Un-Becoming Tweenery Times / 35th Birthday

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

 

I’m starting this post on the date of the completion of my 35th year of existence, in human years, as a human this time around. None of my birthdays have felt like milestones. I actually kind of get annoyed by people who put extra effort into celebrating certain birthdays like their 21st or 40th or something. That’s quite literally all in their head. Nothing actually changes because you turn 21. You’re the same as you were at age 20 years-and-364-days. Maybe at certain birth intervals you gain the right to vote, or drink, or have sex without risk of anyone going to jail. But those don’t really have anything to do with you. I also think it’s a little weird, mathematically or something, that we say we’re 35 only after reaching the mark at which we’ve technically surpassed the entire 35th year and have actually entered our 36th year of life. Maybe this makes more sense to most people than it does to me (I’ve always been horrible at math). Maybe most people just don’t really think about this kind of thing. Maybe it’s a symptom of the human tendency to live in the past.

Turning 35 feels like a lot of stuff and a whole lotta nothing. It strikes me as some kind of second adolescence. In our teen years (the first adolescence and pubescence), we’re a little awkward and growing and changing … It’s like the caterpillar being aware that it’s in the middle of the cocoon. It’s kinda not really the caterpillar anymore but definitely isn’t yet the butterfly about to emerge. 35 feels like that. I’m too old to really be considered young or a youth. But definitely not – at all – old. It seems that at this stage in life, it’s expected that I should pretty well be formed as a person and (at least mostly) know who I am, but it’s simultaneously understandable that my retirement isn’t fully funded and that my life has many additional adventures coming. I am at a place with myself where the usual behaviors of 20-somethings and early-30-somethings annoy the piss out of me at every turn, but I often wish I had their vitality and metabolism. And, similarly, I look at many of those who are a couple decades older than me – an age group I’ll be in before I know it – and I’m like, “Hell! That is my future: Weight gain… Wrinkles… Judgement from the younger generations.”

I’ll admit that this second adolescence is … better. The first time around, you’re too young and naive and, frankly, too ignorant to realize how much you don’t know or to know how to navigate times of personal (and physical) change responsibly. Honestly, too many of us aren’t much better by the time this second phase rolls around. Lord. But, for myself, I feel better about it this time. I mean, my voice is done changing and the peen is as big and as hairy as it’s going to get … so that much is outta the way. Ha Ha. The rest is way more challenging, anyway. Have I become a “good” person? Have I invested much effort in knowing who I am as a person? Do I treat others with the same care I want to receive? Do I give at least as much as I take and do I seek opportunities to help those who need it? Have I known contentment? Have I made my love known, in its various forms, to those people to whom my love is directed?

Stuff like that is the focus for my second adolescence. And rightly so, I think. Most of us only think to consider times of change from within the context of what comes next – what am I going to become. In Sahaj Marg, the goal is the reverse. we don’t worry about what we’re becoming. For abhyasis, we “un-become.” There’s no taking what we have and what we are and making it into the next phase or the next step. It’s about taking what we have and are and are carrying and learning to not be those things – or rather not be identified with those things. Personal evolution right?

I’ll share a quote from my first guru in the Sahaj Marg lineage that explains this a bit.

“Evolution means changing into something. Here there is no change. On the contrary, as my Master used to say, it is an un-becoming. It’s not a becoming, but an un-becoming: throwing off all that we have accumulated over aeons of time, through various lives; divesting ourselves of everything that we have accumulated. And that is that which we have to become – That.” Taken from the book “The Fruit of the Tree”, Chapter “Open House”, pg. 178, by Revered Chariji

Think about scientific evolution – and allow me to suggest a twist on what my guru said. A fish crawling out of the waters to walk on land isn’t – really – about the fish becoming more than it was or changing into something else. It’s the result of the process of the fish leaving behind at least some of its “fish-hood.” It was limited by it’s inability to breath oxygen outside of water and its inability to walk. It discarded those limitations – with which it had previously so heavily identified with that its fish-hood was all it could relate to. All it knew. As soon as some of those limitations were let go of, life was able to blossom in a way it hadn’t previously.

