Thursday, August 15, 2013

Flexibility and tradition

Redwing Blackbirds leaving Piermont Marsh on the Hudson River at dawn. This is a daily event, year round, that takes place just as the sun rises over the eastern bank of the river.

There's a rule of thumb about flexibility in inner work. 

Works that present themselves as outwardly flexible may often, if properly understood, turn out to be inwardly rigid. Works that appear to be outwardly rigid will, if properly understood, often turn out to be inwardly flexible. 

This is an inverse relationship, so the more wonderfully flexible a practice appears to be from its outer aspects, the more constricting it ultimately is in terms of inner growth.

The reasons for this are complex, but in a nutshell it boils down to people being unable to understand what the inward, or the inner, is.

It takes at least 30 or more years of deep work in a single discipline to even begin to understand what the inner consists of. One can't possibly, ever, think of what it is. One has to become organically aware of what it is. Very few living works one might encounter in today's world are capable of producing this understanding, although many will claim they can—if they even know the difference.

Until then, a person thinks they understand what the inner is... and most people spend their whole lives thinking very, very sincerely indeed that they understand this question, whereas they don't at all. No one makes the commitment that's needed; people want to follow their own egoistic options and opinions rather than submit to a very long-term, serious discipline. 

And this is exactly what newly invented, blended, and subjectively created spiritual disciplines offer. Their outer forms are very appealing; they attract people with imaginary ideas about how warm, fuzzy, and wonderful everything can be (or is.) They cater to the desires of our personality and all the petty vanities we unconsciously cultivate, while we think we're being conscious. These elements gradually and secretly exterminate the inner flexibility we might otherwise develop, simply because they revolve around ego. Putting the outer tendencies under a rule, on the other hand, may—just may, there are no guarantees—give the inner a chance to become a bit more alive.

There are countless feel-good, mixed-up, revisionist, and diluted cults arising today; most of them subtle enough that they don't look like cults at all. After all, the word "cult" is reserved for organizations like the one the reverend Jim Jones formed; whacko practices that end in disaster of one kind or another. Warm, gentle ideologies that lull people into a false sense of themselves aren't seen that way; after all, we like our false sense of ourselves, so if a newfangled religious or "spiritual" practice plays to those weaknesses, we not only enthusiastically adopt it, we defend it. 

This tendency is growing worse on the planet; and the traditions are not helping, because fundamentalists have damaged them, too. 

However, the reason the great traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam/Sufism, Judaeochristianity) are important is that their core teachings have never forgotten the inner. The traditions, to the last one of them, call us to a much deeper and more ruthless examination of who we are and what we do; they ask the tough questions, the ones we can't avoid if we're really being honest with ourselves. The more they grind up our egoism, the more real we become... and this is never pleasant, no. It requires a good hard look at the bad stuff, over a long number of years.

But we live in an age where everyone wants quick results. 

The ersatz versions of the traditions are, well, ersatz. It takes thousands of years for a tradition to become real; it takes about five minutes to ruin it.

May your soul be filled with light.

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