Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Ego and I

When Maikwe asked me recently how I'd describe my relationship to spirituality (which has been a central pursuit of her adult life), I figured my journey might usefully be described as a personal exploration in relationship to my ego, which put me in mind of a movie that's older than me... a 1947 comedy starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert entitled The Egg and I, that features the humorous adventures of a couple of city slicker newlyweds who naively buy an abandoned chicken farm and try to make a go of reviving it. Supporting roles in this bucolic romp include Marjorie Main & Percy Kilbride, as Ma & Pa Kettle respectively.

I remember thinking as a pre-teen that this was a fairly clever movie, but I realize now that impressing 10-year-olds a rather low bar. In any event, it gave me an inspiration for the title of today's blog.

My spiritual sojourn has not been so much about me and God, as about me in relation to the rest of the world. Let me walk you through some checkpoints in my spiritual evolution, mostly laid out chronologically:

o  I recall going to confirmation class every Saturday morning during seventh and eighth grade, culminating in my confirmation April 7, 1963. (I still have the silver dollar given to me as a memento of the occasion.) Officially this marked my acceptance as an adult in the eyes of the church, but as a lukewarm Lutheran (according to Garrison Keillor, there may not be any other kind) I felt no closer to God, and my attendance at Sunday services fell away rapidly afterwards. 

My father never showed much interest in religion and it was only a modest pursuit for my mother. Going away to college I considered myself an agnostic.

o  During my college years I remember going through a phase where I was drawn to attend the midnight service at my old church on Christmas Eve, where the emphasis was more on joyous hymns than on moral lectures. To this day, I've always found Christmas songs uplifting. It was a foreshadowing of an interest in celebratory ritual that I embrace with exuberance today.

o  In the winter term of my senior year of college I took a course in Zazen meditation, overseen by a Buddhist monk from Kyoto. It required my getting up in the pre-dawn five days a week and sitting in silence with about 20 others for an hour. That was the first time I came to grips with how hard it is to empty one's mind.

o  When I moved to Sandhill Farm in 1974, spirituality was not in my consciousness. Slowly though, over the years, I've come to identify a spiritual connection to place. Part of it is a sense of stewardship with the land; part of it is that I know myself in relation to this piece of land—it is a sense of place and connection with my natural world. I was surprised to learn (when I recently read How It Is, the collected cosmological writings of Viola Cordova) that this attitude is a common characteristic of Native American spirituality. How did that happen?

o  I started my career as a process consultant and professional facilitator in 1987. Somewhere in the late '90s, I recall visiting Twin Oaks and weaving a hammock with a new member when she asked me (out of the blue) what my relationship to spirituality was. I was about to offer up my standard line about being an agnostic, when it occurred to me that I had a different answer: when I'm in front of a group facilitating and the energy is flowing well, I enter a shamanic state and my work requires no effort; I achieve an egoless state where I shed all awareness of myself and nothing sticks to me. What an interesting insight to have connected that to spirituality!

o  In 2004, I was walking leisurely along the quiet Sunday morning streets of downtown San Francisco when my companion and I chanced upon a playing card lying face down on the sidewalk. On the spur of the moment, I held out my hand to stop my friend. After concentrating briefly, I announced, "It's the three of spades." As she bent down to turn the card over, I recanted, "No, it's the six of diamonds." When she turned the card over, it was the six of diamonds. I just knew.

o  In 2005 I started my dance of intimacy with Ma'ikwe. Two years later she completed writing the book that she self-published, Passion as Big as a Planet. As one of the readers for her first draft, I was happy to give her my thoughts on what might make more powerful writing, yet I felt awkward advising her on a subject that I didn't consider myself well grounded in.

o  Over the course of 26 years as a process consultant I've worked with perhaps 100 cooperative groups, many of them multiple times. While the overwhelming majority of these are secular groups (by which I mean they do not screen prospective members for alignment with any particular spiritual viewpoint or attitude), occasionally I've gotten to work with spiritual groups and I've always enjoyed the experience. 

While spiritual groups can fall into all the same pitfalls that secular groups are susceptible to, there is the advantage that their members tend to have no difficulty understanding why it's important to hang in there with one another in heavy traffic—because they're fellow travelers on the same spiritual journey.

o  In the fall of 2007 I said goodbye to my dear friend Geoph Kozeny two days before he died of pancreatic cancer. I knew I was seeing him for the last time and I broke down in tears walking out the door.

o  Straddling New Year's Day of 2009, Ma'ikwe and I did a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation at the center in Pecatonica IL. (It's still hard to quiet the monkey mind.)

Over the years I've come to appreciate that to be an excellent facilitator, you need to develop your sense of the intuitive. As an adult and as someone living in community, all of my main work has been to better understand and work with energy (rather than content). How to read what's happening, name it, and be able to make sensitive and effective choices about how to work with it. Isn't that touching spirit?

• • •
Today I think of spirituality as knowing myself. That includes knowing what I don't know. It includes cultivating curiosity as a response to someone saying something that's surprising, or challenging. It includes ego management, not being so concerned about how much my contributions are recognized, and not being attached to having things go my way.

When the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) first developed the Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) curriculum they labeled the four dimensions of the training: ecological, social, economic, and spirituality. However, after encountering considerable push back with the label "spirituality" (ostensibly because it was too evocative of religious dogma) they renamed it "world view." 

Circling back to the tensions between Ma'ikwe and me regarding how we each related to spirituality, it wasn't hard to imagine why GEN decided to change labels. Even with the alteration, she and I did not see eye to eye with regard to the purpose of the world view segment of the curriculum. I saw it as overarching (as in mind set or weltanschauung), yet not in the same plane as the other three practical aspects of sustainability. Going the other way, Ma'ikwe liked having it as an essential ingredient in the mix.

We maintained an uneasy truce around that until Ma'ikwe was serendipitously gifted a copy of How It Is and we both read it this spring. Voila (as opposed to Viola)! Suddenly we had a break through. Here, at last, was a framework that we both liked, and just in time to start teaching the EDE curriculum together in the Ecovillage Education US course, which we both needed to be working with the whole shebang.

Spiritual inquiry has never interested me more than it does now, and it's clear to me that Ma'ikwe and our relationship have both been significant spirit guides for me on my journey. Though I'm not at all clear where I'm headed, I sense that it's the right path—for both me and my egg.

No comments: