Strange, the tension in spiritual life, between a desired peace and tranquility, often bubble-wrapped in a stringent goodness, and the realities of daily life that can bubble up like searing magma.
To those enfolded in their bubblicious hopes and virtues, life seems to say, "Serious up!" And to those ensorcelled by greedy unkindnesses, convinced by their own perspectives and uncaring about what impact they might have ... life likewise seems to say, "Serious up!"
Yesterday, on the news, there was a story about the capture of a Mexican drug lord. The film clips showed a group of black-clad agents surrounding and herding a rotund man towards a doorway. The agents seemed to be clothed in Kevlar. They were also masked, in deference, it seemed, to the retribution they might suffer if the drug lords' allies saw their faces.
And then there was a short clip of the man himself, facing the camera, flanked by agents. He was fat and imposing and assured. His face, as I saw it, seemed to radiate the self-assurance of a person who killed without remorse and perhaps even on a whim. His face seemed to say, "My way or the highway!" and he had the wherewithal to back it up. In my imagination, this was a cruel person, someone unlikely, except under the most extreme duress, to reflect. This was someone, in or out of manacles, you would not want to fuck with, someone so convinced by his selfishness that the mere mention of selflessness was purely idiotic. This was a man who might love his dog, but would slit a child's throat without a backwards glance if circumstances -- circumstances as he saw them -- required it.
The searing magma of daily life...in this case, writ large.
Those who concern themselves with spiritual endeavor may see such images, whether on TV or in lesser degrees in their own lives, with a kind of hopeful horror. Cruelty is too cruel, self-absorption too sad-making, kindness too attractive, virtue too worthy. Where others may close their hearts to peace and love, those concerned with spiritual endeavor, whether getting the cues from some holy text or trying to actualize a wider peace, attempt to open their hearts and become more honest. Sometimes sappy, sometimes serious, they can work pretty hard. The wiser among them try to overcome the righteousness they can feel and express, but whatever the circumstances, they make an effort...
An effort that often finds itself overwhelmed by the searing magma of life: Goodness is for rubes and schnooks and well-dressed parsons working a smarmy angle. Sometimes the best anyone can manage in the face of that magma is the pompous malarkey, "God is on our side!"
What might "serious up!" actually mean? How might it actually play out as a person does his or her best to sidestep the inevitable dog shit on life's sidewalks and feels the heat of life's magma?
Well, to each his own. But for my money, it goes like this:
1. When you cannot improve on life, stop trying. Stop selling ice to Eskimos -- whether yourself or others. Cut the righteous, Boy Scout crap. No one can tell another what to do. It simply doesn't compute. And if it doesn't compute -- if people can only convince themselves -- then speak your piece or engage in actions that seem most fitting and get back to the work at hand ... your life, your magma. Never mind talking "good," focus on being "good."
2. Recognize that this effort is not just some white-whine party -- some analytical, emotionally-overwrought, activist get-together. Serious-up is not a job for well-coiffed, check-writing idjits. It is down-and-dirty. It is sweat. It takes balls. And above all ... it is just your choice. And for anyone making such a choice, well, honor that choice; do the work; stop adjusting things according to "Buddhism" or "Christianity" or "Islam" or some other flag-waving persuasion. Adjust what you can ... adjust yourself; adjust your magma.
Spiritual endeavor is not a business for sissies, no matter how often we may all hide behind the sissifications of virtue and godliness. Do the work that can be done and stop relying on the magma of others.
When has virtue ever tamed a volcano?