Realizations The Autobiography
of Julian Lee / COPYRIGHT
2009 JULIAN LEE
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We Had This Special Day for God, and This Lofty State Called Sunday
In a closing chapter I plan to write about the drastically changed world as we old men and women experience it today, and my own experience of it. What I miss, things I never thought could end that have ended. Big and small, like how much I loathe hearing young people say "No worries" or "No problem!" after I say "thank you" -- instead of "You're welcome," which is much more pleasant, less insulting, less absurd.
Yes, there is that risk of falling into the "grouchy old man" meme. But on the other hand there is a place for grouchy old men -- especially when you are old (who else can do it?) -- and they have their use. It's clear to me a lot of young people today are aware that things of the past have been lost, and they pine for these things. By hearing about the way things were, from the elderly, it's instructive for them, possibly inspirational, and may help them reclaim good things some day.
In many ways my own experience has been to watch the world descend into hellish states. Thus it's hard to share because, in general, one should not spread around too much his own bad-karma stories such as to burden others. One man's loss is another man's "progress." But one of the most amazing things about the modern American world is the fact there is no "Sunday" any more.
After my teens I fell away from regular church attendance. But whenever I returned to it in my later years, it was a profounder and more blissful experience than ever before. Yet I saw that the same threads were always there. I recall walking out of the Presbyterian Church service in Portland a few years ago and feeling that same feeling I'd had in childhood and youth just after church. It was a very changed state. You felt different. Everything felt different. And now in my 50's I could put my finger on it: I felt elevated, removed from the crass humdrum world. I had imbibed a lofty environment, lofty music, and lofty words and thoughts. I had spent an hour or two contemplating the limitless -- often in the form of miracle stories -- in a place that was designed to lift the spirit and expand the mind. Beautiful buildings devoted to the Divine Mystery, with high vaulted ceilings speckled with colored glass -- do elevate the mind perforce by their mere physical nature and very existence. A church elevates the mind by its physical nature alone. How much more the music, choir, chants, and stories. Really what I felt like coming out of church was that I had been purified.
And I recalled that I knew this feeling often in childhood and youth. You'd come home from church and life was different; the world was different. We had accomplished a break from the material rut. We were cut loose, into headier fields. Dressing up in your best, cleanest clothes also elevates one's mind.
Coming home I could loosen my tie and found my mind going into new and fresher fields. Mom and dad were quieter too. Everything was quieter in the town. Because my entire city was basically a Christian community and all were on the same page with this ancient convention. Stores were closed. Traffic was meager so the streets were much quieter. In fact, quiet was the basic feeling of Sunday.
Quiet is a spiritual thing. I used to love attending the retreats of the Indian guru Karunamayi. There was always a quiet rule at them. If you really wanted to get a message to anybody, you had to pass them a note. This quiet produced a profound spiritual atmosphere which itself conduced to a spiritual state in the attendees. The activity of ego is greatly reduced if one simply stops talking and ceases listening to the egoic chatter of others. Funny thing, this is precisely one of the features of the White European Christian tradition of Sunday in my home town: Everything and everybody was quieter. The usual nagging things of the world were reduced. A big space was cleared. You started to think different, profounder thoughts.
The music you heard was different on Sundays. Certainly church hymns are different than what we hear on the radio. But back then, even radio music was more refined, more satvic to use a Hindu term.
But now in the towns I've seen there is no longer any spiritual day of the week. Sunday there is just like any other day. Just as coarse. Just as worldly. Just as loud. The women keep wearing their skimpy clothes and walking into public places in their gym pants. Men keep blasting through town on their loud Harleys, 'lookin' for adventure.' You walk into a restaurant or coffee shop and they're playing "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zepellin... Again?! Just like yesterday? How can a people become this boring and repetitive?
Now nobody seems to take a time out to think about God. The material life -- the life of crass mediocrity and the pursuit of thrills -- just drones on as usual. On a Sunday you'll find college students filling the wifi cafes still bent over their books and laptops, studying for another exam, still pressed as much as yesterday by The World, cares, survival. This is progress?
Indeed, it didn't used to be this way with our more virtuous ancestors. In other days, Sunday had a palpably different tone. Shops were closed and business was kept to a minimum. And this opened up the space and the possibility, even for a little boy, to sense the possibility of 'soul time.' In fact I remember my whole town of Des Moines, on Sunday, seemed blanketed in a sense of grace.
So the people of America are de-evolving and becoming primitive. I think about what doubters and cynics have often said about Sunday. I think about what some shallow people used to say about it. They say that religious people go to church and act really good on Sunday and then they become conventional sinners the rest of the week. And they call it 'hypocrisy.' And this cynic and this joker makes himself seem almost righteous and wise then, as he condemns sincere people setting aside one day for a divine purpose. But I want to explain how shallow and ignorant that cynic is when he says that.
When we set aside a special time to strive for our best, we make special progress on that day. When athletes go to a competition it's a special time when the try to break new ground in themselves. They reach inside themselves for something greater. They don't do it every day, but they do it on that special day. And they open the envelope of their abilities with that focused day of work.
It's the same with Sundays. Just like the athletes, nobody can be at the best and working their utmost every single day of the week. And nobody can be at their spiritual best every day of the week. But by having that one spiritual day of special effort, one opens the envelope of his spiritual capacities and sensitivities. He cultivates more piety. He deepens in meditation. He practices purity more assiduously. And even though he may fall back -- just like the athlete and the scholar don't strain every nerve each and every day -- he has still plowed new ground, opened up higher territory in himself, and developed greater capacity for spiritual discipline. On Sunday we strained to be better than we were the rest of the week. We strained to rise higher. And what I realized walking out of that church recently, feeling transformed, calm and detached from the usual world -- was that in that effort on Sundays we indeed touched the Divine.
The loafer and the doubter, and the joker and the cynic, who put down the lack of perfect consistency in pious people, are merely bums and fools. They should shut up. Yes, be your best on Sunday. Strive for the highest things. And you will see that in benefits your life. You'll see that it starts to carry over more and more into your other days.
What you do on your special spiritual days is you make a mark. You get new "samskaras" or impressions in yourself for higher spiritual effort. And these stay in you. Just as a scratch in the paint makes the metal start to rust, and a scratch in the ground makes the water start to flow there, and a scratch in your mind makes a habit start to grow there -- these samskaras and impressions of your special spiritual effort will keep growing and enlarging. You will form spiritual habits and spiritual attitudes, and be able to go back into them more and more easily.
Nowadays on Sundays I try to eschew all work and focus on reading a few scriptures. These days I am usually reading one of the Upanishads. I sit with it and really try to imbibe it. This naturally leads me into doing my pranayama more (as I read) and getting into my particular meditation technique. By the end of the day I get really deep. I get blissed out. This is the natural culmination of my growing up with the White European Sunday tradition, where it led for me. Then I find that by Monday I have really broken with the conventional life. I am really deep, and it's hard to get back to The World. I want to go even deeper. If I were king I would change the week to an 8 day week. Saturday would be recommended as a Family day, with socializing. Sunday would be worked up to a majestic pitch of bhakti-yoga by focusing on Church and perhaps some sedate socializing with a high tone. Then Monday would be the "yogi" day of staying deep, quiet, alone with only a gradual return to work that day, as one is inclined. Basically expanding Sunday into two parts, one more social and the other more yogic.
Not having a special day for God, a special day for being your spiritual best, is a great loss for this society. But some day that tradition will come back. And they will look back on these California Sundays and wonder how a people could be so clueless, so Repetitive and same -- so boring, and so lame!