happiness & spirituality 2

To continue on the subject that I started writing about last Friday, I mentioned that there were two different blog posts that I had wanted to relate to. The first, was posted by Genie on the subject of happiness, and I felt it important to relate to that subject, because I myself started out in this world, a very unhappy person. My childhood was so unhappy, that after all these years, I still can not bear to talk about it. Nor can I read a book in which the main characters are children, or watch a movie that could possibly remind me of my own childhood. Learning to be happy was a lot of work, and I studied the subject. I studied what laughter was. Fortunately, I survived and went on with my life. I lived a happy life. I would say that my life has had more happiness than unhappiness, and that looking back, now that I’m an old man, I am quite satisfied.

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happy

The second post that stimulated quite a bit of thought on my part, was a post by N. She, like myself, had a very bad childhood, and has worked on herself for years and years, trying to get past all the side effects that stayed with her after childhood. She is an intelligent woman, and a fine student, and relates to this world in a very serious way. Though she comes from a completely different culture than my own, and her horrors were different from mine, I often find myself identifying with her. And lately, she described her mixed feelings regarding faith, and her disappointments with religion. She asks, ‘how does one get to know god?’ Now, I know that this is a very sensitive subject, and the mere mention of it, is enough to turn a lot of people off. Some people have a hatred for organized religions, and look at all such institutions as a great fraud. And to make things worse, most of my readers come from Christian cultures, and I myself am a Jew. But I ask you to look at this post as a letter from me to N, and consider that I’m sharing it with my readers as well.

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my little prayer book

Many years ago, I was working on fixing an airplane. I knew the work in theory, and my partner in this job was an experienced mechanic who knew everything there was to know about mechanics. As we were working, he suddenly said to me, “Give me a 6 allen wrench” I was familiar with allen wrenches, and went to the tool box, and saw quite a few. But none of them had numbers on them. I said to him, where’s the number written? And he said, ‘I don’t know. I’m talking about a 6mm wrench’. His hands were full, so I got out my caliper, and measured a couple of wrenches till I found the right one. Later on, I noticed that when he took a wrench himself, he didn’t have to look. He could just feel which was the right one. And after working on this project for a while, I too could feel if I was holding a 6mm or 4mm wrench between my finger and thumb. This experience remained with me, through the years, as a reminder of how difficult it is to really know something, even if you’re seeing it right in front of you, if you’re not familiar with the object.

allen wrench

I’ve heard people talk about intuition, as if it was something mystical… unexplainable, to a rational logical mind. As we get educated, we learn a lot of facts, and logic. We learn how to apply the things we know in a logical way, finding answers to our questions, to satisfy our needs. It is a rational process, and the human being is a very rational animal. So much so, that sometimes we’ll accept an incorrect answer because it makes sense to us, rather than tell ourselves that we just don’t know. Intuition works differently. It is based on an awareness of how things come together and how they work. But the individual facts are not kept in orderly partitioned drawers in the mind. These facts, which could also be related to, one by one, are part of an image in the mind of the whole, what works, what is right. And a person with a strong intuition can tell you, ‘it’ll work this way’ without being able to explain his feeling in a rational manner. Some people have such a strong intuition, that they can provide answers to problems, that even experts are baffled by. Others, rely on studying the facts, and using logic to resolve their needs. And a few are blessed with both of these abilities.

light at the end of the tunnel
light at the end of the tunnel

One of the things I learned early on as a student, was that the more you learn, the more you are aware of what you don’t know. Children ask ‘why’ a lot. Sometimes they get the right answers, and sometimes they have to search out the answers themselves. Eventually, they have a picture in their mind, of how the world works. It is often enough for a person to know where the light switch is in a room, without knowing what electricity is, or how an incandescent bulb can radiate light in the dark. If my friend is pleased that he can read easily, now that he’s gotten glasses, I don’t feel the need to explain to him how a lens works. But for myself, I have a lot of curiosity. And I like to know how the world around me works. Even so, I am forever learning about more things that are beyond my knowledge or understanding.

