to pay the eternal price of negating this human capacity? Realizing that the path of repression is trod at the eventual cost of your own salvation, that denying sexuality is erasing one element in the path to God, are you willing to choose otherwise?
The decision is vastly significant with both temporal and eternal consequences. First, decide on your goals. If you do choose to face this spiritual event which I consider a milestone on the strait and narrow, then the following steps may be practical.
Review your present state. Where do you now stand on your path toward omnisexuality? Are you essentially non-sexual? Heterosexual? Homosexual? What is the range of your currently-embraced sexuality? How frigid or passionate are you in the world where you live? A current evaluation will be useful in planning your work. What you do can best be charted with a clear picture of your present status.
Are you free in certain areas and hung up in others? Chances are, you have already embraced certain of your sexual capacities and learned to respond openly to portions of this beautiful world. Which ones? What now turns you on? Beautiful music? Beauties of nature? Beautiful people? In what other areas do you need to learn to lay aside your repulsions, stop negative judgments, and see the beauty in what you have previously considered to be ugly? See where you now stand, so you can determine where to go.
Get busy activating your potential. First, stretch your faith. Remembering that pilgrims live by faith rather than answers, see if you can give up omniscient knowledge of what is right and wrong in the area of sex. Probably you have learned to judge various elements in the sexual realm--thoughts, desires, attractions, wishes, or deeds--as inherently good or evil.
Such omniscient opinions are signs of your own false godhood. They allow you to live by your answers rather than your faith, yet at a cost of your salvation. You will need to relinquish each such godly conclusion as you proceed down the path to omnisexuality. Begin now to exercise your faith by letting go of certain knowledge about right and wrong concerning sexual matters.
Next, stretch your pretty. Already certain things and people are attractive to you. You probably classify others as ugly. Consider extending the realm of your pretties and reducing your uglies. For example, you may say, "black is beautiful," but can you truly respond to a beautiful black animal, night, or person? If you have excluded those of other races from your domain of pretty, seek now to include them.
If you have considered flowers pretty but have condemned all weeds as ugly, look for beauty in weeds also. Look for beauty in all creation. Work toward eliminating all your ugly, not by changing it to suit you, but by changing yourself to perceive the beauty in it.
Perhaps your greatest challenge will come in accepting beauty in yourself. Knowing your faults and blemishes, can you concede that you too are one of the "beautiful people"? Stretch your pretty wherever you go. Be mindful of your capacity to respond positively to ever-increasing portions of this wondrous world.
Then begin stretching your tolerance of feeling sexual and turned on. As illogical as it may sound, many who think they want to feel better are deeply afraid that they can't stand it. Most of us have more experience with being turned down (or off) than with being excited. We unconsciously strive to maintain the familiar balance, and unwittingly thwart any moves toward expanded sexuality. The primitive fear is sometimes "that I may burst" (explode) or be otherwise unable to tolerate the excitement associated with being sensual.
Expanded tolerance for pleasure is one of the challenges facing many pilgrims who move toward this milestone. If this challenge is one of yours, begin working to stretch your present limits. See if you may be able to stand more excitement than you realize. Even if you were weak when you were younger, perhaps your strength has increased. Approach your current borders of pleasure. Without taking excessive chances, reach for new degrees of ecstasy. As you stretch your faith and your pretty, exercise your tolerance also.
Increase your responsibility. Many fearful souls evade the challenges of increased sexuality by dissipating the generated energies in irresponsible activities. Unconsciously assuming they can't stand it, they seek relief by acting out, for instance, in harmful affairs or dependent relationships. Ignoring the consequences of their acts, they rush pell-mell down paths of destruction.
If you have been among such persons, resign from their ranks. With expanded sexuality comes increased responsibility. Accept it graciously. With constant alertness to your own limits, society's tolerance, what others can take and all the predictable consequences, move only with integrity.
A pilgrim's challenge is to be fully sexual while acting appropriately at all times. Dare to become responsibly omnisexual on your path to the kingdom of God in the here and now.
Making Friends With Death
The last enemy . . . is death.
Paul (I Corinthians 15:26)
Recently in Washington, D.C., the Woman's National Democratic Club scheduled a lecture by a noted psychotherapist and professor on the subject: Death: What Has It Got To Do With Life? Even if Washington is not considered to be a representative American city, the result reflects a common attitude. "We had to cancel it," a club spokeswoman said,"There wasn't enough interest."
On a deeper level, the issue may have been fear rather than lack of interest. In either case, Paul was accurate in terming this apparently inevitable event "the last enemy." Most of us don't want to hear or even think about it. If we avoid lectures on the subject, how much more do we avoid the event itself. Rejection, pain, disability, failure, impotence--life is full of enemies; but the greatest of these is death. We may live thinking that if we don't think about it, maybe it will go away; yet the grim reaper remains. For all of us, he waits in the wings.
Consequently, we are forced to face and deal with this last enemy in some fashion. Since avoidance fails to eliminate it, some type of mental adaptation is required. Ignor-ance--pretending it does not exist or will not happen--is no doubt the most common way. The Washingtonians represent the masses: "Don't think about it" is the familiar adaptation.
Still, thinking does become necessary. Despite our best efforts to avoid the subject, people keep dying; the funeral procession often halts our daily parades. Even friends and loved ones die. Sometimes we simply must chance a glance. And often we think.
In our society two popular schools of thought claim most allegiance. Both presume man's inherent immortality--his birthright to perpetual existence. Each neutralizes the last enemy by dissolving it in immortality. The first school is advocated by traditional religious thought which sees death as a mere stepping-stone to heaven. The pearly gates are assumed to be in another world, with death as only an avenue to harp-playing bliss in the sweet bye-and-bye. The common threat is presented as the only path to God via St. Peter at the golden gates. Thus the enemy is theoretically eliminated by painting him as unreal; the grim reaper only appears bad. In this school of thought death is not real and final; it is only a transition to a better life.
In the second popular idea, no hope is placed in some other world. Man's immortality finds its future locale on the old planet Earth, instead of in the sky. Man is presumed to live-on down here. Under this general belief a variety of sub-ideas flourish. Some hold for reincarnation--successive returns in other forms all on the extended path to eventual perfection--while others debunk coming back as an animal, plant, or some other body, yet insist on perpetuation through accomplishments, offspring, or in the memories of loved ones.
The common theme of both schools is watering-down the finality of death. Each treats it as a theoretically minor event which is essentially unreal in nature. One may appear dead but actually he lives on, either up there or down here. Presumed immortality, either heavenly or earthly, is intended to take the sting out of death. And sometimes it does. A firm belief in inherent perpetuity, whatever its locale, can ease the threat of the enemy. The promise of meeting loved ones, shaking hands with St. Peter, seeing God, or living on unhampered by this old bag of skin and bones, can divert one from the ugliness of the death angel.
Regrettably, these two familiar perspectives of death have inherent problems and limitations. The necessary assumption of immortality, while pleasing to the ego, is theologically contradictory. Such belief requires man to assume an attribute of God--a supposition which is more properly associated with sin than salvation. Comfort from the idea of personal immortality is gained at the expense of spiritual death. In other words, the temporal consolation of the belief comes at the cost of eternal life.
Furthermore, evidence for either form of immortality, heavenly or earthly, is extremely sketchy. Tangible proof is sadly lacking. We have no friends who have returned to confirm the existence of an afterlife. In fact, the weight of physical evidence is in favor of finite mortality ("this is it," "you only go round once") rather than infinite individuality. Belief in an afterlife is supported more by common consent than by facts at hand. We believe it because we want to, not because evidence requires or experience confirms. The consequent problems for those who wish to be rational, scientific, or intellectually honest are often overwhelming.
Thirdly, and most regrettably of all, popular beliefs deprive one of the inestimable values of death as an ally of life and the utility of death as a constant friend. By banishing it from daily attention or treating it as essentially unreal, we lose its functions in daily life. Believing we will go out on a cloud is much like believing we came in on a stork. We have the advantages of ignoring the pangs of birth, yet we miss the virtues of facing the facts.
In either case, I believe that a serious pilgrim will choose a different route. One of the milestone events on the strait and narrow path to heaven now is, I think, making friends with death. Instead of ignoring or explaining it away, the pilgrim faces and accepts the mystery of death, thereby transforming it into a friend and ally for life. The enemy is neither destroyed by pretending he does not exist nor by taming him in mind's eye, but by embracing the awesomeness of death in the course of daily life. With his mystery, the death angel becomes a mentor at every turn. I term this massively significant and faith-demanding spiritual event Making Friends With Death.
To understand this milestone, recognize first that it is an event rather than an idea. This is a way of relating to death, not simply a new way of thinking about it. To be sure, thinking is involved; yet the event is a spiritual happening. The common avenues require a degree of omniscience; this one does not.
Frankly, I do not know what lies beyond the grave. I have no information to confirm an afterlife in the sky, a reincarnation on earth, or a fatalistic "this is it." Perhaps someone does; I suspect not. Such an answer is probably beyond the sphere of finite human knowledge. In either case, making friends with death requires no such omniscience. Whether there is a soul--to live on intangibly in a resurrected body, in some other form, or to be annihilated at death--is irrelevant to this event.
A pilgrim declines to pay the price of either form of omniscience. He assumes no final word on death. He does not pretend to himself or others to know what in fact he does not know. By his own faith he dares risk openness to the unknown--be it individual perpetuity or everlasting extinction. The blindness of a firmly held belief is exchanged for the vision of embraced uncertainty. The pilgrim openly accepts uncertainty as the only immediate path to the kingdom of God.
In this awesome void death is befriended without full information like an earthly neighbor. Perhaps he welcomes us to a blissful beyond, or to perpetual annihilation. In either case, the eternal values of his daily friendship are taken by faith. Just as next-door neighbors are accepted without knowing everything about them--and even without liking everything we do know--so too this reality is embraced by pilgrims. In so doing, they transform death from a great enemy to be feared and avoided into a friendly neighbor who, in spite of his sometimes grim face, brings his own gifts.
Why does the pilgrim dare friendliness with such a possibly threatening neighbor? First, because all denial, rejection, or avoidance is useless in driving him away. Though we turn our heads and minds pretending he does not exist, the death angel remains. As surely as his distant cousin, birth, he stands waiting at the other portal of life. Our pretense only leaves us blind and mentally divided. We are the ones removed, not him.
If we must face him, why not analyze away his mystery and pretend to understand him fully? Certainly there are temporary advantages in such assumed omniscience--most notably, the removal of faith as a necessity in life. Yet such relief carries an excessively high price tag. As every Adam and Eve must eventually learn, assuming God's knowledge results in an exodus from Eden. We take God's place at the cost of our humanity, and thus the possibility of eternal life. No serious pilgrim is willing to pay this price. Consequently, those in quest of the kingdom bypass the temporal benefits of certainty in favor of the eternal values of death as a friend.
What is it like to be on friendly terms with the ancient enemy? First, life is no longer taken for granted. Pilgrims, unlike most persons, do not presume to have life forever. The death angel, always hovering close at hand, is a constant reminder of the importance of now. His regular presence in the wings of the mind's stage serves as a prompter to the seriousness of each act.
Whether it is a meal, a song, a glance at a flower, the sound of a bird, a trip, meeting a friend, or saying goodbye, the angel whispers, "It may be your last." Consequently the listening pilgrim is encouraged to savor each moment. Each meal is enjoyed as though there may be no more; each taste, sight and sound is savored to its fullest. No seat buckle or safety effort removes the death angel from riding with the pilgrim on every trip. No friend is left with a casual, "see you later," as though there positively will be another meeting. Each moment of encounter is blessed with full presence; since a pilgrim remains aware that it may be the last.
Omniscient Adams, who assume they have forever, often get bored with life. The familiar loses its thrill; the mundane is ignored. Loved ones are taken for granted, even as is the night wind and rising sun. This is not so for pilgrims. The friendly angel constantly calls them to awareness. Fleeting time demands fullest attention in each surviving moment. The commonplace is never common.
Even the obscene is brought on-scene in the awesome wonder of life. The temporal pilgrim dares to grasp, at the behest of his friend (death), the eternal beauty of omnipresent God in each finite revelation. As for Moses, every plant becomes a "burning bush," and all ground holy. Whether or not there be forever, each now is lived as though this is it. Possible perpetuity, for a pilgrim who reaches this milestone, becomes a bonus, not a necessity. If now is all there is, now is enough.
Transformed into a friend, the awesome angel loses his long-faced somberness. Taking him with utter seriousness, a pilgrim is thereby released to joke with him also. Warmly and with a sense of humor, they cavort through the daily playgrounds of Eden. Sometimes they laugh; sometimes they cry. Always they are jovial. Even when the angel claims one near at hand, a pilgrim does not miss the fun at funerals. Through his tears his laughter is never far away.
In contrast, omniscient ones, lacking proof of their assumed immortality, must often shake in fear when the angel knocks at their door--lest he prove them wrong. Serious pilgrims, having embraced his mystery, may even smile a welcome. With regret--you don't have to like everything about a friend--they may accept the embrace of their long-time friend.
In summary: While others may ignore, fight, or conquer through understanding the inevitable angel of death, pilgrims, in this milestone event, transform him into a mysterious friend.
WHAT TO DO
If you accept friendliness as a goal, what can you do to pave the path? First, think about death. Resign from the ranks of those who refuse to entertain this awesome fact of life. Massive mental energies are consumed in constant denial of death's reality. Quit wasting such needed powers of mind. Avoiding the thought has never succeeded in making death go away. In fact, trying to push it out of mind often results in preoccupation with that which you wish to deny.
Even if you succeed in skirting thoughts of death, you pay the price of a divided mind. You are the one who gets lost, not the fact you try to evade. So instead of running from thoughts, stop and entertain them. Allow them into the household of your conscious mind in whatever form they choose to take. Even if they come dressed as murder or suicide, invite them in. As contradictory as this may sound, those who refuse to think are more likely to act than those who risk being consciously reasonable. Never let a suppressed thought drive you to a destructive act which you might not have chosen if you had been alert.
Once you do begin to allow thoughts related to death, shun temptations to figure everything out. Even if you enjoy the feeling of godliness which comes in having the answers about death, remember that the price is Eden, the garden of delights. Are you willing to give up so much for such small benefits? Certainly you will seek as much information as possible concerning the mysterious event. Much is to be known.
In your search however, always stop short of assuming you have solved the riddle. Along with your known, make room for the vastness of the unknown. Let your candlelight of certainty illumine your finite path without obscuring infinitely existing darkness. Look closely at the mystery, but never pretend to eliminate it.
Encounter death out there. Commonly we avoid death whenever possible. We look away from dead animals on the road, terming them gross. We avoid the subject in conversation, dismiss questions, belittle the curiosity of children, and stay away from funerals.
To increase your tolerance, begin to reverse such courses of denial in life. When death appears out there look at it as fully in the face as your faith will allow. The next time you approach a dead animal in the street, shun your judgments and look carefully at the body. If possible, stop and examine it. When a pet dies, bury it yourself instead of paying a vet to dispose of the body.
If a lecture is scheduled on the subject, do not be like the Washingtonians. Go and listen. If a conversation turns toward death, engage in it openly. When children ask, answer as honestly as you can without glossing death over with fabrications of your imagination.
When circumstances allow, attend funerals. If the casket is open, approach and look at the body. Touch, if feasible, to get the feel of a dead body. Of course you will stay within the limits of your present tolerance, but as openly as possible seek to extend your acquaintance with death out there.
Embrace your own grief. Suppression of sadness is common in our society. Many consider it virtuous to "be brave and not cry." Well-meaning friends often assist in the denial of grief with such pious advice as, "It will be for the best," or, "God has a reason for this." Children are whisked away from funerals under the assumption that "It's not good for them to grieve." The prevailing message is: "It's not okay to be sad."
Even so, grief is natural. It is human to be involved with one another, and consequently to be saddened when parting is necessary. Somehow we know with John Donne that "any man's death diminishes me." And sadness is most naturally expressed in tears.
In your quest of friendship with death, embrace your capacity for grief. Learn to cry without shame or embarrassment. Tears are as natural as laughter and often more important. Face your losses of pets, people, and things. Allow your sadness. Certainly you will miss anything or anyone who has been a part of your life. Why pretend not to? Suppression of grief, though socially acceptable, may be psychologically damaging. Certainly it prolongs your battle with the enemy. Strangely enough, open grief is one avenue toward friendship with the inevitable. Tears may soften the appearance of the grim reaper.
Face your own death. As gruesome or depressing as it may seem, dealing with your own eventual demise can be invaluable, not only for others who will be unable to avoid it, but for you as a pilgrim. Wills, burial plots, and funeral arrangements, though seemingly harsh subjects, can each prove useful in your quest for friendship with death.
Take time to consider your wishes for the distribution of things you have acquired, as well as how your body will be disposed of. Who do you want to have your possessions? The courts will decide if you don't, and they have no way of knowing your wishes. Consider both your real and personal property--your house and car, as well as things with sentimental value only. What about your body? Do you want burial? Cremation? Or, do you wish to donate organs for research? Who should conduct your funeral? What type of service? How expensive should it be? Where do you want to be buried?
Even if these matters seem unimportant to you now, facing them can be a useful way of coming to grips with death. No matter how young you are, consider the uncertainty of life and make a will; decide who you most want to have your possessions; arrange for the disposal of your body in line with your own desires; plan your funeral now. The relief which ensues from facing the inevitable is well worth any inherent trauma. It may help in making friends with death.
Finally, make death your companion. In your entire circle of friends, let the death angel be closest. When you ride, consider him sitting beside you (in fact, he is!). When you eat, think of him as being near at hand. On all the stages of life, let him be your silent prompter, sitting close by in the wings, cueing you in all daily performances.
With your natural fear of the unknown, keep on reaching out toward the old enemy. Do not stop on your quest for heaven now until you reach this milestone also: Making Friends With Death.
Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: He is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.
Not the cross, but the empty tomb stands at the heart of Christianity. More than all else, this mystery boggles the logical mind and unifies the organized church. As with all other challenging mysteries we are tempted to try to explain. What really happened? Did Jesus truly rise from the dead? Or was it a hoax? Maybe he did not actually die on the cross. A self-hypnotic trance perhaps, then Joseph whisked him away until he revived. Or maybe they just said the tomb was empty because the truth was too hard to face. Then again, perhaps the whole tale was a myth. Did Jesus truly exist?
Facing the unknown is an ageless human challenge. Like the two Marys and Salome at the empty tomb, we tend to be frightened. Dark of night and darkness of mind scare us. When we can't see or don't know, fears from childhood often emerge in minds of all ages.
What are we to do with the awesome threat of the unknown? How can we cope with the challenging voids which continually surround and press in upon us? Two common courses are open: First, we can make it known. We can eliminate the threat of the unknown by figuring it out, by going to see what happened, by finding reasons, by determining causes, or by understanding it.
Whether it is a noise in the night or an empty tomb at sunrise, we may try to dispel the fright of the unknown by explaining it. Once we make sense of any phenomenon by reasonably relating it to what we know, we can relax once more. We have it figured out. We go back to sleep after discovering that it was only the wind blowing. In the external realm, we get the facts; the profession is called science, the tools are called facts or knowledge.
With spiritual matters we follow the same procedure, except making it known is replaced by assuming it known. Religious mysteries are solved by accepting some explanation, by deciding on an answer, either personally or by common consent. We may, for example, conclude that God raised him from the dead. Then we can relax, for we have explained the mystery.
The advantages of relief by explanation are obvious. As science pushes back the boundaries of ignorance, the facts are translated into inventions, medicine, and comforts to ease worldly life. The more we know, the more effective we become at coping with the jungle called environment.
In religion, both public and private, explanations and answers (called beliefs) certainly provide temporary relief for adherents. Knowing what will happen after death, for instance, brings a feeling of comfort when loved ones die. With eternal answers guaranteed to be the truth by each sub-group, popular religion is, as Marx noted, an opiate of the people. Its explanations of the spiritual unknown can help one make it through dark nights of the soul. Assuming that one knows "how it really is" allows daily walking by sight rather than by faith. The temporary relief is obvious.
Regrettably, the advantages of these assumptions in the spiritual realm are acquired at great price. Though religious folk prefer to think they are "taking it on faith," a more accurate title for this procedure is "assuming omniscience." Pretending to know what, in fact, one does not know, is playing god. Human knowledge, by nature of the human mind, is always limited; only God is omniscient ("has ultimate answers").
When we assume such unverifiable knowledge, we cease being what we are, e.g., human, in favor of pretending to be what in fact we are not--God. Under cover of the acceptable declaration, "I just take it all on faith," lies the heinous spiritual crime of trying to take God's place. For just such an act, Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden. They lost access to the tree of life and the presence of God.
I believe the same thing can happen to all of us later Adams and Eves also. For the apparently simple and temporarily relieving act of assuming answers we do not know, we pay a damning penalty. The price of omniscience is eternal life. Our opiate costs us our souls.
While relieving our fears with assumed answers, we unwittingly destroy the mystery which is the basis for communion with God. We may feel comfortable with what we presume to know; possessions, both tangible and mental, can be used for many purposes. We may patronize, utilize, and even idolize what we have, including our ultimate answers, but we cannot have communion with what we own. A king may indulge a slave, a spouse may patronize a possessed mate, a parent might idolize an owned child--yet, they cannot love. We can stand in proximity with what we have, but we can only be with mystery. Communion with God requires faith to exist openly in the unknown.
Knowing for sure what in reality we do not know (omniscience) may bring temporary relief--like a pain pill for a ruptured appendix--but the ultimate cost is happiness, fullness of life, and the kingdom of God. I conclude that the price for temporary relief is too high.
Pilgrims on the strait and narrow way to heaven in the here and now must choose another course. The popular addiction to opiate answers must be broken. Omniscience to any degree must be relinquished in favor of mental finitude. In this milestone spiritual event a diligent pilgrim gives up certain answers.
Unexamined beliefs based on assumptions rather than personal experience are brought into question. Instead of the false confidence of pretending to know, a pilgrim develops the faith to stand with not knowing. Instead of obscuring mystery with irrational dogma, he learns to affirm and embrace the unknown.
