Archive for the ‘Rumi’ Category

Gods for the Ungodded — and Vice-versa   Leave a comment

With the pervasive influence of belief-religions like Christianity, Islam and Judaism on many of the readers of this blog, we tend to think of the dividing line between “who’s in” and “who’s out” as something marked by beliefwhen there are numerous other options available. It’s not just “paper or plastic?” There’s canvas bags, and boxes, and carry-it-out-in-my-hands-without-any-container-needed-thank-you, to name a few. And if we look over some of the terms available to describe this range of approaches and objects of our attention and intention — terms like atheist — they often bring way too many non-useful associations with them. Often atheist really isn’t a particularly useful term for many who just don’t bother with deity, as deity has never bothered with them. Hence the term ungodded in the title of this post, an awkward attempt to get at this phenomenon.

After all, orthodox Hindus aren’t normally labelled a-carnists, non-meat-eaters, though most are vegetarian. It’s simply their default setting. If I’ve never paid any particular attention to deity at all, I’m not so much an atheist as an alter-cosmist — I live in a different cosmos, where the question doesn’t arise, or hasn’t done so recently. At least until the door-to-door folks come calling with their pocket sermons and their flyers and leaflets and their “either you’re in or you’re out”-trips. Binarists, every one of ’em, devotees of a binary black-white, either-or world that ignores an immense and uncharted middle ground. Worshipers of Binaria, goddess of absolute distinctions in a world of shaded and subtle continuum inherent in almost everything.

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Marduk and his dragon Mushkhushshu — public domain/Wikipedia

Or to take another tack, I don’t believe in my ancestors so much as understand they exist(ed), from the evidence of my own existence right now, though many of their names and faces are lost in time. (The same happens to gods. Marduk, son of Enki, anyone? Does your non-belief make you an a-Mardukist?! Or can we concur that most of us check the box marked N.A. — “not applicable”?)

Some ancestors contribute to my genes and bloodline directly, while the others subside into the background, distant cousins, every one of them. Imagine — and I mean imagine — that god/desses fill some of those same spaces. Powers that made and are making a difference, even though I never meet them directly. Imagine the cosmos filled with nothing else than cousins. My counterpart in Azerbaijan gets along perfectly well without my knowledge or belief, and he’s a mortal man. What of god/desses? Can’t they do at least as much?

“Oh brave new world, that has such people [deities?] in it!” — Miranda, Shakespeare, The Tempest, 5.1.186-187.

Gravity existed long before anyone believed in it. We could call it a goddess, except that we (mostly) haven’t conceptualized that Power in such a way. And no, I’m not suggesting that we pray to Gravitas at her altars — although doing so would doubtless reveal some world-widening insights we haven’t yet reached. Any scientist worth her training knows that dedication to her field reveals secrets obtainable in no other way. What else is devotion, after all, but a means of contact, a chance to widen the world and make use of the divine gift of our imagination and creativity? What else, you might ask, are we for? (Try that out as a subject for meditation and practice for a month of days, in any way you like, and get back to us with what you discover.)

R. J. Stewart offers an “American Goddesses Meditation” as a way to explore deity that you might connect to quite naturally. (Why not use what’s nearby first?! If you’re not an inhabitant of the States, adapt to your locale — who’s a goddess in your area? There might be rivers, mountains, and so on that deserve attention, if only for experimental devotion. Who gets represented in statues, names, images — even and especially if they don’t at first come across as goddesses? And you can try the same with gods, if you’re so inclined. Many deities are partly or proximally incarnate — they have a physical form you can use to approach them, much as the Orthodox in some traditions have icons, statues, etc. Looked at one way, some of the most seemingly Protestant and Evangelical among Americans are polytheists, also worshiping a hard, metallic and martial war-god, carrying around his talismans and charms in the form of AK-47s, Glocks, etc.)

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Liberty — Wikipedia/public domain

If, on the other hand, you do practice devotion or dedication to some form of deity, it behooves you to try out non-belief, for what it can offer you that nothing else can. By that I mean, among other things, rather than fearing doubt, to harness it as a tool for insight and exploration. One of my teachers exhausted doubt as a factor when he finally pursued it to its deepest ends — ran it to earth, so to speak — and realized that for him it no longer exerted power. Doubt became merely boring, not worth the time (like chewing gum you’ve worked on for hours). Doubt no longer offered an illicit thrill, or troubled his inner worlds. As far as doubt is concerned, then, he’s now an atheist.

