10 Reasons Why Investigating Spiritual Stuff Might Not Be A Total Waste of Time
Life is short. Let's not waste time. Here's one way not to.
There are plenty of things to do in life. Staying on the cutting edge of celebrity gossip, for example. So why spend our limited time looking into spiritual stuff?
We'll humbly offer a few potential reasons below.
What do you think? Can it compete?
1. The Problem of Happiness: We’re searching for happiness (in a world full of suffering.)
When we're young, a good chunk of our happiness is largely based on 2 things: 1) having hope for the future, and 2) being naive.
Both of these fade over time.
As you age, there's less "future" to be hopeful about, by definition (after all, you're getting older.) And as you get older, you generally tend to lose your illusions (aka you become more dis-illusioned).
If your happiness is based on hope and naivete, that happiness is set, sooner or later, to expire.
The answer, of course, is finding something else to base your happiness on that is solid, sustainable, no fragile.
The solution would be finding some sort of "antifragile happiness," if such a thing exists.
2. The Problem of Pleasure: We're searching for pleasure (but often wind up in pain)
When you're young, you eat an ice cream cone, and you think you've solved the meaning of life.
Eating + ice cream = pleasure = this is awesome = meaning of life solved.
Of course, when you get older, you realize it isn't that simple. Ice cream is still great, but it's also not all that great for you.
You discover that every pleasure has a price. When you're young, you get a bit of a grace period; but beyond that, every pleasure seems to be intimately connected to a pain.
The solution would be finding some sort of pleasure that wasn't intimately connected with a pain. Pleasure without a downside. Real pleasure that didn't create another pain or merely postpone it.
3. The Problem of Desire: We're trying to get what we want (in a world that often doesn't give it to us)
The world is not enough.
When we're young, we think it's pretty simple: we want stuff. If we get it, we're happy. For a little while. If we don't, we're sad. So we do whatever we can to get what we want.
But eventually, we figure out it isn't so simple.
Sometimes we don't get what we want, and we're, of course, unhappy about that.
Other times we do get what we want...and it makes us miserable. (See lottery winners, divorce lawyers, famous-folks-who-thought-they-wanted-fame, etc - evidence for this is everywhere.)
Sometimes you get what you want and it's a curse (see Fairy Tales, often involving genies and three wishes and etc). Sometimes you don't get what you want and you wind up grateful for it later (I'm glad I didn't become an astronaut.) Other times you get what you want, you realize it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and you move on to something else. Sometimes you get what you want and it makes you want more, and more, and more (see crack, sugar, cocaine, etc).
It's an ongoing game of existential musical chairs.
It's some kind of cosmic hide-the-prize-under-the-coconut. The carnival barker is the best in the universe, and the coconut-handler is apparently a genius who can defy the laws of physics.
The intuition here is simple and fairly universe: to want something, to get it, and to be satisfied from then on.
The solution to this, if it existed, would be some way out of this vicious cycle. Something that satisfies yearning, but isn't unfulfilling when it's acquired, that doesn't multiply more desires when one is satisfied.
And this is where real spirituality comes into the picture: the desire to be free of desire, yearning to stop yearning, wanting to transcend wanting itself.
(For more on this, check out "The Search for 'IT')
"...It is not for man to seek, or even to believe in God.
He has only to refuse to believe in everything that is not God.
This refusal does not presuppose belief.
It is enough to recognize, what is obvious to any mind,
that all the goods of this world, past, present, or future, real or imaginary,
are finite and limited and radically incapable of satisfying
the desire which burns perpetually within us
for an infinite and perfect good..."
- Simone Weil
4. The Problem of Suffering: We're searching for peace (which can be a struggle)
Life is hard.
And full of suffering.
That's a problem.
The solution - again, if such a thing would exist - would be...well, solving or transcending or curing or ending suffering somehow...and doing it properly, correctly, as a long-term solution that won't be undone. Or even if it doesn't literally "end" all suffering, transforming it in a way that it becomes worth it, minuscule compared to the happiness we experience (see #1), that it's no longer a problem.
But worse than that isn't just suffering - which is bad enough - but suffering for no good reason whatsoever.
Which brings us to...
5. The Problem of Meaning: We’re searching for meaning (in what seems like a meaningless world)
If we look at life a certain way, the available evidence seems to indicate that it's about as meaningful as a calculus textbook to a jellyfish.
We're born, we live, we die. But why?
"All our lives we sweat and save,
building for a shallow grave,
must be something else we say,
somehow to defend this place."
- The Doors, "The Soft Parade"
Where is it all headed? What's the point of all this madness? Why are we doing any of this? Why go on? To what end?
Is this all meaningless?
This isn't abstract philosophical crotch-rubbing.
We need a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
We need a "why." Without that, suddenly, the world can become a hamster wheel, an existential cul-de-sac, a tale told by an idiot, "full of sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing."
Of course, a solution to all this would be a strong, real, undeniable experience of meaning, purpose, a taste of the "EndGame" that makes the struggle utterly worthwhile, a surprise twist-ending to the story of our lives that is completely fulfilling, that makes everything ragged and absurd suddenly make sense in some way we suddenly understand clearly.
And if we're missing that...then well, it can drive us crazy.
Which leads us to...
6. The Problem of Sanity: We're searching for clarity (in a world that seems intent on driving us crazy)
Sometimes, the more we read, the more misinformation we consume.
