Monday, April 19, 2010

When God Directs Your Lousy Film

Let's stipulate that our life is a movie. Why do so many movies turn into horror films, or ridiculous kitsch, or boring melodramas, or tedious soap operas, or gothic comedies? Why do we lose control of the plot and forget all about the theme? Or, even worse, why can't we give up the reins and find a good director to take control of the production when it's turning out to be an obvious turkey?

Well, for one thing, we are not only starring in our own movie, but usually costarring in at least one other film. And we are supporting actors in a few additional films, and extras in countless others. Every day we have walk-ons and cameos, and it is even possible for the outcome of another person's whole film to turn on our little cameo. (I am reminded of my own GagDad, who, in every cameo, tried to give the other person a chuckle.)

I have evaluated patients who swear this is true of me, although I generally have no way of confirming it, since I don't see them again (occasionally one has written me a letter confirming the ongoing transformation that began that day). At any rate, I can't tell you how many times a patient has said that the evaluation was a life-changing experience -- even (if they are religious) that providence must have been behind it. (I'm not referring to ongoing psychotherapy, in which the change is much more understandable.)

My response is always the same: that there is an old rabbinical saying to the effect that God spends most of his time arranging meetings and marriages. Once one is sensitive to this idea, one looks at the bit players who enter one's film in an entirely different way, for each one could be a vertical emissary bearing a critical message!

If you think about it, I'm sure you can remember "chance meetings" on which your life turned on a dime. When this happens, it is always because the person was central in allowing you to find and express a part of yourself -- or perhaps your Self, period. As I have mentioned before, one of the primary tasks of good parenting is to do this for your child -- not to try to make him into some preconceived image, but to help him articulate and develop his true self, whatever it happens to be.

The psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas refers to it as finding one's "idiom," or one's unique language for expressing oneself. The bottom line is that we generally must first discover our "inside" on the "outside." At first it may seem as if it is entirely external, but as we grow and assimilate it, we realize that it was actually an externalized aspect of our deepest interior.

Indeed, some readers will undoubtedly have had this experience with the blog. At first it's just a nebulous but nevertheless vivid experience. Let's call it (?!), since its precise nature will vary from individual to individual. It can range from, say, feeling as if someone else is, for the first time, putting one's most intimate but unarticulated thoughts into words, to wanting to throw up, as was the case with Mrs. G. when she first met me in 1983.

Indeed, I can relate to the latter reaction, because this is exactly how I felt about Dennis Prager when I first began listening to him on the radio. At first we agreed on nothing. Not only that, but he really made me angry, which was an indication that something else was going on, since I couldn't stop listening.

Today, probably two decades later, we agree at least 95% of the time, not because he is an external influence, but simply because we are coming from the same "interior place," so to speak -- a place to which he introduced me. In fact, I would say that no one has had a bigger influence on me exoterically. Esoterically it's a different martyr, but the process is identical, i.e., stumbling upon people who were able to articulate my deepest self, and without whom I would never have been able to do so, e.g., Unknown Friend, Schuon, etc.

In this regard, these externalized influences function very much like midwives who assist you in the birth of yourself. The analogy is quite literal, and the metaphor of pregnancy quite apt. At first you might be spiritually barren, or indiscriminately promiscuous, or not interested in having children. Then you unexpectedly become pregnant when a Good Seed randomly falls into your soil. The embryo, at first exceedingly tiny and fragile, slowly grows inside of you. And even after it's born, it will require a lot of extra-youterine care before it can truly stand up on its own and find for itsoph.

Obviously the idiomatic language of the true Self is not limited to the written word. I'm thinking of, for example, Timothy Ware (the future Kallistos Ware), who wandered into an Orthodox church in his late teens, and in a flash, had a deep experience of being "home." Let's see if I can find it.... It's in The Inner Kingdom, an excellent book, by the way.

This is perfect: the title of the chapter is Strange Yet Familiar: My Journey to the Orthodox Church. On the one hand, the journey is "familiar," for what could be more familiar than oneself? And yet, the journey is surpassingly strange, because it touches on providential forces that seem to be behind the outwardly "random" event -- as if one's movie has been temporarily hijacked by God, so to speak.

