Today we had a spirituality panel in the Art & Science of Happiness class. Featured guests were Community Chaplain, Courtney Arntzen, Lama Tsomo, and Rabbi Mark Hayim Kula. Rita S-F was also featured as the panel moderator. I sat on the side of the room, desperately seeking enlightenment.
Over the years I’ve taken to poking fun at the highly regarded statistical procedure called meta-analysis. I like to make fun of it because, in essence, meta-analytic findings are a summary of a summary of a summary. Today, in our class, the distinguished panelists were given tiny shreds of time during which they offered brief anecdotes, summaries, analogies, and facts about their three spiritual traditions. Providing them with such little time was a disservice that we all tolerated in the service of experiencing 80 minutes of their wisdom. And now, I’ll be doing that disservice a disservice by trying to summarize a few salient points. Meta-analysis never looked so deep.
In this oversimplification of the rich and amazing information we experienced today, I’m including a prequel, a dialectic, and a sequel. Here’s the prequel.
Lama Tsomo began by pointing out that when we stub our toe, our whole self hurts. She followed up with how Tibetan methods are useful for getting us out of our individual ego, and noted that although we should love our neighbors as ourselves, many of us aren’t all that good at loving ourselves. In the end, she put us all together in a metaphoric ocean where we are both all interconnected, but all individuals.
Courtney Arntzen began with a heartfelt apology, “For ways my faith has hurt or wounded you or told you that you’re not enough or not loved.” She followed this with the old testament message of loving the lord with all your heart and soul and strength, combined with the new testament message of loving your neighbor as yourself.
Rabbi Mark asked the students if they’re feeling happier from their experience in the class. Some heads nodded. I wanted to leap up and tell everyone on the class that they God Damn better be feeling happier, but that seemed spiritually inappropriate for someone seeking enlightenment. Then Mark said that his final exam for the class would be “Are you happy?” He went on to discuss how one of the Jewish commandments is to be happy and pursue joyfulness.
Overall, and here’s where my silly oversimplification feels terribly limited, I thought the main messages coalesced dialectics. In case you’re not carrying your counseling theories textbook with you all the time (yet), here’s a definition for dialectic: “A dialectic is a process where learning is stimulated from the integration of opposites” (Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2018, p. 90; yes, quoting myself hereJ).
All three spiritual disciplines featured today emphasized that happiness for the self is directly related to the happiness you offer others. Whether it was all of us being interconnected in the ocean, or the message that to dismiss the other is to negate God’s work, I kept hearing how deeply important it is for us to love ourselves well and to love others just as well. Rabbi Mark suggested that we carry two different messages, one in each pocket. The first, we should pull out when feeling down, “The entire world is was made for you.” The second is good to read when feeling overconfident, “I am a mere speck of dust.” Yes! Learning from dialectics.
Eventually the conversation leaned into forgiveness. Everyone embraced the idea that we can be quick condemn ourselves and others, and that forgiveness is a decision or empowered choice. We need to get beyond who’s right and who’s wrong. We need to accept grace for ourselves, but also for others. None of us is perfect; we are all striving. More dialectics.
Some small fireworks were ignited twice. Rita asked Courtney about her thoughts on whether self-esteem was evil. Turns out, Courtney not only had thoughts about that particular idea, she also had feelings. She made it clear that because we’re all God’s creation, “instead of negating what God loves, I try to be compassionate and kind to myself.” She extended that principle to loving one’s neighbor and to loving and being a steward of the universe.
Toward the end of the panel discussion Rabbi Mark and Lama Tsomo were readying themselves for spiritual combat, but Rita, being mindful of time, transitioned to the next topic. Lama Tsomo lamented that lost opportunity because, “I wanted to debate, because Jewish debate is a great way to get to the truth.”
Although I’m sad to have missed out on a good old Buddhist-Jewish debate, I think we managed to get to some truth anyway.
To end, Lama Tsomo led us all in mindfulness meditation. She gently recommended that we meditate with our eyes open, because we want to go through life with our eyes open (and keeping our eyes open also reduces the chances of falling asleep while meditating).
My take home message for the day was something like this, “I need to meditate with my eyes wide open in order to illuminate my mind to the idea and action that psychological, spiritual, and religious practice is a practice that requires repetition and a commitment to being perfect creations who imperfectly strive to act out values of loving others, loving ourselves, and loving God (aka the great ocean of wisdom).”
Thanks to Courtney, Mark, and Tsomo. Thanks also to Rita and to the Happiness class.
I am grateful.
I am still practicing.