MattAndJojang's Blog

God. Life. Spirituality.

Posts Tagged ‘Pain

Leonard Cohen: A Final Interview

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leonard-cohen
A few days ago, Leonard Cohen, one of the finest poets and songwriters of our times, passed away at the age of 82. But just before he died, about a month ago, David Remnick of The New Yorker interviewed him.

I was shocked and saddened by the news of his death. I didn’t know that he was very sick, because he wanted to keep his illness private, until today when I listened to David Remnick’s interview.

At one point in the interview he said:

I’m ready to die. I just hope that it’s not uncomfortable.

Poignant though the interview was, it was always accompanied by Cohen’s self-deprecating humor.

Cohen always found comfort in his religion; he was a practicing Jew. Since he was a child, he always carried within himself a sense of God’s presence. And he felt that, every now and then, God spoke to him. At one point in the interview, Cohen said that God was still speaking to him. But he was no longer the harsh, judgmental and vindictive God of his youth.

Towards the end of his life he found a compassionate and merciful God.

Since the early 70s he also practiced Zen meditation. In the mid-90s he stayed in a Zen monastery. He only left the monastery 7 years ago when he found out that his manager defrauded him of his lifetime savings. Left with almost nothing for his retirement and his kids, he decided to work again. He published his first book of poems after 20 years. Then proceeded to tour, performing in sold-out concerts for the 4 next years.

At any rate, he suffered from debilitating pain due to his illness. Unable to take his pain killing medicines, his Zen practice came in handy. He was able to cope with his pain through meditation, enabling him to work on and finish his last album, You Want It Darker, which I consider his parting gift to each of us.

If you’re interested to listen to David Remnick’s interview please click this link:

Leonard Cohen: A Final Interview

–Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

November 12, 2016 at 8:08 pm

Shadow

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Shadow does not exist by itself, it is cast, by a real physical body. We may say a person is overwhelmed by their shadow: a Tiger Woods by their sexuality, a Richard Nixon by their overweening sense of power, a nation by its hubris, but their shadow is passive, an absence of light, a shape lent by their own outline. Shadow is shaped by presence; presence comes a priori to our flaws and absences. To change the shape of ourselves is to change the shape of the shadow we cast. To become transparent is to lose one’s shadow altogether, something we often desire in the spiritual abstract, but actually something that is not attainable by human beings – to change the shape of the identity that casts a shadow is more possible. Shadow is a necessary consequence of being in a sunlit visible world, but it is not a central identity, or a power waiting to overwhelm us.

Even the most beneficial presence casts a shadow. Mythologically, having no shadow means being of another world, not being fully human, not being in or of this world. Shadow is something that must be lived with, literally, as it follows us around, obscuring the sun or the view for others, yet we cannot use it as an excuse not to be present, nor to act, nor to effect others by our presence, no matter if the effect is sometimes indeed, overshadowing and difficult. Nor can we use it as an excuse to run uncaring over other’s concerns.

To live with our shadow is to understand how human beings live at a frontier between light and dark; and to approach the central difficulty, that there is no possibility of a lighted perfection in this life; that the attempt to create it is often the attempt to be held unaccountable, to be the exception, to be the one who does not have to be present or participate, and therefore does not have to hurt or get hurt. To cast no shadow on others is to vacate the physical consequences of our appearance in the world.

Shadow is a beautiful, inverse, confirmation of our incarnation. Shadow is intimated absence; almost a template of presence. It is a clue to the character of our appearance in the world. It is an intimation of the ultimate vulnerability, the dynamic of being found by others, not only through the physical body but by its passing acts; even its darkening effect on others; shadow makes a presence of absence, it is a clue to ourselves and to those we are with, even to the parts of ourselves not yet experienced, yet already perceived by others. Shadow is not good or bad, only inescapable.

