Enlightenment Aint a Blog
“If I am not for myself,” wrote the ancient Jewish Rabbi, Hillel, “who then will be for me? But if I am for myself alone, what then am I?”
In Hillel’s ancient question lies the political paradox of our time. This is one of the lessons of the recent election. The drive of the political left, the Democrats, has been, let’s be for more than ourselves alone. Let us not be for just ourselves, but let us welcome the stranger, the Syrian immigrant, the Hispanic immigrant. Let us watch out for the downtrodden and people who have been ignored by the system. Let us open our borders to refugees and people from countries having a civil war and who are starving. Let us open our arms to people who we wounded generations ago, the Native Americans, the African Americans we enslaved two centuries ago, and more.
Even the idea of political correctness, which earned such vitriol from our conservative, Republican, countrymen and women, is a way to express that we should protect the feelings of others, and not be for ourselves alone. All these drives and impulses are driven by the effort to not be for ourselves alone but to open up our arms and minds for a broader and broader swath of humanity. What drives the left, drives the democrats, is a beautiful and noble impulse. And I celebrate it.
It has helped us create a multicultural, open minded and and multicolored society, which has brought an enormous strength and dynamism to our civilization, cities and nation.
But in this urge the left and the Democratic Party have largely ignored the other side of the paradox. Who then will be for me? Who will be for the people of the farms and in the small town? Who will be for those of us that who have been in this country for generations?
If a culture opens its arms to “the other” endlessly, it is in danger of losing what has made it what it is. It is in danger of sacrificing something of the culture and the people that have made it so. American culture, vague though it may be, may be damaged if not lost if we open our arms endlessly. We need to protect the us that we have been, even as we open our arms to each other. The election has shown that that there is a limit to the endless stretching out of our welcome mat. Open borders have a cost. Welcoming, welcoming, welcoming has a cost, both in treasure and in time. As we think about welcoming we need also to think about revivifying the lives of people that have been here for generations.
This is not to say that I believe that the right answer is putting up some wall or closing our borders. Trade wars will not recover the jobs lost in Michigan or in Ohio to computers and robots in factories. It is a mistake to think that immigration has caused the problems in areas when the real issue is technology. But it is not a mistake to think that endless international trade and immigration will not have an effect on the folks in the rust belt who have lost jobs. Democrats need to communicate that they care about folks who have been here as well as folks who are just coming into their power. The new Democratic party needs to show that they are for all of us, care about people who have been working hard, paying their taxes, living decent lives and struggling. Democrats need to show that they, we, are for all the folks who make up this amazing country, even as we think about being not for ourselves alone. We need to protect and be for all our people, and for our culture, whatever and indefinable as it is. We need to stand for American values, and protect them, as well as protect the newcomer.
The so-called “values” voters focus on sexual behavior, which is a very narrow way to think about American values. But they are not wrong to think that there are values of our culture that we need to respect and to cherish. My Republican friends name values like hard work and keeping your word. If we tell ourselves the real truth, these values may be challenged when people look to a “Welfare State” for their assurance. The values of honesty, hard work and keeping your word have been challenged too much. There are other values that have made this country great besides “Be for the other.”
The election was a wake up call that we have gone as a nation and a body politic toward one side of Hillel’s paradox. We need to attend to both. We need to be for us, for the feelings and needs of those who have been here and struggled to live up to the values of our beloved culture.And we also need to attend to the feelings and needs of the downtrodden, of the stranger, of the immigrant… of the other. And Democrats need a vision that includes both sides of Hillel’s Paradox.
Robert K.C. Forman, Ph.D. is a retired Associate Professor of comparative religions at the City University of New York, Executive Director of The Forge Institute for Spirituality and Social Change, and author of 11 books, the most recent being Enlightenment Ain’t What It’s Cracked Up to Be. He is currently serving as a hospital chaplain.
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responds to a need we have
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We can develop enlightenment, why not enlightened relationships?
In answer we've developed the SoulJazz program. It's designed to help folks listen into the depths, and learn the secret to making deeper, more intimate contact. Folks who have taken the program have told us that even though a webinar, SoulJazz gives them know-how and tools to make the kind of contact they wanted.
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I tend to use these columns to reflect on the life of growth and the development of spirit. But today I want to reflect on this horrific event in Conneticut.
Ross Duthat reflected in the NY Times that there is evil in the world and that no town is immune from it. He writes of the loss of innocence and the existence of violence, cruelty and meaningless attacks. Fair enough. He's hinting at the common NRA and Republican trope: guns don't kill people, people — crazy, mad, evil people — kill people.
What he didn't mention, what this Republican trope tries to ignore, is that guns don't kill people, but they sure as hell help.
About a month ago, a crazy, mad, evil man went the kind of bezerk that led Adam Lanza to stage this week's attack in Newtown, Connecticut.
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I’ve been gone awhile. Been out on the road. Book talks, seminars, travels. I’ve learned a couple of things, being a roadie.
