We accommodate ourselves to our lives. We adjust our expectations and desires, our ambitions and our aspirations, our wants and wishes to the current level of available reality. The world as it is rarely matches our idea of how the world should be. We do not live long, or often, in the world we wish we lived in. And, the task of life is reconciling ourselves to the way things are throughout our lives.
The Way is the way of coming to terms with the way things are. Every way that is the true way enables us to make our peace with the world that awaits us every morning and in which we go to sleep each night. The Way is the way of accommodating ourselves to the often harsh and heartless realities of this here, this now. The Way is the way of telling ourselves things we need to hear in order to have what it takes to keep getting up and doing what needs to be done, the way it needs to be done, all our lives long.
It is the task of religion to adjust us to the world. It is the work of spirituality to enable us to face what faces us, and do what must be done, day in and day out, for as long as we are alive. The test of any system of faith, of any way that claims to be The Way, is not whether it is true but whether it works. Does it allow its adherents to adapt to the changing circumstances and conditions of their lives? Does it provide them with what they need to live in the world on the world’s terms even when those terms change in the middle of their lives? How flexible, inventive, creative, and resilient does it allow them to be? Can the world deliver a blow from which it cannot recover?
The history of religion is replete with examples of religions that could not cope with a world that turned out to be radically different from the way the religion said that it was. You don’t hear much these days of the Ra’s, the Baal’s, and the Sun God of lore. The cosmology, the way of thinking about the world and how the world worked and the way things are, came up against realities the religions couldn’t account for and the religions died. If a religion is going to have the last word, or the next word for the next generation, it has to be able to think on its feet and make things up “on the fly.” If a religion is going to be successful, it has to enable its adherents to deal successfully with whatever life delivers.
Every way that is the true way finds a way of facing what must be faced and doing what must be done. Every way that is a true way finds a way of living with what must be lived with on the boundary between denial and despair, without going over into either, while maintaining compassion, hope (which has nothing to do with optimism), courage, will, spirit, heart, and determination.
Every way that is the true way points the way to life, and living, and being alive within all of the circumstances and conditions of life. Living water, abundant life, are terms at the heart of Jesus’ message and ministry. He was about life, and living, and being alive. Lao Tsu says that those who are grounded in The Way have no fear of the next moment, or of what might happen down the road. What do we need to have what we need to face any situation with spirit, and soul, and heart? What do we need to be fully alive in the time of our living, no matter what?
Asking, “What do we need? What would be helpful?” opens the way to being fully alive in the midst of the worst life can do. Every way that is the true way enables these questions to be asked. No way that is the true way offers a canned collection of things to believe, rituals to perform, prayers to say, and thoughts to avoid. Every way that is the true way encourages the search for what is good, for what needs to be done, for what is helpful even amid situations that seem to make a mockery of all those things.
Which is to say that we participate in the creation of the way that becomes The Way for us in the here and now of our lives. No way that is the true way comes to us in prefab form, in a one-size-fits-all presentation. No way that is the true way can be prepared in advance, bottled and stored away until we come along to buy it from the back of a wagon at a traveling Gospel show. Every way that is the true way opens us to this moment that we are living right now, and enables us to live here, now, as well as it is possible to live here, now—to be alive in the moment, to the moment, and open to what is being asked of us, offered to us, in it, by it.
Every way that is the true way enables us to size things up and see how things are and live fully, in relationship with those things, no matter what. Every way that is the true way enables us to know what’s what and to go on with our lives. Enables us to detach from the way we want things to be and live with the way things are—without going over into denial or despair. Helps us to live with the discrepancy between the world we live in and the world we wish we lived in.
There is much to not like about the world we live in. There is much to wish were different. And, some things can be changed. And, sometimes, making things better here makes things worse there. It’s hard to know where we are better off, or what is optimal. That, too, is part of the way it is in the world in which we live. And, every way that is a true way enables us to recognize all that we don’t like about the way things are, and go on with our lives, “anyway, nevertheless, even so.”
It would be a lot more fun, of course, if everything went our way. The Way is not about fun. It is about equanimity, peace, tranquility, accord, harmony, concordance with the way of things. The Way is about aligning ourselves with the way of things. It is not about being euphoric, enraptured, and over-joyed at the idea of doing what we have to to. It’s about doing what we have to do with as much enthusiasm for the task as we can muster. It’s about doing what needs to be done in the way in which it needs to be done because it needs to be done. But, we may not be happy to do it.
The Way is the way of accommodation, accordance, reconciliation, allowance, permission, alignment, recognition, and the like. It is the way of making room for what we don’t like, the way of adjusting ourselves to nature and circumstances of our lives, the way of accepting the way things are and what we can do, and not do, about them, the way of making our peace with, and going on with, our lives.
There is so much we wait out, put up with, live around, accept. It helps to not think about some things, to not see them. To know they are there, but to tuck in them into the background, and go on with our lives. We find our way around grief, loss and sorrow, migraine headaches and arthritis and missing teeth. The Way could be thought of as The Way Around, or The Way Without, because we live our lives without all that we need, and with much that we don’t need and don’t want. And, we find a way.
We’re still here. After all those years and all the things we have put up with and lived through, here we are. That may be the best thing that can be said about us. “We came out of nowhere with nothing, and made it through all those years, and all the things that happened to us—much of which they brought on ourselves—and we are still here.” Survival, then, becomes our mark, our legacy, evidence of our success as a species. And the roaches are laughing. By the standard of survival, they are more successful than we are.
Let ‘em laugh. They haven’t had to think about it. We’ve had to learn to not think about it. Roaches have an advantage. No emotional baggage. No attachment. Nothing to worry about but making more roaches. We have to struggle with meaning, and purpose, morality, ethics. Roaches just reproduce. Give them all the stuff we carry around and see how they do.
We carry it best by not carrying it at all, by choosing to not carry it, to not think about it, at least, to not dwell on it: “This is the way things are. This is what you can do about it. And, that’s that.” The Way is not about getting our way, or having our way, or forcing our way. The Way is not about Our Way. Our Way gets in the way and keeps us away from The Way.
Once we get attached to what we want, to how we like it, to the way we wish it were, or the way we think it ought to be, our troubles begin. The Way is about recognizing and coming to terms with what we can have and what we cannot have: “You can wear the red shirt or the green shirt, but you have to wear a shirt.” “This is the way things are, and this is what you can do about it, and that’s that.”
We spend a lot of time trying to have what cannot be had, what we have no business having. Carl Jung, or someone like him, said all of our trouble comes from willing what cannot be willed, or something like that. That’s it. The Way puts us in accord with the way things are, with what can be willed and what cannot be willed. It takes emotional resistance and attachment out of the picture, and says, “Here it is. This is it. Get used to it. Come to terms with it. Make your peace with it. Because here it is, and this is it.”