–David Whyte

 

Written by MattAndJojang

April 12, 2016 at 11:52 am

Scars Into Stars

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Kintsugi

 

He said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples…

–Mark 6:41

There is a beautiful Japanese art called kintsugi. It is the art of fixing broken pottery with gold-imbued resin.

If you see a finished product, you will notice that no attempt was made to hide the crack. Rather, the crack became part of the design.

Twenty-six years ago, I gave up a soaring banking career to work full-time for the Lord.

Since then, my life has never been the same.

Sure, it is not a problem-free life. The road is paved with thorns of persecution, trials, and suffering that have scarred me. But God, in His goodness, has imbued me with His golden grace that heals me and forms me into a new person.

Indeed, I have been blessed.

I have been broken.

It is my prayer that He will continue to use me and my life for His greater glory.

He has turned my scars into stars.

–Jojang

Written by MattAndJojang

January 5, 2016 at 10:38 am

Where Does It Hurt, O City of Light

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Photo: Jim Roberts

Photo: Jim Roberts

Upon receiving the news from Paris, I did what I often do in moments of crisis. I turned off the TV — and sat with the grief. I turned, as I often do, to poetry, nature, scripture, and prayer. I retreated to solitude, leaving time for sorrow to sit with me before having to answer the inevitable crush of media speculation.

In those early hours there is no real analysis, only a parroting of ideological perspectives. I find it more fully human to welcome grief, and connect with the humanity of those for whom these tragedies are even more personal, more intimately destructive.

The poem that I turned to was yet again from the amazing Somali-British poet, Warsan Shire:

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Everywhere, everywhere. Everybody hurts. It hurts everywhere.

I watched the outpouring of grief from all over the world, including most of my Muslim friends. I saw hundreds of Facebook profiles being changed to the French flag-themed profile pictures, and thousands of #prayerforParis and #Prayers4Paris tweets.

I also saw, as I knew would come, wounded cries of the heart from friends in Beirut wondering why their own atrocity (43 dead) just one day before — also at the hands of ISIS — had not received any such similar outpouring of grief; friends from Pakistan wondering why there was no option to “check in as safe” during their experiences with violent attacks; friends from Central African Republic wondering why their dead — in the thousands — are the subject of no one’s global solidarity.

Somewhere in the midst of grief and devastation, here was the cry that I also heard again and again: What about my pain?

In some of the news coverage, we get told that “bombings are nothing new” to Beirut. I cannot help but read this as implying not that some countries are witnessing more violence than others, but that some lives matter more than others. Some outposts have been even more forthright, talking about our selective outrage masking a two-tiered model of human life, and outright racism.

It is a subtle shift, but I think there is a difference in tone between recognizing someone else’s tragedy and saying, “But what about mine?” and saying, “Yes, I see your tragedy, and I offer you my condolences and sympathy. And I see your tragedy and mine as connected.” It is the second that strikes me as more spiritually and morally mature.

Having sat with grief for a day of silence, here are a few thoughts that come to my mind:

Need to Grieve, Need to Mourn.
When I got the news and had a chance to catch up with the grief, I then made a point of turning down media interview requests and actually took the time to mourn. I hope more of us do take this necessary time. How sad it is to see analysts on TV opining, when we have not yet buried the dead and mourned the loss of life. I am concerned when our response in times of crisis is to strike out, lash out, and express rage before we have had time to sit with, and process, sadness and grief. Unprocessed grief always lashes out in ignorant, unhelpful ways.

My heart and prayers go to the families of the deceased, and to all who have felt the impact of this horrific attack. I wish we could extend the time to sit in solitude, hold each other, wipe each others’ tears, and mourn together.

Yes, Paris Is a Dazzling, Beautiful (Global) City of Lights.
Paris is charming almost beyond what a heart can bear. But no, Paris is not unique. Today, Paris is a global city. The very same global process of colonialism has brought the children of the colonies, largely North Africans, into the metropole. Today, Muslims are the most visible minority population in France, and they are both racially and economically marginalized.

