Saturday, August 23, 2008

God In The Matrix....

Last night, I was able to spend the entire evening with a friend I haven't seen in a while. We went to a Thai restaurant and gorged ourselves on all the different foods. Then we went to Starbucks for coffee afterward. We talked and talked until we were both hoarse and covered a lot of territory. By the time we wore down, it was very late.

The reason why meeting with this particular friend is so significant is because we share a culture. We revert to verbal shorthand easily and come from the same basic understanding and meanings when we discuss things. Since it is so easy, we are able to cover a whole range of topics.

One of the distinctions we discussed is that what we share is spiritual culture, not secular. Neither of us have that much attraction to the secular aspects such as entertainment (which we both agreed sucks) or even some of the social customs.

This has been a long time coming for me. Not for her. She was raised in the culture. I adopted it several years ago. My development has been in fits and starts. When I first made the choice, I was like every other person on the planet who has had a major epiphany. It was similar to a "born again" experience. I was very legalistic about it and all the rules had to be followed. I wanted to share my find with everyone. I couldn't or wouldn't acknowledge that sometimes I was still unhappy, unsure, uncomfortable. That would be like admitting that my choice was a failure because it didn't feed me so completely that I would never experience dissatisfaction or disappointment - ever.

I shed the accoutrements of my old culture. I gave away books and other media that I considered "too western". I got rid of my old wardrobe in favor of traditional Thai clothing (which I still wear but find a certain pleasure in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt on occasion, too - like today!). I was going to be SuperDooperThaiGirl, even if it killed or bankrupted me. It didn't do the former but very nearly did the latter. My cookware, furniture and household items were ordered and shipped from Thailand.

In short, I was a fanatic.

Over the years, I've begun to mellow and it's become a normal part of life. It's a gentler, softer, less vociferous thing now. We, the culture and I, have grown into a peaceful co-existence. I honor the things that matter to me and dismiss the things that don't. The holidays that are meaningful for me, I practice. The ones that are silly or meaningless get skipped. It still feels "real" and I don't regret my choice, developmental snags aside. In fact, the longer I am "in" it, the more I love it and the more it speaks to my soul.

One of the greatest challenges I've had since returning from Thailand is spiritual. I often feel like God couldn't possibly live here, find fertile ground here. I feel alienated from God and often alienated from my true nature.

M. and I talked about that at length last night, sharing both of our perspectives in one of the most open conversations I've had in the past several months. I feel a bit more "stuck" than she does because she's been at this longer, having grown up with the culture and coming here in the late 80s. I'm new to all of it, by comparison. I'm like a six- or seven-year old in terms of Thai culture and the socialization process. I was so alienated by western culture that it never 'took'. In other words, I was an empty vessel up until the point where I adopted Thai. Make sense? Okay.

She's a very spiritual person. She has experienced many spiritual passages that I am not ready for yet.. or haven't confronted at this point.

During the course of our conversation, I was reminded of the old tale of the guy who was able to see God in the most marginalized. In western terms, that would mean the homeless, a falling down drunk, a prisoner, anyone traditionally shunned or "othered". I've always seen God there. As Simon and Garfunkel sang, "the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls." Who knows divinity better than those who have to trust it daily?

It occurred to me that part of spiritual growth is the ability to see God in The Matrix. Can I see divinity in the belly of the beast? Like Jonah, I was thrown off the boat and didn't seek out the whale. Is Buddha in those icons of western culture that have previously led to isolation and retreat from the exposure? Can I look into the eyes of Donald Trump and see sacredness there? Where is Christ in the "get born, achieve, buy and die" culture?

I don't know. I don't think I can see it yet - but know that I won't be truly awake until I do. Until that time, the pain of separation will remain. The separation will end when I can see God where I don't want to see it.

But at least the path is clearer.



Catherine said...

Yes, I agree with your/our struggle entirely. And along with Simon and Garfunkle, the homeless, the falling down drunk, the prisoner, and anyone shunned by others is precisly where Jesus told us we would find God. I've talked lately with more and more people who agree with him and with you - and say its not so much that those people need us, but that we need them...

