Practice, practice, practice. That’s all there is to it. After we understand that it’s all about bringing our best to bear on each moment of our living—about living toward the best we can imagine in each moment—about living in light of the best we can be in each moment—about bringing that which is deepest, truest, and best about us to life in each moment—about refusing to let what little can be done keep us from doing what can be done—about consciously, deliberately, intentionally, willfully enacting, and acting out of, our vision of how it ought to be, and ought to be done, in each moment—about crafting a life, moment by moment—about designing and living a life we would be proud to have lived, in each moment—about being true to our best self within the context and circumstances of our life—about doing what ought to be done in the way it ought to be done in light of what can be done—about bringing to life the best that is within us—about serving our vision of the good (which will not necessarily be good for us, and which will not necessarily do any good) throughout our lives—about being fully, deeply, joyfully alive, and living so as to bring others to life, all our lives long—about doing what we love—about having something to look forward to every day—about enjoying all that can be enjoyed about each moment of our living—after we understand that, then, it is only a matter of practice, practice, practice.
Each moment is a laboratory, a practice field, where we work to do it as it ought to be done, as we would be proud to do it. Each moment is where we redeem what we blew in the last moment; where we create the memory of how it ought to be done in every moment that follows. And, our only tool is attention.
Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Practice. Practice. Practice. That’s it. It is never more difficult, more involved, more complex or complicated than that. What interferes with awareness? What prevents practice? Something else to be aware of. Something else to practice overcoming. But, that is all there is to it.
We want there to be more to it. That’s the foundational premise of the metaphor of the Garden of Eden. There we are in Paradise, and we want something more. We are sure the Forbidden Fruit will do it. The rest is, as they say, history.
“This” can’t be “it.” There has to be more to it than this. This will never do. What about the glory? What about prosperity? What about having it made, without a worry in the world? What am I, what are we, getting out of it? What will I, what will we, have to show for it? What’s the good of doing what is good, especially when it does no good? We wouldn’t have anything if that were the organizing principle of our lives. Progress depends upon dissatisfaction, disenchantment, disillusionment, despair. We can’t have people content with doing what is good in each moment of their living whether it does any good or not. That won’t sell any Plastic Wonders. That won’t pave the parking lots and build the high-rises. It will destroy the economy. They won’t have anything more than rice bowls. They won’t do anything more than beg from each other. You cannot run a society, a country, on the basis of Awareness and Practice. Somebody has to kill the damn Indians!
How spiritual can we be and still pay the bills? What did Yoda do to earn a living? How did Obi-Wan Kenobi pay for food and clothing? Where do we draw the line? How do we improve the conditions under which life is lived without “killing the damn Indians”? Without destroying the ozone? Without cutting the rain forests? Without creating problems as we solve problems? How would Yoda run the government? How would Obi-Wan Kenobi manage garbage collection and mass transit? Who would pay the bills?
The spiritual easily comes to grief upon the rocky shores of the social and political. Where has there ever been a spiritual society that anyone would want to live in? Do you seriously want to take off your clothes and go live among the Aborigines? Do you want to live in a country where Islam is in charge of all things political/social? With George Bush, we have a taste of how it would be with the Religious Right running things. And, you can only shave your head and live as a Buddhist monk by closing your eyes and meditating all day, by tuning out and turning off, and blissfully disconnecting yourself from the world in which you live. Whiskey and cocaine will do the same thing for you, and you won’t have to deal with the flies.
There is a limit to how spiritual we can be and still pay the bills. And still have air conditioning, and central heat, and running water, and indoor toilets, and half-and-half, and medical insurance. Someone has to kill the Indians, or do what has to be done for society to exist. Ob-Wan dispatched the forces of the Empire, and the Force that was with him seemed to operate out of the principle that the end justifies the means. How spiritual is that? How just and compassionate is that? How just is a society that is built on the ashes of heretics or the graves of its enemies? How different can we be and live together with compassion for one another? If Jesus were Prime Minister, how would he handle suicide bombers? How social and political can the spiritual be?
It’s a pickle. A koan. A conundrum. There is no solution. Justice and compassion are the tools of spiritual practice within a social/political order that is, by its nature, unjust and discompassionate. The more successful a particular spiritual movement is in enforcing it’s political agenda, the more unjust and discompassionate it becomes. To live justly, with compassion, is to live on the periphery of society. It is to exercise very little power, say, none at all. It is to be vulnerable and at the mercy of forces quite beyond us—to be, so to speak, always on the cross, which is never anything more than a symbol of political oppression, aggression, and tyranny.
There is no political alternative to the Empire. It is the spiritual task to nudge every Empire toward justice without ever achieving a just political state. We can only be more or less just, more or less compassionate, more or less good, holy, righteous, pure. The idea is to be more than we are at any point; to be more just, more compassionate than we have been up to any point; to be a spiritual gadfly, goading the Empire toward right thinking, right seeing, right doing, right being, keeping alive the dialectic, the tension, between how things are and how things ought to be, always living toward the good without ever arriving, building homes, settling down.