Sixteen years ago I took a world lit class taught by a professor who opened my eyes, not only to the relevance of myth and classical literature, but to contemplative spirituality as well.
Dr. Thorpe opened the class with a simple statement “We’re lost. We’re trying to get home. That’s the story at the heart of Western literature and it’s the story at the start of the spiritual journey.” With that framework in mind we read Homer, Dante, and Dostoevsky. We read the stories like maps of the soul’s journey home.
As a kid who had grown up overseas and suffered from reverse culture shock, it was like being handed a golden key. I might not have been home yet, but I had a way to get there. It felt like hope. (more…)
As I browse through my social media feeds, my community is so often split down the middle. I see “conservative” posts from extended family afraid of moral decline. And I see “liberal” posts from friends, colleagues, and former classmates, angry about injustice and abuse of power. Occasionally, these threads cross when an argument breaks out and the insults and indignation begin.
The oppositional mindset that gives rise to this in-fighting is reinforced by the click bait ads in the margins, like this recent one: “Carly Fiorina Destroys The Women Of ‘The View.’” This is where we are.
Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle tells his story of awakening as follows. He struggled repeatedly with acute bouts of depression throughout his life. One night in particular he struggled with intensely suicidal thoughts. He kept repeating the phrase “I can’t live with myself anymore.”
Then he suddenly realized if there’s an “I” that cannot live with a “myself,” there must be two components of the self. He then wondered who this “I” and this “self I can’t live with” were. He soon felt himself drawn into some kind of vortex of intense energy, and heard the words “resist nothing” as if from inside him.
So, I messed up (if that’s the way to put it). I let my ego dynamics take over.
When I tore my Achilles tendon playing basketball a few years ago, the rehab was cut short and I’ve been hesitant to put too much strain on it ever since. Last year I finally joined a gym and started getting into (some amount of) shape. It’s great to be around people first thing in the morning, catch up on podcasts or audiobooks, get a good stretch and hit the showers. After a few months I thought I’d give basketball a shot again.
I played a few times, overcame a few growing pains having not put certain muscle groups to the test for years, and met some good guys. It was fun.
Then one morning someone came to play I hadn’t met before, though I’d seen him play during my treadmill runs. He was combative, contentious, hogged the ball, complained on nearly every call, and after an accidental foul from me shouted I was a dirty such-and-such. I was mad, but kept it internal. People in that frame of mind turn the atmosphere toxic, and everyone was a little more on edge that day.
Though I stayed calm in the moment, my emotions caught up with me after the fact (which is my general pattern). For days, I recounted the situation in my mind, coming up with witty comebacks, challenges to this person’s manhood, putting him in his place, vowing internally not to play again if this toxic person was there. Body tense. Blood pressure elevated. Then I got even more aggravated. Not only had this person ruined my morning, but now my weekend as well.
Welcome to Season 1, Episode 5 of the Spiritual Directions podcast. In this episode, I sit down with former naval officer and long-time centering prayer practitioner Steve Allman to discuss his contemplative practice, learning to accept the journey into the unknown, the search for meaning, and a method he learned to deal with anxiety.
How do we deal with transition and upheaval in our lives? For many of us, this brings about the related issue of anxiety. Steve Allman shares his life journey, lessons learned along the way, especially the lessons he learned in dealing with his transition out of military life, the support and values that helped him along.
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A few years ago, my wife accepted a job in San Diego, but there were very few jobs available in education, so for two years we both made the three-hour commute back and forth between San Diego and Los Angeles on our days off.
Given our budget, my residence during the week was a studio apartment in a downtrodden part of LA. There was no kitchenette and the shower was a lukewarm trickle. And most mornings I didn’t have time to wait for the trickle to move past frigid.
After graduating High School in Germany, I moved to the Pacific Northwest to go to college.
The reverse culture shock was jarring at times. What would have been considered embarrassing social behavior back home suddenly seemed not only tolerated, but celebrated here. Young guys revving engines in muscle cars and massively oversized trucks was suddenly a normal aspect of male identity and expression.
Back home you were supposed to at least project humility and self-deprecation. Any attempt to stick out and act superior made you subject to open ridicule. To get approval, you had to cultivate a degree of well-rounded gentility.
Now suddenly everything seemed upside down.
During seminary one of my professors shared a personal story that brought both him and much of the class to tears.
His wife had suffered yet another miscarriage and they were both still reeling. The professor shared times he had questioned his faith. He later ended class with the reminder that life can be messy. Relationships can be messy. Faith can be messy. Spirituality can be messy.
In dealing with my own uncertainty and stuck in relationship issues at the time, his words rang true for me, too.
And sure enough, the categories we use to navigate the world don’t always match up to our experience. But we usually just make a slight revision to the categories. All we can do at the level of the mind is to make these revisions or create more categories, subdividing further and further.