Examining the Grounds of our Spiritual Search

Is it possible that the search of the Self or the World or the Lord is confused at the outset? That its very premise is suspect, inevitably contaminating whatever apparently proceeds or emerges from it?

Say that I resolve to search for an Xlkerd. I pledge not to rest until I encounter an Xlkerd. My whole life shall be devoted to realizing Xlkerd. But since there is no Xlkerd, my searching and pledges and devotion are all in vain. They might be fun or interesting, and might turn up some fascinating stuff along the way, but . . . not an Xlkerd.

In that case, would it be better to direct my attention and energy and devotion to something real? Like justice? Or the end of food insecurity? World peace?

Or this. Say that I decide to sip some apple cider and heft my glass of lemon tea, bringing it to my lips. Absent some undiscovered supernatural alchemy, I’m going to drink lemon tea, not apple cider. The decision to sip cider when only tea is available cannot possibly turn tea into cider.

In that case, would it be better to accept the reality of tea’s presence? And cider’s absence? And just get on with the sipping?

In other words, what I am getting at is inquiring into the assumptions that underlie our so-called quests and spiritual seeking and so forth. If we’re going to slay dragons and there are no dragons . . . Or if we’re going to rescue princesses but all the princesses have rescued themselves . . .

Chris Fields suggests that it can be helpful – indeed, even necessary to our happiness (which includes our ability to share happiness with one another) – to retire some of our inquiries, especially the ones that are null because of the a priori assumptions underlying them.

That is, if you’re searching for a Xlkerd, give it up. Your assumption that Xlkerds exist when they do not is poisoning the project from the start.

If what we’re doing is incoherent, then we should give it up in favor of an action that is coherent.

I use “coherent” in this case to mean aligning our experience of experience with our best understanding of what it means to bring forth love.

Fields is responding to an essay that makes the case for mind’s ontological primacy over body; mind precedes the physical. Before there is a world that is unjust, say, there is this subjective experience of something which we will subsequently name “just” or “unjust.” Field takes the position that the underlying question – establishing a hierarchy of subjective and objective, first-person and third-person, mind and body is . . . dubious. And thus unhelpful.

Perhaps . . . it is this quest for an authoritative answer that should be rejected. Perhaps self and world do not make sense, at least not in combination (Dietrich & Fields 2015). A dialetheic world – one in which some contradictions are true as well as false (Priest 1994) – permits limited and pragmatic theories, but disallows any universal and fundamental ontology.

I gave some attention to dialethia here. In this post, I am extending Fields’ “perhaps” to specifically include spiritual searches for Selves or Gods or Kingdoms of Gods and all of that. If we expect authoritative answers to those quests and those authoritative answers do not exist, then our searching is going to make us unhappy and even possibly insane. It certainly can’t help us in our ongoing attempts to cooperate and collaborate with one another. Why attempt the impossible? Isn’t it obvious that doesn’t help anybody?

However, a reasonable response to this point is: how do we know it’s impossible unless we try? That is, you can’t disprove the existence of a self (or a god or a kingdom or even an Xlkerd) until you look for one and fail to find it. Search away!

Or maybe you could say, “well, sure. Some folks say there is no self (or god or kingdom) but I still want to find out for myself.” To each their own!

Or you could even say, “who cares if there’s no self (or god or kingdom) – the search might still be fun and interesting. After all what else are we supposed to do?”

I have made – and still do make from time to time – all of those arguments at one time or another, to varying degrees. They are not unpersuasive in their way. But it seems one does reach a juncture where the focus shifts to what helps, where “helps” means “facilitates understanding of how to bring forth love in a consistent sustainable way.”

To that end, it is sometimes useful to accept the experience, strength and wisdom of folks like Fields. If a doctor says I need an MRI, I don’t go to med school before consenting. Their expertise suffices.

In a similar way, I roast pork and chicken before serving it because homo sapiens learned a long time ago that consuming raw meat can be dangerous to the point of fatal. I am not going to die – or put someone else at risk of dying – just to prove the point all over again.

What I am saying is that given a functional wheel, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel. We want to use the wheel in order to be happy which invariably means helping others be happy too.

So if a smart and thoughtful guy like Fields wonders aloud, “say, maybe this quest for ultimate or final or authoritative answers is misguided,” then maybe it’s okay to set the quest aside. At a minimum, what happens if we do that? What paths appear to close? What paths appear to open?

If you, like me, are partial to the quasi-Christian/Freudian/Platonic tenor of A Course in Miracles, and if you, like me, decide that reading it and studying it is the functional equivalent of waiting up all night for Santa Claus to come cheerfully tumbling down the chimney. . . what happens?

