Tuesday, January 28, 2014

True Intentions

Witness the surgeon who spends long hours in the operating room saving lives through delicate brain surgery.  Witness the Peace Corps volunteer who gives up the comfortable life to live and work in minimalist, perhaps “near-primitive” conditions improving the lives of others.  Witness the CEO who works long hours bringing the company back from near-bankruptcy.  Witness the home care-giver juggling time among family, career, and the elderly disabled parent in the home.  Witness the many everyday busy people who somehow manage to always show up at the latest charity function or civic project.

We are rightfully taught to admire and respect people such as these accomplishers.  Those who toil long and hard, sacrifice extraordinarily of themselves thereby benefiting others, and create good outcomes.  They are passionate about all that they do.  But passion can mask many diverse Intentions, and hide inner truths even to ourselves.  So there is a nagging cautionary note that tempers our admiration, nudges us into a deeper look beyond what our eyes, ears and mind may initially perceive.

Reconsider that brain surgeon who believes that his ability to save lives allows him to have a superior dominating power over life itself, an undue sense of invincibility, a condescending attitude towards assisting staff and his patients.  That Peace Corps worker out to save the world driven by hatred for the difficulties of Life, and a near-desperate compulsion to eliminate those realities.  That self-aggrandizing CEO who demands an exorbitant salary for having saved the company by eliminating jobs or reducing compensation for the very employees who translated the strategy into successful actions.  That home care-giver who acts out of a sense of duty, not loving giving, and does so with an embedded expectation that his children will one day do the same for him.  That charity worker who gives time and energy in order to be publically recognized with loud acclaim.  That over-achiever who forsakes time and attention with friends and family.  It is as with the deceit of jealousy: it begins as a warm feeling to be so passionately loved; but over time we realize that it is really about someone seeking power and control over us.  Seemingly good Intentions disguise a life being lived in turmoil.

As we are called to examine more fully the underlying Intentions of others, so also are we required to turn the lens inward to assess our own Intentions.  For we each have an expansive capacity to ascribe positive motivations for each action we take.  We give unsolicited advice; freely tell supposed truths that do not require being spoken; give service that may or may not be wanted or helpful; continually tell others how to live their life.  We tell ourselves that we do these things “for other people’s benefit” even though we are primarily driven by our own needs for expression and fulfillment.  We are as easily blinded to ourselves as we are to others.

This is not intended as a cynical view of the human condition or their interactions.  For upon close examination we find many of pure heart who interject themselves cautiously and give of themselves freely without making compensatory claims for reward.  We experience joy and reassurance from such people.  But we understand that passion can flow from two different well springs: from the pure well of humility, where the giving does not create a debt to be repaid; or from the polluted well of arrogance, where the giving expects expansive attention, a position of power, or public affirmation of one’s goodness.  The well of humility provides the pure taste of genuine joy and lasting spiritual peace.  The well of arrogance gives a taste as of salt water – only temporary happiness, yielding to mental exhaustion as one never-endingly moves on in relentless pursuit of the next triumph, one after another, with only temporary fleeting satisfaction.

Our secular culture teaches us to either admire or condemn outcomes on their face.  But our spiritual teachers ask us to also look deeply at one’s Intentions and true motivations before we judge, before we bestow honor upon another.  Outcomes result from the convergence of many different external inputs.  Intention lives only in the single heart.  “God knows what is in people’s hearts,” the Koran says repeatedly.  So we look closely into those hearts before choosing who to admire, who to listen to, and who to follow.  It is in Intention that one’s real personal Truth lives.

©  2014   Randy Bell

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Other Six Days

“And on the seventh day God rested,” the Bible records.  Having expended the imagination and energy of doing the first work (i.e. creating the world), God chose to pause in the labors and rest, reflect, and honor the results of what had been accomplished.  And so the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) continue with a similar tradition.  Do your work well, then pause for a time of spiritual reflection to nourish the soul.  It is a practice that also exists in some form for most non-Abrahamic religions.  While the day of choice, form and content of this spiritual reflection is significantly different, the intention remains very similar.  Taking a small portion of our time to consider that which is larger than ourselves; explore the meaning of our creation and life; reset the moral compass that guides us through our thoughts and actions of this existence.

But after spending the time in some formal spiritual gathering in our church, synagogue, mosque or meditation hall; after the prayers, chants, and songs have been sung; after the spiritual talk has been given and heads have nodded in professed concurrence; after one has “seen and been seen” among fellow congregants; then what?  What happens “the other six days?”

For many people, that one dedicated time of spiritual focus – if any at all – is often quickly forgotten over the remainder of the week.  We live disconnected from that supposed renewal of our spiritual time.  Some may squeeze in some crowded moments for morning or nighttime meditation, mealtime prayers, or insightful reading.  Some may pause in short moments during the day and consider the moral factors, the spiritual input, that is appropriate to their next decision to be made.  Some may pause to find the kinder words to be spoken instead of the harsh tongue of our own frustrations.  Some may pause to remember how little we truly know about one another before we pass judgment on them.  And some may pause to remind themselves that each of us is not the center of the universe, but just one small part; humility is the master key that unlocks the Universe’s door.

I know Baptists who accurately quote chapter and verse of the Bible at a moment’s request.  Catholics who are able to keep straight all of the Saints and the Popes.   Jews who faithfully observe the many Laws and Celebrations.  Moslems who speak each verse of the Koran, and prostrate themselves in daily prayers.  Buddhists who readily rattle off any of the numbered teachings of the Dharma.  All have their sacred ritual to follow, ceremonies to inspire us, lessons to teach us.

Quoting the verses, dressing in the robes, wearing the ornaments, and practicing the rituals can nudge us to the spiritual life.  But they are not the spiritual life itself.  It is in our time away from these supports and accoutrements – the other six days – that we must find and practice our true spiritual life.  It is about how we choose to spend our time, choose to speak, and choose to act.  It is about how we consider the needs, welfare and uniqueness of each individual in our interactions with them.  It is about how we carry our spiritual day into our every day.  It is not in the spiritual things, but in our daily routines of living that our spirituality emerges and is fulfilled.

It is not in the 7th day of rest, but in the other six days of work, that we truly experience the Universe.  Or not.  It is our choice.

© 2014   Randy Bell