Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Sharing Your Story

Originally posted on February 7, 2011

I’m suggesting some reasons why it would make sense to weave in a degree of group dynamics, sharing our stories—especially the stories of our spiritual journeys—, listening, offering support to each other, and even deepening this exploration together using certain psychodramatic methods.

We were raised in an era before actual spiritual community. Some of us in the mid-20th century gathered, but we didn’t disclose ourselves. We sat and let others perform for us. Maybe we’d join in—but there was little we’d share that might be judged by others, little we’d show that was potentially judge-able. Everyone had a story, we vaguely knew, but we didn’t know what it was. It was none of our business. And as for anyone knowing our story, it was none of their business. And anyway, they’re not interest in me as a person. They just want me not to rock the boat. They want me to confirm their beliefs, validate that what we’re all doing is okay. Heresy wasn’t called that in the mid-20th century, but we didn’t know how to process the idea that others had really different views of how the world worked. It sort of made us feel uneasy, as if knowing that there was another way of relating to the world made us doubt our own way.

And we had no way of re-evaluating our own way. It wasn’t as if there was a technology for re-evaluating and re-choosing. First of all, you’re either in the right or you’re wrong. You couldn’t say, “Oh, we’re just different.” Someone had to be right and it was that person’s job to convince the other person that she was wrong. There was an absolute truth out there for all people in all eras and you were either aligned with it or you weren’t. With this as a basic, generally unspoken, deeply felt assumption, blame for self or other was an easy corollary. (A corollary is a natural consequence or another way of approaching an idea, so if 2 + 2 = 4, then one of its corollaries is that 4 – 2 = 2.)

But what if we changed the basic assumption? What if we realized more vividly that the nature of individuality required that we have different journeys, because there are so many variables in play. It’s like realizing why we all have to have different fingerprints. There are scores of ways we differ in temperament, and scores of different kinds of abilities and not-so-abilities; there are hundreds of ways we differ in our backgrounds, our contacts with family members who were equally individual. We didn’t have “a” prototypical mother, but one who was herself very complex in all these ways, and then she had to deal with an equally complex individual who was our father, and maybe one or several siblings, and we had to cope with that unique set-up. This goes on to involve the unique blends that come up with our different interest, aside from all the other elements. So there can be no standard way of being. Instead of adjustment and conformity, in the 21st century, recognizing the inevitable nature of complexity, we might celebrate it instead of trying to hide it: What is your journey about.

The problem is that few people have had the support in even becoming explicitly conscious about all this. Remember, we were raised in an era in which these differences were proof of being vaguely abnormal, maybe even willful, disobedient, impudent, lacking sufficient respect, stubborn, prideful, and so forth. What’s the matter with you that you can’t go along with the rest of us? Such attitudes have been prevalent for centuries, it was deep within our traditions. Everyone mouths the same words, and ideally, we thought, we should be able to do it with sincerity.

Alas, everyone was at least unconsciously a bit of a hypocrite, because everyone had the uneasy and often unconscious awareness that they didn’t share in how they interpreted the meaning of the words they were saying with at least some of the others. But we couldn’t talk about such things. We knew it would make them uncomfortable, and it made us uneasy, and we had no method, we had no clue of how to do this, nor was there any promise that such dialogue would turn out other than leaving both sides with hard feelings, guilt, shame, and resentment. What a fix we were in, because we knew we were supposed to try to experience community. So instead we indulged in our own illusory communion with God as we imagined it, or God’s intermediaries, pretending that others substantially shared the same belief, the same doctrine, and that had to be good enough.

It wasn’t a matter of a change in the moral climate. It was a change in the depth and rate of complexity in our world in the last fifty years, a recognition that psychology isn’t just for the neurotic. We all have been becoming more pressingly aware of our inevitable and really quite okay individuality, even if few of us can articulate what that individuality is about.

There’s also a vague sense that even if individuality should find its expression in an equally unique blend of vocation, avocation, social activities, and so forth, it had not been clear that this applied to our spirituality. Surely there was one domain—or maybe there should be—where we can all be alike. Well, it’s true in general: We all share life, we all share spirit, there are a number of commonalities. But within this, we all differ in how our soul creates an ongoing synthesis of the many elements of our inevitable individuality.

We aren’t trying to be different. This isn’t a matter of will. We are in our deepest nature necessarily deeply different, as much as our faces or fingerprints. We are the farthest thing from cogs in a machine, interchangeable cogs that all are shaped alike. What would our spirituality be like if we all really got that?

