Tuesday, January 26, 2010



Oh, in my youth I traveled, I
was borne aloft on sun-swept sky
to countries far and distant lands,
I dug my toes in foreign sands.
Adventure sought I, near and far,
at hilltop weddings, in roadside bars,
and pleasures, all that I could consume;
no efforts spared I to re-enter the womb
(or at least that little bit that men know of it,
though I'd've entered in whole if I coulda' fit).
My nights I filled with dancing and song,
over morning caresses I lingered long,
A hedonist, sure, no one would deny,
but at the end of the feasting, a discontented sigh.

So adulthood arrived and then I thought
to find a career is what I ought
to set my mind its task to do.
'Twas worldly success I would pursue.
So I found a job and the pay was good
and long I worked, the best I could
to complete each task set before my hands,
to satisfy each and every demand.
And soon I grew in the boss's regard,
for he'd always admired a man who worked hard
and didn't complain and was eager to please;
and I was every one of these.
The executive vice-president I soon became,
and it wasn't long before my name
could be found in the papers of the day,
though in truth, they never had much to say.
I was a success, or so it seemed,
for one thing still eluded, of which I dreamed
through many a long and lonely night,
through countless hours of bleak sunlight.

'Twas love I sought, the romantic kind,
to put at ease my troubled mind.
I needed a wife to give me rest
and feather with joy my empty nest.
Determined I a spouse to pursue,
and soon, with the help of a website or two,
I'd found my love, my perfect match,
and she also thought I was quite the catch,
so in springtime's bloom we our vows exchanged
(and because we're progressives, I took her name).
We joined our lives, one another wed,
and never more shaken was a nuptial bed
so soon two daughters our household did fill,
who proceeded to rack up the most horrendous phone bills.
But on the whole, life was happy, the years went by,
but when the girls were all grown, a discontented sigh.

I thought that there must be something more,
for there was still a lack that I felt at my core.
As if something were missing, I couldn't say what,
like a message half heard, a connection half cut.
I considered religion, the Christianity of my mother,
but that seemed too superstitious, so I thought of my brother.
Now, he was a Buddhist, which was more to my liking,
and he had Buddhist friends and they were all into hiking,
and I liked hiking too, so I decided to join 'em
one fine afternoon as they climbed up a mountain.
They spoke to me on dharma and the eightfold path,
right intention, right action and all that jazz.
They all seemed contented and so I thought
perhaps they had found that for which I sought.
Vowed I then to study, with my life that remained,
all the wisdom there was 'till enlightenment attained.
Of suffering then I should finally be free,
and taste of that bliss so long denied me.
The wisdom of ancients I crammed into my head,
the words and deeds of those now long dead;
long years I studied until I knew
by heart all the Vedas and the Dhammapada too.
And I could quote Lao Tzu or Shantideva on the fly,
But after the evenings meditation, a discontented sigh.

All of that wisdom availed me not!
Not one little bit, not one little jot!
So I gave up, gave in to the refrain
of my quest for contentment ever ending in vain.
Why should I struggle and strive to be happy
when no matter what I do I always feel sort of crappy?
I resigned myself to the world and its strife,
I went back to bed and crawled in with the wife,
then stroked I her shoulder, to spark her amore,
but received in reply just a fart and a snore.
When I woke the next morning, much to my surprise,
there was my eldest daughter before my sleep-weary eyes.
As she stood in the doorway, large tears she did shed
then glumly walked over and plopped down on the bed
and proceeded to tell me a tale of such woe;
a sadder story, friends, I surely don't know.
Her husband had left her, run off with some tart.
Run off and left her and broken her heart,
taken the car and the dog and the dough
and headed off south down to Old Mexico.
And he'd maxed out their credit before he had fled.
She loved him, she swore, but she wanted him dead.
As I listened to her story, in my mind there occurred
to me something I'd read, some somewhat wise words,
and I repeated them to her, just to see if they'd help
and soon she stopped crying and seemed more like her self.
She laid a kiss on my forehead and called me her dad,
said I'd reminded her life wasn't all bad.
She held onto my hand and looked at me for awhile
and then rose to leave with a sad, soft, sweet smile.

