November 2010


Last summer (2009) my husband and I attended a fantastic workshop led by Reya Stevens, called ‘Illness and the Dharma.’  It was an incredible day for me.  Over and over again I found myself being blown away;  feelings and thoughts buried deep down inside me were spoken out loud, from the other side of a room.  And then, not only was I nodding and weeping, but others in the room were, as well.  Reya was, and we were, speaking of the realities of being chronically ill in a society that is NOT geared for dealing with illness, and how we might survive and thrive spiritually.

One concept that came up that day which has stuck in my mind and heart ever since is the idea of values.  More specifically, it’s the fact that cultural or societal values generally do not match up with spiritual or religious values. (Since this was a Buddhist-based workshop, we referred to the latter as Dharma or Dharmic values, but most mainstream religions line up in this case.)

Here are just a few examples:

cultural value spiritual / Dharma value
independence interconnectedness / helping each other
education / formal schooling wisdom / experiential knowledge
accumulating / spending lots of money generosity / giving / living on the generosity of others (eg, eating from a monk’s bowl)
high-powered and fulfilling career, high salary spending time doing something you love that blesses others / the world
M/F marriage w 2.5 kids celibacy, or loving relationship, or family, or ok to be on your own
perfectly put together, well-dressed and groomed simple, monk’s robes; focus on inner, not outer beauty

Our society is constantly setting expectations for how we should be, look, act and think in the world.  Those of us living with chronic illness come to realize quickly that the realities of OUR lives do not allow for, much less support, the values that society espouses.  We can no longer be independent.  We can no longer complete the course of study that we began, or we can’t push on and get that advanced degree.  We can no longer work 80-hr weeks and then be the PTA president.  (I don’t understand how healthy people do that!)   The critical question in these or a hundred other situations is this: Who says that these things are important?

So then it becomes a little more clear (to use a personal example) that continuing to work isn’t good for your health or necessary for your financial stability.  But it’s important for your ego.  And the expectations of your ego were set by… society (at least in part).  The emotional work that comes next is that of telling yourself day after day after day, “It’s okay that I’m not working.  I can take better care of myself without that stress and pressure.  No one thinks less of me, and if they do, it’s because they’re focused on societal values.  I am focused on what is right for me and my body.”

Retraining yourself to frame your experience in terms of spiritual values takes time and practice.  In the above example, a number of cultural values are being eschewed in favor of spiritual ones.  Not working means giving up the ideal of the career and salary and giving up some independence (perhaps financial independence).  In exchange, however, you hopefully will find other ways to spend your time (hobbies, volunteering, spiritual or social groups), which might make you happier than your job ever could; and you will likely find a much deeper connection to those you come to depend upon.

When you start looking at life from a spiritual values perspective, things start looking very different.  All sorts of questions or comments come up from simple statements / assumptions:

“To have a successful blog, you must….”           “What is successful? Who defines success?”

“What are we going to give for a gift?”                “Does she need more stuff? What would                                                                                                                              make her happier?”

“Nice to meet you. What do you do?”                 “[Well, I *don’t* work.  But I *do*…] Volunteer,                                                                                                                       crochet, garden….”

Discuss, if you like…..

How much of your life is dictated or encouraged by cultural values or spiritual values?

What assumptions do you make every day because of cultural values?

Do you think our society could function without a system of cultural values? How are they beneficial? Where do they go too far or not far enough?  Where is the line between seeing something as a cultural value and making it into a law?

What else did this topic make you think about?

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I’ve been debating what to say here in my first blog post.

It seems to be the common concern to say ‘I’ll run out of things to say,’ but those that know me personally will know it’s unlikely that I’ll ever run out of things to say. 🙂  My concern is more ‘Why would anyone want to read what I have to say?’

Discussing blogs in general with my friends over Facebook has been interesting.  The idea of a ‘secret’ blog came up from a couple of people.  One mentioned feeling a bit ‘shy’ at first about writing for all the world to read.  To be honest, I could see either of those as being steps in my process of becoming a blogger – certainly the site is staying private until I feel like I have some content beyond my ‘About’ page.   But I guess when I made the decision to write a blog, the adjective “public” was a part of that.  For me, the only thing secret about a blog, long-term, might be the (real) identity of the author.  (No worries here – I am who I say I am, though I might not give all my identifying details.)

My concern is whether anyone will find what I write to be relevant and/or entertaining.  So then you ask (or I ask myself), does it need to be either one?  Well, I don’t want to write just to exercise my fingers.  I do want to share some thoughts with the world.  I do think that I have some interesting perspectives, and – after giving a talk during one meditation night – I was told that my thoughts / story did resonate for at least a few people.  I’ve been told that I write well.  (We’ll see how many of you agree with that, especially in this new-to-me format.)

So, yeah! I can do this! I want to do this!

Oh – look.  I just wrote my first post.

🙂