As soon as it “un-became” a fish, it was free from that existence. It wasn’t trying to be more. Too often we’re caught up in what and who we think we are that we miss so much growth and growth opportunity. In Sahaj Marg and our Heartfulness practice, we’re not making an effort to change into something else – there’s no effort to be more or better or purer or less sinful or … anything. We’re peeling away the layers of crap that we previously thought we just had to carry. We’re un-becoming. In that process many of us realize and experience first-hand that we don’t actually need gills or fins. At one point they served a fantastic purpose, but ultimately aren’t part of us.

That’s what turning 35 feels like, to me. Thanks to life experience and the gentle, guiding structure of Heartfulness I’m un-becoming. I’m leaving behind so much of the junk that seems inherent to youth. I don’t have an attachment to whether my next step will be on land as an amphibian or reptile, or whether I leap right to being a mammal. I’m just glad to be realizing the experience of leaving my fish years behind.

Does that even make sense?

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

God’s Favorite Month

Back in June I read a blog post published by someone I no longer associate with but whose writing I sometimes enjoy reading. This young man, like myself, is gay and Hindu and non-Indian. Despite our differences, having those things in common means we understand certain things on the same level – which is nice. His post, which can be accessed by clicking here, was about Purushottama Masa, a leap month in the Vedic calendar. (The modern calendar observed here in the West has what we call leap years, but it’s really more like a leap day – a day that isn’t recognized on the calendar except in certain years. This is probably why the young writer called Purushottama Masa a leap month – it’s a month that isn’t always in the calendar.)

It’s explained in the post that Vishnu (Hari-dev) values this month immensely – so much that it’s his favorite month and he rewards devotees who up their sadhana during this auspicious time. It’s pointed out in the post that this increase in favor manifests as added benefits. So whatever punya you might normally accrue from, say, one round of mantra jaapa, is magnified during this leap month. Maybe during this month, because it’s God’s favorite, one round of jaapa counts double? Triple? Only god knows, I bet.

He goes on to focus the post not around it being god’s favorite or the added benefits, but of the importance of making every day and every offering as valuable as something offered so uniquely as in Purushottama Masa. I agree with that in general, but I often have an eye for details and the indication that this month is god’s favorite really stood out to me.

Please believe: Any god that has favorites is no god at all.

Throughout humanity’s history of god, we have claimed to know god well enough to be able to speak on god’s behalf – telling or explaining to others what’s okay with god and what isn’t, what god favors and what isn’t favored. Throughout humanity’s history of god this has proven to be immensely dangerous, almost invariably. After all: Jews are god’s “chosen people,” Christians know their jagadguru to be god’s “only begotten,” Islam’s idea of jihad couldn’t be pursued on any level without knowledge of what is holy in contrast to what is unholy, and Hindus apparently know god’s favorite month (among other things).

I don’t know why this tendency exists. Probably ego prospering withing Maya. Regardless of culture or time, it seems like something humans are bound to do: Fuck god up. We can’t be happy with our own unique first-hand experiences. We don’t usually want to rest in those experiences and treasure them as private peeks at our Source. At a minimum we often try to codify. In extremes, we kills others for not accepting what we know to be true. And the rest of the time we engage in all manner of in-between ridiculousness.

I think Sahaj Marg’s assessment that religion is like kindergarten is very fitting and very true. From kindergarten you get stick figure drawings, coloring outside the lines, and maybe some shaky handwriting. Yeah it’s sweet. It feels innocent because it’s a beginning and because it’s a beginning it actually holds tremendous value. But no one is meant to stay there. You leave kindergarten behind as soon as you possibly can and failure to do that usually means something really unfortunate like a learning disability or maybe even trouble at home. It’s like in a previous post when it was mentioned that Jesus was like, “Guys, c’mon! Stop being children of God. You have to grow up now.”

The quote pictured below was said by my current guru’s guru and I think it does a fine job expressing why we should leave religion behind as quickly as possible. Regardless of the innocence possibly expressed in stick figure drawings, they are still crude. Very crude representations of a much bigger reality, right?

