Some words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn come often to my mind. Solzhenitsyn, the Russian writer born in 1918, spent the eight years after the end of World War II as a prisoner in Soviet labor camps, sentenced for having criticized Josef Stalin in a private letter. He was subject to a system of extreme and heartless cruelty, which he wrote about in The Gulag Archipelago. It would have been easy to think that the people inflicting the pain in that system, acting with casual disregard for others' suffering, were evil. Yet Solzhenitsyn wrote:
"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”It's true that some of us are more susceptible to the forgetting of another person's humanity, others of us more resilient in the face of pressures to dehumanize. Yet it's a mistake to divide people into the good ones and the bad ones. As Solzhenitsyn also put it in a related passage:
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained."There is no evil in anyone that isn't, in some measure, in me. There is no good in me that wasn't, in some measure, in Hitler, in Pol Pot -- and that isn't in Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd.
Whether the caring and empathetic capacity will manifest or whether the get-ahead, get-by, self-focused capacity to disregard any other suffering but one's own will manifest has a lot to do with systems and situations. It has to do with the character formed in childhood by our institutions of family, school, congregation, and neighborhood. And it has to do with the systems in which we find ourselves as adults, for systemic pressures against empathy and favoring discounting others suffering influence even those whose characters going in were solidly humane.
I've heard the word "apples" a lot this week. Maybe you have too. It comes up in exchanges like this:
Journalist: "Do you think systemic racism is a problem in law enforcement agencies in the United States?"
Interviewee: "No, I don't think there's systemic racism. There are a few bad apples that are giving law enforcement a bad names, but most officers are great Americans."
Personally, I do believe it's true that most officers wouldn't have done what Derek Chauvin did. But the people who tend to say "bad apples," I notice, seem to be imagining that this is the end of the story, that this is a complete explanation. Bad apples don't just happen. "Bad apples" IS systemic -- a symptom of a bad system. We have to ask what is it that's makes an apple bad -- what are the systemic pressures that encourage cruel callousness over emotional and social intelligence? If you want to use fruit metaphors, OK, but don't pretend that's an explanation, end of story. Don't let your metaphor be an inquiry stopper. We've got to inquire: what are the causes of apple rot? How do our police departments grow better apples? How do our state and local governments grow police departments that grow better apples? How do all of us participate a social shift that changes the soil into ground that no longer nourishes bad apple trees?
Yours in faith,
The Liberal Pulpit
Recent past services:
Apr 5: "Taking Care, Giving Care." TEXT. VIDEO.
Apr 12: "Traditions of Liberation." TEXT. VIDEO.
Apr 19: "What's Your Great Vow?" TEXT. VIDEO.
Apr 26. "Attending to the Indigenous Voice" TEXT. VIDEO.
May 3. "Transforming Your Inner Critic" TEXT. VIDEO.
May 10. "There Is No Try" TEXT. VIDEO.
Also find these videos, as well as videos of many other past services, at our Youtube channel: HERE
Practice of the Week: Discern.
There is no foolproof way to definitely say that one thought is a trustworthy intuition and another is a delusion. There is, however, a process that can help separate true discernment from mental garbage.
First, before you present the question to your inner self, determine if you are willing to hear whatever answer you get. If you've already made up your mind about what's best for you to do in a particular situation, then you cannot enter a discernment process. Discernment requires openness to self-discovery, finding in self-awareness what you are called to do. Before venturing into such a process, I ask myself, "Is there any answer I might receive that I wouldn't be willing to listen to?" If there is, then I defer the process until I am open to hear any answer that might arise. I have made a "deal" with my higher self that just because I hear a particular answer doesn't mean I have to act on it. Knowing that I have this "safety valve" has helped me to be receptive to whatever answer arises.
Once I have surrendered to the possibility of any answer to my question, I take time to quiet my mind. I meditate or sit still listening some favorite music. Then I ask a specific question about a current concern for me. Generally, my question takes the form of, "What do I need to know or do to serve my highest purpose in relationship to _____ ?" Then I wait as receptively as possible. Whenever I notice my mind trying to "figure out" the answer, I take a deep breath and simply try to relax and let go. Discernment does not emerge from a rational thinking process.
People receive the voice of their deepest self in different ways. Some people actually hear a voice that sounds somehow unlike their normal inner dialog. Other people see images or symbols that indicate what they need to know. Most people simply get a strong sense of what "feels right." Often, this feeling of what is right seems to spontaneously arise from nowhere, yet there is a strong sense of certainty about it. It's like an "Ah-hah" experience. It's as if you knew the answer all along -- because you did, though you didn't know you knew it, and know you've discovered it within you.
