Why so spiritual? (Part 2)
Where were we? I got a little derailed from finishing Part 2 (see Part 1) as I was preparing for my upcoming trip and retreat. After this post, it might be a couple months until the next…
Oh, yeah, here we are. Here, again, through no will of our own. In these meat bodies. With these thinking minds. So much thinking. My mind, in particular, is so busy thinking, so sensitive, and when left unchecked, leans toward depression.
And I don’t think it’s just me. I think it’s us, it’s the nature of our mind. We are not designed to be happy. We are only designed to survive.
We are designed to think, to try to do things, to strive for more, and avoid perceived danger. And so we should be made this way. We are just animals and animals have instincts to trigger actions that help us survive and procreate. And yet… and yet… we humans have this sophisticated mind, that allows us to have an awareness of these primitive instincts. And even though we are designed to be only happy enough to keep on living, motivated enough to keep taking care of this body, and of course to mate and bring more bodies into this world, we have this outstanding ability to pause and observe the instincts of the reptilian brain and rise above them. To choose differently. To choose deliberately. And make a life that is more than a sleepy trance of grasping, avoiding and fucking. A life that is more meaningful, richer, and ultimately happier.
Cultivating this awareness that gives us space to choose has been the single greatest thing I’ve learned. And I believe I have spiritual practice to thank for providing that path of learning, of mental training.
But that word… spiritual… am I even using the right word? Here’s what I mean when I use that word: to me, being spiritual is taking time to be quiet, to look inside, to notice what’s going on with wakeful attention, and to strive to transcend habitual patterns, past conditioning, and perhaps even instinct to make changes for the better. That’s all. So perhaps a better word is contemplative.
To my mind, what wisdom traditions, spiritual or religious traditions, and philosophies offer is two-fold:
They offer an explanation of the “out there,” what this all is, and perhaps a creation story.
They offer an explanation of the “in here,” a way to navigate life with this mind, a way to be in the world, in harmony and in happiness. I like to think of this latter offering as an instruction manual for dealing with consciousness and how to be happy (since it doesn’t seem to be a default setting. Not for me, anyway.)
While I find it endlessly fascinating to explore theories on what this matrix we experience really is, (how it started, where it’s going, and why it exists at all,) I feel like it is ultimately a mystery and I am not sure it’s possible to get to an ultimate truth about the nature of reality (as I elaborated on in the previous post.)
What holds more value for me is the second bit, the investigation of the mind, the “in here.” (Although it is certain that insights about the outer world illuminate our understanding of the inner world and it is quite certain that everything is somehow connected, if not a projection of the other… but that’s a topic for another day). It is worth more to me, rather than trying to figure out the fabric of the universe, to become a master of my mind, the very filter that determines the quality of my experience. In this way, we can more deeply enjoy this mysterious experience of life.
In short, this is the path to having more fun and being at peace in this great unknown. (Which is the whole point.)
And while all religions and spiritual traditions probably offer some wisdom on both levels — explaining the universe and how to navigate it as a human — I tend to gravitate toward and connect so deeply with Buddhism and eastern philosophies and practices, because they seem to have the most thorough and elegant instructions on how to be a sentient being with a thinking mind (and be happy).
It’s a bit paradoxical. What has started in my life as deep pain (anxiety, depression) and such seriousness (philosophy, meditation) has led to such enjoyment, and the most freedom and fun I’ve ever had in my whole life.
I guess sometimes it pays off to hurt. To feel and hurt so much that it gets you down for a while. Long enough where nothing makes sense anymore and things start to dissolve. Then you start asking questions, seeking answers, and yes, you get a little serious. And you sit down and probe and contemplate, and with time and grace, you gain a little insight. Only to realize there’s nothing to get too serious about. Mostly just thoughts posing as real things. And then you let the thoughts fall away and let things dissolve even more and what is left behind is freedom, delight, enjoyment and fun.