Certainties not backed by fact are abandoned. Pockets of irrationality are emptied from the pilgrim's mind. He stops believing the unbelievable and refrains from assuming himself virtuous for accepting speculation as fact. He "makes sense of things," that is, he becomes reasonable.
Whereas omniscient ones are often unable to say "I don't know" without personal threat, a serious pilgrim learns to reveal the limits of his knowledge without shame or fear. Not having answers to mysteries of life poses no threat to him. He knows he is finite, and therefore, not expected to have infinite knowledge about anything.
Previously-held convictions on such subjects as the existence of God, how God works, what he does, what is ultimately right and wrong, what will happen in the future (e.g., how and when the world will end, what occurs after death), the existence of places called heaven and hell, and all such dogmatic beliefs are relinquished in favor of openness and tentative speculations. The pilgrim who reaches this milestone holds no infallible religious dogma about things (persons or objects) in this or any other world. He is secured by faithing, not by his beliefs.
In the everyday world a pilgrim exists humbly, since he knows he does not know everything (possess omniscience). He may reveal his thoughts, opinions or speculations about anything, but always as temporal conclusions, not godly declarations. He may say, "This is how I've found it," but not, "This is how it is;" "This seems feasible to me," but not, "This is right for you;" "That didn't work for me," but not, "That is wrong for you."
Recognizing himself as a finite human, a frail fellow-traveler, a pilgrim resists the common temptation to assume omniscience and dispense ultimate judgments ("This is right;" "That is wrong;" "You ought to do such and such"). Even if invited to godliness by those who wish for final answers, he restricts himself to finite opinions.
All his rules are rules-of-thumb rather than infinite dictums. Though he may speak with conviction and authority, his declarations are but summaries from personal experience, not inherited wisdom or magical revelation. What he knows is always tentative--subject to revision or rejection in the light of new evidence or expanded experience. A pilgrim may speak about God, as he has thinks or has known Him, but never for God.
Reaching this milestone has two elements: abandoning omniscience, and embracing mystery. From giving up godly beliefs, a pilgrim proceeds to open his mind to the unknown. Instead of running from mystery, or obscuring it with assumed knowledge, he openly seeks it. He looks for things he does not know; he walks into their presence, and dares encounter the unknown, lovingly.
For instance, in meeting a plant he resists the temptation to judge it as good or bad, (e.g., a good flower or a bad weed). He also avoids the mind-closing effect of naming it as either a flower or a weed. Then, with an open mind, he proceeds to embrace its mystery. Without concluding anything, he risks responding in faith (looking, smelling, feeling, thinking) because he knows that he does not know what it is.
Perhaps the face of God will be revealed to him in this very mystery! He dare not conclude that it is beneath him, or that it has no value. By faith, he risks openness to this particular bit of reality. Though taller physically, he stands in spirit on a level plane. Opening his heart, he embraces this unknown one, delights in its beauty and communes in its mystery.
A serious pilgrim approaches people in a similar manner. Though he has certain information about humans in general and this person in particular, he never lets such knowledge obscure the greater mystery of what he does not know about anyone. Alertly he remains open to surprise, to the revelation of a previously hidden fact. Instead of obliterating human mystery by judgment ("He is bad," or, "She is good") or by assuming full information ("I know her; she's my wife"), a pilgrim, with his facts, also dares remain responsive to the vast human territory beyond his present certainty.
Openness to mystery does not mean that one avoids seeking facts. Information is necessary for effective coping. The pilgrim, however, does not confuse the two endeavors and use knowledge to escape mystery. When feasible he gathers information. Even so, his primary attention is focused on the unknown. Pragmatic fact-gathering, reason-looking, and future-predicting are assigned second-level importance.
For instance, in meeting a person, a pilgrim striving for this milestone places minor emphasis on such incidental information as "What is your name?," "Where are you from?," and "What do you do for a living?" Instead of pigeon-holing a person, major attention is given to encountering his mystery and responding to him as an unknown entity. His sight, sound, smell, and information becomes a spring-board to the delights of communion. Instead of "getting to know him" via facts only, a pilgrim, as his faith allows, enjoys the pleasure of each person's company and lovingly encounters his mystery.
WHAT TO DO
First a warning: Avoid the temptation to use this milestone event as an excuse for failure to gather relevant information for coping with your environment. Pursue facts, search for causes, analyze, draw temporal conclusions about pertinent matters as appropriate in your regular living. Embracing mystery is a separate endeavor not to be confused with, or substituted for, knowing what can be known; rather, it is a positive way of relating to what is beyond the current limits of all such knowledge. Gaining knowledge--the business of science and education, as well as everyday living--is certainly essential. But dealing productively with the unknown is even more important for a pilgrim.
Assuming that you accept the uncommon goal of embracing mystery, rather than the familiar course of figuring everything out, what can you do to reach it? One can manage with limited knowledge, but I believe the kingdom of God is denied to those who fail to embrace mystery. The challenge is not one or the other; it is both seeking knowledge and embracing mystery. Continue to search for facts, yet while you seek, be even diligent in looking for and loving mystery which indwells and surrounds all our information. Avoid both the trap of intellectual skepticism or ignorant spiritualism; instead, become an educated wonderer. Handle your knowledge humbly and tentatively, always alert to its limits and the greater mystery beyond.
Begin with Easter. The empty tomb is an excellent phenomenon for exploring your capacity to deal with mystery. The fact is, no simple explanation is available. To assume that God worked a miracle, though widely accepted through the ages, is to ignore countless logical problems. On the other hand, to accept the elaborate hoax schemes requires evading other historical evidence. No easy answer satisfactory to both scientists and religionists has yet appeared.
Thus, the empty tomb remains essentially unexplained. The question becomes: "What will you do with the event?" The challenge is to embrace its mystery without understanding it. Can you allow that some strange phenomenon occurred, that logical categorizing is now impossible, and at the same time allow that the event is relevant to you today? Can you avoid both the scientific trap of explaining it away (or disbelieving it happened) and the religious escape of "taking it on faith"? Can you boldly say "I do not understand," without shame, regret, or pride, and still remain intellectually open to the event, allow its mysterious reality, and be alert to its possible relevance in your current life? Such is the faith required of pilgrims.
Or consider the matter of life after death. Can you face such a mystery without succumbing to either belief or disbelief? Can you accept and love this unknown without explanation and avoid the temptation to either discount its possibility or to count on its reality? Apply the same principle to each of your religious beliefs. See if your faith will let you be open to their mysteries, allow that they may be true or untrue, and yet respond to the wonder of them.
Move to the present. If you find yourself able to accept the mystery of historical or eschatological events, consider current areas of the unknown. These may be more rewarding, yet even more demanding to encounter. Turn to the realm of nature as a first step. Look at any available plant, animal, or insect. Look for instance at a dog. Start with your available information--name, size, shape, life-span, and known attributes (eats, sleeps, barks, and sniffs). These you know. Then consider what you don't know. What does he think? Does he have a soul? Are you necessarily smarter than he is? Someone noted: "The next time you call your dog dumb, stop and think who he has working to support him." Might he be sensitive to sounds, scents, and many other things which you miss? Yet with all your knowing, can you allow a healthy amount of mystery to remain?
A child noted a white puff in the air and shouted, "Hey look! An angel feather!" But an adult immediately explained: "No, that is a dandelion seed." Could you observe such an event without taking sides? Allowing the adult's fact on a known, could you also face the mysterious possibility that the child might know something the adult does not? Might the child be giving expression to an even deeper truth? If the adult attempted to discredit the child, forcing his own explanation, could you with integrity step in to defend the child's position? Which is healthier--the adult's answer or the child's wonder? Could this be what Jesus had in mind when he warned that unless we become like little children we can never enter the Kingdom of God?
Proceed to people. If you achieve some measure of success in embracing the mysteries of nature, consider the greater human unknowns. Start with a stranger. Introduce yourself. Get acquainted in the traditional way of gathering scattered bits of information. Along with your limited facts, remain alert to the vaster realm of what you do not know about him. As soon as you feel safe enough, stop getting facts and begin allowing, accepting, embracing, and responding to his mystery. Let him remain essentially unknown to you. See if you can proceed to be in spiritual communion with a relatively unfamiliar person.
Try again with a complete stranger, perhaps on a plane or bus. This time avoid gathering even elementary information. Do not even ask his name. See if you can accept him as a totally mysterious person and proceed to respond with your emotions, mind, and voice.
Next, try with your friends and loved ones. Accepting your present storehouse of information and your likelihood of feeling, "Oh I already know him," proceed to face the larger possibility that perhaps you don't--not really. Maybe you have let limited facts obscure the larger mystery of the person. There is probably much more to him than you have realized. Even your best friend or spouse may have facets completely hidden to you.
If you can permit this possibility, proceed to relate to this person as though it were true. The next time you meet, look at him as though he might actually be a stranger. Listen for messages you may have missed before. Imagine feelings or thoughts never revealed to you. Open the door of your mind to surprises. Consider your loved one as a potential mystery with certain knowns but also with other unknown dimensions. Instead of trying to further figure him out or dig for more information, allow the possibility of the unknown and lovingly embrace his mystery.
How about yourself? Certainly you already know more about you than does anyone else. Probably you think you know yourself quite well. But can you allow, with your current self-knowledge, that many new personal vistas lie before you, that large portions of you are still unknown?
Furthermore, can you proceed to accept and embrace mysterious aspects of yourself? Making room for legitimate self-analysis, for understanding yourself better, can you also allow for acceptance without understanding. Can you allow thoughts you do not understand or emotions which do not currently make sense to you? Will your faith let you be surprised at yourself? If you discover yourself saying things in a conversation you haven't thought through before, can you go ahead talking, being surprised as you do? If you realize you are having unfamiliar feelings, can you proceed to embrace them?
The mysterious world does include you. This milestone event can never be fully reached until you embrace the mystery in yourself, as well as outside of you.
Finally, the greatest mystery is God. Might you also come to stand with this grandest unknown?
Risking Stringless Love
Beloved, let us love one another; for love springs from God, and he who loves is begotten of God and is coming to know . . . God. He who does not love has not become acquainted with God . . . for God is love. He who does not love abides in spiritual death.
(1 John 4:7-8, 3:14 Amp.)
Faith, hope, love abide . . . but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13 Amp.)
Love is the final challenge facing the pilgrim on the way to the kingdom of God in the here and now. Other milestones pale in proportion to this, the greatest of all. John was right: We cannot become acquainted with God except through love. Until then, our spirits are relatively dead. Experience confirms Paul also. Faith and hope do indeed abide; yet love is greater than either. In fact, love requires each.
Regrettably, the word love is commonly used for many other relationships which are unrelated to this milestone experience. Not everything called love is "the greatest." In fact, certain so-called loves are less than least. Many of these imposters are socially acceptable and even popularly desirable. They sometimes look like the real thing; only later are their true colors revealed.
Our use of the word love consequently must be clarified. To assist in this clarification, I use two modifiers--risking and stringless. In contrast to the popular variety of love, which people fall into, this milestone is stringless love, involving great risks. It is a spiritual event--an experience to be engaged in--rather than some thing one can get and have.
Although the name love is a noun and sounds like an object capable of possession, this is a fallacy of language. More properly, the love of which we speak belongs in the category of verbs. Love is something we do, rather than get or fall in. Technically, we should speak only of loving--an on-going event. There is no such thing as love; there is only the potential experience of loving.
Loving is also to be distinguished from any particular activity, thought, or feeling. To identify love with doing something is not to imply that it is only a way of acting. Deeds will likely reflect the inward spiritual event, yet there is no such thing as an inherently loving deed. An act which is loving at one time with a particular person may be destructive later or with someone else.
Neither is love a way of thinking. Popular notions of love often identify it with a certain mental attitude, such as, thinking positively about another person. Those with this understanding confuse ideas with events. They say they "have love for" someone, meaning only that they think positively about the person. If they have negative thoughts, they may conclude, "I don't love him anymore." As considered in this milestone, real love does, of course, reflect in thinking; yet it is not to be identified with any particular mental stance. Even thoughts of leaving a loved one may sometimes emerge from love.
Nor is this "greatest of these" kind of love a certain feeling. Perhaps the most popular understanding is that love is feeling a particular way about a person, such as, feeling intensely attracted to or unable to do without. The love to be achieved in this milestone is far more than any emotional response. Certainly emotions are involved; yet none can be inevitably identified as love itself. Even a feeling of hate may at times emerge in loving.
To summarize: This unique type of love is much more than an act, a way of thinking, a feeling, or any combination of the three. It is a spiritual event involving the whole person. The happening is characterized by an openness of senses, heart, and head. One is alert to sights, sounds, and smells; he is emotionally responsive and has an open mind. He stands as a separate, independent, person who is--as a result of the noted conditions--both response-able and responsible. He is in tune with himself and his surroundings and is involved in a caring way. Both things and people matter to him.
The opposite of this spiritual activity is not hate as commonly presumed, but indifference or negation. To be unloving is to be closed--that is, to be insensitive, as well as mentally and emotionally unresponsive. When one is unloving, things do not matter. An unloved person is zero, or nothing. It is as though he does not exist; his welfare has ceased to matter.
Though necessary, responsible caring is not the only crucial issue in this milestone. The modifier stringless has been added to imply a necessary element of detachment. The event is more than concern. Commonly, we care about our possessions, both inanimate, animal, and human. We easily care for what we have, especially if it loves us in return. Children care for their pets; parents care for their children. Spouses matter to each other. Salesmen care for their customers, doctors their patients, and friends their friends. Anyone can be concerned about an aging, rich uncle or a devoted spouse or dog. But as Jesus said, "If you love those who love you, what reward can you have? Do not even the tax collectors do that?" (Matthew 5:46 Amp.)
The point is: Loving in return or caring with strings attached is not to be confused with this milestone event. Though caring is common to both, the two are often spiritual miles apart. Almost everyone cares for friends but hardly anyone loves enemies. Jesus emphasized this crucial distinction with the uncommon call, "But I tell you, love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44 Amp.). The love that counts goes beyond attachment. Even separation or persecution lose their power to destroy this milestone kind of love.
Stringless love is love without ownership, expectation, or reward. It is caring for what you don't have, loving those who are not yours. Most folks care for their own dogs; this is loving stray dogs. Most parents care for their own children; what I am speaking of is loving a neighbor's kids. Loving one's spouse is the smart thing to do considering the potential rewards; this other kind of love is loving those with nothing to give, caring when it is not to your advantage, and letting those who do not matter, matter to you. Most persons love, in some measure, their own kind; this milestone is concern for those who are different--those of other races and religions.
Some have reduced the demands of Jesus' call by interpreting him to imply a dichotomy--that we should love others rather than ourselves. These persons would make loving enemies a virtue but self-love a sin. In spite of the personal divisions and split-logic required by this notion, still it is easier than stringless love. Jesus' point, I think, was not defining the right ones to love, but illustrating the extreme demands of Christian love. He says in essence, "Go all the way. Anyone can love friends who love in return; but you must be big enough to love without expectations, such as, those who hate you."
The strings of possession are often unconscious and, hence, invisible to those who own others in this emotional sense. Possession and resulting dependency are more evident in practice. When the strings are there, the pronoun in my friend (sweetheart, wife, child, parent, or self) is far more than grammatical. In a deep emotional sense, we truly perceive them as ours. They belong to us. We count on them (have expectations). If they fail to behave as we desire, they have let us down.
The tenuous nature of these reciprocal love relationships is evidenced by the speedy flight of apparent concern when such a loved one "does you wrong." When a pet bites, a parent punishes, a child misbehaves, or a spouse fails to act according to our expectations, the shallowness of the love is usually revealed. As someone has stated, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," presumably by an unfaithful lover or husband she thought she had.
In reaching this milestone, the pilgrim must first free possessed loved ones (previously considered in Chapters 1-4), and, in turn, love with no strings attached. Parent pilgrims must release (in the spiritual sense) children of any age and see them as separate people for whom they have legal responsibility but not ownership rights.
Married pilgrims must get a mental divorce before they can responsibly love in freedom. Friends must break the bonds of friendship, either in having or being had, so they are free to be loving without possession. One who loves in this way claims no rights over anyone. A pilgrim chooses to love for the sake of the experience of loving, not because of any return from the loved one.
Such a courageous act naturally requires great faith, which suggests the second descriptive word, risking. One truly risks when he loves without strings. He takes a great chance. Maybe his love will go unnoticed! Or unreturned! Considering the inherent vulnerability in loving, he takes the chance of being laughed at or rejected. With possession, risk is reduced or eliminated. Previous experience with such a person has confirmed the safety. We know they will not hurt us or take advantage of us.
In fact, risk is often greater in not loving such a friend or loved one. Society expects us to love our children, spouse and friends. Social rejection is predictable when we obviously do not. No such outside forces support stringless love. Achieving this milestone is consequently a perpetually risky act of faith. Those requiring safety, security, and certainty cannot attain this milestone.
What is stringless love like in particular circumstances? How does it differ from common varieties of love? A pilgrim reaching for this highest goal will be learning to love his family and friends without expectations. Prescribed behavior will not be required to merit his care.
Such a lover will view a mate, for example, as "the woman to whom I am married," but not as "my wife." He will independently encounter her in loving ways, respecting her continual right to be herself, go her own way, and even to be unloving toward him. He will see his children as separate people who happen to reside in his house, but who have their own lives to live. He will carefully avoid projecting his expectations on them, choosing rather to love them as they find themselves and their own way. Nor will he cloak overt rejection with the idea of love by thinking, "Oh, I love my wife and children," while relating to them in unloving ways.
Friends will be loved as separate persons, because the pilgrim chooses to love, rather than because people are friendly first or in return. Even the rejecting behavior of friends will not interfere with his loving response to them. Since he has no expectations of them and no dependency on them, they cannot disappoint him or let him down. He loves them regardless of their actions.
Romantic involvements will also occur without attachment. While others fall in love and lose themselves as separate persons, pilgrims may be in love, yet remain responsibly independent individuals. They never get or have sweethearts or lovers. Their intimate involvement is always without possession.
As they do not have another, neither are they had by any one. No other human possesses a pilgrim. Belonging only to God, he will appear to be "his own man." He may dance with another, but always to his own music. He stands on his own feet no matter how close he may be to another. If a lover or loved one leaves him (runs away, goes crazy, or dies), he will naturally grieve for a time in their absence, but his existence will not be diminished by their loss.
By his faith, a pilgrim also dares to personalize strangers. He risks loving those he does not yet know. For instance, he meets the milkman, service station attendant, waitress, and clerk, in an open and responsive manner. Without trying to capture them as his friends, he grants each one full rights as a respected person. Contrary to the usual non-pilgrim, he does not look down on or see through those with less social rank, education, or wealth.
Nor does he look up to those who appear to be above him. Lack of information or familiarity is never an excuse for failure to love. Persons may be strange to a pilgrim, but they are never viewed or treated as strangers where his love is concerned. All people matter to him. He is a friend to mankind.
Even those who oppose him--in politics, religion, philosophy, or life style (his "enemies")--are loved. Differences of belief and behavior, reflected in open opposition, may be used by others as justification for rejection. This is not so for a pilgrim. His manner is never dictated by the hate, condemnation, or attack of others. Even if practicality requires self-defense or open opposition, objective warring does not interfere with his love. As Jesus said, he literally loves his enemies also.
WHAT TO DO
If you accept stringless love as a goal, what can you do in striving for this final milestone? First, look at yourself; consider the present level of your loving. Many persons restrict their love to only the most protected of circumstances. They love only those who love them first and only so long as they are out-loved by the other. Carefully they monitor each relationship, keeping every expression of love balanced with what is received in return. Their romantic love, for example, is always a dependency relationship; they systematically ignore strangers and simply react to enemies. Hate is balanced with hate, and attack is balanced with defense or counterattack.
How about you? Who, if anyone, do you now love in an unqualified way? Who gets your care and affection without expectations? Have you freed your friends and loved ones in order to allow for stringless love? Attempt an objective evaluation of where you now stand in regard to stringless love. What are your major areas for work in this respect?
Begin taking the initiative. Instead of waiting for someone to love you first, proceed to be loving regardless. Try the wings of your faith. See if you can take the chance of responding openly without strings. Perhaps you can practice best with a stranger. Without asking his name or gathering other personal data, try to accept him as a person who matters. Verbally reveal yourself and respond to whatever is presented. Attempt to understand without trying to be understood. When you part, go without attachment. Say, "Goodby," instead of, "See you later."
With your loved ones, stop requiring balance in loving. No more "tit for tat" or taking your cues for who you are to be from how they are. Risk understanding even when they do not understand; accept even when you are rejected. Abandon all score-keeping. Never mind "whose turn it is." Find your fulfillment in loving, rather than in getting love. Ignore the first line of the song which says, "You're nobody 'till somebody loves you." Follow the second: "Find yourself somebody to love."
Avoid possession. While relating lovingly, remain alert to the temptation to own. Physical slavery is now against the law; regrettably, no legislation is possible in the realm of spirit. Yet spiritual slavery is by far the worst of the two. I think it is better to be owned in body than in spirit. Even so, having someone remains socially acceptable. If you would reach this milestone, resist any such temptation. Often others will sell their souls cheaply; do not buy. Even if invited to take someone for nothing, decline the invitation.
Nor should you fall in love (sell your spiritual birthright). Never give your heart into the keeping of any other person, place, animal, or thing. Be responsibly intimate as you choose; stand as close as your faith allows; yet continue to stand. Love without falling in. Don't give the key to your mind to any person--such that you necessarily tell all you are thinking, or irresponsibly answer every question.
Keep your emotions as your own also. Share as you choose, yet never compulsively. Always require and respect your rights to privacy of body as well as of heart and mind. At any time be able to remain apart or go away alone. Grant privileged access if you choose, but never the inherent right to immediate access to what you think, feel, or do.
