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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Evolving

We hear a lot these days in the political arena about a kind "evolving" that isn't really evolving at all - it's more about being afraid to take a stand.

I find myself evolving, though fortunately not in the political sense but rather as a result of my spiritual practice combined with the changes and challenges that my physical self has had to face in the last six or seven years. I heard a colleague of mine talking about a connection between pain and even injury in certain parts of the body and trauma of one kind or another earlier in life than predates either the awareness or onset of pain or injury. He made a pretty convincing case that you can make connections in at least some people between the kind of trauma they experienced and the location of their pain and/or injury using the chakra system. I tend to be skeptical of those kind of connections, but at the same time I can't deny that my second chakra pain and injury history may very well be tied to childhood trauma. For that matter, the very oddly located thoracic spine injury I have (I was told by a physician that such injuries are usually only seen in severe car accidents) may be likewise related to the heart chakra's response to childhood trauma. On the other hand, there was that 1A industrial extension ladder I lifted that caused me to feel and hear a pop in the precise location of the injured disc. I will certainly grant that there can be more than one cause for any event, and I remain open to suggestions about all of this, but it certainly is curious. I cannot help but wonder, is there some aspect of me that I am hiding from myself to my detriment? What's more, no matter how equanimous one becomes toward ones pain, it remains true that outside the monastery there are things that have to get done and they can't get done when pain is too incapacitating.

I don't feel that we really evolve in any substantial way until we are forced to evolve. It seems to me that the two most common situations that force us to evolve are significant life crises and more gradual life changes or challenges that force us to see that our understandings or world view no longer fit our situation. In short, we come to realize - either gradually or suddenly - that things don't work the way we thought they did. I have found that meditation helps me examine those changes and not get hooked by them as often, but I also am learning that seeing things more clearly as a by-product of spiritual practice often compels me to re-evaluate not only my life priorities but also my involvements. One example is that as we come to see more and more clearly the fictional nature of so much that our society sees as extremely important - the political process, the stock market, economics in general, and a host of other systems based more in superstition than reality - it becomes more and more difficult to get excited about them. The political process is one I am struggling with mightily in this Presidential election year, but for some reason that isn't a struggle that bothers me much. I struggle much more on a day to day basis with my physical limitations. As much as I recognize the value of living in the present moment, at times I wonder how I will contribute financially to my family as my limitations increase - which surely they will, if for no other reason than aging.

The struggle that I find most difficult right now is finding support for my practice. I confess that a lot of the responsibility for that struggle lies in the fact that my practice is rather eclectic, especially in the Midwestern United States. I have spent the last seventeen years concerned about holding open space for others to practice in, initially in a more traditional space and in the last several years in a very progressive place. Still, the question becomes a variation of, "who cares for the physician?" Ultimately, of course, we all are responsible for caring for ourselves. What I seek is a place to be nurtured, and I need that to be a place where I am not Bishop Craig Bergland. I recall when Frank Griswold was Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church he got caught attending Mass in street clothes at one of the Catholic Cathedrals in New York City. It didn't bother me at all, but it bothered a lot of people inside the Episcopal Church at the time. I remember that he explained that he just wanted to go somewhere to worship where people didn't know him and he could be himself. Unlike the assertion of the theme song from the TV show Cheers, sometimes you don't want to go where everybody knows your name.

To be honest, I struggle with even going to a local Buddhist Center because (1) I resonate most with the Insight Meditation tradition and the nearest center is seventy-five miles away, and (2) regardless of the Tradition, "church people" are church people, and can be irritating as hell. I realize that makes such people a focus for practice, and I am working on that. I have done a pretty good job of constructing ministries that don't attract church people, so at least I don't have to deal with them often. As an aside I still recall my first visit to a Sharon Salzberg talk in Madison, WI - the aforementioned city seventy-five miles from me. I remember my absolute shock at seeing the same behaviors I had seen for decades in Christian Churches displayed by the Buddhists gathered for Sharon's talk, with the appropriate changes in detail to fit the different context. Instead of kneeling on a kneeler with perfect posture and hands clasped together, the holier than thou Buddhist women felt compelled to sit full lotus in a folding chair with hands in a perfect mudra. I kid you not. There also was the same back biting and gossip, the same looking around to see who was present and who wasn't, the same evaluation of who was wearing what, and all of the usual nonsense. I'm not looking for the perfect place, mind you, just a place where I can be comfortable and be just plain old Craig. It's not as easy as you might think, but we all do need a place like that - a place where we can progress at our own place both in terms of practice and commitment. I'm not at all sure where that is for me at this point in my journey, but I recognize I need to find it.

One way I am seeking to construct a place of support for those on a similar journey is through a website and community that will be up and running by May 15th, if I can get the people at GoDaddy.com to answer a simple question, at ContemplativeHeart.org. The group is called the Contemplative Heart Community, and there will eventually be a Facebook Group as well. It will be a place for all who are interested in Contemplative Prayer or Meditation to find similarly inclined people, to share experiences, to be of mutual support, and to see what develops. If you have an interest, check it out!

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