Saturday, March 30, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 30, 2019 - The Search for Truth

Face it. Deep down we are all voyeurs. We love to know what’s going on in people's bedrooms, their bank accounts, their relationships, and within the intimate details of their private lives. The advent of social media and reality television are great indicators of our desire to be supremely nosy.

Early progenitors of today’s reality television began as far back as the 1940s with programs like Queen for a Day and Candid Camera. These shows offered glimpses into the private lives of regular, everyday Americans which viewers absolutely devoured. In the early 1970’s, the newly formed Public Broadcasting Service aired a series named An American Family documenting a real family going through a real and painful divorce, thus launching the first example of modern reality television programming.

Critics of the series were careful to note that the presence of cameras intruding into the lives of these seven people automatically fostered a contrived reality at best. Pointing to a phenomenon known as the “observer effect,” which states that simply the act of observing something will inevitably alter it, they call foul at the use of the term “reality.” Today, so-called reality television is professionally referred to as “unscripted” rather than real, because virtually any storyline the producers wish to create can be constructed from the many hours of footage they capture. It’s more Frankenstein than frank. But still, we cling to the notion that what we see is true.

The advent of social media in the early 2000s expanded the sharing of our private lives to anyone with a computer. The invention of mobile devices with on-board cameras not only broadened the platform by orders of magnitude, it made us increasingly vulnerable to informational manipulation in a way we are still not adequately skilled to counteract. Our technology has grown much faster than our wisdom in using it.

Ultimately all forms of television, film and online voyeurism are expressions of our innate desire for truth. Is truth-seeking a solely human characteristic? What is the underlying impetus? Because the answer to the question “Why do we seek truth?” matters quite a lot. It has to be more than ego. It has to be more than our fear of being made a fool. What is the learning curve of truth? Is society expressing an intrinsic desire to know itself?

Like all things, humans exploit first and explore second. It’s no surprise that film and television production companies do their best to capitalize on our desire for truth by first lying to us under the guise of reality before we get a little smarter and begin to slowly work our way toward demanding honesty. We are not there yet. We are still wandering in zig-zag fashion toward actual, unvarnished truth.

Might this wandering be part of the long learning curve of an enlightening society? Are we witnessing a multi-generational process which ultimately leads to a greater culture of honesty among us?

Perhaps reality is an evolving, layered process. It begins with the question, “Is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence?” In finding that it is not, are we comforted by that thought? Are we glad the Joneses are not better off than we are? Perhaps at first. But in the future, we might find that recognizing our neighbor is not always better off activates an impulse to raise them up rather than take satisfaction in their misfortune. Is that the effect of a more widespread level of honesty? Will we love our neighbors more one day because we’ve become tired of loving them less?

Returning to our thought about the observer effect, quantum physics also notices this phenomenon. It shows that not only does an observed thing change upon observation, it changes toward what we expect. This is great news. Because it hints at a phenomenon of which we rarely take advantage, that of deliberate and purposeful manifestation.

Truth is so fluid and subjective it cannot be pinned down by any one observer, film or television show. Hence, objective truth, for all practical purposes, does not exist. Reality is malleable. Life is unscripted. But while truth may behave like a moving target, facts do not. Be careful with your facts, and impeccable with your word, as author Don Miguel Ruiz tells us. Only good will come of it.

There is no one definitive answer regarding truth and honesty. The only determining factor is our individual integrity. Do your best to cultivate beauty and inspire compassion with your personal interpretation of truth. Seek honesty with the zeal of a believer and you may just find some. Once you do, cherish it.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 23, 2019 - Is There Really More Hatred?

I wonder about something. Is there really more hatred in the world now, or are we just seeing more of it? Because I am suspicious about things like hate. I am suspicious of the conclusion that seeing more hate means there are more people who feel hatred.

