Tuesday, August 29, 2017

OK, so now what?

Rattling around in my mind like a pinball is the query, "What happens to spiritual endeavor when the upside is OK, but no longer as inspiring, and the other side of the adventure, the slow side that slips away, tiptoes closer with the nearing of death....?"

Just thinking....

At my age, I am willing to say that spiritual life is a peculiar duck. It may walk like a duck and quack like a duck, but anyone claiming to know what that duck is, precisely, has become a captive to logorrhoea. After 50 years of sometimes intensive spiritual training, I really have gotten tired of people with answers, my own front and center. Imagine -- if there really were answers, why would we keep talking about the topic?

Specifically, as far as I can figure out, spiritual life, in whatever raiment, is delicious and inviting and perhaps consoling in its initial phases. But what about the further climes, where teeth get long, body slows down, pills multiply and the need to rely on answers dwindles? What is anyone supposed to do with spiritual life as death beckons? Beckons and, I suspect, chuckles gently.

At birth, no one is freighted with spiritual life, whether pro or con. Babies, if I get it right, are born with one life-affirming capacity: They know how to suck. Only later do Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Jain, Buddhist or other persuasions come into play. Babies know how to suck and there is no doubt about it. Spiritual life is all about doubt. What happens after death; how does anyone transcend a tragedy, what shape or emanation does a god take, etc.

In the beginning, the good news is scraped together like autumn leaves on the lawn. Rituals, texts, disciplines, singing, incense, penance ... all of it heaped together in a whisper and a promise: there is good news to be collated and assimilated. It is reassuring for the one who has outgrown diapers.

But then what? No one issued forth from the womb freighted with good news or bad and on the far side of what can be a steep and perilous and sometimes joyful climb, there is ... what, precisely? Answers have long since lost their credibility. Or rather, perhaps their credibility has shape-shifted. Answers are nice, but there is far too much evidence that answers are for the unwary and, perhaps, those who are merely terribly frightened.

I don't mind so much any more. Being scared is something I have done before and no doubt will do again, but time has passed and the "answer" to being scared is, as far as I can figure out, being scared. At 77, I don't feel comfortable burdening another person or entity with my lack of answers. Not having answers seems entirely sane, if not quite so consoling. Put another way, the only way to love god is to leave god out of it. Why? Because god seems to have done OK before I came along and seems destined to do OK once I am gone. Why ruin a nicely balanced balance?

Believers and atheists have the same problem: They have found or need an answer. But what's wrong with having a question that lacks an answer? My 50 years of spiritual adventure sits neatly next to the fact that I owned a lot of cap guns when I was a kid. I don't begrudge myself the cap guns and I don't begrudge myself the delicacies of spiritual life. It's a fact. Not an answer.

Imagine if your most heart-felt question had no answer. It might be galling at the outset, but in the end, isn't it a relief? And more than a relief, it has the advantage of being a fact.


  1. From my perspective spiritual life may or may not be an odd duck. Answers associated with spiritual life that one comes across or develops may be correct or incorrect.

    First and foremost, likely due to my upbringing as a Roman Catholic, a form of spirituality can be an integral part of life.

    Understanding and practice can get a little dicey, confusing, frustrating when one switches over to another spiritual path. It also makes things immensely clearer. In the long run.

    I imagine that even sticking to one path for a long time, things can get dicey, confusing and frustrating, and then in the long run clearer.

    I think a lot has to do with what one relies on as fundamental assumptions and attitudes. And a lot has to do with experiences along one's way through life. A lot has to do with stopping at doubt. A lot has to do with not stopping at doubt. Doubt and Belief and Persistence make for Big Differences.

  2. Joseph Campbell said the word religion came from the latin religio, meaning to link back. I imagine that to mean that we want to feel that we belong, are needfully connected to and accepted by family, community, the universe, whatever all powerful, connecting make it right deity feels good. And whatever construct connects you to these things can be explained by whatever belief one subscribes to. To call that spiritual is to layer it with something invisible and explainable only through believing that construct.

    Because we are endowed with and experience being through consciousness we imagine another consciousness that does the magic. Consciousness can restrict or share freely with whatever you can imagine has it. Most of us cling to a god that is conscious. But we're limited by our own imagination. The pagan in me is willing to accept that a tree or a rock or the entirety of the universe are conscious. Maybe what zennies call Buddha nature applies. Does a tree have buddha nature? They appear to be engaged in a deep experience of zazen, or so I might interpret.

    But we are taught to endeavor to “be here now”. Here in the world, in a body, perceived through a mind associated with that body, and no apparent invisible/spiritual anything present. I've been reminded that there's no mystery in chopping wood and toting water. And i've been told that we can't fall out of the universe. And that seemed to satisfy any hunger for the metaphysical for me. The pagan tome was nature, that if seen in nature a thing could be believed, considered reliable. Mind may be part of nature, but whatever that mind might imagine perhaps less so. To believe something outside of nature seems a place to apply doubt ruthlessly. Invisible/spiritual stuff seems pretty doubtable. Consciousness appears dependable, but if you can't talk to it, you'll have to imagine it's side of the story, and again, doubt applies.

    Buddhism seems blithely lumped in with the spiritual, but I doubt it applies.

  3. Not having answers is a core teaching of Buddhism. Of course, what do most Buddhists do? Create a hierarchy of Roshis, Senseis, lamas, and Tulkus that are supposed to have answers.

    After 10 years of Zen practice, I realized that the term "Zen Teacher" is an oxymoron, despite all of them.