Friday, November 24, 2017

flogging an idea

Like a pinball bouncing from bumper to bumper and yet never seeming to drop, the idea has banged around in my head -- a question of what spiritual life's upshot might be and a hypothesis gaining traction as the answer: The sole purpose of spiritual life is ... to outgrow it.

Having written this down, I cringe even now. Not because I fear it might put me on some fast track to hell or some other writhing punishment, but because postulating an answer has all the earmarks of a proposition that seeks to convince or convert someone else. That is not my intention. My intention is to offer a possibility that may not yet have occurred to others, who, like me, are of an age to look back more than look forward. As any aging person can tell you, the nearness of death has much to do with shedding the snake skins donned during a lifetime of activities. What was once possible is now highly unlikely at best. I am 77 and wonder whether spiritual endeavor was worth the price of admission and what, if anything, might put a relaxing period on that sentence.

Yesterday, the pinball took up its endless cha-ching rambling and I spent quite a lot of time trying to find a publication that might be willing to consider my written meanderings after 45-50 years of spiritual interest and endeavor. I think it's a good topic -- aging, death, religion -- but I can imagine both true believers and true disbelievers preparing to pounce on my sorry ass.

Anyway, I got one nibble. We'll see if it anyone might say, "OK, if you're stupid enough to try, I'm stupid enough to listen."

I don't even know if I could write the thing if I received an invitation, but the careening, ding-dong-ing of the pinball idea was irritating: Put up or shut up.

Strangely, the effort at finding an outsource calmed my mind and I could remember with a smile that spiritual endeavor did teach me one invaluable lesson -- how to eat oatmeal with chop sticks. That makes me smile and smiling is ... well, try it.


  1. I keep tripping over the word spiritual. This godly steeplechase is too high for me to jump over. It all alludes to a doubtful afterlife. And maybe being old and tired I can only hope for a restful oblivion. Hell and heaven are boring and another life is just too tiring to think about. I don't want to be enlightened or alive, just a dreamless and endless sleep.

    So I'm not sure what spiritual endeavor has to do with that. Did it bring me to what feels like exhaustion? Give me a perspective that let's go of the instinct to survive? If there's a hope in rebirth, it's that a newborn comes reenergized. And as well, with a long and difficult road ahead.

    But ol'buddha man said there was no such thing as an eternal and unchanging self. But that doesn't really rule out spirit so much as rule in change. And change might disallow dreamless and endless sleep. Yippee ki yay and bah humbug!

  2. For years I have eaten my oatmeal with a fork.

  3. “The sole purpose of spiritual life is ... to outgrow it.” Interesting ephifany or is it an anti-ephifany? How’s it being the wisest guy on the block working out? Is being beyond the need for spiritual discipline any better or worse?

    How does one know one has outgrown Spiritual Life and is not just once again “... wandering in the darkness of ignorance, going astray further and further in the darkness.....”

    I have never come across the concept of outgrowing spiritual life altogether just the notion of it changing the form of it’s practice and / or expression and / or intensity. For example switching meditation practice from breath counting to breath awareness to either koan practice and then to shikantaza or directly to shikantaza. I’ve heard of people switch disciplines partially like from some form of Yoga Meditation to Insight Meditation, or relatively completely like from Christianity to Islam.

    Interesting that the historical Buddha still trained for his entire life and some literature says he’s still training. Also the Dalai Lama still studies and meditates. Most senior monastics Sunyasins and Buddhist monks, and clergy of other traditions continue their spiritual practices some with modification due to health conditions for their entire life.

    Have you reviewed the early Buddhist Teaching of the Five Hinderances to Practice? It migh be of some use.

    Also, I have heard of giving up on one religion or another as well, to becoming a-religious or even anti-religious.

    But outgrow it? Not so much.

    By the way, I am very much a traditionalist: oatmeal is best and properly eaten with a Tablespoon.

  4. If you would just take out that word beginning with an s. it would all make perfect sense.

  5. An apt comment on the whole panoply

  6. I’m tending to agree with olcharlie and craig nelson insofar as the word “spiritual” can be itself an obstacle.

    While such thinking approaches the modern Buddhist focus on not “labeling” things, which can make life more difficult that it already is, such thinking can actually be a helpful in certain instances.

    I must reiterate that the notion that the sole purpose of spiritual life is to outgrow it is highly suspect.

    It’s like saying the purpose of living is to die.

    Sure, there is death but dying is not the end goal of life.

    Using olcharlie’s & craig nelson’s Idea let’s remove the word, “spiritual” because it is a word essentially devoid of meaning

    “...the sole purpose of life is ... to outgrow it.”

    A highly suspect assertion, for sure.

  7. What might be helpful, is, instead of some kind of flogging ie floundering, a clear explanation of what you actually did that was in pursuit of a spiritual life. What in that can be “outgrown” as opposed to simply and clearly abandoned.