Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Sound of the Universe

Last week I had a conversation with someone about sounds and mantras and why is “om” used in so many of them?

The short answer is “om,” also spelled “aum,” is the sound of the universe. By the way, this isn't limited to the beliefs of yogis – it also shows up in the bible. In the book of John, starting from the first verse it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

I interpret the “word” here to be synonymous with sound because words are sounds. When I read a word, I'm repeating it in my head, using my voice, so it's a sound, just not one others can hear, unless I'm muttering to myself.

I thought about using an "om" to illustrate this post but it's not as pretty.
I thought about using an "om" to illustrate this post, but it's not as pretty.

At first blush, the notion that there's a sound to the universe and that it's om seems kind of silly. There are many sounds in the world from refrigerators humming to birds chirping to cars honking, and that sure doesn't sound like a ceaseless om the likes of which you'd hear in a yoga class.

What's interesting to think about is how given distance, sounds blend together. From far away, a farmer's market sounds like a medley of chatter, but when I get closer, I hear kids crying and people asking for chard and couples laughing. Just as all of the sounds of the farmer's market are blended into one roaring soundwave, maybe all the sounds of the universe are blended into the unified form of all sounds: om. Perhaps what's going on here is my ears are not sensitive or powerful enough to hear the universal sound, and two, I can't adequately recreate the sound of om in this human form.

Here's something else that's neat about om. Om/aum consists of five symbols: a, the acoustic root of creation; u, the acoustic root of preservation; ma, the acoustic root of destruction; the dot, the symbol of the unmanifested universe; and the crescent, the symbol of the process of manifestation. More succinctly, om is the acoustic root of creation, preservation, and destruction, plus the principle of transmutation from the unmanifested to the manifested. In its very make up om is an encapsulation of the universe! How cool is that?

I find it fascinating that something as complex as the cycle of life and death can be boiled down to a symbol, and furthermore, that symbol is a sound our universe makes. There's something neat to me about how om is like a seed containing everything within it. That perhaps even things that are seemingly complex are actually quite simple but I don't have enough information to see them that way.

I dream of a world where the complex is made simple. A world where we use om as an example of how individual differences can be made to blend into something universal. A world where we can decipher om in all the sounds we can hear.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Different View of Marriage

Marriage has been on my mind a lot because everyone and their mother (including mine) is trying to set me up. “He's single, you're single: It's a match!” No one has actually said that to me, but that's the impression I get based on who people are trying to set me up with. Now, I realize a single person writing about marriage is like a virgin writing about sex, but here I am anyway, fumbling about.

An aspect that I don't hear discussed often about marriage is its ability to enhance spiritual growth. Usually, marriage is couched in terms of companionship, of having someone to start a family with, and just generally a partner in life that you love. Something else that seems to creep in from my outside perspective is this idea that someone else is responsible for a person's feelings. That someone else is responsible for our happiness.

I take a different view of marriage than some I think.
I take a different view of marriage than some, I think.

I have a big problem with that way of thinking, because as was so aptly pointed out in a New York Times piece called “The Wedding Toast I'll Never Give,” there will be times where a person will look at his or her spouse and feel only rage. Nobody else is responsible for my happiness and putting them in charge of it is only asking for trouble. I can speak from experience here because I used to make certain people my cocaine and that resulted in some of the most painful experiences of my life.

I often quote Marianne Williamson who says, “Romantic relationships are like getting a PhD in spirituality.” What does that mean exactly? It means other people don't exist to make me feel good; it means every person and every relationship is a teacher. All of them provide opportunities to bring me closer to the divine. Marriage then becomes about living my life in a “new way with a special type of responsibility,” as my spiritual teacher would say.

In fact, the marriage oaths of my spiritual practices are that the person takes upon themselves the responsibility for their spouse's food, clothes, education, medical care, etc. That the spouse will be vigilant to safeguard the other's mental peace and ensure their mental progress, as well safeguarding the other's spiritual progress. These oaths to me mean sincerely taking care of another person's all-around welfare and growth. That marriage is about taking into account not only another person's needs, but trying to help them along the spiritual path. The emphasis is not on the self, but on another.

Does that sound dry and kind of clinical? It's not meant to be – there's something special about romantic love, something almost magical, and mystical and that, too, is an important part of marriage. I'm not discounting pleasure or love here, I'm just saying there's more to marriage than just love, at least from a spiritual perspective.

I guess what I'm doing here is trying to assuage my single self, to provide some comfort because it's clear there's no way I could be satisfied with any single guy who walked through my door, because whoever I marry needs to be someone that can ensure I am progressing mentally and spiritually. That marriage for me is not about having someone warm my bed or keep me from feeling lonely on a permanent basis. Love is important, but I'm looking for love plus something else.

I dream of a world where we all take a different view of marriage. A world where we revere love, but we also add something more to the mix. A world where we think about marriage in terms of aiding another in the form of the divine.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

From Hammer to Human

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Last week, I wrote about how my mindset of late has been, “What can you do for me? What can I get from you?” I've been thinking about that more in depth and how that perspective causes all sorts of problems.

