Tarot at a Crossroads: The Unexpected Meeting of Tarot and Psychology

tarotcoverwhiteNEW!   NOVEMBER RELEASE, 2016

A UNIQUE NEW TAROT AND PSYCHOLOGY BOOK  HIGHLIGHTS METHODS OF USING VISUAL IMAGERY TO STIMULATE HEALING IN READINGS, COUNSELING, AND PSYCHOTHERAPY

THIS UNPARALLELED RESOURCE CAN BENEFIT TAROT READERS, PSYCHOTHERAPISTSCOUNSELORS,  ART THERAPISTS, LIFE COACHES, SOCIAL WORKERS AND OTHERS
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IF YOU’RE A TAROT READER,  you’ll find insights and understandings that are in no other work on the Tarot. The book addresses the relationship between reader and client. It shows how to uncover thoughts, feelings, and sensations that underlie first reactions to a card, It presents ways of working through both outer conflicts and inner dilemmas to help make your readings more effective. Using psychological knowledge it descibes ways to read the cards as they uniquely apply to a given person, as well as how to help people create the future they want for themselves. You will also find a number of unique new spreads that can add additional dimensions and depth to your readings for both yourself and others.

IF YOU’RE A HUMAN SERVICES PROFESSIONAL, suddenly you’re no longer limited to words. Much of our thinking occurs as mental pictures and mind-movies.  In our “representational” approach you don’t have to know traditional Tarot card interpretations. The meanings are mostly supplied by the clients, who select images to represent their concerns from a face-up deck.  The book also details how to work with visual imagery of almost any kind, in addition to or as an alternative to Tarot cards.  It  describes how to use a collection of visual images as a substitute for psychodramatic enactment, empty chair dialogues, sand trays, or artistic media. It describes how to use identification, projective dialogues, and enactive movement with the images your clients select  Finally, it shows how to use images to work through issues or foster creativity in relationships with multiple others, such as family constellations or work groups.  It also helps population like children, teenagers, and the very shy to open up and discuss their concerns. 

For all readers, Tarot At A Crossroads tells how to do readings or use the cards for therapy in a group, and how to use them for meditation in inner work. Methods of  using tarot imagery for couples as well as individuals are included. It integrates traditional tarot interpretations with psychological insights to create meaningful interpretations and useful directions for personal work. The book is useful whether you do readings for yourself, for friends, or professionally — or if you want to explore the value of using a symbolic language in your work. Perhaps you will even enjoy just browsing through the book and reflecting on its 208 wonderful color images and what they evoke in you.

The engaging style draws you right in. GET IT NOW at your favorite bookstore or click below on:

AMAZON           BARNES & NOBLE         SCHIFFER PUBLISHING  

Hardcover only — no e-edition yet.  Schiffer has created a beautiful book design that we’re sure you’ll enjoy.

Two Minute Meditation

Shiva


TWO-MINUTE MEDITATION. (YES, REALLY!)

This is for you if you’ve heard that meditation can have positive effects but just haven’t brought yourself to spend the 15 or 20 minutes a day required for a minimal regular meditation session.


This mini-meditation is useful when you:

1.  . . .feel stressed-out
2.  . . .are emotionally upset and want to calm down. Any kind of emotional upset –sad, angry, jealous, aggressive, etc. — choose your state of mind and body.
3.  . . .would like to feel just a little more centered and focused before you set out
on your day. . . or go into an important meeting . . . or would like to feel more
focused or present before -whatever.  
4.  . . . know it would be best to keep your mouth shut but have a hard time stopping yourself from saying something that will cause trouble for you or make someone feel bad.
5.  . . . would like a tiny tast of meditation to see whether you’re willing to put a bit more time into it.  
6.  . . .are waiting for somebody or something and have nothing else to do
7. . . . feel bored but you forgot your smartphone or ipad or it has run out of juice
and you want something — anything– to do.
8. . . . “just feel like it — no special reason.”

Okay, let’s go.  Just two minutes. Enjoy!

Whether you’re sitting or standing, begin by centering yourself as completely as you can in relation to gravity. Lean slightly forward, backward, left, and right, and find the place where if you were a pendulum you’d come to a stop,  You can do that in about 20 seconds. Already you’ve begun your meditation!

