Simplifying Spirituality to the Point of Meaninglessness

The search for easy to remember catch phrases sucks the depth out of the spiritual question. Simplifying just for simplicity’s sake takes the point out of everything.

Not all spirituality is created equal. The paths that we draw on from history were full of nuance, research, deep inquiry, systems, and practices. Buddhism has the four noble truths, the eight-fold path, the three poisons, the five skandhas, samsara, nirvana, dukha, the two truths doctrine, 227 rules for monks, and 331 for nuns. (The Buddha and those who follow him still have a little way to go on the female equality front.)

Jewish mysticism gets equally deep, especially with the Qabbalah. Along with the 10 Sephirot of the tree of life, there are 212 steps from the mundane realm to the heavenly.

Most other ancient traditions have an equal amount of depth.

Contrast this to most modern/new-age traditions and the difference is rather shocking. “Be in the now.” Done. Next? Not all of the modern versions are one trick ponies, but they are mostly not more than two or three loose guidelines.

I am not suggesting that everyone needs to dig to the bottom of any given tradition. There is no need to read every word of every sutra, other than personal interest. However, I think it’s pretty easy to see that, loose guidelines make for loose guidance, and probably a good deal of wasted time. This is especially true when you happen to not be working directly with a teacher, or as part of a group. The more tools you have to work with, the more specific you can be in your work.

Of course, there is a flip side here. As a path evolves, and more nuance is explored, it can lead to a certain kind of restriction that can create blind spots where the explorer fails to look because they think their path has completely covered a given issue. To circle back to the Buddha, the middle way may be the way to go. We can study a path deeply without letting ourselves become convinced that it has covered everything. We can treat our studies lightly, while not taking them so seriously. That leaves is with the freedom to notice any gaps we come across, and the chance to address them.

In the end, I think what we are looking for is a path that does not become a set of blinders without remaining simply a set of rose colored glasses.

photo credit

Meditation is Not About Getting Better at Meditation

It’s basic human nature to want to do something important well. If we have a job to do, we like to do it in a way we can be proud of. If we are making something, we want it to turn out well. Not only that but the next time we make something we want it to be even better. Humans like their endeavors to mature. That’s a good thing.

However, the drive to improve can prove a distraction, or even an impediment, in accomplishing what we are doing. Writing for example; one of the frequent pieces of advice a young writer gets is to not edit as they write. Instead, forward momentum should be preserved at all costs. Edits can be taken care of later. Spending too much time getting every single word just so will cripple your creative flow. (By the way, while writing this example I stopped to edit typos about seventeen times. That is a HUGE improvement from when I started writing as a form of expression over a decade ago. So it goes.)

In just this way, a focus on meditating better can easily derail meditation itself. Meditation is about being right where you are and letting right where you are show up however it happens to. As you can easily see, being right where you are while trying to be better at being right where you are is not meditation. It’s practicing meditation. That is not a bad thing, and it is inevitable. There is nothing wrong with getting better at meditating. My suggestion though would be to keep that to a minimum. That way you can get some of the benefits of actual meditation. Which is why you sat down in the first place, yes?

photo credit

Accept But Don’t Settle

In spiritual circles there is a lot of talk about acceptance and surrender. The idea is solid enough: By accepting what is actually happening and surrendering the idea of changing this current moment, one can release a large amount of needless stress. By ceasing the struggle with what is, our resources are freed up for taking what action we can. The flip side is that by not occupying our minds with something which is not actually occurring (like worrying about bad news, or what might happen in an upcoming meeting) we can use that energy instead to skillfully deal with the situation at hand.

The above points are very good, as far as they go. The danger comes when acceptance crosses over into settling. Acceptance is when you understand a situation cannot be changed in the moment. Settling is when you know you want something better & you know it’s possible, but you decide not to do what it takes to get it. Acceptance is necessary when your time would be wasted in struggling against something. Settling is an abandonment of your capacity to choose. Acceptance frees your power up to do what is useful. Settling always means getting less than you deserve.

Settling is what can happen when you take the act of acceptance to an extreme. From there it is a slippery slope into the victim role.

The funny thing is, settling is kind of the opposite of acceptance. Acceptance is about the current moment. It’s about what is actually the case. It is not about the future since the future isn’t actually happening, and therefore there is nothing about the future to accept. Settling is all about the future. By settling you assume that what is happening now will also be the situation in time to come. That is silly thinking.

Settling is about giving up. Acceptance is about surrender. Those are two very different things. When you surrender, you deal with whatever is as it is. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a change. Surrender just means that you start to change things from what is actually the case, and you pursue the change that is currently possible. When you give up, you no longer take action. Having given up, you drop hope and don’t bother to help yourself.

Life throws us curve balls. That’s part of its charm. When it does, we can choose to accept the situation and deal with those curve balls as they are. Or, we can settle for what happens to us and not bother to try.

photo credit