In the army -- regular as clockwork and hangovers -- there would be periodic lectures on one topic or another. Venereal disease, military discipline, tactics ... the list went on and on. The audience, when it had any seasoning at all, learned one indestructible lesson from such meetings ... don't ask questions. The only way to get out of there was to keep your mouth shut. And what was true in the army is probably true in civilian life as well: Avoid whatever meeting you can and your productivity will rise accordingly.
Still, however numbingly uninformative and boring the army meetings were, every once in a while someone might say something worth heeding. And one day, during a lecture on religion in the military, a chaplain said something I never forgot: "If a man believes something -- anything at all -- there will always be 20 good men to agree with him."
In spiritual endeavor, a good deal is made out of what is called delusion. Delusion is the stuff of intellect and emotion to which the owner is strongly attached ... love it or hate it, still convinced and attached. Love affairs, money, family, power, employment, country and, yes, spiritual endeavor. I imagine everyone has or has had something which sent them ass-over-appetite with enthusiasm and commitment.
Because everything changes, the enthusiasms of delusion cause difficulties and you can hear people saying sonorously that they are trying to rid themselves of delusion, to bank or possibly eradicate their passions, to empty their mental blackboards of all foolish attachment: Since everything is bound to be flushed down the toilet of change, why get caught up in the first place?
I think this approach is incorrect, if understandable. Pure clarity does not rest on erasing the factors that blur and obscure it -- it rests on seeing through those blurring and obscuring aspects, on paying attention and taking responsibility.
This morning, for example, my head is awash with thoughts about the Vatican priest-sex-abuse adventure. The topic presses my buzzers and I can get caught up in it as surely as an ocean vortex can swallow a fishing trawler. Am I deluded? You bet. But what is it that constitutes that delusion? Is it my heated arguments or passionate emotions? Is it my delighted comfort in being outraged ... in setting myself up as the righteous arbiter of the situation, in being a fool for love?
If I had to guess, I think I would say that it is not the sometimes poorly-supported passion of the situation that constitutes any potential difficulty. It is the extent to which I may expect a situation to turn out 'my way.' It seems to me that human beings are given to loving the circumstances of their lives, whether private or public. Of course they get consumed, whatever their delicate, dithering denials or spiritual persuasions. Circumstances arise and, shazzam!, we are all hip-deep in the Big Muddy.
It is not possible to erase circumstances or erase the moment in which anyone takes this breath. It's simply not possible. Here and now is here and now before anyone intones "here and now." And here and now does not play favorites, does not bless one scene and curse another: It is simply here and now ... just as human beings are here and now. Wishing things were different is like wishing you were an aardvark ... it ain't gonna happen.
But the here-and-nowness of anyone's life is just here and now. It is not there and then. Being swept up in the here and now is just the way life is built. OK. And zooming off into the there and then is one possibility within the here and now. Expectation is possible. But the question that may occur to some is, how actually-factually effective or realistic is any ability to project a there-and-then, a situation that will arise from my passionate commitments? Does it actually work?
My guess is that expectation is the reason that so-called delusion gets a bad rap in spiritual endeavor. It's not because delusion is naughty or bad or not as holy as the local holy man. It's because it doesn't work and keeping an eye on what doesn't work is worth the price of admission.
Let's not badmouth the circumstances that arise in the here-and-now and no sane person could escape. If you're passionate, be passionate; if you're bored, be bored; if you're confused, be confused; if you want to raise one banner or another, go ahead. You too are the circumstances that arise ... like it or lump it, it's just a fact.
But keep an eye on the bewitching notion that change is somehow on your side, that things will improve or be cleansed. Maybe they will and maybe they won't and it doesn't matter whether 20 good men agree with you or not. If you make a mistake, correct it. If you have a success, correct that too. Circumstances arise and fall away and there is not a spiritual endeavor in the world that can do a damned thing about it.
But you can.
Expectation is the target, not some boogeyman called "delusion." Drink the here and now to its dregs. Spiritual zombies are a dime a dozen in their attempts to avoid the inescapable.
Oh well, perhaps I am just excusing myself ... again.