Ware has a quote at the top of the chapter from a hymn that is sung on Christmas eve: Heaven and earth are united today, which goes directly to the idea of our little movie being aligned with the celestial drama, at least for a moment, the moment of "divine birth" (or, in Eckhart's language, the eternal birth of the Word in the ground of the soul; for this Word, when deployed in time, is very much active, not static, therefore, more like a movie than a photograph).

I'll just quote from the story, and italicize some passages that particularly convey what I'm trying to say: "I can remember exactly when my personal journey to Orthodoxy began. It happened quite unexpectedly one Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1952..." He happened to pass a dilapidated old Gothic church that he had never before noticed, and decided to wander in.

His initial impression was of darkness and emptiness. But as his eyes adjusted to the dark, he noticed the icons illuminated by flickering candles, a choir singing out of view, and a few other things.

"My initial impression of an absence was now replaced, with a sudden rush, by an overwhelming sense of presence. I felt that the church, so far from being empty, was full -- full of countless unseen worshipers, surrounding me on every side. Intuitively I realized that we, the visible congregation, were part of a much larger whole, and that as we prayed we were being taken up into an action far greater than ourselves, into an undivided, all-embracing celebration that united time and eternity, things below with things above."

Like I said, (?!).

Then, after leaving the church, "I was struck by two things. First, I found that I had no idea how long I had been inside. It might have been only twenty minutes, it might have been two hours; I could not say. I had been existing on a level at which clock-time was unimportant."

He also noticed the external world and sounds of the street, which "engulfed me all at once like a huge wave.... I had been in another world where time and traffic had no meaning; a world that was more real -- I would almost say more solid -- than that of twentieth century London to which I now abruptly returned." (Notice how the ?! is now transposed, so that it is the profane, secular world that shocks, not the spiritual world.)

Despite the fact that this had been a Russian Orthodox church and that he had understood not a word of the service, "as I left the church, I said to myself with a clear sense of conviction: This is where I belong; I have come home."

And here is the money quote, a good place to leave off for today: "Sometimes it happens -- is it not curious? -- that, before we have learnt anything in detail about a person, place or subject, we know with certainty: This is the person I shall love, this is the place where I need to go, this is the subject that, above all others, I must spend my life exploring."

Amen.

20 Comments:

Blogger Gandalin said...

Dear Bob,

Ware's beautiful account of his wondrous experience reminded me of Rudolf Otto's encounter with an orthodox service in Mogador, Morocco, which although it did not result in a complete conversion, seems to have opened his soul to the transcendent experience that governed the rest of his work and life.

4/19/2010 08:36:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Wonderful post! I loved every word of it.

4/19/2010 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger lance said...

I came to One Cosmos by way of Van who took, what I felt was, a cheap shot at me on my blog and in the ensuing internet argument I somehow ended up here. It is true that while I often do not agree with either Van or Bob I come back often to read and feel my mind expand.

I have several friends who attend an orthodox church in the area and they have often invited me to attend but up until now I have not ever felt like I really wanted to. But, today's piece made me think about it. It actually made me want to check it out.

So thanks to both Bob and Van for making repeated cameos in my personal film.

4/19/2010 09:29:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Expressing what I'm thinking but unable to express is part of it, and, related to that, you often confirm what is being impressed upon me. Your words often precipate out the 'solids' in that amorphous, opaque, swirling solution I would call thinking if it worked better.

Your weekend post on the 'god of forces' is a perfect example of something that was just out of reach for me. I appreciate it.

4/19/2010 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

just recalling the old Ramana cinema simile, steeping back from the seeming reality of any 'movie':

So you are not your body, at least not primarily. The same with your thoughts, feelings and sensual impressions. You have them, but you aren't them. As an illustration Ramana tells us to compare our situation with spectators at a cinema show. We are looking at images projected on a white screen and deeming them for real. These images exhilarate or depress us. We think that they are part of our life. We are drawn into the illusion, so to speak, to such an extent that we do not see the light anymore coming from the projector. All the time the white screen also can be seen if we alter the Gestalt of our vision, but we simply lose sight of it. To us only the images on the screen are real.

