Category Archives: Deep Thoughts

Right Speech, or Lack Thereof

Today I fell victim to chose to succumb to the allure of gossiping and judgmental words. What I said was unnecessary, and potentially harmful, as I discovered a moment too late that the person I was speaking about was sitting just at the next table. I was assured by my table mate that the person didn’t seem to have heard as the next table was deeping involved in their own engrossing conversation, but still, I worry that I caused pain.

Gautama Buddha developed the Eightfold Path as a way to alleviate suffering and achieve insight. Rudolf Steiner spoke similarly of this path as a way to tame our astral cravings and unconscious desires and actions. Here is how he describes the fourth principle, right speech:

[A person] must strive to give true expression to what he desires to communicate to the world, having first acquired the right view and right judgment of it; not only his words but every manifestation of his being must express his own right view — that and that alone. This is right speech.
The Gospel of St. Luke, lecture three, 17 September 1909

I certainly failed to have right judgment, in my choice to make humor out of shallow judgments and useless talk,and to have right view, in displaying such antipathy toward the person and situation. I forgot the wise words of Steiner about truth and love:

[The] lie is the direct opposite of the actual facts and those who yield themselves lovingly to the facts are incapable of lying. The lie has its roots in egoism — always and without exception. When, through love, we have found the path to wisdom, we reach wisdom through the increasing power of self-conquest, through selfless love.
–“Love and Its Meaning in the World,” 17 December 1912 (my emphasis)

Clearly, I still need to work on that “self-conquest” part.

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Why Am I in This #$*)&(% Lifeboat?

This morning in the car Anthropapa and I were having a discussion about affirmative action and the fact that there have only been 3 African American US senators since Reconstruction, and how maybe President Obama will be a positive role model to increase that number. Yes, at 7:45 am, we were discussing that. I guess the coffee had already kicked in.

Anyway, we were stopped at a busy intersection, and I made another comment in our discussion. Then I noticed that Anthropapa hadn’t responded. I said, “I’m sorry, are you trying to pay attention to the traffic?” He said yes in what sounded like a slightly annoyed tone.

I felt myself get angry all of a sudden. Like, hey–I was just continuing the conversation, why are you annoyed at me? I felt really irritated at how I thought he was judging me.

Then I stopped myself and looked at that angry reaction. What was that all about? Why anger in that moment?

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Recently my pastor lent me Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What. Miller writes in a sometimes profane, sometimes silly, sometimes profound way about how Christianity cannot really be broken down into bullet points and structured dogma without losing the fundamental purpose behind it: a relationship with God. He says that we all have a “lifeboat mentality”: constantly comparing ourselves to others in formulaic ways and placing value on transitory and truly meaningless things to see who comes out ahead and who gets thrown overboard. We do this because we have lost that sense of relationship and have forgotten the love God has for us. If he were Buddhist, Miller might have said the same thing in terms of attachment, and a skewed vision of self that leads to separation from the truth of oneness. There’s a fundamental human truth there, whatever the religion.

Whether you see it as literal or figurative, the Fall in the Garden of Eden presents a picture of that loss of relationship: one minute we had perfect, all-encompassing love, and then we didn’t. And since then all we’re doing is trying to get that love back. We somehow equate that loss of love with a lack of self, a judgment against us, an isolation and fear and trembling. We try to assuage that lack by buying things, judging others to prop up our self-image, even making checklists of things to do to be a better person. We feel so many things in life as tiny reminders of that huge loss, and so we act and react out of fear.

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As I thought about my angry reaction this morning, it occurred to me that it felt almost like what I imagine being a baby feels like. Have you ever seen the look of perfect outrage on a baby’s face when the baby feels pain? It’s an instantaneous, loud, and passionate response. It’s like a very primitive sense of un-rightness that neither I nor the baby could explain rationally, but surely feel strongly.

Then I thought about how the Christian answer to that moment of pain would be to remember that God’s love is sufficient. I’m not sure I can fully get there in my mind and heart, but I can at least realize this: whether Anthropapa was really judging me isn’t really the issue, but rather that I don’t need to feel fear or lack or low self-esteem in the face of any perception I might have. And there’s an important point: it’s my perception. My little ego gets in the way of my higher self and clouds my consciousness with such primitive reactions, regardless of what’s really going on. Anger like that is a semi-conscious reaction at best. There’s no higher self involved there.

