When Life Loses Its Meaning
by David Deida
- excerpt from the book Finding God Through Sex
As a child, your attention was occupied, say, with toy trucks and tree houses. As a teenage, your attention, freed from toys, became obsessed with girls and cars. As an adult you are probably preoccupied with earning a living an perhaps caring for a family.
You may still play with toys occasionally, though they are probably bigger and faster than your childhood playthings. You may still be turned on by fine cars and young girls, but a good portion of your attention has moved on to other things. Toys, cars, and girls seem somewhat more trivial than when they constituted the entire world of your youth.
What constitutes your world now? What are you concerned about? What are the objects that now bind your attention? Money, career, a social cause, a mistress, TV, your family? As long as these things are fulfilling, there is no problem. Life seems good, or at least good enough.
As an adolescent, hormonal changes freed your attention from toys so you could invest it in girls. As an adult, spiritual changes can free your attention in the same way. As you continue to grow spiritually - and everybody does, at their own pace - sooner or later the things you have invested your life in seem empty and trivial. They no longer give you the fulfillment that they once did.
This can be horrifying. You may be in the middle of a great marriage, surrounded by glorious children, succeeding at your chosen career, and whammo! Suddenly you lose interest in the whole damn thing. You find yourself going through the motions without wholehearted enthusiasm. The same thing can happen in the midst of a life committed to social activism or religious pursuit. Suddenly you feel done. Ready to move on. But you don't know where. And the baggage you've accumulated can be immense.
Deepening Your Attention
The good news is this: Where to go is deeper into the bliss of your very being, and you don't need to change your relationship, family, or career to do so (although they will be imbued with new depth as you grow, possibly changing as a result). The bad news is that spiritual growth, while deepening your consciousness and bliss, can be as painful and difficult as growing your body through adolescence or your mind through medical school.
Teenage growth is mostly driven by physical changes. Growth as a young adult is mostly based on developing your mental capacities. Spiritual growth depends upon cultivating your depth of attention or awareness, in spite of the condition of your body and mind.
You can be a marathon runner or confined to a wheelchair; you can be well-versed in Shakespeare or barely literate; you can be homosexual, heterosexual, celibate, or polygamous; you grow spiritually when your attention is no longer bound to its present objects - money, women, thoughts, desires - and is free to relax more deeply into its source, the very openness of being.
To Which Objects Do You Cling?
When you are in deep sleep and begin to awaken, if you are very sensitive you can feel attention come out of a silent, deep consciousness and become enmeshed in a world of objects, including the thoughts, feelings, and relationships that you call your life. Out of the blissful nothing of deep sleep, suddenly you are aware of - and absorbed in - whatever world reflects your current hopes and fears.
As an infant, you emerged from sleep into a world consisting of breast or bottle. As a teenage, you woke up with a hard-on and thoughts of what the school day would bring. As an adult, your morning attention becomes immediately bound to noises coming from your children's room or to your work schedule for the day.
Even now, your attention is still occasionally wrapped up in objects like breasts, hard-ons, and perhaps school. But you are no longer entirely locked into these objects; your attention is more free and has grown wider and deeper: wider because it takes into account so much more than it used to as a child; deeper because your understanding of what these objects mean has grown. You know deeper suffering and deeper joy than you did when you were younger, so certain things - dolls, toy trucks, The Beatles, financial victory - don't mean as much as they used to, though you may still enjoy them. Now, other aspects of life seem more meaningful.
How Do You Grow Spiritually?
Just as age developed your body and school developed your mind, spiritual practices develop your depth. You grow spiritually by letting go of your attachment to certain objects, which happens naturally, and then relaxing your attention more deeply into its source, the openness of being. This development of attention from superficial to deep can be practiced in many ways, including prayer, devotional contemplation, meditation, and studying scripture.
Since so much of our attention is tightly bound by our sexual hopes, fears, and desires, our sexual life is usually one of the last parts of us to grow spiritually, no matter how much we meditation or pray. But at some point we realize that sex isn't all we hoped it would be - we suffer because our sex life is not satisfying. It might have seemed satisfying yesterday, or ten years ago, but it is not now. Just as we may find our career or relationship suddenly unfulfilling, we may naturally become frustrated or even bored with our sex life; though perhaps still physically pleasurable, sex begins to feel empty. And this is a sign of growth.
Our culture only supports growth up to a certain stage. We are allowed to liberate our attention from childhood and adolescent concerns, but then we are supposed to be satisfied by occupying our attention with adult concerns of money, family, sex, spirits, and affection, with a little bit of social do-goodery, artistic appreciation, and religious belief thrown in. But when we grow beyond these objects of concern - when they no longer interest us - our modern culture offers very little advice beyond therapy, TV, drugs, divorce, changing careers, and trying to search for meaning in the world.
Meaning is not to be found in the world, but in the depth of being, which then recasts the world in a new light. When your family and career no longer fulfill you as they once did, don't leave them. If your lack of fulfillment is due to spiritual growth, a change in family or career will make absolutely no difference in how deeply you are fulfilled. Your only true choice is to go deeper: relax as the openness of deep being, even while you continue to skillfully deal with the things of your life.
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