Passion is what motivates us. In our careers in Naturopathic Medicine it is the greatest hope that as a physician we would be deeply passionate about our field. Using the metaphors of Biblical language I hope to propose a Theology of Passion & Meditation as it relates to the practice Naturopathic Medicine in everyday life. What shall here be proposed is not doctrinal statements, as it relates to Orthodoxy, that which was laid down in the Ecumenical Councils of the Patristic era of Christian history in the 3rd and 4th centuries, but a raw, bare bones expression of concepts and ideas in their essence. In doing so I hope that I may shake the dust off of these words that they may breathe new life into our contemporary paradigms, in part because like an archer stretching back his bow we can reach into the past to let our passions shoot forth.
Originally from it’s Greek origin, Pathos means to “suffer, or to endure.” The medieval use of the word took on further form as it meant, “a strong emotion, desire.” Compassion, in essence means, “to suffer alongside with.” In this foundational and universal sense of suffering, or in our case as Physicians, illness, we are motivated to act, to engage the world around us, and to be co-conspirators in what has been called, “The Divine Conspiracy.”
But what motivates us to act in the first place? Wouldn’t it be easier to accept this suffering and apathetically say, “To Hell with it!”? My initial assumption at this point is to state that everyone, without exception, gets pleasure from one thing or another. This is literally born into our genes. Obviously you and I are here because our parents enjoyed something. And you inherited, if not that specificity, that general desire for life. Even when you are still, you cannot help but be alive. I may point out here that even complete rejection of the world and of Life has in it the seed of desire; the desire of an ideal; a new world. And that is where we start, with this desire, this hunger, this thirst for Joy.
The Biblical language offers a wealth of resources for contemplating joy. There’s quite a lot of Hallmark worthy quotes, but this is not where I’d like to start. When talking about Passions and Joy, I can find no better place to start than with the concept of sin. This word for many contemporary listeners has such historic baggage with it that just its mere mention causes some to immediately shutter. The Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek following the conquest of the Levant by Alexander the Great. The Greek translation, along with what later became canonized as the Christian Scriptures, is the primary source for the development of Western Theology.
The Greek for SIN is αμαρτία, hamartia. Literally translated this word means, “To miss the mark.” Using the biblical imagery of metaphor we understand sin as that in our lives which misses the mark, or the point of life. Remember before we said that history is like the strings of a bow. The more cords we bind together, the more we learn from the past, the stronger the bow, the swifter our shot, the truer our aim. Our bow can multiply force, or life, to the passion of our arrows. But what happens? We miss! Well why did we miss? Maybe we weren’t paying attention. Maybe we were distracted. Maybe our technique is off. Maybe we weren’t aiming in the right direction. Or maybe we simply need to practice. Practice pays off for sure, but instead of leaving it there and telling you that all you need is to practice at being better Physicians, lets unpack this metaphor further. Martin Luther, the rebellious German Catholic monk who nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door, once admonished his readers to sin and to, “sin boldy,” or rather, practice. Practice intentionally.
So what is the mark? What is the bull’s eye? Using Theistic language, the mark is the centrality of life. The mark is the very purpose of being. The mark is the teleological end-point and reason for letting your arrow fly from its bow in the first place. Namely, the mark is God. And how do we hit the mark? How do we connect to God? How are we able to be in communion with God? In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that God, “… is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” If we are always waiting for God to appear, that time will never come. If we are always searching in the past, we will never find God. We can only find the Living God by learning to live in this present moment.
The present moment is all you ever need to find God. Other metaphors for finding God are touching the divine, connecting with the universe, going to the source, etc. Additionally there are numerous descriptions for which we learn to be present. Eastern philosophy calls it Meditation. Western Mysticism calls it contemplative prayer.
