Best Read Aloud. Refrigerate After Opening.

This piece began in response to a Letter to the Editor in last month’s PRT about my column from the month before, “Jews In The News.” The writer, David Krest, quoted lines from Leonard Cohen, including: “Puppet Germans, Puppet Jews . . .” referring to the mechanical endlessness of history, where conflict / opposition tends to dominate the game. I know Krest tangentially, not well. He’s focused on ‘The Big Picture,’ the one you could call mystical – in which you don’t take sides because you see, or strive to see, the larger whole. One thing Krest said that makes good sense in the real world is that a victim state-of-mind and paranoid expectancy contribute in a major way to keeping things unsettled and upset: Reaction to reaction to reaction, endlessly. 

When I was four years old, I discovered and fell in love with the large dictionary my parents kept on a small wooden stand in what was called The Den, back then. The seven billion words were Greek to me, but there were illustrations too – glossy photos showing every nation’s flag, and gorgeous gems and minerals and lots of other pretty stuff. So awesome were those pics to me that I cut the whole section out (with scissors I had just learned how to use) and later got the fiercest spanking of my little life.

But, oddly, I did not cut out (because it was in black and white) the image that meant most to me; the one which was a true epiphany. I’m speaking of The Yin and Yang, that magic image of a circle carved into two curved, equal halves, one white, one black, each half shaped like a teardrop or an overweight sperm-cell, tucked perfectly into the other and wrapped around it, creating a kinetic sense of perpetual rotation. 

Though I was only four years old, there was an overwhelming sense of familiarity. (But how can someone recognize what he or she has never seen before?) Something profound within the heart said Amen, that’s the truth! And it still does.

Polarity and opposition – or so-called duality – are aspects both of nature and our lives, for good and ill. We live in a bipolar world where everything is somewhat balanced by an opposite; by something which can seem to be its mortal enemy. Is frozen, leafless winter summer’s foe? In some ways, Yes. In others, No. Or how ‘bout predator and prey? Is night the enemy of day? The brain inclines to black and white and is less fond of gray. All “opposition” can be seen – if you step slightly farther back – as something of a timeless dance, with strife enough, of course, and yet as Underlying Source – as complement/fertility – The Basic Mating Ritual from which all blessings and misfortunes flow. 

As molecules and/or planets are created from collisions full of violence and heat, where charged, reactive substances collide, so lots of stuff on earth comes to us as dichotomy – in which you find yourself on either side. When you go to the stadium, you want your team to win. (Not caring sometimes seems some sort of sin.) In normal human dealings, we’re encouraged to take sides. Those who refuse, or simply won’t, are seen as doofuses or saints, since normal people take a stand and proudly declare loyalty – to red or blue or law enforcement, BLM, the right to life, New Orleans Saints or racial purity – and tend to see their counterparts as the benighted foe. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, Bro. 

In Tucson, many years ago, there was a psychotherapist who ran a class one night each month in which she talked about psychology and spirituality. When someone sought advice about a problem in their lives, the teacher very often asked, “Do you want me to answer that as your teacher or your therapist?” 

The difference, as we learned to see, is that what we call therapy is meant to change and improve things; to address particular “situations” by adjusting behavior and relationship, while spirituality aims at something broader and more vaporous, akin to equanimity – which mostly calls for stepping back, eschewing reactivity, and seeing a much broader picture in which you (your so-called self) is just a tiny, speck with which you don’t identify. 

Where therapy is practical – let’s say you readjust the pH of your swimming pool – the larger focus aims to let you dive into that pool without a splash. When you succeed at ditching self, you’re seeing through the larger eyes of what some folks call God. You can’t take sides or be perturbed, and four-fifths of your friends will find you odd.