First, take a hobby. Book talks happen in the evenings. You get a lot of down time in the days. I was glad to have my guitar and some practice tapes.
Second, food on the road is, at best, digestively unpredictable. Take, ahem, aides for the large colon.
Third, speak as much truth as you are able. The more I could drop into the real and invite others there, the better were the talks. People know it when you speak of what is really so, and a kind of intimacy comes over an audience when you do. For me, it generally concerned how our fantasies – my own fantasies – get in the way of living a fully present life. Or what it means to be spiritual today. Or the ambiguity of my commitment to meditation, and what it is to be on a spiritual path. The more I could descend into what is really at issue, where I actually stand in my own way, where my dreams block my path, the more people were with me.
Though I dropped deeper into my soul when I gave such talks, it wasn’t just me. …
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I'm in London this week and around it next, giving a series of book talks and interviews about Enlightenment Ain't. I've only been here a couple of days, but find myself struck with the energy of the place, and its multi-culturalism. Its almost odd to hear British English being spoken, its so rare, but maybe that's because i ride the tubes and the busses.
There’s a healthy liveliness in the city that you’d like. I suppose I have to admit I find it somewhat exciting, mostly because it seems energetic.
I stumbled across a huge Buddha pagoda here…
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In part to celebrate my recovery from the heart attack, I took a few days off last week to hike the Appalacian Trail. It is such a joy to have a body that works again! I had no idea how much I had slowed down!
Aside from the “Hey there’s”, on my hike I had only about half a dozen conversations. Most are of the “have you been to such and such a mountain” or the “how can you tell the turnoff to the …” variety.
Except for one. When a thirty something overtook me, he asked me how long I’d been out. “I'm on my second day." I told him. "I hike for an hour or two, then I write, then hike another hour or so,” I said happily. I was enjoying the rhythm I'd discovered.
“Oh, what are you writing?” he asked.
“Ruminations, mostly. Like a journal. Mostly I find myself thinking about how to bring something of the depths of life into the everyday.”
He focused in on me with a nearly imperceptable shudder, recognizing, I think, that I had just offered out something real, like a gift. With a querulous smile, he looked me in the eye.
“Now, how do you do that?”
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About a third or more of people who have bypass surgery, I've heard, struggle with depression. About 5 weeks after having that heart bypass operation, it hit me. Yup, I've become a proud member of that lucky third!
Now, I am something of an expert on depression, having been clinically depressed for about 3 years in college, and having come out of it, I like to think, wiser. Depression was easily one of my greatest teachers: I discovered then that I wasn't who I thought I was, and from it came the life long challenge to live in deeper integrity.
So a bout of depression after this operation? Ach, old hat! All I need to do is ask, what am I not owning up to in myself? Piece o' cake!
Hardly!! But I could sense that the question haunting me was, do I want to get back into my old life now? I think part of an answer hit me last night; so this epiphany is a day old: I've been thinking about my life all wrong!
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As you have probably noticed, I have been offline for about a month now. In case you haven't heard, I had a heart attack and a quadruple bypass operation. I know it's a shoddy reason for being offline, but hey, its the only one I've got!
Thank you to all the folks that have sent support, love, concern, prayers, cards and flowers. It makes a difference, it really does, on the spirits and healing process. I feel well cared for, well loved. And perhaps as a result, my healing has been reasonably quick and easy.
Many have asked me about insights or reactions from a brush with death. I'm afraid I don't have anything brilliant to tell you.
But I have have one suggestive insight from that nearly-other-side…
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Today is the 40 year anniversary of the final zlooping of those strange tubes in the back of my head.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, read the book! (Sorry, a too-easy plug, eh?)
It's a wierd thing to celebrate, I must say, but a bookstore in England asked me for anniversary dates, and came up with this one. Does one sing happy anniversary to silence … in silence? Candles maybe: "true light to true light" as the Nicean creed has it?
What it does get me thinking about though is the effect of something like this. What it was was the beginning of a life.
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Merry Christmas. Though I'm not a Christian, I love the holiday. I see it as the celebration of the possibility of the birth of the infinite in us. So that we have the capacity to become "fully God and fully Man" as the Nicean creed has it. It is in that spirit I say, hey, have a wonderful Christmas!
You may have heard me say, either in talks, radio shows or in print, that the key to building a life with the same openness that comes with spiritual depth, is by living with deep and searching truth. Not the truth about someone else, but about us, who we are what we're doing, where we struggle and discover.
Truth telling is the key to building a life of deep authenticity and connection — with self and others.
You may have also ve heard me say that we teach people how to do this in the Soul Jazz program. Well, the long wait is finally over. We're now opening enrollment for the first ever public Soul Jazz weekend.
Have you contacted a deeper reality, sometimes found the infinite? Learn to weave it into your everyday life, at home and at work.
This is the real challenge of the spiritual life, isn't it?
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