Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What Matters

Very often, at the end of an SKS meeting, someone will come up to me and say, "Is that what these meetings are like, then? Like, group therapy?"
Just as often, someone will ask, "Is that what these meetings are like, then? Talking about ideas?"
Or, "Is that what these meetings are like, then? Self-help, making yourself better?"

Arg. The answer is almost always, "That's part of it, but only part. What the meetings are about is living spirituality . . ." But almost right away I realize that I haven't said anything that will help. The word "spirituality" is almost as polluted as "religious inquiry" these days, as a means of describing what we're about. If I say "spirituality," they will probably only leap to their own muddled impressions of the word, a mixture of questionable ideas, vague feelings, noble aspirations and no spine whatsoever. And if I try to put something more concrete in its place, more tangible and specific, they will only "take me up on the example": "So you mean spirituality is about meditation, then," or "So spirituality is keeping your promises."

What I fail to communicate, most of the time, is the most important aspect of spirituality, which is its urgency. The theologian Paul Tillich said, "Religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of a meaning of our life." Spirituality is, by definition, being concerned with what matters most. I don't even have to necessarily say what it is that matters most; I could just say, "What is it that is the most important thing in the world? Ok, care about that. Pay attention to that, and let everything else in your life take its cues from that concern."

But even that is just the idea of urgency, not the experience of urgency. They only way they can understand what I mean is to feel it for themselves. The two critical ingredients for grasping spirituality:
  1. Life must hand the person a koan, a question of ultimate concern. They may not even have articulated the question yet, but they must feel the anxiety of an important unanswered question inside themselves. They must be bugged.
  2. That bugged person has to witness someone else who has put a name to their ultimate concern, and who has addressed their life to that concern with passion and urgency.

So, in the end, explanations are only needed in restrospect. The essence of communicating spirituality lies in the experience of the student, and the example of the teacher. When someone recognizes their own question, and sees someone else living the answer, the connection is made. "Now," says the seeker, "I know what I need to do."



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