Rear View Mirror

I felt the need to replace Mor­monism when I left it behind. I found myself say­ing to peo­ple, “I don’t believe in God, but I believe in kar­ma. I believe in some spir­i­tu­al force among peo­ple.” And I did believe that at first, but after awhile it became clear that I had replaced one cos­mol­o­gy with anoth­er. I’m not sure what the dif­fer­ence is between reli­gion and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. By which I mean that they are after the same result. Sys­tems like reli­gion and sports and nar­ra­tive provide the illu­sion of order and com­fort. They over­lay begin­nings and end­ings, rules and penalties, onto chaos and ran­dom­ness.

I don’t kid myself that I am wis­er or bet­ter than peo­ple who turn to reli­gion or yoga to cre­ate mean­ing and com­fort ; I love fic­tion and art and music and sports, so I par­tic­i­pate in that sort of self-decep­tion too. What I have a prob­lem with is when peo­ple use a false con­struct of real­i­ty like reli­gion or spir­i­tu­al­i­ty to con­trol and judge oth­er peo­ple.

Yoga and med­i­ta­tion cults are ram­pant in Los Ange­les. Oth­er cities too I’m sure — the same ascen­sion to pow­er on the backs of the believ­ers that you find in reli­gion. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good noble peo­ple who want to bring oth­ers up a lev­el. It just means they are very few. And far between. I med­i­tat­ed for a num­ber of years — Vipas­sana med­i­ta­tion, Dzogchen med­i­ta­tion — but I found that I was using med­i­ta­tion to cre­ate the illu­sion of calm and peace, nei­ther of which are very use­ful in the world. Instead I felt removed, blissed out, and my emo­tions felt inac­ces­si­ble. If that’s a taste of nir­vana, I’ll stick with the brats and beer. I’m sure I was doing it wrong, but I prefer not to strive to qui­et my mind. Reli­gion and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty seem designed to pull us from our brains and put us in touch with oth­er mys­te­ri­ous organs : trust your ‘gut’, lis­ten to your ‘heart’, cleanse your ‘spir­it’. The­se don’t exist. They are metaphors for “instinc­tive behav­ior free of ratio­nal thought.”

Some­times instinct is impor­tant — fight or flight respons­es, for exam­ple. But how can any­body real­ly say that the big prob­lem with peo­ple is that we think too much ? We do every­thing we can to avoid rea­son and care­ful delib­er­a­tion — we want to be instinc­tive, to see with our third eye, to dis­cov­er the god­dess with­in, to walk in faith. But none of that is real. It’s just a way of say­ing that some prob­lems are hard to rea­son through and syn­the­size. The hard­er, more hon­est path is to see all the mis­ery, inequity, cru­el­ty, fool­ish­ness, and sad­ness in the world, to see all the sweet­ness, the love, the tri­umph, and the hap­pi­ness in the world with­out imme­di­ate­ly assign­ing mean­ing and causal­i­ty — to see the world with­out serendip­i­ty, kar­ma, fate, bless­ing, luck, reward or pun­ish­ment.

I’ve nev­er loved life more than after I dis­missed reli­gion and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty from my mind. Each day is sweet­er, each touch more mem­o­rable, each meal more deli­cious. Each book, song, pho­tograph, paint­ing has more val­ue because they are com­plete in and of them­selves. They don’t lead me to a well-hid secret about the soul. They don’t reveal God’s fin­ger touch­ing my heart. They are and then they aren’t. So it’s impor­tant to make the most of them, and us, while we are and before we aren’t.

One thought on “Rear View Mirror

  1. It’s the third time I read this. I like to think I have writ­ten some­thing very sim­i­lar to it in my mind, many times before. I would nev­er be able to express it like you do, but I claim this for me as well. Thank you for writ­ing it.

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