Where are you on your journey? Richard Rohr (continued)

Spirituality and cigars, why not?

Where are you on your journey of self-fulfillment? Where are you on your journey of peace, inner and outer? Where are you on your journey of finding the real you? Not your things, your mind, or your TikTok likes, but your soul.

If you are on this journey, and I hope you are, and it is a journey, I hope that you pay attention to yourself, that you spend time alone cultivating, discovering yourself, call it what you will, your spirit, your soul. The first step on this long road usually comes about due to failure, breakage: a failed relationship, financial struggle, accidents, whatever. Without this fall, why would you need to rebuild? To re-calibrate? To question anything? Just go on your merry way with your ego, enjoy.

Otherwise, with every so-called failure, you release your ego; you embrace peace, you let go, you become more aware of your inner self. You rebuild and grow –and here is the catch- not necessarily stronger in the selfish way of thinking, but more vulnerable, wiser.

Why are you on such a metaphysical rant, Antonio? You might ask, and I am happy that you ask. You see, I have just read Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water and my mind has been expanded.

In his book, Rohr studies Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps from a spiritual perspective and re-frames your pre-conceived ideas of alcoholics!

The book is epigraphed by three quotes from three of my favorite guides:

“I did not come for the healthy, but for those who need a doctor.”

Jesus (Luke 5:31-32)

“Alcohol in Latin is “spiritus” and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison.”

Carl Jung, letter to Bill Wilson (1961)

And

“These are the only genuine ideas, the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce.”

José Ortega y Gasset

The first step is the hardest to take: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.” Most of the time our ego blinds us to our problems. This is why many times only a violent awakening will make us reach for much needed help. That is the first step, realizing you have a problem, it is much easier to dismiss it than to deal with it, and its roots…

Rohr analyzes every step in detail weaving spirituality into each rung of the ladder. It is an illuminating book that everybody should read. Yes, you too.

We all have our addictions our sins, it does not have to be alcohol or drugs –although many times it is. Rohr sees how “breakage” and coming out of it is deeply healing and spiritual. In Japan, when they break a plate or a bowl many times they glue it back together with gold covered adhesive, making the piece much more valuable. They call it Kintsugi, and it makes for beautiful, unique pieces!

“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”

― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Enjoying mi reading

Letting go of the Ego, the second half of life: Wayne Dyer and The Shift

My dear friend Felipe recommended I see The Shift and I finally had the time to see it!

It is a film by Dwane Wyer who was a motivational speaker or a Coach, really a self help guru, although marketed like a spiritual guide, since that is what sells. Although the message is strong, based on Lao Tzu, San Francis of Assisi, or Jung, he dilutes it with some of his new age, self help gibberish like the Quantum moment and things like that, which I understand as a way to explain his thinking.

To be honest, the film is not really that good: predictable, bad acting, etc. But, it is filmed in Asilomar, a wonderful location in Monterey, California, and what is really important here is not the film per se, but the message.

The Shift talks about changing your life from the first half of life to the second half of life. This is something I have written about before, what Kierkegaard called the three stages of life: aesthetic, ethical, and religious. Dyer simplifies them to two, which skips a step, but that’s okay. The gist is to lose the ego to become a spiritual being. How? you ask, well by giving, by realizing that the world is not about you and the best way to do that is by selflessly giving what you have, but preferably your time, your knowledge, your patience, your care, in short by loving. Love is the answer.

As youths and adolescents we need a lot of ego to become independent, to become who we think we are. Once you have reached that stage the ego is useless, more of a hindrance than a help. Unfortunately most people do not lose that me, me, me until sometimes just before they die (I recently mentioned this in a post about the book The Grace in Dying). A good way to work on this is to quiet the mind, to meditate, to stop and listen. This is difficult but rewarding. Give it a try!

The film begins with this quote from Carl Jung which is basically the whole precept of the film, sorry, not sorry, for the spoiler:

“Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.” ― Carl Gustav Jung

 

 

Mind, body, and soul, meditation, exercise, and yoga and more (not in any order)

Read good books, life is too short to read trash!!

Read good books, life is too short to read trash!!

Going to church, any church will boost your soul

Going to church, any church will boost your soul

A walk in the mountains

A walk in the mountains

Last outdoor meditation of the day

Last outdoor meditation of the day

A simple cell in a monastery helps you focus

A simple cell in a monastery helps you focus

The Camino will change your life. Source: Club Renfe magazine

The Camino will change your life. Source: Club Renfe magazine

High fiving all around

High fiving all around

Practicing Yoga on the Camino, wonderful session!

Practicing Yoga on the Camino, wonderful session!

Richard Rohr's wonderful lessons

Richard Rohr’s wonderful lessons

For a few years, since 2010 to be precise, I have been actively seeking inner peace, not just talking about it with a drink in one hand and a cigar in the other, looking at the stars. It is only with breakage that one slowly lets go of the ego and matures through Kierkegaard’s three stages that we have seen before (the aesthetic, the ethic and the spiritual). I believe that all of philosophy and religion is based on understanding the existence of the ego and separating from it. We see it in the Stoics, in Jesus, Buddha, good literature, etc. etc.

With my divorce and the life changes brought about by that trauma, I started seeking solace and understanding. My knee-jerk, basically subconscious, reaction was going to church on Sunday– and have not missed a Sunday since (maybe a couple but only for reasons of force majeure). Other organic resolutions were to crank my exercise, to work with a therapist, starting with the amazing Dr. Nemser and others since, and volunteering. I started reading Scripture every night, and speaking of reading, I started seeking more profound books. Then I got hooked on Richard Rohr’s daily meditation. Then I started yoga. With time I started meditating, then came walking the pilgrimage to Santiago (I can’t wait for my fourth this Summer) eventually, back in Spain, my retreats to El Paular Monastery and starting a gratitude diary. Has it worked? All I can say is that I am happy to be on this path.

