Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Asperger's, Earnestness and Freedom

I have to give an amount of credit to the fact that I was born with Asperger's Syndrome, that I have been able to be "true " to my conscience most of my life. It has been an obsession of mine since I was a small boy to follow that which I have perceived to be "right ", no matter the cost to me personally.

If one has to have an "obsession ", and most Asperger's people do, I am grateful that mine has been to follow the call of the spirit. I try to keep this in mind when I write about spiritual practice and the spiritual life. I know that I am often somewhat "absolutist " about living out the teaching of non-duality, but it is the only way I have been given to do it. I know that some teachers find my insistence on not taking money or asking for donations to be an extreme position, and I understand their points, but personally have to follow my instincts.

This inability to put spirit in second place has led both my Partner and myself to live very "lightly " on the ground. We have moved from job to job, home to home, so many times I have lost count. Over a period of 40 years or so, we have had maybe 35 jobs. Our work has almost always been "live in " work, whether managing apartments or working with the Developmentally Disabled, so we have had to pull up stakes continually. This has given us, over the years, a great sense of freedom, as being broke and homeless no longer has any real fear to it.

Just before we went to England to begin the Religious Community we founded there, I had a very trying experience with the Episcopal Church in San Francisco that almost soured me on the Church altogether.

After reading The Cloud of Unknowing and returning to the Church, I started to attend daily Mass atGrace Cathedral in San Francisco. Once I became known to the clergy there, and they became aware of my maintenance abilities, I was asked to become the Cathedral's first full time maintenance man. I loved that position. I was able to attend Mass, and then go and work on my beloved building. My life became very integrated. My shop was directly below the Choir, and every morning I could hear the boys from the Cathedral School sing their morning service. My life as a Monk had it's foundation here, and for a couple of years I lived in heaven.

This part of my life coincided with the coming of the Reagan administration, and the homeless problem his policies brought to the cities of America. The Episcopal Church of California responded to the homeless crises by establishing shelters in a number of the churches in San Francisco. Grace Cathedral was one of the churches that participated. The homeless were allowed to sleep in the crypt of the cathedral over night, and in the morning sandwiches were handed out as they left for the day. My partner and I were volunteers at the shelter, and would hand out the sandwiches before Mass every morning.

Being on San Francisco's Nob Hill, this attraction of the homeless to Grace Cathedral did not go down very well with the wealthy residents of the area. This led to the homeless having to be asked to leave the cathedral as soon as possible after getting their "breakfast ". When it was found that the homeless would often stay around the cathedral, sometimes even sitting in the sanctuary, the cathedral hired armed guards to send them off. This seemed to me to defeat the purpose of offering a shelter, and I was very offended by it. Being who I am, I was very outspoken about it, and confronted the clergy about it, to their embarrassment.

One morning, while I was passing thorough the sanctuary checking lights, I noticed a homeless man sleeping in one of the side pews, completely out of sight. He was being very quiet, so even though the Cathedral School was about to have their service, I did not disturb him. Just as the boys had started their service, and as I was returning, I heard a deathly shriek and saw the homeless man who had been sleeping in the pew, limp to the center of the sanctuary and kneel at the main alter, pursued by two large armed guards.

The guards grabbed the man and twisted his arm behind his back so that he let out a cry that rang through the cathedral. The boys were aghast, and I ran to the front of the sanctuary and confronted the guards. I told them that it was God's house and that they were to get out of it now! To my amazement and relief, they did as I asked.

The following day I was called to the office of the Dean and fired. I could not believe it. I appealed to the Bishop, who I knew quite well, also having been employed at the Diocesan House, but he said he had no control over the Cathedral affairs. I was allowed to continue to work for the Bishop, but my Cathedral days were over.

My faith in the caring and integrity of the Church was greatly diminished, and my heart was badly broken. It was a sad moment, but my faith in God; in spirit, continued and was freed from the confines of the established church. This allowed my Partner and I to begin our Community with an eye only on the spirit, not concerned about how we would fit in.

This is why I advise everyone to free themselves of things that bind. It is so important to be really free. To follow the spirit where it leads you, may cost you everything you believe is your life. But to follow the spirit must be your life. Every moment, every movement must be for the sake of love. While I have to admit, the Asperger's helps me stay the course, and you might find it more difficult, it is the most important thing. It is the earnestness Nisargaddata Maharaj spoke of. It is the light in the eyes and the smile of Ramana Mahrshi. It is what you are. To be it, is freedom itself.

*As a footnote, I would like to say that a few years ago, the Dean of Grace Cathedral (not the one who fired me!) apologized to me for the above incident, for which I am very greatful.

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