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Old 26-Nov-2010, 05:42 PM (17:42)     1        42103
FrDavidCloake
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Default On finding sustainance

This is my first such thread, so if the presentation is amateurish, I apologise.

Christians have an 'inner life' which revolves around connection with God, and my brand of English priests are now familiar with the phrase: 'Sustaining the Sacred Centre'. For us, it speaks of prayer, time, reflection, retreat taking - all things that are geared towards enhacing and revitalising the relationship of that Christian with God internally. It is a device that infers the need to replenish our spiritual energies, and the challenges it brings.

I posted a preamble on my blog - The Vernacular Curate because I want to challenge Christians to enter into this thought process too.

This is a thread that will question the accuracy and appropriate quality or terms and words, and if I fail to use the right ones here, I apologise. However, I am genuinely interested in, and care about, how such a pass time is possible for those of you without a god.

As I say in my posting, if Christians (I) only care about what makes Christians tick, we are one-sided in our regard for life. Atheists, pagans, humanists etc have a 'centre', a sense of self, a soul, a spirit - or whatever term fits best. I wonder how how you sustain it, what problems modern living brings to that, what is useful from faith traditions in terms of practice (if there are such things), what works for you, what doesnt ... and so on.

I am open to challenge about the presumptions I have made ... but bear in mind that they have been made to open a diologue not close one.

I'd love to hear from you all ...
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Old 26-Nov-2010, 07:39 PM (19:39)     2        42105
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It may help to quote this from Fr. David's blog:

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1. All people, whether of a faith or not, must have a sense of themselves as more than just tissue, bones and synapses.
2. Whether chemical or innate, that sense of themselves that goes beyond the fleshly aspect of our human existence is intangible and is unique to each person
3. Like all parts of the human body, this innate facet of our being is apt to depletion like all parts are if not sustained (in the same way that not eating or drinking depletes our physical characteristics)
4. As a human being who has a care for others, I long to know how people without a faith sustain that part of their being so that I can learn about humanity and not just Christians
5. Words like 'sacred' or 'centre' may not be applicable, or even terms like 'inner' or 'heart' in the sense of it being the root of the emotional sense.
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Old 27-Nov-2010, 04:19 PM (16:19)     3        42113
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrDavidCloake
Atheists, pagans, humanists etc have a 'centre', a sense of self, a soul, a spirit - or whatever term fits best. I wonder how how you sustain it, what problems modern living brings to that, what is useful from faith traditions in terms of practice (if there are such things), what works for you, what doesnt ... and so on.
I would agree that everyone has a soul - which I would define as a sense of self. I've no idea why it would need sustaining. It's the part of me that is me and it hangs in there every day running the show. I do what needs to be done, consider the information the world gives me and how best to handle. I think about what is right, wrong, best course of action, valuable, helpful, enjoyable or not, Modern living is all I've ever know, though I suppose a sense of self would have worked the same way in the past, just different information being input from the world around you.
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Old 27-Nov-2010, 07:21 PM (19:21)     4        42115
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I'm pretty much with Never, though I would never have thought to call my "sense of self"" a soul.

What is, is. I am. The world is. That's about it. My sense of self doesn't change or need maintaining; values can change, morals can change, ideas can change, paradigms can change, but I am still me at the end of it all.

Maybe some folks don't have as strong a sense of self, and thus feel the need to maintain it, while those of us with a very strong sense of self don't worry about it?
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Old 28-Nov-2010, 06:05 PM (18:05)     5        42124
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To slightly echo Never: When I was reading the original post it sounded like you were describing identity. It's not something that needs sustaining, it just is.

I'll take your questions one at a time just to be sure I answer all of them.

"I wonder how how you sustain it"

I think this is less a problem of sustaining it than being aware of it and how it affects me. This is done just by being thoughtful about how my actions and habits effect the people around me.

"what problems modern living brings to that,"

I don't know of any particular problems with modern living. Recognizing that part of my identity comes from my community modern living makes this easier in a few ways. Better communication has made it easier for me to connect with others who share similar beliefs. Without the internet I would probably only know one other atheist or two. Other than that, the fact that I know that I need the community of people I'm surrounded with and that they occasionally call on me is probably the most obvious way that I am made aware of my (non-physical) place. Again, this isn't something that needs sustaining. Unless you're a hermit living in the woods all alone it just happens.