Can I be an atheist towards fear, or anger, or some other Power that asks for my worship and energy and attention? Who and what else do I worship that doesn’t deserve it, or that I’ve outgrown? (And to turn the wheel another quarter turn, who and what might I be overlooking or ignoring that merits more attention than I grant today? Chances are great there’s something more I can discover about this endlessly amazing universe.)

[“Why, when God’s world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison, of all places?” — Rumi.]

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True News, A Birthright   Leave a comment

“Our task”, says Rilke, “is to listen to the news that is always arriving out of silence”.

I usually avoid the political on this blog, and I’ll touch on it here only tangentially, because my purposes aren’t usually aligned with politics anyway. It’s simply not an arena where I work most effectively, having honed other skills for other goals. And by the time you’ve finished this post, you may be annoyed enough that you know as well as I do why I don’t “go political” any more often than I do. I usually irritate people on all sides.

It seems the job of our human ingenuity to rebel against absolutes, and against such tasks as others impose on us, even if they’re poets. Maybe especially if they’re poets. We turn away from our birthright, like a nursing infant fussing and refusing breast or bottle. Even the word “birthright” has gone out of fashion. (“Birthright? What’s that?”) And the cosmos spots us plenty of slack at first to rebel, to defy the augury, to “do it my way”. (After all, they say, “it takes all kinds to make a world”.)

True news a birthright?

So much of what passes for news isn’t even other people’s, but a kind of noise we make to fill up the silence, the same noise that rises up when we try to meditate or discover some silence in ourselves. And while it’s important to keep track of the world, up to a point, I often spin well past that point, leaving it far behind in the dust. When I return, I can’t even see it anymore, just my own footprints. On the trail of everything else but what and where I am, what else can I encounter but fake news?!

But “the news that’s always arriving out of silence” doesn’t originate from a partisan source, unless you feel the cosmos has recently turned partisan. I hear myself in it, my own deepest concerns, as much as anyone else’s. It doesn’t strive to convince me of anything. Like sun and rain, it exists, indifferent to whether I care or pay attention at all.

I don’t know about you, but my ancestors within my living memory talked of “inner resources”, and silence often was chief among them.

I note that Rilke doesn’t say we have to do anything beyond listening. (Did he know from experience that the initial choice and challenge to listen already demanded enough of us? And was it really any easier then, during his lifetime, to listen?) In listening, each person may hear something slightly or very different. But listening’s a place to begin.  It’s a practice. Listen, and we apprentice ourselves to true news.

We also hear a lot about rights these days, with nearly everyone insisting on them, like children squabbling over cookies. We hear much less about responsibilities, about the tasks and practices Rilke and others among the Wise have set before us. As with prayer in the previous post, if we’re all saying “give” and holding out for gifts, who’s doing anything else? Who’s taking up the task of embodying rather than merely asking? There’s a place for petition. But if I first take up my responsibility, I find that rights begin to fall into place more readily. In fact, I submit that’s the only way it can happen. Responsibilities first, rights second. We can’t have one without the other. If I have to wait until “someone else gives me the right to …”, I must also wait until that someone else picks up the responsibility that underlies it.

The sequence of responsibility first and rights second can help sidestep obsessions with privilege and race and identity and all the other noises we’re distracting ourselves with these days. Insofar as Druidry is political, it says that what we need most deeply has always been with us. We don’t need to go looking elsewhere. The Wiccan Charge of the Goddess, subversive still, echoes this:  “… if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without. For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire”. (The wisdom may have originated with Rumi: “If you find me not within you, you will never find me. For I have been with you from the beginning”.)

We may despise such wisdom and call it privilege or some other distracting name, without ever noticing it’s still true, and acting on it to find out how it might transform us.

We also don’t like prophets who tell us “The poor you will always have with you”. It seems an admission of defeat, or an acknowledgement of hopelessness. But it doesn’t mean that we ignore the issue. It can mean rather that we see it as characteristic of a predicament rather than a situation admitting a solution. There’s no “fix”, but there are stances, perspectives, approaches that work better than our present strategies. “There are no lakes till eternity”, Rilke says elsewhere.

We are not permitted to linger, even with what is most intimate. From images that are full, the spirit plunges on to others that suddenly must be filled; there are no lakes till eternity.

