The renowned Unitarian theologian, Professor James Luther Adams, once observed how nothing sells, I think he said is quite as marketable, as egoism wrapped in idealism. I’ve always found that a challenging comment, applicable as it is to so many forms of spirituality.
Of course, it turns out one can even jettison the idealism. In our rising secularism, it turns out we don’t even need to clothe our egoism.
Now the shape of this focus on the self can take any numbers of shapes. The more obvious cluster around positive regard, but a moment’s consideration reveals it can also be revulsion. The point here is a focus on oneself, a focus that cuts off the rest of the world, that in the last analysis mistakes the self for the bag of meat that ends with the skin, is doomed.
Cascades of sadness follow such an idolatry of the heart. Not that it is always immediately obvious. There are, no doubt, advantages to being all about one’s self. And we do need to attend to ourselves, body and mind. But. Sooner or later making it all about me, well, it turns out to be about loss. And with that, hurt. For those around, and to the person.
And, that observation raises another question. How do we want to live?
Me. Right now. What I’m particularly interested in is how our actions are connected to our insight. How is it that we are connected, and what does that mean in practice, in our lived lives? After all, as another Unitarian divine, A. Powell Davies once observed “None of our private worlds is big enough for us to live a wholesome life in.”
So, at least as I see it, the question boils down for me how do our worlds touch? And what does that mean?
Among the interesting problems I’ve found is how much of a consideration of the moral or ethical or well-lived life is about me and how much of it is about others? Practically speaking, how much inward looking? And, how much outward action? And what about that spot where they touch?
What is the balance? Where are the harmonies? What are the steps in this dance?
I find the movements are succinctly presented in the twelfth case of the Gateless Gate collection.
“The priest Ruiyan called ‘Master!’ to himself every day and answered himself, ‘Yes!’ Then he would say ‘be aware!’ and reply ‘Yes!’ ‘Don’t be deceived by others!’ ‘No, no!'”
But there is sort of a trick here. Be present to the world. Be aware with every fiber of your being. And, discover there are in fact no others to deceive or be deceived.
The wise, and our own practices of presence, call us to a place where there is no separation. No I, but also, no other.
Not one. But, also, not two.
As we open ourselves to include us, me, but also to include you, we discover a movement.
Sort of a dance.
The image is of Mevlevi Sufis dancing by Feyzi Klnc