Don't confuse making love with being loving. Regrettably, the term making love has become synonymous with having sexual intercourse. Do not be deceived by the terminology. Loving may be expressed in making love yet any identification is purely coincidental. Often making love is an excuse for failing to love. The true course of love may mean refusing to have intercourse. In either case, keep your attention on the larger issue of being loving. Carefully choose your times for having sex, considering both your love and other practical matters.
Love daily. Many are loving on special occasions or in unusual circumstances (on birthdays or with moonlight and roses). A pilgrim's challenge is to love daily (on Mondays and with daylight and dishes). Family members are commonly ignored during the ordinary course of living together. They are taken for granted, neither seen nor heard. Shared roofs, meals, and beds do not guarantee shared selves. Spouses may systematically ignore one another. Many parents never listen to their own children. Bosses are commonly more attentive to secretaries than to wives; wives are often more alert to strangers than to husbands.
Pilgrims change this. They love daily in the midst of the mundane. For them every day is a special day for loving. They do not wait until Christmas to give gifts of themselves to their families. Nor do they wait for romances to be romantic. Daily encounters invite romantic responses to those they meet. Special people with unique bodily attributes are not required. Neighbors, laundry ladies, delivery men, co-workers each merit the gift of that special look.
Even strangers and enemies encountered in the daily pilgrimages share the love of pilgrims. To meet a pilgrim is to meet a loving one. With the utmost faith, he loves indiscriminately. Certainly this includes himself. Whereas many non-pilgrims are nice to everyone else but are their own worst enemies, this one, striving for the kingdom, accepts and loves himself as he does all others. John said, "We know that we have passed over out of the death into the Life by the fact that we love . . . " (John 3:14 Amp.).
The pilgrim, who by his own faith reaches this final milestone, experientially affirms this ancient message. In attaining the "greatest of these"--stringless love--he reaches the kingdom of God in the here and now.
He looked round about on them with anger. (Mark 3:5)
Jesus was an emotional man. Although this aspect of his humanity is often overlooked, the Bible reveals him as one who felt deeply in his life involvements. Twenty-four accounts evidence the range of his feelings. From anger to compassion, his emotions seem to run the gamut of those common to us all. "He sighed deeply in his spirit" (Mark 12:8). He was "grieved at the hardening of their hearts" (Mark 3:5). "When he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them" (Matthew 9:36).
Nor were his emotions all positive. "He groaned in the spirit and was troubled" (John 11:34). "He was moved with indignation" (Mark 10:14). Even as a grown man, "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). He cried out, "Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say?" (John 12:27). "And being in agony . . . his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground" (Luke 22:44). He knew the fear and terror of feeling deserted: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34).
His tenderness with children--"He took them in his arms and blessed them" (Mark 10:16)--sometimes gave way to consternation and name calling with unheeding adults--"Ye serpents." "Son of a female dog" was not a popular expression in his time, but he did not hesitate to call the Pharisees "offspring of vipers" (Matthew 23:33). Upset at a barren fig tree, he cursed it as we might: "Let there be no fruit from thee henceforth forever" (Matthew 21:19). Yet he also implored his followers to love each other "as I have loved you" (John 13:34).
Anger, compassion, indignation, frustration, sorrow, grief, tears, fear, tenderness, and love--Jesus was certainly an emotional person.
So too are pilgrims seeking God's kingdom in the here and now. Following the example of Jesus, they develop the full range of their emotional capacities. Learning to feel is a primary stepping-stone on the path of the strait and narrow. The art of being emotional--of willingly and responsibly entertaining the surges of fear and anger, tenderness and desire, sadness and joy, jealousy and love--is developed to its maximum.
This primitive human capacity which is commonly repressed or curtailed is reactivated and honored. Instead of judging emotions as good and bad and then playing the futile game of trying to have only the positive ones, a pilgrim recognizes all feelings as an aspect of his God-given potential. Rather than trying to be cool or unemotional, as is popular in our society, he takes the more difficult course of learning to feel his feelings and yet act responsibly. Recognizing emotions as a potential blessing rather than a shameful curse, he sets forth to experience and utilize them as a stepping-stone toward the kingdom of God.
He learns, for example, to experience his natural anger alertly, without suppressing it from his conscious mind or dissipating it in overt actions. He learns to cry without shame. Knowing the potential hurt, he risks tenderness and love, yet remains aware that even pain can be redemptive. He chances feeling attracted or repelled, hostile or forgiving, fearful or sad, excited or lonely--whatever the immediate situation evokes.
No human emotion is foreign or unacceptable to a pilgrim who utilizes this stepping-stone. He develops his ability to experience fully every feeling and yet to remain an emotionally contained person. Contrary to the common conclusion (often unconscious) that "my feelings are bigger than I am and must be denied lest they embarrass, overwhelm, or make me act foolishly," a pilgrim learns that he, in fact, has his feelings instead of his feelings having him.
Consequently, he learns to feel continuously in each and every life situation. His emotions become an invaluable aid on the path to each of the larger milestones. The pilgrim who has learned to use this stepping-stone goes about daily activities with his feelings turned on. He is an emotional person at all times. Even when circumstances require concealment or when responsibility necessitates acting contrarily, still he feels. Contained emotionalism with appropriate expression is his way of life.
Effective use of this basic stepping-stone may be considered in two parts: understanding and practice. First, consider understanding. Your ideas and attitudes will be significant as you move into the practical development of daily feeling. What are feelings? How do they work? What causes them? An emotion or feeling is a response to external stimuli (such as, sights or sounds), or to internal stimuli (such as, thoughts, memories or an aching stomach).Whereas conscious thoughts are an activity of the cerebral cortex or upper brain, feelings are a response of deeper portions of the brain.
Perceived emotions normally correspond with specific physiological states. As we perceive them, these physical conditions named feelings may generally be labeled positive and negative. Positive emotions are names for various states of openness and attraction. Negative emotions name feelings related to aversion or repulsion. Negative feelings are feelings of dislike, positive, of like.
Degrees of liking may vary from intense attraction--a deep feeling of being magically drawn toward--to mild interest or casual curiosity. The physiological condition is characterized by openness. Names given to the states of liking include: pleasure, affection, attraction, love, desire, tenderness, compassion, sympathy, interest, curiosity, and fascination. Conscious perception usually includes sensations of warmth, with an overall sense of peace, wholeness, happiness, participation, well-being, and self-extension. Accompanying thoughts are often of possessing or encountering the stimulating object or person. In such a state, a person might start his expressions with: "I like . . ." "I feel drawn to . . ." "I am interested in . . ." "He (she) turns me on."
Positive emotions are often expressed in terms of compliments about the stimulating object. If one feels warmth in response to another person, he may say, "She is beautiful." If the colors of a sunset evoke a positive emotion, a person may say, "What a lovely sunset." Plus feelings arise when one perceives stimuli acceptable for incorporation or encounter. They are the body's way of preparing to take-in or extend itself in meeting.
Negative emotions also come in varying degrees ranging from mild dislike to intense hatred. Tightness (constriction) characterizes the physiological conditions. Musculature is stiffened, heart action is accelerated, blood pressure is increased, peripheral blood vessels and pupils of the eye are constricted, salivary glands are inhibited, and in general, the body is prepared for negative response to the stimuli. These internal conditions may be perceived as: pounding heart, hard breathing, butterflies in the stomach, beady eyes, clammy hands, pressure on the bladder, loss of skin color (due to constricted blood flow), sweating, stiff neck, or tension in various parts of the body.
Negative emotions arise when one receives stimuli discerned as threatening. They are the body's way of preparing to cope with a perceived threat (fight or flight). Fear and anger are the primary negative emotions which assist this coping capacity. Anger represents the body's best preparation for instinctive coping. Muscles are hardened for action; blood pressure and breathing are increased for extra energy; sweat glands are stimulated for cooling power. Internal activities, such as digestion, are stopped, so that energies can be directed externally. The body is readied to do something about a threatening situation.
Sometimes, however, preparation is overdone and fear is the result. Muscles may be so hardened as to become stiff and inoperative. The overly constricted body gets too cold instead of becoming extra warm as it does in anger. Breathing becomes too labored and one may faint. Excessive bladder pressure may lead to involuntary urination. Excessive sweating drains fluid, rather than merely cooling. Whereas anger mobilizes the body for action, fear tends to immobilize one.
All other negative emotions are degrees or outgrowths of these two basic feelings. Common names include hostility, rage, pain, jealousy, hatred, disgust, dislike, resentment, hurt, and grief. Negative emotions may be expressed personally as, "I can't stand . . ." "I am upset." "I am mad at . . ." "I am afraid." "I am bothered by . . ." Or they may be voiced in disparaging remarks about the threatening stimuli. "He is ugly." "Those people are bad." "The weather is terrible." "She is a bitch."
While thoughts are more subject to conscious selection, feelings are given rather than chosen. They come to us (arise within); their on/off and selection buttons usually exist below the level of conscious thought. Feelings are the natural product of assimilated past experience, not rational thought. We feel what we have learned to feel rather than what we decide to feel.
One may use his conscious mind in dealing with feelings but not in selecting them. He may decide what to do about a certain emotion but not which emotion to have. As someone has expressed it, "You can't help how you feel." You cannot decide, for example, what will make you mad or who you will like. Either you get angry or you do not; you like a person or you don't. Sometimes one is angered with no good reason, and dislikes a person he should love. With practice one may learn to rule-out awareness of feelings, but he cannot decide what and when he will feel. Whether we remain alert or push our emotions into the unconscious, our emotions themselves are given.
EMOTIONS AND SIN
I believe all emotions are morally neutral. I find no biblical evidence for concluding that any feeling is innately right or wrong. No emotion within the scope of the human capacity is either good or bad, virtuous or sinful, within itself. Good and evil may be revealed in what one does with his feelings, but not in the feelings themselves. One may respond to any feeling in either a virtuous or sinful way, but in either case, emotions do not fall in the same dimension as sin. One may have feelings about sin, but no feeling is sinful in itself. Or one may have feelings about virtue, but there is no such thing as a virtuous feeling.
All feelings, positive and negative, are a part of the human capacity. No person can be fully human, and thereby know God, without embracing the entire range of his emotional capacity. Unfortunately, many have learned to feel a false sense of guilt about certain emotions. Because emotions generate power which can, in turn, lead to either helpful or destructive actions, each family develops procedures for controlling emotional expression.
One of the most common devices is judgment. Emotions which may lead to helpful actions are often judged to be good. For instance, sympathy, which may result in kind responses, is commonly judged to be a good feeling. Anger, on the other hand, can lead to destructive acts, and often it is judged as bad. Once this device (judgment) is employed in a family, one parental message becomes, "It is good to feel sympathetic and bad to get angry." If the child accepts these judgments, he then attempts to feel the good feelings and not the bad ones.
This procedure is useful in the management of behavior. Sympathetic children do get along better. If they never act angry, they are less likely to destroy the property or
harm one another. Regrettably, such judgments tend to be incorporated into the unconscious mind (often, called conscience), and thus become the source of feelings of
false guilt. One then feels guilty when he does not have emotions he is supposed to have, or when he has any of the bad feelings.
The point is recognizing that emotions are not inherently virtuous or evil. Until one learns that it is okay to feel whatever he naturally feels, he will have difficulty in confronting learned guilt or in facing his true emotions. Furthermore, trying to feel so-called good feelings places one in a double-bind, since emotions are given rather than chosen. Such efforts may result in a dishonest display but not a virtuous response.
WHAT TO DO WITH EMOTIONS
In responding to emotional capacities, every person has three choices. He can act them out, rule them out, or live them out. Acting-out is probably the most widely used response. It consists of dissipating a feeling through immediate translation into some action. Fear may be acted-out by running away. Anger can be dispelled by slamming doors, having a tantrum, or fighting--either physically or verbally. Warm feelings may be dissolved in sexual activity. Admiration may be dissipated in efforts to possess.
In this response the procedure is to sense a feeling, and to immediately do something about it. Strength or power generated by the emotion is immediately drained from the body by an expression or activity. If one gets mad at a child he may punish him or "tell him off." If one feels attracted to a particular person he may attempt to seduce or win the favor of the stimulating person.
A newspaper recently reported on a man who came home and found that his supper was not ready. He got angry, ordered his wife out of the house, and when she did not go fast enough to suit him, he got out a revolver and started shooting. He missed and was further angered. Then he picked up a shotgun, and, holding the revolver in his left hand, blasted it to smithereens with the shotgun. He also blew three fingers off his left hand.
This is an example of acting-out one's anger. Just as actions can be directed toward other people, so the acting-out can be turned inward on the person who feels the emotions. Any form of hurting oneself, physically or spiritually, can be a way of dissipating energy generated by an emotion. Biting one's fingernails or lips, self-punishment (refusing to allow pleasure or continually judging oneself to be bad), and self-abuse (not caring for one's physical or mental health), are possible ways of acting out emotions on oneself. Suicide is often the final act of hostile emotions turned inward.
Ruling-out emotions is the second possible choice. In this course an individual simply refuses to feel. He tries not to be emotional. If he senses an emotion arising within, he suppresses it. He attempts to rule-out the feelings which come to him.
Common ways of accomplishing this suppression of emotional capacity include exaggerated focus on thinking or doing things. One may divert his mind to thinking of something else when he senses the possibility of becoming emotional. If he begins to feel angry, he may start thinking happy thoughts or figuring reasons why he should not feel angry. If he begins to feel attracted to a person (warm feelings), he may try not to think about the individual, or he may try to think of reasons to dislike and hence neutralize the positive feeling.
If he feels afraid, he may reason with himself: "Oh, there is probably no reason to be afraid." If he begins to feel emotional while viewing a movie or television drama, he may start thinking about the techniques of production, such as flaws in the camera angle or poor acting abilities. Analyzing, motive-probing, and explaining can be effective ways to use the mind to escape feelings.
Another way is to get busy doing something: clean the closets, take a cold shower, read a magazine, or go for a walk. An activity which tends to absorb one's interests
may allow avoidance of the emotion itself. Whistling in the dark may divert one from fear. Singing a happy song can cloak sadness of heart. Emotional-avoidance-work is often referred to as busy-work. The goal is not to accomplish some specific task but to use activity as an escape from being emotional.
A third possible response to emotions is to embrace the capacity and live-out the feelings. This means to be emotional: to exist as an emotional person, to feel the full force of the feelings without resorting to acting-out or ruling-out. This response could be called contained emotionalism. An emotion is allowed its fullest activation, yet the person remains a contained being. The emotion may be revealed in its natural physical expression--such as, tears, laughter, goose bumps, sweating, or shaking--but the person remains himself. At that moment he exists as someone who happens to be afraid, angry, affectionate, or sad, yet he is still a contained person in his own right. He is living-out his emotions rather than trying to avoid or escape them. He is a feeling person.
The person living-out his emotions will, of course, continue to think and take appropriate actions. His thoughts and deeds will not be an escape from his feelings, however; they will be the responsible results of his being a feeling person. Emotions contribute to the wealth of information available for thought and decision. They represent the sum of one's previous experience in present, similar situations. They reveal the total learning of the past, and this is needed information for any wise decision concerning what to do now. Such thought, which weighs the value of the emotional response, is not an escape from feeling.
Certainly an emotional person who is living-out feelings will also be involved in doing things. Considering the emotional information and the appropriate action to be taken, rational decisions will be made. If a child is cross and irritable at ten p.m., a parent may feel anger at being interrupted in watching television; but he will recognize his own feelings, weigh them with other information--such as, what time the child woke up that morning--and then take appropriate action.
Depending on the circumstances, this might involve ignoring the child and continuing to watch television, inviting the child to sit in his lap, or sending him to bed. In any case the action would be the result of responsible decision using all evidence at hand, including the emotional information, rather than a way of avoiding feeling. The parent would feel and contain his emotion, decide, and act responsibly, rather than escaping his emotion by taking it out on the child or suppressing it within himself.
All actions of a pilgrim who chooses to live-out his feelings will be decided in the above manner. He will act when it is appropriate to the occasion, but he will never do something to avoid the risk of being emotional.
These then are three choices: to act-out emotions, either on others or oneself; to rule-out emotions, suppressing them from awareness; or to live-out emotions, feeling their full intensity and choosing to act responsibly. Which is the appropriate choice? What should one do with this emotional capacity? Obviously, the third choice, living-out emotions, is the ideal. If one is to be a pilgrim, he will become diligently involved in embracing his capacity to be fully emotional. No person can become himself, until he has accepted his ability to be an emotional person and yet act responsibly.
In the process of achieving this goal, however, one should recognize his current condition and take steps which are presently appropriate. While some have learned well how to act-out emotions, others have become professional at ruling-out. Any change in these long-standing patterns is apt to be difficult and to provoke other threatening emotions. Thus, any change should be undertaken with great care. One who has a history of acting-out emotions may use the controlling device of suppression as an aid in learning how not to do something with every feeling. Another person who has always suppressed emotions may sometimes act-out his feelings in his process of learning containment. The point is, any attempt to change to choice three should take into account one's current habits. Options one and two may each be appropriate under certain circumstances. Breaking a dish or slamming the door may be appropriate for one who has always swallowed anger. On the other hand, biting his tongue and remaining silent may be in order for a long-term tyrant.
As he is able, however, a pilgrim will make the third choice--living-out emotions--in each situation. Without doing anything or trying to stop the feeling, he will let it emerge wholly into consciousness and allow the full scope of each feeling to move within him. Whether the feeling is positive or negative, it will be entertained with equal respect. No feeling will be judged because of what it is.
The first step is learning to feel each emotion, to allow its existence in the light of awareness, to tolerate its full reality in the present situation. Many have avoided being emotional for so long, by acting-out or ruling-out, that they suspect their feelings are larger than they are. It is as though the emotion were a terrible monster which must be driven out immediately, or else kept under lock and key, lest it turn and consume the person. The fact that in reality a person is larger than his feelings remains an unknown truth to him.
If you are such a person, perhaps in early encounters with a particular emotion you were threatened and had bad experiences. You may have concluded that the emotion is more powerful than you are, and hence established a pattern of avoidance or dissipation. Whatever the reason, if you still function as though you are inadequate to experience your own emotions in a responsible way, you will need to change.
First you must discover if the early experience continues to be valid. Granted that grief was perceived as overwhelming at some point in the past, the present question is, does it remain so? Granted that anger led to trouble in early life, does it now exist as an all-powerful enemy? Are tender feelings really such monsters that they must be avoided at all costs? Are tears as bad as you suspect?
One who has a pattern of either acting-out or ruling-out is usually unable to answer these questions. If you have always escaped the full weight of a particular feeling by some activity, you will not know if the emotion is stronger than you are. If you have always escaped tender feelings, for instance, by relieving them in sexual activity, you will not know if you can stand being responsibly tender.
Your spouse's tears may be extremely threatening if you have not embraced your capacity for being emotional in this way. On the other hand, you may have learned to avoid the full weight of your own feelings through the immediate release of tears. Crying can also become an escape from feeling emotions which precede tears. In this case, one is left uncertain of his ability to contain feelings of joy, sorrow, or tenderness which give rise to tears.
Although ruling-out an emotion gives the illusion of control, results of such suppression are actually the opposite. As previously stated, emotions are given. They happen naturally. Emotional responses are neither chosen or denied by the rational mind of the person. Although you may think you are ruling-out the feeling, in fact, you merely remove yourself from the awareness of the feeling. In effect, you rule yourself out or away from the feelings and only think that you have ruled the feeling out.
It is as though you were driving a wagon (your life), and a fox (a feeling) appears in the wagon with you. If you are threatened by the fox you may thrust him under a blanket. Then a cat (another feeling) comes, followed by a dog, a ghost, and a bird. Each in turn may be thrust under the blanket. As the driver, you may then think you have ruled-out each creature, when you have only elevated yourself out of the driver's seat and are left riding atop all the creatures which you have thrust under the blanket. Forever afterward most of your attention must go to carefully keeping each lively feeling under the blanket; only whatever energies remain can be given to directing the wagon. Hoping to avoid the creatures by ruling them out, you have only succeeded in thrusting yourself further from the driver's seat of your life.
So it is when one attempts to eliminate risks of feeling by the device of suppression. The emotions do not actually go away. Left unattended in the dark of the unconscious, they end up controlling the life of one who wished it otherwise.
Thus the first step in learning to be emotional will involve, for some, unlearning the old lesson that one's emotions are larger and more powerful than the person who experiences them. This will involve ceasing to act-out or rule-out any emotion and learning to feel the full intensity of all feelings without taking particular action. This may mean burning with passion, seething with anger, shaking with fear, or melting with delight. Whatever the feeling, the pilgrim will first learn that he can endure the complete physiological state without resorting to any form of escape. He will learn to simply be emotional.
To illustrate this process, two emotions will be considered in greater detail. The first is the general feeling of affection which includes various gradations called warmth, tenderness, attraction, sexiness, and desire. The physiology of attraction includes bodily openness. The peripheral blood vessels open, allowing the blood to flow freely, leading to good skin color, flushing or even blushing, and an overall sensation of warmth. The pupils of the eyes dilate. Erogenous zones of the body tend to fill with blood and expand. This may be perceived as heat or tingling in the pelvic area, breasts, or around the mouth.
The heart muscle also tends to relax and expand, giving a sensation of bigness or swelling in the chest. If one feels threatened by these bodily changes, he may constrict his chest cavity causing his heart to beat faster and his breathing to speed up.
According to one's previous training and experience, any type of stimuli may serve to arouse the emotion of affection--scenery, food, people, situations, sounds, smells, touches, thought, or inner body sensations. Although attention is usually focused on the source of the stimulus, the essential issue in being emotional is accepting the bodily condition without being threatened or overwhelmed. In order to be responsibly affectionate, one must learn to tolerate the full range of bodily changes associated with
this emotion. He must learn that all the conditions described above are normal, natural, and tolerable.
Acting-out and ruling-out are familiar escapes from containing the emotion of affection. Three common forms of acting-out are falling in love, possessing the stimulating object, and engaging in sexual activity. Falling in love relieves one of containing affection by giving control to the emotion. The feeling is granted possession of the person. One literally falls in the emotion and thereby escapes being a responsible person who happens to feel affectionate.
