The Seeker of Peace

Seeing Spirituality
May 28, 2009, 11:51 am
Filed under: spirituality | Tags: , , ,

Rather than the do the traditional Memorial Day barbecue, I spent Monday in Los Angeles attending my father’s ordination as a rabbi. There were roughly sixteen people being ordained that day, split between rabbis and cantors (clergy members who specialize in religious music).

I’ve written before about the difference between spirituality and religion. The ordination service was a perfect example to me of the dichotomy. As part of the service, each ordainee spent a few minutes talking. I heard many deeply spiritual things, as people discussed finding god in all things, building a life of love, and similar themes.

The proceedings included a full Jewish afternoon service, with the traditional liturgy. The liturgy is far from spiritual. It beseeches the Jewish god to “vanquish our enemies” and otherwise provide blessings to his “chosen people.” (Please note that I’m not criticizing the Jewish liturgy compared to any others – most traditional liturgies have content such as this.) The only mitigating characteristic of the Jewish liturgy is that it’s in Hebrew, meaning that many people don’t understand what it says.

How does an ordainee reconcile a spiritual journey with traditions that are rigidly religious? From hearing them speak, I think the answer is to see the traditions as merely that: a cultural heritage. Many of these newly minted clergy didn’t sound religious at all, instead expressing heartfelt personal experiences.

This reinforced what I wrote in my earlier post: that for spiritual people, their religion turns to cultural tradition as they gain spiritual experience. The ordination service also taught me something new: that there are schools training a whole generation of spiritual clergy. Perhaps this provides some hope for religion after all.

Life’s Little Challenges
May 18, 2009, 8:37 am
Filed under: World | Tags: , , ,

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I was considering become a math teacher. I mentioned then how I hoped I could tell if that urge was guidance by whether it was easy.

I received the word back from the university’s transcript evaluator. It turns out that, despite the program director’s initial optimism, I don’t have enough college-level math classes to qualify for the program. (Ironically, I could easily qualify to teach physics. It’s too bad that doesn’t hold very much interest for me.)

If I want to enroll for next year, I’ll need to go to a community college and retake a host of basic subjects I learned back in high school: algebra, geometry, etc. It doesn’t matter that I took many classes that had those as distant prerequisites; for this purpose, having classes about Fourier series and Legendre polynomials is no substitute for good old fashioned basic algebra!

Going back to school to take four or five basic math classes sounds anything but easy. While passing the class would be easy, since I’ve already learned all of the material, dealing with the excruciating boredom would be hard. I imagine that I could mitigate that by taking online courses and thus not having to sit through classes, but that’s still hardly an example of the universe clearing my path.

It’s situations like these where I struggle with the mindset promoted by the Sedona Method and A Course in Miracles. Both of those suggest that, when you approach the correct goals properly, things should be effortless. If I use that criterion, either teaching is the wrong goal or I’m approaching it incorrectly.

This viewpoint contrasts with decades of training for me. I’ve learned since an early age that obstacles are things to overcome, and that much of life’s satisfaction comes from overcoming barriers. Any number of self-help books and inspirational teachers say the same thing. However, fighting against the tide seems a perfect example of what the Sedona Method refers to as “wanting control.”

I still haven’t decided what to do. Since I have a few months before I would have to register for any of these math classes, I can take some time to think about it. However, given how fundamental the decision is, I’m not sure whether a lot of thought will actually help.

Yearning for Kyoto
May 1, 2009, 8:38 am
Filed under: Non-duality, spirituality, Suffering, World | Tags: , , , ,

Even in Kyoto,
I yearn for Kyoto
– Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694)

I found this poem in the prelude of Mary Pipher’s recent book, “Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World.” See uses it to illustrate the point that, “Embedded in the concept ‘seeker’ is the less flattering word ‘dissatisfied.'” Matsuo-san’s poem resonated with me deeply, and in a very literal sense. You see, even when I was in Kyoto, I did in fact yearn for Kyoto.

The year was 1997, and the trip to Kyoto was an arduous one. It involved a flight from the USA to Tokyo, a connecting flight to Osaka, and then a 45-minute cab ride to Kyoto. That last segment I shared with several coworkers, making the airplane parts of the ride seem roomy by comparison.

This was a period when my Crohn’s Disease was flaring up badly, and as a result, my immune system was not working well. Thus, it as no surprise that, by the time I arrived in Kyoto, I had picked up a nasty cold. This proved to be even more of a problem than I could have expected. I was chairing committee meetings throughout the trip. There was a large population of Europeans and Asians at this meeting, and they politely expected to be recognized by the chair before saying anything. This was true even if two of them were carrying on a debate among themselves. At least I had a microphone, allowing me to quietly croak, “Go ahead,” rather than having to raise my voice to be heard.

During that week, I yearned for the other Kyoto. I wanted to see the Imperial palace. I wanted to eat some Japanese food, rather than the greasy and awful Italian, Chinese, and American fare I received. I wanted to see the town, not be stuck in a windowless conference room.

Yet, mulling over Matsuo-san’s words, I can now see another side to the trip. I [u]was[/u] in Kyoto. I got to marvel at the sophisticated features of the Panasonic toilet seat in my hotel room. I could appreciate the beautiful courtyard garden of the hotel. I laughed at the fact that Japanese hotel rooms, unlike their American counterparts, include a complementary adult diaper should you need one.

Thinking back on it makes for a very valuable cautionary tale. How much more would I have enjoyed the trip had I allowed myself to be in Kyoto instead of yearning in Kyoto? And how often, even now, am I still not present, still yearning for something else?