aching for life
aching for life

You and I might agree that it would be better for all of the people of this world to speak one language, instead of 150 or more. But if we tried to devise that language, we would not be able in our life times to devise something as intricate and rich as the English language, with all of its many subtleties and its rich literature. My own language is Hebrew, and though I have studied English well, and translated from one language to another, there is something about the mood and flavor, and sense of reality in Hebrew that I am unable to convey to an English text. For many of us, there is a sense of a wholeness about the world, as if it has one personality… despite the fact that a tree is nothing like a human being… at all. For such people, coming to terms with that wholeness, is in fact, an introduction to god. Some of us, when looking at a butterfly, or the face of someone we love, or a stormy sky, have a very strong belief that all of this world was made by one being, and that we can know that being by studying his work. But even those who do not believe that the world was created, might believe that it is one… that all the different phenomena of the world, is part of a one whole thing. We could call that thing nature, or the universe… but if we feel that it is one, this give us a sense of a consistent relationship to all of the world around us.

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close to one another ~ generations or cell phones?

Among every people, and in every culture, there has been the development of a sensitivity to the awareness that there are things beyond us, that act in a way that affects us. It is often called religion or spirituality. For some peoples, there have been a number of gods. Others, believe in monotheism, and that means that god is one. But either way, the relationship of man to these forces that are beyond us, is an intuitive process. We have a sense of what works; a relationship to some sort of image that represents the many aspects of this world that is greater than us. But this faith is even greater than our own personal intuition. Because it has been added to from generation to generation, the most sensitive and holy people of our own antecedents have contributed a little of their consciousness and intuition to the big soup that is our religious (spiritual) awareness. In the same way I spoke of culture being represented in language, no matter how hard we tried to ‘create’ a new religion, it would be very difficult to incorporate all the subtleties and the depth of a religion that has been living for generations.

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But unfortunately, the keepers of our religions; the janitors who kept the floor clean… were human beings too. Sometimes they had terrible faults, and these faults allowed for some unholy things to creep into our sense of the universe. There are many ways to go astray. There are things out there that can cause an allergy. As I write this post, I am reminded of a lot of concepts that are part of religion and faith… and I dare not go on and on… knowing that even a blog post has to remain within a framework that is palatable. I could do a whole post on the ‘all knowing god’, as I have discovered him. I have been asked many times about this ‘all knowing’ characteristic. But as I said about relating to people in my previous post, I would say the same about approaching god, that it is best to start out looking for the good in god, and not trying to challenge him. Though there have been some very holy people who reached a point where they could even challenge god, and argued with him.

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46 responses to “happiness & spirituality 2

  1. Thanks, Shimon .. thanks for throwing a lifeline … your posts are precious … Lov, cat.

  2. Setting the stage with some of the essentials of your childhood is powerful. You sought a different life … you found laughter through learning. You sought found the important of perception and intuition. You’ve relied on a positive message from religion …. all of which turn out to be choices that you made for finding a better life … so cheers to you! Thanks for sharing your story and wisdom.

  3. maturestudenthanginginthere

    Thank you for your insightful post. You give us very wise words here.

  4. What a beautifully written piece. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. thank you for this … I can’t respond today, but will be back

    I need to read this again when my eyes are open

    • Sorry you’re not feeling better, N. I appreciate your note to let me know you tried, and hope you will soon be at full strength. My best wishes, always.

  6. I so look forward to your posts to enjoy your gentle wisdom and spend some time contemplating what you have written. You are very special.

  7. I have been following you recently & find your comments & posts quite intellient & thought provoking. I hope you will visit me: McGuffy’s Reader
    http://www.mcguffysreader.blogspot.com

  8. Shimon, I enjoyed and appreciated this post a great deal. I felt the entire post was good, but I found the last paragraph profound and thought-provoking.

    If I might take some liberties with the beginning of your last paragraph: The high and mighty—the keepers of our religions—are but God’s janitors keeping the floor of our religions clean. I hope I haven’t pushed your meaning too far.

    Myself, I trust the spirituality that’s within me: The natural feeling that’s present at all times—located on the surface or lying just below it. The thing that I know because I sense it—and sense that it is right. The thing that feels just beyond my grasp. The thing that’s probably unknowable.

    I don’t trust those who say they know what I should know—people who’ll tell you they are enlightened and can see the path that you can’t. I’ve never met a single one who didn’t eventually disappoint me. I won’t stand close to folks like this when lightning is present.