Fran said...

My thoughts are not far from Catherine's... who really needs who, right?

It is all a mystery of sorts, to be surrendered to, I believe.

For me however, the problem is that I can write about it, but doing it... Oh well that is another matter entirely.

Lovely post. Thank you.

Woman in a Window said...

Hum, I'm wondering if the seeing of God in the totally crazy-consumeristic society that we live comes in the juxtaposition? Maybe it's all just a lesson and we all better wake up and learn it.

But I am sure, even in those throaty shoppers, with their cells cupped on their shoulders and their fingers waggling madly for a designer label...even in them there must be MORE.

flutter said...

God and I need to talk, I think

Brandi Reynolds said...

something I'm trying to learn/see as well. That if god is in it all, then god is not just in the stuff that I think is pretty and positive. Trying to see god in the coworker that was cruel to me, or medical or illness issues, in the argument with my husband...

awesome post. Great food for thought. Thank you for sharing.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I think it matters more that people love each other and feel reverence for SOMETHING, regardless of what form it takes.

Perhaps the real lesson for all of mankind is to recognize ourselves in all the other cultures on earth and to truly understand that we are all one.

S said...

Can I see divinity in the belly of the beast?

What a profound question.

Jen said...

We weren't always an achieve, buy, die culture, though. Don't you think part of the reason we are is that we don't listen to God in the Matrix anymore? If we did, whatever God means to us, I imagine we'd slow things down and be a lot less focused on the material, and more on the spiritual.

Olivia said...

Phew! Chani, you have hit the nail on the head. When you see divinity in Britney Spears---President Bush---Ivana Trump...when you see the Oneness...when you accept the fulness of the shadow side...

Here you are, as always, inspirational to me in your honesty and transparency, enabling me to have the privilege of accompanying you on your journey and benefit from your growth.


Janet said...

I rather envy people who can see God clearly through the mucky fog of Western culture. It's harder for me. I hope to get there one day, too.

Billie Greenwood said...

Very thought provoking post. Is God present in an atmosphere of evil? Perhaps God is present in the person victimized by the evil.

Dena G said...

This is part of my ongoing struggle as well. You've verbalized it well.

I've long seen God's face in the eyes of the marginalized...and struggle to see it in the glitz of the "health, wealth and prosperity" mantra of so much of western Christianity.

I know I have a problem there. And I don't know how to get past it, either. I want to see the divinity of the "other side", because I know I'm missing part of what I need to see.

thailandchani said...

Catherine, yes.. I think that's true for all spiritual traditions. Those who are marginalized by the culture are the ones who need to be heard. On the other hand, is it possible to find sacredness in those who are not marginalized - and perhaps even dominant?


Fran, writing about it is the first step though and that's important. I know writing about it helps clarify for me what steps I need to take to evolve further.


Erin, they do seem so lost. I can't imagine on any level that people who are truly "fed" spiritually would find satisfaction in western culture. But then.. that's a judgment that I have no right to make. If somehow.. just somehow.. we can see the soul in everyone, we might be able to move past the separation.


Flutter, yes.. I hope you do. :) With your powerful and evocative writing, you could reach many, many people.


Brandi, exactly. It's being able to see the sacredness in every living being - even when we so strongly disagree with their way of life - then we can move ahead to a way of life that will fulfill and make all of us happy.

Just thinking right now.. so much war is waged because we can't see the divinity in the "enemy". How could anyone harm another human being if they saw their reflection in the mirror?


Susan... agree with your last paragraph. The first one I have to think about. I do think there have been cultures throughout history that felt a great deal of reverence for their dominant ideology (Hitler, Pol Pot, etc) but were totally anti-life. I do get your point.. but that came to mind. If people all over the world were willing to look at our common humanity, perhaps those cultures wouldn't stand a chance of flourishing.


Sarah, it's a rough one though. Finding divinity in the belly of the beast.. in the very thing we find detestable and destructive. It's bloody hard!