 

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Religion, especially if it tries to convince you that god has a favorite anything or a preference of any sort, is like saying a five-year-old’s stick figure representation of her mother is a sufficient and entirely accurate depiction of that woman. I don’t think the mother of the five-year-old is offended by the stick figure drawing. Not at all – the mother doesn’t really care. Being the mother, she understands that, for a brief time, that’s the best the child can do. Certainly, if god even had an opinion on religion, then god would view religion the same way: It’s the best some humans can do, at one stage or another in life.

But stick figures aren’t accurate – not even close. And kindergarten is meant only as a beginning.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

Wirth’s Wisdom

Periodically another blogger publishes a post and, while they are invariably a bit long-winded (that’s saying something coming from me! lol), they also invariably possess an excellent viewpoint balanced with reason and devotion and much life experience. I would encourage everyone to check out her blog and her “About Me” page to learn some of her background.

I’ve included a link here to a recent post of hers that I found to be particularly logical and well written. It deals with violence in religion and makes some incredible and valid points. Do give it a look.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

Unclean Lines

jesus-christ-god-wallpaper

 

I went to church recently. Not temple, (Christian) church. This is not the norm for me. The congregation I worshiped with is one I have thought about visiting for a while. In truth, it’s a flock I used to belong to and worship with regularly. This community gathers at what is now known as Life Journey Church, click here to visit their site, but used to be called Jesus Metropolitan Community Church (JMCC). For anyone who isn’t already aware, the Metropolitan Community Church is a non-denominational sect of protestant Christianity that is not only welcoming of the LGBT population, but also is affirming. As such, the membership is usually primarily humans from the greater gay community – although there are also plenty of non-gay folks who attend, as well.

I first learned of the MCC while as a teen I began coming to terms with my sexuality and was also a very active Christian person. This was a tumultuous time in my life because my family isn’t Christian and Christians generally don’t like gays. So, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure what my future would hold and I anticipated being thrown out by one or both of these important parts of my life. As it turned out, only the Christians threw me out. (Not before putting me through the bogus-est of therapies. Calvary Baptist Church, click here for their site link, I think, had never had to deal with a problem like me.) During those difficult years, my backup plan was to run to the MCC for a kind of sanctuary, hoping that in my worst-case scenario, someone would help me. Had it come to that, I’m sure someone would have – luckily that wasn’t needed. This is in no small part because my family mostly kicks ass. I’m not sure exactly when JMCC changed its name to Life Journey or if the dropping of the “MCC” from the actual name indicates a separation from the larger MCC denomination, but I know I parted ways with the church after a chat with the then-and-now pastor, Jeff Miner.

The chat happened after a morning service. Something about the sermon hit me as being uncomfortable. This is probably due to my own personal development and spiritual growth and a growing feeling that Christianity simply wasn’t big enough. That morning, after the service, I filed in line with many others who hugged our pastor as we left the sanctuary, and while there I asked him about god greeting people at the so-called Pearly Gates. I don’t recall exactly, but his must have been mentioned in the sermon that day. I asked him if he thought it would be disturbing for a dead person to arrive at the gates to Heaven, expecting to see Ganesha or Vishnu or the Universal Mother or Nothing At All, but instead to be greeted by Jesus. He agreed that it probably would be disturbing. Our chat lasted only another minute or two and during that time he pretty well said that he believes god shows up in the manner expected by the soul.

That was the last time I attended that (or any other) church. I can play along in most scenarios when it serves a purpose. However, I couldn’t any longer rationalize buying into a religious practice that not only seemed too small for me, but the potential spirituality of which contradicted some of the actual religious structure. Pastor Jeff Miner is a fine person and a brilliant human being – everyone should get to know him. I mean it. But I couldn’t allow myself to continue to participate in a Jesus-centric mode of worship and living when the real and true Reality is that not only is Jesus not the “only way” for us to return home (and you bet your butt he isn’t), but also that whatever God is to whomever recognizes God, God will appear in that form. (Does that sentence read clearly?) I think I could be okay attending a church if it were a church that celebrated Mohammad and Ganesha and Zarathustra (Zoroaster) – equally. But that isn’t the case and it was the final nail in my Christian coffin that a “Jesus only” spiritual methodology had that element of hypocrisy. (Maybe hypocrisy isn’t the right word, but it sure feels like it.) “Jesus is the only way – unless you don’t recognize him – then god will manifest in another way.” Umm…. What? Really?

