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… narcissistic orientation is one in which experiences as real only that which exists within oneself while the phenomena of the outside world have no reality in themselves, but are only experienced from a viewpoint of their being useful or dangerous to one.  The opposite pole of narcissism is objectivity … the faculty to see other people and things as they are … to be able to separate this objective picture from a picture which is formed by one’s desires and wants.

Erich Fromm, in The Art of Loving

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Narcissism.  We know it as selfishness and it is quite abundant.  Human beings are quite selfish.  We find it in families, professional associations, the entertainment industry, the media and other lines of work that have a public face.  It runs rampant in politics, in professional associations like Bar Associations and among the coveted and esteemed associations like the judiciary and the tenured faculty.

Selfishness is the root cause of corruption.  In selfishness others are mere objects or obstacles to one’s exclusive satisfactions.  Many people are imprisoned in this narcissism and they make others miserable.  There is no love or friendship with the narcissistic lot.  To them others are objects to be used or destroyed.

What is one to do?  For a calm and pleasant life – be very selective with whom you mix and mingle.  Maintain an objective point of view.  Be realistic.  See the world and others as they are not as you wish them to be.

Yes, there are good people who genuinely care about living a humble and kind life and thus treat others with the upmost dignity and concern.  Those people ought to be your circle of friends.  The others are to be kept at arm’s length or avoided altogether.  Narcissists, you see, are quite destructive to self and others.

When you think about it, do you not see the value of quiet, solitude, a small group of good friends, the value of a monastic disposition, life in God’s great space and beauty, the place of Christ in the life of a Christian?

Be realistic.  See what is.  Avoid unreal expectations or self-deception.  Things are what they tell you they are.  Acknowledging reality is the cornerstone of a life of peace, friendship, meaning, contentment, happiness, relative ease and love.  We live in a fallen world among many who are centered on self and self only.  Consider yourself so advised.

Shalom.

If … spiritual need is not appeased, it will take revenge in strange ways … A lot of compulsive behavior – drugs, sexual license, hyper-activity, work for work’s sake – can be means of escaping from this hunger.

Thomas Keating, in The Heart of the World

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We are spiritual beings.  Our interior life exists.  Often, it is neglected.  Such is the nature of a demanding culture, a culture in which we are frequently engaged, locked in on exterior demands placed on us.  We spend little time alone, in quiet, at rest – caring for our need for silence and solitude.  Hence, we are at ill at ease.

Who among us takes time for quiet?  For solitude?  Silence?

Are not the addicted ill at ease?  Who is at peace?  Are you able to be quiet and at ease?

Caring for one’s interior is a need we have.  Engaging your faith in silence and solitude provides a way to tranquility and contentment – a respite from all that is demanded of you, all that keeps you engaged and without a pause, without quiet, without peace.

Shalom.

 

Listening to the musical legacy of Abbess St. Hildegard von Bigen, 12th Century mystic, writer, diplomat and counselor to Bishops, Kings and Popes.  Beautiful.

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Spiritual development is the birthright of every man and woman … the world as a whole tends to neglect and forget the knowledge of how to pursue and live a spiritual life. (Emphasis added.)

Thomas Keating, in The Heart of the World

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Can there be wisdom and leadership without a spiritual component to one’s life?  No.

We are more than intellect.  We are spiritual beings.  Denying this, we are left less intelligent, less human and less healthy – flat and without insight necessary to make wise decisions on complex matters – or any matter.

Contemplation is the way to spiritual development for a contemplative life and life itself is a spiritual experience.

Contemplation leads to the full experience of the human experience.  In mass culture or any culture, contemplation requires that one lift himself or herself above the fray of mundane existence which so often captures us moment to moment, hour to hour, day after day – year after year.

Yes, attending to the demands of the world keeps the Christian from the mystery of Christ and the timeless message of the Gospel, and from knowing our self.

There is no full development of the human person without contemplation, no self-examination either – and hence no fullness of being, of human being.

In contemplation, the self is examined and understanding follows, and one is no longer trapped by the errors, follies, divisions, temptations and corruptions of the mundane world and the voices of its most vocal members.

Indeed, does contemplation not require the voiceless silence of solitude!  Yes, in contemplation there is a silent respite from all that interrupts our healthy, full development and greatest state of being.

In contemplation, God is real and immanent and those who are disoriented are no longer free to be housed within us.  Free – free at last.  Thank God Almighty “free at last.”

Shalom.

In his inimitable, frank language, Epictetus explained that his curriculum was not about “revenues or income, or peace or war, but about happiness and unhappiness, success and failure, slavery and freedom.”

James Bond Stockdale, in Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior

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Navy fighter pilot James Stockdale is the only three star Admiral in the history of the U.S. Navy to have spent years of captivity in solitary confinement as a prisoner of war and become a recipient of the Congressional Metal of Honor.

He holds a graduate degree in philosophy from Stanford University where his focus was on the Stoic philosophers, Epictetus included.

Epictetus, as the above indicates, maintained a school in Rome the purpose of which was to produce students who could speak of philosophical ideas without “idle” babble. As he said “Let others practice lawsuits, others study problems, others syllogisms: here you practice how to die, how to be enchained, how to be racked, how to be exiled.”