    I got a lot out of this post. Thank you for writing it! —George

    • I’m very glad you enjoyed the post, George. Your understanding of my last paragraph was just as I intended, though I do not relate to the custodians as high and mighty. I have known clergy that I respected greatly… in whose presence I felt inspiration. But they are usually modest people. It is said that Moses was the most modest man who ever walked the earth. Getting close to nature… to god… is usually a humbling experience. It has been a pleasure getting to know you, and reading of your experiences in this life, and I’m glad that you found something of value in the post. Thank you for commenting.

      • “High and mighty” was perhaps a poor choice of words for me to use when commenting on a friend’s post—I was caught up in the emotions the post provoked. But based on my own admittedly limited experience with organized religion (protestant/evangelical only), a correct one. I’ve not run into any humble protestant pastors in my time . . . in fairness to any such pastors that exist, I’m not looking for any either. —George

  9. A wise man once said “If religion is to be the cause of disharmony among men, it would be better if there were no religion at all.” I am not comfortable with the term religion for this reason, because is it is steeped in divisions, rather than acknowledging what you and I both know, the oneness of all that is real and true including us, including all creation, including what we see and cannot see, what we know and cannot know. I much prefer the term spirituality, since we are indeed seeking for wisdom and understanding in that realm. There are indeed things we grow to just know are right, even though we can’t explain how we know that such are true. Creation, a creator, the sacredness of all living things, and the power of prayer, are among them. I think to deny the existance of such things must mean one is living with his eyes tightly closed against the light.

    • Hi Josie. The wise men I learned from, in my youth, used to say, when using a quotation, best to include the name of the man you’re quoting, and where it is written, and on what page. This particular quote doesn’t sound so wise at all. Consider what you’d feel if the same thing was said about politics; ‘if it causes disharmony among men, better that there be no democracy at all’. It is true that there are many different attitudes towards faith, and towards finding harmony with the world… but that reflects the differences between human beings. Thank you very much for coming by, and for your comment.

  10. Very well written, and interesting. For some reason I especially liked the first bit. It was like a short story in itself.

  11. ShimonZ, you shared your faith with kindness and sensitivity. I admire that.
    To me, humility is a sure sign that one’s faith is genuine.

  12. Thank you for your words, Shimon….

  13. We spoke last time Shimon about happiness and its relation to material wealth. Is it coincidence, I wonder, that as our wealth has incresed we have become less devout as well as less happy? I doubt it.
    I will try to do as you suggest Shimon and start looking for the good. I don’t have a problem with the concept of God, I would love to be able to find Him but I really can’t see myself looking for the path to God in the usual starting places.

    • It seems to me, Chillbrook, that the ‘usual starting place’ is in our own heart. Not the impressive building; not the heavy ceremony, not the incense, and not the written prayer. Perhaps, the heart of nature… sometimes, the face of a loved one. But I would be the last person to try and convince someone to go looking for god. I believe that if a person is happy believing that got is just part of a meaningless mythology, there is no need for him to look for him. I wrote this post in honor of someone who was already looking. And I believe that dogma is more of a ‘turn off’ than an attraction. In many ways, it’s like a written text on how to ride a bicycle. To those who have already felt his presence, it can be a little like looking at the printed words of a song you love. But for those who don’t believe, it doesn’t help much. But as you say, ‘looking for the good’ always helps.

  14. There was so much in this post that I found helpful, and wise. When you began this post, you chose to share some intimate revelations about your past, and how your childhood was very painful. You talked of how you eventually learned to choose happiness, and sought it out, and became more practiced at knowing happiness. I was especially encouraged when you said that, as a person of many years, you can look back and be satisfied, because you believe you have known more happiness than unhappiness in your life.

    Just from this beginning, I was reminded about choosing happiness, and studying it, and overcoming whatever sadness in our lives has caused us pain, (or still causes us pain). About choices, and learning how to be better able to become “a student of happiness” so that we can build a life that recognizes the Happy in our life. Focusing our attention on where we want to go, instead of where we have been. Using our energy to seek out happiness, and allow ourselves to feel it, and know it, and become it.

    Thank you for meeting me on common ground, so that I could more easily hear everything that comes after. I know you usually prefer not to speak of such things, and I appreciate that you used this as a way to reach across the divide and unite us in a way that was not only generous, but true.