"what is useful from faith traditions in terms of practice (if there are such things), what works for you, what doesnt ... and so on."

I don't really have much use for any faith traditions. The only thing I see that churches offer that is really necessary is a community and sometimes they use that organization to provide community services. Neither of those is dependent on the church itself though. They both do exist outside of groups organized based on faith. Our very meager local atheists' group has done hundreds of hours of community service and raised thousands of dollars for charities in the last few years I've been involved.

To me, as a secular humanist, it looks like two things are going on here:

1. You're looking for a supernatural way to explain what's going on in plain sight, identity.

2. Youíve made your relationship with god the center of that identity (sense of self), therefore you donít understand how atheists maintain our sense of self.

I'm not surprised by this because of your world view. I'm also not surprised that you feel this needs constant maintenance. I don't mean this offensively, but I believe that most people do not naturally take to believing irrational things, so one common trait of an irrational belief is that it needs constant maintenance and reminding for most people to keep believing it. If the belief made sense it wouldn't take so much work to maintain it. The center of your sense of self is your relationship with god, an inherently irrational belief, therefore to maintain that belief/relationship/your identity is a whole lot of work. An identity with relationships to people/community at the center doesnít take work to maintain, it happens simply through the act of living.

This also hits on an issue we discussed recently about how the faithful and non-faithful can talk past each other so quickly. When you say that you need time alone in prayer and retreat-taking to "replenish our spiritual energies, and the challenges it brings." I hear "I need to get away from the real world so that I can learn to justify and maintain beliefs that do not fit into that environment (reality)."
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Old 29-Nov-2010, 02:03 AM (02:03)     6        42137
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What I got out of the OP sounds like a description of personality. It's something you have, and is maintained by your brain. And it's different for everyone. How do we come to have opinions, likes and dislikes? Why do some people like certain foods or music, and others can't stand it? It's part of what we were born with and partly what we have experienced.

I'm not sure just what the word "spirituality" means. I guess it can mean anything you want it to. I don't think I could consciously "sustain" my personality. How? More to the point-----why? If by going on a retreat you mean just recharging your batteries and taking a rest from your routine----- yeah I can certainly get on board with that. But there is nothing "spiritual" or supernatural about it. Not for me at any rate. It is simply a temporary escape from the reality of who, what and where you are.
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Old 29-Nov-2010, 09:47 AM (09:47)     7        42141
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I know that this is all partly contingent on language - and I am the one hanging myself upside-down on it - probably as I am likely trying to 'please' and not apply Christian or religious language universally or like the norm!

Soul, spiritual centre, inner monologue - all of those things point towards what I am trying to think about - the bit of us that holds how we feel as distinct from what we think (perhaps you regard that as one in the same).

Perhaps I could help things along with my own example. There are times when I am tip-top physically but feeling drained emotionally. After a funeral I feel that way, after a wedding I feel that way. After a hard day squabbling with the kids or after a fight with the wife, or the converse ... etc. None of that stuff, I believe, affects me physically but changes how I feel 'inside'. Now, I ought to say, that I Chief Among Pragmatists so tend always to plough on regardless and just get on with it. But I also recognise the need in me, every once in a while, to take positive action to redress an imbalance. As a Christian I take a retreat - a time to read, think and often while away a few hours day-dreaming (i think some Christians call that praying). Equally, a flight on my glider or a walk up a mountain do that same thing - they 'uplift' me beyond that physical.

That is me.

When I refer to 'modern living' I speak only of the speed and intensity of it, the information overload etc etc. Life gets in the way of living, it feels at times. There is probably a better term, but eh!!