Today, Paris is part of the global narrative. New York, Madrid, London, Ankara, Bombay, Damascus have all witnessed grotesque acts of terrorism. The primary victims of terrorism by ISIS are Muslims in places like Iraq and Syria. Muslims have been killed on a magnitude hundreds of times the scale of the Paris atrocity. Remember that, according to a recent United Nations report, some 8,493 Iraqi civilians were killed and 15,782 Iraqis were injured by ISIS in the summer of 2014 alone. According to credible reports, approximately one million people have been killed in Iraq since the start of the U.S. occupation.

ISIS and Islam.
As has been the case with previous tragedies, national Muslim organizations extended their sympathies and their condemnations of the horrific acts of terrorism. But I wonder if now, almost 15 years after 9/11, if we should still have to. I don’t know how many times we have to keep saying that acts of violence on civilians can never be justified, no matter who is the victim and who is the perpetrator.

Simply put, when Muslims condemn acts of violence from extremists, and they get asked again and again why don’t they condemn terrorism, I wonder if is because some of us are not listening. And perhaps that we don’t want to listen. There is a sad place deep in my soul that has to admit this: there are some in our midst who do not want to believe that faithful, pious Muslims could find and do find acts of violence morally repugnant. That attitude, as common as it is, tells me nothing about the humanity of Muslims that I know, or about Islam. It does tell me a lot about a xenophobic spirit of ignorance that is rampant in our society.

Ultimately, this spirit of ignorance and racism is a common enemy, just as much as state-sponsored violence and violence committed by groups like ISIS is an enemy. All of these stand in opposition to the dignity of all of us.

I don’t know how to say it more directly than this: Yes, the members of ISIS come from Muslim backgrounds. No, their actions cannot be justified on the basis of the 1400 years of Islamic tradition. Every serious scholar of Islam has confirmed this clearly, and unambiguously. ISIS is about as Muslim as the KKK is Christian. If you don’t look to the KKK to tell you about God’s message of love as expressed through Jesus, don’t look to ISIS to tell you about God’s mercy as expressed through Muhammad.

Avoiding the Trap of Divisiveness.
The ISIS terrorist attacks are precisely intended to create a divide, a false divide between Muslims and the West. Acts of terrorism are not only about the violence and mayhem created. They are also anticipating, and bringing about, a backlash from the societies that have experienced violence. This goes back to the days preceding 9/11, where al-Qaeda hoped to bring about a U.S. attack on Afghanistan. It succeeded.

ISIS, as well, is hoping to create a culture of backlash against Muslims in Europe, to foster a situation of persecution of Muslims there that will bolster future recruitment of extremists. And, Western attacks on Iraq/Syria will, in turn, lead to further extremism. To put it simply, we can’t bomb our way out of the ISIS mess. Military campaigns are part of the solution, but they cannot be the whole solution. Diplomacy, including with parties that we have political differences of opinion with, have to be part of the answer.

If we are to confront ISIS, we have to confront the sources of their funding as well as their ideology, which will force us to ask difficult and challenging questions from many of their Wahhabi and Gulf area supporters — who are also American allies.

The Mythic “Attack on Universal Values.”
President Obama released a statement regarding the terrorist attacks:

Once again we’ve seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians. This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.

As a humanist and a person of color, and as a person critical of both Western colonial conceit and violent extremism, I can only half-applaud the President’s statement. On one hand, both the Qur’an (5:32) and the Mishnah [Sanhedrin 4:5] tell us that to take one human life is as if to take the life of whole humanity, and to save one human life is as if to save the life of all humanity. True, from that perspective the attack on Paris is an attack on all humanity.

