Blog #75: Looking Forward

Dear friends,
Our blog, “The Study of the Soul”, was launched almost three years ago. This is the 75th entry, and a good time for us to take stock of where we go from here.

People from over seventeen different countries have checked in over the years. We have, by God’s grace, been able to sow the seeds of spirituality all around the globe. How those seeds have taken root and have grown is not our concern and is beyond our power to control.
You have had a role to play in sowing those seeds. Some of you have commented on individual postings. Thank you for that. Some have considered what was written and perhaps modified their thinking in some way. Thank you for that. Some have challenged what was written and made me re-examine my thinking. Thank you for that.
One of the things that I have learned is that most young people today seem to prefer learning by viewing or listening, rather than by reading. We can either accept this approach which is somewhat different from many of us older people, or we can risk trying to communicate only on our own terms. I, for one, choose to “die to” my preferred method of communication (writing) and, instead, opt for whatever helps communication with the next generations.
Some of this approach has already begun to be introduced. Perhaps some of you know already know that your humble servant has a website that is entitled tomlegere.com. There you can access a number of recorded lectures that I gave during my previous incarnation as a member of the clergy many years ago. So there is that.
In addition, yours truly has just begun a presence on Youtube on my own “channel” entitled “Tom Legere.”I have uploaded 19 inspirational talks from my days on television, again from the first half of my life of service, serving in a different way than now.
My next venture will be to vocally record all of my 75 blogs as Podcasts. Hopefully, this approach will help us communicate more effectively with younger generations. When the blogs have been vocally recorded (a big job), I then plan, by God’s grace, to record (perhaps visually at that time), my very latest insights. By then, I should be within striking distance of 75 years of age, a “good run” for this time around.
“The Study of the Soul” would truly have not been possible without the technological expertise and support and patience of my niece, Kate Legere. Your Uncle Tom thanks you, Kate! And my final effort to date, the Youtube channel, is completely due to the brilliance of Mark Schultz, who is a wizard with all things technological.
Thank you, thank you to you my loyal readers for journeying with me so far. If we do not meet again physically before we pass on, I hope to see you on the other side, at the “Great Reunion”, before our souls come back again to continue the only work that matters!

Blog # 74: “Religious” Growth

The word “religion” comes from the Latin and means-essentially- “reconnecting.” The idea is that, on one level, we are already fully connected to God. However, our consciousness of that connection is inevitably obscured, to one degree or the other.


Our spiritual journey in life is all about re-establishing our consciousness with God. This journey happens in the following order. The one caveat is that each of these seven steps is like being on the rung of a ladder (Wilber). Clearly, not everyone climbs to the top of the ladder. Frustratingly, we humans can only see reality from the rung of the ladder upon which we are standing. We are convinced that only we see the ultimate truth of things. Let us today take a brief look at each of these steps.


1. Gross– The word “gross” does not imply anything evil. Some folks are, however, caught, trapped in the world of money, sex and power. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.”


2. Literal, archetypal– Since we are wired for something a little more than our gross (again, not evil) appetites, we are “easy pickings”. For the stories that form the basis of our religions of origin. This is the case because all of the stories of the great religions of the world are ultimately true, but not necessarily literally true. On this second rung of the ladder, however, we embrace it all on a literal basis lock, stock and barrel.


3. Rational– As we become educated and as we learn to question things, many of us “write off” all that we have been taught. Angels? Virgin births? A parting of the seas? Miracles? Walking on water? Being raised from the dead? Please. Such beliefs, we conclude, only make sense to children.


4. Allegorical– Having rejected the above “nonsense”, we are still feeling “off center”. Then, perhaps, an awakening! We re-visit the stories from our youth and discover that all that we have been taught is true, just not literally true. This is akin to discovering the wisdom of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, even though we never for a moment think that the tales are meant to be taken literally.


5. Universal– Freed up from the prison of the literal, we can now see universal truth all around us. We appreciate each religion as carrying a piece of the puzzle. We are at home in the rituals of our own and all religions.


6. Integral– Here we seek to go beyond any and all religions. We ask ourselves what are the universal principles, psychological truths and metaphysical realities behind each religion? We may intuit what each religion is trying to say. Strangely, we may now feel that, having rediscovered the real purpose and value and truth of religion (often at great personal cost to ourselves), we no longer feel the need to practice or even belong to our religion or any religion anymore.


7. Unitive– Like Saint Thomas Aquinas, who wrote volumes of theology, and then, having experienced God, put down his pen, we feel that we have been “saved” and “delivered” from blindness, we, like Saint Thomas, are humbly satisfied with the experience of God as “beauty, truth and goodness.”