So I stopped attending and began developing myself as a Hindu. I’ve now spent more time as a Hindu than I did in my two stints as a Christian (couple years as a teen at Calvary Baptist and then a few more years as a young adult at JMCC), and I’ve yet to feel like I’m even remotely close (nor have even inched closer, at all) to outgrowing this path. Still, one thing I missed was my connection to the local gay community – which was primarily facilitated through JMCC. I don’t go to bars. At all, really. And aside from meeting people through other people or going to the bars or joining up some social group or something, the church was the next most logical way of connecting to my tribe. I missed that and still do. And so, I decided to be nosy and see what it’s like now. And I did that last Sunday. The building and many of the faces are mostly the same. The worship service is essentially no different.

Last week’s sermon dealt a lot with the book of Leviticus. More specifically, what made someone or something unclean. It was also noted that throughout the Bible, and especially in the Old Testament, the Jews are referred to as the “children” of god – never as any other kind of people. Always children. With that idea in mind, spiritual evolution was discussed throughout the sermon: We, as a collective, should be evolving beyond the child stage of development. Obviously, most of the references to these children of God are in the Old Testament, where much of the do’s and don’ts of Christianity fall as well. So there’s an association made here between being a child and needing rules. So-called rules are for those who aren’t as developed and still require (benefit from) a structure being imposed upon them. It sounds sweet to think of yourself as a child of god, but it’s not exactly a compliment. We’re told Jesus came to do away with those laws – to fulfill them – as a means of saying, “Guys, grow up! Stop being children.”

 

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One example discussed in the sermon to illustrate this is the notion of something or someone being unclean. In those ancient days, observations were made: A bird flies. A mammal walks on the ground, and a fish swims. This is natural order. Natural order is, naturally, ordained by god at the time of creation – when He supposedly made birds to fly, mammals to walk, etc … And so, the math follows, if something deviates from this so-called natural order, there’s something terribly wrong. Thus storks and bats (the examples in the sermon) are unclean. Storks are birds that do fish things. And bats are mammals that do bird things. They violate god’s laws of nature and are therefore unclean. The photo in this post is of a Cheez-It product, CRUNCH’D, a cheese cracker – cheesy poof mixture that surely violates the natural order of all creation.

In just about as many ways as animals can be unclean (violate nature), so can humans also. The main example in the sermon, as it tied into the scriptural reading, was leprosy. The verses read by the congregation explained the process of suspecting and diagnosing leprosy. The process could last as few as seven days or as many as 21. The possibly-afflicted could end up being cleared. But if that soul were unlucky and actually had leprosy, then the rules required that person to wear torn clothing, keep visibly messy hair, sleep outside the limits of the city (a very dangerous thing), and wherever they walked they were required to cover their upper lip (with their hand) and shout ahead, “UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!” to broadcast that an untouchable person was near. It was understood that even their breath could spiritually contaminate someone else. To anyone, modern or ancient, scared of catching leprosy it probably doesn’t sound like too bad of an idea to have all those rules in place. You could easily know whether you were in danger of being dirtied by someone else. In those ancient days, though, leprosy wasn’t the only thing that could designate someone as being unclean. If you had any physical blemish what-so-ever then you were unclean. This included people who were disabled – whether from birth or due to age or an accident.

The catch here isn’t that unclean people were forced to do all the aforementioned things. Those are all pretty degrading, but the real rub is that they weren’t allowed in the presence of god – weren’t allowed into the temple, as such. So, someone with scoliosis or spina bifida or whose growth plates were injured as a child and had one limb shorter than the other – all unclean. If you’re autistic or have a hump in your back or are in a wheelchair – you’re simply not good enough for god, for life.

