Saturday, November 27, 2010

Faith revisited again

I keep riding this horse because for me, at this point in my life, it's the crux of the matter. I am looking for patterns of past thinking and behaviors which will help me approach the future with more skill, wisdom and resolve.

In my last post I noted that some of the happiest times in my life was when I was deeply involved in a cause or a project.  Something I could lose myself in.  (How does this jive with the loss of self goal of Buddhism and meditation?)  I don't want the mistakes I made in obsessive involvement repeat themselves by me losing myself on some spiritual path. This aversion to single minded commitment is reinforced by my conviction most of the evil in the world is the work of true believers.  But you're either on the bus or off the bus. Right?

This is difficult.  I want salvation but what price am I willing to pay. There is a part of me that has a strong desire to become deeply involved in Buddhist practice.  To go to  a retreat center and spend months in deep meditation.  Will I lose myself or find where I really reside?

I will soon no longer have a job.  I will wake each day and have to decide how to spend my time.    I don't want want to fade away but I want to be at peace. I want to feel as alive, awake and connected as possible but I don't want this desire to be twisted either by being mindlessly busy to fend off emptiness or by locking myself away in a monastery   So I want the perfect balance between contemplation and engagement, being and doing, having and letting go, stimulation and calmness, attachment and non-atttachment, belief and skepticism.  The Middle Way?  The Golden Mean?  Mindfulness/paying attention and acceptance may be the best operating principles. Easier said than done.  And what if it's the wrong choice.  Second chances may be running out. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Faith revisited

So I was talking about faith before I got interrupted by life.

By the way, I bit the bullet last week and applied for Social Security. I should start receiving my monthly "award" in January or February. I don't know if I'm ready for this. Last Thursday I got a follow-up call from Social Security asking me if it was indeed true that I made $600 in 1992 from the Arizona Institute for Peace Education and Research. Weird and a bit disconcerting. Of all the things to ask me why would it be that? Maybe it was the feds checking out if I was a national security threat. Creepy

Faith. For me there are two distinct versions.

There is the day-to-day trust that I have in the people and things I interact with and there is a deeper faith that is the keystone of my spiritual life.

I have faith that people and things will respond in a certain way based on experience and information. Faith that the plane will get off the ground, that the traffic light is working, that my friend will meet me as planned. Without it I'm paralyzed. Stuck in my tracks. In my work as an addiction counselor I've come to understand better that there is a wide spectrum of how much faith/trust people can muster as they try to "live life on life's terms." Many people I work with have been deeply damaged by betrayal and/or abandonment early in life and this has made it difficult for them to trust, have faith in anyone or anything.

Last week I wrote the word "love" on the white board and asked a group to talk about what the word meant to them. I watched several people literally shrink in their seats. Their body and face contracting into high defense. One had the courage to say how love did nothing but frighten him and he wanted nothing to do with it. This man, a victim of childhood abuse, said everyone he has ever loved...parents, wives and girlfriends, have all ended up hurting him. Love stinks. Ironically this man has made great progress in treatment. He has remained abstinent, developed sober support, found a job, stabilized relationships and kept his probation officer happy. I think much of this positive response is because he was asked to engage in a program with a clear structure and means to hold him accountable. Concrete not abstract. He was not asked to believe or trust in anything. He was asked to perform or there would be consequences. Few gray areas. Black and white.

I think the point I'm meandering around is that I believe the success in development of a deeper spiritual life is strongly related to our ability to trust. To have faith. (Abraham Maslow and Eric Erikson fit in here but I'm not going to go down that road. I'm going to try to keep this the gospel according to Ferd)

So if I expand this theory on one end of the spectrum you have people who are so damaged they have very little trust anyone or anything. These individuals often learn to deal with life in twisted ways and end up with diagnosable personality disorders. My assumption is it would be very difficult for these folks to have any kind of spiritual life. Faith is an enemy.

So who's on the other end. The enlightened or the hoodwinked? I guess I'd go with the hoodwinked. Blind faithers. Fundamentalists. Bible thumpers. Islamic terrorists. Republicans. Okay, some Republicans and some Democrats. The common denominator is purism. People who believe so strongly in a vision/cause/ideology/religion that they are blinded by the light.

This is getting interesting. I think I'm getting somewhere but it's not where I thought I was going. I'm about to completely reverse my theory. My original thinking was a linear spectrum with those incapable of trust and spiritual development on one end and the other end populated by trustful souls who have a rich spiritual life. By writing the above I'm seeing that its more of a circle or like a dog chasing it's tail. Both ends share the same defect. How they live is mainly determined by external forces. They have lost their autonomy and, perhaps, much of their humanity. They are more defined by dogma or damage than by other less rigid, more human forces. This to me is the root of all evil and the opposite of true faith.

Their security and often sense of purpose resides within rigid boundaries. Elements outside these frontiers become the enemy that needs to be resisted or destroyed. Blind faith versus true?! faith. I feel I'm on a slippery slope.

I was deeply involved in political work during the 1980's. I began this path by working with an interfaith organization that developed in Arizona in response to the wave of refugees that were fleeing to the U.S. to escape the violence in Central America, especially from Guatemala and El Salvador. Initially my church-based work involved helping these refugees find safe haven via the Sanctuary Movement.

Much of this work was done as a high profile challenge to the Reagan administration which was choosing to deport many of these people back into harm's way. Granting them refugee status would be an admission of their political failure. Our church-based movement was infiltrated by government agents and eight of my Arizonan coworkers were indicted conspiracy and a large number of the refugees we were working with were sent back to the danger they had fled.

Prior to the arrests and deportations I was codirecting a refugee social service agency and a man named Jesus Cruz kept showing up wanting to help. After the indictment we found out he was a government agent who was secretly taping conversations including refugee bible study meetings at a local church. Faith betrayed by Jesus.

The arrest and subsequent trial became front page news across the country. (Most of those arrested were eventually convicted but given suspended sentences.) Our projects were soon flooded with people who wanted to volunteer. The new arrivals were a combination of local and out of state church-based volunteers, left wing political activists some of whom were affiliated with political parties strongly committed to Marxist principles, and, predictably at this point, government agents.

These were heady times. There was excitement and passion and commitment. We were taking a stand which we believed had a solid humanitarian and political foundation. Ambivalence evaporated. I and my colleagues were on a crusade for truth and justice. I became totally engaged in the process and committed much of my time and energy to it. I moved from direct service to advocacy. I organized demonstrations, got arrested several times, made speeches, wrote op-ed pieces, published a newsletter, spoke on radio talk shows and organized trips to the war zones of Central America.

Eventually this work led to other politically oriented projects including starting a progressive newspaper and working to establish a vital public access television station in the Phoenix area. The public access struggle involved going head to head with city government officials who were much more influenced by the deep pocketed cable companies. My political life reached a climaxwhen I was arrested at a Maricopa County board of supervisors meeting. The following day I was featured on the front page of local paper being carried out of the meeting in a choke hold. Political work was making me angry and bitter. Time to take a break.

During most of time I was doing political work I was happy, engaged but, in retrospect, inexcusably neglectful of my family responsibilities. I made little money. My wife worked full-time and took care of most of the household responsibilities, including the care and nurturing of our two daughters. I feel shame writing this but I acknowledge it to reinforce the point I'm trying to make. Do you get it?

Faith revisited will be resumed in next entry. Thanks for reading. Comments welcomed. Happy Thanksgiving!