The projector is the 'I-thought'. With its light it is sending all kinds of thoughts and feelings to our mind. We deem them for real. We tend to identify our self with these images. But these images can't exist without the screen. Only the screen is for real. Because it never changes and is always the same. It receives every kind of image, be it good or bad. It is amoral. It only gives life to the cinema show. The screen always remains pure and white. It is never affected by what it receives. It never gets stained. All the violence of all the cheap movies never affects the screen. When the light of the projector dies out ..... Well, there is the screen again. The screen is the Self.

4/19/2010 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger Jason T. said...

Two words: soul resonance. Reminds me also of the title of a book by George Leonard, "The Silent Pulse." In it he writes of a mystical rhythm that beats withn the center of each person, and that that pulse manifests as a vibratory field surrounding the object or activity where a person dedicates herself, be it their work, their family, their art. Those who are more fully conscious of their personal rhythm can transmit it more powerfully, hence the majestic music of Bach or the lucid writing of Schuon.

Regardless, there have been multiple instances of instantaneous synchronization with my pulse, to the effect of magnificent harmonies. Early on in my psycho-spiritual development, when I was still eating lice off the backs of other MSM devotees and entertainment junkies, there were several writers who helped me see a doorway with their inner rhythm: Ken Wilber, Tim Leary, Tom Robbins, Terrence McKenna, Alex Grey. Now that I have substantiated myself in the trans-local paradise of Coon-topia and grabbed myself a Beautiful view from a cloud on high, the rhythms are a little more clear and substantial, yet are still swinging to that same dynamite worldly be-bop: Unknown Friend, Aurobindo, Schuon, and our dear friend and narrator, B'ob.

Interestingly enough, as to the last, I was immediately attracted to Gagdad's writing style in the One Cosmos Book, yet it was taste testing the blog that really got my neurons myth-firing. Firstly, I knew that he was much smarter than I was. Secondly, I knew that he was fielding a level of experience and realization that transcended my own. Thirdly, I felt as if the blog was a manifestation of a Vision, yet simultaneously was free-style, meaning that it was guided and structured creativity and play. Fourthly, there was an aspect of myself within the tone, a joy at poking fun and seeing things as they really are, without bullshit.

"But how can those four elements be present and he still be such an ASSHOLE and be so completely WRONG?"

It was like a puzzle, one that I absolutely needed to figure out. Sometimes I would back away for months at a time, but that swinging jazz of Witnessing analogy kept me a'coming back.

Two words: soul resonance.

4/19/2010 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Dude, your comments are ascending to Magnus-like lucidity. Cooncur about Leary and McKenna, as they were instrumental in giving me the idea that it could all be done with humor and a spirit of (word)play. And the idea of resonance, which is rhythm and vibration, is key. Different souls and different planes are vibrating at different frequencies to which we must entrain our spiritual antennae.

One quibble: one doesn't eat lice off the backs of MSM devotees, since the MSM is the lice.

4/19/2010 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger f/zero said...

If you think about it, I'm sure you can remember "chance meetings" on which your life turned on a dime.

Oh yes. I married her.

4/19/2010 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger debass said...

Interesting article about what Bob says about modern psychotherapy.

Dr. Helen

Hat tip to Shrinkwrap.

4/19/2010 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger f/zero said...

“Earth contains all things, in an earthly manner, which Heaven comprehends celestially.” –Proclus

I plinked this quote from The Spiritual Ascent and glued it onto the wall of the Motel today. So to read of Timothy Ware's tale derived from Heaven and earth are united today set my gong ringing.

I can't help but wonder how much of the celestial drama I miss on a daily basis just by sheer stupid blindness.

Five star post (out of four) today, Bob.

4/19/2010 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Jason T. said...

"Different souls and different planes are vibrating at different frequencies to which we must entrain our spiritual antennae."

It is almost like a developmental conveyor belt; surely Leary wasn't tapped into the profundity of Truth and Realization that our dear Unknown Friend was, yet there is no reason to completely disregard what he was tapped into, which was certainly interesting and thought provoking and weird and funny and playful and, dare I say, genius, but in a worldly, psycho-analytic manner. I especially feel this way about Terrence. That guy was a hoot and a holler and half!

What I feel we are dealing with is the exploration of Mind, and its relation to the soul/energy body. Mind is a marvelous tool that is simultaneously an expression of a very real THING/PLACE. I have heard you say in the past the monkey woke up to a very real realm, the realm of Mind. Through practice we can distinguish and differentiate the multitude of experiences/realms that are manifesting within God, and there opens flow from one to the other.