What does it take for you to be transformed from loving someone to hating them? What about from being welcoming to a whole group of people to excluding them? I realize that hate can be learned under certain circumstances, but are these those? The fact is, it’s quite difficult to change a person from one who is perfectly comfortable with the multicolored reality of humanity to someone who suddenly and violently resists it. Of course there are a few; there are exceptions to everything. But by and large, it is quite difficult to make a loving person into a hating one. This is mostly by virtue of the fact that love is easier, and once we find it, we tend to keep it.

What I’m proposing here is that hate may feel emboldened right now in our society for reasons that are almost entirely political, but that doesn’t mean there are greater numbers of people than before who feel racial, religious, or societal hatred. True, we are less safe from them right now than before. But my point is that this, too, shall pass. Every social study points to the idea that we are becoming an increasingly loving society with each generation. Over time, our lives become more inclusive and our culture more diverse. Every day we feel safer with recognizing the value of difference.

The reason it doesn’t feel like that quite yet is because right now the darkness has reached the saturation point of its tolerance over the steadily increasing amount of light in this world. It is fighting back. But it will not win. All the old strategies are mostly useless now.

For the sake of argument, let’s decide that there are 100 people in your town who are, by definition, racist. By way of a hypothetical example, I am proposing that once, not so long ago, 10 of those 100 racists in your town may have felt comfortable expressing their true feelings to a few people, mostly the like-minded. Today, however, for reasons that many might speculate, probably 75 of those 100 feel now comfortable expressing their truth, and not merely to the like-minded. In this scenario, there aren’t more haters, just more expressed hate. We see more of what was already there because if feels safer to come out.

Yet hate is like a cockroach which scurries into the corners when it sees the light. But what if, when that light is turned on, as an unintended consequence of flipping the switch, they all look around to suddenly realize there are more cockroaches than they even speculated? Those cockroaches, upon seeing greater numbers of their community than they had ever been previously aware, might not feel in quite such a rush to scurry back under the refrigerator. They might elect to stay out a stretch, feeling the power of strength in numbers, to instead feast, en masse.

But there are not more of them than before the light was first turned on. There were there all along. We just see more of them now, and they see each other. This is a dual-edged sword, of course. Seeing each other does give them a bit of encouragement and the perception of greater unity and strength. But it also exposes them to hard-soled shoes and crafty exterminators. Metaphorically speaking.

Of course I don’t mean to suggest that we kill all the haters. That will get us nowhere. We shouldn’t reciprocate the act of hating them in any way. It only encourages their false sense of strength. We will eventually figure this out. And what we will realize most is that the only thing which quenches the flames of hatred is love. As touchy-feely, tree-hugging, give-the-world-a-Coke this bit of psychobabble sounds, there is real wisdom behind it. The goal is to change the food source for the cockroach.

It is nearly impossible to convince people with words to love others. The only way it will ever happen is by having the haters see those whom they hate face to face, heart to heart, eye to eye. That has been and only ever shall be the way to create unity in this world. The Internet has begun to provide us with hints of that, which is why we see the fear we do today. We can’t hide from others anymore than they can hide from us. There are no more silos. This is good news.

Pray for those who hate. They are far worse off than you. Their pain is greater than yours. Their fear is enormous. Pray for their comfort, their peace and their understanding. It will come in time. I promise.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 16, 2019 - The Difference Between Pushing and Pulling

What does it feel like to bang your head against a wall? Does it hurt? Assuming the answer is yes, why do we keep doing it? I love the old maxim which defines the word “crazy” as doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. And yet we do that all the time.

In love, we are constantly finding ourselves in this mode. In work, in friendships, in our life’s ambitions, we are taught that we must keep pushing forward. Keep pushing, keep striving, never give up. It’s good advice to a degree. But a bit of finesse is warranted. The danger is in pushing so hard you fall over, or worse, get nowhere.

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was king of Ephyra. He was a horrible man. Arrogant, deceitful, ambitious and homicidal. He did everything he could to push against the world and the tide of human progress in favor of his own ego and comfort. He even caused death itself to temporarily cease after he tricked Hades into chaining himself to the underworld. Tempting the wrath of Zeus, he was finally defeated and consigned to an eternity of pushing a boulder up a hill. The rock would spring from his grip and roll back to the bottom the moment he was nearing the top. Every time. Forever.

To this day, that mythological punishment is referred to in the form of a metaphor. The Sisyphean task. The definition of “crazy.” The pounding of one’s head against a wall. Forever.

But we love this. In fact, our culture encourages us as a duty to our own honor that we must keep on pushing at all costs and never give up. We in turn mistakenly apply those notions to things which simply cannot be. We apply this degree of persistence because that which resists us must perish. We must conquer. We must control. We must win. But are we playing by the wrong rules or are we playing the wrong game?

Zeus was satisfied by the cleverness of the punishment he gave to King Sisyphus because the king was not wise enough to ever give up. Zeus knew that he would be maddened by the perpetual failure long before he could ever wear himself out climbing the hill again and again. His punishment was near-perfect. There was an undiscovered loophole. Had Sisyphus ever realized it, Zeus would have been defeated.

What if Sisyphus had suddenly decided to no longer roll the boulder up the hill? What if he allowed himself to simply fail, to just give up? He would be doing so at the risk of moral defeat by Zeus, at least that’s what he would believe. In that moment he would be technically allowing Zeus to win. Yet we know who the real winner would be. It would be the one who stops pushing. But the one who stops pushing wouldn’t know that it would be a winning strategy until he lets go of his ego enough to attempt it. He’d have to have courage and a willingness to risk failure. Still determination, yes. But applied to a different game altogether.

Zeus would have been enraged to be beaten at his own game had Sisyphus ever woken to the idea of simply letting go. So what if the rock sits at the bottom of the hill? I happen to know personally a large boulder which sits quite contentedly in the valley at the bottom of its former hilltop home. I can see it on the town square from my church office window. It is today a monument to resolution and community resolve which no longer needs to sit atop the hill in order to be loved.

The moral of the story? Stop pushing. Know what it is that you want and then allow it to be rather than force it. Let it be pulled toward you. Allow yourself to be pulled toward it. Let go. There may be ways in which you are pulled toward different places than you would have imagined in order to have what you desire. Sisyphus wanted rest, Zeus wanted revenge. Sisyphus needed to change the game he was playing from Zeus’ to his own.

This is the practice of non-resistance. It is the most difficult one of all because it is disguised behind our need to push and control. It is a belief that we must keep pushing this boulder because it keeps falling back down. But that is a conclusion of the ego which is mistaking the rules of the game. In fact, it is grossly mistaken about the very nature of the game itself. The boulder is not the one making the rules. It is the hill.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Sunday Message - We’re So Predictable

