Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Happy versus the Spiritual Man

An empty stool facing brightly lit windows

Years ago I used to be more spiritual than I am now, that is, if by spiritual we mean somebody who actively thinks and reads about spiritual matters. In my youth, it was one of my main preoccupations. I devoured books on anything remotely spiritual, and I gained more knowledge on religions and philosophies both of the Eastern and Western kind, and I read upon (but rarely practiced) meditation.

It seems that my mind craved spiritual enlightenment as well as romantic fulfillment. Perhaps the two were connected. My yearning for and lack of a romantic involvement had led me to the path of spirituality and flared my spiritual fervor. In fact, it is the lack itself that drives us, the driving motivation for actions, be it because of a lack of relationships, lack of success or recognition in a career, or a general lack of confidence and security in oneself.

It also seems that once one's lacks are filled and one's needs are met, then there is little more to strive for. Many choose or end up on the spiritual path because they are unhappy with the status quo or are simply unhappy and miserable. Even an existential crisis, the question of what it is all for and about or what happens to us once we are no more can increase our desire for spiritual knowledge and practice.

But once the desires are met, in other words, once one realizes how happy one is, then some of the fervor dissipates. Who needs a spiritual quest, if you are simply happy with who you are and what you have. If I have enough inner and outer tranquility, I would see no reason to want to have more of it, and then I can relax and enjoy what I got.

This can be related to money and success as well. We will never have or rather feel we have enough of each; there is always a step further and higher one could go since the grass is always greener around us. It is then hard, if not impossible to draw a line, and we become addicted to these things, the same way a gambler finds it hard to quit playing. There is always one more bet one wants to take, one extra hour or job one wants to work, one level higher one wants to reach on the ambitious and endless career ladder.

But once you are happy with what you have, this extra incentive diminishes and makes less sense and loses its main driving force. Looking at myself now, I am at a stage where I feel that I am quite happy with how everything has turned out. Of course, that does not mean that I will stop working nor is about throwing the towel or retiring, but it takes off some of its edge. I still have an evident responsibility to make money for my family, to ensure a level of safety and prosperity for them, but when it comes to spirituality, it has taken a backseat, and it is not one of my urging priorities anymore.

In other words, I do not need ersatz happiness; I do not need spirituality to fill my needs at this point of my life. I live for my own family and enjoy every bit of time I get with them and gladly transform any money into events that satisfy us as a unit. My only communication with the spiritual world is by means of thanks and gratitude since we as a whole have been exceptionally lucky.

If anything this is a snapshot of current circumstances, and evidently one will go through different phases of life. I am aware that my son will grow up and carve his own life down the road and my own priorities will have to be shifted and adjusted to the circumstances. Also the closer one gets to one's own inevitable demise, the stronger the current of spirituality will most likely take hold. The fact that I am thinking and writing about this might be also a sign of an upcoming midlife crisis, a critical re-evaluation of what has been, what is and what will be.

But in such moments in which I find myself these days, I stop looking for enlightenment because I do not see what it could give me that I did not already possess. I remember that there were moments in my past where I got a glimpse of what spiritual enlightenment would look like, and it scared me. It was a feeling of hovering a few inches above the ground (to paraphrase a Buddhist monk) and to feel that brushing one's teeth was an accomplishment in itself (to paraphrase John Lennon).

Suddenly, I had felt that there is very little more I wished to accomplish. Because indeed life is itself its own reward and accomplishment. One did not need fame or money or anything else people are after in their pervasive state of delusion because none of that really mattered. That realization scared me because it would kill all my ambitions, and deep inside, my non-spiritual side, or, if you like, the ignorant and selfish part of me did not want to just throw the towel and stop where I was.

In fact, there is nothing more anti-capitalist than that, and it is the opposite of so-called self-improvement or growth. Our Protestant work ethic would dissolve in a heartbeat because instead of desperately looking for God's love and approval, we would already have earned them, and work would be replaced by feelings of pleasure, by enjoying other people's company or by simply gazing at clouds for no apparent reason whatsoever. Idleness would not be frowned upon nor declared a sin, but embraced with a whole and satisfied heart. Being will become the aim and replace a world of doing.

Nowadays, I am happy and still seek or desire money and fame, but with much less intensity than before. It has become a matter of menial indifference instead of one of life and death. I still would love to make it, so-to-speak, but I do know that I already have and can accept an existence of little importance to the outside world but still of relevance to my close and intimate circles. Likewise, spirituality is less something that I look for in an outward manner but it shines forth as gratitude I feel inside and a hope that others will see it so as well.

Peace has become less an abstract fantasy but a concrete everyday reality. I have moments of them, while I also still battle other types of moments where one does not see or think clearly. And yet, the overriding feeling is one of being happy (I sound like the Pharrel Williams song now) and of projecting that through the daily grind and petty problems one encounters here and there. Problems will come and go, but hopefully one's contentment will remain in place like solid rock.

Spirituality to the happy man is to be at peace with oneself, one's surroundings and in harmony with the powers that be. It is inner and outer happiness and contentment that make spirituality redundant and superfluous. Or, in fact, everything becomes spiritual and always has been so, and we are merely chasing our own tail when we look for it outside of ourselves; we can find it only when we fully embrace it!


Vincent said...

Wonderful post, and took me through my own experience, described in your words, so great sharing there. The sentence which stood out for me was this:

“My only communication with the spiritual world is by means of thanks and gratitude since we as a whole have been exceptionally lucky.”

That’s the essence of it now for me too.

But I’d sum up your theme as follows.

Worldly joy is being thankful and grateful for having been exceptionally lucky.

Spiritual joy is being thankful and grateful unconditionally, for whatever luck brings.

A very real sense of neediness draws us to one or the other; or a mix of both.

Spiritual joy ends neediness and striving, lets us live intensely in the circumstances that ‘luck’, whatever that is, presents.

Arash Farzaneh said...

Thank you, Vincent, for beautifully summarizing my post!