How screwed up is that? And it doesn’t stop there. Like birds that dive and swim as a fish would, men who love men (as women were designed to do) were likewise stepping out of the line and file intended at creation’s start – unclean. Same goes for women who love women as men were designed to do. And god help you if you were transgender – except you would be too unclean for god to help. Then, as we all know, Jesus came to be among humans and not only touched lepers but also made great efforts at setting the record straight on what supposedly defiles a person and what doesn’t. Thank god for Jesus. Right? Not me. I mean, not really. I don’t doubt that Jesus was one of humanity’s many guiding lights, but I don’t go any further than that with him – not anymore. If Ganesha can’t score me front row seats in Heaven, then I don’t know how somebody with half as many hands is going to do it.

So, it was a good lesson delivered in the sermon. For sure. And it was nice to be with those like myself. For sure. But my visit to the church served mostly to remind me of why I no longer follow the Christian Dharma. As heart-felt and genuine as I think a lot of it actually is for those congregants, it still felt almost wholly juvenile and somewhat ridiculous. It felt emotionally imbalanced and smelled of enslavement – tragic for a path preaching freedom through Christ. If Christians are people who have been washed clean and set free through Christ’s blood, then why in the world do so many of them feel threatened or “against” so much of life?

And now my conundrum: I obviously can’t worship there. So much of everything said or practiced under that roof makes me roll my eyes so hard I get a migraine. And besides that, I’ve been clear that it stopped being a good fit over a decade ago. But it was nice to be around other gays – something that happens very rarely for me. Although, these gays aren’t the ones I have the most in common with, whatever that means. I’m just not sure I want a ton of friends who attribute every life challenge or misfortune to Satan or who think they need someone else to pay for their own actions. Plus it’ll be something my husband will never join me in because he has zero tolerance for that kind of bullcrap. So… Do I return? I’m thinking I might – for entertainment, if nothing else. But surely there will be something else.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

Good Enough for You

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

 

I stopped at a Subway tonight on my way home for dinner. This Subway is very conveniently on usual route home and is one I’ve been in many times. The very first time I visited the location, I recall, I quickly noticed that the employees (and presumably the ownership) were all Arab people. Perhaps even Muslims. This stands out to me because locally there are many Subways owned and operated by Indians – many of whom are Hindu (based on conversations I’ve had with many of them). The rest of this post doesn’t have a single thing to do with these observations or facts.

The last time I went to this Subway the same two people were behind the counter: One is an older man and quite short. The other is a much taller younger man. The older man smiles frequently and although his English is a challenge to understand, he greets people warmly and you can tell he’s making an actual effort at his “sandwich artistry.” None – not one – of those things can be said about the younger man. Last time, the older man made my sandwich.

Today the younger man made my sandwich.

You may be curious about what kind of sandwich… In fact, I just KNOW you are, so I’ll tell you. I always get the same thing: A foot-long veggie sandwich on flatbread. I never get lettuce – always spinach, instead. That’s the “meat” of my sandwich. Some kind of cheese. Then there’s usually olives, pickles, some onion, a little mayo and whatever else might tickle my fancy right then.

Today to start my sandwich the young man asked if I wanted it toasted. He told me, “It should be toasted.” I consented. Then upon removing my flatbread from the toaster oven he asks, “What toppings would you like?”

Toppings? TOPPINGS? I wanted to ask him, “Dude, exactly what are “topping” with these selections? There’s nothing else to my sandwich!” I know he was probably referencing the “meat” of my sandwich as a topping because for 98% of each of his days those items are indeed little more than toppings. I understand that. But the reality is that these so-called toppings are more than toppings every time a paying customer orders a veggie sandwich.

I can get past labels like “toppings.” That wasn’t what really stuck me in the side. What bothered me in this experience is that as he was building my sandwich, he used amounts of each thing I requested as if they were indeed only toppings to my sandwich. I got a sprinkle of spinach – the one thing there should have been the most of. Honestly, who goes into a sandwich store (like Subway) and orders an entire sandwich – going through the whole process – because they want a bread sandwich? NOBODY. If I were ordering a sandwich that started out with six kinds of meat, then I wouldn’t expect gobs and gobs of each topping requested because in that situation the toppings really and truly are toppings.

Watching this man not only forego this basic form of common sense, but also the very flippant and careless approach he took really got me to thinking: Why is my sandwich not good enough for him?

