How often does it happen in spiritual endeavor -- that sense that what was pleasant and supportive and consoling had turned around and bitten you on the ass, that spiritual endeavor was serious and personal and oh-so-lonely?
For the lucky ones, I think the answer is ... often!
What was a pleasant belief or philosophy or religion runs head-on into gut-level facts.
For example, a pleasant conversation about the insignificance of man in the vast cosmos becomes a flash of understanding that "I am insignificant." Or what was a well-oiled and on-top-of-it conversation about death suddenly hits home when looking in the bathroom mirror: "I am going to die."
I am insignificant ... and no one cares!
I am going to die ... and no one understands!
And other flashes of up-close-and-personal lightning.
It's a major reality-check and there is no philosophy or religion or best friend that can kiss it better, that can stanch the confused and writhing tears. This ... is ... serious.
And the first thing anyone wants to do when confronting such serious matters, such inescapable recognitions, is to regain control -- the control that seemed to be in place before the recognition occurred. The problem is, of course, that the latest recognition has blown earlier contentments to bits and there is no going back, no palliative that will adequately solve and control this bright, white light.
And this, it seems to me, is where serious spiritual endeavor proves its usefulness. The only way to assure some honest consolation is to first lose any sense of consolation, to be bereft of all the two-bit nostrums and control mechanisms, to lose faith in what provided faith, to be naked and alone.
Serious spiritual endeavor deals with what is inescapable. And when you look around, what is there that is truly escapable? It may feel as if there were no tools adequate to fixing such a sense of loss, but I think the tools are in hand.
Anyone who has had a child or two -- and perhaps those who haven't -- knows the instantaneous reaction when hearing a child cry. Hearing just a single cry, before even thinking about it, the adult is up and out of his easy chair ... on the way to changing diapers, or burping the child, or feeding the child or simply holding the child close and warm and rocking.
And the same is true upon this reality-check barren plain. Yes, there is a loss of footing and a sense of despair and a confusion to beat all confusions. But would you care less for one crying child than another? So it is time to pay attention to this child, this despairing child -- to hold him or her close and warm and rocking. It takes patience and courage and doubt. It takes an attention which acknowledges the situation and doesn't pretend there is some easy way out ... some way that would rely on the philosophies or religions of contentment and control.
Patience and caring and attention. This is serious. So ... serious-up!
I feel fortunate to have run into the practice of Zen Buddhism -- a practice that puts some emphasis on seated meditation. This practice brings body and mind into a single accordance. This is the whole ball of wax -- the crying child's entire life, seated on this cushion. And it is here that I can care for what is inescapable and yet, for the moment, weeping. There, there ... the breath comes and the breath goes. There, there ... the moments go by inescapably. There, there ... it happens over and over again ... another moment and another moment and another moment. There, there ... birth and death are not just some talking point; they are what actually happens and is that really so bad, so sad, so confusing, so depressing, so lonely?
No baby I ever held went back to sleep immediately. It takes some patience and care before the tears are eased and things really are right with the world. There, there ... a little at a time. There, there ... what is inescapable is simply inescapable, but who is it who could possibly escape or what is it that could possibly be escaped from?
There, there ... here, here ... rock, rock ... safe and sound.