Thursday, February 27, 2014

When Have You Felt Most Spiritual?

A couple of days ago, my buddy Steve said he might create a podcast about "religion as it relates to spirituality."

He was interested in hearing people's feelings about religion, as long as no one debates the existence of God.

I was rattled.  I began contemplating questions of spirituality looking for an entrance to the topic.  How do we talk about something so intangible?
Net Spirituality

What is spirituality?
What does it mean to be spiritual?
What is the spirit?

These questions led me nowhere -- at least nowhere sufficient.  Answering those questions would be like capturing spirituality in a butterfly net and pinning it into a display case.

As I explored the topic, I discovered that every attempt to explain or define spirituality involved words that were undefinable.  "Spiritual" led me to "peak experience" which led me to this definition on Wikipedia:

"Peak experience is a kind of transpersonal and ecstatic state, particularly one tinged with themes of euphoria, harmonization and interconnectedness. Participants characterize these experiences, and the revelations imparted therein, as possessing an ineffably mystical and spiritual (or overtly religious) quality or essence.

"Transpersonal is an experience in which the sense of identity or self extends beyond the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche, or cosmos."

We might get closer to understanding spirituality if a variety of people answered this question:  When did you feel most spiritual?

Was it spiritual when I imagined that I was deeply in love with another human?  At times, I was in an altered and ecstatic state.  At other times, in the presence of the lover, I felt peace, harmony, and rightness.  Once I looked in a lover's eyes and I saw my future unfold, but I would not describe those times as spiritual.  Those times were rooted in a physical present and full of contingency.  

Perhaps I could say I felt a spiritual awe when I was faced with raw nature:

  - an earthquake in Vancouver -- the explosive bang, the earth moving
  - a rainstorm in north Ontario when sheets of lightning filled the night sky for hours
  - the view from the top of Squamish Chief
  - the sunrise -- any sunrise

Those experiences bring me closer to a sense of spirituality.  I am conscious of this magnificence, but have no part in creating it.  It is bigger than me and goes on regardless of my presence. 

Just as the creations of nature fill me with a spiritual awe, so do some human creations -- what I have called transcendent art.  As I wrote in an earlier post, these creations took me beyond myself, outside of time.

I also feel spiritual when I participate in family rituals.  In my case, some of these are Jewish rituals.  Once a year, I sit with my family and talk about slavery and freedom.  It's a moving spiritual experience because, in doing so, we are participating in a ritual that has been passed on from generation to generation since Biblical times.  I imagine our way of telling stories and singing union songs is unique to our family, but the motive, the spirit, and many of the rituals are the same as they have always been.  I am present and bring my perspectives, but it is not about me and it is not about any other family member.  It is about human history.

My examples are not far off from the definitions of "peak experience" and "transpersonal."  For me, feeling spiritual involves connection with nature, creativity, and other people past and present.

However, I find that, more and more, I crave silence, emptiness, and stillness.  Only then can I hear my own wondering, creative spirit.  My spirit voice speaks in a whisper -- it is hard to hear her when I'm surrounded by noise.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Who's the Crazy One?

My friend XX is in therapy and feeling much better overall.  In one discussion with her therapist, she said,
When I tell you how crazy my family is, I feel bad.  I think, 'Who am I to be judging them?'  They are probably saying that I'm the crazy one.
Her question seems to be, "How do I know that my perception and judgements of sanity are reliable and fair?"  
Her therapist said,
The fact that you're wondering is a good sign that you are able to see a perspective other than your own.  You can see more than one possible interpretation.  People with personality disorders often think that there is nothing wrong with them.  Everyone else is crazy or stupid or evil.  Your ability to ask -- is it me or them --  suggests that it is not you.  
Meanwhile, the crazy person knows with absolute certainty that it is everyone else.
DISCLAIMER:  My friend and I used the word "crazy" -- and in the context of our friendship and understanding of one another, we knew what we meant.  I would not casually use that word as it has far too many meanings.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Wither Shakespeare? Part X: What's the Difference Between Tragedy and Comedy in Shakespeare?

When I was studying literature in university, we told this joke:  What's the difference between tragedy and comedy in Shakespeare?

1.  Tragedies are longer;
2.  At the end of a tragedy, there are more bodies lying dead on the stage than standing; and
3.  Comedies end with a wedding.  Tragedies start with one.

The joke was obviously a warning, but I began to wonder:

Are these statements true?

Yes, tragedies are generally longer:
  1. Hamlet          The longest of all of Shakespeare's plays at 4024 lines.  TRAGEDY
  2. Coriolanus     The second longest at 3824 lines.  TRAGEDY
  3. Cymbeline     The third longest:  "Tragedy looms but never strikes."
  4. Richard III     The fourth longest  HISTORICAL TRAGEDY
  5. Antony and Cleopatra    The fifth longest  TRAGEDY
  6. Othello          The sixth longest  TRAGEDY
  7. King Lear      The seventh longest  TRAGEDY
  8. Romeo and Juliet  is still in the top 50% of longest.
  9. HoweverMacbeth, Julius Caesar, Timon of Athens, and Titus Andronicus are among the shortest.

A tragedy ends with more bodies dead on stage than standing? 

This probably refers to Hamlet, more than any of the other plays.