I felt at peace with the world as I dressed for the day,
and not in some silly optimistic way
that denies all fact, but rather a clear
acceptance that the World, though fucked up, is dear.
And my contentment has grown since I gave up my quest
for enlightenment and fame, for wealth and success.
And with my wife and my daughters now, well, it's not always grand
but I'm happy, for reasons I cannot understand.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Third Principle

This will be published in the Feb. 2010 OutWords.

The third principle of the Unitarian Universalist Association is “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.” Like all of our Principles, this one is concerned not with belief, but with ways of relating to one another. And while at first blush the two prescriptions contained in this principle may not seem necessarily related (might we not have acceptance without encouragement or vice versa?) , a closer analysis reveals that they are closely inter-related and mutually reinforcing.
First of all, there is acceptance. In matters religious, as in so many things, it seems to me that our inability to accept stems mainly from problems of language and vocabulary. One of the many failings of the English language is its inherent bias towards bi-valued logic. A thing either is or it isn't; a statement is either true or not-true. Our language has a hard time dealing with what Robert A. Wilson referred to as “fuzzy logic.” We have difficulty conceiving that a statement might be both true and not-true, or somewhere in between. If someone says, “Jesus Christ died for your sins,” we feel compelled to either agree or disagree, to accept the statement or deny it. Either Jesus died for your sins or he didn't, right?
No, thankfully. While the human mind and our English language like to see things in terms of black and white, the world itself (or more precisely, the individual worlds we each inhabit) feels no need to accommodate our notions of either-or. If we would become truly accepting of others, we must first cleanse ourselves of the concept of universal truth-values. The statement, “Jesus Christ died for your sins,” may well be true in the vocabulary of Christianity but not-true (or just not relevant) in the vocabulary of Secular Humanism. Until we wrap our minds around this concept, true acceptance of one another, I feel, will continue to elude us.
Next, we have “encouragement to spiritual growth.” What is meant by this? Especially when directed at a group in which more than one member might raise an eyebrow at the use of the term “spiritual”? What if you don't believe in “spirit” or “soul;” what then of “spiritual growth”?
My understanding is that by spiritual growth we simply mean the process by which a person realizes or manifests their ideal self. Spiritual growth means working on yourself, trying to make yourself better than what you are now. We could easily replace the words “spiritual growth” with “self-improvement” and not lose any of the import. So what is the connection between self-improvement and acceptance of one another? It is that the latter provides the fertile ground for the former. Acceptance of one another and of our different ways of understanding the universe creates the supportive environment that is necessary for the difficult work of self-development.
And it is not just that acceptance creates the conditions in which an “encouragement to spiritual growth” will be fruitful, but acceptance itself is encouragement. The feeling of being accepted is the feeling of being loved, and the feeling of love leads to the desire to love back, to love more, and it is this desire that is the motive force behind all spiritual growth and personal development.
But encouragement doesn't stop at acceptance. We are also expected to spur each other onwards in our growth. This does not, however, imply that I should try to convince my fellow UUers, or anyone else, to believe as I believe. As Søren Kierkegaard put it, “as regards that which each must do for himself, the best that one man can do for another is to unsettle him.” Our encouragement should always be with an eye towards helping one another spot and avoid complacency, not in convincing others of our own correctness. As Swami Satchitananda put it, “there can be a unity, but there need not be a unanimity.”
Ideally, these two things, acceptance and spiritual growth, catalyze each other within the spiritual community; acceptance leading to growth leading to greater acceptance and greater growth. We may be speaking different languages, using different maps and following different signs, but somehow we are all going in the same basic direction. If we can accept this fact and accept one another, spiritual growth will be the natural result, as the seedling naturally emerges from the seed...even if we don't particularly believe in “spirit.”