The Bible gives Jesus as the model of the higher self, and here’s what he and his disciples say is the answer to pretty much everything: love. Love one another. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Of the highest virtues, love is the highest. Over and over again, because even the ones you would think would have totally understood, like St. Peter, needed a lot of repetition to really get it.

So, what it occurred to me to do is observe my anger, and see where I am lacking in love. Why am I feeling in that moment like I’m going over the side of the lifeboat? When did I put myself in the lifeboat in the first place, and why? Why do I perceive the lifeboat as limited–why isn’t there room for everyone in there? Why am I so busy staking out my spot in the boat that I can’t see the fear on someone else’s face, and another that is feeling so seasick, and another who’s worried about catching enough fish to eat, and so on? Why am I letting my little self get in the way, when I’ve got this marvelous higher self just dying to get out there and love my shipmates?

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Preparing for Harvest

I know it’s still summer, but I’m already thinking about autumn. It’s my favorite season, not only because of birthdays and anniversaries but just for that beautiful, almost wistful feeling I get watching the days grow shorter and nature beginning to fall asleep.

Summer is a time of growth, and heat. But I also see it as a time of preparation. All the fiery summer festivals have an aspect of pointing to the future: St. John’s Day — making the path straight. Midsummer — a time to burn away what is unneeded and ask for abundance in the coming season. July 4th — the beginning of a new American nation. Bastille Day — a turning point in French history.

I feel that I am in a strong period of preparation in my own life. We’ll soon be buying our first house, and our finances are being radically transformed. We’re making plans to buy what we’ll need for the house, and I’m already thinking of next year’s gardening. Next week, school starts for my kids, and the week after, I return to the college classroom for the first time in 16 years.

What are you preparing for?

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Filed under Deep Thoughts, holidays, life, Nature

Dragons and Bombs; or, Parental Thinking on Your Feet

Driving down a country road yesterday to pick up Papa and Napoleona:

SillyBilly asked, “Mama, what if a big dragon were coming here? What if it was flying up here from the south . . . from Los Angeles?”

Mama: “Hmmm . . . I wonder where it would land — in the mountains?”

SillyBilly: “Mama, what if a fighter jet flew over us and wanted to drop a bomb on us?”

We then talked about how we have air traffic control and the military that would prevent that from happening (as well as the unlikelihood of Pocatello being a major bomb target). And then he asked me, why do people want to drop bombs?

I said I couldn’t really imagine wanting to do anything like that myself, but sometimes people just are angry, or fearful, or don’t like other people, and they don’t know what else to do.

Then I said that sometimes there are “good” reasons. Like when we decide to participate in a war because we think what another country or their leader is doing is wrong. Like when, long ago when is grandparents were young, a leader of one country thought that he should invade and take over other countries, and also kill lots of people in his own country because he didn’t like who they were. Our country thought that was very wrong, and one way we stopped it was by bombing that “mean” country. Now we’re friends with that country again, and they don’t do that kind of thing any more.

SillyBilly asked if there were any wars going on right now. I said yes, there are always some happening somewhere. He asked me why.

I said, I guess it’s because people forget, or haven’t yet learned, how to be nice to each other and work things out. People are still sometimes afraid, or angry, or hateful.

I think I’ll wait a few years before I tell him about his own ancestors who were killed in that long-ago country that we bombed, and why it happened.

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Filed under Deep Thoughts, Kid Talk, Politics, SillyBilly

Trial by Water

Today was rather momentous. At one point this afternoon I realized that the entire day was like an initiation of some kind or another.

Rudolf Steiner wrote quite a bit about initiatory experiences, religious, meditative, and quotidian. The quotes I have given here are from his book, How to Know Higher Worlds: A Modern Path of Initiation, available for free online in a previous edition here.

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This morning I was baptized into the Missouri Synod Lutheran church here in Pocatello. It’s the church that runs the school my children attend. I started attending services regularly last spring and went through the adult confirmation class.

It’s not something I ever expected to do. I’ve never attended regular religious services before. But it just felt like the right thing to do, for me, right now. I found that at least once in each service, I would get teared up, even a bit wobbly-chinned. And this was at the early-morning, traditional, formal, organ-music service — not where you might expect an emotional response like that. So, I was intrigued about what that was all about, and kept going.

This trial is known as the Water-Trial, because in his activity in these higher worlds the candidate is deprived of the support derived from outward circumstances, as a swimmer is without support when swimming in water that is beyond his depth. This activity must be repeated until the candidate attains absolute poise and assurance.