Of the characters in Hamlet who had spoken lines, the only one left alive at the end is Horatio.  Fortinbras arrives to see the bodies of Hamlet, Claudius, Laertes, and Gertrude.  Every other important character in the play, including Polonius and Ophelia are already dead.

I'd rephrase difference #2 like this:  Tragedies end with much death and often have death and murder throughout.  I would add 

Cordelia dead

  • the more sympathy you have for a character, the more likely that character dies at the end
  • both the good guys and the bad guys die violent deaths (Macbeth, Othello, Richard III)
  • and if your name is the title of a Shakespearean tragedy, you will be dead by the end; if your name shares the title one or both of you will be dead.

A comedy ends with a wedding?

A lot of comedies start with longing.
Lucentio upon first seeing Bianca:

I burn, I pine, I perish, Tranio, 
If I achieve not this young modest girl
  - The Taming of the Shrew Act 1, Scene 1

Hermia, upon hearing that her father is forcing her to marry Demetrius:

I would my father look'd but with my eyes.
  - A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 1, Scene 1
Orsino in love

The Duke, Orsino:

. . . when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Methought she purged the air of pestilence!  
That instant was I turn'd into a hart;
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
E'er since pursue me.
  - Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 1

A wedding at the end relieves this longing at least for some of the characters:

Come, Kate, we'll to bed 
We three are married, but you two are sped.  
  - Petruccio, The Taming of the Shrew Act 5, Scene 2  

And yes, many of the comedies, and even the problem plays and romances, end with a wedding or at least permission for the lovers to marry.  These include As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Love's Labours Lost, Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Tempest and others. 

Some of these marriage scenes show an awareness of a dark side to marriage.  The Merchant of Venice suggests some tension between Lorenzo and Jessica

 and two of the three newly married couples at the end ofThe Taming of the Shrew already have issues.

 A tragedy starts with a wedding?

Hamlet begins with the wedding of Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, and his father's murderer, Uncle Claudius.

Othello begins with Brabantio, a Venetian senator, discovering that his daughter has eloped with Othello.  Iago puts it somewhat more graphically:

I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.

Macbeth does not start with a wedding.  It starts with a gaggle of witches, news of a battle, then more witches.  However, not long into Act I, we meet Lady Macbeth and soon after we see Macbeth and his wife together.  We see a married couple in a conversation about their future.

By the end of Scene 2, Richard III, our title character, has won Lady Anne's agreement to marry him. She is mourning her husband and husband's father, both killed by Richard, who says triumphantly:

Was ever woman in this humour woo'd?
Was ever woman in this humour won?   

King Lear divides his kingdom between two of his daughters.  The third, Cordelia, who would not play the game of lying to their father, is quickly married off to the King of France.

By Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet, we meet Paris who is seeking Capulet's permission to marry his daughter.  From then on, it's all talk of marriage.  By Act 2, Scene 4, Friar Lawrence leads Romeo and Juliet off to officially marry them. 

I conclude that the joke is mostly true.

When you're hooked on Shakespeare, you love both tragedy and comedy.  Both have wit and wisdom, joy and sadness, heroes, heroines, and villains, and characters with many dimensions to inform our lives.

What's the difference between tragedy and comedy in life?
Perhaps only time.

As author Charles Yu says, "Time is a machine that turns pain into experience," and if you wait long enough, tragedy into comedy.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What Made You Know the Relationship Was Over?

Did you know suddenly?
Did you know gradually?
Was it something she said?  He said?
Was it something he did?  She did?
Were you surprised to get the text?

or read the billboard?

Knowing is one thing; making it end is another.  Making it really end might require packing up and moving or shipping someone else out of your life.  Both options can be cruel and time-consuming.

But this blog is not about leaving.  It's about the moment of knowing.  When I knew for sure that I had to leave a relationship, I felt like Brutus when he realized he would join the rebels and murder Julius Caesar:
Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream (Act 2, Scene 1)
I suspect that many relationships just peter out.  One or both of the parties involved become unmotivated to keep it going.  They know, on some level, that it's over, but have not admitted it to themselves or each other - and besides, they are too busy to act on their knowledge.

Falling out of love -- which is all dread and fear and disappointment is much more nuanced and complicated than falling in love -- which is all hope and hormones and happiness.

Falling out of love is the rude awakening, the realization that you made a mistake, the coming down from a trip.  The first response is to blame the other person.  Only much later do you admit your own responsibility in the situation.  You grow up.

I've written before my belief that you never hit bottom, but sometimes if you're lucky, the universe will come up and kick your ass out the door.  That is, you knew you had to leave, but for many reasons you did not make the move.  What was the moment of knowing?  How many of us actually knew the relationship was over before we got married and had kids?

Maybe you had a moment of knowing it was "over" or would be over in due course.  Here's a few of mine:

  1. He said, "We can have a child, if you really want to."
  2. He said, "I'm not sure we can be in a relationship if you only want to be a teacher and not an aerial photographer."  [Yes, he had his pilot's licence and insisted that I become an aerial photographer.]
  3. He (a different one) had a psychotic breakdown and was hospitalized.  When they let him out, he denied it had happened and didn't want to talk about it.
  4. He (a different one) threw a cast iron frying pan across the kitchen (that was before the wedding). [I know how to pick winners, eh?]
  5. He (a different one) said, "OK, let's go for therapy."  I said, "It's too late."
What about you?  Was there a moment when you knew the relationship was over?