A second way of acting-out the feeling is by gaining possession of that which arouses it. Energies generated by the emotion are dissipated in getting and controlling that which stimulates it, rather than in containing the emotion itself. The feeling is projected onto the object of the affection and controlled externally.
If the stimulus is an object, such as a painting, it may be purchased. If one has a passion for art he may relieve it by becoming a collector of the art objects. If the stimulus is a person, he or she may be won as a friend, lover, or spouse. The projected feeling is then controlled externally since the energy of the emotion is given to managing the person. If the stimulus is some bit of scenery, such as a sunset, it may be captured in a picture or painted on a canvas if the affectionate person happens to be a photographer or an artist.
Another escape is to dissipate the feeling in intercourse, making love, as it is commonly called. By the nature of its function, orgasm partially drains energies created by the emotion of affection. Thus one may relieve himself of the pressure of being tender by masturbation or intercourse. Many sexual affairs include no love whatever, since they are unconsciously intended to help an individual escape feeling the emotion which is a basic aspect of being a loving person. That which might become an expression of deepest love is prematurely used to escape one of the emotions involved in loving.
Ruling-out affection may be accomplished by the device of suppression which is often accompanied by the use of judgment. The feeling itself may be judged wrong or sinful in particularly threatening circumstances. For example, affection for one's spouse may be judged virtuous, while affection for one's neighbor is classified as evil. This judgment may thereafter be used as an aid in suppressing the feeling. If one concludes that everlasting punishment or hell-fire will result from misplaced affections, he is understandably reluctant to experience such emotions consciously.
Unfortunately, ruling-out affectionate feelings from one's awareness only serves to exaggerate the emotion and often leaves the person victimized by his own feeling rather than the master of it. Persons using this device may find that by suppressing an emotion in certain circumstances they also become unable to feel the emotion even where they think it acceptable. One who rules out affection for his neighbor's wife, for instance, may find himself losing affectionate feelings for his own wife also. Those who practice this procedure over long periods of time may become unable to risk being warm and tender under any circumstances. Complete loss of affection and sexual frigidity or impotence may be the end result.
One who is a concerned pilgrim will avoid either acting-out or ruling-out affectionate feelings. He will allow himself to feel warm, tender, and affectionate whenever the feelings occur within him. His focus will be on learning to be affectionate--that is, to feel the feeling in a contained way at any time, place, or with any person. He will learn to be an affectionate person whenever the emotion arises.
These three options can be illustrated with a second example: feeling anger. This emotion appears naturally whenever one finds himself in circumstances perceived as frustrating, threatening, or dangerous. Anger is a normal, healthy feeling which prepares the body to take appropriate action. Without this natural emotion man would be seriously limited in managing life.
Energies generated by the emotion of anger can also, however, be used in destructive rather than helpful ways. An angry human is a powerful force. A pilgrim will learn to contain his anger and utilize the strength generated thereby in productive rather than destructive ways. He will, as Paul wrote in the Bible, learn to "be angry and sin not" (Ephesians 4:26). He may, as Jesus did, look toward others with anger on certain occasions (Mark 3:5), but he will still act responsibly.
Contained anger is, however, a demanding experience. Many have never learned to seethe with rage or burn with anger, without acting irresponsibly. They quickly escape the feeling by either acting it out or ruling it out. In acting-out anger, one seeks to hurt or destroy the provoking object or person, turns the feeling on himself and vents his rage on his own person, or else throws a temper tantrum in an attempt to dissipate the energy into the atmosphere.
Acting-out on the frustrating object may be done by either physical destruction (kicking the chair on which one stumbled, or killing the offending person), or spiritual destruction. The devices used in the latter activity include the hard or murderous look, "cutting the other person down" with words (name-calling, criticism, or argument), or "killing him with kindness."
When the offending object or person is inaccessible to attack (as one's boss), the feeling may be displaced and acted-out on safer objects. If the husband is angered at his boss, he may hold the feeling and take it out on his wife ("Why isn't my supper ready?"). She may in turn direct her own anger onto the children ("Get those toys picked up immediately!") who, in turn, kick the cat or forget to feed the hamster.
Devious ways of taking-out anger on one's self may include forms of self-denial, punishment, or self-destruction, both physical and spiritual. Refusing to allow personal pleasure is one of the more common ways. Certain biblical passages are often misquoted and used to support this device (such as making a virtue of self-destruction, as in the "martyr complex").
Ruling-out anger, the second form of escape, may be accomplished by mental suppression. The feelings are denied access to consciousness and often covered with pre-tended positive feelings. Many angry parents suppress natural anger toward their children by pretending excessive love which is then acted-out by over-indulgence. Denial of anger may be aided by the judgment, "It is wrong to get mad." Here again, the Bible is often misused in support of a personal judgment.
Contained anger is the goal of a pilgrim. He will be learning to experience the full force and power of this emotion without acting-out or ruling-out. Whenever the feeling arises, he will recognize it as the natural response of his body to situations perceived as threatening. He will be thankful for the information and preparation, yet he will use his rational mind in the decision concerning any particular action.
Often the feeling will stimulate thoughts of destruction. He may think about cutting the throat of one who provoked him. He may think of drowning the children. He may consider blowing up a frustrating object, shooting threatening people, or at least think of telling them "where to go." Whatever thought the mind chooses to express, the strength of the anger will be accepted as appropriate. With the feeling and its accompanying thoughts, a pilgrim will use his mind to choose a reasonable course of action. Often this will be to simply contain the emotion, to "be angry, but to sin not."
To summarize: each person is given the capacity to be emotional, to experience a wide range of feelings. Before one reaches the kingdom of God, he will embrace this capacity freely in his own life.
The second and most significant part of your work will be to practice. Understanding and a proper mental attitude are valuable, but they are no substitute for experience. Once you accept the premise that feelings are okay--even those society and religion often condemn--the next step is to learn to tolerate, contain, and act responsibly while feeling. If you have begun to think that you are larger than your feelings and, therefore, capable of having them (rather than being had by them), you must now find out if you are correct. Your theory must be confirmed in your personal experience.
Learning to fully embrace emotional capacities is, of course, a personal matter. Everyone is different. Most will already have learned to experience certain feelings and to reject others. Some are able to cry without shame; others to get angry without acting irresponsible, and still others to feel tenderness without embarrassment. The over-all extent of emotional development varies from person to person. Some feel deeply in many situations; others are cooly objective most of the time.
The first challenge is to honestly assess your current state of emotionalism. To what extent are you a feeling person now? Are you relatively objective most of the time? Which of your emotional capacities are best developed? Which least? Do you risk sympathy, but run from fear? Can you get angry openly? Are you afraid of tears? What are your strong and weak areas where the responsible activation of feelings is concerned? Perhaps you will need an objective viewpoint. Consider talking to a close friend about your emotions. See how their opinions compare with your own. Ask what they consider to be your strong and weak points.
After reaching tentative conclusions about your present state of emotional development, set forth on an extended period of practice. First, focus on your most obviously rejected emotional possibilities. Practice accepting and experiencing any feelings you have previously ruled out. For instance, if you have been afraid of anger, carefully explore getting mad. See if anger is as fearful as you have assumed. Look for occasions to experience your hostile feelings in relatively safe circumstances, such as, while taking a walk. Allow anger; learn to endure the emotion while acting responsibly.
If you have been afraid of tears, develop your capacity to tolerate others who cry. The next time you are around someone about to cry, allow them to do so without shaming them or cheering them up. Don't say, "You're too big to cry," or, "Things will be better later." See if you can openly endure their tears without even offering a Kleenex. When inclined to cry yourself, let go and cry. See if you can stand your own tears. If you seldom feel like crying, look for a chance to try. Attempt involvement, for example, in an emotional television drama. If you suspect you will be too embarrassed around others, go to a movie alone and see if you can let your tears flow.
Whatever your undeveloped emotions happen to be, look for occasions to experience each one. Practice feeling the emotion in all its given intensity. Find times for feeling fear, anger, grief, sadness, jealousy, tenderness, sympathy, excitement, hate, hurt, guilt, and love. Leave no emotional stone unturned in embracing the full range of your capacities.
Next, consider those feelings which have previously gotten you in trouble, particularly those you have acted-out rather than responsibly contained (lived-out). If you have indulged your fears in running away, your anger in tantrums, or your passion in indiscriminate sexual activity, begin to practice containment. For instance, the next time you are afraid, see if you can stand it. Look for occasions to explore fear and develop your tolerance for feeling it without escape. If you are afraid of the dark, try moving gradually into it to see if you can extend your tolerance. If you fear animals, try to approach one and contain your fear without running away.
If you have acted irresponsibly when excited, look for occasions to develop containment. For instance, try being around someone who excites you; allow yourself to feel your natural response, but do nothing about it. Stand there, feeling as much pleasure as you can, without dissipating your excitement in either words, actions, or thoughts. Whatever your threatening emotions happen to be, practice extending the boundaries of your current tolerance. Of course, you will use discretion and move at your own pace. Avoid getting overwhelmed by any feeling, yet seek to make friends with every stranger or enemy in your emotional faculty.
Finally, seek to deepen the overall degree of your present emotional involvement in life. Are you as emotional as you can be in daily activities? Have you learned to play it cool to the extent of your own detriment? Could you be more emotional if you were willing? In the course of your normal activities, seek regularly to use this valuable stepping-stone. Learn to feel in whatever you do. Abandon the practice of detachment as though it were a virtue. Get emotionally involved. In spite of the potential dangers of feeling, the cost of not feeling is even greater for the serious pilgrim. This basic human capacity can prove invaluable in reaching the consequential milestones. Learn to feel--whatever is given to you to feel--all the time.
Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much . . .
With approximately ten billion brain cells, everyone apparently engages in mental activity. Some, like Cassius, think too much--in the common sense of the word. They plot (use their minds to devise dangerous schemes) as did he, or more commonly, worry (compulsively recycle old thoughts). Sometimes they simply accept and entertain the ideas of others, and call that thinking. Organized religion is noted for those who vigorously uphold and defend the thoughts of others (called beliefs). They seem to think, yet not their own thoughts.
This stepping-stone, thinking, shares a common name with many other types of mental activity; yet it is distinctively different. As used here, thinking refers to a personal, immediate, and creative activation of the brain cells. It is a continuously new process for each individual. A pilgrim using this stepping-stone is thinking (active, ongoing), rather than simply having thoughts (passively rehearsing old ideas). The thoughts may not be new to the world, or even unfamiliar to the thinker, yet they are spontaneous at the time.
This productive type of creative thinking involves three elements: remembering (recalling the past), reasoning (weighing in the present), and imagining (projecting into the future). Most often it is a combination of the three, an easy movement from one to the other in which the distinctions seem to vanish. Always, the activity is presenttense--an immediate, creative endeavor.
Memory is the basic element in thinking. Brain capacity allows storage of past experiences--sights, sounds, smells, feelings, thoughts, and events--in some reservoir of the mind. The reception of any immediate stimulus, external or internal, may evoke a recollection from the past. For example, the sight of a cloud may remind one of a similar formation, a previous occasion of watching the clouds, a feeling from the past, a person, or even something apparently unrelated to clouds. In like manner an internal stimulus, such as a pain, may resurrect many previous experiences. Even an unfamiliar stimulus can unlock the doors of memory. In such a case, one might say, "I've never seen anything like it, but it makes me think of . . . "
Reasoning is the second element in thinking. Arising out of memory, this ability allows us to consider the relationship between two or more ideas, to weigh one against the other, to compare mental notes, to add things up, and to make sense out of them. Reason lets us be logical, or maintain a rational system of interconnecting ideas. Through reasoning we keep a consistent mental landscape made up of selected and named memories. One experience or idea is related to others in an attempt to synthesize divergent parts into a unified whole.
Suppose, for example, one sees an object in the sky. From memory he may recall numerous other flying objects. Reasoning is activated when he begins to compare and relate one memory to another: "It flies like a plane, but it has no wings. It moves like a bird, but it has no feathers." In this type of thinking one attempts to make sense of the strange object--to logically fit it into existing mental categories.
Reasoning is a trial and error process of affirming and doubting. ("Yes, it is; no, it isn't. It could be this; it might be that.") The goal is putting things together and reaching an agreeable conclusion. In education, such summaries are called learning. When one concludes through reasoning that something is logical or true, he is said to have learned it. This type of thinking is commonly called using your head.
Imagination is a third element in thinking. It goes beyond reason to put things together in new or unusual ways. Reason says what is; imagination says what might be or could have been. Also called fantasy, daydreaming, speculating, or wishing, this kind of thinking is not bound by laws of logic and reason or the limitations of space and
time. You can imagine anything! Facts of life need not interfere with flights of fantasy. With reason, one tries to figure out or understand the unfamiliar flying object; with imagination, he takes flight in it.
With this capacity man answers the questions: What would happen if . . . ? What might be . . . ? He makes things up, devises, invents, and dreams. Night dreams are a special function of the imagination. In them the mind activates its capacity for creative assimilation. Under cover of sleep, when the censorship of conscience is not so heavy, this ability may come alive. Memories and ideas are freely fitted and clothed in delightful symbols, without obedience to the confining bond of reason. Deep experiences are given mental form in this playful fantasy land of the imagination.
To summarize: This stepping-stone involves the use of one's capacity for original, present-tense thinking--responding to perceived reality in a creative, personal, mental way. Specifically, it may take the form of recalling events from the past (memory), adding up things in the present (reasoning), or fantasizing about what might be (imagining). Most often it is a smooth-flowing, indistinguishable combination of the three. Memories merge with fantasies and phase into logic in such an easy manner as to obscure the differences. Such thinking gives access to the greater milestone events. When a pilgrim thinks in this manner, he uses one of his God-given capacities for traversing the path toward communion with God.
Perhaps this primary skill--thinking--can be clarified by contrast with the common substitutes for it. Each of these familiar alternatives involves a degree of mental activity, yet is distinctively different from the thinking described here. Probably the most familiar alternative is repeating old thoughts. Instead of thinking--present tense--we may simply re-entertain previous ideas. The screen of the mind can be used to rerun old thoughts. Just as a Broadway play may be redone on the same stage for a two hundredth showing, so a once-original idea can be repeated innumerable times.
As someone has noted, twenty years of working at the same job does not necessarily mean twenty years of experience. It may only mean one year's experience repeated twenty times. In like manner, one thought experience can be repeated over a period of years. For example, a politician giving his ideas is not necessarily thinking. He may simply be repeating an old party line which he has held for years.
Private rehearsal of old ideas is sometimes called worrying. In this type of squirrel-cage mental activity, disturbing thoughts are periodically recycled. An idea keeps repeating itself. For example, the notion that "something bad is going to happen" may arise again and again. By our definition, it was thinking when it first arose, but each repeated re-introduction is only an alternative to further thought.
Repeating the thoughts of others is a second familiar substitute. Instead of doing their own thinking, some persons simply entertain and express the ideas of other people. Through reading and listening, one can easily acquire a vast number of impersonal ideas. Thereafter, he may simply repeat these adopted notions. His conversation can be a mere rehearsal of a script acquired from a writer. Just as authors can plagiarize the works of others, so people can steal ideas, pretending they are their own.
Religion is a familiar arena for mental plagiarism. Commonly children believe as their parents did; they inherit certain religious ideas and simply repeat them for life. Their religious beliefs are all secondhand. For many people so-called believing is only a mental substitute for thinking. They accept the beliefs rather than use their own minds.
Political opinions can be equally unoriginal. Wherever there is a party platform, one may easily adopt the thinking of others as though it were his own. There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong in accepting the thoughts of others. The socialization process is based on this practice. The point here is only to distinguish the rehearsal of adopted thoughts from the original thinking required in this particular stepping-stone.
Rehearsing feelings can be a third substitute. Whereas being emotional is a primary stepping-stone, the continual mental focus on feelings can be an easy alternative to thinking. For example, one who is angry might devote all his mental energies to repeating the fact, "I am angry; I am angry," instead of allowing thoughts to come. The conversation of one using this substitute will be filled with reports on his emotional state: "I am mad." "I am feeling bad." "I am upset." Or, "I am unhappy," "I love you," etc. Although the first awareness of an emotional response and a possible expression of such an emotional fact is a legitimate thought, dwelling on feelings can easily replace the creative activity of thinking.
Focusing on sensations is another related substitute. Things seen, heard, or smelled--just as things felt--can be continually rehearsed as an alternative to thinking. One may register observations as though he were a camera. Instead of thinking, he might simply develop the mental pictures which his eyes record. In conversation such non-thinking often takes the form of weather reporting: "Looks like we're going to have a nice day." Such observations can be recorded in the mind or expressed in words with only a minimal degree of thought.
In like manner, one can entertain sounds or repeat what has been heard without thinking himself. Gossip is a common example. One simply tells what he has seen or heard. A lengthy gossip session may consist entirely of repeated sensations ("I saw . . . I heard . . . "), without any personal thinking by the conversants. With or without talk, the conscious noting of sensations and emotions provides a ready alternative to the serious business of creative thinking.
Judging is another common type of non-thinking. With this procedure one passes sentence on things, rather than thinking in response to them. Such judgments can be expressed in these ways: "This is good." "That is bad.""She is pretty." "He is ugly." In this procedure, the person mentally rises above each manifestation of reality and dispenses some type of judgment upon it. He categorizes things as good or evil (right or wrong, nice or ugly, proper or tacky, etc.), as though he were God. The judging procedure becomes his alternative to thinking.
Mind reading is a spin-off from judging. With this device, one uses his mental energy for imagining what other people are thinking, instead of engaging in his own thoughts. Pretending that he can read minds he projects his own ideas into the heads of others, then assumes that the notions come from them. For example, instead of realizing that he prefers to stay at home, he may project the notion and say, "I can tell that you don't want to go out." Although a minimal degree of imagination and observation is required for such mind reading, the procedure is essentially an alternative to personal thought.
Analyzing is another variation on the theme. Instead of thinking, one can continually engage in figuring things out. Self analysis, for example, can be an alternative to thinking as oneself. With this device an individual stands apart from himself and constantly observes what he does. He may be diagnosing his illnesses, probing his motives or judging his behavior. Reason-looking (asking why), though a potentially useful element in thinking, can be transformed into such a diversion. When one gets hung-up on getting and having answers, his procedure can become a type of non-thinking in a personal sense.
In addition to the substitutes, other procedures are often used to escape thinking. Suppression is the most familiar. The size and structure of the human brain allow for both consciousness and unconsciousness. With practice we can learn to push thoughts from awareness into the unconscious part of the mind. We use this escape from thinking by trying not to think--suppressing current ideas into the darkness of non-awareness.
When a threatening idea attempts to dance across the mental stage, we harsh directors can banish it to the wings of the mind. In effect, we say, "Get out of my awareness; I do not want to see you." For example, murderous thoughts are common victims of such banishment. If the idea of choking a crying baby ventures into awareness, a fearful mother may quickly suppress the notion. She might think, "Good mothers shouldn't think such thoughts." Sexual fantasies and painful memories are also familiar victims of suppression. One can often escape thinking by using this ability to ruleout thoughts.
Emotionalism is another familiar escape. Although feeling can be an invaluable stepping-stone in its own right, emotionalism may also be an easy escape from thinking. Since the emotional capacity is more primitive than conscious thought, it offers a ready escape when thinking becomes threatening. For example, the idea of killing a loved one may be avoided by escaping into fear. Crying can be an easy retreat from being reasonable. Jealousy affords an option to remembering. Hostility is simpler than thinking of the reasons why the frustration is disturbing. Being scared is obviously easier than being honest. Consequently every diligent pilgrim can expect to be tempted to emotionalism as an escape from thinking.
Acting-out is a third option. Combining emotions with actions a fearful pilgrim can evade the challenges of being reasonable by rushing to activity. "Do something and get your mind off it," "Get busy and quit thinking," "Take a cold shower and forget about her," are all familiar invitations to this escape. Instead of thinking about the sources of his anger, which a pilgrim would do, one can always flee to fighting. He can act-out his anger, rather than think about it. Facing sexual urges is often avoided by engaging in unconscious seduction procedures, or acting-out in overt sexual behavior. The threat of thinking iseasily evaded by the easier route of acting.
Talking--in the form of gossip, reporting, or asking questions--can also be used to avoid the rigors of thought. Instead of responding to and thinking aloud with a person, one may easily flee to the mere recitation of what he has seen and heard. Although talking requires a minimal degree of brain activity, one may go on automatic pilot and converse for hours without ever engaging his more-complex thinking capacities.
As a tap on the knee may initiate a jerking reaction of the leg without transmitting the signal to the brain, so one may translate observations from the eye to the mouth without a pause for reflection in the conscious mind. A gossipy report on what "Bill said to Sue and Sue did with John" can be given with hardly a thought. The familiar question-asking routine ("How are you?", etc.) can be learned and recited like a speech, engaging the thoughts of neither the asker nor the answerer.
Suppression, emotionalism, acting-out, and talking are all functional escapes which a serious pilgrim will carefully avoid as he learns to use this stepping-stone. The skill is to continually engage in memory, reason, and fantasy, rather than to resort to the escapes.
Certain challenges may be expected while developing the capacity to think creatively. Aside from the tempting escapes, a pilgrim may be alert to these potential problems: undeveloped capacities, suppressed memories and avoided fantasies, popular prejudices, the threat of action, and the necessity of faith.
First, it seems that most of us have learned to major in only one segment of our mental capacities. Some people are very reasonable; others are quite imaginative; still others rely on memory. When we develop a capacity, we often over-emphasize it and neglect other types of thinking. The absent-minded professor who is very reasonable yet neglects remembering, is a typical example. A consequent challenge is to learn to develop neglected areas and to achieve an overall balance. One who is always reasonable will need to develop his fantasy life. One who dwells on the past must learn to face the present. Those tempted to exist in a fantasy world will have to deal with the here and now.
