Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Politics and non-attachment

One of my favorite teachings from the Buddhist tradition is that of "non-attachment." As I understand it, part of this teaching is that we should never cling to any idea or belief so strongly that it prevents us from having compassion for someone.

In this season of political attack ads and polarization, this notion strikes me as both radical and profoundly human. It is so easy to demonize those with whom we disagree, to write off their beliefs and ideas, to hold onto our worldview as if it were the best or only way to approach truth, goodness, or beauty.

Yet God did not command us to develop a coherent system of thought that is correct above all others. God commanded us to love, to show compassion, to have mercy, to work for justice. To realize, perhaps that God's truth is beyond any and all truths we might imagine, that we best approach God's plan by being open to new ideas, new perspectives. Or perhaps that ideas themselves are not so important as the capacity for simple kindness and respect.

I pray that our political leaders may strive for such an approach. I pray that I will as well, however much I may complain about the Republicans. =)

Friday, October 27, 2006


In yesterday's local paper here there was this article about a woman who follows Wiccan practices. Not too surprising, right? It's Halloween coming up, after all. But then there was a side article, interviewing a local Catholic priest. Mind you, this is man I have personally met with and have a great deal of respect for. Which was why it really bothered me when, during the course of the interview, following the Wiccan faith was referred to as being in a state of "mortal sin" as some great, dangerous temptation away from Christianity.

I just have to ask, have we Christians really learned so little from our own history? Have we remained so ignorant, so small, so petty? Must we continue to defend the uniqueness and specialness of our own faith tradition by denigrating those of others? Must we pretend we have all the answers about God, that no other approach to the divine has validity?

I am, to choose a word carefully, frustrated.

Here's how I see it. God, we are told, is the source of all that is good in the world. We are also told that "by their fruits you shall know them": that is, you can know whether an idea or tradition is good by the effect that it has on its adherents. As such, it follows that all traditions which create compassion, goodness, or holiness come from the Divine Mystery which we refer to as God. Doctrine, I would argue, is often pointless, even counterproductive. Look instead to see if the tradition promotes compassion, mercy, justice, love.

From the kind of articles I've been reading, I am forced to wonder about Catholicism sometimes. Which both angers and saddens me, as I still think of it as my faith tradition.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Empathy Magnifiers

I went to a conference a few years ago on the use of psychological testing. And part of what I found so interesting about the speaker was his discussion of using psychological testing results as empathy magnifiers, as ways to deepen and expand our understanding and compassion for the client. It was really just a significant shift in perspective. Much of my training in psychological testing had been about dry (abeit important) stuff like reliability, validity, diagnostic implications, etc.

But empathy magnifiers? That was new. I've never thought about or approached the process of psychological testing the same way since.

I had a discussion with someone not so long ago about all of the darkness in the world. About how easy it is to fall into cynicism about it. About how easy it can be to see when things are petty, selfish, or "stupid."

Such an outlook can even have some truth to it (I once heard someone say that cynicism "...is the fine art of accurate perception"). Yet it comes at such a cost. To view the world in such a way is to allow ourselves to become cynical, to put blinders on or disregard much of what is true, good, and beautiful.

And then we spoke about how different it can be if we use these moments of cynicism to look more deeply, to see the reasons why. Perhaps the individual we're judging is reacting out of their own pain or fear. Perhaps they lack the skill in some area. Perhaps we ourselves are somehow part of the problem.

Such an outlook, I think, creates its own "empathy magnifier" for us. It keeps us human and compassionate. And, I think, happy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Strength (RDI & Spirituality, part II)

In RDI, we are told that autistic children often revert to static routines (singing songs over and over, twisting their fingers in the air, etc.) precisely because the complex real world is overwhelming to them. Or, better, they haven't yet achieved a sense of competence in dealing with the complex, dynamic environment that the "real world" of social relationships deals them. So they revert to doing the same, simple thing over and over and over. Our task in helping them becomes giving them slow gradations of complexity, helping them to attain a sense of mastery in facing change, complexity, etc.

What strikes me about this on an emotional and spiritual level is how it parallels various forms of unhealthy coping. Like those who pick a fight rather than dealing with emotional vulnerability -- because a fight is a known to them. They know what their role is, they know how to use the fight to avoid the real topic, etc. Or people who give in rather than face the possibility of conflict. Again, its an issue of doing what is known, what is comfortable, even if it's not fun, even if it happens to be painful as hell. It may be painful, but people will cling to the pattern because they at least feel like they know what they're doing, they feel competent in that role.

Which got me thinking about this topic of "strength." Strength, it seems to me, often involves allowing ourselves to be genuine and vulnerable -- to speak from those parts of ourselves that feel may feel weak, but reflect how we feel most deeply. On the other hand, strength is sometimes standing up for ourselves, facing conflict or difficulty rather than backing down all the time.

More broadly speaking, I think, strength is having to courage to go to those places where we feel most incompetent, to go to those places despite our fear and uncertainty and to learn from the experience. In asking this of my autistic sons day after day, I pray that I can also grow in my ability to ask it of myself.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A smart, funny "Opus"

Check out this link (Opus) for one of the smartest and funniest cartoons in a long time (in my humble opinion).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A very cool week

OK, so as the title of this little entry suggests, this promises to be a great week ahead. Why? Because at least two very good things are about to happen. First, this friday evening is the season premier of the new Battlestar Galactica season. I know, I know, those who have never seen the show are going to roll their eyes and write me off as some sort of pocket-protector wearing uber-nerd. But trust me, this show is the best thing on television right now. In fact, I believe it is one of the best television series ever, if not the best series ever. Check it out, if you haven't. You won't regret it.

The second very cool thing to happen soon is that Sting's new album is scheduled to be released this coming Tuesday. It's been too long, and I'm very much looking forward to hearing his new stuff. Which reminds me, I'm also hoping for a new Peter Gabriel album, though I have absolutely no idea when that might occur.