    I always appreciate the truth.

    More to come, as I am able to go farther. I want to take my time in working through this post, because I know that you have taken the time to share with me in a way that is not only about answering questions, but also about giving something as a gift to another. Thank you for hearing me, and for taking the time to construct a response. I am humbled by your generosity.

    • I’m very glad, N, that the post spoke to you, and as I expected, you understood the context in which I spoke. I watch your progress, and hope with all my heart, that you will be able to put the horrors behind you, and find happiness and clarity in this world. I know how hard it is. But I admire your steadfast work.

      • In some ways, I have to acknowledge how ironic it is, that just as I was opening myself up to your response, I was immediately waylaid by a memory from my past that kept me tethered to a very dark place for a rather long time. If my mother were telling this story, she would say that evil stepped in to create distance between me and my ability to search god out, and used my own doubts and sorrow as a weapon against me. Even so, I knew that I would eventually make it back to this post, because I wanted to be sure I had taken adequate time to absorb what you shared.

        This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve read it through, from top to bottom, and the one thing that keeps speaking to me is what you said about seeking out the good in god, rather than trying to challenge him. Perhaps it is because I have fought for so much in this life, that I somehow expect that anything worth having must come at a price. Or maybe it is that inability to recognize those times that god was with me, even when I felt so alone. I still get so confused. There have been times that I have known a peace that is bigger and more profound than that word can convey by merely being typed upon the page; in those moments, I was with god, and I had no doubt. I know those moments were real and true, just as your reference to intuition speaks to trusting that which is inexplicable. Especially in my work with hospice, I am in the presence of god, often. Sometimes I am with him, and sometimes I am observing his spirit in the people around me.

        Part of the reason I would like to understand more, and have a more clear idea of what god means to me, is so that I can more readily share that with others. I wish I could articulate this more clearly. What I know, and what I believe, is strong and true, when not challenged. But when the world attacks me, or I feel small and weak, my convictions begin to crumble, and my doubt becomes loud and begins shrieking in my ear.

        Underneath it all, between the knowing and the intuition and the recognition, is fear. Unfortunately, fear has been too much a part of my life, for too long. I have yet to figure out how to discard fear. Somehow I believe that when I learn what it means to let go of fear, I will no longer have such difficulty recognizing god.

        Perversity is a weapon that cripples me. It seems I am able to be strong in the face of most anything, but unnecessary suffering is the thing that crumbles me down to the floor, and I begin looking for someone to aim my pain and frustration and anger towards, and inevitably, god is the only one left in the room. I know this on an intellectual level, but as the person carrying around that heart that gets broken, again and again, I don’t know how to make friends with anyone, not even god.

        I know much of this doesn’t make sense, and I ask you to forgive my rambling. There are days that I feel I am so close to opening myself to something to perfect and pure and right, and other days, I believe I will leave this earth knowing absolutely nothing at all. For today, for right now, I’m trying not to let my heart close up too tight, and I’m trying not to stay curled up in a ball. I have to be willing to trust, if I am going to find god again. Right now, I’m still cautious. Wary. Fearful.

        Thank you again for sharing this message with me. I am sure I will return to it again and again. The part about each generation adding to the whole, and about how knowing something without being able to explain every nuance, and how god can be nature or the universe or the kindness we see in others and in ourselves .. all of these parts come together to help me shift the pieces of the puzzle around until the picture is more easily revealed to me. I want to know, one way or the other. I don’t want to be ambiguous, or vague. I’ve never been one to stand on the fence and wait for the wind to blow. I need to know.

        As an aside, I especially loved the photo you shared Aching For Life, and Light At The End Of The Tunnel, and especially Your Little Prayer Book. They helped illustrate your words so perfectly. Thank you.

    • Sometimes, we get distracted… and we never get back to where we were cut off. But if we do go back,, and find the place again, it means that the subject is important to us. There are so many distractions in this life.

