The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
January 2009 -- Vol. 11 Issue 11
Where I live it looks to be a challenging year ahead: the independent grocery near my house is shutting, businesses downtown are laying people off, job listings for recent graduates have fallen to almost nothing. As the trickle-down from bad policy and personal decisions becomes a flood, it’s good to remind ourselves that we are one human family and that each of us has something important to contribute to the whole, wherever we may be and whatever our circumstances.
I’ve been reading the short essays in This I Believe II, sponsored by National Public Radio. Sharing the honest, thoughtful reflections of a wide variety of people helps keep life in perspective. One idea that struck me was voiced by Sister Helen Prejean: “I watch what I do to see what I really believe” (p. 185). Certainly our acts embody our convictions much more than do the words or ideals we profess. It is worth reflecting on what our day-to-day actions and the overall shape of our lives say about what is important to us, what we believe in enough to make it real. The same holds for groups and organizations, businesses and governments. It’s easy to be distracted by words and images, but let’s examine what we’re doing collectively. What do these actions – the way our families, businesses, and society are constituted and function – say about our actual motives and beliefs?
Thankfully, even long-held beliefs can change. But first we need to become aware that our beliefs need an overhaul. Most of us suffer from a form of self-hypnosis that renders us unaware, particularly of what we’d rather not know. That’s one advantage of harder times: we get used to running into hard realities. It’s as if life snaps its fingers and we are released from a trance, whether we’ve put ourselves under or let others mesmerize us with denial, fear, greed, or good intentions. Blame isn’t useful, though perhaps accountability is; but pulling together with others while pulling ourselves together allows us to make a real difference in human life.
Sometimes we need to admit that what we’ve accepted or relied on isn’t working. Perhaps our world view just needs to be tweaked, but once in a while we may discover that fundamental convictions now seem misguided or not what we thought they were. This can be very uncomfortable. Like gravity, our beliefs and opinions seem to hold our world together, keeping everything from flying apart into chaos. Without them we experience internal zero-gravity at first, floating about clumsily. We’re back to square one in some area – which isn’t always a bad place to be.
The unknown permeates our lives. As another essayist, Father Richard Rohr, writes: “It’s people who don’t know who pretend that they do. People who’ve had any genuine spiritual experience always know that they don’t know. They are utterly humbled before mystery. They are in awe before the abyss of it all, in wonder at eternity and depth, and a Love, which is incomprehensible to the mind” (p. 193).
It takes confidence to acknowledge that our beliefs are mostly opinions, their roots all too often not very thoroughly or dispassionately examined, and that even experience represents only our limited perception and interpretation of it. To admit we don’t know is to admit we’re not in complete control. But as the ancient Stoics taught, even at the best of times we can control only ourselves and our reactions, never others or our circumstances. Fortunately for us, happiness rests almost entirely on our reactions to life, not on anyone or anything outside of us. – Sally Dougherty
This month "The Mysteries of Birth” is our subject. We will be discussing such questions as: Where do we come from? What is the origin of all things? How much can we really know about the beginning of the universe, earth, or ourselves? Is birth the beginning of life, or one point on a continuum of life? Do we exist before conception? What do religions mean by being “born again” or “twice born”? How does the process of conception, gestation, birth, maturity, and death apply to the many types of creativity and transformation in our lives? How can we bring our potentials to birth more fully? Come and share your ideas!!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
These subjects are currently being considered for the Monthly Discussion group. As always, those who have a particular topic they would like to have featured are encouraged to contact us.
February 12: What Is Inspiration?
March: Solstices and Equinoxes
April: How Are We Connected?
Think not that life and death are opposites, but that birth and death simply are, with life the continuum that spans both. Life, for all practical purposes, does not ever end. It continues on, though we may not recognize it or recall it specifically between different times or phases. What we call birth is the movement of life into a different phase. Death too is birth into a different phase, but from our earth-bound perspective we view it as a leaving of this phase of life, and so term it a passing. Religious connotations have done much to both enlighten and obscure the reality of the before-birth or after-death phase or state. Many crystallized teachings have made birth and death seem like a starting point and an ending point for any meaningful existence, and this one earth-life the point of it all. While I agree that this one life should be lived in each moment – each moment being the sum of the past and the determinant of the future – I believe that meaningful existence is in each moment no matter on which side of birth or death it occurs. To me, we are spiritual beings who temporarily inhabit this material world to learn the lessons it has to offer, so that in the course of our epic spiritual voyage we experience all of life, all that the universe has to offer.
We are not the only creatures that are born. In fact, we are not the only ‘things’ that are born. Every creature (whether organic or non-organic) is born, though perhaps not in the manner of being ‘birthed’ in a physical mammalian sense. We all are spiritual beings enwrapped in interpenetrating layers of physicality, until we become what we see around us. We gather these vehicles in order to experience the world around us, to ‘step down’ our spirituality to a point where we can interact with this world. Our limitation is that we usually think the forms we see around us are the entities themselves, rather than just the vehicle for the entity which uses them to experience life in this condition.
Other things are also ‘born.’ Thoughts, ideas, concepts, emotions, feelings, all these and more like them are born unto ourselves and become uniquely ours. These passions or conditions usually end up having a life of their own, living within us for periods of time and then having a natural death, passing into another phase of their own lives. I would submit that every thing we can conceive of in this vast universe has its life, with a multitude of births and deaths on its pathway to becoming. In this particular phase we may refer to our re-birthing as re-incarnation, ‘coming again into flesh.’ Re-imbodiment might be a more general term for everything (which may not have a body of flesh). We reimbody in order to continue our quest for knowledge and wisdom – to learn the lessons of life, inculcating them into our very being.
They say there is no birth without pain, yet many stories of great teachers speak of their ‘virgin’ mothers giving birth without pain. I think that pain associated with birth exhibits the force of the creative process in bringing to life a new thing, a new idea, or a new personality. The lack of pain might show a harmony with nature on a higher wavelength, where things flow more freely between states.
We recognize our human evolutionary journey through embryonic recapitulation. Through the development of the human embryo we can trace its evolutionary history through its various manifestations. We see the mineral, the plant, and the various animal states that we as humans have moved through in our progress to this human stage. Many more are the levels we will move through over eons of time to reach where we started, but with knowledge of our journey and the myriad conditions the universe has to offer. We always move from where we are, never knowing our next step until it reveals itself. Our unique past is wrapped within us, as is our future in each moment.
Every moment is a birth, where a new start, a fresh outlook is possible. Our consciousness is our guide, revealing where we are in reality centered. It finds its way among the countless avenues of expression to that which will become ours – that which will move through us and be colored by us on its journey to becoming. In our essence we are interpenetrating forces rubbing against each other and learning to move in sympathetic vibration towards universal harmony, the distillation of life through its many births and deaths.
Birth then is not so much a mystery as a portal into the next phase of our existence. It presages our movement through a series of life experiences which make us what we are and bring us to the point we now inhabit as humans on this planet. The choice is always ours to make: which way to go – which path to choose – which thought to think.