“I’m spiritual but not religious,” he says.
“How’s that differ from just not wanting to be an asshole?” she asks.
“I meditate,” he says. “Hoping to be a better person.”
“Hmmmmm……..if you didn’t want to be a better person, you’d be a self-centered prick, right?”
“Sure,” he says.
“So it’s mainly a matter of not wanting to be that,” she says.
“I pray too,” he says.
“A generalized God.”
“A corporeal God? A metaphysical God? A water or wind God? God as a concept? Metaphor?”
“The universe. Whatever is the consciousness or mechanics that govern everything. God, you know?”
“Just………God?” she asks.
“Yeah,” he says, not really knowing. “I just want to feel connected to something bigger than myself.”
She’s heard all this bullshit before. New Age bullshit mixed with the Old Age bullshit. Funny how new stuff mostly gets brushed aside as mumbo-jumbo but for some goddamned reason, with their pronounced common denominators, the old stuff, like Doritos in traditional and new flavors, continues to hang around.
“Bigger than yourself?” she asks. “Humankind. History. The solar system. Time and space. These aren’t enough?”
“There’s me and then there’s the universe,” he says.
“There’s nothing really that revolutionary or profound in opposites,” she says. “Good/bad. Black/white. Big/small. Real/imaginary. Eternal/transient,” she says.
“I’m not following,” he says.
“I’m afraid we just want there to be more,” she says. “But there isn’t any more. What we want is just a distraction. Like how Santa and wishlists give us something to look forward to. Something to indulge in to help relieve the ongoing monotony and boredom of grade school.”
“But the gifts you got on Christmas were real,” he says.
“Yes. And then the thrill wears off or we outgrow them and find ourselves behind a desk again, wishing for something else or dissatisfied with what we got. Anxious again but not knowing why. So anxious that we start daydreaming instead of paying attention to our reading, writing and arithmetic.”
“You said yourself grades school is boring and monotonous.”
“Yes,” she says. “So it might require discipline to remain focused on the essentials instead of slipping off into fantasy and illusion and false hope.”
“Reading, writing and arithmetic versus fantasy, illusion and false hope?” he asks.
“Seems about right to me,” she says.
“Anyway, I think praying and meditation makes me a better person,” he says. “And helps me see the reality of those holidays gifts as transient desires of little importance.”
“But most people are the same,” she says. “Most people’s actions aren’t that much different. Most of us fall within a standard deviation or two on the scale of decency whether we pray or not.”
“Not better than others,” he says. “A better self today than I was yesterday.”
“Most of us grow older and wiser,” she says. “With or without gods and deep contemplation of the universe.”
“Yes,” he says. “Older and wiser with or without God. And, as you said, the quantity and quality of most people’s virtues aren’t that much different. So what’s the problem with spirituality if it leads us to acting within two standard deviations, just like you?”
She wants to say that maybe he is just a non-asshole who doesn’t really know what he professes to believe in, which seems like something entirely different than “spiritual”. She’s afraid his spirituality is mostly just a platitude he presents to himself, like claiming to believe in decency or justice, yet, as Socrates could illuminate far better than her – her friend having, a best, an extremely mixed understanding of what spirituality is. That is what she thinks but will not speak it. She still values him as a friend.
“You’re just confused,” he says.
“About the way I think and feel,” he says.
“Yes,” she says. “Frankly, it doesn’t make sense to me.”
“That’s okay,” he says. “We’re all confused. About a lot of things. For example, do you understand existence very well? Are you a scholar of Psychology? Theology? History? Physics? Astronomy?”
“Of course not,” she says.
“Then we are both confused.”
“Yes,” she concedes. “Very.”
“Maybe it’s just apples and oranges,” he says.
“Now I’m not following,” she says.
“My uncle liked gardening but my aunt didn’t. While he gardened she worked on crossword puzzles. They were very different activities which gave peace to each of them, making them better, I imagine, since we can all use some peace and serenity.”
“Yes. But gardening and crossword puzzles are just that. They aren’t what we typically term spiritual pursuits. They’re pleasing and harmless enough as distractions. Also, they’re concrete. Crossword puzzles are words scribbled on tangible pages. Vegetables and flowers are corporeal things that grow from the soil and from seed. This spirituality of yours is something more ethereal, I guess. So, in a way, it seems they’re sort of metaphysically distinct.”
“Praying and meditation keep me humble,” he says. “And humility’s a virtue, across religions and across humanity.”
“The right people giving you the right advice can keep you humble,” she says. “You can keep yourself humble too. You have the will to pray and meditate in order to be humble. Why not use that same will just to be humble?”
“Without tying my will and consciousness to something far more grandiose than just myself? Without tying myself to the vastness of the complexity of the universe? To eternity?”
“Yes,” she says.
He scowls at her.
“You mean, just to people and things?”
“Yes,” she says. “Why not?”
“Because that’s not much. It makes me sad to think I’m no more than people and things.”
“Of course,” she says. “But it seems to me we’re given choices in how and what we associate ourselves with and to. Associations that keep us humble or not.”
