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Archive for the ‘Political Psychology’ Category

masks

This year, regardless of political persuasion, we are jolted week to week by seeming reversals of fortune as the tracking polls nationally and in so called battle ground states depict the state of the race. One debate performance by our President that many thought fell flat and the narrative shifts with mind numbing speed. In fact, it is a function of numbness, a consequence of being too easily persuaded by superficial matters. We are, regrettably, an ahistorical society and largely an anti-intellectual one. This renders our democracy fragile .

Given stressful economic circumstances, fear makes a fool of the majority and accords too much authority to extreme, hyper-emotional views. It becomes susceptible to deceit, manipulation, negative ads, and rhetoric.

What is the connection between political sentiments and living the spiritual life?

In a word ” authenticity,” along with rational discourse and clear thinking. Much is being said about the importance of the ” independents” this year. My question is simply this: how independent are they really when only rhetorical shifts apparently lead to sentiment 180 degrees from reaction to an earlier rhetorical flourish?

A spiritual life is a commitment to the pursuit of what is real. It is an investment in being who we really are with others who we similarly encourage to be themselves. It is a life beyond masks and a love of genuine service to humanity. The marks of spiritual living are communion, not divisiveness, clear speech, not obfuscation, and dialogue that aims to explore mystery and dig deeper beyond the surface  appearances.

Over the last week in the U.S., I have been struck by the incessant chasing after poll numbers and the feeding frenzy around every little event that defines the narrative on the airways. I have come to believe that it is spiritually healthy to avoid the pundits entirely, though the status of the Presidential race is of keen interest to me, and focus on the issues that really matter, real track record and behavior, and approach political choices with spirituality and ultimate meaning kept firmly in mind.

It is too easy to over- compartmentalize our lives: to think “spiritual things” in the time set apart for it while concentrating on tasks and other matters separately.

The real meaning of integrity is that our spirituality is manifest in our thinking, our actions, the choices we make and the words we speak. It is a profound unity ( or at least, it should be). The degree to which this is not the case is diagnostic of the path we need to travel to reach that state of coherent being in the world. Such lived integrity is the example of the true avatars, prophets, soters and saints.

It is the heart of the Call.

© The Harried Mystic, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Spiritual practice aims to awaken us, to see ourselves with clarity and to pursue the truth. Right living is more than prayer and meditation, attendance at religious services, and blind fidelity to corporate beliefs. Critical thinking is essential. Our faith must grapple with doubt and all our beliefs should be tested and examined. As Socrates would have it: “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

So, anything that would call for suspension of critical thinking is predicated on the superiority of ignorance and spiritual blindness over the quest for knowledge. Such attempts at suppression of reason are also extremely dangerous.

History shows that a campaign to control thought is too often a strategy of those motivated to protect their own power from challenge. This was the case in Hitler’s Germany, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Stalin’s Russia, Mubarek’s Egypt, Assad’s Syria, Gaddafi’s Libya and many other examples can be included. With lesser lethality but no less manipulative intent was this Nation’s communist witch hunt during the Macarthy era. Tragically, we can also add the recent Inquisition ordered by Pope Benedict to chastise wayward nuns for deviating from the principle that only men should have Priestly vocation in the Church. In each instance, rhetoric, sloganeering, propagandistic machinery and corporate sanctions aim to trump critical thinking and reasoning.

Enter the 2012 platform of the Texas Republican Party and it’s plank on educating our children:

” Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority. ”

In other words, children should be required to think in pre- determined ways. They should not examine assumptions but accept what their authorities tell them to think. This is nothing new but is an anti- intellectualism that seeks a society of sheep who are made thereby more tractable and manageable by their elected shepherds.

We need to keep this trend in our sights. It is a gathering darkness. Already, we are a Nation in which the majority fails to vote which increases the odds of extremists populating the halls of Congress and becoming majorities in our State houses. In a survey published this morning, 41 % of the U.S citizenry don’t know that the Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act.

It is an act of critical practical spirituality to help others to awaken and unplug from the “matrix”. It is an act of evil to work deliberately and systematically to keep people ignorant and to maintain the illusions that render them pliable.

Let us awaken and see clearly and inspire others to do the same. In the name of God and goodness, let us educate our children to challenge, test and think for themselves.

© The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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We have all heard the phrase, ” a thirst for knowledge,” and many people are motivated by a need to discover, understand and reveal the essence of experience and phenomena. These are the people who take seriously the Socratic admonition to  “know thyself,” and embody the idea that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

The times in which we live are times of great contrast. The United States electorate is acutely divided, and we see, once again, the perennial visage of culture, race and class warfare in the exchange of emotional and unthinking rhetoric.

What I see is a rising thirst for ignorance. Orthodoxies appear on the rise, and liberal philosophies in all arenas are ridiculed and demonized. When the appetite for “heresy” declines one should be watchful for the erosion of liberty, critical thinking, and genuine insight into issues. At a recent dinner, I was part of a cordial conversation among friends and associates about this political moment in America. At one point, I was labeled by a colleague, only half in jest, as a liberal elitist. Why? The label was meant to sweep into a neat category my love of scholarship, incisive dialogue, taking nothing at face value, and seeing all orthodoxy as worthy of inspection. Ok, then, no problem. I am a card-carrying liberal elitist and proud of it. Dismiss me if you please.

In our current times, it is both easier and increasingly well-regarded to cling to the formulae fed to us by those who affix dismissive labels as their way of coping with what they fail to understand and have little energy to genuinely explore. It is easier to buy into a platform of ideological character. It gives one a sense of solidity when so much that swirls around us is uncertain and complex.

I, for one, love uncertainty. Doubt and the challenge of all assumptions is “philosophy,” the love of wisdom. I am absolutely certain that nothing is absolutely certain! I know that what I know is fact until new evidence reveals that it isn’t. Ideology is “window dressing” and icing for the mind. It entices. It draws you inside to look things over and encourages you to buy or partake. However, as so many things that are adorned with icing, the repast is likely one of many empty calories!

  • A few snowstorms where they aren’t typical and where the snowfall breaks records after many years, and many, including ostensibly intelligent legislators, are declaring the folly of “global warming.”
  • After decades of strong evidence of the veracity of Darwinian evolution and evolutionary developmental biological science, a good number have chosen to reject it for a more fundamentalist theology, and insist that this alternative be taught along with the science.
  • The facts around the necessity for government stimulus and spending in these recessionary times is denigrated as an example of out of control tax and spend big government.

Heretics and individualists are no fun. Their incessant challenge gives one a headache. They seem like they are not team players. They “move to the beat of a different drummer.” They are “not like the rest of us.” The Matrix movies were a testament to the will of many to stay deluded and comforted by machine generated, or, by analogy, party-generated or state-generated fantasy.

The price of the pursuit of knowledge is to place oneself in harm’s way. The deaths of Socrates, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Anwar Sadat and Jesus of Nazareth represent a dynamic that is as real and potent today as it has ever been. Salman Rushdie was under the threat of a Fatwah for his novel. Cartoonists have been threatened for offending orthodox beliefs. A demonizing and fear-mongering minority is actually succeeding in flipping the balance of power in the United States just over a year after the election of a President with a decade’s worth of serious challenges to address and a recalcitrant opposition hell-bent on denying him any meaningful legislation.

The appetite for ignorance always seems to overwhelm the true thirst for knowledge. Higher education in the U.S. often needs to be camouflaged lest one be labeled and set aside as an “elitist” or “academic”. Just look at out national values by comparing the very small percentage of the Federal budget set aside for education compared to what is allocated for defense and the story is told.

We do well to step back and reflect on our estate. How much have we bought into a ready-made set of comfortable mythologies and how alive do we want to be? Is freedom a value or a catch phrase that is nullified by a deeper need to be told what to believe, how to live, what to wear, how to talk, and what it means to be succesful?

It is our’s to choose:  Ignorance or knowledge. This is not only an imperative of citizenship and mind, but is a critical aspect of the depth and breadth of our spirituality. One cannot separate these from one another. They are inter-dependent parts of one true Self.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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The recent attempt of a misguided young man from Nigeria to set off a bomb on a flight to Detroit has the Nation once again on edge. While the attempt was thankfully foiled, and the matter of poor co-ordination of intelligence has become the current political football, I find myself thinking more about the psycho-spiritual aim of the terrorist organizations and our own spiritual estate.

Terrorists are, as the name clearly suggests, merchants of fear. An even casual look at probabilities, and one discovers quickly that we are each far more likely to be injured driving, and our greater threats include drunk drivers, and, of course, those who insist on talking on cell phones, or worse, texting, while behind the wheel. Undeniably, our Government needs to improve the intelligence system and also work with other nations to create a more reliable set of checks.

However, the central motivation of the terrorist is to engender fear and the great cost we incur in chasing after the holes in our security that need plugging after each new means they devise to thwart our systems. The media hype and the attention it gives to the madmen perpetrating these crimes against humanity only reinforce their nefarious resolve.

They only need an attempted bombing, not a successful one, and they are guaranteed weeks of press. In an election year especially, the minority party will, and has already, begun to call for congressional hearings, issuing daily diatribes against the current White House. Guaranteed, the issue will remain center stage for a long while. In this scenario, the terrorist is rewarded.

Even a failed attempt clearly pays dividends if it generates fear ( and one need only listen to the airwaves for just a few minutes to see the extent to which that has already occurred). Whatever intelligence and security policies and apparatus get implemented, and however the risks are thereby mitigated, the greater question, for each of us, is what we will choose in how terrorism affects us.

The President’s speech today included a crucial reminder that we give evil a great victory if we “hunker down” and submit to fear. Fear creates hatred and that leads to the commission of evil to counter evil (like torture), and that is a terrible and deeply costly Faustian bargain.

As a society, this moment is a call to reassert a sense of our collective spiritual resolve, resilience, and character. It is not a time in which to devolve into angry men and women packing pistols and looking for blood.

I recall FDR’s magnificent statement after the bombing of Pearl Harbor:

The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.

So, tonight, inspired by the events of the day today, I am meditating on the matter of fear and the spiritual significance of it. The antidote, as defined by the world’s great Teachers is clear: love, compassion, and imperturbability.

How is that achieved? Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author of many wonderful books, including, Peace in Every Step,  captures the challenge and the way forward eloquently:

In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate, so we will rally behind them. And if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilize us.

And once we have the condition of peace and joy in us, we can afford to be in any situation. Even in the situation of hell, we will be able to contribute our peace and serenity. The most important thing is for each of us to have some freedom in our heart.

The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the physical, material, and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves “inside the skin” of the other.  We “go inside” their body, feelings, and mental formations, and witness for ourselves their suffering.  Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering.  We must become one with the subject of our observation.  When we are in contact with another’s suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally, “to suffer with.”

This gentle and enlightened soul describes the illness and the medicine. First, what we fear is often the result of manipulation by those who would want to win political points, or fulfill a power agenda, by using fear to make it seem that our choices are binary: do what they are suggesting, or suffer more terror. That’s something we are hearing today from certain right-wing quarters.

The terrorists use fear to disrupt our lives, create distraction, and the anxious sense that we can go nowhere without dread. People are too often seduced into relinquishing their highest ideals and values in the name of safety in such circumstances. Deceitful power brokers exploit this fear.

The medicine is to turn off the endless chatter of doom and gloom. We need to return to the breathe, just sit and listen, and really see. The path to compassion is deep understanding. There is no way to understand what’s really happening, and the ways in which people who feel hatred toward us are themselves suffering, if we fear them.

We need to step back. Let the heart slow its rapid “flight-or-fight” beating, re-center ourselves, and activate the greatest weapon we have in our arsenal to defeat the princes of darkness:

Thinking & Knowing!

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Illustration by Dan May

As an ordained Bishop, the color of my ecclesiastical vestments is violet, or so-called episcopal purple. This is also the proper color to apply to all U.S. states and Congresspersons at so serious a time in our Nation’s history.

In political parlance and symbolism, purple is the blending of the so-called Democratic blue and Republican red. Over the last year, there has been a complete breakdown of dialogue in Congress, and exchanges  have been dominated by partisan rhetoric. Authentic dialogue would be signified by a purple disposition, suggesting dedication to preserving common ground and serving a greater good. Doing so is as much the work of mature citizenship at a time of ongoing global and National urgency as it is spiritual practice.

As a political independent, a politically purple creature, joining the swelling ranks of purple critters, I am free to make hybrid choices in elections without running afoul of either organized political party.  Of course, once in the voting booth, I can do whatever I want in any event,  but acting independently while claiming to be a member of either party would be intellectually dishonest. Involvement with the body politic is an important part of engaged spirituality. To sit on the sidelines of history is both too easy and too comfortable. Without active engagement with the issues of our day, spirituality remains an abstract and solipsistic exercise.

I confess to being something of a political junky, taking in as much of the news of the day as I can stomach, until the theater becomes too noisy or absurd. The spiritual discipline in all of this revolves around right thought and right speech. It is easy to listen to points of view with which one agrees. It’s another thing altogether to listen when in passionate disagreement. Cultivating the capacity to do so is a  matter of spiritual importance and is the true test of one’s capacity to genuinely listen, learn,  and appreciate diverse viewpoints.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

By contrast to the enlightened definition of intelligence offered by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the above quote, the political rhetoric in Washington lacks the maturity, collegiality, and insightfulness that our times demand. While both sides of the political aisle have contributed to this disappointing state of public affairs,  the Republican minority, fully commanded by the more extreme right, has injected the harshest, most unseemly, and destructive poison. The agenda on the “Right” takes the form of  ad hominem attacks, innuendo, fear mongering, and hate speech. This loud minority has the dubious distinction of having mastered the arts of pitching inflammatory talking points, demagoguery, deception, and distraction.

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