      About sharing your awareness of god with others… one has to be very careful about that. Because it is a very personal thing. There are aspects of life that are very hard to share with others… and some that can be shared only with a very select few. One of my sons came back from a trip to India some years ago, after studying music there. He became very religious. And soon he started preaching to his dearest friends, telling them that they were enjoying the superficial things of life too much. And that they should spend more time in prayer and contemplation of the deep. One of his friends became irritated, and handed him his glasses, saying, ‘look at what’s around you through my glasses. They’re wonderful. You’ll see everything in the right perspective’. But of course, when my son looked through the glasses he saw everything blurred and told his friend as much. The friend looked at him, and asked, ‘do you understand now? Coming to terms with god is a personal experience. Not everyone can find him the same way’. I think it much easier to share with others what we’ve learned from god, rather than a relationship to god.

      I too, suffered from fear in childhood. And every instinct worked to keep me away from what I feared whenever possible. But eventually, I came face to face with the worst… and it was then that I learned how to deal with fear. It’s not something I would recommend to others… but I tell you so you’ll know that sometimes the answer comes in the exact opposite direction than where you were looking for it. I don’t believe we can make friends with god. But I know just a very little of what’s out there. Everything you wrote made sense to me. I did not see you rambling.

  15. A thoughtful and insightful letter to N. I like the photographs of your prayer book and of the two generations sitting on the bench. Very nice post, Shimon.

    • Thank you very much, George. In that picture of the grandmother and granddaughter sitting on the bench in the train station, there is an advertisement seen on the right. In the ad, it says, “to converse by video-phone, brings people close”. The picture was made to show that there are all kinds of things that bring us close to one another.

  16. How nice to read you dear Shimon, I love your written pieces… and also your beautiful world into the photographs… I loved them all, Thank you, witj my love,nia

  17. Ah, but I fear the video conference is not close enough. In this global world, I suppose it will have to do although it is a poor substitute indeed. I often wonder what kind of world our great grandchildren will live in and how they will relate to each other. My mother used to say she wished she could live see into the future by 100 years because she thought life would be incredibly interesting then. Perhaps so. We humans seem to adapt fairly well. You and I have joined the young folks in this world of blogging where we feel as if we know others. I suspect we know our cyber friends and they know us about as well as we’d know them if they lived next door … minus the annoying aspects of our behavior. There is Something to be said for that.

    I do think that the ability to un-friend people with a click of the mouse has real world implications. Do we no longer have to work out even frivolous differences since we can escape instantly from any uncomfortable situation? How will we learn to “play well with others” on a cyber playground? Will we become less sensitive, less compassionate, less charitable when we can insulate ourselves from any discomfort? For many years, I have watched as technological advances continue to far outstrip spiritual evolution. I believe that is the primary source of most of the misery on earth.

    End of Sunday rant. 🙂

    • Perhaps the past generations were more curious about what would happen a hundred years in the future, because the pace was still slow, relative to what is happening today. I am still trying to stay abreast of things… but I find that the world is changing faster than I can manage… and I doubt that I will be able to keep up for long. I agree with you about some of the negative aspects of this internet age. But it seems to me that we are aware of “the annoying aspects” of our neighbor’s behavior. It comes through… sometimes in a word… and sometimes between the lines. We get to know one another quite well, I believe, through this medium. As for compassion and charity, I think that will remain an intrinsic part of human character. But we have to realize that though we may wish for the whole world to love us, most of us don’t have the energy or the strength to love the whole world in return, and so we have to limit our contacts in proportion to our abilities. Thank you very much for an interesting comment. I wouldn’t call it a rant.

  18. I always learn from you, Shimon. Thank you.

  19. Thank you Shimon. You and I would most certainly have a lively conversation about G-D (although there is a certain sense that overwhelms me when I reflect on a debate involving THE ALL-KNOWING – an all-encompassing humility). Who knows? Perhaps some day – somewhere. Be well!

  20. I value happiness so much because I too had an unhappy childhood which carried over into adulthood…until I got tired of it and decided things had to change. My past made me who I am today, but I have to tell you I wouldn’t want a repeat of those experiences. Blessings!

    • I’m very glad to hear that you were able to overcome the unhappiness, Genie, and find a better path. I know just how difficult that is… and how many scars we have to brush aside, and ‘forget’ about, in order to live a different life. Sometimes there are good reasons to be sad. But a free person can make the choice in either direction… and after giving a certain amount of energy and time to mourning or grief, can go on with enjoying life. Thank you for your comment.

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