            Though we have many influences, I wouldn’t exactly say we take Christianity lightly in this congregation. It is treated with respect, of course, but many of us look at any organized religion with a wary eye. We know better than to take religion lightly when there are so many in the world with such strong, even violent ideas about it. But I find myself occasionally compelled to take some of what Christianity says about itself in one area to debate things it says about itself in others.
None of this message is intended to sway or convince anyone, either toward or away, from any of the claims made within Christianity. Those are matters of personal faith. But there is still wisdom to be found in the Bible, as in all sacred texts. If we strip away what we’ve been told, if we simply look at the text for ourselves, and ignore the centuries of commentary and propaganda we’ve been told about it, we’d realize a number of things. Such as that Mary Magdalene wasn’t actually a prostitute, we’d realize that the book of Genesis also says nothing about either an apple or Satan in the Garden of Eden, and we’d read for ourselves that we are all equally powerful as Jesus was himself. At least according to him. For organized power structures, these and many other surprising facts are dangerous recognitions to be playing around with.
That’s why it was over a thousand years before the Bible was translated into common languages so people could actually read it for themselves. It’s only been in English for less than 500 years. Yet conveniently we have been continually persuaded not to consider the implications of what is on the actual page. But then, that is our biggest beef with mainstream Christianity. It doesn’t always follow its own rules.
So I’ll ask us to now consider that we are taught by tradition that God is all-loving, but it highlights even more that God is all-forgiving. Yet that seems a rather strange leap for an all-loving deity to take who supposedly already knows what’s in our hearts and why we do the things we do. When a toddler is throwing a temper tantrum at a certain time of day we generally know it’s probably because he needs a nap. We might be frustrated, but we know what’s going on. It doesn’t change our love for them. We are not insulted by it. We know that the child’s behavior is being influenced by factors that are understandable. We don’t really need to go to the length of forgiving them, really, because we already know why they do what they do before they even do it. Forgiveness is not an action taken after the fact, it is a state of being the whole time. Which eradicates the whole notion of God’s all-forgiving nature because what God really is, when you put it all together, is all-accepting.
And why might God be so easy-going? Because, according to tradition, God already gets us. When we are told to ‘ask God for forgiveness’ it can’t be because God won’t do it unless we ask nicely first. It’s because if we don’t ask, we never complete the circuit. Without going through the motion, the ritual, of asking, we don’t feel the forgiveness—meaning the total and unconditional acceptance of who we really are—which is already there for us. At least that’s according to the logic of a God who already knows us better than we know ourselves and loves us anyway. Universalism believes that we are all loved equally. Is it so hard to imagine?
People act in predictable ways. Perhaps we can’t predict all human behavior in advance, but an all-knowing God would, right?. So I say to traditional mainstream Christianity: Put your money where your mouth is. If that’s what you really believe, then start acting like it. Start teaching like it.
If we take the time to look deeply, and with a critical but forgiving eye, we may very well find out that behind the distracting feelings we have about the very anti-Christian behavior some so-called Christians commit, there are ideas here to be considered. Ideas which may even may help us glimpse a bit of the Ultimate Reality and Its purpose.
    So let’s look at scripture head-on, and turn it upside down a little to see what lines we can read between.
There is a story told about Jesus in the Bible. It’s a story about healing the deaf and mute. It is first told in the book of Mark, which scholars believe was the source material for Matthew’s slightly different version of the same story written later. Both Mark’s and Matthew’s versions have one thing in common, however. After performing a miracle, Jesus tells them to keep quiet about what they have seen, don’t tell anybody. Yet no one can keep their mouth shut, thus spreading his fame far and wide.
Here is how Mark tells it in the story of the deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31-36):
Then Jesus left the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. Some people brought to him a man who was deaf and hardly able to speak, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
    So Jesus took the man aside privately, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed deeply and said to him, “Ephphatha!” which means, “Be opened!” Immediately, the man’s ears were opened and his tongue was released, and he began to speak plainly.
    Jesus ordered the others not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them, the more widely they proclaimed it.