Then inhale deeply through your nose and silently count “1” on your incoming breath as you inhale. Sense your breath coming in through your nose and going down into your lungs. At the same time, hold your hands so that the thumb and first or second finger of each hand are close together — just about an eighth of an inch apart.  

Next exhale (preferably through your mouth) and to the best of your ability let everything that was in your mind “flow out” on your exhalation. As you do, continue to sense your breath, going out now,  and at the same time scan your body for any muscle tension or tightness and let go of it as much as you can while you are exhaling. Also, as you exhale close that eighth of an inch gap between each of your thumbs and fingers so that each thumb and finger just touch. This is a “moving mudra.” You’ve now seriously begun your two minute medidtation.

Now, simply repeat what is described in the two paragraphs just above, but this time silently count “2” as you inhale. Do everything else just as above.

Then repeat what you just did for eight more breaths. On the third breath count “3” as you inhale, on the fourth breath count “4,” and so on up to 10.  After the tenth breath you’re finished.  Then look around, listen, and be as present as you can with your more relaxed body and your immediate surroundings and less caught up in your mind. Yep, you can do this in two minutes.

Of course, if you feel like it, you’re likely to deepen your meditation if you do another sequence of ten breaths, and as many more as you like until you’re ready to stop. But not more than ten.  If at some point you want to get a little deeper into meditation, look at the other blog posts here.  And if you’d like to get into it in a more deeply enriching way, you’ll find this book or e-book just plain amazing.  It might even become your lifelong friend. (If you want to check out samples, go online to the address just below.

Learn more: <http://www.matrixmeditations.com>

 

MEDITATION III – Mindfulness or Witness Consciousness

      Hookena rocks & sand


MEDITATION INSTRUCTIONS, PART III: MINDFULNESS OR WITNESS CONSCIOUSNESS

“Mindfulness” has become a catch-word in some circles in recent years. Some of those who use the term understand it and some don’t. It’s a Buddhist term that is differs very litttle from the Yogic term “witness consciousness.” Both involve noticing, moment-by-moment, what your mind is doing.

Many who try to meditate with witness consciousness or mindfulness get stuck because they have overlooked the previous step, concentration. Only when you have the ability to notice your mind in action and focus it where you want to does real mindfulness actually become possible. Its essence is the ability to, in a sense, “stand behind” your mind and notice what it is doing. Most of us most of the time are caught up in our thoughts that are darting here and there like clothes that are caught up inside a washing machine, going this way and that as the washer spins or agitates them.  In other words, we are identified with our thoughts. As a result, we have little choice about what we think  and feel. Our thoughts run in old patterns, like an old fashioned record player’s needle stuck in the same old groove, replaying the same thought pattern over and over again. A problem with this is that we see and think only what we already think we know. When new information comes along, we tend to reject it, in order to be able to think that we were “right” all along. Sometimes it’s an ego thing to protect our self-esteem. Other times it’s just easier for our neural impulses to follow their usual paths (see the blog on Tolman’s cognitive maps.)

By contrast, with witness consciousness or mindfulness, at each moment we notice what our mind is doing (whether it is focused on a thought, feeling, physical sensation, or event outside ourselves, which includes other peoples’ actions, opinions, and attitudes). In a sense, I detail one small part of my mind to watch / listen to / witness / be mindful of / what the rest  is doing. (This is called “two-pointed attention” in the Zen tradition.)  When I am actually aware of what my mind is doing, I can choose whether to let it keep on doing that in the same way,  or examine it and what lies beneath it more deeply, or do something else. This is useful both when I am with myself and in conversations with others. The reason people often sit in a particular position without moving for a period of time while meditating is because that makes it easier to watch the mind. Watching it  (or if you prefer, listening to it) opens many windows on the world that I didn’t know were there.  It makes it possible to move from being a denier (of everything I didn’t already believe) to being an inquirer (who’s interested in finding out what’s actually going on, inside or outside himself or herself.