Mind you he lived in a harsh time.  Indeed, he was a slave who gained his freedom.  He faced (as did many) a hard life with great risk.  His desire was to help others find a way to live well in the midst of real challenges.  Philosophy was his vehicle – as it was with Admiral Stockdale.

Epictetus thought that a person was responsible for his own “judgments, even in dreams, in drunkenness, and in melancholy madness.”  His view was that each person brings about his own good, his own evil, good or ill fortune, his happiness or unhappiness.  He held the view that to be a victim one must consent to victimhood and that in virtue is serenity.  Indeed, how we chose to live our daily life was key to our contentment, wisdom, survival and prosperity.

Why do I write of this today?  To raise the point that we are not captive to the language and conditions of secular culture.  As human beings we have a sacred autonomy that allows us to author a life that is positive and strong in the face of what seems hard, unjust, dismissive, hurtful, disrespectful, faithless and harsh.

We are made to know our freedom, dignity, happiness and autonomy and to encourage and respect others who possess precisely that same nature as we do.  Seems to me we could use a good deal of what Epictetus is “selling.”

Be well.

Shalom.

 

 

God revealed a sublime truth to the world when He sang, “I am made whole by your life.  Each soul, each soul completes me.”  (Emphasis added.)

Hafiz

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So says the Persian poet from the 14th century.

What if your live makes God whole?  Would that make you more aware of your value?  Would that recognition influence how you lived, what choices you made?

Imagine this: many live as if they matter most but what if their Creator mattered most?

If such thought were carried by all – there would be no need to look for love and friendship, nor would there be the selfishness we see, or the violence and self-inflicted wounds, broken promises, betrayals and deceptions.

One simple idea can change life for the best – not just the better.

Shalom.

Our culture has lost any clearly defined spiritual standards and aims, and our cultural values have become impoverished.

Christopher Dawson, in The Judgment of the Nations

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Dawson wrote this in a book published in 1942, when World War II was in full bloom. Three years earlier T. S. Eliot took the view that we faced the choice between a Christian culture or a pagan culture.

The question of culture and our well-being has been with us for eight or nine decades.  Yet, isn’t it odd that those occupying space in the public square speak with no particular appreciation for what Dawson and Eliot and many others (to wit: Reinhold Niebuhr, Jean Danielou, Romano Guardini, Nicholas Berdyaev, Paul Tillich, et al) saw as the problem we faced in the West – namely, the disintegration of our culture.

I write about faith and culture and by necessity must address the words, thoughts, actions and inertia of those who command places in the public square.  Yes, I see a mix of theology, culture, history, religion, public policy, law, psychology, philosophy and literature as required to understand who we are today, what risk we run, what wrong turns we have made, and are making, what is lost, derided, discarded and abused by those who have our attention.

The ignorance of those in the public square is monstrous and embarrassing.  Political people alleging that a border wall is immoral while abortion is not as but one example.  Astonishing.  Simply, astonishing.  So many who speak with “certainty” minus doubt or evidence of serious inquiry.

What is my bottom line?

Throughout the centuries we have understood that faith grounds observation. 

No less a man than Albert Einstein offered this to validate the place of faith in intellectual inquiry and life – “God does not play dice” – i.e., mathematicians might say “Both God and the Pythagorean theorem … are believed to exist independent of the physical world; and both give it meaning.”

Faith is a necessary ingredient in human life, community, culture, peaceful existence, civility, full human development, human progress, knowledge, contentment, health, prosperity, intellectual growth and wisdom … and it is the absence of faith that generates the bulk of discord, abhorrent behavior, destruction, division, disorder, violence and hostility in our culture and that of the West today.

If a scholar have not faith, how shall he take a firm hold of things.

Mencius, 371-288 B.C.

The same can be said of citizens and those who claim to lead.

Shalom.

A rainy overcast day, mist in the mountains, a warm fire and classical music quiets and settles the day.  Peace on earth.

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The Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not, like some well in a retired and shady place.  What he is when left to himself and to his God, that is his true self.

John Henry Newman, in Parochial and Plain Sermons

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Do you see the steady stream of frantic people in public life – the “advocates” and well-financed, tax-exempt self-named guardians of this position or that, this category or that.

All this urgency and crude public displays – the name-calling and demonizing.  Why do we listen to this nonsense?  These are troubled souls.  They live life of distress and hostility certain that they have the “correct view” of everything.  Look, too, at the publicly elected Leftist politicians – perpetually in a state of anger and 100 percent certainty that their view is correct and that those who hold a varied opinion are to be labeled negatively – even if those in disagreement are many in number.  Law-makers, advocates and the like readily demean and dismiss others by name-calling like “basket of deplorables;” yet, they tell us that they are morally superior without the slightest notion that their view of others is hardly morally upright.

What I see in these public advocates and their certainty is far from the hidden peace that John Henry Newman identifies.

What Newman describes is the person of faith who is at ease in this world.  One who attends to problems without losing his or her peace, civility, humility, certain knowledge God governs man and not man who governs God.

