The inward battle—against our mind, our
wounds, and the residues of the past—is more
terrible than the outward battle.
If you don’t have 10 minutes, you don’t have a life.
We’re in a Game of Thrones society now. We’re tethered to a remarkably short and fraying fuse, ready for combat at the slightest disrespect or perceived injury. Everything is always winner take all, and there’s a trail of bodies in our wake, because losing an argument now is cause for public shaming. We’re all so very war- weary, and it feels like we’re under an existential threat. As Father Thomas Keating said, we’re in a cultural straightjacket.
Most of us are getting progressively more desperate for less Game of Thrones and more I love Lucy in our daily lives– a little humor, a little perspective, a little lightheartedness.
I think I know how we got here.
We traded communion for connection, after
We traded wisdom for information, after
We traded eye contact for feedback, after
We traded contemplation for activity, after
We traded authenticity for truthiness, after
We traded mastering ourselves for managing our image, after
We traded understanding and community for tribal identity, after
We traded accuracy for speed, after
We traded self- knowledge for goals.
Not coincidentally, we’re immersed in the trivia of each other’s lives to the exclusion of our own. We’re more attuned to whether others are succeeding at their goals or agree with us, than knowing what we truly want. It’s a world of spiritual poverty and perceived dire scarcity, and yet we run from the fact that we’re all connected, because we’re all connected.
Everything that’s happening in the world is actually happening to us.
As one Hurricane Harvey survivor put it,
Everybody needs everybody.
It hurts and makes us feel even more helpless and tiny than we do already, unless we can get in there immediately and help. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma brought us together as we all jumped in and helped, donated, or both. But, other things, farther away, like the Congo make us feel somewhat impotent. What’s the point of seeing all of this suffering if we personally can’t get in there quick and do something about it? Of course, there is a point, and yet we run from it like Ebola. We voluntarily make the trades mentioned above rather than face it. It might as well be written on a tablet in Greek, locked in a cave with the Dead Sea Scrolls, because that’s how far away we want it to be.
We’re afraid we’re going to have to sit in a prayer closet in the lotus position, breathing like a lifelong Yogi, waiting for God to show us what our purpose is, and there will be only silence. Or, even worse, we’ll do it wrong, we’ll have spent the money for the prayer pillows and the God box, and somehow, we’ll piss him off. Or that in the silence in the middle of the night, after we turn off the reruns and the infomercials, we’ll realize we aren’t anywhere close to our path, or that the grief we feel will break loose in a torrent and we’ll lose ourselves in it forever.
But, it’s simple. It’s how we think of it that’s terrifying. TV taketh away, but sometimes it givith, by showing how something scary and complicated isn’t either of those things. I’m going to get us there via a TV show called The Leftovers about running away from loss and pain, individual and global, about existential crisis. But that has nothing to do with us, right?
Each character devises a story to explain his or her pain, in the hopes of minimizing it. There are clues to the greater meaning, as we and they attempt to decipher it all. Some characters even attempt to escape the suffering and ambiguity by dying. But they can’t, and no answers ever come. Their elaborate explanations of why are false, and each is operating as an imposter because of them. Each character finally hurls themselves into what is, facing the darkness and their own imminent mortality, only to find they get to start again.
The brilliance of the show is that we go along for the ride, only to discover the clues were just red herrings, pointing to the now obvious: there’s no escape. The situation was horrible, but they were inflicting the torture upon themselves.
The only way out is through, hurling ourselves into loss, grief, and uncertainty, and the fact that none of us have enough time, by learning to listen to the silence, so we can hear our true natures, for how can we face the world and all of its tragedy as imposters?
But, it’s not about hours logged in the prayer closet like it’s punishment or atonement, —it’s our reward. We fear, because we misunderstand what silence is and what’s required to listen. Silence is playing with the dog for 10 minutes in the back yard and noticing that he smiles, and then noticing the trees are whispering as they dance in the wind. Something magnificent is happening at this moment, and we’re here in it. Something turns and softens in us and we aren’t scared or resentful or mad as hell anymore.
Listening is simply listening in the moments when life is trying to tell us something, letting ourselves know that life is paradox, love, and loss, and letting the silence, the truth, and the tears cleanse us like rain, so we’re no longer haunted by the past. We can pay attention to what is happening now, all the wacky, crazy, tragic, comic beauty of it. Silence cleanses us of what blocks us from bravely facing the world as ourselves.
It’s that simple: it’s a trade. We escape running and distraction for embracing the loss, the pain, the grief and helplessness and letting it wake us up, yet again, to our own lives, our own heartbeats, and tears. If we do this, then even the most mundane things can become our sanctuary, sprinkled in the sacred.
“A spiritual journey is a terrible thing to waste.”