Dr. Phil, Diets, & the Gym, oh my!
We more or less go through life assuming that there is some gigantic problem— some pressing matter that must be dealt with immediately. This transforms life into a great big scavenger hunt for the magical cure-all.
We read a butt-ton of wordy books. Then develop all of these ideas or possible solutions to our supposed problem. We concoct all the plans of action that are intended to provide us with meaning and/or purpose. All the while, we have a sneaking, yet persistent, suspicion that we are missing the point.
This is a mentality of poverty, a sense of being without something that is essential, and it is the first symptom of an ego-centric mind. The ego is the prototypical beggar.
Once we have identified our problem, we begin to engineer solutions, or recipes, for happiness. We think that more of this or less of that is the answer. Having shopped around for sometime, it is inevitable that we will bump into something attractive, a possible solution to our ultimate problem. We say, “Oh, that’s it! I must have it.” So we nourish these interactions. We convince ourselves that “it” is what has been missing all along. “It” might be a boy or girl, a new job, more exercise, yoga, meditation, or whatever… The emphasis here is being placed on the fact that we have convinced ourselves we are missing something, and that this is the missing ingredient.
For a time, everything seems to be on the up-and-up. Our commitment to go to the gym everyday or our new love affair seems to have reinvigorated our lives. Then one fateful day, for some reason unknown to us, that same feeling of inadequacy resurfaces. We realize that neither our romantic relationship, nor our incessant dieting or endless walks around the neighborhood addressed that fundamental feeling of dissatisfaction. Before long, we are once again standing in front of the mirror grabbing the flab on our stomach and shaking it, while shamefully contemplating gym memberships. There is obviously nothing wrong with exercise or intimate relations. The problem lies in what we expected from these interactions. We used these activities as entertainment, a way to ignore the causes and conditions that breed dissatisfaction.
We are right back where we started.
However, this time it seems to be more intense. There is a frustration associated with being back at square one. We have seen this problem before, and felt like we had dealt with it, but here it is once again. We are confused, and feel stuck.
This epic disappointment emerges from the ashes of our own wishful thinking. We had convinced ourselves that we found the answer, but the problem never went away. So, we begin to ask such questions as, “What’s the point?” We get caught up in the pessimistic whirlwind:
I thought I had answered this question… I told myself I was over this… But here I am… I have fooled myself, yet again. I give up…
At this point many people come to spiritual practice. However, it is important to address this motivation at the onset of the spiritual path. From a certain point of view, addressing this motivation is spiritual practice. What I mean to say is, if we come to the spiritual path with the same intention we went to the gym with, all the while diluted by the belief that this is somehow different because it is “spiritual,” then we are bound to relapse into the same disappointing cycle. Just as exercise probably produced some healthy results, spiritual practices like meditation, prayer, or yoga will probably relax you a bit. However, if you come to spiritual practice with the intention of it solving all your problems, you are bound to experience disappointment yet again.
Spirituality is not a solution to a problem.
Spiritual practice is a question.
It is an inquiry into the dynamics that create and perpetuate these impoverished patterns of consciousness. Spiritual practice asks one particular question that cuts straight to the core. It questions the basic assumption that transformed our life into an exhausting search for a complex solution to remarkably vague problem. It asks, “What if there isn’t a problem? What if everything is actually OK?”
Perhaps, there is nothing wrong. Maybe our preoccupation with solving a non-existent problem is our only problem. On the other hand, maybe not. There might be some huge problem constantly in need of our immediate attention. Maybe there is good reason for standing in front of the mirror grabbing the flab on our stomach and shaking it, while shamefully contemplating gym memberships.