Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Building Gravity


Riding to the eastern shore with my husband, a big car whizzed by us to the traffic signal and idled with a powerful growling sound in the lane right next to us. The elaborate painting, specialized bodywork and big tires reminded me of reading Thorstein Veblen who developed the concepts of “conspicuous consumption” and “conspicuous waste” as aspects of the human form of display that were evident in other cultures prior to our own. Modern consumer materialism may be more elaborate than what he described but display precedes even human cultures. Bowerbirds make elaborate platforms with all kinds of things woven in including daily changes of flowers. They try to outdo the other birds in creating a stronger visual impression and thus attract the female. The degree to which something gets attention is the degree of its attraction. Visual power creates its own gravity, gives weight. Power could be seen as the ability to command others attention. An effective display gives greater visibility. Display grows from a mindset of competition. With a competitive approach to life, whoever is most visible, whose satellite representations can be seen far and wide, wins. The dark side of being a “heavyweight” is the pressure of having so much attention, how the media jumps on every imperfection, the more visible the personage, the more airtime. The gravity we’ve created pulls so much into us we can be crushed by it.
Weight pushes us down. To carry it is a burden. It puts emphasis on the material world and all the separate things in it. It focuses on substance, admires what is substantial. The metaphor of weight builds on accumulation; weight grows as stuff piles up. The ego loves this because we are enlarging on our sense of our scope by building our bower of visibility. In a way, the life story that comprises our ego, the way we identify ourselves, is a weight that can drag us down, is the rock that Sisyphus pushes endlessly up the hill.
What keeps us from feeling light is weight. To feel light may be necessary to joy, to liberation. Weight expresses attachment and desire. Lightness releases self-importance and is in harmony with present being. D. K. Chesterton said, “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.” To “take ourselves seriously” is to hold protectively to the identity described by our story. We struggle with our attachment to the things that weigh us down. It’s part of the human drama and not something we can reject and stay alive. The dualities of light/dark, light/heavy are cyclical conditions, part of a whole that oscillates. Whether the metaphor is applied to moods, or the smooth and difficult times in life, clinging to one end stops motion. They are the crests and troughs of an all- encompassing vibration, which we should acknowledge and accept as the experience of being human. As Milan Kundera wrote in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, “The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar to the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real…. the lightness/weight opposition is the most mysterious, most ambiguous of all.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mistaken Identity


In the course of my search for imagery that might assist a more comprehensive understanding of our spiritual nature it occurred to me that the image of light is associated with the all-encompassing universal intelligence in most if not all religions. Arguments between different faiths overlook this shared central image and I wondered why didn’t we see beyond the human-like god with its warring dualities to the inclusive light beyond it. A conversation with Kris Hjelli the night before he died pointed to the answer. He was very concerned by all the problems created by our anthropocentrism. The human mindset of being separate and better than the planet and everything on it was for him the root of the problem in our ecological dilemma. That humans think that only humans are important leads to disrespect and disregard for everything else and encourages an underlying selfishness. This started me thinking about whether the anthropocentric mindset might be behind our inability to go beyond human-like images of the divine. By putting an emphasis on the human image, it becomes other and separate. The Image molds the viewpoint and the viewpoint leads us to see a multitude of individual separate beings with a separate god outside of ourselves. Arguments break out around which separate supreme entity and codified book is the right one and none of that feels very spiritually focused.
The image that encompasses all of the separate views and is part of many references to the Infinite Intelligence is the image of Light. It’s a part of mystical experience in all faiths. It’s always been present, but our focus on what’s human kept us on the level of distinctions. Perhaps Islam’s distrust of images had to do with their focus on what is manifest, on what can be seen. But since imagery is so important to understanding, a better image may be necessary to get us to a place that includes us all. Since light includes and envelops all that is around it, it makes sense to go back to Light. After all it was there in Genesis, in the Clear Light of Buddhism, in the radiance of the saints. Darkness is ignorance, inability to see clearly. The metaphor of increasing our light makes the pursuit of learning a spiritual path, since it moves toward greater light. Knowledge illuminates.
Beyond the religious image of light, light has long been a central metaphor for intelligence. We bring a new issue to light, we cast light on a problem, something is seen in a different light. The light in the heart enables us to see our deepest meanings. A person might be referred to as bright, a prophet called a light to the world. When I say a person is full of light, it’s not so much a particular quality I’m feeling, but an outward directed interest, a lively curiosity that connects to what’s seen. We feel it as a level of attention and are more fully in the light in someone’s attentive gaze. The light of receptive attention feels like love. Words of love can betray. Responsive, accepting attention IS love. It doesn’t just represent it. We always have the choice to offer that to others, to be Light. We are drawn to the Light because it offers greater awareness.
What we see becomes known in a deeper way than what we hear or read. Envisioning something in relation to our existing inner model is the only way we can integrate our accumulating perceptions into our worldview. We all have these associations with light. It’s been so close we couldn’t see it. We couldn’t see beyond the human intermediary.
What is all encompassing suits me better. Learning, meeting people with different backgrounds and views, seeing and experiencing different places, all increase my light.
It’s something we could head toward together.