Looking at the title of this blog post after I wrote it, at first I wondered if "ordinary" is the right word for what I'm talking about here.
Namely, our everyday life. What we do that's personal, intimate, immediate, direct, experiential. How we spend most of our hours. What we honestly describe when someone close to us asks, "How was your day?"
On further reflection, ordinary seems like the right word.
Sure, often people have the notion that being ordinary isn't good enough. But this seems crazy. What's wrong with having an ordinary life that's mostly meaningful, satisfying, pleasurable?
And when that life entails some suffering, pain, despair -- that too is perfectly fine. An ordinary life is going to have ups and downs, smooth running and rough spots.
I got to thinking along these lines after sharing a wonderfully honest comment from Sonya in the form of a blog post, "Why a guru shouldn't give mental health advice," because the comment deserved more attention than it would have gotten otherwise.
What struck me about Sonya's description of her suicide attempts, panic attacks, and sorrow at how badly the guru (Gurinder Singh Dhillon) treated her was that it seemed way more important and real than the spiritual teachings the guru represented -- which are largely conceptual, not being grounded in everyday reality.
So it makes much more sense to say of someone -- not just Sonya, anyone -- "in addition to being a [fill in the ordinary life details], they also believe in [fill in the religious, spiritual, or philosophical details]."
After all, few people outside of monasteries elevate their religious life above their ordinary life.
When I think about the 35 years I was associated with Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), the organization now led by Gurinder Singh Dhillon, what comes mainly to mind is getting married, the birth of my daughter, going to graduate school, getting my first jobs, moving to Oregon, buying houses, some memorable family vacations, surviving my child's teenage years, seeing her mature and form a family of her own, spending time with my granddaughter, getting divorced and then remarried, settling down on ten acres in rural south Salem with Laurel, writing books, becoming an avid blogger, involving myself with Salem politics, dealing with the deaths of my mother and the father I barely knew, and so on.
Yes, during that time I also was very active in RSSB. I meditated every day, as I still do. I went to India twice to the headquarters of RSSB. I served as secretary of our local RSSB group for many years. However, all this wasn't the most important part of my life.
My ordinary life was.
People engage in some strenuous disagreements on this blog, via comments. Being active on Facebook, I've often wondered what a difference it would make if everyone had to leave comments under their real name.
Likely it would improve communication, because anonymity tends to lead people to say things that they wouldn't say to someone face to face.
What Sonya did with her comment -- and I'm deeply grateful to her for this -- was illustrate how what binds us together is ordinary life, not religious life. I've enjoyed reading the reactions to what she shared, which almost universally are supportive. We all know what it is like to suffer, to feel terrible, to face crushing disappointment.
In comparison, religious dogma seems distant, abstract, detached, unimportant. Sure, I realize some people are willing to die for their religion. But I'm confident hugely more people are willing to die for their child, spouse, or other loved one.
I'll end by sharing a comment on Sonya's post from Spence Tepper. In it he shared some personal details that gave me a broader perspective on him. Before, I knew what Tepper thought about various spiritual subjects. After reading his personal comment, I had at least a glimpse of what really matters to him in his "ordinary" life.
Depression is a first world problem like obscene greed and corruption are third world Guru problems. Maybe he has something there?
I'm at the Boston Anime Con right now waiting in a line surrounded by a sea of cosplayers (my special needs son and I went yesterday; he was Dante from Devil May Cry 2 and I was Dante from Devil May Cry 4...( I made the props including the guns, and the sword with skulls, it was fun) and for the third year in a row there are transgender bathrooms.
How much pain, real trauma, have people had to go through to first accept themselves, and secondly, to assert their basic human right to be respected?
It is all around me today. The free right to be whatever role they wish to play, in whatever clothes and makeup. The sheer joy of each hand made costume, and the laughter of friends, the selfies of cosplayers, and the mythic anime stories of coming of age, and triumph over ignorance and stupidity, we have all come to see and to hear the journey of the creators to bring their worthy stories to creation, are all around.
You see women dressed as male heroes, men dressed as beautiful Geisha girls, and beautifully indeterminate but happy faces.
This happiness was won. It was earned. It was fought for. This is their heaven.
Gurinder's problems are his world. And no one's fault but his own. We offer to help any way we can. But we are not obliged to live there. We live in our own magical place of our creation.
Sonya, depression is a powerful event. Own it. Be proud of it. Your heart feels deeply, your mind sees something others would rather ignore. You have triumphed.
But if you have been able to establish by your own standards that you, alone, are a world, a worthy place carefully grown by time, nature and circumstance more valuable than anyone else, then, welcome.
You've graduated. You have your super powers. On to the next school.