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Around the Kitchen Table

By Lloyd Ratzlaff

12/03/2014
Lloyd Ratzlaff

This is a third (and possibly final) “sermon” to remind myself of things I often forget in this lifelong quest to lead a spiritual life.

The old trickster Osho (one of his disciples called him a “guruschmuru”) insisted that there are not thousands of problems in the world, but only one. This problem is egotism, our human tendency to imagine ourselves as the centre of life rather than peripheral manifestations of what some indigenous peoples call “The Great Mysterious.” And the problem is not to be solved so much as dissolved, in the practice of authentic meditation (and I almost wrote medication).

Taking ourselves literally is the smaller mystery of having turned ourselves into self-worshipping idols. George Bernard Shaw described the ego as “a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” Then in another unwitting act we begin to spend more time and energy in trying to change others than in changing ourselves — that is, we channel energy into the political quest rather than a spiritual pilgrimage (though the two cannot of course be in ultimate conflict).

When we try to change others, we quickly become exasperated. If only they’d try harder, take things more seriously, pay better heed to our advice, obey laws and commandments more willingly, then they (and we) would have no problems. But William Hordern lampoons this notion as follows: “Saying that more willpower would solve our problems is only saying that if we had no problems, then we’d have no problems.” For how feeble willpower can be is easily seen when we attempt to change ourselves — those old emotions, those phobias and addictions in which our own experience proves that willpower is largely a pathetic fiction of the ego, proving daily how much we remain the children we used to be.

Meditation

Consider the so-called “imprecatory psalms” in the Bible — Psalm 140, for instance. It shows a poet firmly convinced of his righteousness, situating evil in other people and expecting to be exonerated himself, even praying to Yahweh that the offenders be punished without mercy. These are common enough sentiments, but if we substitute the biblical “evil men” for “the evil in me,” immediately the offensiveness of the lines is removed. “Rescue me, O Lord, from (the evil in me). Keep me safe from (my own) violence, from (my) head full of wicked schemes, from (my) stirring up contention day after day. (My) tongue is as sharp as serpents’ fangs, on (my) lips is spiders’ poison . . .” and so on.

In our culture we seem to search tirelessly for “causes” which we hope will explain why we’ve come to be as we are. These causes are almost always located outside of our own volition. “This is not me at all” (Robert de Ropp says). “This I did because, because, and because. I was perfectly justified in behaving in such a way. So would you under the circumstances . . . and so on and so forth.” It’s only a slightly more sophisticated form of the myth of Adam and Eve: he ate the apple, but it’s her fault; she ate it first, but it’s the snake’s fault. Searching for causes is often the hunt for devils to blame.

But Frithjof Schuon says, “Hell is the reply to the rim which makes itself Centre, the reply of Reality to the ego wanting to be absolute.” It’s not that we should imagine a Superbeing taking notes on our disobedience and devising punishments to make us regret it; rather, it’s that hellish pains accompany the madness of billions of egos taking themselves too seriously. This is why the Dalai Lama says, “Although attempting to bring about world peace through the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way.”

And Chogyam Trumpa adds, “Meditation should not be regarded as a vacation from irritation, not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, spiritual bliss or tranquility. It is simply the creation of a space in which we are able to expose and undo our neurotic games, our self-deceptions, our hidden fears and hopes. We provide space through the simple discipline of doing nothing. Meditation is a way of churning out the neuroses of mind and using them as part of our practice. Like manure, we do not throw our neuroses away, but we spread them on our garden; they become part of our richness.”

 

Ratzlaff is the author of two books of literary non-fiction, The Crow Who Tampered With Time and Backwater Mystic Blues. Formerly a minister, counsellor and university instructor, he now makes his living as a writer in Saskatoon.