Next posting: Looking Forward

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 Blog # 73: Well Adjusted?

  A sure way to strike terror in the heart of a parent is to tell him or her that their child is not “well adjusted.” In this country, in particular, we seem to regard “adjustment” as one of our supreme national values. But, as Morton Kelsey points out, what if the group or idea or lifestyle to be conformed to is not healthy? What good is it adjusting oneself to the group if the group is off course?
  It seems to me that making a fetish out of “adjustment” is a sure way to encourage mediocrity. Greatness in any way, shape or form is usually accomplished by people who are a little bit different than the rest of the herd.
  Albert Einstein, as the recent series on television has made clear, was always considered on the fringe of both his profession as well as the norms of society. As an example of the latter, when he went up to receive his Nobel Prize, he wore a nice tuxedo, but he forgot to wear socks or tie his shoes. Was he “well adjusted?”
  When we talk about artists, it is difficult to find a “well adjusted” one among the group. Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Paul Cezanne, James Joyce, Andy Warhol, Edgar Allan Poe, etc. etc., have all been characterized as eccentric or worse. But what an incredible contribution these “maladjusted” individuals have made to our world.
 
  In ways of the Spirit, too, greatness has often been accomplished by people who were considered a bit strange or worse. The saints and mystics, of whatever spiritual tradition, were not usually the type to conform to established ideas and lifestyles. They were the dreamers and visionaries who pursued the inner call no matter what people happened to think of them. 
  Psychologically speaking, it is crucial to separate oneself from the herd and be true to one’s belief. Failure to do so can get us caught in a bind, trying to be true to a belief that no longer, if ever, rings true to one’s experience. Forgive me this rather long quote from Thomas Merton, but I think that it addresses the situation eloquently. Merton says that, “It can easily happen that a person loses his Christian faith as a result of forcing himself to try to accept a view of the Church, or of God, or of life in Christ, which is so distorted that it is practically false. Yet, he may be under the impression that this view of the Church is the right one, since it appears to be the view actually held by most of the Christians with whom he associates.”
  Merton goes on to say, “In such cases, the effort to cling to a deficient and imperfect concept of Christianity not only does no good, but actually contributes more quickly and effectively to loss of faith. What is necessary in such a situation is not force, not self castigation and confused efforts to conform to second-rate Christians, so much as clarification of true perspectives.”
  Sticking with Christianity for the moment, where would it be without Thomas Aquinas, who tried to reconcile reason and theology? Or Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Sienna or Martin Luther who called for an end to corruption within the institutional Church?
 
It should be noted here, however, that non- conformists must pay the price of being misunderstood, ridiculed, and often ostracized from their communities. But certain people, who follow the road less traveled, will never settle for mediocrity and inauthenticity no matter what price they have to pay.
  Finally, just for the record, it should be clear that many “maladjusted” individuals are just “maladjusted” and may never contribute anything noteworthy to the world. But it is to say that greatness of any magnitude is seldom accomplished by what society calls “well adjusted.”
 
Next posting: “Religious Growth”
 
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 Blog # 72: Mysticism and Madness

  To state it bluntly, there is a fine line between mysticism and madness. And it is not always easy to figure out which is which. They are not, however, the same thing at all. Mysticism is healthy for the mind, the body and the soul; madness, obviously, is a shattering experience on every level.
 
This posting will examine both the similarities and the differences between these two states of consciousness. The similarities, frankly, can be quite frightening, since the two seem at first glance to be perilously close to one another. Let us examine the similarities in a rapid fire manner.
 
1. Both are intensely subjective experiences. They are real to the people experiencing them, but there is no way for anyone else to fully appreciate what is taking place.
 
2. There is a deep sense of inner knowing that pervades the experience. No one can convince the person that the experience has not taken place.
3. The experiences are ineffable. There are no words to adequately describe to another what has transpired.
4.There is a sense of loss of ego boundaries.   
5. There is a distortion of sense of time.
6. There are perceptual changes. Both experiences may have people seeing visions, hearing voices, and perhaps hallucinating.
 
7. The experiences can be intensely emotional.
 
8. Ones consciousness is altered, at least for the time being.
 
9. There is always an attempt at the psyche for healing, for that is what the psyche is oriented to do. In mysticism, healing inevitably happens; with madness the process goes awry.
 
Now let us examine some of the crucial differences between mysticism and madness.
 