Since people experience connecting with their intuition in different ways, it's helpful to remember how you've received intuitive information in the past. Think back to a specific time you felt like you received a trustworthy intuitive answer. What made you think that this was a true intuition? (Our intuitions are often wrong, after all.) Once you can identify how you were able to discern an answer in the past, you will know what to look for in the future. A trustworthy intuition usually comes not only with a strong feeling of "rightness," but often also with a feeling of openness or relaxation in the body and peacefulness in the mind. Like all skills, the more you practice, the more likely you'll notice subtle distinctions that differentiate discernment from normal thinking and feeling.
If you practice the discernment process and receive no answer, or one that is unclear, there are a couple things you can do. First, you can ask that an answer become clear to you sometime during the next week. I've often had the experience of not getting an answer immediately, but spontaneously receiving an answer days later while walking my dog. When we are persistent in asking a question, the answer eventually comes. It may even come from an unexpected source, such as a friends conversation or a TV show. However the guidance arrives, there will likely be a familiar feeling of "rightness" -- a conviction that you now know what to do.
The second thing you can do when discernment is slow in coming, or you're not sure if what you've received is best for you, is to seek more information. You can pursue additional information in a linear, rational way by simply asking yourself, "Is there any person or resource that might know information relevant to my situation?" Once the rational mind is satisfied it has collected all the information it can, it is often easier to tune into your best intuition.
Some people make the mistake of relying on intuition merely because they're too lazy or afraid to research the relevant facts about their situation. For example, I had a client who kept asking his inner guide if he should buy a certain house. He secretly wanted to buy the house, and his desire was interfering with his ability to discern. I suggested he get the house inspected and appraised to see if it was a good deal. He initially resisted, but finally relented. The results from the inspection indicated that the house was on the verge of falling apart. You don't need discernment when rational decision-making yields a clear answer.
If, after trying these ideas and methods you're still not sure that the answer that arises is trustworthy, then set the question aside and focus on your primary spiritual practice for a few weeks. When you're better "aligned with your higher self" or "in touch with your true self," your discernment will be more clear.
For JournalingBe careful journaling about an issue that you're seeking discernment on -- the writing process can simply call up and reinforce pre-existing desires, which may be helpful, but isn't fully open to whatever answer may come. Try simply writing your questions. Begin by writing (filling in the blank): "What do I need to know or do to serve my highest purpose in relationship to _____ ?" Follow-up by writing ancillary questions that come to mind. Write only questions.
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For the supplement to this "Discern" practice, see "Act!"
Moment of Zen: Guided By Karma
This is Wolverine's third appearance. The first was in #36, where Wolverine was avoiding first-person pronouns because, she claimed, "No-self has appeared." The second was in #114 regarding the meaning (or possibility) of hiding.
The Zen story, "Baizhang and the Fox" (Gateless Gate #2), makes the point that, on the one hand, an enlightened person does not fall under the law of cause and effect (i.e., is not tangled in the laws of karma), and, on the other hand, such a person is attentive to cause and effect (is not free of karmic law).
Our causes and conditions push and pull us in various ways. Among the causes and conditions may be, if we're lucky, the capacity to step back from causes and conditions, identify and evaluate them -- and thereby engage a more awakened self with the situation.
Wolverine wandered by again and positioned herself in the tall grass just outside the circle.Verse
"I don't know why I'm here," she said, with a rather far-away look in her eyes. "I guess my karma brought me."
Raven asked, "Don't you have a say-so?"
Wolverine said, "I just let myself be guided."
Raven said, "How about when a hunter trails meat to a trap?"
Wolverine put her head on her paws.
Intention arises, sometimes, dispelling aimlessness.
Maybe it clarifies into a trumpet
of compelling and bold mission.
Who blows that rally horn?
Whence the source of its call --
Or my answering march?
I don't know.
When the brass beckoning of grace sounds
There is no resistance --
Or none not overwhelmed --
Which means this too is
following the path of least.
Case adapted from Robert Aitken; introduction and verse by Meredith GarmonPREVIOUS ☙ INDEX
Zen at CUUC News
E-Shrine of Vows
Check out our electronic CUUC Shrine of Vows: CLICK HERE. Eventually, these will be printed out and incorporated into a physical display. For now, draw inspiration from your fellow Community UUs by seeing what they have vowed. If you're vow isn't included, please email it Rev. Meredith at email@example.com