Rene Descartes’ maxim, “I think, therefore I am,” became known as the Cartesian Theatre of the Mind, and is the foundation upon which the Philosophy of Modernism and Western Individualism is built. Jean-Paul Sartre’s critique of this statement gets to the core of the present moment. “The consciousness that says ‘I am’ is not the consciousness that thinks.” When you step back from thought, which is either a remembrance of the past or a projection upon the future, you fall into the present moment. This moment is deeply spiritual and is at the core of every religion. In essence it is a statement that the Divine is larger than any box you could try to fit it into, including the box on top of your head, i.e. your brain. It is beyond words. It is beyond comprehension. Eventually you realize that the present moment was always there and indeed God was always there to begin with, you just required a change in perspective. To use the Christian language of Baptism, this is what it means to be reborn; to be born again.
For individuals having difficulty grasping the concept of consciousness without thought, it is not the same as unconsciousness. To elucidate this notion further we can use the language of Art to widen our metaphor. When you ask a child to draw a tree, she likely will draw a green puffy, cloud-like shape with a brown rectangle underneath. As she gets older she might add a branch or two, then a few leaves on those branches. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” Ask that child several years later when she is an adult to draw a tree, what will she say? “Oh, I’m not an artist. I can’t draw!” Ask a room full of four year olds to raise their hands if they can draw. Every child in that room will raise her hand. Ask a room full of adults? One, maybe two adults. Why? If they drew a tree as an adult, most would notice that their drawing of a “TREE” looks nothing like an actual tree. Likely at some point in her life, probably around puberty, when hyper self-consciousness begins to emerge and identity with peers is paramount, she gave up drawing and consequently remains stunted in this ability.
Learning to draw is perhaps one of the simplest things an individual can do to experience this present moment. It just takes some practice. It’s also one of the most difficult things a person can do because we have taught ourselves to no longer see. We need a new perspective. We need to be reborn. The essence of drawing, and of Art in general, is to step back from the mental constructs of language. Like Jesus himself, you have to become the iconoclast par excellence and tear down the institutional hierarchy of thought which dominates your world view and see the World simply as it is; as God sees it. Eventually you will no longer label this or that as a tree or a leaf. You will start to see lines. And without labeling those lines you will see how this vertical line stretches across your canvas and meets with that diagonal line. You will see how lines merge and diverge at various angles. Eventually those lines will take on shapes; not the iconic shapes of puffy cloud leaves and rectangular trunks, as before, but merely shapes of infinite proportions. And as you layer shapes upon shapes you notice that these shapes blend into one another and that you are no longer drawing lines or shapes, but shades and shadows. Indeed, you are no longer DRAWING shades and shadows but adding shadows here and taking away shades there. When you finish you step back from it all and behold your very real work of art. You notice that your thoughts stopped. You simultaneously were intensely concentrating on the task at hand that time seems to have flown by. When time is compressed down into such a small space, when time flies when you’re having fun, you are experiencing the essence of eternity and communing with The Divine. That is the mark.
But what happens as a consequence of all this? Every action has a reaction. Every to has a fro. To get at the center of this, Theologically, we can reach back into the Biblical narrative to the very first book, Genesis, with the Creation story. If in this present moment we are in communion with God, and we not only recognize it but experience it, then we consequently recognize that which is already in us. The Latin phrase used is the Imago Dei, or the Image of God. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Orthodox Theology describes this recognition and experience as Theosis, the transformative process of Divinization, which is the effect of Divine Grace, where one becomes free of Hamartía (missing the mark). If one is made in the “Image of God” then is necessitates that certain characteristics, indeed all characteristics, of God can also be found in one’s self. The first and foremost characteristic of God, the very first adjective used to describe God, is based upon God’s very first action. By definition, God is Creator. God is Creative. Therefore, being made in God’s likeness, WE are creative to the very center of our core. And it is in this present moment, this act of creativity, where we are united to God and experience eternal joy.
