Archive for February, 2011

All my life, all I have known is my individual identity.  On an intellectual level, I realize that I am not separate from others and from God.  I also realize that my ego is the obstacle standing in the way of my really knowing and feeling my connection with the universe and with Spirit, because as of today, I don’t yet truly know it and feel it.  Just as the reflection of the sun’s rays on the moon are sometimes blocked by an eclipse, my radiant inner spirit is blocked by the opacity of my ego.

I also know that my ego is always afraid.  My ego can be described by what psychologists call the fight or flight mechanism.  In animals, the fight or flight response only presents itself in the face of real danger from a predator or a territorial competitor.  At other times, animals are quiet, calm and seemingly at complete peace with themselves.  In “The Power of Now,” Eckhart Tolle memorably describes how a duck’s flapping wings ruffle the water to display aggression to a rival, but the wings’ beats slow down, releasing negative energy as soon as the rival swims off.  By contrast, the human ego is constantly on alert, ready to fight or flee at virtually every single moment of our lives.  It is hyper-active, on over-drive, and this is what puts people in a constant state of anxiety or what Tolle calls a state of insanity.

I am very aware that I need to overcome my ego’s commandments if I want to attain a transcendent state of connectedness and peace with other beings.  But do I have to give up my personality to overcome my ego?  My personality is as unique as my fingerprint and I am loath to give it up, although it has to be said that everybody’s fingerprints look like identical patterns of curving parallel ridges and furrows until you examine them close up.  My ego, on the other hand, is pretty much like everybody else’s:  it is a little Napoleon with epaulets and a megaphone, standing on a soap box, haranguing a crowd of thousands, nay millions.  Toppling the ego is like toppling Hosni Mubarak – if you do it peacefully, your many-faceted personality can shine through.

Here is what C.S. Lewis says in “Mere Christianity” about how people can maintain and even enhance their unique individual personalities while growing in Christ or Spirit:

“…if Christ is one, and if He is thus to be ‘in’ us all, shall we not be exactly the same?  It certainly sounds like it; but in fact it is not so.   …Imagine a lot of people who have always lived in the dark.  You come and try to describe to them what light is like.  You might tell them that if they come into the light that same light would fall on them all and they would all reflect it and thus become what we call visible.  Is it not quite possible that they would imagine that, since they were all receiving the same light, and all reacting to it in the same way (i.e. all reflecting it), they would all look alike?  Whereas you and I know that the light will in fact bring out, or show up, how different they are.”

After presenting a second analogy about salt, Lewis concludes that you can “…kill the other tastes by putting in too much salt, whereas you cannot kill the taste of a human personality by putting in too much Christ.”

It is wrong to say that we should all conquer our egos, because conquering is an act of war and war is precisely what the ego is designed to excel at.  Instead, we need peacefully to transcend our egos.  That can be done without removing all the salts and spices that make up our individual personalities.  In fact, as we begin to transcend our egos, it could be said that we are replacing their stale ingredients with fresh organic ones that bring out the natural boldness of our individual flavors.


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I am a sexually active person who would like to be more of a spiritual person.  Is there any conflict in this?  Why is it that religions are generally so opposed to sexual expression, except on the rare occasions of deliberate procreation between an officially married man and woman?  I say ‘rare occasions,’ because many of us have libidos that, if channeled exclusively into conceiving children, would result in a global birthrate many thousands or millions of times greater than the actual birthrate of any society.  Are we really supposed to suppress this wanton, fecund sexuality entirely except during the two, three, four or five times in our lives that we are planning to conceive a child?  Not an easy task!

In “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis referred to what he thought of as our absurdly over-charged sexuality as a contemporary gross perversion of our essential human nature.  Lewis didn’t seem to realize that sexuality is biological and that all species are programmed, or in some cases over-programmed, with a biological imperative to reproduce.   Why he thought that modern man’s sex drive should be in any way diminished from a cave man’s instinctual need to survive and reproduce, I have no idea.  “Modern” as we are, and just because there are billions of humans in the world today instead of mere thousands, our brain structures and hormones are scarcely different than they were 30,000 years ago.  Much as I admire a lot of what Lewis wrote about Jesus Christ, I cannot accept his terse dismissal of human sexuality.  Still, he had a point that our sex drives can sometimes or even often interfere with our desire to find God.

As an example of just how much religion is opposed to sex, yesterday (February 9, 2011), I heard a report on NPR’s “All Things Considered” about a new smart-phone application for Roman Catholics to prepare for confession.  The app presents each confessant with a list of sins as long as the phone book, essentially asking each sinner to read down the list and check them off one by one ahead of time, before going in person to see a priest.  One of the questions is, “did you commit an act of masturbation in the last week?”  The Catholic woman interviewed about this on NPR laughed in surprise at the absurdity and intrusiveness of the question, suggesting that the app’s list of sins far outweighed anything she had ever heard directly from a priest.

So is it that religions are just uptight by nature and sex is natural and “okay?”  Every time I ask myself this question, I come back to the idea that all of us have an animal nature and a spiritual nature.  The most human part of our nature is the part of us that toggles back and forth between the two and that aspires to transcend sexuality in order to embrace more fully our spiritual identity.  As a gay man (and never was this more true than when I was in my twenties), when I am most attracted to another man, it is because I see him as some sort of magnificent animal padding across an urban savannah.  His heavy shoulders are swinging rhythmically left and right in time with his gait – he is a svelte panther, or a cougar, or a lion or a bear, and he is prowling for pray.  Sometimes the minute the splendid stranger speaks, his human-ness breaks his animal spell and my attraction is knocked back a notch or two.  Still, when I give in to my sexual urge, it is as if I enter fully and willingly into an animal trance, a trance that is essentially an interruption in my normal human and spiritually growing consciousness.

Sometimes pleasant or exciting, but always an interruption, of late my sexuality has become at times an unwanted interruption in my life.  I told my partner that my brain doesn’t really want it anymore, but my body insists upon it.   There is a growing part of me that wants to embrace God, and when I turn away from Him to indulge my animal nature it feels like an interruption of my true being or at least a detour on the path toward the spiritual person I want to be.  That must be why religions are so opposed to sex – it is an indulgence; an interference with our path to God; a pleasure of the body that occurs without worshipping the divine spark of life that is only kindled by a male and female body during conception.

I always told myself that the first goal in my pursuit of happiness was to find a way to live a balanced life.  If only I can balance work, family, friends, hobbies and interests, I believe I can find happiness.  Happiness occurs when none of them outweighs the others, because they are all in balance with each other.  In a funny way, God is in the balance, or if you can find balance in your life, you can find God.  The thing is, sex is part of the balance, and so is God.  Since I am not a monk and I probably have lifetimes to go before I really find enlightenment, even though I’m searching for it right now, I can’t help thinking that God will forgive me a little indulgence in the animal side of my nature as long as it doesn’t turn me away from Him. After all, my body is a divine gift and satisfying my bodily appetites keeps me feeling balanced.  I am not going to confess each occurrence to a priest, but I am still concentrating on turning toward God.  I’ll keep each interruption as short as possible!

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