January 2010
Spiritual or non spiritual?
Thoughts are diamonds or pigs
Speaking of New Year's Resolutions... It’s a new year, and a new beginning for all of us.
I started the year thinking of my grandmother, Mamina, who died last year on January 6th at the beautiful age of 94, in Romania.  She looked incredibly beautiful, her skin white and almost untouched by old age, as she died in a warm, sunny hospital room in the mountains, her myopic blue eyes staring lost, sad and tired of living at the snow falling outside.

There’s one story that my dad told me about her, and it stuck with me. After WWII, his parents, Mamina and Paul, divorced so that my dad could be admitted to elementary school, by the communists who had taken over Romania. Paul was an attorney and a rising politician for the old regime, so any affiliation of the son with his father was bad. “It was a mock divorce to fool the communists, and my parents celebrated it with a nice meal and a glass of champagne.  However, as the years passed, the mock divorce became a real divorce, and my parents parted ways.  What I’ve learned from this experience”, my dad told me, “is that we shall never mock or take lightly the ‘sacred’ things. Marriage. Love. Divorce. Kids. Family.”

I’ve started 2010 thinking of this, and with a sincere desire to become a better person and stop mocking or taking lightly the sacred things.  I’ve committed to a spiritual cleansing, fasting, prayer and meditation, including my first Confession in 15 years, at a Greek Orthodox Church on Park and 90th street.  I’ve started reading spiritual books from Yoga Sutra of Patanjali to the Anatomy of Spirit by Caroline Myss.

I’ve reflected on my many weaknesses and shortcomings and tried to see the spiritual meaning behind the challenges I’ve been facing in the last few years. I’ve made a conscious effort to reduce my alcohol consumption to a minimum. I am feeling better already. I haven’t stopped being social though, and I am blessed with good friends and a great family. We all keep in almost daily contact.

There’s one thing I’ve noticed: there are two types of people in this world. Spiritual and Non Spiritual.  Of course, most people live in the gray area, teetering between spirit and flesh, yet, at the core, they either care for it (spirit) or they don’t.

From where I sit, the spiritual bench, the folks on the other bench do exactly what my dad told me that people should avoid doing: they mock sacred things like goodness, virtue, love, sex, marriage, loyalty, and friendship. Simply put, they are pigs, at least spiritually, however charming, cheerful, self-assured, and outward successfully they may be.

The number one characteristic of “Pigs” is that they are not aware they are pigs; or when they are being pigs. Many are quite accomplished in some areas of their lives, and feel entitled to piggish behaviour and attitudes in other areas of their lives. For instance, the famous artist who feels entitled to treat all women like groupies or hookers. The family man who is proud of his picture perfect family life, yet hungrier than a teenager for any type of illicit sexual fun. The beautiful model who feels entitled to anything men have to offer. “Your head on a silver platter, please.” The religious zealot or any types of people with “power” who take secret pleasure into dominating subordinates or vulnerable people. Or, to another extreme, Raskolnikov, the young man who feels special and thus entitled to kill and rob (Dostoievski, Crime and Punishment).

Pigs believe they are harmless. But most of them don’t even think of the long term results of their smallest “pig” actions. Like causing hurtful feelings and pain to people of different sensibilities; or the erosion of their values and relationships in pursuit of momentary pleasure; money; power over other people; control; relief from boredom; excess of anything. To quote a friend, author Monique Raphel High, they end up treating diamonds like rhinestones, because they become unprepared to handle the real thing at the core of other people, or at their own shadow.

The moment the pig realizes he or she is a pig, there’s the first chance of deciding to stop feeding the inner “pig” and seek some type of turnaround and redemption.  

Our society offers a bigger than ever buffet of ‘de-sacred’ choices to feed our piggish dark side: multiple venues for casual sex and deviated sex in total social acceptance; on line cheating of spouses, partners, boyfriends and girlfriends; loads of porn, drugs, alcohol; and a thriving industry of written advice on entitlement; manipulation, and using people; detachment from traditional values.

OK. So you make the choice to take this road. Where does it lead? You feel good momentarily. And tomorrow? 

Let’s take the example of a man I’ve known for over a decade, I’ll call him Felix. Felix works in accounting and had a very beautiful wife, also a CPA. They had a big house and a shared practice and lifestyle of plenty. Felix has always been a charming, generous, great friend, yet an utterly non spiritual person. Most of his conversations were jokes about sex. He loved porn. Most of his thoughts were focused on sex. He was a swinger and I was shocked and surprised to learn that his (third) wife – a true lady in her late 50s  rather melancholic about her husband’s affairs – joined him to swinging clubs in New York and on various islands. Those swing clubs where middle aged and elderly people with double chins, bellies the size of the Atlantic Ocean, and pockets full of Viagra or drugs suck and fuck total strangers -- that was his number one definition of fun. Felix had monthly weeklong marital vacations when he would travel to another city and do whatever he wanted, which by default would go against his marital vows. Apparently, he was happy as a clam. Even today, while chatting to me, he recognizes he had it all. Was all of this enough? Was all his wife’s effort to keep him happy and indulge his kinks enough?

Felix got caught up in a spiralling of bad choices aimed at pleasure that went against any common sense that could bring sustainable happiness in the long run.  He ruined everything he had: his marriage, his practice, his wealth, his happiness, and ultimately his health.  In a couple of years his wheel of fortune turned round: he became desperate, destitute, had nothing to eat, and suffered intensely because of a very young woman who had treated him like shit, and left him, the same way he had treated others women before.   Did you invite that woman to your swing clubs? I asked him, after learning his story. He looked at me in a daze: No.

This year, I was saddened and shocked to hear that Felix had been diagnosed with cancer.

I wanted to offer him some recommendations about alternative methods of physical and spiritual healing, yet he refused. “You know I don’t believe in his crap.” Despite his cancer, he is still smoking and eating pork and other heavy dishes that taste good.  His logic is flawless: “If I am dying in a couple years, what’s the point of sticking to any diet?” And he says it with a face that really makes you laugh. He asked me instead to introduce him to some cute girlfriends under forty, and felt offended when the doorman mistook him for my father. Felix is 63; heavy set, middle height, gregarious and fun. An avid reader and a lover of arts. I care about him, and he’s like part of the family; just simply, not spiritual.

So, if you read my piece, do think about your own life in 2010, and, regardless if you’re spiritual or not, decide which part of the inner pig you’ll be better off denying starting this year.

“Before…I had never considered that we weave our spirits into everything we do, and everyone we meet. Nor had I thought that my life choices expressed my spirit and affected my health…These days I tell people that they woven their spirits into negative things and that to recover their health they need to retreat for a while, pull their spirits back, and to learn to walk straight again.”

Caroline Myss, "Anatomy of Spirit"