1. Mysticism humbles the personality; madness expands it toward feelings of grandiosity and omnipotence.
2. The mystic sheds ego-centrism; the mad person never had a stable ego structure to begin with.
3. The mystic is serene; the mad person not so.
4. The mystic welcomes the changes that have been brought about. The psychotic is afraid of meaningful change.
5. The mystic becomes more gentle and loving. The psychotic person may manifest aggressive, paranoid behavior.
6. The mystic is capable of logical thinking, while the psychotic person cannot reason in a normal way.
7. The mystic may, indeed, have visions and hear voices, but the visions and voices are perceived as an intra psychic event. For the psychotic, it is all happening externally.
8. For the mystic, time may be altered, but one is generally aware of sequential time. This is not the case for an individual caught in psychosis.
9. Perhaps the most important difference deals with what happens afterwards. The mystic is filled with love and wishes to serve the world. Psychosis leaves one self-absorbed.
  When one studies the mystics of the world’s religions, one can find plenty of neurotic, maladapted individuals. But neurosis is not the same thing as psychosis. All of us, I guess, are a little bit neurotic about one thing or another. Sanctity can and has co-existed with neurosis. But it is completely incompatible with psychosis.
  Loving and serving God is an intensely humanizing and healthy experience. Sometimes, however, as in the case of the mystic, it may seem to push against the borders of human consciousness. But it always, always leaves the individual-and the world- better off because of the experience. please check your Spam folder. 
 
Next posting: Well Adjusted
 
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  Blog # 71: Apocalypse Now

  The premise of apocalyptic thinking is a very simple one: the belief in an imminent end of the world or its radical transformation.
  Clearly, this kind of thinking was “in the air” during the time of Jesus. Many of his teachings have an apparent apocalyptic tone to them. In fact, scripture scholars today generally agree that the first followers of Jesus expected his imminent return to earth. Of course, since that did not happen in the first generation or two, the early church communities had to adjust their thinking.
  Around the year 1,000, though, there was another outburst of apocalyptic fervor. Certain people were interpreting the Scriptures to indicate that all signs were pointing to the year 1,000 as the day of reckoning.
  People sold their homes and possessions and gathered together in small believing communities so that they would be ready for the “Great Day.” Well, obviously, the year 1,000 came and went and still no Jesus.
  A similar phenomenon happened when the world turned 2,000. Perhaps you remember it. Some fundamentalist communities went through the same drill. Still no Jesus.
  Of course, the above interpretations are all literalistic and fundamentalist. Is there another way to look at what the Second Coming means? Of course.
  All the way back in the 12th century, a mystic by the name of Joachim of Fiore (1145-1202) said that the history of our world could be divided up into three great epochs: the Age of the Law (The Father), the Age of the Gospel (The Son), and the Age of the Spirit (The Holy Spirit).
  The Age of the Law was the time when God was seen as the great lawgiver in the sky. Religions concentrated on laws and prohibitions, telling people what they should or should not do..
  All of that changed with the Age of the Gospel. Here Jesus simplifies all of the laws and precepts in the Great Law of love of God and neighbor. This setting free of humanity, an “apocalyptic” event, represented, according to Joachim, a quantum leap forward in the evolution of humanity.
  We are now, according to Joachim, in the Age of  the Spirit, begun around 1260 A.D. In this final age, people would come to understand that the God that was originally seen as an old man  in the sky, and later focused fully on Jesus of Nazareth, was actually a part of our inmost being. People would gradually awaken to this reality, the church as a structure would disappear because it had done its job, and “Christ” would have come again. A strain of Joachim’s thinking was revived by a group called the Spiritual Franciscans. There is a reference to this group in Umberto Eco’s novel, “The Name of the Rose.”
  The radical insights of Joachim were to reappear in secular thinkers like Lessing (1729-81) with his age of the Eternal Gospel; with Hegel (1770-1831) who called it the age of Absolute Spirit; and with Marx (1818-83) who preached Advanced Communism.
  Looking back on all these latter theories, there seems to be a common strain: we humans continue to evolve, sometimes by fits and starts, and that our going there is part of our destiny on this earth. The Second Coming is a process not from on high but from within.
 
Next posting: Mysticism and Madness
 
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Blog # 70: Spiritual, not Psychic