We face climate change and climate deniers, right and left, public and private, ecological and economic, old and young, male and female. We face fear in equal parts with love. Problems we thought solved haven’t gone away but instead sprout new thorns. We may wish these weren’t our challenges. “So”, says Gandalf, “do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”. Or refuse to. Native peoples in the Americas tried to make choices with the next seven generations in mind. We’re often choosing for just the next election cycle, let alone a single generation. In the end, diagnosis isn’t what we need. Prognosis would help. A course of treatment would help more. “Our task”, says Rilke …

And, peace to the pop Wizards among us, we do keep deciding. And deciding. Those decisions, not some imagined ideal, but what we actually do, are what shape our days. But this isn’t bad news. It can be liberating: we can choose, and do, differently if we will. It lies with us. We make, and break, and some live through it to remake again. Slow learners all. I’ve got snow to shovel.

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Moons of Spirit, Synonyms for God: Part 3   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

[Updated 7 June 2017]

9. How well does my spiritual interaction pass through the “Three Gates”?

This, I’ve slowly learned, is a great question to ask both before and after. In other words, any time.

As Matt Auryn notes in his original blogpost, “Rumi is credited with wisdom about three gates of speech. ‘Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: At the first gate, ask yourself “Is is true?” At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?” At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”‘”

These gates, I’ve found over the years, work splendidly as a guide for my spoken interactions and for any other kind, too. They also form a powerful Triad for making decisions.

I need to include myself in the Triad: is my speech, action or decision also true, needful and kind — to me? What about my thoughts? And my feelings?

Often, whatever I’m testing with the Triad, I can get two out of three. Often it’s true and necessary. But it’s not kind. Return, return. Start over.

Standards tighten, I’m discovering. It’s not necessary anymore merely to “do no harm”. Someone — god, ancestor, higher self (same, different?) demands more. As elastic beings, staying where we are almost guarantees that the past stretching we’ve suffered through and learned from and grown into will weather down into slack. I can read the signs — tedium, stagnation and listlessness, if I don’t keep on stretching, letting myself be stretched, seeking out opportunities to stretch not just further, but wisely.

10. What’s my goal for interaction with Spirit? What is Spirit’s goal for me?

Important questions. Sometimes I know, or think I know, what’s needed at the moment. Sometimes it takes some digging to get to honesty with myself.

Other times the answer’s easy: no clue.

Usually that’s an excellent place for me to be. It means I need to listen first, before anything else. Instead of a ready cliche or a stock answer or something I dredge up from my own most recent spiritual slackness, I practice patience.

Sit, sing and wait, counsels one of the Wise. So I find different places and perspectives to sit in. The front entry of our house does duty for a small but useful office. Or a tree-stump from a powerline clearing that Green Mountain Power left beneath the row of hemlocks on our north property line. I sing a word, a name for spirit, a line from a song or poem, a spoken fragment from a dream. And I watch as this moment crystallizes into the next, and shapes of possibility begin to form. Often they scatter, birdlike, flying somewhere along the horizon, not where I’m gazing at all. I stand up and go about my day, and a whisker of insight, if I honor the handshake of spirit, comes.

11. How can I see and describe my understanding as a perspective?

Matt Auryn observes, “One of the best ways to keep your ego in check when discussing different methods and ideas is to claim them as your perspective and not as the dogmatic way to do things”.

So I try to remember to tell myself rather than believing X or Y that I suspect X or Y. Because whether it’s a ripple in the apparent world or a flash in the Otherworld, I almost always under-perceive it. I miss something, and often a lot. I kneel down to study a large footprint in our muddy backyard, never seeing the bear that made it lumbering away to forage among early blackberries. But knowing there’s alway more to perceive doesn’t discourage me. It makes it a game, even and especially when the stakes are high. Sometimes my best contemplations take wing when I begin by asking So what did I miss this time?

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backyard black walnut coming into leaf

12. What hints and nudges has spirit sent to me already about fine-tuning my practice?

Every week or so, there’s a tonic that Spirit throws me down for and forces me to swig. “Take as indicated”, the label reads. And the fine print says:

“You’re a slow learner. That’s ample reason to practice humility. Everyone else is a slow learner, too. That’s an excellent reason to practice compassion.”

Funny how I haven’t yet overdosed on either of these.

13. What examples and teaching from the natural world greet and guide me today, right here and now?

A question I need never cease asking.

Yesterday and today, rain. The power out for about 90 minutes. The thermometer reads 46 F (8 C). I lit a fire about an hour ago. And as I set a match to the wadded newspaper and kindling, breathing the faint cold ash of the last fire, I knew Brighid was present, whether I’d invoked her this time or not.

Invocation, I heard/thought as the flame took hold, is my privilege. The gods welcome my service, but they move in the worlds just fine without me. And where there is privilege, and service, there is also wonder.

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