Thursday, May 29, 2014

Meditation or Philosophy?

"The gate to spiritual practice begins with the visceral insight that everything is going to vanish, including me." ~ Lewis Richmond, Soto Zen Priest

I just finished reading a Tricycle magazine interview with Lewis Richmond about using spiritual practice to make the most, or, depending on how you look at it, the least of aging. Lewis contends that the older we get, the more we tend to experience physical deterioration and psychological awareness of our impermanence that opens a door to serious spiritual practice that may have been closed earlier in life, and that while meditation and other spiritual practices don't stop us from aging, thinking about our mortality, and dying, they can attune us more deeply to our moment-to-moment experience so that we see and accept it for what it is without wishing it were something else. He goes on to say that meditation and other spiritual practices won't necessarily make life wonderful, but they can still "make a big difference" in our life. In this way, aging can be welcomed as an opportunity for positive change instead of perceived and dreaded as a curse.

Two things came primarily to mind as I read this. First of all, I wonder if I wasn't right when I wrote years ago that spiritual practice may be vastly overrated in terms of the benefits it can deliver to the practitioner and to those in his or her orbit.

Second, I wondered if there aren't psychologically or philosophically oriented practices that might generate more fulfilling bang for the buck than would sitting countless hours on a mediation cushion. Of course, one could do both, and this multifaceted approach to personal development is, indeed, part of what has been variously called "integral transformative practice" and "integral life practice." But might one be better off spending the time one would have spent meditating reading about and practicing CBT or stoicism instead? Or would meditation make CBT and/or stoicism work better and vice versa?

My inclination is to think that, at my age and given my temperament, my time would be better spent psychologizing and philosophizing my way to wherever it is I want to go than trying to mediate myself there. But what do I really know of such things, and what can I realistically hope to accomplish with any approach?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day Musings

Yesterday was Mother's Day, and my Facebook news feed abounded with glowing tributes by my "friends" to their mothers, many of whom have passed on to the Great Beyond.

I too am grateful to my mom, who, at 76, is not only still around but very active and vital. I'm grateful not so much for her giving me life, which has been a mixed blessing, albeit through no fault of her own, but for what she's gone through and done along the way to help me have as good a life as I possibly can under the circumstances.

You see, I wasn't a normal kid and I've never been a normal adult, and I know she must have worried about me all along and that she still worries, especially, about what will become of me if she dies before I do.

Judging from my Facebook news feed, many of my peers paid their warm respects yesterday to moms who are no longer around, but I'm guessing that most of those moms had fewer worries or, at least, less reason to worry about their adult children than mine has had about me.

But as grateful as I am to my mom for the sacrifices she's made for me and for the help she's provided at crucial times in my life, and as touched as I truly am by the tributes that others paid their moms yesterday, the thing that strikes me most poignantly about it all is a very famous line from a very famous play:

Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I mean that I saw all these people posting about their moms who are either dying or dead, and I wondered, more even than I usually do, what it's all for. Girls being born, growing up, having children, working exhaustively hard to support and raise them, their children having children, aging into decrepitude, dying, and being honored on Mother's Day. "A tale told by an idiot."

I don't feel depressed as I write this. I'm just wondering, more than usual, what these cosmic eyeblinks of a lifetime of struggle, pain, moments of pleasure, and, if we're very fortunate, a modest sense of happiness or fulfillment toward the end of it all is all about.

I guess almost everybody finds a purpose or creates one of their own. Some people find it in just getting through the day, day after day. Many find it in embracing the doctrines and in carrying out the practices of their religion. Others find it in having kids, raising families, and being "productive members" of their society. Others, like myself, who live at society's fringes but aspire to do more than just live day to day, find it in reading, writing, thinking, learning, and connecting with others and trying to be helpful and good in any way that we can. And some probably find it in all these ways.

But, in the end, it still seems like a pointless process or, at least, one empty of substance or significance. Is it, or am I missing something?