November 8, 2010

How Transcendent Ideals Might Limit Us.

Joel and Diana are cool.

This past weekend I went to five talks given by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad at Yogaview in Chicago. They are coauthors of The Passionate Mind Revisited: Expanding Personal and Social Awareness and The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power.

You might guess from the titles of their books that they are radical people, and I think they are. They are also highly personable and vibrant people—delightful to listen to.

It really helped to see them in person. I had been reading The Passionate Mind Revisited with a group, and the material is challenging. It pushes buttons.

One of the things I am walking away from this weekend with is an increased suspicion of concepts of spiritual hierarchy. Joel and Diana seemed to be pointing out that being “without thought” is an unlivable ideal, and many people believe that that is the most spiritual state.

It seems like I hear people expressing disappointment that they cannot seem to stop thinking fairly regularly. In some places that would be strange, but since I am a yoga teacher, these are the kinds of concerns that might and do come up for people.

Being “in the now” is commonly conceived as a state without a future or a past: just being. It is a state without worries, cares or regrets. What a relief to get a mental break like that! And it happens…

But according to Joel and Diana (I am doing my best to share what I heard, but it is best to see them for yourself if you can. Or read their books.) it isn’t healthy to hold this state as better or more spiritual than other mental states that we might pass through.

If we hold the concept of being “without thought” as the highest ideal, then we might find ourselves feeling guilty most of the time, because most of the time we tend to be thinking.

Here are more dangers (beyond feeling guilty) of prizing this transcendent non-thinking “spiritual” state above others:

One danger is that we might find ourselves avoiding things and people in our lives that would benefit from our attention in favor of living “in the now”. Sorry, can’t let the dog (or cat) out now because I’m meditating…

Another danger of prizing this mind-state is denial of this life we are living, and world that we are living in—as in some spiritual traditions that posit the concept that the world is Maya or illusion.

We might also experience non-attachment that removes us from care. I remember a yoga teacher friend telling me that when people said things to him that he was “like Teflon”. Whatever people were saying would just slide off, like a non-stick pan. This bothered me at the time I heard it, and I asked another yoga teacher and he said that he felt the same way. No doubt, there are times when self-protection is helpful, but using our yoga or meditation practice to remove us from our daily interactions to that degree, sounds like it could be harmful to me.

Not valuing memory and future thinking presents problems as we aim for a livable world for our children.

Meditation can be a problem for relationships if it is used as a way to not communicate important things to our partners. An example was given of a couple where the female partner was using her meditation to calm her upset rather than sharing with her partner that she had a problem. In this case when her partner found out, he was really sorry that she had suffered alone.

Meditation can be beneficial also.

I just want to mention this, because I have experienced benefit from meditating. The biggest benefit is I seem to understand my mind better. It can also be calming, ordinary or transcendent.

But I also can see how it might be helpful to be aware of how it might also limit our minds if we don’t have a bigger picture in mind.

A bigger picture.

Learning to get along with other people better in this world might be a better ideal, than a non-thinking “spiritual” state. So Joel and Diana suggested that personal identity needs to broaden to be more inclusive of other people, rather than disassociating from our personalities or egos to be more “spiritual”. We are spiritual right here and now in our lives with other people in this world.

They see this as an important part of the change that needs to happen to allow us to continue to be a viable species on this planet.

How can we live here now, together?

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