Secondly, confronting painful memories and feared dreams will be a challenge for most. Once we begin to open our minds, we face the risk of encountering suppressed experiences from the past or scary possibilities for the future. Letting the ghosts out of their mental closets can be a frightening event. Admitting what might happen can be
equally threatening. Even so these are challenges which the serious pilgrim will face. One cannot think freely as long as portions of his mental energy must be devoted tosuppression and avoidance.
Though localized, certain prejudices seem to exist universally. Each pilgrim will no doubt face the challenge of confronting those accepted in his particular social setting. For example, various religious groups have their own peculiar mental prejudices, such as, a ban on sexual thoughts about anyone other than one's spouse. Thinking about having sex with a neighbor's husband or wife may be considered an evil thought.
Angry thoughts are also commonly condemned. Racial prejudices are widespread. Whatever prejudiced thought patterns one has acquired, the serious pilgrim will inevitably brush against them. Thinking a previously forbidden thought will prove frightening on many occasions. Even so, a pilgrim with his understanding that the nature of sin is deeper than ideas (no thought is inherently evil) will chance facing and conquering his acquired prejudices.
Along with undeveloped capacities, suppressed memories, and popular prejudices, the practicing novice may consider the potential problem of acting-out impractical thoughts. Many have learned to control unacceptable behavior by rejecting it on the thought level. If one refuses to think about some act, presumably he will not do it. Ruling out adulterous thoughts, for example, will supposedly prevent adultery.
While the procedure proves immediately effective, its long-range consequences are often disastrous. Making a virtue of mental suppression may result in emotional illness and loss of reasoning abilities. Nevertheless, breaking the habit can prove problematic. One may have thinking and doing so closely identified in his deeper mind as to presume that one inevitably leads to the other. He fears to think of impractical deeds, lest he actually do them.
Part of a pilgrim's learning will usually involve discovering this identification to be false. He will find by experience that he can think whatever he will and yet act responsibly in daily life. The threat of acting-out (making a fool of oneself, or, doing something he will be ashamed of later) can be fearsome, however, while one is learning.
These potential problems in learning to think amplify the necessity of a pilgrim's faith. Thinking in this creative way is a faith-demanding process. It takes courage to face the painful past, to be conscious of dreams, to explore previously taboo thought territory, and to chance acting irresponsibly.
It is also true that abandoning familiar substitutes for thinking (worrying, believing, judging, etc.) and avoiding the tempting escape routes requires faith. Leaving the known, even when it is bad, and venturing into the unknown is always a nervy move. The pilgrim who transforms his thinking from a stumbling block to a stepping-stone needs to muster a hearty measure of faith.
WHAT TO DO
Assuming that you wish to develop the skill of creative thinking, what steps can be taken? First, examine your current level of development. Take an inventory of present skills. Which of the three types of thinking do you most often do? Remember? Reason? Or, fantasy? Could you best be described as a reasonable person, a dreamer, or one who tends to live in the past? Which are your weakest areas? Do you need to curtail one element while you develop the other two?
What about the substitutes or habits of non-thinking? Which of them do you most often do? Do you tend to replay old ideas instead of thinking creatively? Do you often worry or recycle previous notions, rather than letting one thought lead to another in linear fashion? Have you borrowed most of your thoughts and ideas from others? Do you tend to focus on feelings and sensations rather than thoughts? How addicted are you to the habits of judging, mind-reading, and analyzing?
Which of the escapes do you use? Is suppression a common habit? Do you often get emotional instead of using your head? What about acting-out? Do you avoid thinking by rushing to some action? Is talking to keep from talking your way to escape the threat of thinking? Do you often make conversation (gossip, report, or ask questions) rather than thinking currently with those you meet? Is your sin playing god in your mind?
Which of the challenges seems most formidable to you? Developing neglected areas? Confronting painful memories or suppressed fantasies? Dealing with prejudices? If you believe you can summon the faith required, try the following exercises.
Work on memory. For an appropriate period of time, focus on memory. Walk around looking, listening, and allowing each sight or sound to evoke a memory. Say to yourself, "Seeing that dog reminds me of . . . " "Hearing this song makes me recall . . . " "As I look at this cloud I remember . . . " Every stimulus is capable of evoking a memory, even if the connection is not apparent. Try to let each thing you encounter stir your sleeping memory.
As a next step, try your imagination. Instead of remembering, switch to the future. For a period of time, exercise your fantasizing abilities. Let each sight or sound stimulate your imagination. For example: "Seeing your hat, I imagine . . . " "Hearing your name, I fantasy you are from . . . " Allow time for daydreaming. Sit and watch the clouds, for instance, and allow your mind to wander wherever it will. Try these questions: If you inherited a million dollars, what are the first three things you would buy? If you were going to be changed into an animal, which would you be and why? Which movie or television star would you like to be married to? Why? Suppose you had a week to live; what would you do?
Focus on reasoning. For a time, suspend memory and avoid fantasy. Try to be reasonable about everything. Try these exercises to begin: Think for several minutes about the relative values of your possessions. If you had to evacuate your house quickly, what would you take first, second, and third? Be reasonable. Which paths would you travel? Think about this quotation: "Suppose ye that I come to give peace on earth? I tell you nay; but rather division." What do you think Jesus meant by that statement? What sense do you make of it? As you continue to focus on reasoning, walk around the room looking at things. Attempt to respond to each item in a reasonable way. "Seeing this chair I reason that one thousand pounds would be too much for it to hold." Avoid recollections or fantasy. For this time, try to be completely reasonable.
After going through each facet of thinking separately, practice a balance of the three. Put them all together. Attempt an easy flow from one capacity to another. Start where you are sitting. Pick out some object in the room and respond in all three ways. For example, if you select a painting on the wall, let it evoke a memory, then a fantasy, and finally be reasonable about it. Next, move through your daily activities with these three sentences inmind: "I am reminded . . . ," "I imagine . . . ," and "I reason that . . . " As time allows, respond to what you see and hear in this threefold way. Engage in a conversation and try to express an equal number of memories, fantasies, and reasonable responses. See if you can shift freely from one to the other without majoring on either.
When you have practiced a balanced response, consider your problems. If in your initial inventory you noted that you tend to escape thinking by judging (or by suppressing, getting emotional or talking without thinking), select an occasion to practice avoiding your traditional escape. When tempted to judge ("That is an awful hat."), hold your judgment and try to think. What does it remind you of? Be reasonable about why you don't like it. Imagine how you would feel wearing it.
If your practice is suppression, the next time you are tempted to avoid a thought, try to entertain it. Allow the threatening idea to be center-stage in your mind. See if you can stand to face it honestly without pushing it out ofmind or acting it out in an inappropriate way.
If you worry a lot (circular thinking), try to proceed with other ideas. Instead of going over and over with the same notion, see what new thought it will bring to mind. If you worry about death, for example, that is fine for a first thought. But what next? Instead of recycling that fear again, see what thought might follow. What do you remember about the death of others? What do you imagine dying will be like? Be reasonable concerning the disposal of your estate. Who do you want to get what? Allow your thoughts to proceed in a linear fashion, from one to another, instead of revolving in a circular fashion.
These learning experiences will take faith. If you seem too threatened at any time, resort to your escapes. As your faith grows stronger, however, proceed to develop your fullest abilities to think freely about any subject at any time. With practice, you can curtail and eliminate the substitutes for creative thought. By avoiding the escapes you will develop your faith and gradually learn the joys of present-tense thinking. When you do, you will have an invaluable stepping-stone for reaching the milestones on the path of salvation.
And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
The Little Prince
We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Paul (II Corinthians 4:18)
Everyone who is not blind looks at things; pilgrims learn to see them. Looking is a mere physical act; seeing is an event of spirit and an essential skill in reaching the milestones on the strait and narrow.
Before sinning, everyone can apparently see things as they are. In the course of fleeing humanity and assuming godhood, we lose the art. It appears to happen like this: Coping with the environment is required of every creature; we must learn to manage things in accord with our nature and goals. Three mental processes are useful in this quest: naming (acquiring symbols to represent perceptions), knowing (figuring out how things work--that is, understanding relationships between named things), and judging (discriminating between each, and making value judgments necessary for decisions). These mental skills are helpful in effectively coping with the outside world.
With sin, however, these practical procedures are utilized in destructive ways. Naming, knowing, and judging become avenues for fleeing from oneself and rushing to godhood. Instead of mere mental pegs, names become what objects truly are. Opinions about how things work become absolute knowledge. Tentative information is taken to be eternal truth (man assumes omniscience, an attribute of God). Judgments about "how I've found things to be" become conclusions--"how it is." A sinner then judges certain things to be inherently wrong instead of apparently impractical.
In his figured world of names, knowledge, and judgments, a sinner finds a quasi-security, yet at a great price. He may look out at his kingdom, but he sees only his mental conclusions. He sees what he thinks, rather than what is. For instance, he could never see the face of God in a mysterious red flower because he has concluded that it is "just a rose." Trapped by his mental tricks, his fantasied certainty costs him his vision. He assumes omniscience but is blind.
This stepping-stone involves learning to stop falling for mental tricks. The procedures of naming, knowing, and judging are reduced from avenues of omniscience to the category of useful devices only. The pilgrim learns to see beyond his conclusions. Instead of merely looking at his names for things, viewing again his previous opinions, or being blinded by his former judgments, he learns to see things as they are revealed to him.
Of course I use the word see in a spiritual sense. The physical act of seeing is used as an analogy for the spiritual event of discerning in the deepest possible way. Colloquial expressions may be clearer. When one says with excitement, "I see!," he may be referring to this spiritual happening rather than to a mere visual observation. The meaning is, "I get it," or, "I grasp it." "I see!" can mean far more than "I saw it."
Even blind persons can learn to see in this spiritual way. Technically, this stepping-stone might more accurately be called perceiving, since it may involve hearing, touching, or smelling, as well as vision. Here I use the word seeing as an analogy for perceiving truth, whether by sight, sound, smell, or feel. To distinguish this spiritual event from physical vision or discerning mental images only, I use the word looking for these latter procedures. Thus, one may look without seeing, or even see without looking. This stepping-stone is reclaiming the natural vision of an innocent child, uncluttered by names, knowledge, or judgments.
In learning the art of seeing, three negative steps are commonly involved--getting out of the mental traps of naming, knowing, and judging. Before one can relearn to see things as they are, he must be freed from seeing them as he has learned to think they are. I call these negative steps unnaming, unknowing, and unjudging. Because judging is usually learned last, it is often easier to grasp. Since naming comes first, it is often the most difficult to unlearn. Hence we will consider each in reverse order.
To judge is to play god by passing sentence on things, by concluding them to be good or bad, right or wrong, virtuous or evil. One either elevates or lowers (puts it up, or puts it down) that which is judged.
Human discernments (e.g., "I like it," or, "I find it impractical") are transformed into godly pronouncements ("It is good," or, "That is wrong"). After making such judgments, the sinner then sees his prior pronouncement rather than the thing as it is. After judging snakes to be bad, for example, a sinner then sees only bad snakes. Automatically he recoils, seeing only his prior judgment rather than the creature before him.
If he has judged a certain person to be good, he no longer sees the individual. He thereafter responds to a "good person," e.g., to his own judgment. If he has judged a whole race, for instance, "Blacks are inferior," he automatically sees an inferior person (his judgment) rather than a black person as an individual. The typical expression, "They all look alike," reflects this type of blindness.
Although judgment appears to be an elevation or lowering of that which is observed, the subtle fact and consequent danger is that it is only a reflection of a disastrous spiritual move of the one who judges. He removes, actually, himself from the level plane of finite humanity and projects his displacement onto the judged object. In looking up to someone, he only lowers himself. In condemnation of another, he elevates himself. In both instances he plays god, pretending to be more or less than he actually is.
Such spiritual judgment is to be distinguished from the simple act of differentiating. Finite humans constantly differentiate between this and that, drawing on prior experience to reach current opinions. Simple differentiation, a useful coping function, involves no good or bad. On the level plane of all existence, practical determinations are made without praise or condemnation. Judging, as the term is used here, is a spiritual move going beyond mere mental distinctions.
Nor is the issue a matter of words alone. Judging, as an activity of spirit, may be performed without speaking. More properly it falls in the realm of attitude rather than language. Even the commonly expressive judgmental words--good and bad--can be used to convey simple differentiation without judgment, as in, "That tastes good."
In learning to see things as they are, the pilgrim reverses the procedure of judging. He learns to unjudge--to observe with all judgment suspended. He looks as he formally did, yet without passing sentence, positive or negative. Both the crude judgments (good/bad, right/wrong) and the refined versions (pretty/ugly, smart/dumb, nice/obscene, etc.) are eliminated. Without praise or condemnation in any degree, a pilgrim learns to simply see. He neither looks up to or down on. Everything is on a level plane, where his judgment is concerned. When meeting a person, he refrains from judging him to be handsome or ugly. He observes activities without concluding them to be right or wrong.
Of course, the pilgrim continues to discern and differentiate when a personal decision is required. He weighs his tastes (likes and dislikes) as well as previous experience ("This has worked"; "That has not"). He decides on the basis of his best available information but without judging. There is a great gulf between the experience of judging and merely differentiating. The first case, in which the object, act, or person is lowered or elevated, involves assumed godhood (one must be in God's place to judge); the second is simply an act of the human brain. No praise or condemnation is involved.
An example of judging might be one's refusal to drink whiskey because "drinking is evil." With differentiation, he might decline a martini because he was about to drive a car or he did not like the taste. Outwardly the two events appear similar. In terms of spirit they are vastly different. The first involves an assumption of godhood; the second is a human decision without judgment. Differentiation, as an expression of finitude, is like deciding between vanilla and chocolate ice cream. Since one must choose, discernment is necessary. Hence he considers taste, appearance, or allergies, and then says, "Give me a double dip of vanilla." He chooses between morally equal alternatives (perhaps he is allergic to chocolate but that does not mean that chocolate is bad).
In like manner, a pilgrim using this stepping-stone makes all decisions--from which socks to wear, to which person to sleep with--with discernment, yet without judgment. When no decision is required, even discerning is likely to be suspended. Instead, he simply sees. Without judgment, his looking becomes seeing.
The second step in learning to see is a move beyond judgment. Next comes the suspension of absolute knowledge. In assuming godhood, sinners often pretend to know for sure. Temporal observations are projected into eternal truths; finite experience becomes infinite fact; "how I've found it" is transformed into "how it is." On the broad way toward destruction, man regularly presumes omniscience on certain subjects. The limitations of all human understanding are ignored in this godly act of ultimate knowing. Along with judgment, such certain-knowledge results in blindness. The sinner's assumed wisdom prevents his seeing things as they are to him.
Consequently, absolute understanding must be stored away with judgment before a pilgrim learns to see. In this step of unknowing, he releases his certainty. His ultimate understanding is reduced to personal opinion. What he knew for sure becomes what he now thinks. His "this is how it is" is replaced by "this is how I've found it to be."
Omniscient churchmen may claim, for example, to know for sure that Jesus was born of a virgin or that the Pope is infallible. The quasi-security of their presumptions is acquired at the cost of their sight. Thereafter, they cannot see Jesus, or the Pope, as the man each is. Their certain knowledge gets in the way. In like manner one who knows for sure that there is an afterlife--a postmortem heaven or hell--can never see death as it is. His omniscience on the subject blinds him. He sees only what he wants to see.
Outside organized religion the same situation occurs when a sinner presumes to know someone, such as a friend or loved one. Leaving the limited realm of finite humans, he plays god by pretending to know, for instance, what his wife is really like. He thinks he has her figured or truly understands her. Forgetting the severe limitations of his information, as well as the continual possibility of human change, he holds a certain image of his wife in mind. He thinks he knows her; thereafter, he is blinded to her as a person.
By removing the mystery, he reduces his wife to an it. She becomes a known object to him. Instead of seeing her as she is in each instant, he sees only his preconceived, mental image of her. He naturally takes her for granted, and the thrill is gone from the marriage. For excitement he must look elsewhere to someone he has not yet figured out.
A pilgrim learning to see practices giving up absolute knowledge on any subject. All certainty is abandoned in favor of the human position of limited understanding. Preferring sight to security, he embraces uncertainty as a prerequisite for seeing. Accepting the temporal limitations of all his information, he refuses to resort to omniscience in any area. The more facts he has on a particular subject, the more he is aware of the chasm of his ignorance.
When approaching this state, a pilgrim abandons religious certainty. Assumed absolute knowledge concerning any phase of theology is laid aside. Theism, deism, pantheism, or atheism--as sacred beliefs--are reduced to current opinions only. The pilgrim becomes instead a faithful thinker in the realm of religious doctrines. He does not assume that he knows anything for sure about God. Though he may have personal opinions on each doctrinal issue, his beliefs are lightly held, subject to change as experience deepens or more information is obtained. Certainly he is in no position to look down on the beliefs of others or attempt to force his opinions on anyone.
The same stance prevails in his relationships with other people. Each person, including his closest loved ones, is viewed as a mystery. Certain facts may be known about an individual, but he never pretends to truly know anyone. Recognizing that his information is but a tiny boat on a vast sea of unknown, he remains constantly alert to new light. No one is taken for granted. Nor can anything a friend says or does surprise a pilgrim who has learned to unknow. Since he constantly stands with mystery, surprise becomes commonplace.
In everyday matters--eating, working, playing, responding to environment--the pilgrim who is learning to see, stands equally unknowing. Though he possesses information on particular objects, events, plants, animals, or relationships among them, he never assumes his facts to be absolute--not subject to question or change. If he is an expert on plants, for example, he naturally possesses more information than the average person. The vast mystery of plants beyond his knowledge, however, remains equally open to him. He never pretends to know it all to himself or to others.
Even the limitation of commonly accepted "facts" is embraced. Two plus two equals four, roses are red, lemons are sour, and all such accepted facts are true only within the context of our definitions and personal experience. Given another numerical base, range of color or taste perceptions, the facts would be different. Bees, for example, have different visual receivers. A red rose to us is ultra-violet to them. The point is, even color is not inherent in the object.
One learning to see will be diligent in this continual process of unknowing. Whatever the areas or extent of his previous omniscience--religion, people, or any facet of reality--he will begin the descent from the throne of all certain knowledge and will seek to develop the faith required to stand confidently in the face of every unknown.
Since the subtle omniscience of names easily escapes us, the final step is often the most difficult of all. Even though one may know intellectually that a name is just a name ("a rose by any other name smells just as sweet"), the mere fact of having a name for an object or person can cleverly obscure ultimate mystery.
To understand this mental trap let us review the process of naming and the point of names. All names (nouns) are mental symbols assigned to various segments of reality. They allow us to catalogue the complex world and to communicate with one another about common perceptions. A name is an abstraction; it is an arbitrarily chosen combination of letters. In reality there is no inherent connection between an object and its name. A cat, for example, could just as well have been named a cor. A chair could be a chor. The only basis for the rightness of any name is common consent. If we all agreed, we could change the nameof cats to cors. A cat is a cat only because we have agreed to call it a cat, not because it is a cat. Fred is Fred rather than Bill because his parents assigned him so, not because he actually is Fred.
The point is, all names are arbitrary insofar as reality is concerned. Namers usually have some reason for the name they select, but in the final analysis the association is in their minds only. Although extremely valuable in thinking and talking, names in no way define that which they stand for. We might say that any connection between a person and his name is purely coincidental, in fact, nonexistent. To have a name for a thing or person is to have a useful mental peg for it, but the name is only an illusion of knowledge, not actual knowing itself.
Although this fact may be self-evident in theory, sinners have a way of ignoring it in reality. Presuming godhood, they often act as though a name is knowledge. Recognizing a flower, for instance, they may say, "Oh, it's just a rose," or of a person: "Oh, that's just Bill. I know him." They assume that the mystery is in some way removed once a name is attached. Strangers who are alert to the mystery of one another may lapse into familiarity once they have exchanged names.
It is important to realize that a name is just a name is just a name--a useful mental tool in environmental coping, but a tempting obscurer of omnipresent mystery. In our worlds of named things, plants, animals, and people, we easily conclude that we know what they are, when we simply know titles we have given them. We easily confuse our given names with inherent reality.
Pilgrims learn to face this familiar temptation in order to learn to see. They learn to use names, without confusing them with knowledge. I call this process: Unnaming. Since most persons have apparently succumbed to the illusion of omniscience through naming, as pilgrims they reverse their course. They learn to unname, to look at an object, aware or unaware of its commonly assigned name, and still see it as inherently mysterious. Though they know its name, they do not assume to possess its identity. Having the name of a person, they remain openly aware of his vast mystery.
Pilgrims may memorize the accepted names of persons, places, and things for purely practical reasons (convenience of thought and communication). Yet while encountering a named object, they carefully avoid confusing its title with its reality. They would, for example, never argue with a child who said a dandelion seed is an angel wing, or with a person who said, "I am not really Fred," even though that name appeared on his birth certificate.
Nor would a serious pilgrim grasp after names in order to avoid the faith required for standing responsively with the unnamed. Realizing the incidental nature of family titles, a pilgrim would not merely ask, "What's your name?" Instead, he would seek to meet the mysterious person, and avoid settling for the shallow knowledge of his name. Sinners, conversely, often grasp for names, then act as though they know the person.
In this third step, general as well as particular names are reduced to their actual status of mental symbols only. For instance, a rose is first unnamed as a particular flower. Then its general designation as flower is also removed, allowing its fuller mystery to unfold. Finally, beyond judgment ("It's a good flower"), beyond knowing ("It is red"), and beyond naming ("It is a rose" or "flower"), one is freed to see this wondrous expression of God as it actually is revealed to him.
Omniscient sinners are commonly blinded by their own mental apparatus--their judgments, knowledge, and names. Their understanding is a cataract over their spiritual eyes. Instead of perceiving things as they are, they grasp their own thoughts only and remain trapped within what they have learned, unresponsive to the mystery hidden by their mental tricks.
In learning to use this stepping-stone, pilgrims free themselves from the bondage of omniscience. They learn to undo their mental tricks and move from merely looking at assumed names, facts, and judgments to actually seeing (discerning and responding in a deeply spiritual sense).
