Monday, February 26, 2007
"Make No Comparisons" - Brugh Joy's Spiritual Lesson #1
Since my post of Feb. 20, I've been thinking about how I couldn't stop comparing myself to others, knowing that other people on chemo have a hard time, or an even harder time than I am. It brought to mind some spiritual lessons I keep learning over and over again. I know it's human to compare our experience to others, but it's not always that helpful.
When I was taking workshops with W. Brugh Joy, I read his book Joy's Way: A Map for the Transformational Journey. An Introduction to the Potentials for Healing with Body Energies. In the third chapter of the book, Brugh describes a cosmic experience of a woman who came to talk with him about her challenges in life. A few months earlier, she had been walking along a beach, saw an iridescent light, and heard a booming voice deliver three injunctions. She thought she was going mad. The voice said, slowly and repetitively, "'There are three injunctions for you. Pay attention to them. Make no comparisons; make no comparisons. Make no judgments; make no judgments. Delete your need to understand; delete your need to understand.'" (p. 59)
Today I want to share some of my thoughts about the first injunction: Make no comparisons. Like many spiritual lessons, I feel that I have been learning and relearning this lesson for decades. My comparing myself to others on chemotherapy is an example. I feel that the reality is that my task, my spiritual work right now, is to be present to my experience and to see what it has to teach me. I can empathize with the experience of others, but making comparisons is not useful (human, but not useful).
In his book, Brugh makes a few useful points about this injunction. He says "The tendency to live in ideas about reality isolates the mind from the true reality of the physical level . . . self is - the self is true, without question - but ideas about self may be true or false, . . . If the individual insists on holding on to ideas rather than harmonizing with what is, pain must follow." In these words, I hear him saying that believing things about ourselves, in comparison to others, isolates us from the truth about our self. I hope I'm not making this too ponderous, because it's a lesson that has really served me.
For some of us, perhaps many of us, this comparison comes in looking at our physical attributes and judging them as wanting in comparison to friends, family, societal ideals, etc. Brugh gives an example of this for himself in his book by talking about his dissatisfaction with his physical appearance for years. I was doing this in a small way when I felt overdressed for the weather on Feb. 20, and didn't like what I saw was the way others were seeing me. For much of my life, I have judged my physical body by cultural standards and found it wanting. Now that the calendar year says I will turn 60 if I live until my June birthday, I can get caught less in that, but it's still there. Last fall, I saw an old friend whom I hadn't seen in perhaps 20 years, and a mutual friend commented back to me that she thought I looked old. Well, we are the same age, but I have let my hair turn gray. I haven't completely accepted my aging body, but I do recognize that making comparisons with younger bodies accomplishes nothing. Aging is something we baby boomers don't always do gracefully, I fear.
On a spiritual level, making comparisons can mean seeing others as more spiritually evolved than we are, and feeling hopeless to achieve what someone else has achieved. For me, with my gallbladder cancer diagnosis, there is this desire not to be facing the challenges I have. I want to live a longer life, I want to see my kids grow up, I even want a less serious cancer if I have to have cancer. But none of that wishing changes the reality. Can I give up those comparisons to the life I wish I had to, to the life others have, to allow myself to benefit from the life I do have?
Toward the end of the section on this injunction, Brugh adds "It is especially important that one not interpret the injunction against making comparisons as an exhortation to live in a state of complacency, where everything that the outer mind sees is rationalized as being perfect or right, without need for change. Complacency is the way of the ignorant." I've never thought of this spiritual lesson as encouragement to accept everything the way it is, without question or concern, but I can see how it could be read that way.
Make no comparisons. Be true to oneself, and be willing to look under the rocks of consciousness to see what is hidden from awareness. Under those rocks lie the possibility of transformation, of true change that allows us to fully unfold into the person, the spiritual person, we were meant to be, we were created to be.
On another day, I'll add Brugh's thoughts - and my own - about the other two injunctions.
Today is a pretty good day for me in Chemo World, as I grade some papers, make up a midterm, and try to stay off my feet with their "hot spots." Three and a half days remaining in this cycle of chemo . . .