Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Work of Reconciliation

If your dog vomits on your carpet, what do you do? Do you bail on your dog? Do you say, “You did it! You clean it up!”? No, you go get the clothes pin, and the rubber gloves, and the pail of water, and the paper towels and the Lysol spray, and you get to work. You don’t wait to feel like it. You don’t wait to be in the mood to do it. You don’t wait to want to. You don’t wait to like cleaning up dog vomit. You get to work. What you feel like doing doesn’t enter into the equation. What you want is irrelevant. What you like doesn’t matter. You get up and do what needs to be done.

Now, your life is like the dog throwing up on the carpet. Be clear about that, and go live your life. Your life is a big hairy dog throwing up in your car, or on you. Take a deep breath and do what needs to be done. Without wanting to or liking it. We think it is inauthentic, hypocritical, to do what we don’t want to do. We think we aren’t being true to ourselves if we do what we don’t like doing. It’s being immature, infantile, terminally juvenile to think we don’t have to do what we don’t like. Alcoholics Anonymous has a term for what is needed: “Fake it until you make it.” “Oh, we can’t fake anything,” we squall. “That’s inauthentic!” So we don’t force ourselves to do what is right, what is necessary, what is needed, what is called for, when we don’t want to. No two-year-old does either.

AA has a term for inauthenticity: “White Knuckling It.” You white knuckle-it when you pretend you don’t want the drink you crave. The difference between faking it until we make it and white-knuckling it is the difference between authenticity and hypocrisy. Faking it until we make it is meeting the situation as it arises. White-knuckling it is kidding ourselves. Faking it until we make it is offering what we have to give to what needs to be done. White-knuckling it is pretending to have what we don't have. White-knuckling it pretends to want what it doesn't want. Faking it until we make it knows it has nothing to do with what we want.

We live to serve our likes and wants instead of living to serve our life. It's the old rule of life: We cannot serve two masters. "Choose this day whom you will serve!" Will we do what we want to do or what needs to be done in each situation as it arises? When the dog throws up on the stairs, are you going to kick the dog? Why punish your life when it has needs that interfere with your wants?

Everything waits for us to reconcile ourselves to the fundamental contradiction of having to live in a world that is not the way we wish it were, that is not the way we would like for it to be, that is not the world we want to live in. We have to face squarely the distance between the world we wish were ours and the world in which we live, feel the contradiction, and live it. We can imagine a world that is better in a thousand ways than the world we live in, and we have to reconcile ourselves to living in the world we live in. We keep not wanting to live in the world we live in. This is the fundamental contradiction. We say NO to what we cannot say no to! We have no choice but to say YES to the world we live in, but we cannot bring ourselves to say yes to this world as it is! We have to reconcile ourselves with being here and now in this world just as it is. We have to grow up.

Growing up means coming to terms with the fact that things are not the way we wish they were. Our only problem is that things are not what we wish they were. If things were the way we wish they were, we would have no problems. There would be no problems. Things are not going to be what we wish they were. We have to reconcile ourselves to that truth, square ourselves up with it, and live anyway, nevertheless, even so.

We accommodate ourselves to the world by understanding, by coming to terms with: "This is the way it is and this is what we can do about it, and that’s that." But we don't WANT the world to be the way it is! We want to have what we cannot have. We want to do more about it than we can do, than can be done! This is the contradiction. Our task, the spiritual task, is to face what must be faced, square up to what must be squared up to, and make the best of it, doing what can be done here and now with what we have to work with. This is all the spiritual masters of every age have done—they have recognized that this is the way things are, and this is what can be done about it, and that's that.

We have to rein in our wants run amok, our emotional reactions bouncing off the walls, and get what we need to clean up the dog's vomit. But. The work of reconciliation cannot be forced upon us. We will not have it! We want the secret to turning the world into what we want it to be, so we throw ourselves after The Prayer of Jabez and The Law of Attraction and hope soon to receive the world as we wish it to be all wrapped up and delivered to our door. And until that happy day, we will compensate ourselves with wealth, prosperity and privilege. Wealth, prosperity, and privilege are our hedge against the awful realities we don't want to face and deal with. We say: “Ignore the dog! Pay someone else to clean up the vomit!” Paying someone else to clean up the vomit is our idea of changing the world to suit ourselves, our way of not growing up.

Bad religion is also our way of not growing up. Being spiritual is what we do to get the Big Guy on our side, gaining the advantage, having an edge, getting a leg up. God becomes our ace in the hole, and religion becomes a gimmick, a good luck charm, warding off evil and guaranteeing our way in the world. We will not grow up, face what must be faced, and do what needs to be done.

Yet, we avoid the true spiritual task—growing up, facing what must be faced, reconciling ourselves to the way things are, and doing what is ours to do—at our own expense. When we refuse the spiritual task of growing up, we remain eternally immature, and the culture we create to care for us is a curse upon all. We only have to open our eyes and look around to see that it is so.

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