Yes, our greatest calamities arise for those frantic advocates who in their certainty make enemies of those who disagree with them.  Their disposition alone as well as their hostile temperament ought say clearly to you: these are not people worth being listened to … too frantic, certain, angry, exclusionary and agitated.  Their frenzied nature speaks to the disaster that awaits in their proposals for radical “change.”

Seek your hidden place … it is sane and reassuring there.

Shalom.

 

If you don’t realize the source, you stumble in confusion and sorrow.  When you realize where you come from, you naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused, kindhearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king.

Lao Tzu

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Philosopher Lao Tzu existed six centuries before Christ.  It is said he was saddened that people did not seek goodness.  His writing and his concern was as to the individual and mystical existence.

In Taoism, he sought that one might live quietly alone with the spirit and the intellect.

In the above remarks he notes that without knowing the source of all being, one is confused and sorrowful – and with a recognition of the source of all being, one is naturally tolerant, not entwined in all the hubbub surrounding us, at ease, kind and dignified.  In other words: calm, detached, happy, content, relaxed.

Think of this in the context of today.  Imagine being detached from the chaos, conflict and constant noise, hostility, accusation and name-calling.  A level of calm today is quite valuable – especially in a rabid social media environment and a perpetual mass communication culture.

I am tickled by this which is attributed to Lao Tzu: “Why are the people rebellious … because the rulers interfere too much.”  We know this sentiment as: he who governs least governs best. 

People are not meant to be governed but rather to be free and responsible.  Is this not something we now know?  Is it healthy to be a dependent all your life?  Satisfying to be stunted in your growth and maturity – so others might rule you?  Deprive you of your freedom?

Our nation was formed with a sacred commitment to individual freedom and the presence and protection of faith and liberty.  Our Constitution enshrines that.  Not unlike Lao Tzu’s point of view.

Is not a relation with God the fundamental thing that gives us peace, health and contentment?

How do you orient yourself in the culture we have today?  Do you like being diminished and subject to others governing you down to the smallest details of your life?  Would you not rather your full growth and development?

You are a sacred being, capable of full growth and development.  Those who seek power try to convince you that you are not a sacred being who is capable of full growth and development.

Shalom.

 

 

 

… we seek nothing but the particular place willed for us by God …

Then we discover what the spiritual life really is … It is the silence of our whole being in compunction and adoration before God, in the habitual realization that He is everything and we are nothing, that He is the Center to which all things tend, and to Whom all our actions are directed.  That our life and strength proceed from Him, that both in life and death we depend entirely on Him, that the whole course of our life is foreknown by Him and falls into the plan of His wise and merciful Providence; that it is absurd to live without Him, for ourselves, by ourselves … and in the end the only thing that matters is His glory.

Thomas Merton, in Thoughts in Solitude

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In the Mass readings today we hear God lamenting that His children have moved away from Him and we hear Jesus advise us to move away from those who do not receive or listen to his words.

Our dilemma is that we live in an age where many of the most public and most vocal have moved away from God and do not listen to the words of His Son.  Likewise the culture in its digital discourse and mass communication is crowded with those who operate largely by themselves – without reference to God.  Indeed, that is the bulk of present day discourse and we are obviously affected negatively by this.

What is one to do in such circumstances?

Yes, we are assured in the Old Testament reading of today (from Hosanna) that God will act mercifully as to those who rebel.  And, we know that Jesus in today’s Gospel (from Matthew) would have us separate from those who do not receive his words or listen to him.  So we have a plan: be merciful, yet separate from those who reject the Savior’s words.

But how is this to be done?

Merton offers a way: seeking time in silence and the company of God in that silence.  For in that silence the primacy of God is known and experienced and we are in the form that we are designed to know and in which we will find peace when all about are in discord and distress.

Yes, our confidence is in God and our task is to stand apart form those who reject God outright, and in their rejection of the Son, reject the Father.  Our remedy for this is silence – a singular silence where God is heard – much as the Son shows us in his regular retreats to the quiet of the desert.

In silence we can find stability, meaning and fulfillment.

Shalom.      

 

All sins are attempts to fill voids.

Simone Weil

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Life isn’t hard if you just listen to people who are smart and leave us some valuable guideposts.  Of course as people – we tend to charge ahead hitting objects head-first without a helmet.

And, then – there are things that find us – hardships, inconveniences, bad deeds and thoughtless things done by others others.  These produce the occasion to sin – to react harshly and “get even.”  But the greatest frontier as to sin – is us, each of us.

We are sinners.  Every one of us.  (That’s why God and mercy are so necessary to our existence, our over-arching story.)

Think about this: when you sin, ask yourself what void has this sinful act uncovered in me? 

Many of the sins we see are “deficits” we experience related to the want of intimacy, or power, or status, or identity, or a place in the group or the world.  Once you discover this, sin can be defused – and then, all the more, when you realize God is vital to your full grow and development – your contentment, peace and relationship with others comes into full form.

The more sin is defuse – the more others become your brothers and sisters.  That joy awaits you.  God speed.

Shalom.

 

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