Suppose such a pilgrim encounters a friend. Already he will possess his name, certain information, and no doubt some judgments about him (handsome/ugly, smart/dumb, etc.). With this mental baggage in mind, a pilgrim will carefully lay it aside in the course of the encounter. First, he will suspend all previous judgments. Even though his friend has acted dumb in the past, a pilgrim will not presume this to dictate the present. The fact that he once did an inappropriate deed will not be used to conclude that he is dumb.
The pilgrim will be open to wisdom, even from those the world calls fools. Nor will his information about his friend (where he is from, what he has done, etc.) be used to cloak the vaster realm of what the pilgrim does not know about him. In the immediate meeting all knowledge will be held in abeyance while the pilgrim stands open to his friend's unknown dimension. No currently revealed information, even if contradictory to previous facts, will shock the responsive pilgrim, since he is constantly open to surprise.
Finally, even his friend's name will be suspended. Though he has a title to use in speaking, a pilgrim will look to his friend as though he were an unnamed stranger--a mysterious being unobscured by even a name. In like manner, he will learn to see each aspect of reality, including himself. Though using his knowledge, he will never presume it to be final, or allow it to conceal the eternal mystery inherent in all things.
What To Do
Seeing, like breathing, is natural. Each of the steps is essentially negative or an undoing of something which prevents the natural action. They may be compared with removing obstructions to breathing. In each instance one stops the hindering deed. He gives up the learned procedure which blinds his spiritual eyes. Habits, however, become ingrained; stopping one may require much effort.
Since judging is last-learned, it should be the easiest to stop. First, be alert to your judging. Until you recognize doing it, undoing will be impossible. Judgments are essentially putting something up or down--elevating or lowering it in a spiritual sense, presuming it to be better or worse than you are. Although you look down on, or up to, what you have judged, the blinding factor is the required elevation or lowering of yourself. In order to look down to, you must have already put yourself up above what you judge. This self-elevation (sin) removes you from the level plane of all creation and prevents your seeing things as they are.
The position is the problem, not the words. Whether or not you express your judgment is incidental to its blinding power. Feeling judgmental is as damning as shouting it, insofar as you personally are concerned. You must, therefore, become alert to judgmental thoughts or attitudes, as well as expressions.
On the feeling level judgment often appears as superiority or inferiority--feeling "better than" or "not as good as." Specific focus may be appearance, intelligence, value, or ability. You may feel "uglier than," "not as smart as," "not worth as much," "not as good as," or their opposites. These expressions of feelings can be far more than mere statements of fact. For example, "feeling ugly" is to be distinguished from being less attractive to others. To have a long nose when short noses are in vogue will naturally make one less appealing to those who judge appearance. Without judgment, however, one may simply note, "My nose is longer than some." With judgment, he proceeds to condemn. Then he thinks his nose is "too long." He "feels ugly."
The same is true with judgments of others. One feels "better than they are," as though he had more inherent worth. Thus whites often feel that they are "better than" blacks, intelligent people "better than" those with lower I.Q.'s, and talented people "better than" average folks.
In becoming alert to your judgments, you must recognize these superior or inferior attitudes, as well as your more obvious expressions of judgment. Constant attention to your feelings, as well as to what you say, will be required in order to begin the process of unjudging.
Once you recognize your judgments, you will begin to suspend them. Start with words. Eliminate speaking judgmentally. Stop playing god with your pronouncements. Never say how someone is, pretending that you actually know. Eliminate all "you are . . ." statements ("you are bad," "you are great," "you are dumb," etc.). God-like shoulds and oughts must be suspended also. Stop saying, "You ought to do . . .," or, "You should do . . .," as though you truly know what is best for someone else.
Begin working on subtle judgments cloaked in observations. Carefully consider all statements which may reveal your judging attitude, even if the words are morally neutral. For example, "You look bad today," or, "Where did you find a dress like that?" can express judgment, even though the words may be neutral. Eliminate expressions of judgment in any form.
Then, start giving attention to your attitude. This will be more difficult since many judgments are unconscious, as with racial or sexual prejudices. Even so, be aware of this more subtle judgment when you can. Whenever you find yourself feeling superior to someone (looking down on him), stop and consider: "Would you be any different if you were in his shoes? If you had grown up as he did and had all his experiences, are you sure you wouldn't be just like him?" Are you assuming personal credit for God-given attributes, such as your skin-color, appearance, or intelligence? Examine each situation carefully; when tempted to put somebody down, you may more humbly note: "There but for the grace of God, go I."
Do the same thing when you feel inferior (self-judgment). Do you credit others for inherited qualities? When you look up to someone (put yourself down), do you use their talents, looks, or skills, as an excuse for belittling yourself? Recognize that differences do not make one better or worse. The equality of our humanity allows for uniqueness without requiring elevation or degradation.
In each situation, suspend both vocal and internal judgments. Refrain from speaking judgmentally or yielding to the temptation to play god in your mind. Note differences when appropriate, such as when a decision is needed, but do so without judgment.
Abandon your absolute knowledge--assumptions of certainty, conclusions, things you know for sure. Accept the finitude of all human knowledge. Realize that all your understanding is temporal rather than eternal in nature. Only God knows for sure. Even the absolutes ("the sun rises every morning") are relative to our personal perspectives. To a Martian the sun might set every morning! Realize the limitations of all your conclusions; hold each one lightly and subject to change if more information is received. Muster the faith to be tentative with all human understanding and to perceive all rules as rules of thumb instead of absolute imperatives.
Look at something for practice, such as, a dog. First, innumerate all information you have (name, age, abilities, and behavior traits). Then consider all that you don't know (what he thinks; how he feels; what he can see, smell, or hear, and endlessly on). Realize the limitations of how well you know your dog. Keep in mind the vast realm of the unknown which surrounds the small island of what you know. Maintain a healthy respect for your dog's mystery.
Follow the same procedure with everything else you observe. Accept the facts you hold without allowing them to obscure your ignorance. Remain alert to the mystery of every object, plant, animal, or person, indeed, to this entire mysterious universe in which we find ourselves.
The point of such awareness is that you will then have the basis for seeing through or beyond your current knowledge whenever you look at anything. You will make room for awareness of the unknown. Suspension of omniscience is necessary for encountering mystery. Unless you lay aside your certainty, you will never be able to embrace the world which is wider than your temporal understanding.
Finally, suspend names, the last vestige of human omniscience. Recognize the incidental nature of all titles. Accept and use them for practical reasons, yet do not succumb to the belief that they give real knowledge. When you look at anything, recall its assigned title, but immediately suspend it as a conclusion. You might say, "I call you a cat, but beyond that I do not know what you are;" or, "Your name is Susan, but who are you?" For practice, encounter a stranger without asking his name. Converse as long as possible and try to avoid titling him. Be constantly aware of not knowing his name or who he is in the final analysis.
In each immediate situation whenever you encounter an object or person, endeavor to suspend your judgments, let go of your certain knowledge, and relinquish even your names. For practice, exaggerate your judgments, knowledge, and names, so as to see them clearly. When you meet a friend, for example, judge him harshly. Condemn or praise all that you can (silently, of course). Then recall your body of information about him along with his full name. After focusing on these mental formations, systematically exclude each. Lay aside judgments, look beyond knowledge, and drop his names. Then open the eyes of your heart to the mystery which stands before you. Humble yourself in the presence of this relatively unknown being. Perhaps God will speak to you through him.
In like manner, learn to approach the world around you. Respect and utilize your knowledge to its fullest, but do not presume it to be infinite. Look at what you know, but remain constantly open to seeing beyond to what is unknown to you. Open yourself to seeing the face of God in all creation.
We are the stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
Shakespeare (The Tempest: Act 4; Scene 1; line 156)
Dreams are commonly neglected, abused, and misused. Pilgrims learn to transform these emissaries from the unknown into useful stepping-stones on the path to eternal life. Whereas others may be content to suppress, ignore, condemn, or fall prey to their dreams, pilgrims utilize dreaming in reaching for the milestones.
Attitude--how one looks at dreams--becomes the first significant issue. Familiar stances include denial, judgment, hostility, and worship. Many persons deny the reality of dreams. They either rule them from awareness (forget immediately), or treat dreams as though they are nothing ("figments of the imagination"). If a dream comes to mind, they dismiss it as meaningless or without value. Others accept the reality of dreams but avoid them by judgment. Each dream is immediately condemned as stupid, dumb, funny, or crazy. The individual places himself in a superior position, thereby reducing his dream to inferior or useless status.
Still others are aggressively hostile; they treat dreams as enemies. Often they try not to dream. When it happens, they may become afraid, angry, or otherwise abusive toward their dreams. There are others who worship dreams as though inherently sacred. Dreams are treated as "voices from the gods" or bearers of external messages. Such persons view themselves as inferior or dumb and their dreams as descending from a higher source of wisdom. "My dream is trying to tell me something," reflects this attitude. It is as though the individual is stupid and is being bombarded with infinite knowledge while asleep.
Pilgrims shun these common stances in favor of a more relaxed, open, and responsive attitude. They treat dreams as welcome guests from the night into the household of the day. Like good friends, dreams are invited to drop in anytime. They are not suppressed or ignored, judged or worshipped. With them the pilgrim learns to be friendly--playful and responsive, yet always attentive. He has a deep, healthy respect for his dreams. He is alert to them, aware that God may speak through a dream, as well as any other aspect of reality. He listens to each one as to a tangible friend, yet without running in fear or falling down to adore.
To understand this stance, let us review the nature of dreams. First, they speak their own language. Though they usually utilize our waking words, they are not bound to common definitions. A dream word, number, or event, may or may not mean what we consciously think. For example, wife in day language may be mother in dream talk. Snake is not necessarily a slimy creature, nor is three inevitably two plus one. Running around naked may speak of more than being unclothed, and flying does not necessarily represent sprouting wings. The point is: dreams are often symbolic. Their language can never be taken for granted. The meaning of a symbol may change from one person to the next, and even for the same person from one night to the next.
Consequently, dreams may appear unreasonable to the conscious mind. Since they speak their own language, they are not bound by our laws or rules of logic. They do not necessarily make sense to us. In dreams for instance, one can fall up, rather than down. The laws of gravity do not prevail. Nor do the laws of time exist. Yesterday may come after tomorrow and next year can be now. Space has no consequence. One may appear in France in one instant and in his own backyard the next. He is not even bound to his own body. In dreams he may emerge as a snake, giraffe, or even a number.
Another characteristic of dreams is their elusiveness. Like shy friends, they cannot be grasped or pinned down. Just as they disguise themselves, so they come and go at will. "Now you see it; now you don't," can be an accurate description. Just when you think you have a dream firmly in mind, it suddenly disappears, refusing to return to awareness. Often only its shadow is evident. You catch a glimpse but then it is gone. You are aware of a dream's presence but cannot coax it into the open. Certainly dreams are evasive, refusing to be dictated by our conscious selves.
Dreams are often exciting. Beyond our power, they seem fun or frightening to us. Otherwise-pleasant experiences may turn into terrifying nightmares. The most apparently mundane happening may suddenly appear as an awesome event. Uncontrollable dreams may lift us to heaven or deposit us in hell. Truly, they are amazing! Accepting them accordingly, pilgrims adopt a stance of friendly respect for all dreams.
With an attitude of openness, pilgrims look to dreams as to friends, with a variety of possibilities--fun of meeting, chance of excitement, potential insight, deepened understanding--and always with alertness to hearing God call through these wondrous products of sleep. Carefully they shun pressing or probing their dreams too deeply. Although listening alertly, pilgrims avoid playing analyst with their dreams. Attuned to messages, they do not demand directions. Though sometimes asking, "What do you mean?," they never let correct analysis overshadow the basic friendly relationship.
WHAT TO DO
If you wish to utilize dreams as stepping-stones in your pilgrimage, these suggestions may be helpful. Make friends. Do not expect to profit from your dreams until you establish a friendly relationship. So long as they are foreigners or enemies of your consciousness, they will never be meaningful to you. If you have not already done so, begin by opening yourself to your dreams. Consider them as new residents in your neighborhood and look for occasions to get acquainted. When you awake in the morning, lie in bed half-asleep, and let any dream drift into awareness. Simply recall the dream, and re-live it in your mind's eye. Avoid judging it as silly, trying to understand it, or pressing it for some hidden message. Just be friendly and entertain the dream in the household of your consciousness.
If no dream comes to mind, do not press to remember one. Simply remain receptive until it is time to arise. Throughout the day, remain alert to any fragment of a dream which may emerge as you go about your activities. If one comes, take time to welcome it.
If you are unaware of any dreaming at this time (many people can't remember dreams), do not worry. This period of establishing friendly relations may take some time. Take as long as needed. You can go no further until you at least get acquainted. Expand your awareness. Once you become aware of a dream, welcome it more fully into the light of day. Recall the dream without criticism and with as much detail as possible. Allow no rules of logic or reason to prevent your open acceptance. Even if it seems crazy, respect it as you would a guest from another country, without judging its language. Recall the events, objects, numbers, and persons of the dream. Begin with those which stand out, but proceed to the seemingly obscure details. Grant each element respectful attention.
Try to re-live the dream while you are awake. Close your eyes and try to get back into the event. Try to re-experience your feelings at the time as you proceed again through the action. After re-playing it as nearly as possible switch roles. Pretend you are one of the other persons, animals, plants, or symbols in the dream. Imagine how the occurrence appeared from their perspective. As your time allows, pretend that each element in the dream represents some displaced part of yourself. Try to identify with each one by re-living the dream as though he/she/ it were you. Perhaps it will help to write the dream or tell it to some uncritical friend. If you do tell someone, select one who will not judge or interpret it for you. While writing or telling, avoid any temptation to make it reasonable. Tell it just as it was without explanation, excuse, or imposed logic.
Once recalled, invite the dream to remain as long as it will. Even as you go about your daily activities stay alert to expanded memories. Keep the dream in the back of your mind, letting it emerge more fully if it chooses. Occasionally, review the dream and be alert to details previously missed.
Respond to the tale. As you would to the story of a friend, respond to the elements of your dream. What does the event remind you of? What stands out most vividly? What memories are evoked? What does it make you think? How about emotions? What are your feelings in response to the dream or any of its characters? What comes to mind as you consciously entertain this guest? Respond freely, yet without probing the dream. Even if your associations or reactions seem unrelated or uncalled for, accept them openly. As you permitted the unreasonable dream, now allow your own illogical responses.
Listen to the dream. Often friends have something to say to you. So do certain dreams. They may bring messages from the deeper realms of your mind, from neglected parts of yourself or from your unembraced potential. Historically God has spoken through dreams. The Spirit of Wholeness may call to your fragmented spirit through the strange symbols of your dreams.
Always be alert for messages of information, understanding, or direction. Often the pieces of a life-puzzle will fall together in a dream. Desired solutions to pressing problems may be revealed. Information you have been seeking may suddenly appear. Sometimes the Spirit will call as he did to Samuel in the Old Testament of the Bible. Always be ready to answer, "Speak Lord." You may be guided into new directions for your life.
Listen to a dream as to a person--through rather than simply to the words. Allow that each dream element, even as spoken words, may have many possible meanings, some quite different from those ordinarily assigned by the conscious mind. Listen openly without grasping. Never press or become frantic as though you demand to understand. Respect the fact that many dreams are simply recollections of ignored elements of events in your daily life. They have no message other than what they are. Even when you suspect you are being spoken to stand responsively, yet without pressure. Perhaps you will hear a message; perhaps not. In either case, listen to your dream without demanding that it speak to you. If you allow the dream to remain with you through the days ahead, even years, its truth may later become apparent.
GUIDELINES FOR LISTENING TO DREAMS
Listen for the obvious. Some dreams are literal; they express one's deeper self in plain language. If you wish to be rich you may dream of finding a buried treasure. If you long to be rid of your boss you may dream of his death. Many dreams are simple wish-fulfillment. You may dream of actual events you would like to have occur.
Thus, the first guideline for listening to a dream is: Listen for the obvious. Is the dream expressing what you wish would happen? Did you fantasy in your sleep about events you would like to have occur? If you are uncertain, ask yourself the question, "Do I wish that the dream situation could come true?" For example, if you dream of being on a desert island, you may ask yourself, "Would I really like to get away from it all?" If you dream of your neighbor making sexual advances toward you, ask, "Would I like to make love with my neighbor?"
Consider symbolic meanings. Although some dreams are literal, most are apparently symbolic. That is, the things in the dream (objects, people, events, colors, shapes, and numbers) are likely to stand for less obvious meanings. Often dreams are expressions of portions of ourselves which we have found threatening before. We may, therefore, expect that these meanings will be cloaked. They will come in some inoffensive form so as not to be too disturbing to us. For example, cowardice may come in the form of a yellow coat. A heavy burden may appear as a sack of grain on someone's shoulder. Your parent may be concealed in the form of your boss or spouse.
If the dream does not appear to have an immediately obvious, literal meaning, proceed to consider symbolic meanings. Take each element in the dream, beginning with those which seem most significant, and let them speak to you. Remember that the point is not to interpret the dream in the sense of figuring out what the symbols really mean, but rather to allow yourself to be spoken to through the symbols. You are not playing detective with yourself (trying to sneak up on you) but attempting to expand your awareness of your larger potential. You are making friends with estranged portions of yourself and the wider reality. Although you may be naturally curious for immediate information as a host is curious about a new guest, even so, courteously avoid probing and wait for the truth to be revealed in due time.
Consider symbolic meanings as personal. Although some have compiled dictionaries of meanings for dream symbols, dream language is, I believe, always personal in the final analysis. Each symbol means only what it means to the person who dreamed it. No symbol has an innate or universal meaning, such that if included in your dream it necessarily means what any dictionary says.
Certainly there are some common meanings for persons who have had similar backgrounds, but each person must listen to a symbol in the light of his personal experience. What a particular symbol means to you may be different from what it might mean for any other person in the world. Thus, you should never try to get another person to interpret your dreams for you. Others can only relate their own associations to the symbols. Sometimes these can prompt your own, but be careful in accepting the interpretation of another person. Listen to each element in the light of your own associations.
Assume that all dream elements represent some aspect of your potential self. Although your dreams will likely have many elements which seem totally unrelated to you personally, you may well suspect that each one is relevant to you in some way. After all you dreamed the dream, so each part of it may represent some aspect of yourself which is projected outward.
For example, suppose you dream of a strong person. Although you think of yourself as weak, the dream figure may represent projected elements of your own strength. That is, you may see your unaccepted strength reflected in the form of the person in the dream. If you dream of a small puppy, consider the possibility that some aspect of your own unembraced potential is being represented by the animal. Perhaps he stands for your wish to be held and cuddled or maybe for the playful part of yourself which you usually deny. Whatever the dream element and no matter how foreign it may seem to your current self, consider the possibility of its standing for some part of your own potential self.
Recall activities from the previous day. Often dream symbols are chosen from the activities, events, or experiences of the previous day. By allowing your mind to drift back through the happenings of the last twenty-four hours, you may have an immediate recollection of the origin of the dream element. For example, if you dream of a bird with the number twenty-four printed on its wing, you might recall that you were short-changed by twenty-four cents in the grocery store the day before. The person in your dream may look like the woman who was cashier in the restaurant where you had lunch.
By remembering the origin of the symbols you may have further clarifying associations. Remembering the twenty-four cents may remind you of the feeling of desperation you had while thinking of how your money seems to fly away. The cashier or waiter may call to mind a fleeting sexual attraction which you pushed out of mind.
The purpose of recalling events from the day is not to pin down a meaning to the last twenty-four hours, but rather to use the recollection as a springboard for further listening. After thinking of a particular dream element, ask yourself: "Does this remind me of anything from the day before?"
Be attentive to recurring dreams. Particularly significant aspects of your larger self may be expressed repeatedly in the same or similar types of dreams. A pilgrim will be especially attentive to such dreams. For practice, recall any dream which you have had more than once. If there are slight variations, think of the elements which reoccur in the dreams. For example, the repeated dreams may be of walking into a large house. Although the size and appearance of the house may change from dream to dream, perhaps each one ends with an approach to a locked closet. In this case, the recurring elements would be the house and the closet.
The procedure in listening to a recurring dream is the same as with any other, except that recollections from the previous day may be less significant. Also, these dreams should be treated with even greater respect and considered over extended periods of time.
Suppose you don't remember dreams. Although the evidence is that everyone does in fact dream, many persons have little or no recall of their dreams once they are awake. If you are such a person and you do wish to listen for possible dream messages, then one of the following procedures may be helpful in getting started. (a) Think about your dreams immediately after waking. Lie in bed with your eyes closed for a few extra minutes and see if you remember any. (b) Set your clock for fifteen minutes earlier than usual. Spend the extra time in semi-sleep, attentive to any dreams.
(c) Go to bed one or two hours earlier than usual. The extra time may allow your dreams to move further toward awareness. (d) Set your clock for two hours after bed time. When it goes off, sit up and try to recall your dreams. If this fails, set it for three hours later. If neither succeeds in producing a dream for your thinking, vary the times and try again the next night. (e) If you go to the bathroom during the night, be attentive to what you may have been dreaming.
(f) Sleep in a different location, such as the opposite side of the bed, or in another room. Often the change will lead to more awareness of dreams. (g) Leave yourself open to recalling dreams throughout the day. Any event may trigger your recollection of a dream if you are alert to the possibility. Keep your curiosity in the back of your mind, and occasionally entertain it through the day. For example, take a moment at coffee break and let your mind drift back to the night before. (h) If you have not recalled night dreams, a nap during the daytime may produce a dream.
If all these procedures fail, do not get upset. Many people experience the same gaps in their memory. Simply go on about your life but remain open and alert to the possibility of remembering a dream at any time.
If you do have faint recollections, but soon forget, it may help to keep pen and paper at bedside for immediate writing. Or you may recount the dream to someone else as soon as it comes to mind. Saying or writing the dream will help affirm it in your awareness.
Dreaming plus alertness to your dreams, can be an invaluable stepping-stone in your pursuit of the larger milestones of spiritual experience. Doors which otherwise remain closed are often opened first by these mysterious guests in the night. Treat them with the respect they richly deserve.