Jen, yes.. I do believe that. I believe the consumer culture co-opted Christianity which was actually an eastern religion. (Jesus was from the Middle East after all.. and was Semitic.) There's a lot of spin around that - and a lot of perversion of the original theology.

I'm just beginning to learn this and have been reading books over the past couple of weeks, a few that openly call Christians to take their religion back.


Olivia... exactly! Yet.. how to get from here to there, to get out of judgment and repugnance is the hardest part of all. Giving up judgement might be relatively easy.. but actually finding divinity? Hm. Not sure yet.


Janet, ... with you on that one. I hope to be able to find it, too. Truthfully, I don't think I should go to Thailand until I have.


BE, good thought. I think we all know that God is in those who are marginalized and victimized. But how do we find God in the victimizers?


Dena, I don't think you have a problem at all. I think you are seeing it rather clearly. The answer for Christians, I suppose, is in changing what comes from the pulpit. Call the church leaders to accountability. Let them know that being cultural apologists is not what you go to church for.


Village Farang said...

I can't believe we both quoted Simon and Garfunkel.

As for the rest of it, it seems to me, your looking in the wrong place. The journey is inside, not into the faces of others. Those external things that bother you, have no substance or value other than what you give them. Those things you seek will not be found in the world around you. They will be discovered to already exist within.

The good and the bad are all part of life. An integral, integrated web of existence. Once one stops projecting onto others and just lets go of judgements and goal and struggles, it is surprising how simple things become.

Focus on minutia and one can see no balance. Broaden ones view and things fall into alinement. Though it may not be apparent, no doubt, The Donald and Britney play their part in the big picture.

we_be_toys said...

The sacred and the divine are all around us, it's the seeing that takes practice.

I am firmly of the opinion that we each of us physically "belong" in a certain place in the world.

Defiantmuse said...

who or what is God?
when people use that word I never know what to think of it. B/c nobody seems to have the same it just one's "higher power", whatever that may be?

I still struggle too much with my concept of the idea of there being a "god" (whatever that means)to be able to answer the broader question here. I's complicated :)

painted maypole said...

"The separation will end when I can see God where I don't want to see it." wow. what a true and challenging statement.

so many people dive so headfirst into things when they first find them - i find this often, as you referred, in so called "born agains" They turn SO FAR from their previous life that it's disconcerting, and they close their minds to other things. you seem to me to have struck a much better balance, and recognize that you are on a journey

thailandchani said...

VF, I do get what you're saying and think it's a good point fundamentally. HOwever, I'm not capable of completely separating myself from my environment. Environment does matter and I'm hearing a view that offends me with a great deal of frequency. Your suggestion will definitely work - when I am in a more balanced environment.


Toys, exactly. It's the practice that matters. That's what I want to do is formalize that practice and make it a deliberate effort. :)


C, no one has the same description because there are so many belief systems. That's part of what we do is discover our own as time goes along.

For me, "God" is the collective consciousness. The "higher power" concept doesn't work for me as well because I generally don't like the whole 12-step thing.

When I think of it as all of us together, the collective wisdom, the collective mind, then it all makes more sense.

I think you'll struggle until you discover your own root beliefs. Then it begins to all cascade into some sort of form you can work with. :)


thailandchani said...

PM, I did that because I'd never felt a sense of belonging before - and went totally overboard with it. I had people in *Thailand* telling me to slow down! I really grabbed onto it for dear life - and couldn't loosen my grip until I felt more secure in it. You know? :)

That's why I really do understand when others have a similar experience - and try to honor it.


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

This is a thought-provoking post. I'm trying to learn to see the divine image in each person--and learning that very slowly. As for culture, well, I tend to think of culture as a human construct that sometimes reflects spiritual truths and often does not. I have always been more drawn to the Christianity that is counter-cultural. In other words, I don't think the "get born, achieve, buy and die" culture really has anything to do with Christ.

I've often wished there were some place I could move to where living out my values would be easier. It's interesting to read how you adopted a culture that fits with your spirituality.