We all know that money is the root of all evil, that you can’t take it with you and that the only source of real happiness is religion — or a spiritual life of some sort. Right?
Well, I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with religion for nigh on half a century. I want to believe but I can’t. I love Christ but am wary of Christians. I suspect the Buddha was on to something, but when Buddhists bring ultimate truth and transcendental reality back to the table I groan in disbelief. Could it be that people see just what they want to see? Have I become a cynic?
I’ve never been more sure that I’m not, perhaps simply because I’m happy. This isn’t some theory subject to repudiation, or a belief based on my psycho-cultural needs. It’s something I taste as fully as a fine Mendoza wine. I smile so much these days I hardly recognize myself; on the whole, I take life and death with a pinch of salt; I make fun of myself; I’ve never cared less about convention and — best of all — I’m content to let people dislike, misjudge or besmirch me. I’ve no time to prove them wrong.
Just why is it better to nobly suffer outrageous fortune than
to hunker down to a life of mindless distraction?
It helps that I’m over the hump. With more years behind you than in front, your priorities naturally shift. A lifetime of spiritual books and teachings encouraged me to contemplate my mortality and savor the moment, but none of them convinced me quite as viscerally as turning sixty. I’m one day closer to death and happier for it. Strange but true.
Which brings me back to religion. I don’t mean organized beliefs, systematic practices or comforting ritual. Just the psychological drive for more — more to life than just … just, this. One of the things I have yet to accept gracefully is that so few people question our life of consumption and disposal. It confounds me. I’m an existential wreck — always have been. I’m intelligent and skilled in more ways than most, but have never made much of myself in the world. I struggle to take it seriously.
That’s driven my family and friends to knuckle-gnawing exasperation. I even feel that way about myself from time to time — when things are precarious and the cupboard is bare. It focuses me sufficiently to do what’s necessary, but the urge eventually passes and I’m lured back to my penniless scribblings. I’m a proverbial artist, I suppose.
My feelings about Catholicism and Buddhism today are live-and-let-live. Having known them both from the inside, I comfort myself with the acquaintance of a few good men and women therein. My ire these days is reserved for the touts of positive thinking: think good thoughts, they say, and banish the bad. Pretend that life is as simple as an idea, and drape yourself in spiritual complacency.
At the other extreme, Buddhists say that life sucks — we just don’t realize it. How patronizing is that? And how absurd? After all, how would we know how miserable we were if things were never good?
Bottom line: just why is it better to nobly suffer outrageous fortune than to hunker down to a life of mindless distraction? Actually, I know why. As any addict can attest, dosing yourself continuously with endorphins doesn’t work. They grow stale. Which brings us right back to where we started. What gives us direction and force? If life’s a creek, where’s the paddle?
Perhaps life is just life…
This really is the question, even if you’d rather phrase it spiritually. What it demands is a solution. What it implies, oh so surreptitiously, is that life’s a problem.
Well what if it’s not? Perhaps life is just life. What if we who soak our grey matter in the obtuse ramblings of saints and philosophers, or dedicate our lives to silent meditation, are no better off than couch potatoes?
That’s sort of a rhetorical question, but once again the only answer that rings true is one of experience. Sitting quietly alone in a room is good for me, providing I don’t overdo it. Sainthood is first cousin to insanity, after all. Look at Saint-Francis, or Milerepa — nutcases the both of them and yet absolutely inspiring. They’re so damn human and simple-minded that we can’t resist them. Oh to be so vulnerable, childlike and free!
I once tried to understand what ‘my way’ should be. Fortunately, life’s not that organized. Thank God — or whoever it is that one should thank. It’s odd how many times I use that phrase each day. I’m an atheist, after all.
Then again, am I? My instincts are clearly religious. My choice to not believe has hardly diminished my wish to do so. Lord only knows what a muddle I’m in.
But that’s okay. Life’s a smorgasbord. I love it, especially in the company of others. So where does that leave me and my profound questioning of life’s profound profundities?
God, I’ve no idea. You?