What I question is the selectivity of the “universal values” part in President Obama’s statement. I don’t know what that means. Liberté, égalité, fraternité were not, ever, universal values. The Europeans never intended for the values of the Enlightenment to be applied to the whole of humanity. The Enlightenment — which gave birth to both the French and the American revolutions — was also a profoundly exclusionary principle that never applied to the victims of the empire: not to native Americans, not to the humans stolen from West Africa and brought to the Americas as slaves, not to women, and not to the French colonies. The “universal” values were never universal.

I would love for compassion, dignity, and the sanctity of each and every human life to be a universal human value. If it is to be, that day is in our future. I will believe that we have arrived when the atrocities in Syria, in Palestine/Israel, in Central African Republic, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Myanmar, in inner-city America are all treated as attacks on “universal values.” When these atrocities are treated as global and universal human atrocities on par with attacks on Paris and New York, I will believe the declarations. When we see politicians marching for African lives, Afghan lives, Palestinian lives, and Black lives, I will believe their statements.

Watch Out for Trolls.
No sooner had the atrocity in Paris happened, before the bodies were buried, out came the trolls. There was Richard Dawkins, who came out against Islam yet again:

 

There was Donald Trump, who somehow managed to turn the Paris tragedy into a stump speech for the NRA, stating,“Nobody had guns but the bad guys.” As if the solution to violence is somehow more guns.

Franklin Graham was at it again, stating that “Islam” was at war with the West:

He spent just as much time on Twitter bashing Islam as he did offering prayers for the victims. In collapsing ISIS and Islam, Graham is actually granting ISIS the very Islamic legitimacy that it so craves — and does not deserve.

No, the answer to ISIS’s violence and hatred cannot be more hatred and more ignorance. We have to transcend this hatred through something more beautiful and loftier: a call for universal love, and a holistic sense of justice.

We cannot curse our way out of this darkness. This fragile and broken world needs more light, more light.

Protect the Refugees.
The news out of Paris indicates that one of the assailants has been identified as a Syrian. The fear on many people’s part is that this will lead to a backlash against all Syrian refugees. That would be a humanitarian catastrophe of immense scale. Let us remember this: the Syrian refugees are fleeing the brutality of the very same ISIS that has now unleashed its savagery on Paris (and Beirut). In short, the millions of Syrian refugees are themselves the primary victims of ISIS. Let us not doubly punish these desperate people by associating them with the atrocity of their own tormentors.

In the afternoon I took my children out for a long, slow walk in the woods. We took time to reflect on the trees, the light, the fallen leaves. In the midst of grief, there is still time to hold a friend’s hand, to hold a beloved in the heart, and go for a gentle stroll.

I don’t have the answers to ISIS, or how to defeat them. But I do know this: at the end of the day, love and unity will have the victory. If we are to get there, we have to remain fully human.

If we close our hearts to love, to each other, to nature, to God, we have already lost. If we close our hearts to one another, we have already lost.

There is grief in the city of light, and in so many cities of light. In the midst of the grief, in the late hour of a Fall, a beauty lingers. Love shall have the victory at the end of days.

Let there be light inside our hearts.
Let there be light around us.
Let the light permeate us.
Let’s rebuild the City of Lights, one illuminated heart after another.

The City of Light needs no more darkness. Let us welcome light into our hearts, and be agents of healing.

–Omid Safi

The author, Omid Safi, is Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Written by MattAndJojang

November 16, 2015 at 8:49 am

Finding Peace

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Photo: George Duncan

Photo: George Duncan

Peace is the fruit of love, a love that is also justice. But to grow in love requires work — hard work. And it can bring pain because it implies loss — loss of the certitudes, comforts, and hurts that shelter and define us.

~ Jean Vanier

Written by MattAndJojang

March 28, 2013 at 9:24 am

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On Being More Than Ourselves Alone

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Photo: maxelmann/Flickr

Photo: maxelmann/Flickr

Housebound, mostly bedridden and in my nineteenth year of an incurable illness, my condition is a difficult one. I’m in a great deal of pain. My contorted body radically restricts all aspects of my mobility. I type these words kneeling on a chair outfitted with pressure sore pads, the only position from which I can use a computer.