That is, what does our living look like if we accept that all spiritual quests are misguided and bound to fruitlessness and on that basis let our own – up to and including ACIM – go?

I want to briefly sketch an answer to that question.

When I shuck A Course in Miracles, there is an experience of loss. This “loss” is a mental gap – a hole in my thinking reflected in my experience of living in the world. So I ask myself: what is the nature of this gap or emptiness for which A Course in Miracles appeared and functioned as a useful tool or filler?

My answer is that the gap is my experience of my life and the world as unfair, unjust and corrupt and this terrifies me to the point where I can’t face it – it is utterly elided or occluded. This is not a long-term sustainable approach to living peacefully and lovingly! So A Course in Miracles (and other spiritual paths and traditions and practices) act as a corrective assuring me that my fears are not justified, which then nudges me in the direction of being proactive in terms of happiness, kindness, gentleness, et cetera. It is a sort of jump start on making the world a better place for you and me. Instead of cowering I can face my fears in a creative way. It’s about healing, in that sense.

Naturally I then ask: is there another way to accomplish this? One that is perhaps simpler and even easier? One that is less abstract? Less supernatural? Less spiritually indulgent perhaps?

And the answer to that is yes. Yes it is possible to be happy and at peace, and to share that happiness and peacefulness with all beings, thus making the world a more just and equitable and less conflicted space. And it is not hard or obscure or mysterious.

The way is simply to attend to the way that the inclination to cooperate and collaborate – to coordinate our doings through communication with other beings who could be our own self – naturally arises within us without effort or intention. Noticing it might require active deployment of attention; and application might be similarly effortful.

But we don’t have to invent love. We don’t have to persuade anyone to buy into our belief system. We simply have to see the way love arises naturally, in all of us, as a natural condition of what we are. Love is our fundament.

I am suggesting – on reading and reflecting on Fields’ thinking – that spiritual seeking and its ideology, however apparently numinous – functions as a distraction to the love it actually aims to bring forth. Our intentions are pure but misguided because of our confusion. We’re pouring water on the lamp, dousing the flame we need to find the kettle where the water actually belongs. And this can be corrected but – the suggestion goes – not if we insist on interpreting correction in literal terms of Jesus and Buddha and spirit and so forth

Someone will point out that I am basically indulging semantics here. Sean says “love” but another person will say “Jesus” or “bodhisattva” or “Divine Source” and they all mean the same thing.

I hear that. It is a nontrivial – and not unpersuasive – argument.

And yet.

The language we use matters. I began this essay by writing about a hypothetical search for Xlkerds. Technically speaking, “Xlkerd” is a sign but to what does it point? How would we reach consensus on its meaning? If there are no Xlkerds, then we’re going to be frustrated (or extremely imaginative, likely in a way that excludes others from playing with us).

I’d ask a similar question about “Jesus.” It’s a sign, sure, but to what does it point? An iterinant Jewish Cynic who lived two thousand years ago? The founder of Christianity? A symbol of love and peace? How would we reach consensus on its meaning? It’s hard to find consensus internally about “Jesus,” let alone bringing the whole social order and collective into it.

But in both instances, what counts is reaching consensus, right?

I am asking what way of living broadens our ability to build consensus? Maximizes our capacity for cooperation? Renders our communications inclusive and unconditional, to the maximal extend possible?

And I am suggesting the answer is: this very life we are right now living. The very loving that we right now know precisely how to offer. The being that we don’t need to learn about but only share because, in a very essential and natural way, it is sharing itself.

It’s not that I’m right about this. Or wrong, for that matter. Right and wrong are not the point. The point really, is whether what I write here resonates with you reading here. Because that resonance is not from me to you; it is not a temporary linear connection of separate entities.

Rather, it is a shared resonance – a unified sip of that which cannot be fragmented or divided or compartmentalized or apportioned. That resonance is not “Sean’s” or [insert-your-name-here]’s. It’s not even “ours” (because that would bring about “theirs”). It just is and (would you agree with me) it is enough.

I am being quite literal here! I am actively suggesting that our “spirituality” as such is not “one way of approaching the human condition in the interests of happiness and justice and so forth” but actually confounds our ability to be happy and help others be happy, in sustainable and natural ways.

I am suggesting that we are given the sea and rather than swim stubbornly dig into the sandy beach in the vain hope of reaching some other sea. And I am further suggesting that even if that happened – even if we found that sea – then we’d invent a reason to forego it and start looking for a new one.

Spiritual seeking has become a way of avoiding responsibility for bringing for the very peace, joy, love and harmony that spiritual seeking purports to have as its goal.

There is another way.

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