Hirsutus - you are right at every level as regards me; words liek supernatural and god etc are applicable - and you talk about something that it for you in 'plain sight'. I am interested how you 'prop that up' as for me it is not in plain sight. Ther only thing I would argue with is that I have a sense of self distinct from God, but in relationship with God - I have times of considerable doubt and days when faith vanishes for a time - yet I am still there, 'me'. My 'me' is not dependant upon God, but placed in proximity - or something like that !!
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Old 30-Nov-2010, 01:00 AM (01:00)     8        42154
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrDavidCloake View Post
I know that this is all partly contingent on language - and I am the one hanging myself upside-down on it - probably as I am likely trying to 'please' and not apply Christian or religious language universally or like the norm!
It's appreciated, more than you know. The good news is, you're trying to get your ideas across without loaded words that can mean something entirely different to someone else; it can feel like it hinders, but it's probably doing more good than can safely be said.

Quote:
Soul, spiritual centre, inner monologue - all of those things point towards what I am trying to think about - the bit of us that holds how we feel as distinct from what we think (perhaps you regard that as one in the same).
When I was dealing with personality theory one of the things I was taught was to consider there being three "base" modes of operation in terms of thinking/feeling: Physical feeling, emotive feeling, and thinking. These things are, according to the theory, based in different parts of the body; While I believe that treating them as something separable is in error, the thinking/feeling process behind it is easy enough to understand. It works a little like this:

To know you're angry you:

Recognize that you're having angry body feelings (IE: I might have my shoulders tense, my teeth clenched, my eyebrows furrowed, and my stomach has tightened in preparation for combat that isn't likely to actually happen. If I'm really pissed, the world might literally seem to narrow down to whatever's in front of me for a moment)

And

Recognize that you are having angry thoughts (I might be having fantasies of reaching through the phone and strangling them with the cord, for example)

With the interaction between your thoughts and your body feelings causing the emotive response of "anger".

Most people do that fast enough and adeptly enough that they don't need to think on the response, and I know of precious few people who bother to monitor any kind of separation.

Sad but true, and almost totally unrelated: I learned this, in part, so that I could recognize what I was feeling. Once upon a time someone could look at me and ask "You're angry, aren't you?" and I, red in the face and clearly pissed off, could look them right back and be like...

"I am not angry, goddamnit!"

This was very useful for me to learn. :P

Quote:
Perhaps I could help things along with my own example. There are times when I am tip-top physically but feeling drained emotionally. After a funeral I feel that way, after a wedding I feel that way. After a hard day squabbling with the kids or after a fight with the wife, or the converse ... etc. None of that stuff, I believe, affects me physically but changes how I feel 'inside'. Now, I ought to say, that I Chief Among Pragmatists so tend always to plough on regardless and just get on with it. But I also recognise the need in me, every once in a while, to take positive action to redress an imbalance. As a Christian I take a retreat - a time to read, think and often while away a few hours day-dreaming (i think some Christians call that praying). Equally, a flight on my glider or a walk up a mountain do that same thing - they 'uplift' me beyond that physical.
Again, what you're talking about is stuff easily taken as a function of personality: How and why one needs to "recharge the batteries" is a pretty classic example of how someone works on the spectrum of introversion/extroversion.


You need to "recharge" after weddings and funerals- Social occasions. My guess is that you're a fairly introverted person, and that's fine. Most introverts need time alone- or at least away from the crowd- to recharge. An extrovert might find time alone wearing, and need those kinds of social occasions to recharge.

For me personally, I'm a pretty severe introvert. After dealing with people all day at work, the last thing I want to do is look another human being in the face or deal with them on the phone when I get home. When I come home, I cuddle the kitty, yak with friends online (Through chat! CHAT!), draw, or write... If I had a tub, a hot bath would be in order damned near every day. And I sleep. It's amazing how much "recharge time" gets cut down on when I get to take a two or three hour nap. :P

Naps are awesome.

Quote:
When I refer to 'modern living' I speak only of the speed and intensity of it, the information overload etc etc. Life gets in the way of living, it feels at times. There is probably a better term, but eh!!
Some people genuinely enjoy the hustle and bustle, and I wish them luck in it. I have some friends who moved to San Fransisco some years back because it was the closest major city, and they love it. My sister keeps a high-aced life even though she lives in a fairly small town, and she loves it (She's a godawful huge extrovert! I love her, but need her in *small* doses, lol).

