by Rabbi Rami Shapiro: Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler…
I am a trans-humanist, and look forward to the day I can live forever as disembodied mind. Is there anything wrong with this?
Rabbi Rami: Over the next few days, make time to take a long, hot bath; hold a bouquet of roses to your nose and breathe in deeply; savor the taste of fine chocolate; look into the eyes of a beloved animal; laugh; and cry. Then ask me this question again.
My yearning to connect with God is often criticized as irrational and illogical. What encouragement can you offer me?
Any rational investigation into the nature of reality reveals that we are part of something greater than ourselves: call it Nature, God, Brahman, Reality, Spirit, Mother, Mind, Being, etc. Once that is granted, it’s only logical to yearn to connect with That, or, more accurately, to realize we are a manifesting of That the way a wave is a manifesting of the ocean. This yearning only succumbs to irrationality when we succumb to spiritual narcissism and imagine God as our cosmic concierge bending the universe to our will.
How can I awaken to God? Do I need a religion to do this?
You awaken to God the same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice. Here are some of the practices I do daily: walking, loving-kindness meditation, studying sacred texts, mantra repetition, and self-inquiry. You can find variations of these practices in every religion, or you can create your own practice without joining any religion. The key isn’t belonging to a religion but committing to a practice.
I worry about the afterlife. What is the key to getting into Heaven?
Judaism teaches that admission to Heaven depends on your answers to six questions: Did you make time to learn? Did you take care of loved ones? Did you deal honestly with others? Did you maintain hope? Did you partake of all the legitimate pleasures that came your way? and Were you true to yourself? If you live so as to answer “yes” to these questions in this life, you need not fret about the next.
My guru knows my past lives and future incarnations, and tells me exactly how to live, yet I still doubt. How can I stop doubting and surrender to him completely?
Doubt is the ability to question teachings to see if they are sacred truths or merely well-packaged opinions. Doubt liberates you from slavish surrender. Doubt is essential to faith when faith is understood not as belief in this or that idea about reality, but as openness and responsiveness to reality itself. I’ve had many wonderful teachers, and while each had different gifts, they all shared a healthy respect for doubt. If your guru demands complete surrender and the ending of doubt, demand a better guru.
I’ve lost a good friend over marriage equality. We are both Bible believers, but he insists the story of Sodom proves that God hates homosexuality, since that’s the reason He destroyed the city and its people. Is that true?
No. As the Prophet Ezekiel makes clear, the destruction of Sodom had nothing to do with homosexuality and everything to do with the fact that the people were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned with helping the poor and the needy (Ezekiel 16:49). Sharing this fact, however, may not get your friend back. Just don’t write him off, and, like the good people at Motel 6, do leave the light on for him.
I feel the presence of deceased loved ones. Do you believe in ghosts?
I believe in rishimu, a Hebrew word for the fragrance that remains after the perfume in a bottle has evaporated. When we die, we each leave a rishimu: not the smell of a decaying corpse, but the fragrance of our just and compassionate deeds. You may be picking up the rishimu of loved ones. When this happens to you, say to the deceased, “May your memory be a blessing,” meaning that when people recall the good the deceased has done, they will honor it with good deeds of their own.
I work at home and prefer my dogs to most people. Is that weird?
I too work from home, and I too love my dog and prefer her company to most people I know. This isn’t a bad thing. My entire spiritual life is devoted to being the person my dog thinks I am: caring, loving, trustworthy, responsible, and ready to go for a walk or toss a ball at a moment’s notice. Make this your spiritual practice and I suspect you will attract a few worthwhile human friends as well. Just don’t pick up their poop. That would be weird.
I am stunned by the election of Donald Trump. I fear for my family and my country. This man is NOT my president, and his values are not America’s values, and yet I feel trapped in his demonic vision of America. How can I believe in my fellow Americans again? How do I make peace with this? Or is it time to choose a side?
You are right to fear for your family and your country, but you are always right to fear for them regardless of who is president because America is an experiment in human freedom forever in progress, and hence forever at risk. Our desire to escape from freedom is no less strong than our desire to embrace it, and the election of President Trump is not a betrayal of American values but a revelation of their shadow side.
The slogan Making America Great Again places our greatness in a past when most of us were marginalized at best and brutalized at worst. Our real task is to make America greater again and again until we realize that the founding idea of America—“that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”—applies to all humans, and then translating that realization into policies that protect, secure, and expand that equality and those rights. This requires the hard and painful work of owning, embracing, and integrating our shadow into the larger experiment that is America.
Every religion, nation, people, and person has its shadow, and progress happens only when we own our shadow, calm its fears, and channel its energies for the greater good. Shadow work is never “once and for all,” but periodic and continual. It never happens in the light of day and always happens in the dark night of the soul. But it is vital and crucial, and must be embraced rather than resisted.
I believe in the experiment in freedom that is America. My concern is that so many Americans have lost that belief, wish to escape from freedom, and are willing to place the American experiment in the hands of those who see it as a bargaining chip rather than a sacrament, and who would trade it for the illusion of certainty and security rather than cling to it as the key to wisdom and dignity.
If you want to take a stand, don’t choose a side—choose America and the experiment in freedom we are to embody.
After only two years of marriage, I lost my husband to a disease neither one of us had ever heard of. My best friend is getting married and she has asked me not to attend the wedding. She’s afraid I’m cursed and will jinx her marriage. I was in love, and want to celebrate her chance to feel the same. How can I talk to her about this?
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