So just sit. Balance, then breathe, then release unneeded tension. Then count your breaths or recite your mantra until you feel as centered and focused as you sense that you’re likely to get right then. Then do nothing but observe and listen. You’ll probably want something like a flower or candle flame six feet or more in front of you to bring your attention back to when it drifts off. Notice what you think, feel, and sense.  When you notice your body drooping instead of sitting straight up, it’s a signal that you’re no longer witnessing or being mindful.  Regain your centered sitting position and bring your gaze back to the physical object in front of you (unless you’re using an eyes-closed meditative practice.)  If you do this for more than ten or fifteen minutes, your body may start to feel painful and uncomfortable. That’s good. It makes it hard to think about anything else. Just notice the pain — where and how you experience it. Continue in this way until the end of your session, “just noticing” everything that occurs inside you or outside you.   Then again count ten breaths as you did during the starting sequence, moving your eyes to a different object with each breath, as you make the transition back to everyday consciousness.

Once you become quite skilled at this, you may be able to do it in the midst of some of your everyday activities. Also, when you can do it fairly reliably, you will be ready to put your concentration and mindfulness or witness consciousness together and move into a contemplative meditation.  (If you try contemplative meditation without having first developed these abilities, your mind is likely to use all kinds of clever avoidance tactics when you feel uncomfortable.  Concentration and mindfulness give you a method to notice and releace that avoidance.)

And remember two points. First, often it’s at least as more important to notice your emotions and physical sensations as your thoughts. Second, a runner in training will have days when everything seems easy and to go well and days when everything seems difficult. Meditation is the same way.  Whether a session seems “good” or “bad” is not important. Each moment of each session is just how it is. It’s all training. It’s all useful.

For much greater depth and detail about all this, see <http://www.matrixmeditations.com> 

cover of Matrix Meditations

cover of Matrix Meditations

 

Cognitive Maps and Edward Chace Tolman

Edward Chace Tolman

Edward Chace Tolman

Who would have thought that studying white rats in mazes could really tell us much about human behavior? For decades in the mid-twentieth century it was all the rage, and a lot of that work turned out to be up blind alleys. But one of those investigators came to some keen insights.  Today, however, few even know his name. That’s rather odd, because in todays “cognitive behavioral psychology,” which is highly influential in the USA, we find the strange phenomenon that Edward Chace Tolman (1886-1959) is seldom mentioned, even though the whole cognitive-behavioral approach has been built largely on the foundation of his ideas. When the classical behaviorism of the mid-20th century ran out of new ideas, blending it with Tolman’s insights about cognition added a new dimension.

        Tolman said essentially, “rats think, just as people think.” But in his behaviorism-dominated era, he went on to say, “And to ensure that we are objective scientists, we will discover what and how they think by studying their observable behavior.”

         Rats and people, he said, live in worlds of paths and tools, obstacles and by-paths. In most matters both rats and people prefer short or easy means to a goal over long or difficult ones. And any description of goal-directed behavior is always about getting toward something or getting away from something. That includes what the person or rat is doing, what he, she, or it is trying to do, and where it is going.

But to me, none of that was as intriguing as his statement that rats, people, and other creatures form what he called cognitive maps of the physical and social environments within which they live, think, and navigate. A cognitive map describes the mental and physical routes a person takes, and what rewards and punishments exist along various physical or mental corridors. In retrospect, it’s obvious. Sitting here at my computer, there are some routes (sets of procedures to make the computer behave in specified ways) that I kinow very well, some that I sort of know, and many others that I don’t know at all. This desktop computer has the capacity  to do thousands of things that I don’t know how to tell it to do. It does only what falls within the compass of my cognitive map of it.

        In almost every area of life the same is true. We live within the confines of our cognitive maps (a concept that has much in common with what gestalt psychologist and field theorist Kurt Lewin called the “Life space.”)

       When the expectations that are defined by our cognitive maps are not fulfilled, we can get quite upset.  A psychologist named Tinklepaugh hid a piece of banana under a cup, allowing a monkey to see him do it.  At that point the monkey’s cognitive map included “there is banana under that cup.” But Tinklepaugh, the sly devil, secretly substituted a piece of lettuce, a less–preferred item. When the monkey lifted the cup and found the lettuce, it threw a tantrum.