People sometimes ask what keeps me going. Long before losing my health, there was the spontaneous mystical experience that awakened me from my youthful despair. It seems to me that the rest of my life has been a matter of learning how to receive what was implicit to that experience.

One of those teachings is often called “nonattachment.” That word, however, can be misleading. Whether nonattachment to our smaller selves comes to us more by way of joy or pain, it’s an entirely positive matter: as we die to the lesser, we live to the greater.

It’s hard to put this process into words, and of course the details are different for different people. But I’ve tried.

Whenever I refer to “the One” I mean the greatest context for our lives including and beyond our ability to comprehend — the ultimate story that holds all our stories. You will want to understand the One as referencing God or being itself according to your views.

The core element in my own thinking about spirituality is that faith is an articulation of love that does not depend on religious or spiritual beliefs of any kind. Faith is existential and one on One: deep down, each of us already experiences an unmediated and absolute faith in relation to being or reality itself. In my writing, I refer to becoming aware of our faith-full love and taking direction from it for our lives as learning to speak the Word in our own names.

When I speak of the path of joy, I don’t mean a life that features especially exciting or happy events. Great joy means paying attention to the joy that your love can readily find in life. In family and friends. Work. Play and relaxation. The “little” things that include what it feels like to have a clean body, adequate shelter, and enough food.

The natural world is especially helpful for nurturing our love’s joy in relation to the whole and only One. Sights and sounds like the broad sky, the wind’s sweep, and the outreach of branching trees expand the soul.

To notice your joys instead of minimizing or discounting them is to become joyous. Notice joy, nourish joy, consciously take advantage of your opportunities to experience joy. Joy known over a long period of time takes you beyond yourself, deepening and expanding your mind beyond the boundaries of your disconnections.

Then you notice how very much about the world there is to love, and this becomes the space that you inhabit. Over time, the normal reading on the scope of your love’s desire for the well-being of others enlarges to include beloved individuals in totalities of concern: your community, nation, species, planet, and even, to borrow from Paul, the only One in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

You could say that home, as a sense of self, is where the heart is. The more you care about something, the more that you identify with it. When you discover that you ultimately care about the greatest context for all our lives, then the power of this larger and more inclusive caring exceeds that of your caring for your separate self. You come to identify more with the One than with yourself alone. (Notice that you do not identify the One with yourself, but yourself with the One.)

You’re likely to outlive some of your greatest joys. Don’t let that be the only period in your life when you become highly aware of them. Notice joy now and it will help you become a person of peace, integrity, and strength when there is less joy in your life.

Crow’s Word
His note, dawn’s foil —
One blow to fill her pale blue bell with sound,
One impulse to deliver; that serves to sever bonds
Of all things that entangle, sully, soil.

This is the Word that blasts the sap,
The sound of force
That lifts the arms of trees;
That fashions-forth the branches from within
To raise this world of darkwood iron all around;
This the rising sound
Of the very juice by which the ground toils,
Becomes each massive trunk and slender tendril coil
Upright, upreared, at prayer.

Bright above, the morning sky awakens,
She blues and beckons like a mother’s eye toward which
The sun climbs, wings beat a path, while feet
With new-found ease
Like light along the spangled grass self-hurl,
Fast follow down that one windfall trail
Being blazed toward Canaan by what lives.

Let this day go gray, grow disenchanted:
I know the crow.

There is depth and even mystery to your love’s joys. They carry a significance that seems to point not so much beyond themselves but down deeper into themselves, further down than you can peer. You end up recalling the joyous times and events of your life in a certain way that hints of how you are more than yourself alone.

It’s less like remembering something that happened to you than like remembering something that happened. It’s like recalling some wonderful event that you happened to witness. You feel a sense of appreciation and privilege at having been there.

Finally, you recall the joys of your love not primarily with the satisfaction of your having experienced them, but with a real joy in their having happened at all. Our love’s encounters with the world seem to have a rightness and significance that’s more than the memories they leave behind in us.

You can lose everything. Health, mobility, freedom, and independence. House and home. Family and friends. Suddenly or gradually, through accident or disease, crime or warfare, you can find your quality of life and your further opportunities in life terribly reduced. If you live long enough, simple aging will do it.

Great pain and difficulty, especially when it’s permanent, can drive you over the edge, or nearly — and drive you instead to identify less with your disconnected self and more completely with the One. Either you find a deeper basis for life once you lose life as you knew it or you complete your destruction with your own anguish.

Of course, it takes time. Anyone faced with such a situation goes through anxiety, outrage, and grief. But if it goes on long enough, then instead of self destructing you can find yourself at or pretty near the end of complaining.

Under great and sustained adversity, and with enough restrictions on your capacity to enjoy life that can’t be removed, you reach a point where you no longer have the luxury of adding to your burden. You find that you genuinely no longer feel like complaining and begin to engage in your struggle and responsibilities without the anguish and agitation that you once experienced. Even if your struggle is physically painful, exhausting and mentally demanding, the process becomes simple and in a way, easy.

One with One, there is a lack of inner contradiction that imparts an effortlessness even to struggle. When you draw back to take your stand inside the wider circle, there is no frustration or discouragement, just the doing of what you can while you can because you can. You are equally ready to live or die not because you imagine a future heavenly reward but because you have already lived and died into your integrity with the One.

Carolina All the Time
Strings untangling their notes
Tentative then growing sure
When just before the intro ends
A lifting bend intones the way ahead
Curving like a road in me. And in my mind
Somehow I know that Carolina’s
Where I’m going all the time.

In my mind I’m going to Carolina
Once upon a time seemed only
Time to time. But now I find a way
Inside of me, ahead of me, behind,
The only road I’ve ever known in me
Right now with me;
It’s been there all the time.

Geese in flight and dogs that bite
Sometimes it seemed so easy and so right
At other times much worse
Than anything I ever had in sight.
The deep of dark turned steeper than the rise of light
The road so rough
It really seemed to me I’d had enough

Until at every turn I came to hear the strings
Untangling their branching notes
To play a winding song in me I would have said
I knew by heart except the melody
Knew me. It was a song
Of going to Carolina all along,
An undercurrent with a sweet and lustrous sheen –

Like brownstream snowmelt swiftly through the park
Or moonbeams crossing highbeams
Driving down a highway through the dark.
You can call it destiny or chance or fate
But you don’t start early and you can’t leave late
When something tuneful tells you that you bear no weight
And Carolina carries you along

If you solve the problem of living, the problem of dying takes care of itself. The love you seem to own is owned from the center by a wider sphere of ownership. You don’t own the love that is yours only to own up to. Underneath it all, your personhood is stark and simple and beautiful. It takes up where the night sky leaves off. You are awesomeness knowing itself from the inside.

~ Paul Martin

Written by MattAndJojang

March 23, 2013 at 10:27 am

Life Is Beautiful

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Photo: Yvonne U.E./Flickr

And you must be able to bear your sorrow; even if it seems to crush you, you will be able to stand up again, for human beings are so strong, and your sorrow must become an integral part of yourself; you mustn’t run away from it.

Do not relieve your feelings through hatred, do not seek to be avenged on all Germans, for they, too, sorrow at this moment. Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate.

But if you do instead reserve most of the space inside of you for hatred and thoughts of revenge – from which new sorrows will be born for others – then sorrow will never cease in this world. And if you have given sorrow the space it demands, then you may truly say: life is beautiful and so rich. So beautiful and so rich that it makes you want to believe in God.

~ Etty Hillesum, Holocaust Victim

Written by MattAndJojang

March 23, 2012 at 10:56 am