Symptoms

Raw for Beauty copyI saw this on my Facebook page this morning, and it took me awhile to figure out why I wasn’t happy with it.  It seems to me that all these “symptoms,” while no doubt true of the early stages of awakening, mostly bespeak spiritual narcissism. In Zen parlance, a clinging to these states denotes the “stink of enlightenment,” as a very real experience–awakening– eventually becomes an ego trip, if one does not continue to go forward and clings to the original experience. In reality, life is very hard, and as one climbs the ladder, one increasingly partakes of the broken heart of humanity as God weeps for its creation. Those who knew the Inayat Khan family, for instance, spoke of the deep feeling of sadness that often emanated from Murshid, and the feelings of grief and depression in his and his wife’s quarters. The Begum often suffered from depression and grief, and Murshid was often made sad by the behavior of his students and the misery of the world.

” In our everyday life there are times when a sadness comes, and it seems as if everything in the world, even the voices of beasts and birds, cause sadness. Then again comes the hour of profound joy. At that time the sun helps to give joy, and the clouds covering the sun also give joy. The cold, the heat, the friend, the enemy, all help to give joy.” — Inayat Khan.

Then again:

“The attitude of looking at everything with a smile is the sign of the saintly soul. A smile given to a friend, a smile given even to an enemy will win him over in the end; for this is the key to the heart of man. As the sunshine from without lights the whole world, so the sunshine from within, if it were raised up, would illuminate the whole life, in spite of all the seeming wrongs and in spite of all limitations. God is happiness, the soul is happiness, the spirit is happiness. There is no place for sadness in the kingdom of God. That which deprives man of happiness deprives him of God and of truth.” — Inayat Khan.

Yet again:

“If sorrow and sadness have no reality, why then did Christ say, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful?’ We must distinguish between the human side of the Master’s life and the divine side. If the human side were not human, then what would be human? Why does God send His message to humanity by. a man and not by angels? Because only a human being knows human beings. He knows them from having experienced human limitation.
That he felt sadness is the most beautiful side of the Master’s life. If he had not, how could he have sympathized with those who are sorrowful? If we were all born perfect there would be no purpose in human life. The purpose of life is that we grow towards perfection; from the greatest limitation we grow towards perfection. Its beauty is in acquiring wisdom, in living at the cost of all our failures, our mistakes. It is all worth while, and it all accomplishes the purpose of our coming to the earth. –Inayat Khan.

There is a hidden quality, and there is a quality which is manifest. What is manifest we recognize; what is hidden we do not see. There is going forward and there is going backward, there is success and there is failure, there is light and there is darkness, there is joy and there is sadness, there is birth and there is death. All things that we can know, feel, and perceive have their opposites. It is the opposite quality which brings about balance. The world would not exist if there were not both water and earth. Every thing and every being needs these two opposite qualities in order to exist, to act, and to fulfill the purpose of life; for each quality is incomplete without the other.  — Inayat Khan

We don’t want to be sad. We want to believe that spiritual awakening will relieve us of the pain of our lives. Yet eventually we come to see that we are here to struggle and win, to struggle and lose, to be angry and to weep, to laugh, to dance. The ego, like the poor, in the words of Christ, will always be with us, and sadness is as inevitable as joy.  As C.G. Jung says in speaking of the Shadow archetype, it is the source of our growth and creativity, and the creator of our sadness, and ultimately, our joy.  Yet the soul’s birthright is joy.

Mary Poppins Opened the Door

As truths are the fictions of the rational, so fictions are the truths of the imaginal.  –James Hillman

Recently, we went to see the Disney film “Saving Mr. Banks,” not because it was a Disney film, but because when I was a child, I simply loved Mary Poppins.  For a wonderful interview with her real author, P.L. Travers, go here:

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/3099/the-art-of-fiction-no-63-p-l-travers

As to the film, it is somewhat corrective as to what these books and their author were really about, but only somewhat.  It is important to realize that the real Mary Poppins is NOTHING like the sugar-coated Disney film.  The real Mary Poppins was somewhere between a Sufi mystic (in fact, I think she may have been the first Sufi I ever met) and a gypsy shaman.  It had never occurred to me to research P.L. Travers until this film came out–I’ve got to give Disney that!–and when I finally did, I realized fully why I had considered her an early teacher.Mary Poppins

I have always said that I was raised by books.  Coming from the archetypal Family from Hell (as did Travers, evidently), I had no one to teach me about morality, about honor, about beauty, true love and the other essential lessons that a child ought to learn at its parents’ feet.  But what I did have, early on, was a love of reading, and it was books that saved my life, quite literally, because when the hellish atmosphere of the alcoholic and personality-disordered home I grew up in boiled up and over, I could sneak off to my room or, if it wasn’t too bad, I could curl up in a corner of the couch and read, read, read.  I read at the table at meals, I tried to get away with reading in school, no doubt teaching myself far better than the teachers tried to; I read under the covers at night with a flashlight, far into the night.  To this day, I have several books going at a time, and while I spent a number of years in Academia, to this day, what I most love and value is, simply, stories.  And it seems that what I valued most was what the stories I read became inside that appealed most to me, because to this day I can’t even watch a television show without a book in my hand.  I prefer the written word to someone’s idea of what I ought to make of it hands-down.  The Wind in the Willows, the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, Louisa May Alcott’s books, and so many others taught me how to live, comforted me and showed me what it truly meant to be human.

I remember that I continued to read children’s and young adult fiction–not exclusively, but often–into my twenties, when The Little Prince by Saint-Exupery wandered into my psyche and did a little more healing work and validated my inner world.  The best thing about having children and–almost–grandchildren–was discovering the old favorites and some new ones.  In fact, if I see something that looks appealing, I continue to insist that well-written children’s literature is every bit as valuable as that written for adults, and a great deal more valuable than much of the garbage that is supposed to appeal to so-called grown-ups in this day and age.  The vast popularity of the Harry Potter books, of the Lord of the Rings books during the past and again recent dark ages, as well as the whole fantasy genre that has mushroomed while my children were growing up must be proof of this.  I was fortunate to work in a large urban public library at my very first job in life, so books of all kinds passed under my nose daily, and I read more than ever.  My daughter, who is in graduate school for library science, tells me that the popular genre for young adults these days is what is called “dystopian” literature, focusing on the dark side of the fantasy worlds it creates.  She reads things like The Hunger Games, but admits that she continues to maintain the much sunnier view of life that the children’s fantasies she loved engendered in her as a child.marypoppins

Inayat Khan–among others, no doubt–remarked that the parents are the first God in a child’s life:  the God ideal, after all, arises out of what seems greater and better than ourselves, and we look to our parents to model for us, to mirror in our own souls, that which wants to develop.  If that ideal is not before us when we are small, or is a stunted and malformed one, we have to find some version of it, if we want to grow up whole.  And even then, if we have to create that ideal for ourselves, it isn’t easy to get past not being adequately parented and taught what love is.  Perhaps, in a way, Mary Poppins was my first Roshi (and P.L. Travers did study Zen, as I found out recently), teaching me that life is suffering and that nothing lasts.  Other books taught me more sentimental and romantic concepts about love, but Mary Poppins is about the love that shatters and heals, the love that goes on forever, but is completely transient in its myriad temporal forms.

People often comment, about these posts, that I am extremely self-disclosing.  This is the most self-disclosing post I’ve written yet.  And it has constantly fascinated me that these wonderful writers who have meant so much to me often came from families not unlike my own.