“Oh, Josh,” you’re probably saying, “Don’t be so sensitive. Don’t read so much into it.” The fact is, I’m not actually reading much at all into this. His actions made it very outwardly clear what his thoughts regarding my sandwich are. He wasn’t making a sandwich that he would ever enjoy and, and although that shouldn’t matter in the least, that sentiment was expressed in direct correlation to his mannerisms and actions.

In case you’re sidetracked by all the details I’ve shared, let me be clear: I don’t care what his opinion of my sandwich is. What hit me hard in all this is his blatant disregard for what most of us know as the Golden Rule. You’ll find it online from different sources: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have done to yourself. The Vedic version’s wording of this actually makes a little more sense to me, but it’s all the same.

I care about the sandwich I want to eat. If others are making my sandwich, then I want others to make me a good sandwich. And so, if I’m the sandwich maker – I’m going to make good sandwiches for others. Never mind the fact that it’s what I’m being paid to do. This isn’t hard to understand and it applies to all areas of life. It’s something my mom drilled into the heads of me and two of my brothers: you should always give that which you hope to receive. You don’t give what you’ve been given. You don’t wait to see what you receive and then determine what to give. You first give that which you then hope to receive.

Even with sandwiches.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

 

Irony?

Around (just after) Independence Day (USA) this year a Facebook friend of mine posted to her feed a link to an article that told the story of an American veteran who killed himself on that holiday.

Does that count as irony? A quick google on the definition of the word brought back, “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.” I don’t find veteran suicide (or ANY suicide) amusing, but I feel like a veteran suiciding on Independence Day is ironic. Of course, no one can actually consider the word or concept of irony without thinking of Alanis’ song, “Ironic,” which is filled with a lot of non-ironic situations. I wonder if that makes her cringe, ever. But I digress.

I think anyone who looks into veteran suicide – which is a sad and huge problem in this country – will find a lot of connections to mental illness that our military people develop. Like anything else, the causes are manifold and complex. Hell, daily life – without the influence of the massive amount of dysfunction evident in our military – can and does bring many people to mental illness. When you add into that the very fucked up way our military functions, it’s no wonder so many exit their military service with issues, or develop them soon after. I really have no desire to get into much of a debate about war or terrorism or our armed forces.

To be clear – I don’t feel especially patriotic when I consider the men and women serving. I’m grateful, and very much so. And I wouldn’t intentionally do or say anything to disrespect the things they sign up to do… their willingness carries immense value and if nothing else prevents me from having to do the same. Having said that, though, I’ve personally known too many people (mostly guys) who enlisted for no other reason than they were young, reasonably healthy, and had already started to seriously screw up their own lives and thought they’d found their last chance to try to be something other than a bum, a deadbeat, or an inmate. I know there are brilliant people serving, but a sad and overwhelming majority of the people I’ve known who enlisted basically did so because they literally had nothing better to do – and to me that isn’t noble. At all. But whatever.

This post isn’t meant to be about all that. Regardless of why folks enlist or what they do while serving, or how “damaged” they are as they return to civilian life, we should support them and care for them after their return. And as a nation, we practically don’t. It really frustrates me and lessens my already weak sense of patriotism to consider that I live in a country that has quite literally almost always been at war – internally or with other nations – and the people responsible for building our military, for securing and allotting its funding, and sending our troops out to kill and be killed have neglected caring about resources needed when war is over.

I know that both of the major political parties in the USA are to some degree responsible for this ridiculousness, but for a very long time and most consistently Conservatives and Republicans have been very “pro” funding wars but very “con” funding social programs – and in recent years a lot of social programs have taken serious hits to their funding because of these political efforts. So we like to send our men and women off into terribly violent circumstances, get them all screwed up, and then bring them home to… practically no support or care.

And it’s probably because many of these social programs are either too hard to access or don’t have enough funding, or both, then we have these sickeningly ironic situations of veterans suiciding on our Independence Day. How tragic to fight for a country and help to protect and maintain its independence, have no access to the aftercare you need, that you then are not only unable to celebrate on the day of biggest celebrations for your country, but that it’s so distressing that you end your own life?

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti