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08/21/2006 Archived Entry: "Musings on cosmic ripples"

THINKING ABOUT RIPPLES. Some of my Catholic playmates when I was a kid had this notion drummed into them that each time they "sinned" (e.g. disobeyed their parents), they hurt God's feelings. The poor helpless guy just felt wounded at their savage little betrayals.

This always struck me as a bizarre notion. Coming from the hillbilly-Protestant tradition, I had a contrary impression: God was rubbing his hands together with glee every time I sinned (e.g. disobeyed my ...). He was up there grinning and going, "I'm gonna git ya, ya l'il brat. I'm gonna pound ya flatter'n a pancake, stomp up and down on ya with hobnail boots, and then have demons poke ya'll with porcupine pitchforks while yer boilin' in hot oil. It's gonna be some serious FUN for a Sattidy night!"

(Well, okay, maybe the All-Merciful God Himself didn't talk in that sort of language, but certainly his representatives here on Earth did -- and enjoyed themselves tremendously.)

The Catholic god was still going to do all those same unpleasantly over-the-top things as the hillbilly-fundie god. He was just going to snivel first about how he didn't want to but you "made" him do it and how "this hurts me more than it hurts you."

I'm mind-boggled now that some grown-up people actually believe such trash (rather than merely using it to manipulate helpless children). Yet I know how potently scary childhood threats can stick with even a non-believer. I adapted for years by telling myself that if there really is such a God, then it doesn't matter whether I say the right mumbo-jumbo, go to confession, talk in tongues, or thump my bible hither and thither; the bastard's gonna get me one way or another, so I might as well go to hell in style.

It's embarrassing. But there it is.

This afternoon I'm sitting in some very fall-feeling sunshine reading Thoreau's Letters to a Spiritual Seeker (with thanks to Mystery Woman for the recommendation). Thoreau mentioned something seemingly unrelated, but it got me remembering those childhood viewpoints. He said:

When in the progress of a life, a man swerves, though only by an angle infinitely small ... then the drama of his life turns to tragedy and makes haste to its fifth act. When once we thus fall behind ourselves, there is no accounting for the obstacles which rise up in our path, and no one is as wise as to advise, and no one so powerful as to aid us while we abide on that ground.

Thoreau is talking about an individual's own spiritual path. But I'm feeling light bouncing off his statement in several directions.

One is that when we "sin" -- by being, in some way, less than our best selves -- we don't "hurt God's feelings" or course. Or "make God mad." But we do create disturbances that ripple out from us in malign ways. If we take the easy way out of a moral dilemma, we send a message to all the world that it's okay to behave that way ("Everybody else does it ..."). If we steal, we create entire chains of anger, fear, retribution, and government around us. Even our pettiest failures of integrity create little lumps and bumps in the cookie batter of the universe.

So maybe those threats to Catholic and hillbilly-Christian children -- and those deliciously scary images from Dante of the political and social elite being flayed alive and dipped in boiling oil -- have some truth to them after all. If "god" can in any sense be said to be the flowing psychic and creative energy of the universe, then indeed we do disturb it with our misdeeds.

But then, who can maintain perfection 24 hours a day? Yikes. And those who strive the hardest for impossible perfection are among some of the nastiest, not best, of human beings.

Better a laid-back cannabis smoker naked in a hammock with a Playmate of the Month than a Torquemada.

The second reflection is closer to what Thoreau was probably getting at. He doesn't distinguish between a man who merely stumbles off his path momentarily then gets back on it and a man who departs at some small angle and keeps going in that erroneous direction. But it's a huge distinction.

The pot smoker in the hammock with the Playmate might tomorrow be the pot smoker who is a great musician or visionary. While the person who adds meth and heroin to the pot likely wanders into rocky realms and risks being lost forever.

But that example is too drastic. What about the person whose true path would have led to being a great artist, but who deviated to become a lawyer at his father's insistance? Or the person with a talent for machinery who instead was pushed into a grueling academic course that taught him that all learning was a misery to be avoided? Or the woman who was meant to write novels but who was always told "be practical and become a tech writer instead"?

Deviations from your path can be spiritual, vocational, emotional, intellectual -- but deviations in any area end up similar results: They put more lumps in the cosmic cookie dough. And those lumps aren't walnuts or chocolate chips.

That is, our deviations don't merely affect us. But by making us less happy and less right with our Way, more inclined to be waspish, hostile, angry, fed-up, cynical, envious, sneaky, and morally weary, they create disturbances that go beyond us.

The trick is recognizing deviations as soon as possible and getting back to the real path. Which can be complicated.

Sometimes you turn from a certain path and discover that the new path is truer than the old. Maybe you turn out to be a natural-born lawyer and you realize you'd only have been a half-assed artist. Maybe that academic program you get pushed into makes you realize you're smarter than you thought. Maybe you like being a tech writer more than ... now, not possible. But you get the idea.

And of course often you may spot new openings ahead of you, go through, and discover that your path is much more wondrous and higher than you imagined.

But the thing is that we all, if we're paying attention, know when we're walking our right paths. You can feel the rightness. There's a spiritual ease even when our circumstances or our work is hard. And the more we walk our right path, the less likely we are to create those eddying disturbances that affect others and in turn prompt them to create disturbances. The more we're likely to surround ourselves with health, harmony, and quiet strength, and to enable health and harmony and quiet strength for others.

And the more spiritually satisfied (not self-satisfied but filled with genuine life satisfaction) we become, the more self-governing we become. And the more self-governing we become, and the more we're able to deal with one another in peace, the less excuse there will be for coercive government.

Posted by Claire @ 08:20 AM CST

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