There are a number of instances in the gospels of his life where Jesus performs a miracle and then tells people not to say anything about it. Why?
There’s arguments about this in the theological world. It is largely assumed that he didn’t want too many people to know about him so that a) his reputation wouldn’t precede him in a town preventing him from teaching there; or that b) he might be used as a weapon by those Jews who wanted to overthrow Rome. A Messiah would be the perfect emblem of the New Jerusalem to galvanize the people to revolt. But neither of those makes very much sense to be concerned about. At least not from the perspective of Jesus. He didn’t appear all that interested in hiding for his own sake, even though he did occasionally hide to protect his disciples and followers. His stated mission was to bring change. Disruptive, dramatic change. That certainly doesn’t happen without at least a little public awareness. And I can’t imagine he would find himself beholden to lead a revolution in the conventional sense. He certainly wasn’t quiet about his presence in Jerusalem the week he was killed. His behavior suggests he knew exactly what he was doing, whom he was angering, and that it would take an enormous social catapult to propel his message throughout human civilization. Jesus didn’t invent the concept of martyrdom, but he undoubtedly knew of its effectiveness in launching a movement. Does thinking of Jesus in these terms make him less special? Is he any less precious a spiritual teacher if he wasn’t God? Since we shall never know the answer, must we disregard everything else? These are important questions to consider if we wish to truly learn from what we read rather than just accept the common programming.
Now, let’s go back again to think about what many Christians say about God. God is all knowing, all loving, all forgiving. God knows what’s in your heart before you do. God knows why you do the things you do. For the purpose of this journey this morning, let’s conclude for the time being that all of these ideas are correct.
It appears that Jesus was quite strategic in the development of his ministry. One could conclude it had a purpose he considered to be bigger than himself. That there would be far reaching consequences of his public teaching which may ultimately better humanity over time if he played all his cards right.
Let’s ponder, for a moment here, the trinitarian view of Christianity. As opposed to the unitarian idea that God is not three, but one, ergo the term uni-tarian, trinitarians hold that God is a trinity, a threesome of consubstantial reality. Consubstantial is a term that means, of the same substance. Trinitarians believe that Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit are not similar to each other, or three different parts of the same thing, they actually are each other. And that’s important to consider when trying to understand the stakes involved for trinitarians and their view of Christianity. To say that Jesus was human is to say that he wasn’t God. To say that he wasn’t God is to undermine the particular way they have held up the being of Christ as the deity Itself for centuries. If God is not three, to them it would be a demoralizing recognition. It would be a great loss.
There is no need to challenge that belief anymore, because no one actually knows or can prove the truth anyway. Who cares if God is really three or one? It’s all one in the end anyway. But it’s helpful to understand the differences in perspective. Especially if we wish to be in relationship with people who think differently, or perhaps more strongly, than we do.
Getting back to point...So, that means Jesus, according to the traditional trinitarian description, is actually God Itself, walking the earth. Okay. It’s kind of academic anyway, so let’s go with that for a bit.
If we’re looking at it through the Jesus-is-God paradigm, Jesus’ strategy is actually God’s strategy. The tradition also holds that God is infallible. It implies that God understands how to get humanity from point a to point b and has the benefit of a huge amount of information, allowing a strategy created on the basis of having literally all the data. If God is all knowing, then God would know exactly what the correct strategy should be. And God would know exactly what seed to plant when, and where, and how long it would take to germinate. And what the necessary fertilizer should be.
Part of what God would understand about us is our love for sharing provocative, juicy information. If Jesus is God, as they say, and God has a strategy then that strategy might very well be to recognize that the surest way to get the widest information spread as far as possible would be to tell everybody not to say anything about it. And then to hold up the notion that It’s miffed.
Are they saying that God didn’t know exactly what people would do with information so amazing and juicy they couldn't possibly be able to keep it to themselves? Do they think their version of God couldn’t predict that? The traditional view claims that God would be angry at us for being disobedient, when we are behaving exactly as It always knew we would. If that were the type of God running the universe, it would probably be run more like the government. It’s not logical that an all knowing God wouldn’t base Its strategy for moving us forward on a recognition that we are, in fact, Human. The problem with most traditional views of Christianity is that they don’t give God nearly enough credit. They make God far too human, flawed, judgmental, envious and vindictive. While at the same time saying that God loves us all. If only those two opposing thoughts went together as easily as they’d hope.
The God traditional Christianity describes would know full well what we would do in the Garden of Eden. It would know exactly what we would do with the temptation of forbidding our consumption of the nameless fruit from the tree of knowledge. Forbidding it would all but INSURE our eating from it. How do we know that God didn’t want them to eat the fruit all along? Wouldn’t the serpent who nudged them into eating it have been one of God's creations, too? Read between the lines for yourself. Since when is knowledge bad?
The concept of disobedience is more about human control than insulting God.  As we have said, Jesus told people not to say anything about him. Yet he couldn't have failed to know that it would be a secret too impossible to keep; more so for the fact that they were being commanded to silence. Yes, I am suggesting that God and Jesus both used reverse psychology, but it’s the difference between the information finding its way around on foot or by catapult. It's as if Jesus knew all along what would happen if he added the extra impetus of a bit of forbidden fruit to the act so as to insure its rapid spread.
This is a very loving act on both God's as well as Jesus's part. They both would have to know that humanity would do what it would do. And leveraged that fact, without judgment, to our own betterment.  Do not eat the fruit. And it becomes more delicious (tov). Do not tell the tale. And it spreads that much farther.
In the end this gives us a platform to question the definition of things we have been told are evil or wrong. Was Judas part of the plan? Was it part of the plan all along to have him blow the whistle? Did Jesus ask Judas to do it? There are documents which says he did. Whether they are true or not is immaterial. Because they point to an idea not to judge a book by its cover. To ponder events like the crucifixion. Where on one hand it is said that all of it was brought to bear by God on purpose and for the point of reconciling humanity with Itself, and on the other hand vilifying everything as evil which on earth made it happen. How can both be true? How can Judas have been evil if he was bringing about what God always wanted in the first place? Christianity cannot be correct about both.
Which means the likely answer is that according to a more considered view of the old traditions, God is neither offended by us nor has any need of forgiving us. It gets us. And uses how we behave to nudge us in better directions by way of the divine spark within us all.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 9, 2019 - Prayer and Spellcasting

