Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cute Sentimentality and Detachment

It is a bit of a puzzle to my wife and house mates why I do not want to frequent Cute Overload. I am not a macho type and I quite readily talk about my cat Sweetness as being cute. I will recount episodes in which I have found him being cute, and take cute pictures of him.
sweetness and petticoatthis is a cute photo of Sweetness
Recently in attempting to answer this apparent contradiction: my avoidance of cuteness in the form of Cute Overload, and my willingness to speak of Sweetness and the other two cats, Byron and Wh, as being cute; I said that for me cute is a relational term. I think what I meant by that was that cute is sentimental, I have no desire to increase sentimentality in my life. I perfectly fine with being sentimental about my cat or my wife family and close friends, but I have no desire to or need to have an abundance of sentimentality. What I had not thought through is why I place limits on sentimentality.

The answer came to me out of a conversation my wife and I had on our way to the train/grocery store. She has been thinking about and posting on solitude In part due to Tripp's posting on solitude. She asked if she needed to be alone with her self beyond her sewing? My answer was yes. A thought I had but that did not get expressed was that meditation is the practice of solitude, especially a breathing meditation wherein one seeks to detach oneself from all thoughts. The Christian tradition calls this apathea, sometimes translated passionless but is similar to the Buddhist notion of detachment. Now you might be asking "Where are you going with this? What in the world does solitude and detachment have to do with cute and Cute Overload?" Bear with me I'm getting there. For certain types of Buddhism (what I am most familiar with) detachment is how one is free to have compassion for all living beings. Compassion that is tied to a relation or feeling is a limited compassion and one that cannot be for all l beings. In the Christian tradition we speak of divine love a love beyond friendship, family, or romance, a love that is not attached to mere emotion or sentimentality.

It is the oddness of my spiritual journey that I learned apathea from Buddhism to find that it was at the core of my own faith. That the boundless divine love Christ showed us and that which I , as a disciple of Christ, am to show all people, is only achievable through detachment. From this perspective it is needful to Recognize that the deepest and truest love is without sentimentality. True love the love that is the source of all sentimental love transcends sentimentality. I am called to develop in myself this apethea that allows me to love beyond sentiment. I have been doing this through various spiritual disciplines specifically breathing mediation for 18 or so years, first as Buddhist sitting mediation and then as a more specific Christian discipline using the Jesus Prayer.

So, I believe that as a follower of Christ that I am called to a love that is beyond sentiment. I have meditated and practiced other disciplines seeking detachment and apethea so that I can have proper attachments and be open to the divine love. I can freely be sentimental about Sweetness, my wife family and friends, and might talk about Sweetness being cute because there is a proper attachment in which I recognize the limits of emotion and that love. However, I do not wish to be sentimental about things with which I have no real connection, and thus practice the opposite of my spiritual disciplines. For me Cute Overload would be the consistent practice of engaging in meaningless attachment, and thus works against what I feel called to in my spiritual life.

Now am I saying that anyone and everyone who looks a Cute Overload and gushes over cuteness of things to which they have no real relation is exercising in improper and meaningless attachment? As one practiced in spiritual direction I must say I don't know. I would consider it a possibility for one to enjoy Cute Overload and not be caught up in a sentimentality that attaches oneself to things in away that works against apathea. My point is not to judge those who look at Cute Overload, but to explain my own avoidance of its sentimentality, and express my own understanding (in terms of two spiritual traditions) of why one may chose not to engage it. If you like me are seeking that Love beyond love that is the source of all love, then it may be that you are called to avoid attaching oneself to things with which you have no real relation beyond the sentiment of cuteness. The operative word there is may. Maybe it is that I am more able to be distracted, or simply more affected in ways I don't want to be or something. Though, I have also written this because I believe seeking detachment that allows ones compassion and love to be transcendent and not limited by attachment to be a good thing, and something all people should seek. Also in the end I do believe that attachment to sentimentality is a primary enemy of apathea. However, the ways of achieving apathea may not all involve avoidance of Cute Overload, in my case it does.