holding myself

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:42 pm by Administrator

over the past three days, i’ve observed my ego go through its frenetic exertions, railing at imagined enemies and inflicting the suffering of intense emotions upon my body and my mind. yesterday, as i held him, i felt a turn in myself, as my ego wilted under the scrutiny of my conscious awareness. certain memories and facts surfaced as his voice relented.

once, i too was vigorously pro life. i too opposed abortion on moral and ethical grounds, up until the day that i learned that my mother, whom i respect more than any other woman on the face of the earth, chose at one point in her life to abort a healthy pregnancy.

even now, i can understand how abortion can be viewed as the murder of a fully fledged and yet defenseless life. and if a pro life advocate sees it this way, how can one question the fervor and passion that comes from this view?

no one can possibly view the termination of a fetus as a good thing. at best, it is among the lesser of many evils; but even in this, abortion is not a straightforward proposition.

there are good people in this country who really would go the extra mile to offer support to a pregnant woman in distress, and to care for her child after birth.

in the end, i still have my view—but in this moment at least, i am not defined by that view, regardless of how strong my recent feelings and convictions have been. i have a perspective, but i hold that perspective, and that perspective does not rule me. i have the choice today about whether to suffer and whether to inflict that suffering needlessly on others around me. and i can choose to acknowledge my sensibilities and the leanings that come out of them without losing my capacity to listen, to change, and to be aware. there are good people who disagree with me on the ruling of the supreme court to overturn roe v wade, and their goodness is not diminished by their view. it is exemplified in their view.

yesterday, i reflected on whether my views—and my movement away from religion—have actually added to my well-being or made me a better person. it’s interesting for me to consider that though i do not perceive myself as being much different of a person, the fact of the matter is that the nature of my personality and how i deal with struggles have been transformed by my journey into mindfulness. i’d describe that transformation in the following way.

when i was a man thoroughly embedded in the church, i dealt with suffering and struggle by identifying with christ. this process of identification was for me a habitual, ritualistic mental process characterized by the following steps: 1) through prayer and reflection consciously entering a space in which the will of God was primary and in which my own feelings and priorities were intentionally diminished; 2) tapping into a basic identity of helplessness and unworthiness, around which feelings of regret, sorrow, and ultimately penitence would ultimately take shape; 3) leveraging these feelings of penitence into a heartfelt commitment to submitting to a higher power, for the purpose of doing God’s will even at the expense of my own values; 4) moving into a conviction about a necessary action through which i might demonstrate obedience (first and foremost) and secondarily a trust in God’s ability to strengthen me through my suffering. in brief, this was a process of deep identification; i dealt with struggle by affirming, shaping, and directing my ego, ultimately for the purpose of arriving at a conviction—an unshakable and divinely-inspired intention.

my process is much different nowadays. whereas once i sought to eliminate ambiguity through the magnification of ego, now i find myself inevitably entering ambiguous, diffuse mental spaces in which there are no easy answers, much less convictions. instead of initially creating a mental space in which i am attending to the force and will of an external entity, i am now entering a meditative space in which i am simply with myself: an observer of my own chaotic emotions, which have no purpose but to be observed. like a parent to a 2 year-old child, i know that i am not dealing with an equal; i am tolerating the thoughts and emotions of an agenda-driven mind that lacks self-control and meaningful wisdom. this doesn’t mean that i automatically dismiss my feelings and instincts; but neither do i seek to replace them with more valid (or divinely-inspired) feelings and instincts. by pointedly moving away from conceptual identification—as opposed to moving deeper into identification through the ego-affirming process of identifying with the will of a god figure—i ultimately land in a mental space with less feeling and structure. that is not gratifying to the ego, and it does not offer clear direction for action and resolution. what this space of ambiguity does offer me is the ability to hold multiple perspectives, to be emptied of bias, and to regard my challengers or opponents not as people to be forgiven but rather as genuine equals, worthy of my respect.

i recently told a friend of mine that one of the key concepts that differentiates my christian approach to conflict from my less christian approach to conflict is the concept of grace. grace to me is a core tenet of christianity; it implies kindness offered by one who is right to another who is obstinately wrong. the expression of grace always reflects a hierarchy of morality and value. as god deigns to offer grace to human beings, more enlightened human beings offer grace to less enlightened humans through overtures of forgiveness or sacrifice. in my presently evolving form, i reject grace. i reject the idea of kindness that is authentic outside of what is offered through genuine presence with an equal. the very self-concept of unworthiness that is so instrumental to manufacturing feelings of regret and penitence is profoundly alienating to me now. what makes a human unworthy of respect and love? is it not an arbitary belief of what worth is? is it not a specific idea of who is better and lesser, within a moral hierarchy of existence? to me, this is a rejection of anatta (emptiness) and the precipitant of dukka (suffering); it is an untruth that spawns untruths, to the consummate suffering of all human beings bound up in its narrative.

even now, i don’t speak of this with scorn for what i once was and believed. but i speak of it with great wariness of what belief can do to a human being. belief turns individual humans into agents of other beings or communities. belief makes soldiers out of men, makes revolutionaries out of children, makes political agents out of conscious beings. belief rams suffering through the generations, in the form of tribes, nations, and ideologies; it enslaves the minds of people who might otherwise break free of the past and the burden of karma. belief, as opposed to the unfettered experience of what is real, pits human beings against one another in arbitrary contests of logic and passion. it is the reason we experience two americas, even when in fact there is no america at all—only people bound up in the confusing and burdensome work of identifying with something grander than themselves. this work will eat at us and ultimately consume us, because it is endless and utterly exhausting. at the end of it, this work of belief will make us less thoughtful, less human, and less open to what is manifestly true. i want to get free of it. to some extent i have gotten more free of it. and it is clear to me that i am a better person for what i have experienced.

today, i hold myself, dearly and powerfully and as completely as i can. there is a person within me that seeks to be right, to punish his enemies, and to conquer others for a cause. there is some truth in his words, enough to entrap me and to suck others into the suffering of his battle for relevance and immortality. in fact, my ego does not want to die; it wants to live forever, through ideas and identities. i cannot stop him from doing what he must. but i can hold him, the one who so despises what is happening to our country, and i can glimpse for just a moment a truth that my ego cannot discern: that there is no country to redeem, there is no mind to change, and there is no life to save, not here and now. when the day comes for me to express a view in order to lessen another’s suffering, then i will see that opportunity for what it is. until that day, i will continue to hold my ego to the light, until the flame of its suffering goes out and is no more

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