       Human beings often do likewise. We expect things to be a certain way and blow our cool when they’re not.  I like to use the terms “inquirers” and “deniers”  for two different kinds of responses when something is not as we expect it to be. An inquirer responds to new evidence that shows that his or her belief or attitude about something is wrong by exploring other possibilities and trying to find out what’s really so.  A denier redoubles his or her attachment to the mistaken belief or attude or habit and seeks to get others to confirm that the wrong is right.  That’s where a lot of our problems come from.

       “Very interesting,” you may say. “But what’s the practical payoff of all this?”

       Very simply, You can become an observer of  your own cognitive maps. Notice where your mind goes and what it does, and where and what it does not go and do. This is an kind everyday awareness practice that is related to meditation.  As you try it, you are likely to start making fewer dumb mistakes, and to more often act in ways that are helpful both to you and to others.  In a sense, this is ongoing mindfulness (Buddhist term) or witness consciousness (Yogic term) carried on in the midst of everyday life.

       And you can also begin to see other people’s cognitive maps.  A few questions can tell you a lot about where a person’s mental and emotional energy flows and where it doesn’t.

       As a result of seeing or hearing where your cognitive maps fit reality and where they don’t, you’ll see when and where and how you need to change them. This is important in our daily lives and our larger cultural narratives. If you don’t ever stand back and look at your own cognitive map, you probably end up imprisoned in the “dominant narrative” of your culture, which is the story that the power elite who controls much of what happens wants you to believe.

       If all this intrigues you and you’d like to know more about some very contemporary ancient history in psychology, read Tolman’s Behavior and Psychological Man. If you and want just  a little more, you can look at my old lecture notes on Tolman at:

<https://www.sonoma.edu/users/d/daniels/tolman_lecture.htm>.

         En el espanol puede mirar la biografia Edward C. Tolman por Jaime Ernesto Vargas Mendoza, publicado por la Asociación Oxaquena de Psychología en 2008.

          Doing any  of those three things will enlarge your own cognitive map at least a bit.

MEDITATION: THE ESSENCE II – Concentration & Focus


MEDITATION — THE ESSENCE

Basic Meditation Instructions, Part II

  FREE: Right here, right now, no charge.

 Shiva

CONCENTRATIVE MEDITATION

Concentrative meditation develops your ability to know what you are doing with your attention at any given moment and to focus your attention (and often that of others with whom you are conversing) where you wish.  This ability has been shown to be useful in diverse areas of life.  It is also essential to witness consciousness or mindfulness meditation, which will be described in Part III. Two different forms are described here, and you can choose the one you prefer or use them both at different times.

Counting style.  Choose any object to focus your eyes on. As you did just above, count from one to ten.  This time silently count one number on each incoming breath, from one to ten. Then count the same number ten times on each outgoing breath.  Like this: 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, etc. up to 10-1.  Then take a single  breath in which you do not count.  Then count a second sequence of ten, like this:  1-2, 2-2, 3-2, etc. up to 10-2.  Another empty breath, then ten breaths with the number 3 on your exhalation, etc.  Ideally you will do this for 110 breaths, up to 10-10.  Then do ten more snapshot breaths to end your session.  Whenever you lose count, continue from the last pair of numbers you can remember clearly. If you don’t have time or don’t want to count up to 10-10, stop whenever you wish and end your session with ten snapshot breaths.

On each outbreath, notice all the chatter and images that have formed themselves in your mind and imagine them flowing out of you and away as you exhale, leaving your mind calmer and clearer. Whenever you notice that you have forgotten your counting or you are no longer looking at the object you chose for your visual focus, first notice where your mind has gone in case it’s to something important you need to remember (you might want to keep a pad and pen to jot down a word or two as a reminder when things occur to you.) Then gently move your mind back to your counting. Don’t try to keep things out of your mind – just bring your mind back to your counting, again and again if needed.

Mantra style.  Select a mantra that feels agreeable and useful to you.  You can find one by looking at the index at this link, or by doing a web search for “Sanskrit words” or “mantras.” Or even choose a word or phrase in your native language that refers to a quality you want to cultivate. Just as with the counting above, choose an object for your visual focus. On each inhalation, silently repeat your mantra to yourself.  On each exhalation, you can either (1) count the same number for ten numbers as described just above, and then move to a second number for the next set of ten breaths,  or (2) just repeat the mantra on your inhalation and let your mind go silent on the exhalation, allowing the thoughts that have formed themselves to flow away.  When you notice that you are no longer repeating your mantra, return your thoughts to it. DO NOT, however, use repetition of the mantra to try to “push” other thoughts, feelings, or sensations out of your mind. You could end up pushing out things you very much need to notice or hear. Just notice where your mind has gone, jot down a reminder of that if it’s important and you wish to, then bring your attention back to your mantra. Here too, ten snapshot breaths are a good way to end your session.