Philosopher Martin Buber wrote about this in his book I and Thou. I haven't read his book, and only conducted a cursory search on the internet about it so I apologize if I get some facts wrong. From my understanding, Buber says we engage in the world in one of two ways: I/it and I/thou.

She's a person! She's a building!

In the I/it relationship, we collect data, analyze it, classify it, and theorize about it. The object is viewed as a thing to be used or put to some purpose. This makes sense when we encounter something like a hammer, “What can I do with this? What do I need it for?” It also makes sense when we're conducting research, or any time when detachment is necessary.

In the I/thou relationship, we engage with the encountered object in its entirety, not in pieces. The I/thou relationship asks us to make ourselves available to another, to understand them, to share with them, to have a dialogue. In essence, to see the other as a human rather than an object.

The I/it relationship is extremely problematic when that's the only way we engage with others. I see the I/it dynamic reflected in Bill Cosby, who admitted to buying drugs in order to have sex with women. Duuuuude. That is the quintessential I/it relationship. Cosby didn't think of these women as human beings, but rather as objects that existed for his pleasure. It didn't matter whether these women wanted to have sex with him, he was going to have sex with them anyway. That is messed up. This is what is meant by the objectification of women. Our rape culture turns women into “its,” thought of as a collection of parts as opposed to people.

Objectification is not relegated to women only, by the way, men are seen as objects too. So are kids, animals, etc. What happened here? Why do we think only of our own selfish needs and not of other people? I can't answer that question, but I think Buber has a point when he suggests we start viewing other people as “thou” instead of “it.” I know for me, I try to be open and present in all my encounters and not think to myself, “What can I get from you?” When I turn people into objects, I often get called out on it, like when I approached a mail carrier and launched into my question without first saying, “Hello.” He kept saying, “Hello,” until I understood he wanted me to say, “Hello,” back. Nobody likes to be treated as a machine, even if you only have a quick question for them.

Why am I harping on this and why am I bringing it up in a blog about spirituality? For one, I am deeply disturbed by our tendency to view each other as toys to play with and then cast aside. For another, I know when I view all beings – not only people – as “thous,” as entities worthy and deserving of love and respect, I open myself up to moments of transcendence, which Buber also mentions. When I have a reverence for everything, the world shimmers. Not to mention, I start thinking of how I may be of service, which is the key ingredient for a blissful life, according to my spiritual teacher.

I dream of a world where we start viewing each other as human beings, not objects. A world where we practice care, attention, love, and respect when we're interacting with others. A world where we change our mindset and treat each other with dignity. A world where we move from seeing each other as hammers to humans.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Cushy Life

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I want to be as comfortable as possible. Give me air-conditioning and memory-foam mattress toppers and fast internet. I want my surroundings to be as cushy as I can make them. After I've worked so hard to make my life comfortable, at the very end of the day, if I have any energy left over, then I might think about other people. This is not good.

There's nothing wrong with taking care of myself, with putting myself first, because if I don't no one else will, but striving for a cushy life means I don't tolerate discomfort at my expense. And it takes more and more for me to feel comfortable. Like the princess and the pea who slept on a hundred mattresses and could feel the pea stuck between the bottom two. This focus on me has made me a little self-centered. My mindset of late has been, “What can you do for me? What can I get from you?”

A cushy life is great and all, but I'd much rather have a blissful one.
A cushy life is great and all, but I'd much rather have a blissful one.

Friends, this is no way to live and does not lead to any sort of fulfillment. My spiritual teacher says the formula for bliss is service minus information. I have been decidedly low on service and high on information, so of course I'm not feeling bliss. Some people have a disdain for information, calling it useless, but that's not true. Information is only useless if it's not applied. Information is like fruit in a bowl. The fruit is only good if I eat it. Right now, instead of using all the fruit in my bowl, it's going to waste.

Service is the key to keeping my fruit from rotting. There's a different mindset around true service. I serve others because it's fun and it's free, not because I get any benefit, although that's a nice perk. When I serve others out of a sense of obligation or because I “should,” it's no longer service and instead a recipe for resentment. Service starts with a shift in mentality from “me, me, me,” to “we, we, we.” And when I shift my perspective, opportunities to serve present themselves, from giving someone a ride to the airport, to holding the door open for someone, to starting an orphanage.

Service often gets relegated to that one weekend of the month volunteering for so-and-so, but I'm finding it's important to make service a part of my daily life. I'm such an extreme person that I think service has to be a grand affair. It doesn't. Service starts in the mind, and that means thinking of others. My challenge right now is to serve myself and to serve others. I have a tendency to be “all or nothing,” so I need to not overextend myself too much. A little bit of stress leads to growth; a lot of stress leads to illness and injury. A cushy life is great and all, but what is it costing me? Maybe my life needs to be a little less cushy and a lot more service-oriented. After all, bliss feels a lot better than comfort.

I dream of a world where we serve each other. A world where life is a little less “me, me, me” and more “we, we, we.” A world where instead of striving for a cushy life, we strive for a blissful one.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.