Sometimes we need physical tokens which are emblematic to our concerns or desires. If we need a bit of luck we often tend to carry a physical symbol of that desire around with us. A little worry stone, a feather, a prayer card. A lock of hair.
Gruesome as it sounds in retrospect, I had many a “lucky” rabbit’s foot in my pocket as a child. They were the actual chopped off feet of rabbits. Each with a brassy cap covering the end of the bone, its fur still intact, dyed in various festive jewel tones which served to only further decorated the horror rather than attempt to disguise it. We used to joke, “Not so lucky for the rabbit!”
When I was stressed I would comfort myself with the softness of the little bit of fur in my pocket. For some strange reason, even though I am sensitive enough about things like that to prefer my chicken boneless, I still loved those little rabbits’ feet. I truly believed they brought me luck and protection.
Nearly all of us are superstitious in one way or another. Even a beard on a athlete in the playoffs is a form of prayer some take very seriously. It’s not so far as you might think from spellcasting.
Many times over the years I have attended neopagan ceremonies celebrating the full moons and harvest times. Without exception, I leave these events with a feeling of solidness and contentment. Recognizing and honoring our connection to all nature and creation through ritual is something too many go without. We feel unstrung without knowing why. Nature cures all in the end.
One of the many fascinating aspects of modern paganism is its use of ritual. It’s fascinating for two reasons. The second of which is the level of detail. Rituals are always creative, typically include an array of physical objects and are very meaningfully composed. The first is that there is no one right way of doing them.
Modern earth-centered religions do not have any one central authority. Many practitioners have deep opinions, sometimes very strong ones, about the way a ritual should be performed and with what tools, even clothing. They construct elaborate rituals for new initiates. Others are more easy-going and allow their practice and membership to be as fluid as the element of water they honor.
Rituals of modern earth-centered traditions in the west are influenced by a variety of sources such as the ancient Norse, Celtic, Aboriginal and Indigenous American, mixed with wisdom from Eastern philosophy. One chooses the ingredients of their own soup.
Since there’s no one right way of conducting a ritual or prayer, it points to the fact that what matters most is you. You have to choose the language with which you will speak with the Ultimate Reality. If a spoon means ‘gratitude’ to you, then that’s the best symbol for ‘gratitude’ when speaking to God.
Take the time to recognize your own symbolic vocabulary and then pray for yourself and others using that language. Consider expanding upon your language using elements of your own faith co-validated by ideas from other traditions. There’s value to this.
We have a tough time getting out of our heads in order to get into them. If we wish to tap into the literal wiring of our brains, as much as into the wider cosmos, we typically need physical objects to focus on so we stay clear of our tendencies to give up on the seedling just before it breaks the surface.
Jade plants, for instance, are symbols of growth and renewal. They are totems of financial health. Keeping one on your desk at work or in your home—with the intention of it serving this purpose—is prayer. It is ritual. It is giving a form of intent that more deeply solidifies our brain wiring on the subject exactly because of its physical realness. We understand a physical plant. It’s not as alien to us as the concept of higher powers.
A succulent, green jade tree, each leaf bulging and heavy with nourishment, requires no great stretch of the imagination to consciously connect it with the idea of blessing. Brain wiring around concrete ideas like “plant” are in this way infused with notions of good fortune, making it easier for us to imagine and therefore experience. The bandwidth of our prayer is enhanced.
There is an entire world of spiritual languages to select from. Be wary of those who caution you away from exploring them for yourself. Maintain a holy curiosity. Next time you’re praying for something, think about casting a wider net. Loving ideas are never in conflict.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 2, 2019 - Don’t Drop the Ball

