The problem is that we don’t like our lives as they are for very long ever. Adam and Eve tried to improve Paradise. There you are. Dissatisfaction is the background noise of existence. No matter how well it is with us, we can always imagine how it could be better, or are always nagged by an unspecific disappointment in something, we don’t quite know what, about the way things are. At their best, things aren’t quite right somehow. The problem is not with “the things.” The problem is with us. WE are not quite right, somehow.
Spiritual discipline is the art of restricting the distracting possibilities, limiting our options and our choices, and seeking what is truly important. The Dali Lama cannot go anywhere and do anything. The Dali Lama is confined. His life is a prison cell. His daily routine consists of “the same old same old.” We could not be the Dali Lama. We would go mad in a month. Or less. But the Dali Lama can be the Dali Lama—without wishing he were someone else, somewhere else, instead. Pick someone, or any ten people, out of the stands on Super Bowl Sunday, and live with them for a while, long enough to be able to sense the differences between them and the Dali Lama. You will have an idea of what we are up against. We have to have something to take our minds off how it is with us. The Dali Lama sees into the heart of the nature of things.
The entertainment industry is the backbone of the economy (Well, maybe not, but overstatement is what I do best). We all suffer from a variety of attention deficit disorder because there is too much to take in. We live as nuclear powered ping-pong balls in a culture that is on a constant high, or after one. The lights never go out in Vegas. How long do you think the Dali Lama would last in our world? How long do you think our world would last in the Dali Lama’s? Whose world do you think is the hope of the world?
How much external stimulation do we need to be fully alive? At what point does external stimulation become deadening? What are we chasing after? Running from? Seeking to shake, or to find? What do we want? We don’t have an inkling. That’s the problem, don’t you see? We don’t have an inkling about the nature of the problem. We think there must be something that we are seeking, to shake or to find, else why the wild scramble to leave here and go there? We think there must be some reason for our dissatisfaction, some fix, or cure. And, we don’t see that we are just hooked into a search without the possibility of a find.
The culture requires us to buy, spend, amass, and consume. The culture requires us to go, and do, and look, and taste, and listen, and feel, and smell—to experience everything but the experience of our experience. The culture does not allow us to be conscious of the emptiness of the life it sells. The culture does not permit us to be aware that we are grabbing for moonbeams, reaching for apparitions. We are convinced that we are on the trail of something significant, closing in on something big. Something that will finally make us happy. We are only making the culture happy. There is nothing in it for us. There is nothing there. We are on the fast track to nowhere.
People go to Super Bowls who don’t like football because they think the Super Bowl is the place to be. The culture has conned us all. The spiritual task is to be awake, aware, and alive in a culture that gets along very nicely with us asleep at the wheel. It will not be easy. It starts with us thinking about what we are doing. With us thinking about who we are and what we are about. With us thinking about what is important. With us thinking about what we need to do what is ours to do. With us knowing the difference between a prop and a tool.
It is hard to think about these things in this culture. This culture discourages thinking, reflection, realization, awareness. This culture encourages experiential living. Go! Do! Look! Listen! Taste! Smell! Feel! Then, do it again! It is hard to sit still in a culture that tells us doing nothing is the worst imaginable sin. The Dali Lama sits still for long stretches of time. Who do you think knows more about being alive? A Super Bowl cheerleader or the Dali Lama? It is hard to be awake, aware, and alive in this culture. And, so, we have to do what is hard.
Look at where you spend your money. What have you bought lately that you need? What have you bought lately that you spend time with? What have you bought lately that you enjoy? What are you doing spending money on things you do not use? Look at where you spend your time. What do you do that brings you pleasure? That brings you to life? That you enjoy doing? How much time do you spend with things that give you energy and life and how much time do you spend with things that drain you of energy and rob you of life? What can you do to shift the balance in the equation more toward what you love to do?
