Sunday, July 04, 2010

Adjusting to Reality

Our unending and primary task is adapting, adjusting, ourselves to reality. Life comes at us constantly, requiring response. Nothing is more important to our spiritual development than our willingness to meet life as it comes to us and deal as well as we possibly can with what each day delivers. It is the practical matter of day-to-day life in the world that leads us in the search for spiritual substance, meaning and purpose. Such is the essence of Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

“Born of water” is reference to the amniotic fluid of physical birth. Physical birth is necessary for spiritual birth. Physical reality is what spiritual reality uses to get our attention, to summons us to the critical matter of finding the spiritual wherewithal to bring ourselves to life in this world. Carl Jung said, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” There you are. There is no waking up without the shock of a reality that is contrary to our wants and wishes. The physical word shakes us awake. Then there is a chance that we will turn toward the spiritual foundation of life for our sustenance and strength and direction. Of course, we might choose to numb ourselves with a thousand addictions into the blissful stupor of everlasting sleep, but spiritual reality’s only hope is the painful jolt of the world’s “NO!”

The spiritual quest, journey, path begins with questions we have to ask and cannot answer—questions brought on by an encounter with some contradiction, or denial, of our happy way in the world. The world has a way of not going the way we want it to go, of forcing us to wake up, and grow up, against our will. This is the role of physical reality in our lives. It requires us to do what it takes to accommodate ourselves to that which is often troublesome, inconvenient, unenjoyable and not what we want to do. The question is will we do it.

It is our refusal to grow up and do what the situation requires of us, what reality demands, that leads to shrinking back from life, to “dying” in place. Every shrinking back is a form of death, a dying, a refusal to meet the challenge of life. We must step forward and engage our life in order to be fully alive! Joseph Campbell says, “It took the Cyclops to bring out the hero in Ulysses.” We don't know what we are made of until reality comes calling, and we have to deal with road blocks and detours to our idea of happily ever after.

Another way of thinking about reality is “the pain of life.” One of the tenants of Buddhism is “Life is suffering.” We must bear the pain of living and adjust ourselves to what is being asked of us, to what has to be done. Adjustment and accommodation are hidden, that is, unconscious, strengths we don't use because we don't want to adjust, we don’t want to accommodate! We want to live on our terms. We don't want life dictating the terms, handing out the conditions. We don't want to grow up.

We have to come to terms with our own inner resistance to coming to terms with life, our own refusal to grow up, acknowledge the extent to which we are blocking ourselves, and recognize how it is with us in order to take up the task of becoming who we need to be from the ground up. It is essential that we understand the dialectic at the heart of things. There is conflict, opposition, dichotomy, contradiction everywhere we look.

The basic incongruity is between the physical and the spiritual. This is often couched in divine and human terms, opposites at the basic level of awareness. The resolution, reconciliation, synthesis occurs when we look deeper into the opposition to the point of seeing that physical IS spiritual, spiritual IS physical, divine IS human, human IS divine. How this is so cannot be explained or defined or articulated, but that it is so can be sensed in a dew drop on a day lily or a white cloud in a clear blue sky. The numinous winks at us in a baby’s cry or a cat’s low purr. And then it is gone and we are stuck with only a wet diaper or a hungry pet. Perceptual shifts like these lead to the easy conclusion that reality is an optical illusion. Now it is one way, now another, but always both, yet never at the same time.

Contradiction and inconsistency are koans of every day life pulling us into the work of spiritual realization and growth. The cross is a beautiful metaphor for "the human condition." We are always at the cross(roads), choosing to stay or go, or caught between Thy will and mine being done. We have the capacity to arise to any occasion and we are afraid of every occasion. We want to regress to our mother’s arms and we want to progress by leaving home and finding our way in the world. The ground of life is conflict and opposition. Here, conscious awareness is the great mediator, reconciling the conflict that is everywhere Out There, that is everywhere In Here, that churns forever between the Out There and the In Here.

We consciously bring forth reconciliation, synthesis, integration and alignment by honoring the opposites and being with them in ways that allow us to see the one in the other. We see finally that “all of our dichotomies are false dichotomies,” and that all is one, though we cannot just clutch that as a talisman or repeat it as a happy mantra. We have to do the work of looking until we see, of listening until we hear, of asking, seeking, and knocking until we understand. Until we recognize the spiritual in the physical, the divine in the human, the wonder in it all, and making, in light of the deepest truth we are capable of realizing, a decision about what needs to be done here and now, and doing it. Amen, may it be so!

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