After you begin to make friends with these foreign emissaries, pay particular attention to any which remain in your awareness. Entertain them royally in the halls of your consciousness without judgment or criticism. Get as acquainted as possible with each one, re-living them through the eyes of each participant both animate and inanimate. As you learn to respond freely to your dreams, as to welcomed friends, begin listening through their language. Learn their ever-changing native tongues, and sometimes, some very precious times, you may hear the voice of God coming to you in a dream. Always stand in faith saying, as did Samuel, "Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening."
Why am I afraid to tell you who I am? J. Powell
Of course everyone speaks, but not everyone speaks himself. This stepping-stone involves a transition from merely talking, to the use of speech as honest self-revelation. In learning it a pilgrim embraces the capacity to truly communicate--to exist in verbal communion with another. In this process of speaking himself his conversation becomes literal self-disclosure. His words reveal him. His speech shows who he is--what he is sensing, feeling, or thinking at the time.
When using this stepping-stone, a pilgrim is thinking aloud. His talking becomes mental stripping. He removes his intellectual or emotional clothes in the presence of another. No gap exists between his awareness and his expression; his words flow as revelation rather than devices of concealment. What you hear is who he is at the moment.
Nor are his words purposive--that is, conceived with a hidden intention. Much human speech is designed to accomplish a goal--to elicit a desired response, such as, get an answer, sell a product, secure an action, or impress the listener. This stepping-stone aims at no goal except the honest revelation of the pilgrim. Certainly purposive communication has its place. Indeed the majority of public discourse is conducted for specific purposes. Speaking oneself is, however, an activity apart from such common talk.
What, then is the point of this stepping-stone? How does it serve the pilgrim? Four primary benefits accrue: continual self-discovery, enlivened encounters, protection of listeners, and development of faith. Thinking-aloud, expression without preparation or planning, always has an element of surprise or discovery. Since one never knows what he will say ahead of time, the spontaneous expressions are a revelation to the speaker as well as the listener. Contrived speech, often designed to conceal, involves no new information. One says what he already knows or has memorized to say. There is no element of surprise, at least to the speaker.
Conversely, speaking oneself makes preparation impossible. Since one can never know ahead of time what he will be sensing, feeling, or thinking at any given moment, he cannot pre-plan what he will say. He can speak but not deliver a speech. The spontaneous nature of such an activity keeps the door open to new revelations. In taking the chance of revealing himself without prior ordering of his presentation, the pilgrim often happens upon a previously undiscovered aspect of himself. He finds himself saying things he did not know he thought. He discovers pockets of irrationality and prejudice, repressed emotions and memories, as well as sensations and insights previously concealed even to himself.
By suspending the customary practice of making all talk logical, reasonable, and consistent with a conceived image of oneself, the pilgrim may open the door to a wealth of previously neglected or suppressed information about who he is. The delights and threats of such revelations are the first major benefit of learning to speak oneself.
The spontaneity of speaking oneself naturally enlivens an encounter with another person. The humanity of the speaker, often carefully concealed in planned talk, is obviously revealed in this form of self-expression. The listener, catching a glimpse of the real person, will usually be tempted to drop his own pretenses and become more honest also. Such encounters between persons, rather than between roles or scripts, are apt to be lively and exciting.
Since the speaker is involved in revealing himself, most of the threat to the listener is relieved. The pilgrim is on the spot, not the one who hears him. While typical conversation--filled with questions, probing remarks, compliments or criticisms--often poses emotional dangers to the other person, self-expression does not. The listener is freed to observe, via hearing, the exposure of the pilgrim. Like one in the audience, he is relatively safe during the encounter.
The risks of being personally on the spot--exposed not only to oneself, but also to another person--demand the exercise of faith. What new facet of himself will the pilgrim discover? Will it be flattering or derogatory? Will he be embarrassed by an unplanned emotional expression? Will he sound unreasonable? Will he be misunderstood? All these chances demand courage. Although this requirement may immediately appear as a liability, it becomes an asset in the course of time. Through practice in speaking himself the pilgrim develops the faith which is essential in reaching the more significant milestone events.
Before analyzing the primary avenues of speaking oneself, I will point out some of the popular side-roads. Other than appropriate, purposive communication (getting directions to the restroom, or selling soap), numerous, devious options are available to escape artists. Script-talking is perhaps the most common. With this device, one makes conversation (to be distinguished from conversing)--that is, he repeats lines which have been memorized ahead of time. He talks to keep from talking. His words are a recitation which follow an invisible script.
"How are you?"--"Fine, thank you," is a familiar example. From this simple opening one may launch into elaborate verbal procedures in which the sound of spontaneity only cloaks an artful performance. Numerous questions ("Where are you from?"; "How's the family?"; "What have you been doing lately?" and endlessly on) are often the dialogue in these contrived conversations. Complicated verbal games ("Hide-and-seek," "Look-how-bad-I'm-doing," and "Bet-I-can-outsmart-you,") are included in script-talk.
Expressing god-like judgments is another popular escape from speaking oneself. This previously discussed alternative to feeling and thinking is simply translated into words. With this device, a conversant is deceptively concealed behind a smoke-screen of praise and criticism. He dispenses his judgments rather than revealing himself. If both participants use the same procedure, the conversation becomes a mere exchange of godly conclusions. ("That is a tacky dress." "Yes, and she has on too much make-up." Or, "She is a wonderful person." "Great, except that she talks too much.")
Others use quotations to avoid self-expression. Gossip is a familiar example ("And she said to him . . . Then he yelled back . . ."). Overheard conversations may be quoted or observed activities described. In either case, the subject becomes what someone else said or did rather than the thoughts or deeds of the speaker. In religious circles, the beliefs of others are commonly quoted while personal understanding is carefully concealed.
Retelling old stories, repeating previous thoughts, replaying past conversations ("I said to him . . ."), is a fourth common alternate to speaking oneself in the immediate situation. With this procedure, current reality (who one is at the time) is ignored. The past takes precedence over the present. Participants in such a quasi-conversation may exchange stories, but not revelations of themselves. Like disc jockeys replaying "oldies but goodies," they remain hidden behind their resurrected memories.
Performances provide a fifth option. Saying "what they want to hear" (putting on a verbal show) can easily cloak the reality of the performer. Instead of speaking himself, such an actor attempts to second-guess his audience. He "reads the minds" of his listeners and then tells what he thinks they would like to hear. Such charades may include repeating old gossip, telling cute stories, complimenting the listener, or even outright lying. In such performances, the actor gives "what the audience wants."
In contrast to these popular side-roads from self-expression, a pilgrim carefully chooses appropriate avenues for speaking himself. Personal language is his common path. Most of his sentences begin with "I" ("I see . . . ," "I think . . . ," "I feel . . ."). When the "I" is not expressed, his tone of voice and sentence structure clearly convey the personal nature of what is being said. For instance, even when he does not say, "I think . . . ," his expression will clearly be his own opinion, rather than a god-like judgment on how things are.
Script-talk or contrived conversation is avoided by the pilgrim. Quotations or recitations, from or concerning others, are not given without permission and only then when related to some personal concern of the pilgrim. Past events will sometimes be recalled, but only when brought to mind by some current reality. Performances--attempts to impress the listener--will obviously be eliminated. Diligently involved in self-revelation, the pilgrim will have no time for the popular escape devices.
Whereas you language (talking in terms of the other person) is common when hiding is the goal, such speech is rare in speaking oneself. "You look good" becomes "I am excited seeing you." "You ought not to do that" becomes "I remember when I did something similar." "You look sick" becomes "I haven't been feeling well today."
Subject language (discussing various subjects) is common with pilgrims, yet in a noticeably different way. Those seeking to hide themselves often pretend to be totally objective. They talk of various subjects (weather, politics, children) as though the speaker is an uninvolved news reporter.
Pilgrims also speak subject language but in a personal manner. They talk through various subjects but not simply about them. They use subjects to reveal themselves rather than to cloak personal elements. For example, a pilgrim parent might speak through the subject of his children's activities as a way of revealing personal pride or concern. Such talk would, however, be distinctly different from judging, repeating, or using children subjects to conceal oneself.
WHAT TO DO
If you wish to practice this stepping-stone several specific steps may be helpful.
Avoid the popular escapes. Be alert to any habitual use of the previously described substitutes. When tempted to play god by passing judgment on others, criticizing or complimenting, avoid the risks. Instead exercise your own faith in revealing yourself. When invited to play verbal games or use script-talk (canned speech), decline the offer. Side-step the use of quotations and reports. Leave what others say and do as their own business. Resist when tempted to replay an old idea, retell a used anecdote, or otherwise perform for your listeners. Any popularity achieved in succumbing to these familiar temptations will cost valuable time otherwise available for speaking yourself.
Alert yourself to your own observations, opinions, and emotions. Instead of devoting your psychic energies to what others do or have done, remain attentive to yourself. What are you now thinking? What are your personal beliefs? What do you see, hear, smell, and feel? Keep in touch with your current self in the midst of each verbal encounter. For practice, you might silently rehearse these statements periodically during every conversation: "Right now I see (hear or smell) . . . ," "I am now thinking (remembering, reasoning, imagining) . . . ," "At this moment I am feeling . . ." When tempted to rise above the immediate situation, pretending to be objective, resist diligently. Remain present and alert to yourself in each encounter.
Use personal language consistently while learning. Begin almost every sentence with I or my ("I see," "I think," "I feel," or, "My thought is . . ."). At first, this may seem very egotistical, self-centered, or too personal. Probably this fear will reflect only your past avoidance rather than actual fact. Your listener is more likely to be pleased by your personal revelations than offended by your feared egotism.
Use subject language sparingly at first. When you talk about something, remain alert to your personal revelation through the subject. Occasionally insert personal pronouns in order to keep the subjects related to yourself. ("Seeing the rain reminded me . . ." "Her dress led me to think . . ." Or, "Your activity makes me feel . . .")
While learning, eliminate you language entirely. Take the word you out of your speaking vocabulary. Never say "You are . . . (anything)." The judgment required for such god-like pronouncements will easily tempt you from attention to yourself. Likewise, drop all should and ought statements ("You should do thus and so." "You ought not to feel like that"). Although your advice may be valid, the position required for administering it may lead you to forget yourself.
Don't ask questions. As an honest expression of curiosity, questions are potentially valid. However, the dangers of concealment and manipulation most often outweigh their usefulness. Initially, avoid them entirely. Don't play the game of gathering information from other people.
Use your own mind instead. Avoid script-questions, such as, "How are you?," since they encourage deception. Don't risk the potential manipulation of others by trying to lead them out through questions. Even when honestly curious, express your feelings personally rather than in a question ("I'm curious about your dress," rather than, "Where did you buy that dress?"). In making requests voice your wants instead of questioning the other person ("I want to eat Mexican food," rather than, "Where do you want to eat?").
To summarize: Each of these suggestions should be received as a guideline while learning rather than an infallible law. Once you learn to consistently speak yourself, the rules can be broken with regularity. The personal you will be heard no matter what speech form you take. Even direct questions can then reveal your mind clearly, without offense.
Furthermore, remember that speaking yourself is a stepping-stone, not a milestone. It is a potentially useful activity, not a virtuous accomplishment. You will learn to reveal yourself as an avenue toward the higher spiritual plateaus. Seen thusly, this procedure can be invaluable in the quest for God's kingdom in the here and now.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
"All work and no play" may not make a pilgrim "a dull boy," but it will deprive him of a useful stepping-stone in the quest for eternal life. Paradoxically, regular vacations to the land of fun can be invaluable aids on the path of duty. Responsibility is best fulfilled when balanced by periodic irresponsibility. The primary task of making sense of things easily gets out-of-hand unless kept in perspective by chosen encounters with non-sense.
Purposive behavior which fills most of a pilgrim's time needs to be balanced by systematic ventures into pointless activity--things done just for the fun of it. Such periods of fun allow a pilgrim to be even more diligent in his work. Regular relaxation of body and mind leads to heightened alertness later.
Strangely enough, periodic abandonment to play and pleasure (embracing the capacity to lose oneself in experiences of pure delight, or in ecstatic moments when one is literally beside himself) is helpful in finding and keeping oneself. Perhaps this is implied in Jesus' enigmatic statements about finding yourself through losing yourself. In either case, ecstasy, which literally means placed outside or beside oneself, can effectively serve as a counter-point for being oneself. Apart from their inherent pleasure, ecstatic moments allow one to more meaningfully embrace the extended times of being inside himself.
Neglect of this stepping-stone results in the disastrous condition of taking oneself too seriously. One who cannot be playful loses his perspective. The long-faced churchman who acts like fun is sin unwittingly elevates death over life. By example and precept, he promotes martyrdom rather than the abundant life which Jesus came to bring. In losing his ability to laugh at himself, to see the divine humor inhuman pathos (even the fun in "fun-erals"), he unfortunately loses the life he seeks to find.
With this stepping-stone the pilgrim protects himself from getting too serious or becoming a religious fanatic and thereby defeats his own purpose. In addition he has an aid in the serious endeavor of reaching the essential milestones. Although fun is not inherently virtuous (or sinful), it can serve well on the path to virtue. The serious pilgrim will constantly be subject to laughing at himself. No traumatic struggle for a spiritual plateau will ever be more than a step away from a good belly laugh for him. His tears and laughter will always be close friends.
Funning then, is having fun--having a good time, living it up, having a ball (a blast). In the midst of everyday life, the pilgrim suddenly has a party. The regular business of being sensible is suspended in favor of a time for nonsense. Serious talk is punctuated by a joke. Duty is laid aside for a period of being responsibly irresponsible. Serious activities with significant motives and goals are replaced by playful behavior with no immediate, purpose whatsoever--no redeeming social (or personal) value. The pilgrim literally forgets himself for a time and does something simply for fun.
Usually such times will focus on the expression and enjoyment of one or more of the basic senses--sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch. One may view beautiful things, listen to moving music, enjoy the smell and taste of delicious food, or experience the delight of sensual touching. Combinations of sense activities may include involvement in hobbies, crafts, games, creative arts, plus human encounters, such as, social and/or sexual intercourse. Within the limits of what is non-destructive--"illegal, indecent, or fattening," as someone has said--any activity may serve as a vehicle for funning.
The time involved will depend, of course, on the nature of the chosen activity. The significant issue is quality of experience rather than quantity of time. Ecstasy is always a matter of degrees. One must choose vehicles relevant to his previous training and appropriate to his current responsibilities. ]
In general, some time may be set aside every day for doing fun things. If, for example, one has learned to lose herself in music, she might schedule thirty minutes each day for turning aside from all duties and allowing ecstatic listening. If one delights in taste he might regularly plan to indulge himself in appropriate gourmet-type meals, considering his current weight, of course.
Those trained in conversing or practiced in joking might regularly leave duty to engage in pointless conversation or in sharing humor--("Say, did you hear the one about . . . "). If one has developed skills in a particular craft, art, or hobby, such as painting or collecting stamps, he might spend time each day with this diversion.
The nature of a chosen activity is secondary to its utility as a vehicle on the way to ecstasy. One must be able to lose himself in it, to get so deeply involved that he forgets reputation, duty, and even what time it is. Any activity which causes one to get up-tight or focus attention on himself is self-defeating in funning. Barring those endeavors with destructive or confining consequences--injurious to health, spirit, or social standing (such as, overeating or drinking, demeaning emotional games, theft, or murder), the serious pilgrim will select such possibilities as fit his own nature and embraced abilities.
Two significant problems are commonly encountered in learning to use this stepping-stone--the one, ethical, and the other, pragmatic. The first has to do with a deep, often unconscious, association between fun and sin. The second problem results from an unknown tolerance for pleasure. Few people seem to consciously believe that there is anything wrong with having a good time. Even the most conservative religious groups seldom condemn pleasure itself. I know of no listing of sins which includes fun, at least, by name. Heaven is commonly described as a place where one can have the best possible time--ultimate happiness or bliss. Few religious groups overtly teach that pleasure itself is sinful.
In spite of the absence of such direct beliefs, however, close observation reveals a prevalent association between pleasure and evil. "This is so much fun, it must be sinful," said one churchman at a party--reflecting this familiar identification. Another example of this association was a birthday card picturing a little girl with a halo and small wings. The cover message was: "Be a good girl on your birthday!" On the inside was the question: "Or would you rather have fun?"
Although most religious training only condemns selected pleasurable activities (primarily associated with sexual expression or its possibility), it seems that practitioners tend to connect fun and sin on a deeply primitive level. While thinking (consciously) that "it's all right to have fun, as long as you do in the right way," they seem to feel (think unconsciously) that any real pleasure is related to evil.
The expression good, clean fun obviously implies its opposite, namely dirty fun. Whereas overt teaching may draw lines between clean and dirty pleasure on the basis of the activity itself, it seems that pupils often fail to grasp the behavioral distinctions, learning only that feelings of pleasure are to be suspected, even if they are not inherently evil.
Probably this primitive identification is made prior to any formal religious teaching. Touching one's body, in particular, the sexual organs, for example, is often condemned by parents of small children ("Don't play with yourself"). Mutual touching among friends ("playing with each other") is likewise rejected. Since these activities are likely to be highly exciting to a child, parental rejection of the activity is easily confused by a child with rejection of the pleasurable feelings.
The predictable conclusion in the primitive thinking of the child is likely to be "it is wrong to feel good (at least, too good)." Certainly this rejection of pleasurable activities multiplies as the child grows. If the identification between fun and wrong were made early, it could easily be reinforced and suppressed into unawareness by adolescence.
However it occurs, the association obviously exists in the minds of many adults. They have unconscious ethics about getting involved in truly pleasurable activities. Somehow, "it just seems wrong." If you have any of these deep feelings, you will have trouble in learning to use this stepping-stone. Even though you consciously accept the idea of the legitimacy of pleasure, you may find yourself resisting the experience. You can learn, however, with diligence and practice.
The second potential problem is related to an undeveloped tolerance for pleasure itself. As strange as it may seem many of us are unprepared for the experience of fun. Almost everyone wants to feel good. Or so we say. A closer look, however, often reveals significant discrepancies between our conscious wishes and the facts about how we live. While saying we want to be happy and while theoretically searching for a better life, many of us systematically thwart feelings of pleasure when they rise above a certain minimal level.
The fact is, many have had far more experience with feeling bad than feeling good, with feeling guilty than feeling pleasured, with being low than being high, with being denied than being indulged. Considering our total past lives, we may have had more practice at being repressed and controlled than at being free and excited. Not that we haven't wished for excitement and good times, but that, in fact, these occasions have been relatively few and far between in comparison with our hours, days, and weeks of plodding along feeling down, rather than up, or existing at low levels of excitement.
The result of this common experience is that many are better prepared for depression than for exhilaration. In spite of conscious desires for happiness, they are better trained for sadness. Even while hoping for fun, they are more geared for work. Even though few say they prefer to be down than to be up, their extended prior experience with the former state is likely to be reproduced. Having trod the paths of reduced pleasure for so long, they are prone to continue along its course even while dreaming of future bliss.
The biological situation further compounds the problem. Whereas the human organism is biologically equipped for both pleasure and for coping, at lower levels of human integration the two conditions are not compatible. The physical state of being pleasured and the state of being ready to fight are opposites. When one is pleasured (feeling good), he exists in an open and vulnerable condition. The parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system has the edge over its counterpart, the sympathetic branch. Muscles are relaxed, heartbeat is slow, blood pressure is down, peripheral blood vessels are opened, pupils dilated, salivary glands are stimulated. In general, the person is physically prepared for response and fun.
On the other hand, when facing danger a different internal condition exists. The sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is in control. In preparation for coping (fight or flight), one gets up-tight. The heart beats faster, blood pressure goes up, blood vessels constrict, muscles stiffen, the eyes get beady (for sharp vision), and salivary glands cease operation. In general, the pleasure system is replaced by the coping system. Biologically, readiness for loving and readiness for fighting are opposite conditions. The physical state of peace or pleasure is quite different from the condition for war.
This fact becomes significant for two reasons. First, as previously noted, many people have spent more time existing in the second condition. Biologically, they are more experienced at readiness for war than at readiness for peace or pleasure. They have spent more hours coping than they have loving. They are more familiar with the condition of being up-tight than with hanging-loose. Months and years of time spent in being relatively stiff overbalance the lessor hours spent in relaxation.
Thus, in spite of one's wish for pleasure, he may be far more practiced and ready for the opposite biological condition. The natural tendency is to continue along the familiar course. Once a person is in the habit of being stiff, relaxation is difficult to achieve even when he consciously desires it.
Aside from the tendency to perpetuate a habit, the biological situation also reflects in a realistic danger at lessor levels of human integration. This danger is voiced in the common warning about loving: "Be careful; you might get hurt." The warning is based on the experience of being injured while in the vulnerable condition of being open to love.
Before one learns to integrate the two branches of his autonomic nervous system--to exist with an appropriate balance between each--he is likely to fall under the power of either one or the other. When open to loving, he may be closed to the possibility of coping. The old saying, "Love is blind," mirrors this common condition. Lovers are
notoriously blind to the facts of reality. They are ill-prepared to cope with threat. Thus, many do get hurt while under the power of the parasympathetic branch of their own nervous systems. They learn through bitter experience that while love is exciting, it can also be very dangerous.
On the other hand, when one is exclusively under the power of his sympathetic nerves, stiff and up-tight, he will find it difficult to loosen his control and risk pleasure. Although consciously desiring to have a good time, he may fear the loss of control which he perceives to be necessary in giving in to parasympathetic direction. He is reasonably afraid of pleasure. In his own limited experience, he has only found fun to be possible at the expense of his coping abilities. He thinks he must give up his better judgment in order to have a good time.
Thus a common human conclusion is that it has to be one way or the other. One can either be having fun or he can be on his toes; he can be open for pleasure or closed for coping; he can be making love or making war, but he cannot do both. Warriors can't be lovers, and lovers can't be warriors.