Authentic spiritual awakening entails a dis-engaging of the rational, locally-based mind and, when it is attuned properly, we can dance and play and sing in a multitude of dimensions while never loosing of Love of God or of this relative existence.

It is as if when one orients (or is oriented by way of Grace, I should say) to the Absolute, the possibilities become endless and fascinating, much like as LSD or psilocybin encounter that one is able to disengage from due to pure Objectivity.

(Bows to the sensi.)

4/19/2010 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To debass re:

"Could it be that many liberals, like narcissistic therapists, are so insistent that others go along with them because they fear being obscure and crave feeling powerful more than they care about whether their solutions actually work?"

Secular immortality is what they seek. Funny that they seek it in an arena that constantly changes. I think this is why they hate Reagan, he did what they wanted to do, but couldn't. Worse still is he made it look easy. When you worship the state, becoming one of its saints is the ultimate hat trick. Good thing for libs is that secular sainthood is anointed by the press; this means they are always in the running. Kind of like the Nobel Peace Prize.

There was a time when true secular heros won wars and righted big wrongs. George Washington, to me, is the ultimate secular archetype. Today we are ruled by dishonest insurance agents with delusions of granduer.

4/19/2010 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of cameo appearances, here's a fine example.

4/19/2010 08:19:00 PM  
Blogger black hole said...

Well, I am a leftist so there must be something in this post I can disagree with....

But I can't quite get it pinpointed. I'll just say I would have liked Obamacare if it had actually been socialied medicine, but I can see its just business as usual with more profits for private sector...

Too bad we can't call each "comrade." I would have liked that.

4/19/2010 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Just finished Maria Trapp's book about their family's emigration to America. I had forgotten she was brought up atheist and socialist, but when she accidentally wandered into a Palm Sunday service she was "completely overwhelmed." Reminded me of your post here. There were several moments in her book that really spoke to me...

4/19/2010 10:55:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Pardon...Maria *von* Trapp. ;)

4/19/2010 10:57:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

...There’s more, in a sequel
God will ultimately be writing.

He turns the pages of a vast
octavo volume, brings forefinger
to chin. H’m, that one might have turned out
differently, if I’d been paying attention.
Let’s revamp the casting call
in the sky, see whose talent effloresces. That way
there’ll be something to talk about next millennium.
The birds hear and drop to the grass.
Fireflies communicate spottily, but accurately.
The whole project is plain.
The rushes look good.
It was for this you spun your little web,
dear, and have somehow been rewarded. It is written

that only the unlikeliest take hold.
Tomorrow there will be fireworks, and then,
back to the chain of living and dying,
pleasing and ornery. The process-shot whereby
scenery overcomes tedium, porch-sitting.
...
Tonight we have tension and oneness,
arcane, arousing. Forgotten starlets
and minor nobility are apt to turn up in it.
And so he said not to go,
is standing stuttering there
fluffier than a dream in the park setting
where we were accustomed to dwell.


by John Ashbery

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2007/jan/11/pavane-pour-helen-twelvetrees/

momma hully gully
poppa hully gully
you can hully gully too

4/20/2010 04:59:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"And here is the money quote, a good place to leave off for today: "Sometimes it happens -- is it not curious? -- that, before we have learnt anything in detail about a person, place or subject, we know with certainty: This is the person I shall love, this is the place where I need to go, this is the subject that, above all others, I must spend my life exploring.""

It is the jackpot of realizations... and it holds, should hold, huge implications for those who've tied themselves down to rationalistic deductions... the Whole is there, and no matter the clever connedclusions used to lead away from it, they will leave you out of it.

4/20/2010 06:20:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Lance said "...I came to One Cosmos by way of Van who took, what I felt was, a cheap shot at me on my blog..."

Gasp!

;-)

(what with the price of ammo these days, there are no cheap shots, they're all expensive)

"So thanks to both Bob and Van for making repeated cameos in my personal film."

Ditto.

4/20/2010 06:26:00 AM  
Blogger Dianne said...

Bob, I just have one objection to something you said. I think you are being grossly unfair to lice.

4/20/2010 07:26:00 AM  

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