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Friday, July 15, 2011

The Importance of Attitude – CREDO CXLV

Owing to the repairs to this house caused by severe winter damage, the meditation room is still empty and awaiting fresh paint. In the meantime, I have made a mini-altar on the wide windowsill in my office. It is directly above a bookshelf, and yesterday my eye fell upon a book I hadn’t read in 28 years. Idly I pulled it out. It was Dr. Athur J. Deikman’s The Observing Self: Mysticism and Psychotherapy. As I riffled backward through the pages, my eye fell upon this gem of a page dealing with the value of teaching stories. The title was “Vanity” [Inflation] and it offers such a simple solution to this, I hasten to include it to relieve the many of us who get caught in trying to avoid the traps of pride/self-blaming. I think it is most worthy of sharing and hope you will agree!


A Sufi sage once asked his disciples to tell him what their vanities had been before they began to study with him.
  The first said, “I imagined that I was the most handsome man in the world.”
  The second said, “I believed that, since I was religious, I was of the elect.”
  The third said, “I believed that I could teach.”
  The fourth said, “My vanity was greater than all these; for I believed that I could learn.”
  The sage remarked, “And the fourth disciple’s vanity remains the greatest, for his vanity is to show that he once had the greatest vanity.”

  After reading this story, I observed myself doing the same things as the fourth disciple by berating myself excessively for personal failing. As I was doing so, the story came to my mind like a mirror, and I understood the role of vanity in what I was doing. The context was different from the specific situation of the story, but the dynamics were similar. My understanding provoked a wry smile and ended my self-flagellation. Not long afterward, a male patient presented feelings of self-blame whose concealed vanity I was able to recognize, for the pattern was the same. He was castigating himself for having made a “mess” of his opportunities, particularly as he was generally recognized as being highly intelligent and likable. After listening to him for a while, I offered an alternative view: “I think you’re doing yourself an injustice. You’re not a good guy who is making a mess of things – you’re a mess who is doing a good job!”
  He stopped in his tracks, wide-eyed, then threw back his head and roared with laughter. In the next session, he reported that he felt much better and had reduced his self-recriminations noticeably. My recognition of his concealed vanity, followed by an appropriate interpretation, was matched by his own recognition and decrease in his symptoms.

The example above is one of the switcheroo types, a total reversal. There is yet another way of changing attitudes, as demonstrated below in the Chinese classic the I Ching. I have interposed Jung’s words for Self and Ego where they are appropriate. It is important to remember that Jung’s definition of Self implies the spiritual “Divine Guest” dwelling in the Unconscious and giving us the hope of individuation.

From a commentary of Richard Wilhelm on the second Hexagram:
Kun –The Receptive.

The attribute of the hexagram is devotion; its image is the earth. It is the perfect complement of The Creative – the complement not the opposite, for the Receptive does not combat the Creative but completes it. It represents nature in contrast to spirit, earth in contrast to heaven, space as against time, the female-maternal as against the male-paternal. However, as applied to human affairs, the principle of this complementary relationship is found not only in the relation between man and woman. . . . Indeed, even in the individual this duality appears in the coexistence of the spiritual world and the world of the senses.


But strictly speaking there is no real dualism here, because there is a clearly defined hierarchic relationship between the two principles. In itself of course, the Receptive [Ego]] is just as important as the Creative [Self], but the attribute of devotion defines the place occupied by this primal power in relation to the Creative [Self]. For the Receptive [Ego] must be activated and led by the Creative {Self]; then it is productive of good. Only when it [the Ego] abandons this position and tries to stand as an equal side by side with the Creative [Self], does it become evil. The result then is opposition to and struggle against the Creative [Self], which is productive of evil to both.

The powerful symbol of the yin/yang above shows the role of the opposites perfectly contained within the circle of wholeness. Each hemisphere contains an inner opposite. From a Jungian perspective, the feminine yin contains a contra-sexual animus; the masculine yang, a feminine anima. Both are circumscribed by the circumference of the psyche as a whole. That is just one small application of this ancient Chinese symbol. It signifies balance in motion on every level – the very tides of time!


Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Mystery We Call God


One fish said to another, “I don’t believe in water!”

I once had a dream in Latin! It said: Cogito ergo sum ergo scivio deus est! The first part is Descartes’ famous saying I think therefore I am, but then it continues, therefore I [can] know God is!

I woke my dear husband up and he wrote it down on a scrap of paper. This message gave me sympathy for those who are agnostics or atheists. Having been both in my younger years it gave me a new way of countering the dilemma. There is a ‘Catch-22’ in their argument. Here it goes: the skeptic argues that since science cannot prove the existence of God, and evolution is provable, the conclusion must be that the cosmos came into being by chance.

This is a somewhat specious argument because – granted that he is right – he, himself, must also be the product of chance. In which case, of what possible value is his opinion!

I like the quote of an Indian physicist: “The greatest discovery of science in the 20th century is of its own limitations.”

I became an atheist in Portugal at the age of 11, having been overdosed with Christianity in European boarding schools. I solemnly announced this to my mother, who asked me why. I replied that no one was going to convince me that any old snake hung on a tree and spoke English. “Probably Hebrew,” my mother smiled and murmured, but then she paused and said, “Well, if you want to be an atheist, be a good one!” She told me there were other religions that might appeal to me more and encouraged my looking into them.

I followed that advice and started a systematic program forthwith of reading the holy scriptures of one religion after another, night after night, starting with the Old Testament and making notes in the margins of my red leather Bible. Unfortunately, this relic was destroyed ten years later by my daughter’s red setter who chewed it up to Leviticus! Alas, by the age of 20, I knew a lot about religion but had experienced nothing!

I went into an empty church in New York and wept. Three days later, my father suggested that I see this astrologer Hermes who had just helped him. My opinion at the time was that astrology was the superstitious twaddle of nincompoops, but as a lark, I went. Hermes, a most attractive man, lived in Little Italy within walking distance of the Hotel Holley on Washington Square. He drew up my chart by hand, looked at me, and said, “You have been looking for God all of your life.” Everything he said to me was accurate, and I was intrigued to say the least. He summoned me to return the next morning to meet his teacher M, and my life changed forever.

Since then I have spent seven more decades studying the matter. For me, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned from this is the dangers of literalism, and that the truth is revealed to us through understanding symbolic language and perceiving that what we presume to call God is not a noun but a verb, the very process of ongoing creation. Language, by its own nature, tricks us by turning verbs into nouns. “Swimming” is fun or “to swim” is fun, both as gerund or infinitive, become subject or object of a sentence acting as nouns, and still we are not even wet!

Obviously, I am no longer an atheist but I have deep sympathy for them – atheists have rejected the definition of God at the level beneath them. We all need to keep searching until we can move from believing there is no answer to the vast certainty that there is one, only we can’t apprehend it! Today I realize that the mind is ipso facto disqualified by its functioning through duality. It is the wrong instrument! The Tao that can be defined is not the Tao.

So what is the solution? To quote Jung, “The longest journey most of us have to take is from the head to the heart.”

As a wonderful old Hindu teacher said to me, chuckling, “Why, God is making love to you in every heartbeat of your life!”