 There are few things more seductive and misleading than psychic gifts. As worthwhile as such gifts might be, they have nothing inherently to do with spirituality.
  Fundamentalists are often petrified by psychic gifts. This despite the fact that Jesus of Nazareth possessed all of these gifts himself. Jesus was reported to be able to dematerialize (disappearing when the crowd wanted to kill him.) He also could heal, read people’s minds, walk on water and do any of the things that those with special psychic gifts claim that they can do.
  But while Jesus (and others like Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha ) could do these things, we are drawn to these teachers because of their spiritual truths and not because they could do unusual things.
  This is a crucial point: psychic gifts are not the same as spiritual gifts. It is, of course, understandable why some people get confused about this point. Perhaps these individuals have been living their lives on a very base level. Whenever they encounter any level of reality beyond their low level consciousness, they think that this must be what is meant by being spiritual. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.
  Those who get detoured into the level of the psychic have entered an Alice in Wonderland realm of existence. There are sound and light shows and voices and smells and touches and, even, a primitive intuition of cosmic consciousness.
  There is nothing wrong per se with any of these experiences. It is just that, because they are so spectacular, they can be seductive.  People may end up playing around in this land of Oz to their own detriment and get sidetracked from dealing with the real thing: a life of love based on union with God.
  The real saints from all traditions have always been aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the psychic realm. Take Teresa of Avila from the Christian realm, for example. She apparently had all sorts of psychic gifts, including perhaps the most spectacular one of all: the ability to levitate. Her ability to do so is well documented. This is not an allegory of her ability to “rise” to heights of the soul. Scores of witnesses saw her levitate often and publicly. This ability, by the way, has also been claimed by various yogis and other teachers from both East and West.
  One might think that Teresa might see this gift as a proof of the power of God. No, instead, she did everything possible to downplay this occurrence. Why? For two reasons. One was that she was intensely aware that such a gift could be an occasion of personal pride. After all, if one had mixed motives, one could use this ability to become a “star.” But the real reason that Teresa downplayed this gift was that she wisely realized that it had nothing whatsoever to do with one’s spiritual life.
  Being an awakened spiritual being means allowing God to invade one’s being. It means opening ones heart to all creation; it means serving all of God’s creatures, especially those most in need of help.
  There are some spiritual people who have psychic gifts and some who do not. In the end, frankly, it does not matter a whit. When all is said and done, our lives will not be measured by whether or not we have levitated or seen visions or read people’s minds. We are measured by only one standard: whether or not we have had love for one another.
 
Next posting: Apocalypse Now?
 
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Blog #69: The Tin Man

  It takes some of us a long time to figure it out, but the simple truth of the matter is that our sense of self worth ultimately comes only from within. No accomplishment and no human being can give it to us.
  A perfect example of a person living his life trying to please others is the Tin Man from Frank L. Baum’s book, “The Wizard of Oz.” Early in his life, the Tin Man was smitten by a beautiful Munchkin girl that he hoped to marry. He figured that, if he could acquire enough outer trappings in life, he would eventually win her love. And so he begins to acquire what he thinks he needs to make himself desirable.
  While he works at his task, he is cursed by a Wicked Witch, a metaphor for his lack of self worth. As a result of the curse, he accidentally chops off his left leg as he was “chopping away at my best one day…anxious to get the new house and my wife as soon as possible.”
  This should have been his warning signal that he was going about things the wrong way, that his values were askew. But he chose to ignore the message.
  The same thing may be happening when a person gets a heart attack or an ulcer or some other message from within that life is out of balance. Such an occurrence is a golden opportunity to radically reassess our lifestyle and values. But how many of us get the message the first time around? I certainly did not.
  Like the Tin Man, we think our lives can be cured by just making a few minor changes. This is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It never works; indeed, such lateral moves only bring us more suffering.
  But the Tin Man doubles down. He starts cutting off more and more of his body parts. Each body part is then replaced by a piece of tin. He is less and less himself, but continues in his futile self destructive path. In a final symbolic gesture of psychological “splitting”‘ he splits himself in two, dramatizing what happens to us when we cut ourselves off from our souls.
  There is, however, one body part that even the tinsmith cannot replace: his heart. That, at first, does not seem to overly concern the Tin Man. By now, he says, “I lost all my love for the Munchkin girl, and did not care whether I married her or not.” When feelings are repressed for so long, when we spend a lifetime trying to please others, when are a human doing rather than a human being, then eventually we forget entirely the importance of love.
  Now, divorced from feeling, literally a kind of robot, we can fully engage in a life of human achievement. And what a glorious life we fool ourselves into believing that it is! As the Tin Man puts it, “My body shone so brightly in the sun that I felt very proud of it, and it did not matter now if my axe slipped, for it could not cut me.” Our armor is now impermeable!
  Our crash back down to earth will, of course, eventually come. For the Tin Man, ironically, it is the tears of heaven, the rain, that rusts him out, paralyzing him in mid swing. It is almost as if God is crying because the Tin Man and all of us like him have forgotten what being a human being is really all about.
  The key thing, at this point, is to learn from our lessons. Otherwise, the lessons will keep getting harder and harder. Let the final words be those of the Tin Man: “It was a terrible thing to undergo, but during the year that I stood there I had time to think that the greatest loss I had known was the loss of my heart.”
 
Next posting: Spiritual, not Psychic
 
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