Psychologists (psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, etc) and their tools (medications, etc) are supposed to be custodians of our sanity. And well, sometimes - not all the time - but sometimes - they can have the opposite effect.
7. The Problem of Significance: we want to truly matter (in a world that barely notices us), or to find our unique place (in a world that seems determined to hammer us into something – anything – else.)
The world record for the most number of people simultaneously hula-hooping. The world record for "most spoons on a human body." The world record for the most number of bees on your body at once. The world record for the most people running in inflatable Sumo costumes.
These are all real, actual world records that some folks actually spent some precious time and energy working on.
So: why do we torture ourselves for what seem to be absurd "achievements"?
We want to matter.
Ernest Becker explained sibling rivalry as a thumbnail summation of the human condition.
A young sister and her brother fight because each wants to be "The One" in existence, vying for the attention not just of their parent, but what their parent represents: The Universe itself, or God, or whatever it is that we think is worth trying to impress.
Every person wants to matter.
And not just matter...but MATTER. Not just to be special, but at some level, however conscious or not, to be THE ONE in existence.
This often manifests as us being preoccupied with ourselves - less graciously known as "selfishness." It's not an occasional mistake; it's "baked in" to our nature at the deepest levels.
But of course, some evidence seems to indicate that...well, we don't matter. That we don't matter at all. That nothing we do matters.
That's the pickle we find ourselves in. We want desperately to matter. The world doesn't seem to care too much about that.
"A man said to the universe:
'Sir, I exist!'
'However,' replied the universe,
'The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.'"
- Stephen Crane
Real spirituality - if such a thing exists - solves that pickle.
8. The Problem of Authenticity: We’re searching for something real (in a world full of phonies.)
We struggle, yearn, and work for the real thing: real love, real intimacy, real clarity, real "God," real ice cream, real meaning, real relationships, and so on.
But of course, as life happens, we often realize...what we thought was "love" turned out to be not to be real love at all; what we thought to be clarity turned out to be just a different kind of illusion; what we thought to be "God" turned out to be an imposter; what we thought to be "the" relationship turned out to be phony...and so on. (See the process of being "disillusioned" - see #1 above).
What we want, is to Live Real.
(Sorry. Shameless self-promotion. Bad us!)
We want the real stuff, but wind up with the phony. We don't want the shadows, the imitations, the imposters, the posers. We want the real things.
And not just real "things," but real life. And not just real life, but reality itself. And not just mundane reality, but Ultimate Reality, if such a thing exists.
9. The Problem of Love: We’re searching for love (in a world that doesn’t seem to give a crap about us.)
The above pretty much says it all.
We can probably accept that the world itself doesn't really "care" about us. No avalanche would stop itself if it would catch me off-guard, standing there in the snow changing my underwear.
We might think we've solved this little problem - and all others - the first time we "fall in love" (especially when we're teenagers.) If young lovers could fire up a time machine and glimpse themselves a year later, they would reconsider a few matters. Experience in these matters tends to disillusion us.
The trick here is figuring out "real love" and avoiding the phony kind. This is something many of us learn the hard way: what we think is "love" at first often turns out to be some kind of fool's gold - an imposter, an imitation, a piece of glass when we were hoping for a diamond.
Mix in a lot of Disney romantic illusion, wishful thinking and a good cocktail of hormones, and we're well-groomed to get disillusioned as quickly as possible.
An antidote to all this could be a clear, thorough, deep understanding of "real love."
Not an easy thing to come by.
10. The Problem of Death: We’re struggling desperately to survive (in a world where one of the few certainties we have is that, eventually, we won’t.)
The two certainties in life: death and taxes.
We usually get our taxes taken care of. Yet the other one constantly surprises us.
We often do everything we can to avoid thinking about it. It can kill a conversation and end a party faster than any other topic. And worse, it can throw a shadow over our happiest moments and most joyful moments. Not only because it reminds us that they will end; but because it reminds us that we will end.
Unless there's some kind of solution to that.
Free Bonus Section! A Few More Reasons...
- like "the human condition" - that we can just mention in passing...
Sometimes when you're just figuring out the human condition, you've got to wonder what exactly you've gotten yourself into.
Another way we might say it is that - and if you're sensitive enough to the splinter in your mind, you can sense it - we're all, somehow, living in The Matrix. Except, well, somehow, the illusion is real.
Another way of saying this: sometimes we can get a sense that something is wrong. Something is seriously, incredibly wrong in a major, colossal way. Things or people are a certain way; but they should be something different. This is a feeling we get sometimes. But where does that feeling come from?
Another way of saying it is that, well, we've forgotten who we are, and we're strangers wandering in a strange land. And we need to remember. In other words, we're all "The King's Son."
And even a different way of saying this is that we're all "The Merchant" in the story of "The Merchant With Four Wives"
A different view of it is that we're all sheep, and not in a good way.
And if we want yet another angle on our condition - not exactly the one they teach in Sunday School - then there's the side that we are sausage at the Sausage Party...and we're born for a weenie roast.
So...if you find any of these issues slightly terrifying...
- or at the very least, a bit problematic...then well, you're not alone.
And the way we see it, you're on the right track.
These problems aren't going anywhere.
They need to be solved. And each one of us needs to figure it out for ourselves.
So let's get cracking.