Sunday, August 23, 2015

You Are Already That Which You Seek

Today I turn forty one, which was supposed to mark the end of this year-long spiritual quest. It's been a good run, folks. A crazy year. Beginning with stability. Ending in turmoil. One marathon down. One new job on the horizon. One less appendix. Twelve fewer months on the ticking clock. I've learned a ton, had some great experiences, enjoyed precious time with my wife and children, developed some new connections, written some new songs, dreamed some new dreams.

But I've got to be honest with you. In terms of ultimate answers, I've got nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

To anyone with a shred of self-awareness and wisdom, this should come as no surprise, like it was to me. I'm actually okay with it now. More than okay. The lack of answers gives me tremendous relief, a heightened awareness of the preciousness of my own life. One might even call it a sense of enlightenment.

This isn't for lack of trying. In fact, all the striving for meaning seems to have had the opposite effect. Digging a deeper hole and consistently coming up empty, the disappointment always increasing with the depth. I searched, pondered and prayed. I meditated and yoga-ed, attended churches and Buddhist temples. I read like a man on fire, starting with Lao Tzu, ending with Shakespeare. I tried to build structural dams--programs, schedules, goals--to contain and harness the free-flowing river of my life. But they didn't hold.

And now I'm staring at another twelve months, another forty-four years (if I'm lucky), with less hope for answers than I had a year ago. But also one less question.

In a great and wholly predictable irony, I have found that in the quest for meaning and purpose after Mormonism, there is none to be found, not in any ultimate sense. So time to stop asking the question. It's sort of like asking what happened before the Big Bang. To ask the question is to fundamentally misunderstand the material.

This doesn't mean that life is meaningless. Au contraire. I feel that my life is profoundly meaningful, in an entirely subjective way. But in the ultimate sense, it is not. Or if there is ultimate purpose, it is ultimately unknowable, and therefore irrelevant. Anyone who tells you different is selling something.

More succinctly put: "The meaning of life is to give life meaning." Maybe the most important part of that lovely turn of phrase is the period at the end. No caveats. No afterlife to make sense of it all. No man in the sky (or on Kolob, as the case may be) to correct your error, speak truth as with the voice of thunder, or judge the quality of your life.

Give your life a meaning, and that shall be the meaning of your life. Thus saith the Lord, whoever you conceive that to be.

This actually gives me more empathy towards Mormonism and other religions. They are systems of values and meaning. They work for a lot of people, bringing them happiness, stability and community. They may be completely incongruent with reality, but what is reality? We all see it through the glass darkly. And if the dark glass you're looking through is religion, and if it's working for you, then great. Don't rock that boat. I remember the old dream of "dying with your testimony intact and your eternal salvation assured." Seemed like a good idea at the time. That sense of certainty is a tough thing to let go of. It's a long hard fall from there.

(The rub is when you discover that your system of values is incongruent with reality AND causes harm to other people. In a truthful and just society, that should prompt a recalibration. But that's a discussion for another day . . .)

I do believe that most everyone is doing the best they can to see accurately through the glass they've been given. But for many, that glass will one day break, the walls will collapse, and you will be forced to confront a new paradigm of reality. You will be cast out of the garden of Eden and must enter the lone and dreary world. Now, with enhanced metaphorical power, you will be separated from what you believed to be God, and must find your way back through mists of darkness towards the Tree of Life. But upon arrival, you may find that tree, even the wilderness you are traversing, is just another pane in another stain glass wall, like all those others broken behind you.

And so it goes. We frustrate ourselves by breaking glass wall after glass wall, never arriving at the center of the maze. I guess that's okay. Gives us something to do. But maybe sometimes--due to a prick of conscience, a life experience, sheer boredom--we become inclined, for a brief moment, to stop the mad striving. In that place of respite, once our breath stops fogging the glass, we see the wall for what it is. And then maybe, instead of breaking it, we pause, stop looking beyond it, and finally see ourselves reflected.

Thus shall I bringeth this to a close. In spite of all I've just written, this quest is not going away, neither the blog. (Sorry.) With all of these epiphanies also comes a measure of self-awareness, and there is simply something hardwired within me that must strive. I am a seeker, and a quintessential American. The rugged western individualist who must bend the world to his will. Always going, never arriving, but still blogging about it, and newly unburdened by the nagging sense that there is still a holy grail somewhere from which I must drink.

I can think of no better way to close this year's spiritual questing than with the words of that spiritual giant, the great Eminem, who once said, "I can't tell you what it really is / I can only tell you what it feels like / And right now it's a steel knife in my wind pipe / I can't breathe but I still fight while I can fight." Or more pertinently, "Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment, would you capture it? Or just let it slip."

Listen to what Eminem is teaching us: Lose yourself . . . to find yourself. 

Or what so many other sages throughout time have concluded:
  • The road ends where the sky begins.
  • The course of the Lord is one eternal round.
  • Now is forever. Forever is now.
  • The kingdom of God is within you.
  • You are already that which you seek.
And while I'm not labeling myself anything particular, here's a bunch of humanist/atheist folks who share this central insight much more eloquently than me.

And here's a link to my first post a year ago, a preamble, which strangely makes today's post seem more like a reformulation. I am glad to have written what I've written this year. It's my journey. These have been some of the way stations. I'm hopeful someone somewhere got some benefit.
I think all of this--these few paragraphs today, these last twelve months--has been a way of saying something that, in the end, nobody else cares about. Not really.

But I care, so I'll say it. Hey, Mark Elliott Foster and anyone else out there of like mind and spirit in this incomprehensibly vast and beautiful universe, welcome to uncertainty.

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