The summary result of these biological facts and limited human experiences is that many of us exist with a limited tolerance for pleasure. We want to have fun, but we do not know if we can stand it without losing our heads. Just as we each have a certain known tolerance for pain, so we have a certain presumed tolerance for fun. (We think we can stand just so much excitement.) In spite of our wishes for ecstasy, we become very threatened when we approach our currently-known pleasure limit. Deeply buried in our unconscious minds is the fear of the unknown heights of exhilaration. We do not know if we can stand the heady winds of pleasure without being blown away by them. If we get too excited, will we explode? Will we die of ecstasy?
When we do not consciously face these facts, we must unconsciously place road-blocks in the path of pleasure lest we unwittingly exceed our assumed limits. Some people become compulsive about work. They are too busy to have fun. Others accept religious beliefs which are anti-pleasure. Some develop critical attitudes and argumentative habits, short-circuiting any close human relationships which might cause excitement. Others become compulsive seekers after the very pleasure they cannot stand. Whatever the procedure, we can become very expert in avoiding that which we think we want.
This situation presents serious problems in the course of using this stepping-stone and, indeed, in reaching God's kingdom itself. Heaven, the goal of the religious quest, is the ultimate state of bliss, the greatest happiness, the apex of fun, the best that exists. In organized religion one is theoretically working toward the most advanced stateof pleasure possible for the human being.
But what if one can't stand it (doesn't think he can)? What if he already exists at the upper limits of his tolerance for pleasure? Even though he says he wants to be in the kingdom of God, to return to the Garden of Eden (which means pleasure), he will find himself in a double-bind. While mentally espousing the goal of religion he will be impelled to work against himself.
Even if he goes through the motions of working out his salvation, he will tend to thwart any positive results of his labors as he approaches his pleasure limit. Church rolls are crowded with those who are caught in this double-bind. They say they want heaven, but, being deeply fearful of their ability to tolerate pleasure, they unwittingly short-circuit their own efforts, making a charade of religion to the outside observer.
To summarize: Two potential problems in learning to effectively utilize this stepping-stone are a repressed ethic which identifies pleasure with evil, and inexperience in letting go.
WHAT TO DO
Learning to use this stepping-stone may be considered intwo parts: Dealing with problems, and taking the initiative. If you have feelings associating pleasure and evil, as outlined above, you can expect to feel guilty as you face the problems associated with exploring this stepping-stone. Transgressing early learning naturally evokes latent guilt.
You may take heart, however, in your knowledge that this guilt is false--that is, related to training, but not to actual reality. Even though you have learned to relate sin and fun, the identification is reasonably unsound. There is nothing wrong with pleasure. It is a natural, God-given capacity. Although certain ways of evoking pleasurable responses are socially unacceptable, this is a commentary on society rather than pleasure itself. Many fun-things-to-do are, in fact, impractical but not inherently evil. Any guilt related to fun itself is therefore false (real in your experience, but unreasonable in reality).
Knowing this consciously won't make your guilt feelings go away, but it will allow you to face them more realistically. As you explore your capacity for pleasure, expect false guilt, but learn to encounter it without fleeing. Only through facing-up to the limitations of your early experiences will you be able to work through them.
The second common problem, namely, undeveloped tolerance for pleasure, can be more directly approached. You will be dealing with a lack of experience. This can be overcome by appropriate practice. Your homework will lie in expanding the limits of your tolerance, in learning to be excited or to let go, without acting-out or doing something stupid. You will be facing a physiological situation, the physical fact that you do not know experientially, how much pleasure you can stand.
In this step, you will be dealing with reality rather than with your thinking only. Respect the limits of your current experiential knowledge. Along a scale of pleasure, from pain to ecstasy, your learning only reaches a certain point. You know how to tolerate non-pleasure (boredom, unhappiness, hurt, etc.), but the heights of excitement may represent an unknown dimension.
Reasonably, you should be afraid. What will happen if you move beyond your embraced limits? Will you be hurt? Rejected? Will you be able to keep your head? Will you do something foolish? Will you burst with excitement? Will you die? Will God strike you dead? Respect whatever forms your fear may take. You are dealing with a literal unknown.
With this in mind set forth on a reasonable course of exploration. Find out if your unconscious conclusions are correct. Even if you could not stand any more when you were younger, perhaps your current resources are more adequate. Think of the procedure as spiritual exercise. You will be exploring and exercising your pleasure muscles--developing your capacity to stand fun in a responsible and useful way--rather than dissipating excitement in socially unacceptable or destructive ways. You will be learning the art of contained pleasure.
The actual exercise program will, of course, be geared to your current level of development. You will begin and proceed in accord with where you are and what you discover you can stand. The gist of your practice will be to select appropriate, pleasurable activities which fall on the growing edge of your current strengths. You will look for fun-things-to-do which give you practice in excitement but do not overwhelm you.
The guideline is: Stretch your fun muscles, but do not over-do it. In a spirit of discovery find out where your current limits lie; then gradually seek to extend them, considering social acceptability and your personal tolerance. As with physical exercise, look for that which stretches you without straining you.
In general, these exercise activities will include sense experiences--looking, listening, tasting, and touching things which excite you (turn you on). In accord with your circumstances, look for occasions to use one or more of your senses just for the fun of it. If, for example, you like to look at people, you might go to a busy corner or department store and spend fifteen minutes letting yourself get as excited as possible in openly watching everyone. If you love good food, prepare the most delectable meal you can imagine and practice enjoying it more than ever before. If you enjoy listening to good music, select your most stimulating records or tapes, arrange an hour alone, and see just how much fun you can have.
After practicing sense experiences privately, you may expand your exercises by finding occasions for public pleasure--parties, games, conversations, or other human encounters which you find exciting. Your goal will be to explore and expand your tolerance for personal pleasure. You will be learning to have fun, and then more and more fun.
With your developed tolerance for pleasure, the next phase of your work will involve your initiative in using it. After you overcome false guilt and learn to let go, you will then face the challenge of finding time for such experiences. First, you must find out if you can, then you must face if you will.
I suggest scheduling some time--fifteen minutes to an hour--each day for funning. The exact amount will, of course, depend on your schedule and other responsibilities. What you do is your decision. The only requirements are that you truly let go and have a good time in a way which is not ultimately destructive. These fun times--chosen periods of responsible irresponsibility--will prove productive in the long run. As a serious pilgrim you will discover funning to be an invaluable stepping-stone in your quest for heaven in the here and now.
Sitting quietly, doing nothing
Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.
Finally we consider the last, and for many, the most difficult of all the stepping-stones--ceasing purposeful activity. The name undoing is chosen out of default. I wish there were an established word to adequately represent this extremely useful non-activity. Regrettably I know of none--hence, a negative name for a very positive experience. Undoing means doing nothing, positively.
Since our language is geared toward doing rather than being, I choose the idea of not doing to represent an event which more properly falls in the realm of being--without any doing. It could accurately be called being except for the blandness and common misunderstanding of this familiar word. The typical response, "Oh, do you mean just being," implying some minor event, has led me to avoid this existential term. If used, another modifier would be required. Undoing means profoundly being versus just being.
Most often we humans are busy doing something--engaging in purposeful activity. We are doing something with a goal. The present event achieves its meaning in relation to an anticipated result, rather than in the activity itself. The deed (the doing) may be either physical or mental. We may be working, walking, moving, or sleeping; or we may be studying, analyzing, plotting, figuring things out, or trying to understand. Whether the activity is external or internal, it is purposive. We work to make a living, walk to get our exercise, move to go somewhere else, and sleep to get our rest. Everything is to or for something else. In like manner our mental activity is commonly conducted with a purpose in mind--we study to get an education; we try to figure things out in order to get relief from uncertainty or to do a better job next time. We plot and plan to accomplish some goal.
Whether it be physical or mental, the days and nights of our lives are commonly filled with doing something for a purpose. Even when we "don't know why I did that," we may later discover a hidden purpose. Such goal-directed activity is, of course, immensely practical. Environmental coping is a crucial phase of human existence, as well as that of animal or plant. Diligent striving is also appropriate in reaching the milestones in the spiritual pilgrimage. I give full credit to the utility of doing.
Effective tending to business, however, can also be short-circuited by busyness. We can get so wrapped up in the trees that we miss the forest; we can substitute running fast for going somewhere. Constant activity may leave us like the proverbial chicken "running around with his head cut off." In other words doing--a necessary part of the movement toward being--can also become an escape from the kingdom of God.
Undoing--the opposite of our prevailing endeavor--can prove invaluable, both in keeping perspective on doing and in glimpsing the kingdom prior to full arrival. We may break the threat (noted above) of purposive activity by periodically stopping. Even productivity can be enhanced by these times of positive inactivity. In such moments of suspended movement--undoing--we may also receive foretastes of the feast to come.
These chosen times of reversed doing (profoundly being) are to be distinguished from resting, relaxing, taking a break, meditating, or going into a trance. Although undoing may occur during any of these activities, it is not synonymous with any one of them.
For instance, one might undo while taking a break, but many people take breaks who never undo. Breaks are often very purposeful--to get away from work, to relax, take a nap, and for many other reasons. Undoing has no such hidden agenda. Any connection between undoing and taking a break is purely coincidental. True, certain activities, such as break-taking are more conducive to undoing, yet they are not necessarily the same.
In fact, with practice a diligent pilgrim may learn to undo, even while engaged in the most demanding activity. As contradictory as it sounds, doing does not inherently prevent undoing. This, however, is theoretical at this point. While learning to use the stepping-stone, we may initially consider the two as opposites.
Perhaps the general understanding of meditating comes closest to the non-activity of undoing. During these periods, overt physical movement is customarily stopped--no walking, talking, or working. Ordinary purposive thinking, reasoning, analyzing, etc., is also suspended.
While physically awake and mentally alert, the pilgrim chooses to stop trying to accomplish something either outwardly or inwardly. He places himself in a state of suspended animation. In contrast to relaxing, during which one might fall asleep, he remains sharply aware. Though he may in fact, be relaxed, he is not just relaxing. Nor does he escape reality into a mental trance which is necessarily devoid of conscious thought, or into a focused awareness on a sound or sight, as is done in some Eastern religious meditations.
Instead, the pilgrim merely ceases all doing and allows himself to be. Whereas identity is commonly maintained with activities or self-images, in this state of non-doing the pilgrim faces the loss of all objective identity and the potential discovery of self-less being. If, during such a time, he moves, the movement will be without intent to get somewhere. If he thinks, the thinking will be purposeless.
For example, if while undoing a thought comes to mind, the pilgrim will freely entertain it as though a welcome guest, yet with the right to come and go as it pleases. He will neither grasp the thought when it arrives nor cling to it when it leaves. He will not try to think of anything, or to make sense of any mental image. If all thoughts depart, he will leave the screen of his mind open, subject to new arrivals, but comfortably empty while waiting.
The distinguishing feature is not merely the absence or presence of movement or ideas but rather the purposeless nature of any deeds or thoughts which may occur. Undoing is characterized by a complete lack of striving or clinging. Even though engaged in an act or entertaining a thought, the pilgrim does so without purpose. He is being himself--without benefit of activity or ideas. If either should be present, it is the same as if they were absent.
Of course, it may be technically argued that all stepping-stones are purposive in nature--intended as aids in reaching the milestones. Theoretically, this is correct. In the abstract, undoing may even be considered the most potentially productive of all stepping-stones. However, in practice the pragmatic nature of undoing ceases to have current existence. As though by magic, all its theoretical purposes diminish to naught. Later, its utility may appear and be realized; but while a pilgrim is undoing, he is literally doing no thing.
Two problems are commonly encountered in learning to use this stepping-stone: an ethic favoring work, and the deep faith required. The so-called "Protestant work ethic" prevails in the ethos of our culture. "An idle hand is the devil's workshop"--is the kind of attitude which continues to undergird the social and religious training of many.
The deeper message is: Work is virtuous; idleness is evil. Those trained on this ethic typically feel good when they have worked hard and feel guilty if caught doing nothing. They brag about how busy they have been, and feel pangs of remorse over wasting time (not doing work). If, for instance, a neighbor dropped in while such a person were taking an afternoon nap, an explanation could be expected. In the spirit of the work ethic, time wasted in sleeping must be justified. Conversely labors are typically exaggerated ("What have you been doing lately?" "Oh, working hard.").
Naturally, such training presents problems when one is learning to undo. This procedure contradicts his previous experience. Whereas such a person has learned the goodness of staying busy, this stepping-stone implies the goodness of being idle. Before a pilgrim of the work-ethic tradition learns undoing, he can expect considerable inner conflict to occur. Initial efforts to do nothing are likely to provoke feelings of guilt. The unconscious reservoir of previous training can be expected to provide regular temptations toward activity. A dozen good things to do are likely to come to mind whenever undoing is attempted.
The second potential problem may be even more significant than the first. As strange as it seems, undoing requires tremendous faith. Theoretically, doing nothing is easier than working; idleness is presumed to be simpler than staying busy. In practice, however, a paradox can be expected. Because we commonly find our sense of identity through doing things (living-up to self images and social expectations), to face doing nothing can pose a vast threat. We know who we are through what we do, but who are we (or even "Are we?") when idle? Such loss of experienced identity can literally be traumatic.
In addition to the possible loss of identity, undoing opens the door to the unknown. Stopping familiar activities both externally and internally allows one to face new vistas of himself. For instance, suspending habitual thought patterns allows one to remember or fantasy in a non-purposive way. Forgotten events, suppressed during ordinary busy-thinking, may emerge into consciousness. Denied desires, ruled-out by busy-work, are likely to return to awareness when the body is at ease. Painful insights, systematically ignored during constant activity, may suddenly come clear during times of undoing. These and other possibilities place this stepping-stone in the category of other great acts of faith.
WHAT TO DO
Such an inappropriate question amplifies the cultural and language problems inherent in discussing this art. We naturally think of "what to do" in order to not do! The ridiculous answer is, of course, don't do anything. Stop doing!
Regrettably, it is easier said than done (undone?). For practice, these steps may be useful: Set aside a specific time of five to fifteen minutes when you can be relatively free from distractions. Arrange circumstances so that outside stimuli are reduced to a minimum. Perhaps it will be an early morning period before or after the children have gone to school. You might sit in your yard or a nearby public park. If afternoon or evening fits your schedule best, select a time when you are not excessively tired from work. Remember undoing requires alertness, and it is not to be confused with just resting.
Once in your chosen place, make yourself physically comfortable--take off your shoes, loosen your tie or belt, sit or stand in a relaxed position in harmony with the circumstances. It is best to be erect rather than slouched lest you be tempted to merely rest or sleep. Take several deep breaths, exhaling all air from your lungs, as a way of relieving accumulated tensions.
Then just sit (or stand), moving only when necessary to keep your body comfortable. You may begin by carefully observing your environment. Then, for a while, stare--without looking at anything in particular--in order to free yourself from the doing of looking at things. Perhaps closing your eyes will be initially helpful. When you open your eyes, practice seeing (as discussed in the previous stepping-stone)--that is, let things move freely into and out of your vision, without "looking at" any of them.
Be like a see-er who sees whatever comes to his vision, instead of a look-er who visually grasps-at and clings-to sights. Pretend you are a camera, seeing whatever is presented to the film of your eyes, with equal respect for each visual stimulus. Avoid any temptation to name, figure-out, or judge anything you see. Simply see.
Follow the same procedure with your hearing. At first, grasp after sounds--listen intently for every noise--so you can then stop your habit of busy-listening or hearing as a thing-to-do. After registering as many separable sounds as possible, suspend any attempt to hear, and open your ears for non-selective listening. As with sights, allow any passing sound to be received, yet without grasping--naming, knowing, or judging. Entertain each noise with equal respect, freely moving from one to another, as the sounds are presented for your hearing.
Do likewise with your mind. Stop trying to think of anything. This is not a period for figuring things out, analyzing yourself, or making sense of what's happened. Suspend all such purposive mental endeavors. Instead allow your mind total freedom. If a thought comes entertain it as a friend, but freely allow it to go without clinging to it. Should your mind be blank, allow it so. Leave it as free to be vacant as to have a thought. If tempted to begin grappling with some problem or to engage in mental activities--such as, naming the birds or figuring out where the noises come from--resist. This is free time! A time to allow mental as well as physical undoing.
Just as no thought is to be pursued or clung-to, so none is to be resisted. Consider ideas to be like passing views. Let them come across the screen of your mind as freely as sights across the field of your vision. Without judgment--praise or condemnation--accept any thought, memory or fantasy. If tempted to classify a recollection as bad, resist the temptation. Remember our previous consideration of thinking: All thoughts are morally neutral. In this state of suspended animation, while life--both external and internal--is allowed to flow freely by, remain as a silent observer. Move only enough to keep yourself physically comfortable and alert. If tempted to doze, remember that even sleeping can be doing something. Your goal is to do nothing.
Use crutches as required. To immediately begin doing nothing may seem excessively demanding. If so, use a crutch while learning. Any casual activity which does not require full concentration may be used. These activities may include having a cup of coffee, smoking a cigarette, watching the sun go down or the stars appear, or going for a walk or drive.
Under cover of these functions, you may begin to practice undoing. If you feel impelled to explain yourself, these crutches will also provide a good excuse. Thus, if someone asks, "What are you doing?," you have a ready reply: "Oh, I'm just taking the dog for a walk." Of course it will be partly untrue but you may feel safer in your practice. As soon as your cover activity is begun, for instance, when you are sitting alone with your cup of tea, begin to undo, as described above. Use crutches as necessary, but as soon as possible move toward strict undoing. Go for your coffee break without a cup; go for a walk without the dog; sit without smoking.
Expect to feel guilty. To the extent of your adherence to the work ethic, you are likely to feel guilty about being lazy whenever you undo. You may fear being caught just goofing off, or feel that you must justify such apparently wasted time. Remember that such guilt is false; it is based on the way you were trained rather than on reality as it is. In regard to your salvation, this time of undoing may be more profitable than any busy-work you will ever do. Let the dirty dishes or messy closets wait while you strive for the milestone events on the strait and narrow. Since the guilt is false rather than valid, you may wisely overcome it by practice at resistance. Go ahead and endure this emotional villain, until you defeat itscontrol over your life.
Even while you are engaged in undoing, guilt may creep back in the form of tempting thoughts about "what you should be doing." A score of projects needing your attention may come to mind. Or, you may wonder, "What would other people think if they saw me wasting time like this?" False guilt, in all its devious forms, must be resisted if you are to learn the high art of undoing.
Extend your practice periods. If you begin with five-minute sessions each day, keep practicing until you are able to sit for long periods without resorting to any doing, physical or mental. In proportion to your previous dependence on activity or the extent of your false guilt, this may require weeks or even months. Keep at it as longas necessary.
Then begin extending your practice sessions. Considering your practical responsibilities, look for longer periods of time for undoing. Perhaps you will arise earlier in the morning or seek appropriate occasions for withdrawing from daily activities. Continue practicing until you can easily take a full hour for alert undoing. Vacation periods may allow you even longer. Arrange for a full day to practice extending your limits as much as possible.
Learn to undo while doing. After you master the art of undoing without any crutches or false guilt--which may take years--turn your attention to the far more demanding skills of spiritual stillness in the midst of physical activity. You learn to undo in relative quiet, so as to later apply your art in the midst of everyday life.
As previously explained, undoing is a spiritual practice which is essentially unrelated to overt activities. We separate them while learning, because one easily distracts from the other. Once you master each separately, the final and highest art involves doing both at the same time.
Undoing while doing means to be engaged in purposeful activities--cleaning house, making a living, conversing with a friend, making love--and yet to remain spiritually at rest. Although doing things with an obvious goal, the pilgrim exists at the time as though success were irrelevant. He does without striving. He goes, yet as though he were going nowhere.
Though actively involved, he is at the same time spiritually detached. His activities are relieved of all compulsion. For instance, if engaged in a competitive game, he will play diligently yet without a compulsion to win or a fear of losing. If working on a project, he will be engrossed in his labor yet always able to stop or abandon it at any moment. In his life, he will appear to be going somewhere or striving for a goal while in fact he has nowhere to go and nothing to reach. For the pilgrim who masters the art of undoing while doing, this is it. Each moment is a fulfillment within itself.
After privately learning to undo, your ultimate goal with this last stepping-stone will be continuous, public undoing. Whatever engages your attention you can, at the same time, be practicing undoing. Set your sights on a harmonious marriage of these two apparent opposites, which, for the diligent pilgrim, can become intimate friends.
Learn to undo in the midst of all your doing and you will possess the most valuable of all stepping-stones in your quest for His kingdom in the here and now.
These stepping-stones have proven useful to some persons in the demanding process of reaching the spiritual mile-stones. Perhaps they can be to you also. Feeling (being emotional) can provide invaluable information from past experiences and can enhance each present event with a new depth.
Thinking, in the sense of a creative expression of the entire range of mental capacities, allows a careful charting of the course. Seeing reality as it is--rather than through the rose-colored glasses of names, knowledge, and judgments--opens the door to the possibility of meeting God, the ultimate in reality.
Consciously dealing with dreams can help free a pilgrim from the control and manipulation of suppressed portions of himself, thereby placing greater personal resources at his disposal. Speaking himself becomes an additional door to self-discovery. It also enlivens his encounters and develops his faith.
Having fun provides periodic occasions for the delights of ecstasy, while also allowing a sense of balance and perspective on the regular responsibilities of growth. Undoing, the fine art of doing nothing--positively, frees the pilgrim from the potential shackles of all doing; it looses him for the final challenges of becoming himself.
To paraphrase a song: He does "promise us a rose garden," but he never said that reaching it would be easy. Pilgrims on the path to the kingdom of heaven in the here and now can anticipate work. Only the broad way "that leadeth to destruction" is easy. On the strait and narrow we can expect "fear and trembling" as we work out our own salvation.
Yet I believe the pilgrimage is worth any cost. To be sure, I have not arrived; still, my spiritual glimpses confirm this kingdom. With Paul, and an indomitable, historical host, I too "press on to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." This prize can be yours also. His invitation remains open.
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