“Exactly,” he says. “I think you’re starting to get it, just when I thought I’d lost you.”
“Associations with things like men,” she says. “There are great men, let’s say, like Socrates or St. Augustine, and we can choose to see ourselves in relation to them, by virtue of our shared humanity, far more than in relation to the billions and billions of common men that have passed before and will pass in the future – common men that we share far more in common with than the greatest of men. Yet, we tend to bind ourselves to the great ones far more often than to the masses in which we share far more relation. Why is that, do you think?”
“The great ones are shining examples for us,” he says. “So we humble ourselves before them.”
“Or pride ourselves in comparison,” she says. “And still, do these comparisons or admirations keep us humble? Shouldn’t humility recognize the measure by which we are comprehensively common versus one of the select “shining examples”. Let’s say our individual and collective constitutions are 99% common and only 1% shining, why then focus on the 1 % over the other 99?”
“Becuase we want to be better and they are the example.”
“Maybe we just want to feel better,” she says, “by focusing on the shard in us that is nothing in comparison to what men like Socrates reflect.”
“You are very nihilistic.”
“To the contrary,” she says. “We have great potential, I believe. But we’ve grown too prideful and arrogant. We need to be humbled.”
“Yes,” he says. “I keep arguing that. Humble in relation to God or the universe.”
“Or humble in deferring to what we are in far greater relation to than God” she says. “For, if we are just common beings and entities, like the transient toad or the apple that’s consumed or decays – if we are like the toad then we are nothing compared to everything. And attaching ourselves to the latter, when we are fully aware of being the former, seems to me the height of pride and arrogance. That is, unless we come to understand that we, just like the toad and the apple, are the everythings.”
“But all men do this, in one form or fashion,” he says. “It’s been eternal. It’s primitive. Primordial. It’s in our souls to attach ourselves to the big everything of eternity.”
“And once our souls were weary from survival. Now our souls are just bored, like that child in grade school sketching superheroes instead of paying attention to his studies.”
She fears she’s angered her friend, but continues.
“And maybe that’s the greatest conjunction between us and the universe. The universe is eternal, along with humanity’s eternal arrogance.”
“That’s harsh,” he says.
“Think of it like a book,” she says. “Think of us as letters within a grand novel with many volumes. – like In Search of Lost Time – think of us as the letters and marks capable of forming into words and punctuation, all of us possessing individual wills and a collective will and the ability to rearrange ourselves as we see fit. Autonomous wills outside the manipulations of some conceptualized author. The ability to alter our tenses and meanings. And possessed of the ability to cooperatively arrange ourselves into one of the world’s greatest pieces of literature, if we try.”
“I’m sure that metaphor’s been used before,” he says.
“Surely,” she says. “I’m not claiming ownership.”
She continues, “Think of your prayers and meditations and metaphysics as just medication relieving us of the pain and anxiety of our agency. Relief from the burden of our goddamned autonomy and the burden of having to creating the world’s finest novel out of ourselves. Instead, we hand that authorship over to what? God, we’ll say, but in our arrogance and uncertainty, too often hand that authorship over to men representing God. Or, in one way or another, giving us what God is supposed to like the false promises of meaning, certainty and direction.”
“And this is the problem,” he says. “Without God we are left with only ourselves, acting too much in their own self-interest. How do we overcome the influence of those men in the absence of God?”
“It’s not easy. Let’s say instead of eternity or God – we decide to attach ourselves to some grand concept of art or literature instead – which gives us the satisfaction of being a part of a concept far more majestic than ourselves. While a fine concept, it also bears the trappings of the satisfaction that allows us to be lazy so that we never organize and put in the effort of creating our great novel. That great novel of ourselves created by ourselves. Instead, we undermine that potential by attaching ourselves to some concept of an eternal authorship in which we are just elements for the mystical author to tinker with instead of us becoming the masters of our own tale, which we absolutely know we are, both individually and collectively. We know it. It’s why we can’t sleep at night. So we look toward other solutions to help us sleep. We allow coddlers and deceivers to ascend, assuring us that we are not what we know ourselves to be.”
“So you’re better than me?” he asks “That’s your game? You’re so much wiser? All this logic and rhetoric just a way of proving to me you’re smarter. Wiser. Possessor of more will of the intellect or rationality or something? Too smart to believe what I believe in? This is all about your self-satisfaction and ego, I submit. And this is where your lack of spirituality leads, to such utter arrogance and pride.”
“Possibly,” she says. “But I volley that it’s more about your ego’s attachment to eternity and its will so dogmatically attached to something more fabulous and grandiose than the lowly toads and apples I mentioned. Your ego shudders at the idea that’s it’s little more than the common atoms and minerals of the toad. Come down from you cloud, my friend. Come down from eternity and get a little whiff of reality. Come down from on high to see and feel and smell us for what we really are. Please, humble yourself in that regard.”
He remains silent.
“C’mon down here and help. You’re heart’s probably in the right place but your head sure isn’t. Come on down here. We need help. Plenty of help in writing our novel. Come down here’s where the problems are,” she says. “Since up there in eternity it seems like things are going okay.”