My grandmother used to say that if you want a wart on your hand to go away, hide your mother’s dish towel. I’ve never had a wart on my hand, so I’ve never found myself with a need to apply that bizarre technique. But I’ve always wondered about the origin of old superstitions. There are other versions of the myth as well. In some research I found mention of rubbing the wart with a dish towel that has been stolen from either one’s mother or a neighbor. It went on to suggest ripping the towel in half and throwing it over one’s shoulder to make the wart disappear.
Of course this method is not likely to actually remove a wart in and of itself. But it makes me wonder about the power and purpose of our superstitions. I tend to assume that there is a purpose (and perhaps even a bit of truth) behind some of these strange bits of folk medicine.
The placebo effect comes to mind as a way that strange remedies become pseudo-medical treatments over time. How much we participate in the belief that a cure will be affected is an important determining factor in our overall health. Stealing a dish towel may not be the cure, but steadfastly believing in it might very well be. But why?
I think it has a lot to do with what comes after we cast our little spell. We have to continue holding onto the desire. We have to follow through. Don’t drop the ball.
There are lots of parallels in life to little rituals such as these. Some are simple, even trivial. Some are as serious as the notions of heaven and hell.
Christianity is one area where people have a sad tendency to believe in the mystical without practicing the method. For instance, within some denominations of Christianity, there is a statement of faith made regarding their new and improved relationship with Jesus, following which they are considered “born again.” But what do they do about that afterward? Not all follow the dharma. What becomes of the new life they have agreed to practice? It’s not a get out of jail free card. Using Christianity as an argument to exclude, demean, judge or defile others is a complete misuse of the word Christian.
When one “converts” to Christianity, or decides to more actively adopt its life practices, that’s only the beginning. The real work begins at that point. Self-forgiveness of our past sins occurs only with a faithful and steadfast practice of actually being the forgiving, loving, empowering and inclusive person you have promised to be.
For the purpose of this example, there are three types of Christians. They are traditional Christians, dharmic Christians and the combo-version: traditional Christians who make it a point to actively practice the dharma (or life practice) which Christ taught while on earth. These dharmic practices are forgiveness, compassion, hospitality, nonresistance, empowerment and gratitude. The dharma of Christianity is a deliberate practice of these six teachings everyday toward ourselves and others. One cannot simply profess a few words in a church service and, poof, the work is done. We have to live up to the promises we make in order to improve our lives.
This is equally true for any faith or religion. They all utilize the same power as that which makes a wish on a birthday cake or hides a dishtowel. They all rely on our continuing belief and practice of living life as if what we want has already occurred.
After you pray for something don’t forget that you’ve prayed for it. Keep it in your mind. Work on it. Imagine it being true and all the little details of life that would accompany it. Spend the most time imagining the emotional state you’d be in once it’s true. Wallow in your imagined satisfaction. Meditate on it. Keep holding the ball. Emotion is the frequency of God. Keep the good vibes going.
Superstition is prayer, plain and simple. Neither more mysterious than the placebo effect, nor less either. All forms of desire and the actions which demonstrate those desires are prayers. They are a giving of intent for a reality to manifest. Just remember, that’s the point in time when the real work starts, not ends. Stealing the dish towel is only the beginning.
What we believe about the nature of the Ultimate Reality is mostly beside the point. What matters most is our recognition that we are more powerful than we realize. What we do with that power is up to us. But never forget that our declaration of desire is only the first step. We must continue to believe that the wart will disappear because of our belief and then do nothing to prevent it. The ball is always in our court.