Thursday, May 21, 2009

beginning at the beginning

I think it is important to acknowledge in spiritual life -- in the efforts and endeavors and even the beliefs and hopes -- that no one needs spiritual life. I may choose it, but that doesn't mean I need it. Spiritual life is not like food or sleep or even sex or stories ... does water 'need' wetness or badger itself seeking out the profound and peaceful nature of wetness?

Yes, there is the inspiration of others, but spiritual life is not a group sport. "Majority rules" is hardly a consolation to any who are serious in their spiritual lives. There are a lot of people in the world who espouse religion or spiritual endeavor: Some dissolve in grateful tears; some pray mightily; some chop off the hands of others; some build tall temples; some urge and convince others; some have great followings; some sit naked in dank caves ... yes, there are a lot of people involved in spiritual endeavor or something called "spiritual life" or something.

And together with all these people -- this vast majority perhaps -- there are a lot of people who don't concern themselves at all. They would rather do something else -- fix cars, climb mountains, get a Ph.D. in quantum mechanics, rob banks, drive fast, beg for loose change, buy shoes, join a street gang, or try sky-diving. If these people needed spiritual life, they would seek it out, but, in the usual way of speaking, they don't.

No one needs spiritual life any more than water needs wetness.

I think it is important for those inclined towards spiritual endeavor to concede this matter in their hearts. "I don't need it. I choose it." Without such a concession, those who choose spiritual endeavor are constantly relying on others and can never find the peace they claim to seek. It is simultaneously pitiful and idiotic ... and which of us hasn't been pitiful or idiotic in our lives?

Such an admission may pierce the heart with loneliness and uncertainty. But for those intent on spiritual endeavor, the not-terribly-polite response to loneliness and uncertainty echoes and resounds: "Tough titty! Do it anyway! You have been lonely and uncertain in the past and lived to tell the tale so you can probably live to tell this tale as well."

Nobody needs spiritual endeavor. They choose it. This, I think, is important. It is an admission and concession without which spiritual endeavor loses any honest meaning or usefulness it might have. To begin where things begin is a good beginning. Beginning someplace else is a fool's errand -- an errand that may excite some 'majority' agreement, but leaves the seeker as bereft, if not more bereft, than s/he was in the first place.

A book, a preacher, a temple -- how long can anyone rely on the goodness of others? Pretty damned long is the answer for anyone willing to sniff through human history. But does this mean a serious student needs to be equally foolish? If the Dalai Lama is a good and inspiring man, how in heaven's name does that compute when I stub my toe or am wracked by sadness or laugh at a good dirty joke? Relying on the goodness of others -- or the badness either -- is thin gruel, don't you think? It's about the same as not-relying on the goodness of others ... just relying in another way.

I choose spiritual endeavor.

What if I'm wrong?

What if I'm right?

What if I fail?

What if I succeed?

What if I go nuts?

What if others laugh?

What if it's a crock of shit?

What if it's not a crock of shit?

What if I'm wasting my time?

What if I am lifted up to heaven?

What if I am consigned to hell?

What if there really are 77 virgins awaiting me in heaven? Do women get them as well?

What if my friends and family think I'm weird?

What if I don't get to have sex any more?

What if holiness is just unholiness in another suit of clothes?

What if I don't have any fun?

What if I have too much fun?

What if ...?

Whatever the what-if's, still, spiritual endeavor is not something anyone needs. It is just a choice. And who makes those choices? Who is the responsible one? Who is the lonely and uncertain one? Who is the one who insists on relying on others? Who longs for comfort and peace and skinny-dipping in the moonlight?

I think it is good to begin at the beginning.

Things work out better that way.

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