All these actions have gradually made me know myself better, which is to say my mental construct of myself: my ego. Understanding this is the first step in breaking away from that tyrant. You see, we are born ego-less, just living the moment, enjoying life. This is what Paul Tillich calls the Ground of Being, where we will return -hopefully- just before dying (if this is of interest, I recommend Kathleen Dowling Singh, The Grace in Dying). Then as we grow up we develop a strong sense of self, necessary to establish oneself as an independent being. This is one of the reasons I love teaching adolescents when this ego creation is on full blast. Once we establish ourselves we don’t really need the ego any more, but we stick with it, most of us until we die. Only through trauma, breakage, do we realize that the ego is not necessary, in which case we start to let go of it. That is where I find myself.

The church part is easy, you just go. While I do not necessarily enjoy all the dogma, I do enjoy the chance to reflect, the ceremony, the sermon if it is good and eventually the community. In fact, my church in Boston, Our Lady of Victories and here in Madrid, San Fermín de los Navarros both asked me to participate more actively by reading or being an altar helper. This tiny contribution to the community goes a long way in making one feel helpful.

I started seriously meditating in 2016. It is painful to quiet the mind –the ego- by making it sit still for twenty minutes, but eventually you manage. The trick is to be very still and focus on your breathing: feeling it, visualizing it, maybe quietly reciting a mantra to help you focus on the breathing. I use the Insight Timer app and it really helps and motivates.

The gratitude diary works like this:

  • Monday: write three good things that happened over the weekend.
  • Tuesday: Write about a good moment in your life.
  • Wednesday: Set a task and accomplish it!
  • Thursday: Write a letter (in your diary, or you can send it) to someone you are grateful for.
  • Friday: Write three good things that happened during the week.
  • Saturday and Sunday are off.

About the life changing experience that is the Camino de Santiago I have already waxed poetic many other times on this blog, so scroll down to read it!!

The Yoga bit is really enriching. As opposed to the US where Yoga is basically a workout, my teacher in Madrid, embraces it as it should be: a way of life, a philosophy. So there are lots of breathing exercises and meditation, and in between some movement ashanas. When a class is not available I use the Down Dog app on my phone

Last weekend I again managed to escape to El Paular Monastery to spend four days with the Benedictine monks. This is as simple a life as you will ever live. Praying five times a day, walking in the mountains, eating in silence, working in the monastery, meditating. If you get a chance to do a retreat, do not hesitate, the silence is worth it!!

In conclusion, yes, I am in the search for spirituality. Many folks say we they are in spiritual journeys, the truth is more that they are spiritual beings in human journeys.

 

 

The people of academia (The good the bad and the ugly)

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The beautiful, wise, awesome, funny Prof. Valis presenting her novella at UNC

My dear Kierkegaard explains how a person’s life goes through three stages. Simply stated: the young aesthetic where everything revolves around the ego, the more mature ethical stage where we concern ourselves with what is right and wrong and hopefully and eventually the religious stage where with some wisdom gained from pain and loss, we realize that it all boils down to love and giving and forgiving. These three stages of maturity are evident in academia. You find the young guns that know all the big words and trendy phrasing to write brilliant articles and books that say very little, but show off their brilliance. The ethical writers where everything is correct but boring, and a handful of scholars that “get it” and go beyond the big words or the correct arguments to delve into the spiritual.

Of course if you are in the aesthetic phase yourself, then you cannot see beyond the ego and the writing that caters to that. You think that the young, hip professor is the bee’s knees. It takes time, but more importantly spiritual growth that will only come from hardship to get to the religious phase.

During my time in the upper echelons of academia, I was able to experience this division in the quality of scholarship. Seeing these ego driven scholars, it is easy to understand the anti-intellectualism in vogue in certain social circles.

Flip the coin, however, and you find some of the nicest, most brilliant, most humble people around. I was blessed to have had some of those enlightened folks in my department and in my doctoral committee. I also got to meet some fantastic professors that came to present their work at Carolina.

David William Foster is one such fellow. Never mind that he is the Regents Professor of Spanish and Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State and President of the Latin American Jewish Studies Association, blah, blah, blah. He is a deep, brilliant, understanding person. I was honored to show David around UNC’s beautiful campus and then we went to lunch with two other colleagues. I did not want that lunch to end! It was funny, insightful, thought-provoking, just a pleasure.

Another such person is Noël Valis. Yes she works at Yale and has published a shelf full of books and articles, but more importantly, she “gets it” she understands humanity in all its difficult intricacies, our weakness, our idiocy. I was working on my dissertation most of the time Prof. Valis was at UNC, but I eventually managed to go to her presentation of her own book of fiction: The Labor of Longing. After that intimate and enlightening (sorry to use the same word twice) chat I had the privilege of showing her around campus. For a glorious North Carolina autumn Friday afternoon we walked and talked and I did not want that walk to end, I kept adding bits to our tour, until I had to let go of her.

I could go on and on about marvelous professors that enrich academia and the world. I have already talked about the ones on my Doctoral Committee on other posts. On the other hand I could also talk about ego driven, academic climbers, more interested in publishing their work than on what is really in that work. Unfortunately not all the latter will eventually become the former.

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Enjoying one of Noël’s books with a cafe con leche.