What does it take for you to be happy? To what extent does your happiness depend upon the happiness of someone else? If you can’t be happy until someone else is happy, where does that leave you? Spending all your money and time trying to make who happy? Wake up, here. Snap to, here. What are you thinking? Oh, I see, nothing. You aren’t thinking at all. What are you going to do about that?
The spiritual task is reclaiming yourself. Restoring yourself. Reorienting yourself. Living, brace yourself, I’m going to say it, for you. Now, I know we are supposed to live for others, and die for others, and serve others, and let our lives revolve around the needs and desires of all the others in our lives. Yes, I am well-schooled in the age old formula for JOY: Jesus first, Others second, and You last. Dead last. DEAD last. The people who sold us that recipe were dead, even though they smiled a lot and bounced wherever they went.
Jesus said it best, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Love your neighbor as though your neighbor is yourself. Love your neighbor as though you and your neighbor are one. That’s putting you right up there with your neighbor. Don’t honor your neighbor one bit more than you honor you. The spiritual task is to be the you who can love your neighbor. Once you live in right relationship with yourself, the rest falls neatly into place So, what are the discarded, rejected, neglected, abandoned, exiled parts of yourself? Who is the “you” you won’t allow yourself to be—the “you” you won’t permit at the table? How do you expect to be reconciled to your neighbor if you cannot look all that is you in the eye and say, “Welcome!”? The spiritual task is welcoming your prodigal side home.
This gets us back to where we came in. The spiritual problem is that we cannot be at peace with our lives as they are—with our world as it is—with ourselves as we are. We cannot bear the idea of being locked up forever in this life as it is right now with ourselves. Won’t somebody deliver us please!!?
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: To you is born this day in the City of David a savior who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And, suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude o f the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace and good will among all people.” (Luke 2:8-14)
The source of our alienation and discord is not so much that we are cut-off from God as it is that we are cut-off from everything, ourselves included. WE are essentially dissatisfied, disenchanted, disappointed with all of it, God included. We don’t like God any more than we like our world, any more than we like our lives, any more than we like ourselves. We don’t like any of it as it is. Adam and Eve tried to improve Paradise! That’s how it is in all of our souls! We can imagine a world that is infinitely better than the world we live in. THAT’s the spiritual problem. How do we reconcile ourselves to this world, this life, this self, this God? How do we make our peace with this “here,” this “now”?
Last week I talked to you about the NO!-Problem as having to square ourselves with a world, with a life, that is saying “NO!” to us at every turn. The other side of that problem is that we are forever saying, “NO!” to the world, to our lives, to ourselves, and to God. This is the other NO!-Problem. This world, this life, this self, this God will not do! We have to have a different world, a different life, a different self, a different God if we are to be happy, tranquil, serene, and at peace. You would have to be insane or quite stupid to live with this “here,” this “now” and be essentially okay and at ease with it. “We have met the enemy and it is us!”
What are we going to do about it, is the question. The spiritual question. The question at the heart of what stands between us and the realization of “peace on earth, good will to all.” How do we live with this “here,” this “now”? How do we live with this world, this life, this self, this God? How do we open our eyes to the truth of how it is with us, see into the heart of how things are, and let it be, because it is? Some of the 10,000 Spiritual Laws come into play here. One of those Laws states: “We cannot see what we will not allow.” We cannot see how it is until we can “let be what is.” The corollary states: “We cannot allow what we will not see.” The seeing and the permitting are one thing. One implies the other. We get there with time, intention, and one another.
We open ourselves to the truth of how it is with us, and wait, within a community that helps us bear what must be borne. None of us can face the truth of how it is with us alone. We cannot forgive ourselves, love ourselves, stand ourselves alone. Wholeness and integration are communal endeavors. But it takes a community that knows what it is doing. It takes time in a room full of the right kind of people to become the right kind of person ourselves. Together, we move toward the peace that comes with recognition, realization, and reconciliation. Together, we stretch and yawn, like a baby in a manger, and open our eyes to a lifetime of becoming awake, aware, and alive.