Now, I’ve never been a big fan of standing up in front of large groups of people. I’ve done it before: performing in plays, leading business meetings. But it’s always been profoundly embarrassing.

I had gone through confirmation, was attending regularly, and had agreed to be a member of the congregation. So, it was time to be baptized. When I arrived at church this morning, I noticed that the sanctuary was more full than it has been recently (summer vacations, you know). I thought, great, even a bigger crowd to witness this! But I thought about how fear is really an illusion, a kind of self-centeredness blended with a certain lack of courage. I thought about what the Lutheran church teaches about grace, and what I’ve read in many places about surrendering oneself to a higher power.

I wasn’t nervous after that at all.

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Silly Billy and Napoleona spent most of the day today outside, playing.

Now, we live in an apartment complex. We’re looking for a house to buy, but for now we’re here, and so the kids don’t have a backyard. They play in the playground areas, they ride their bikes and scooters around, they climb trees. For an apartment complex, it’s not too bad.

But today they crossed a boundary; they erred in their decision making.

For even as it is difficult for those who have not learned to spell correctly in their childhood to make good this deficiency when fully grown up, so too it is difficult to develop the necessary degree of self-control at the moment of looking into the higher worlds, if this ability has not been acquired to a certain degree in ordinary life.

Anthropapa and I heard a knock at our door, and there was a woman with SillyBilly, saying something about he and Napoleona getting into people’s cars, and that Napoleona had run off. Anthropapa tracked down Napoleona, and we sat down to talk about what had happened.

They had evidently been opening unlocked car doors and getting inside the cars. Worse, they had a plastic bag with a few odds and ends they had taken from some of the cars!

They were really, really upset. SillyBilly told me that some of his friends had told him there was jail for little kids, and was that true, Mama? Napoleona just cried and cried.

We talked a bit about why opening cars is wrong and unsafe, and about how wrong it is to steal. We reassured them that there is no little-kid jail, but also made sure they knew that their actions have consequences.

Later in the evening, while I was combing and drying Napoleona’s hair after her bath, I started talking about forgiveness. I told her the story of the Prodigal Son, how the son made big mistakes (a kind of initiation we can all have in daily life) and how parents (and God) forgive us if we are sorry about and try to learn from our mistakes. The parent might be upset at the mistake, and our desire to learn from the mistake is necessary, but the forgiveness and love are always there.

Should [the candidate], in the course of his activity, introduce any of his own opinions and desires, or should he diverge for one moment from the laws which he has recognized to be right, in order to follow his own willful inclination, then the result produced would differ entirely from what was intended. He would lose sight of the goal to which his action tended, and confusion would result. Hence ample opportunity is given him in the course of this trial to develop self-control.

A day of trials, of initiations, of waters and tears.

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Photos by Vanessa Pike-Russell.

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Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 10

Last time we looked at the relationship between the home and cultural life. Today we will see how the homemaker can set out on a path of self-development.

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In fostering the home as a locus for cultural renewal, the homemaker must work to strengthen his or her inner life in order to work toward the ideals of this renewal. It may seem like we have no time for such an undertaking, but even in very short bits of time we can do significant work.

The path described here has two parts: meditation and exercises.

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For the meditative work we can find a sentence that holds meaning for us that we can ponder. Rudolf Steiner gave us many such sentences, or one could find rich sources in the Bible or other spiritual books. Focusing on a meditative sentence each day for even a short time will strengthen one’s heart forces. To balance these forces, we also must develop our will forces.

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Rudolf Steiner described what are often called the “six supplemental exercises,” about which I have written in more detail in relation to parenting here. In brief, the exercises are:

concentration, in which we focus our attention on a common, otherwise uninteresting object for five minutes each day,

initiative, in which we do an otherwise unnecessary action each day at a predetermined time,

equanimity, in which we hold back the expression of our feelings (though not suppressing the feelings themselves) for a short time at an appropriate moment,

positivity, in which we try to find something positive in every situation or thing,

open-heartedness, in which we attempt to look at every new thing without prejudice,

and persistence, in which we create harmony by willfully repeating the previous five exercises.

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Next time: The Sacrament of the Home

Manfred Schmidt-Brabant, The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker, Temple Lodge, 1996.

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There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

-From “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T. S. Eliot, 1917

I’ve been wondering why I haven’t posted anything much here lately. Remember NaBloPoMo? A post EVERY DAY, for heaven’s sake.

There have been eminently practical, homely reasons: illness, work, lack of sleep. But I think the main reasons relate to blogging itself.

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