 

OR, you can regard the starting sequence and a period of concentrative meditation as the first two stages of your sitting, and then go on to mindfulness / witness consciousness meditation or to a contemplative meditation.

Part I of this series of five mini-articles offered an introduction to what meditation can do for you and presented a useful meditation “starting sequence.”

Part II describes concentrative meditation.

 Part III will describe witness consciousness (yogic term) and  mindfulness meditation (Buddhist term) and They overlap considerably but not totally. (not yet posted)

 Part IV will describe contemplative meditation. (not yet posted)

 Part V will be on everyday awareness practices. (not yet posted)

All this is just “the essence.” If you’d like this and many advanced practices all in one handy place, you will enjoy Matrix Meditations, by Victor Daniels and Kooch N. Daniels. Click on the cover to go to the book’s home page. You can get the e-book for under $10.00, and used copies online for little more than postage. Of course, a brand-new hardcopy (from your local bookstore, the publisher, or another online vendor) is a treasure. 

 

Matrix Meditations: A 16 Week Program to Developing the Heart - Mind Connection

Matrix Meditations: A 16 Week Program to Developing the Heart – Mind Connection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEDITATION – THE ESSENCE: Basic Meditation Instructions I

 

 

MEDITATION — THE ESSENCE

Basic Meditation Instructions, Part I

 

FREE: Right here right now, no charge

 

 

woman meditating by Ganges River

 

INTRODUCTION, & STARTING YOUR SESSION

 

 

BENEFITS OF MEDITATION

Reduce your stress, feel more relaxed, become more focused, centered, and probably more successful, and clean up problem areas in your life. Seldom be bored, as you can almost always find something interesting around you or inside you to notice.

 

If you have never meditated, have tried and been unsuccessful, or are unsatisfied with your method, try this. (If you are an experienced and expert meditator and are looking for new depths and horizons in your practice, you’ll find them in other blogs soon to be posted and at this link.)

 

FOUR FORMS OF MEDITATION

The four kinds of meditation described here are suitable for ordinary people in their everyday lives. You do not have to sit in a cave in the mountains or go to a retreat center. The four are:

 

Concentrative meditation.  You become able to focus your mind where you want it. (Research has shown that this skill improves life-effectiveness of diverse kinds.) Developing this capacity, and your mindfulness or witness consciousness, occur at the same time in the method described here.

 

Mindfulness meditation, aka witness consciousness.  You learn to notice what your mind, emotions, and body are doing, moment by moment, rather than being completely caught up in your thoughts (as most people are most of the time.) This is called “mindfulness” in the Buddhist tradition and “witness consciousness” or “developing the witness” in the Yogic tradition. There are small differences between the two forms but they mostly overlap.

 

Everyday awareness practices.  These help you take a more meditative consciousness into your everyday life.  They are also ideal for people who have a hard time sitting still to meditate.

 

Contemplative meditation. Once you have mastered the two meditative forms just above, you will have the ability to meditate on specific aspects of your inner self or on outer concerns important to you. The resources of your large and creative unconscious mind will become available to supplement the conceptual thought, daydreams, and “monkey mind” that comprise most of most people’s ordinary waking consciousness.

 

HOW LONG SHOULD YOU MEDITATE?

Sit for at least five minutes to get any value from this. Ten or fifteen is better—but if you think, “I don’t want to spare that much time,” then just commit yourself to five minutes. When that time is up, sometimes you will probably want to continue.  When you are starting out, don’t sit for more than half an hour. When you feel ready, you can allow yourself 45 minutes, or even an hour.  Once you are experienced, you might want to go to a retreat where you sit for a day, or several, or even longer. But unless you have the supervision of a capable meditation teacher, stop after no more than an hour.

