Annually, I use the Christian time of Lent as the impetus for extended contemplation. I have mentioned before that I consider the ability to be compassionate and loving a vital part of my spiritual growth. This year I’ve been thinking about why although I seem poised in social settings and can write compositions for others to read, actual interaction with other people can be downright painful for me. I consider myself fortunate to have the concepts of different faith traditions to access for help in making sense of my definition of spirituality. If you’ve been reading this blog you know that frequently I refer back to a Buddhist article I wrote about in my very first blog entry; “Long Journey To a Bow” by Christina Feldman. (“The Bow” 12/25/10) It’s a piece that serves as one of the guides to my personal “wandering through the wilderness”. In it the author discusses the conceit (in this context meaning the metaphor or organizing theme) of self. She shows that for most of us (and definitely for me) the conceit of self is a stumbling block that is made of “better than, worse than, and equal to”.
I got to the point where I recognized that I had developed a serious sense of “I’m better than, they’re worse than”. That was easy because that comparison is so prevalent in our culture and I was raised on it. As I have mentioned before, the only way I could understand others was to evaluate their “flaws”. ( “This Month’s Stop”1/17/12 post) And I evaluated myself by things like how incredibly clean my house was and how impeccably dressed I was. I left several good jobs because “they didn’t appreciate how good I was or they were too incompetent”. When I realized the detriment of that kind of thinking I thought I was working the conceit of “better than”. Then I was prompted to dig deeper by the article. I found that the reason I judged others was because actually, I felt I was diminished and deficient. In reality I was working the conceit of “worse than”.
I spent the first half of my life putting together and putting on what I came to call “the suit”. That was the persona of competence I thought I needed to present to others to hide my true inadequacies. Although I really didn’t wear it long, I wore it hard. It got to the point where it was my second skin, or maybe even THE skin. But it became so uncomfortable that I drank alcohol to deaden myself to the pain of the weight of it. It took therapy to teach me that I could remove it and to accept and appreciate what I was like without it. And yet I still kept it around. I was afraid I’d experience a different kind of pain without it. It was like an old friend who I suspected I might need again on occasion because I hadn’t let go of the need for comparisons. By reading “The Bow” many times and lots of contemplation, the consequences of those comparisons, even trying to judge “equal to” finally became clear to me.
Now, at this stage in my life, I see that the fabric of the suit is cheap and inferior. I don’t need a suit made of fear, self-defensiveness and suspicion to protect me. I need only to stand naked before God. Being naked in the wilderness scares me in its potential for pain. I now think that I’m strong enough to withstand my own vulnerability but am I strong enough to endure and love the vulnerability of others? The image scares me but keeps me mindful that there’s always pain in life. I can survive it and I don’t always need to deflect it but rather try to know it.
I love you the divine One
With all my mind, heart and soul.
I pray I will see You in the faces
Of all those I meet.
I pray I will reflect Your love
To all those I meet.
I pray I will remember as I am leaning to the left
You are on my right.
I admit my sin as a turning away from You to pursue
Let me be myself in You.
I pray I will always appreciate Your wonder
With awe and not superstition.
I love you, hear my cry.
Bayete, bayete, bayete
How Great Thou Art
All praise to your name.
I want to come to You headless
Voiceless so I can hear You
Thoughtless so I will not define
Myself, beside myself
And outside myself
But instead one in You
I want to come to You headless
Heart open so I can feel You
Only then can I define
And right action
And they will be one in You.
I pray to that-which-is-not-different-from-everything
For the stillness that allows
The awareness of Your totality.
I pray for the quiet that is both
The eternal scream
And the divine whisper.
I pray for the blessing of these things
To come upon me, to swallow me
Until I am no more
And everything is.
(To give credit where credit is due, among other influences; “as I am leaning to my left…” is a loose rendering of a line from the Seal song “Let’s Get It Together”. See music page. “I love you, hear my cry” is from Psalm 116:1-2 and Donny Hathaway. See music page. I learned the word “bayete” (Oh hail) from a song by the same name sung by the Soweto Gospel Choir. See music page. Hmm..I see a pattern here.)
Recently my Primary Care ordered a GI imaging test for me. I knew I’d have some time in the waiting room while drinking my barium cocktail so I decided to spend the time catching up on some reading. I grabbed a 2008 edition of Tricycle, the Buddhist magazine. I had bookmarked an article entitled “The Long Journey to the Bow. Overcoming the last great obstacle to awakening: the conceit of self” by Christina Feldman. (http://www.tricycle.com/dharma-talk/long-journey-bow) that I thought was about the loss of the sense of self, which is a subject I study. To my surprise the article was more about the conceit of self, which is a subject I live. It turned out that short piece changed the focus of my spiritual practice. For that reason I share it with as many beings as I can.
The conceit of self, the author (says), is a multi-leveled trap to our ability to practice love and compassion. Within that trap are the dimensions of the Superiority conceit, the Inferiority conceit and the Equality conceit. “…within those 3 dimensions are the worlds of comparing, evaluating and judging.” The most important point is that “the cessation of conceit allows the fruition of empathy, kindness, compassion and awakening.” The point hit me like a ton of bricks. That was what I was missing in my practice, the ability to bow. I can pray and meditate on losing myself to God all the daylong. But until I am willing and able to cease my conceit of self, I can’t continue to another level of my practice. I have to be willing to bow to my fellow beings without the intellectual exercise of judging one way or the other. My new Mantra is now “greater than, less than, equal to, it’s all an illusion.”
I had asked God for mercy but also to allow me to accept. So it felt as if the article was there for me with the right message about what my perspective needs to be. What a gift I was given in that article. Please read the article. I hope you’re able to get just as much from it. Let me know what you think.
I now read the article every day but maybe I should put a copy over my desk at work.