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Monday, August 17, 2009

The Bottle Game – CREDO LXXX

I learned about this game from Penny Harris in 1944. Penny was a petite woman of my mother’s generation. She knew M before I did, and he called her Nickel. Widowed and a mother of three sons, she was an heir to the Borden milk company, and had a lovely apartment on the upper east side of New York and a beautiful old home in Connecticut. Bill Regan, M’s closet companion, had been a close friend of her husband, and was now back at West Point teaching during the war. I mention these two because it reveals the kind of people that surrounded M. Penny was a Gemini and, as I was by far the youngest in the group, we became fast friends and almost like kids together. Penny struggled mightily with the highly erudite and esoteric material we studied. Her disposition was to being loving and generous. For instance, she gave M her own large bedroom in her apartment and slept in a maid’s room so that he would have the space for a meditation center and the comfort he needed for his work. He was already in his seventies when I met him. As it was up to me to translate the concepts and terminology of, say, the Kabbalah, by hindsight, I see that this was an introduction to my life’s work: helping the concepts of the Above make more sense to the Below. A kind of spiritual algebra … I was deeply touched when she once turned her beautiful blue eyes to me and said she wanted to be my child in our next lifetime! It was Penny who told me about the Bottle Game.

This was a game played at parties during the “Flapper” era of the post WWI days. It helped if the players were in a playful mood. As Penny described it, I began to see its value on an entirely different and symbolic level. I recommend it highly to any of my readers involved in giving workshops. It is certainly a good example of Sophia’s delight in making wisdom fun. Here’s how it goes: a row of eight empty bottles is set up about two feet apart. An innocent volunteer is chosen to prove that he/she can slalom the row without knocking over any bottle. This is carefully practiced three times. The volunteer is then taken to another room and blindfolded while the host explains the rules of the game. Then the volunteer is brought back and set exactly at the head of the row and challenged to slalom again while blindfolded. The other guests are instructed to make soft positive and encouraging remarks during the time the volunteer triumphantly manages to succeed. At the sound of applause, the volunteer removes the blindfold, and surprise!! No bottles!!!

The bottles seemed to me to represent many of the unconscious, built-in inhibitions we all absorb in our youthful development placed there by family, education, religious doctrine which are accepted, perhaps misunderstood, but left unexamined. As a workshop proceeds, it may be helpful for participants to list and perhaps discuss some of these. I will never forget one woman who burst into tears when she removed her blindfold. Her reason? “I was totally convinced that the bottles were there! How can a person be that wrong!” I rest my case.

I think we need to distinguish cultural mores and apply psychological and spiritual tolerance. An example is that a Muslim is permitted more than one wife, but Christians are not. An Orthodox Jew may commit a sin if he eats pork or shellfish, good advice in the light of trichinosis and a hot climate, but today it may seem unnecessary to others. I think I have already mentioned the factor that turned a boy into a lasting agnostic when he was forbidden to attend chapel wearing white socks at his boarding school. One of my own daughters was turned away for forgetting to wear her beanie! On a more serious note, the ubiquitous scandal of priests molesting altar boys has undermined their teachings of Jesus. On the positive side, the gradual shift in the acceptance of Christian women as priests in several Protestant denominations has only happened during my lifetime, and as a student of history, I find it fascinating that one century’s heretic is another’s saint (Joan of Arc, Mary Magdalen), and that goes for scientists such as Galileo and even some recent political leaders like Mandela. One of Pope John Paul II’s finest acts was his public repudiation of the condemnation of Galileo and Luther.

In closing, I really have to recommend the “Milk Stool Principle of Love, Wisdom, and Power” (Credo XXXVIII) that can help keep us more balanced and spiritually sound. The ‘Shalt-nots!” need to be replaced by our own positive personal conscience, responsibility and tolerance – my personal favorite being Buddha’s “The Noble Eightfold Path” (see Credo LXXI), which can apply to anyone. I am also partial to the kindness suggested in this Sufi counsel:

Before you criticize, pass your words through three sieves:
Are they true?
Are they kind?
Are they necessary?


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