 

BEGINNING YOUR MEDITATION SESSION: YOUR POSTURE

For most people, the best thing is to sit up straight with no support for your back if you can do that. (Just noticing when you lose this position and slump helps you maintain a present-centered consciousness.) If your back muscles won’t hold you straight up you can sit with your back against a wall or the back of a chair. If all else fails, I have had some students meditate successfully while lying down.

If you are sitting cross-legged on the floor or the ground, sit on the front edge of a doubled-over pillow or a meditation cushion to raise your butt a few inches off the ground. Outdoors, sitting on a slope with your butt a little higher than your  knees and feet will do. Or use any other object to raise your butt slightly. Otherwise you will have a hard time sitting up straight. You can sit in a full lotus posture with each foot upside down across the other thigh, a half lotus posture with just one leg above the other thigh, or a regular everyday cross-legged position.

If you are on a chair, choose one with no arms or low or wide arms so that both your elbows can extend outward comfortably. You can either put your feet facing forward just below your knees and about shoulder-width apart or you can cross them as if you were sitting cross-legged on the ground.

           In any other position, do what feels best. Just know that it will be somewhat harder to develop your mental focus than in one of the positions just above.

          Position your arms with your palms face up. Touch your thumb and forefinger  or middle finger of each hand together. This is a mudra. As you inhale, let them separate about a sixteenth of an inch.  As you exhale, let them touch each other. This is a moving mudra. (The moving mudra will help you focus and watch your mind. When you notice that they have stopped opening and closing as you breathe, it tells you that your attention has drifted off.)

 

A STARTING SEQUENCE

  1. 1.    Balance. Find a sitting position in which you are totally centered in relation to gravity, so that if you move even a little forward or backward or to either side you feel unbalanced. Try those movements, then return to your center.  I suggest that you also try this standing up. Imprint in your mind what that totally balanced position feels like. (Then later in the world, when you start feeling “off balance” or emotionally “pushed out of shape,” take a minute to physically balance as you just did. That’s your first “everyday awareness practice.)
  2. 2.    Breathe.  Sit (or lie down or whatever you do) in a position that opens your windpipe and lungs as fully as possible. If you are sitting or standing up, pushing your chin backward with one finger can help do this. . . .

 

  1. 3.    Notice and release tension. The first time you do this, use the method described by Edmund Jacobson in 1929. Starting at the top of your head and going down to the tips of your toes, do an internal body scan. Notice each place in your body where you are holding even a teeny weeny bit of tension, intensify it for several seconds – tighter, tighter – then let it go. Some places many people hold tension is in their forehead, around the eyes, jaw, neck, shoulders, hands, arms, stomach, anal sphincter, thighs, and calves.   (You may have your own unusual tight spots.)

 

After the first time, you can skip the tightening. Just do an eyes-closed body scan in which you release the tension you find at every point, except for whatever tension you need to sit upright. When you’re done – probably just a minute or two – notice how good your body feels when you let go of the places you chronically hold tight.

 

  1. 4.    Take ten “snapshot” breaths. Count your breaths from one to ten. With each cycle of inhalation and exhalation, let your eyes rest on a different visual object. It can be anything from a statue to a smudge on the wall. Imagine that you’re taking a picture of it, and also that after you’re done you will have to draw it from memory, so scrutinize every detail of it as carefully as you can during that one breath. (You could also do this by listening to a different sound with each breath.) Why do these ten snapshot breaths? Because it is very nearly impossible to do them with a wandering mind. To do them successfully REQUIRES you to maintain mental focus. This gives you a hold on the reins of the wild horse of your attention, giving you enough mental focus that you can go on to other meditative practices.

 

CONGRATULATIONS! You are now meditating. You can stop now, or continue your session by simply continuing to count your breaths, or by repeating any mantra that has value for you on each breath for as long as you wish to continue.

 

 

When you are ready, you can go on by clicking on the links below.

 

 

Part I of this series of five mini-articles offered an introduction to what meditation can do for you and presented a useful meditation “starting sequence.”

 

Part II will describe concentrative meditation.