In the past it was more crude. If we all could be persuaded to follow a set of mainly ethical rules, with some ritual rules thrown in, then we could live together in community. Religion and life were one, involving obvious agreements to not kill, steal, do adultery, stuff like that. Then there were the religious wars where people killed each other, tortured each other, because they were so deeply threatened that not being aligned in all ways threatened the stability of community. Alas, we’re still trying to emerge from that totalitarian belief system—and it isn’t only the radical Islamic terrorists who typify this sensibility. Non-orthodoxy is still a deeply vulnerable stance in many sub-communities.

But in a more civilized world, what if the game shifts 180 degrees? What if true community involves truly sharing our differences, and being confirmed by others who do not share those difference, but instead find them interesting, potentially mind-expanding?  This is a deep paradigm shift about spirituality.

Into this shift, this new ecological niche opened by the equivalent of a tectonic shift in the earth (only at the level of the noosphere), new religions have been emerging that are more liberal, inclusive, that are open to the recognition of and kindly attitude towards differences. People of different races, religious and ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, ages—can “they” be imagined to be part of “us”? What about people dealing with different facets of their lives, people who are divorced, people who are in recovery from some addiction or variation of addiction?

What if all these journeys offer opportunities for us to open our consciousness to other ways of being-in-the-world? What if instead of being threatened by differences, we found them intriguing, and we could respond to them with compassion? There are methods that have emerged in other sectors of the culture that could empower the re-visioning of what religion is about, methods that deal with promoting the sense of spiritual community.

Some of these methods came from the field of group therapy, but please know that these methods don’t have to be considered as “therapy” (in the sense of someone thinking you’re sick or crazy and trying to fix you) any more than computers need to be considered as glorified light bulbs because they both make use of electricity. It’s possible to be helped to become more conscious, become more explicitly aware, share this awareness, have others share back, no judgment—all of which are components of good therapy—but there’s no sociological sick role, no need to imply there’s anything wrong at all. True health involves maturation continuing, and that involves moving away from less maturity, and this can go on in a hundred different ways every year of a perfectly healthy life. It’s not as if you grow up and become normal. Growth is an ongoing creative process.

Moreover, our collective life is evolving—dare we say, maturing?—at least for those who are more reflective. Stupidity and fanaticism is prevalent and I’m not talking about it; I know it’s there, but my attention is given to how we can help the more civilized, flexible, and healthy of us to be even more mentally and socially flexible! Back to the beginning point, I’m suggesting that what is called religion be recognized as not requiring any fixed belief! This is a shift similar to suggesting that there are cross-cultural dynamics and practices that may be discerned beyond the content of how those activities are “clothed” within a given culture. This is in part what Jung meant by archetypes.

I haven’t commented much on religion, but I want to note that I view it as the social organization of the spiritual impulse. On one hand, this means that religion is susceptible to all the weaknesses of social organization at our present general level of consciousness, which means that it’s open to authoritarianism, conservativism, corruption, cults, and many other forms of foolishness—the pathology of individuals and groups. On the other hand, there are certain dimensions of spirituality that can only be enjoyed in the setting of supportive others.

Much of spiritual discourse addresses the solitary pursuit involved in developing one’s relationship with the Greater Wholeness; but there is a category that acknowledges that collective alignment in some ways intensifies the experience, deepens the sense of connectedness. Can the collective be organized so that it need not stifle one’s now-recognized-as-intrinsic individuality? It hasn’t been able to in the past very much because of the tendency to focus on the contents of belief rather than the more abstract and general inclination to idealism—a type of kind compassion that allows others to pursue the symbols and experience that work for them. I think this can change and is changing, and what I’m suggesting may be a tool for helping it to do so.

Restating, in conclusion, there are some methods, admittedly derived from “therapy,” that (1) are very useful in promoting spirituality and group cohesion; (2) and do not need to imply that the people involved are patients or that any external authority knows better how to live life—i.e., some of the residues of the social sick role. We can use the first and not use the second. We can watch television or use the computer and not be caught up in the worst of those media. We can exercise discrimination and co-creativity to accentuate the positive. This is not a denial of the negative—some of those elements need to be faced squarely and addressed at times; but rather it is a general focus and emphasis on the positive. (Building a deeper grounding in positive ways actually strengthens people when on occasion they need to wrestle with the negative.)

Therefore, let’s have people share their personal journeys, their stories of their spiritual evolution. This will stimulate others to bring what has been implicit and not much thought about to find words. Like Joe, I, too did this, but in this way. Like Mary, I also experienced that, but with this other twist. We can all help each other to give voice and from that more explicit consciousness to that which has churned or floated around at the edge of our explicit conscious awareness, and this in turn advances our life journey.

I welcome email, comments, and let this be an invitation to dialogue.

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