16 December, 2012

The Gnostic Response to Suffering

I get questions about what the Gnostic response to suffering is or should be when tragedies occur. This usually happens when there is a tragedy being reported in the American 24 hour news cycle. I recently received a couple of questions in light of the reprehensible massacre of men, women, and children in Newton, Connecticut.

I have been wary of answering questions like these in the past.

The Gnostic Response to Suffering

As a Gnostic I understand that suffering is a part of living. I have experienced this kind of suffering in my own life and have observed it at work in the lives of others. The Gnostic response to suffering is to acknowledge that it exists and to examine your own response to the particular situation. It's not an easy response or a particularly intuitive response, and it's much easier to say "this should be your response" than it is to actually respond that way.

Look at your mind non-judgmentally. You don't have to say "this is a good feeling and that one over there, that's a bad feeling." You don't have to say "I shouldn't be feeling this, because I am an experienced meditator/The Gnostic Pope/A Man/A Woman/An Adult." Start simply. Pay Attention™.

Remember, feelings and emotions aren't dirty things that need to be quashed or wished out of existence.

Should a Gnostic try to "do something" about a particular cause of suffering? Yes, I think so. If you can help ease suffering in a natural disaster by providing food or laundry soap do that. If you can help ease suffering by helping someone give voice to their feelings and experiences do that. If you want to take part in, or start, conversations about particular causes of suffering (like gun violence, the stigmatization of mental health, or poverty) do that too.

Meditation and Mental Health or "Can meditation cure depression?"

I freely admit I experience a fair bit of trepidation every time I am asked this question. Some people want to know if I am going to try and recruit them to my freaky cult and claim it can cure all their problems or whether or not I am going to try to sell them a book or guided meditation as a cure-all. Other people want to know if I teach some sort of distrust of psychology, psychiatry, or therapy in general.

My own experience has been that meditation has changed my relationship to depression. I experience depression far, far less than I did before I became a meditator. I don't need to take anti-depressants or spend a lot of time with a psychologist. I have at times needed those things, even after I became a meditator. I don't regard needing those things as a personal failing or as a marker of the insufficiency of meditation.

Some of my students who have grappled with depression have found that meditation and the kind of non-judgmental acceptance and inquiry in Thomasine philosophy very helpful. On the other hand, attempting that kind of inquiry when you are dealing with something like severe depression can be counter-productive.

Meditation and non-judgmental inquiry should be one of the tools used to combat depression, but by no means should they be the only tools used.

"If so-and-so had been a meditator would he or she have done this terrible thing?"

Meditation doesn't mean that people who meditate are no longer capable of harming themselves or others. You can search Google News for a plethora of articles about people who practice meditation and inquiry (in various forms and under the auspices of various religions) doing objectionable things. I have worked with prison inmates who tell me that as a result of their practice they experience less anger, less fear, and fewer violent impulses.

I have also spoken with and worked with people who were abused and manipulated by their "spiritual teacher" or guru despite the fact that said "spiritual teacher/guru" had practiced some form of meditation and inquiry for decades. I know meditators who struggle with alcoholism and over-eating, who have poor relationships with spouses and family, and many other things. Meditation is in no way a cure-all. It doesn't mean you're going to walk around constantly feeling beatific with a sh*t-eating grin plastered on your face. It doesn't mean you'll never make a mistake or have a moral failing.

05 December, 2012

Q&A: Music & etc

Q: What kind of music is used in Thomasine liturgical rites?

We don't really have an established hymnal. I favor instrumental works with a mood and tempo appropriate to the rite. One of my students has threatened to write a few hymns with verses from G. Thomas, but that hasn't happened yet.

Q: Where have you been?!

A: The same bat place at the same bat time. I do tend to get busy with things other than musing about Gnosis and life's Big Questions. I'm in the penultimate phase of a career change I started close to two years ago, and my time and energy are focused elsewhere. I am sort of on hiatus.

Q: Are you working on a book?

A: I have a tentative outline for a book to be tentatively titled The Way of Thomas: The Wisdom of the Twin. I probably won't begin writing the book until late 2013 at the earliest.

Q: What's the most important question?

A: So?

This should be followed by the corollary "So what?"