 

Part III will describe witness consciousness (yogic term) and  mindfulness meditation (Buddhist term) and They overlap considerably but not totally. (not yet posted)

 

Part IV will describe contemplative meditation. (not yet posted)

 

Part V will be on everyday awareness practices. (not yet posted)

 

Remember—all this is just “the essence.” If you’d like all this and many advanced practices too all in one handy place, you will enjoy Matrix Meditations, by Victor Daniels and Kooch N. Daniels. Click on the cover to go to the book’s home page. You can get the e-book for under $10.00, and used copies online for little more than postage. Of course, a brand-new hardcopy (from your local bookstore, the publisher, or another online vendor) is a treasure. 

 

[INSERT MM HERE]

 

2-12-14

 

 

 

The Perils of Self-Righteousness

man with sword raised facing backward on horse at edge of cliff

We all have our pet peeves. One of mine is self-righteousness. “I am good and righteous and just and you are bad and maybe even wicked and evil.” Not that I never fall into it myself, but I try to notice it and pull out when I do. What are the earmarks? The self-righteous person fancies himself or herself better than others who think or act differently, or who look or sound different. If it’s one of your own tendencies, the chances are you don’t much notice it. You think you’re just in touch with reality. If it’s someone else and you agree with them, you may react that same way. But if you’re anything like me, you probably curl your lip with distaste and dislike (even if only internally and invisibliy) when someone else gets into a self-righteous schtick. It may be a raving rant like many of the venomous online “comments” sections or it may be snide and subtle, but either way it has several unfortunate effects.

First, it often involves projection, a common and often destructive psychological mistake that can easily torpedo our relationships. In projection I see you as the living incarnation of whatever qualities I dislike and refuse to recognize in myself. I deny my own inner reality and experience, project it onto you, and then either denigrate you or try to exterminate you, as if in doing so I could get rid of the disliked and unrecognized qualities in me. The projector does this over and over and over again. It is highly visible, and almost always present, in the phenomenon of self-righteousness.

Second, whether it appears in religion, politics, or in a marriage or other couples relationship, it often leaves whatever sense of shared community we might have had in tatters. After an incident or two, if you’re on the receiving end of the self-righteousness will always be at least a little on guard, at least somewhat reluctant to reveal your thoughts and feelings. This leads to a more distant relationship.

Third, you just might want to get the self-righteous SOB back, especially in contexts like politics and religion where in-group imperialism often runs rampant – WE are better than those other jerks and we’re going to run things our way and impose our ways on them. You end up with results like male committees and legislatures making decisions about women’s reproductive rights that take away women’s freedom (in some cases in direct violation of their own professions of a libertarian ideology). That can lead to a lot of bitterness and desire for revenge.

Fourth, self-righteousness often requires a person to lie to himself or herself. In something like eighty or ninety percent of situations there are at least two or three viable ways of looking at the situation, and sometimes half a dozen ways or more. The ability to consider such multiple perspectives increases internal communication within oneself and also increases a person’s creativity. A self-righteous attitude requires you to deny the possible validity of every view except your own. It commits you to your own monologue and makes it very difficult to engage in any potentially constructive dialogue. And who wants to listen to know-it-all blowhards besides people who already agree with them?

Finally, to anyone with the eyes and ears to see and hear, it boils down to ego. “I’m better than you are.” We’re better than they are.” And then it all to easily sildes into, “and so I’m justified in doing whatever I want to you,” or “we’re justified doing whatever we wish to them.” And of course often it turns into being the other way around. The organization, or our authorities, or some other influence requires me to do terrible things to you, and so I slide into the lie of self-righteousness to justify it.

But in the end, development as a person occurs when we work on shrinking our self-centered egocentrism, not when we inflate it. Self righteousness takes us in the wrong direction.

The Divine Mother Returns – Amma at San Ramon

Amma

THE DIVINE MOTHER RETURNS: A REPORT FROM AMMA’S ASHRAM

I went over to San Ramon to see Amma (the “hugging mother” a.k.a. Sri Mata Amritanandamayi) twice last week. The front wall behind the stage was done over since last year. Originally it had a style of Zen simplicity, with visible natural wood everywhere. Now it has been redone India style, with ornate decorations. I am guessing that her Indian disciples who live here in America made the changes.
Amma usually comes to her California ashram twice a year, once in summer and once in winter, as part of her U.S. Tour. We’ve also seen her in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Paris, and my wife and our daughter have seen her in Dallas. Yes, I got a wonderful hug.
Since the content of the talks and the meditations are minor variations on a few core themes (just as in every religious or spiritual tradition), it’s reasonable to wonder why I keep coming back year after year. A central reason is that my wife’s devotion is greater than my own, so that for her there is no question about going as often as possible during Amma’s brief visit. Personally, I am more logical and less devotional. I have seen and heard a great many preachers and gurus and swamis in my time, but none as overflowing with unconditional love as Amma. She is one of the great living Bhakti yogis. She is also a Great Goddess figure, a living incarnation of the Divine Mother. I am keenly aware that Yours Truly has a number of steps to go on the path to being filled with unconditional love, and am not at all confident that I will come close to that point in this lifetime, but I know of no better condition of spiritual evolution to aspire to. And the best way I know to move in that direction is to hang out with someone who manifests that in their everyday life. Amma’s joyful way of being, her loving embrace, her radiation of a loving presence toward everyone — these are what draw the countless masses to her appearances.
She is also a first rate intellect, a jnana yogi She shares with Brazil’s former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva the distinction of having reached just the fourth grade in school. Now she is chancellor of a university with five campuses and a medical school, and has a powerful commitment to encouraging education. She must surely have composed far more devotional chants than anyone else alive, and together with her bajan group (a remarkable company of Indian musicians), produced innumerable CD’s of them. In regard to books, I can only wish i were a fraction as productive. (But there’s my ego again!)
As for karma yoga, or selfless service, you can go online and witness the countless millions she has raised to feed and clothe people and provide medical care and even huge numbers of new houses after natural disasters like the great Southeast Asia and India tsunami, the Bihar floods, Hurricane Katrina, and the Fukushima tsunami and reactor meltdown. (If you’re interested, see http://www.embracingtheworld.org/amma/ )All around the world it is nothing less than miraculous. And she inspires countless others to extend her work. (For example, my wife collects extra food from a local supermarket and drops it off at homeless shelters in Amma’s name.) Amma’s entourage, with its very extensive portable infrastructure that accompanies her tours in (much of it trucked from place to place by 18-wheel semis), is also a remarkable example of a huge organization run by volunteers in a spirit of serving the divine spirit.
If all that were not enough, Amma is an accomplished Raja yogi. She has developed her own meditation procedure and now her disciples teach it in an all-day workshop at her retreats.
In all this, although her centering place is the Vedic, Upanishadic, Hindu, Yogic, and Vedantic tradition of the Sanatan Dharma, she acknowledges that Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and other great spiritual teachers and saints were also realized beings who were working toward the same end of helping their followers realize the divine spirit in their human lives. Like the great yogis stretching back to the Vedas, Amma aspires to help people connect with others and other living beings in that realm where we are all sparks of the same fire of divine life. If all that were not enough, it takes place within the context of a pervasive ecological consciousness. She is acutely aware that humanity is reducing our planetary ecosphere’s ability to support all kinds of life, human and nonhuman alike, year after year after year, and she is dedicated to stopping and reversing that process.
Those are the headlines. I sat writing most of this in the temple in her ashram on a Friday afternoon between the day program and the evening program. The electric company had a major outage in the nearest city due to too many air conditioners running on a very hot day, so all the electricity was out. The 5 PM chanting workshop was cancelled, and they were hoping to get the generators on by 6:30 for the meditation and talk that begins the evening session, so I had a chance to write this. I am a bit surprised that Amma does not have the power to intervene and magically get the regular power source working again–but I imagine she may be a bit tired after all this morning’s hugs, and taking a rest, so that restoring power is left to disciples whose divine power is rather less than her own. (It was “amateur electrician hour” as they struggled to get all the sound equipment working off the generator, but finally they succeeded.)
That’s all, folks. Day after day, week after week, it seems incredible that she is so relentlessly untiring, but as Amma says, “As long as these arms have the strength to keep reaching out and comforting people, I will be doing it.”
(Her main website is http://amma.org)

Meditation: The essence

Meditating at GlastonburyThis site is still in its early stages of construction.  Blogs on meditation will appear soon. In the meantime, click the “Meditation” tab at the top of the site and check out the meditation page. It has several free pdf downloads that you might find useful.