Self Examination is the Yoga of the Opinionated Heart

…keeping one flexible and [redacted unnecessary reference to yoga pants].

*

(The following is taken from a dialogue I had in /r/christianity at reddit.com)

Me: After spending some time outside the church in my early twenties, I went to visit my parents (my father is a pastor) and I was overwhelmed with an uncomfortable feeling during the worship portion of the service. It felt too ’emotional’ to me. People sounded like they were using their hearts to comprehend and interact with the divinity, rather than creating a calm, quiet space inside where the Divine activity could manifest.

Adversely, a couple years later I was in Europe and I saw an old, old, old wooden door. I thought “Hey: a landmark!” and I pushed myself inside.

Little did I know it was a place of worship. And it was the beginning of Mass.

Embarrassed, I took a seat, and followed the rest of the congregation’s standing, sitting, listening, reciting, standing, sitting and standing. Over the course of Mass I became ‘charged’ with a bright and vibrant sensation that was analogous to my cherished sense of ‘closeness with God.’ (Note I didn’t say ‘closeness to God.’)

Anyhow, it was a very moving experience. And when I returned home to the States I decided to go to Mass each morning. The only problem was that I couldn’t find a place that did mass in Latin, and during each visit my worship was interrupted by my mind arguing and agreeing with what the priest was talking about. This was disappointing to me, and I discontinued going.

It seems to me that the mind—as well as the heart—are ‘terrestrial’ devices, given to us to figure out how to best live our lives in the world. But when it comes to spiritual matters, the mind and the heart can get in the way and confuse things.

A Christian replied: I’ve never heard someone say the heart gets in the way; usually the heart is the counterpoint to the mind getting in the way. What would you say it is in you, if not the heart or mind, that becomes close with God?

How do you take Mark 12:30 (what is written in the law) and Luke 10:27 (the greatest commandment), which catalog heart, soul, mind, and strength as parts of our being with which we are to love God? (Also, many OT passages with subsets of those four.)

My response: I have to categorize myself (for ease of use) as a Monotheistic Mystic. There is a very interesting and enlightening book on Christian Mysticism by William Inge that I’ve been meaning to make a post on.

That being said, it is my experience that my mind is always considering pros and cons and my heart is always wanting or not-wanting things. Always. They are as inconstant as the wind and the sea, and to base my faith (that is, my process of spiritual growth) solely upon them is untenable. I think there is a deeper level of the human self, that is called the ‘soul’ but I think of as the ‘awareness’, that is much more subtle than the heart and the mind.

Take the notion of asking God for things—either for a job or a car or a ‘better life’. What is doing the asking? Is it greed, or is it a more noble desire? Only by being quiet can we distinguish between our different desires, from lower to higher.

I do not want to come across as “Buddhist”, for I certainly do not believe in emptiness for its own sake. But the concept of surrendering my affects, and seeking a deeper silence when directing myself toward God, I have found, is the first step toward allowing God to mend and make better my ‘self.’

I think that pantheism (in the ancient sense as well as the current Hollywood/Super Hero polytheism) excites the desires and is aimed at getting a ‘rise’ out of people. And that is very successful—that is, popular, and churches can use it, too—that is, excite the desires to unify people in various emotional states or mental formulations.

But spirituality is a personal process and contemplation and ‘meditation’ (again, not directed toward silence, but through silence) are useful precisely because they set aside our earthly tools in order for a greater and clearer perception to be manifested in our awareness.

Christian:

I certainly agree with the practice of meditation through silence. It is yet very difficult for me, but can be quite fruitful. However, it is starting to seem like that is the entirety of religion for you. (Please forgive me if I’m just misreading that from the specificity of the topic.) Are you not also interested in doing good works, spreading the good news, fellowship with other Christians, sacraments, and the many other aspects of Christianity?

I have always taken the Mark and Luke verses I mentioned to include what you’re talking about (under the “soul” category, I suppose), but to also include many other ways for us to grow, practice, express, and enjoy our faith (e.g. works–strength, emotions–heart, study–mind).

Me: It is not the entirety of religion to me. It is, however, the starting point for my spiritual practice.

In bringing up orthopraxy you make a good point. To split some hairs: doing good works is not always good for the person, if it comes from a mismanaged sense of duty. By good works I’m not talking about passive-positive ethical behavior (honesty, humility, kindness and the like), but community service, &ct, with the stress on the work. This is a slippery point I’m trying to make, so I’ll once again retreat into speaking of my own life:

I was lead, through accident and circumstance, to working with preschoolers, which was never something I thought I would end up doing. I’m an ‘artist’ and ‘freethinker’, but in serving children 1) I was shown that I was good at that 2) I was able to do something good with my energies and 3) my art was given a purpose, beyond the exaltation of my own cleverness and ego.

But not everyone is a ‘kid person’—even some who work with kids, it is more damaging (stressful, discouraging) than good for them, and this translates into not being good for the kids.

Yet, for each person to find something that is good for their person and good for others, there needs to be an amount of ‘voluntariness’ in the prompt to do good works. The work needs to spring from the self and not from an external authority.

And the process of stripping away the effects of authority is usually kind of painful to go through. I believe much of the anger that manifests in people who are fresh to adulthood is caused by a need to be their own person—and so they must be against something, until they are free of the mold that was placed on them.

Anyways, I’m rambling, but my point is that compulsory behavior, as well as belief, is of a lesser degree of beneficial than spontaneous and ‘self-directed’ works of charity.

Christian: What do you make of Jesus’ command to love with your heart and mind (since we’ve covered soul and strength now)?

Me: I’ve been trying to dance around this question, not wanting to misinterpret Jesus’ words. I can say that the heart’s best wish is to make things better, but that something broken cannot fix itself. Loving God doesn’t have any benefit for God—he doesn’t need that from us. And even hating God—well, all it takes is an instant to be shown what is what. However, hating people, and hating life—that brings us down, forms a shadow around us. And while a porciline cup can only hold as much coffee as it could on the day of its firing, even clay can be lifted up by the Creator, and made to walk the earth, and speak and feel things no other creature can.

Pardon the poesy, I really don’t know how to answer that question, though. 😉

About Benjamin

I mostly write. Songs, too: soundcloud.com/benjaminb View all posts by Benjamin

One response to “Self Examination is the Yoga of the Opinionated Heart

  • Aliman

    Benjamin, you’ve hit on a crucial point about being human with your Christian interlocutor. Many religious folks want to force themselves to do good works, fellowship, spread the good news, etc. But is this really the point? As you say, what if you do these things out of a warped sense of duty? “I’ll give that bum another dollar when he asks today, but I hope some day soon he gets off his butt and gets a job.” Wrong answer. Rather than petitionary prayer in terms of “asking for stuff” as you mention, we could ask for the sense of compassion which would freely give the dollar and let it go, and we could also ask for the courage not to give the dollar, and thus we’re asking for the courage to abandon our religious duty. Aloha!

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