My response is to force the world around me to work at my pace; I can, when I want to, move at breakneck speed. The rest of the time, I will move as much as I want to move, and the rest of the world can like it or go bother someone else. It seems to work out, and aside from me needing to dig in my heels and be stubborn once in a while, it's not particularly wearing. Since my "me first" philosophy involves catering to my own needs and whims, it's not like there's much of a chance for life to wear me down with intensity. It tries from time to time, but I'm just that much more stubborn.

Quote:
The only thing I would argue with is that I have a sense of self distinct from God, but in relationship with God - I have times of considerable doubt and days when faith vanishes for a time - yet I am still there, 'me'. My 'me' is not dependant upon God, but placed in proximity - or something like that !!
I think everyone has a sense of self distinct from the divine; if they don't, then I hope to hell they're in a mental institution. *grins* Well, either that or they're some sort of fucking amazing Zen master, and they'd better be on top of a hill with a stick in one hand and a phrase of meaningful meaninglessness in the other with which I can try to gain enlightenment.

Or endarkenment.

Otherwise known as "perpetual confusion", however you want to phrase it!
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Old 30-Nov-2010, 02:27 AM (02:27)     9        42157
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrDavidCloake View Post
Hirsutus - you are right at every level as regards me; words liek supernatural and god etc are applicable - and you talk about something that it for you in 'plain sight'. I am interested how you 'prop that up' as for me it is not in plain sight. Ther only thing I would argue with is that I have a sense of self distinct from God, but in relationship with God - I have times of considerable doubt and days when faith vanishes for a time - yet I am still there, 'me'. My 'me' is not dependant upon God, but placed in proximity - or something like that !!
I'll refer to what Makbawehuh said about physical feeling, emotive feeling, and thinking as to what I meant about my concept of myself being in plain sight. For me those things rarely go unnoticed, though when I was writing I was looking at it from the point of view of identity than the sense of self as you describe it, both of which are heavily influenced by internal and external stimuli.

I'm skeptical that the modern word is that much different than before. I grew up in a very small town where everyone knew what everyone was up to whether they could have posted it on facebook or not. As far as I can remember everyone was pretty massively busy with something. The greatest thing about the gossip network going online rather than being informal is that I can turn it off whenever I want, grab a beer, and sit listening to the radio (which I'm going to do as soon as I finish this post). People have a hell of a lot of control over their time. When you go on your retreats you don't leave the "modern world." You're very much in it, you're just making decisions on how to spend your time in it. Actually, I'm picturing two thousand years ago: some guy in current day Palestine says "I'm going to go sit in the desert for a few weeks to get away from the hustle and bustle of the 'modern world.'" It's all about context.

From my study of history I can guarantee you that you have more control over how you spend your time than the average person did mid-way through the last century; back before the 40 hour week, when factory workers worked six ten hour days and a half day on Sunday just to put bread on the table. If they had our "modern world" described to them as hustle and bustle they would laugh.
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Old 02-Dec-2010, 12:20 AM (00:20)     10        42171
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Mak - thanks for giving such a fullsome comment. What is encouraging to me, believe it or not, is that there is very little of what you say that I disagree with. Perhaps I have an extra layer of something that you don't - but the discription of the anger response is oddly familiar.

I am glad that my blunt attempts to be inclusive are not causing more damage than good - it means that I have at least learned something about equal dialogue.

Me introverted - nah! Quite the opposite, though I do accept the 'price' that is brings with it.

You descirbe activities that would also recharge me, though I regard them as more than purely physical enterprises. Hugging my cats, or my kids, is not just a social bonding thing, or the entwining of my limbs with theirs in a kind of socially accepted greeting - those hugs recharge and make me feel different, better. Placing my arms around something shouldn't yield that repsonse if we remove the 'spiritual' of 'otherly' stuff, yet it does. Naps are a rare friend for me, what with three-year old twins girls!

