Monday, September 19, 2011

karmic high school never ends

today i read an insightful editorial on cnn's belief blog, offering a priest's philosophical take on the value we can pull away from economic recession.

i do not consider myself particularly religious, but mostly because i am touched by the religious stories and customs of many faiths, and it's been my understanding that you're not allowed to claim to love religion unless you follow only one (ironic, no?). yet all faiths contain the same critical stories, the ones that teach us how to grow. in this case, the priest focused on the lessons of religion in not only how to build, but how to rebuild when everything is broken. how to build better after breaking down–a kind of growth that only comes from experiencing total failure, helplessness, and despair.

in Christianity, this is realized through humility and repentance. in Hinduism, this might be the work of Kali, the goddess who destroys all that is useless and outdated, making room for new growth. in astrology, it's recognized as the planetary alignment we are in now–when Saturn, the great teacher, is turned direct, forcing us to slow down, recognize our flaws, and go back to square one and work twice as hard to get to where we thought we were.

obviously, no one enjoys this kind of spiritual life lesson. in fact, the universe seems to be pretty damn good at picking the one thing you'd like least to have to deal with, and (surprise!) pushes you head-first into it, until you surrender yourself and are forced to become more flexible, more enterprising, and more tolerant. finally you admit that the way you are doing things just doesn't work anymore, and new ways and thoughts will have to take their place.

likewise this Catholic priest, while naturally channeling his thoughts through his Catholic background, insisted that suffering and loss are as much a nourishment of the soul, as are just rewards. this is because suffering teaches us empathy, and how to be receptive to others.

if you've ever met someone who you've tried to share something troubling or traumatic with, and they brush it off or tell you it's no big deal, they've probably just never had a major traumatic experience themselves, and have no concept of what that means. or if they've had one, they haven't taken in the lesson. they are probably not the best listener, either. whenever a catastrophic moment such as you've experienced finally does happen to them, though, they will experience total loss for the first time. it will then be in their power to take one of two paths: blame the world for this "unsuccessful" moment, further alienating themselves. or they can break down and admit vulnerability, reach out to others and learn to have compassion for difficult moments in life.

when we suffer, we have the opportunity to find each other. we also have the opportunity to realize where we were overconfident in our predictions, where we misjudged a situation, and where we have to go back to build better. even if the mistakes made weren't directly ours, we may still have to learn where and how to place trust. this is true in our individual lives as much as it in the economy. it's so hard to see this retracing-our-steps as a positive thing; you just want to get it right the first time and be done. nothing is more frustrating than feeling like you're going back to learn the same lesson again.

hmm. but what about those expensive tickets you bought, or that thoughtless comment you made? here's where you probably begin to recognize that you haven't really learned the lesson–or not entirely. this may even be the moment where you begin to recognize that you might be experiencing this lesson repeatedly throughout your life, karmically, built up in different stages and manifesting in different contexts, but always reminding you that you pretty much never stop growing. we'll always be spiritual students, our whole lives. karmically speaking, high school never does end.

it's hard for us to see this as necessary, but the mind and the soul, like the body, need constant rejuvenation. you know when you go to the gym and lift some weights, and then your muscles kill? you've essentially torn the muscle tissue to train it to build back tougher and thicker. but if you only lift weights for a week, don't expect that to set you up for life, especially if you like to hit up the bar on a regular basis. those guns need attention.

* photo of Kali is courtesy of Sanjay Patel's Little Book of Hindu Deities.

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