The concept of eternity for many is difficult to grasp. Eternity is often mistaken for Infinity. In many Western languages these two words are synonymous though their meanings are quite different. Infinity is a measurement, like space or time. Eternal is a characteristic, of God, of heaven, or the Universe, and describes a state of being, of perfection. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus starts off by answering a question posed to him.
“Teacher,” he was asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”
The man answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
The creative force within each individual, that characteristic of Imago Dei (the image of God) which we receive through uniting ourselves to God, is the seed which manifests itself into the world. Christian Theology ultimately describes this event as Incarnational, where the Word becomes Flesh. The Word of God is spoken from the breath of God, or Spirit (in Hebrew, Ruach), and takes shape in this world as an act of Creation, an act of Redemption, an act of Love. Consequently, the end result of learning to live in the present moment is learning to love God and to Love others. This notion even has scientific merit as Buddhist monks attached to brain scans while meditating show an increase in areas of the brain associated with empathy and compassion.
As Naturopathic Physicians, in order to treat our patients, it is necessary to develop this proclivity for compassion and love. It is central to our Art of Healing. In discovering what motivates us, we can learn how to focus our passions, to practice more intentionally so that we can more often hit the mark with our patients. We can do a number of things to help on our teleological journey. As we draw back the bow, we can continue to learn, we can remember the past. But to move forward, however, we have to let it go. The more we practice, the better we get at hitting the bull’s eye, the closer we get to it, and the more often we actually hit the target.
With practice we notice that not only are we getting better, but that the target is in fact getting larger. Eventually it gets so big, your purposes become so in tuned with the present moment and so aligned with arc of the universe, that you no longer miss the mark, and in fact the only way to miss the mark is to not shoot at all. Christianity calls this the one unforgivable sin, the Sin against the Spirit, the breath (Ruach). This is unforgivable because to not be moved by the Ruach, by your passions, is to be dead inside already. When you stop breathing, you die. But as our lives progress, we learn to incorporate more of our life into that which we are passionate about and vice versa, we learn to incorporate more passions into our life, so that like a true artist our entire life becomes a work of Art. This is what J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings, and a Roman Catholic, writes about in his essays when he describes how his world, Middle Earth, came about by becoming a co-creator with God. As Dallas Willard describes it, we are co-conspirators in the Divine Conspiracy.
If to Sin is to, “miss the mark,” and the mark is the present moment and the experience of the union with God, then to sin is the failure to recognize the opportunity of this moment and to NOT be in union with God. This, in essence, is the most fundamental definition of HELL. Most people have this imagery of lava and volcanoes, fire and brimstone. But HELL is this chronic disassociation, this constant separateness, from God. And this isn’t waiting for you on the other side of the hereafter. It can be experienced right now in this lifetime. Hell is what we are capable of doing to ourselves and to other people when we are out of step with the present moment and the creative, loving force of the divine. If God is the God of the Living, not the dead, then separation from God by definition is death. You are separated from that creative life force in your own life and you are dead: dead to that spirit.
Inversely from experiencing Hell on Earth, we can experience Heaven on Earth. The Gospels describe it as the Kingdom of God, or Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You!” If the Kingdom of Heaven is within you, and your experience of the world is aligned with the creative force of the universe, if you are tapped in to the Source, then this is the definition of Holiness.
There is an end result of all of this. When Siddhārtha sat under the bodhi tree, he became, along with several other figures throughout history, a life-altering catalyst for countless individuals. He became awakened, that is he became aware of the present moment. And the consequence of such an act is revolutionary. It’s radical. It’s contagious. This is the Divine Conspiracy, that a New Earth is awakening in the midst of the old. That is why teleological concepts of the “End Times” are so prevalent within religious rhetoric, because progression occurs, Life changes, it never stays the same. As Naturopathic Physicians it should be our Prime Directive to the best of our ability to allow our passions to move us toward this goal. In his famous address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote:
When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.
So breathe in. Draw back your bow. Breathe out. Aim. Breathe in. Quiet your mind. Breathe out. Shoot forth.