However, I am in danger of judging what you offer here by applying my value structure to it, and I won't do that. In truth, I identify with all that you say. You have no idea how helpful this is to me, not as a priest, but as a fellow human being. Thank you!
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Old 02-Dec-2010, 01:17 AM (01:17)     11        42172
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrDavidCloake View Post
You descirbe activities that would also recharge me, though I regard them as more than purely physical enterprises. Hugging my cats, or my kids, is not just a social bonding thing, or the entwining of my limbs with theirs in a kind of socially accepted greeting - those hugs recharge and make me feel different, better. Placing my arms around something shouldn't yield that repsonse if we remove the 'spiritual' of 'otherly' stuff, yet it does.
Not trying to be a smart ass, but it changes your brain chemistry, causing it to release dopamine that has a very strong physical effect. It makes you feel euphoric.
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Old 02-Dec-2010, 04:58 PM (16:58)     12        42174
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Quote:
Originally Posted by homo hirsutus View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by FrDavidCloake View Post
You descirbe activities that would also recharge me, though I regard them as more than purely physical enterprises. Hugging my cats, or my kids, is not just a social bonding thing, or the entwining of my limbs with theirs in a kind of socially accepted greeting - those hugs recharge and make me feel different, better. Placing my arms around something shouldn't yield that repsonse if we remove the 'spiritual' of 'otherly' stuff, yet it does.
Not trying to be a smart ass, but it changes your brain chemistry, causing it to release dopamine that has a very strong physical effect. It makes you feel euphoric.
Which is why I like to go home for lunch so much. Bad morning? No problem. Go home and hug a kitty!

It's an instant feel-better. ^__^

Quote:
Originally Posted by FrDavidCloake View Post
Mak - thanks for giving such a fullsome comment. What is encouraging to me, believe it or not, is that there is very little of what you say that I disagree with. Perhaps I have an extra layer of something that you don't - but the discription of the anger response is oddly familiar.
You're welcome; you happened to have accidentally stumbled upon one of my passionate areas. The human mind is a fascinating place.

Meep. I think it's less an extra layer, and more a viewing of the same thing from different viewpoints. Take "hugging a kitty makes you feel better": You view it in spiritual terms, whereas HH and I view it in physical ones. Does it make the experience less real or effective? No. It's a little like taking a Tiffany lamp and putting it on a table, then having a bunch of people look at it from different angles.



Everyone is seeing it with different lighting, a slightly different angle because of variations in height, and perhaps with a different pattern, because of differences inherent in the pattern itself. Perhaps one of those people is color blind.

But it's still the same lamp.

Quote:
I am glad that my blunt attempts to be inclusive are not causing more damage than good - it means that I have at least learned something about equal dialogue.
Words are powerful things, tied to feelings and views and connotations as they are, and mean different things to different people. Language is one of those things that can be a barrier to people who nominally speak the same language, because of that... So to carry through the lamp analogy, on top of the different viewing angle, there's also vocabulary to pile on lamp-view misunderstandings. Loaded language is one of those things that can destroy a dialogue before it begins if people aren't careful.

A good example of what I mean is to ask a Christian Vs. an Atheist vs. a Pagan what the word "cross" means to them. It's one word with a hundred meanings, all of them emotionally loaded, and not all of them good.

Quote:
Me introverted - nah! Quite the opposite, though I do accept the 'price' that is brings with it.
Oh well, a girl can't be right 100% of the time.

Quote:
However, I am in danger of judging what you offer here by applying my value structure to it, and I won't do that. In truth, I identify with all that you say. You have no idea how helpful this is to me, not as a priest, but as a fellow human being. Thank you!
No problem!

Last edited by Makbawehuh; 02-Dec-2010 at 05:44 PM (17:44).
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Old 03-Dec-2010, 12:17 AM (00:17)     13        42177
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I think looking at it from a purely physical point of view is pretty f'ing beautiful. Some people seem to think that knowing how and why it works takes some of the power out of it, but to me knowing that millions of years of evolution have wired my brain to make me feel good when playing with a puppy is a very beautiful and awesome thing. It makes the experience very rich even when that thought is only in the very farthest reaches of the back of my mind.
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Old 10-Dec-2010, 10:09 PM (22:09)     14        42305
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Funny that immersion in the standard trappings of religion is draining (weddings, funerals). Watch kids in church services, fidgeting and causing trouble or totally zoned out daydreaming or looking out the window. Adults maybe just hide it better. Church does have some positive social and charitable aspects. But isn't it funny how sitting for an hour on a bench in the park watching the birds gives a totally different internal result than sitting on a bench with a crowd in a building listening to someone talk about God?
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