A Sandy Pool with Just Enough Water

June 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

This past Sunday morning at the Buddhist meeting I rolled out of bed to attend, the floor was opened to the meditators who’d come here seeking enlightenment (or just a little peace), as the monk that usually gives the dharma talk was presiding over a funeral.

We were invited to share our experiences of how the path and practice of Buddhism has brought about positive changes in our lives. This raised a question as to whether it is really possible to gauge the progression of spiritual growth in one’s life. Or whether there is any real point in trying to assess such a thing. As I sat listening to the exchange of ideas and experiences, and ruminated about what I might say in turn, a sense of futility lodged itself in my mind. As far as this spiritual journey is concerned, I often feel like a haggard wanderer, marching through the desert in search of a drink. At the last moment, just before keeling over, I find a sandy pool with just enough water to keep on trucking toward the promised oasis.

Such frustrations are like an unwelcome traveling companion that reminds me of my own distinct lack of “progress” in matters of the spirit. Like a stowaway on my spiritual journey, it keeps on my trail, whispering a vague message of the ultimate futility of all of my undertakings, both spiritual and secular. It’s a message that creeps in through some subconscious backdoor, then slowly diffuses into conscious recognition. It spells out a humbling verdict: all my plans and projects, the one’s I carry on dreaming about, amount to a pot of fool’s gold, puddles of inconsequential nonsense. (That includes this essay, in its current impoverished state). Paradoxically, I find this uplifting somehow, an acknowledgement of my own state of relative meaninglessness and cosmic ineptitude. It provides a real sense of relief from the pressures, expectations and obligations that the burden of a good education can place on a man’s life.

This is not to say that I don’t continue to take my pet projects seriously (I wish them all the best), nor that I should chuck them aside in a tantrum of despair. Like every other life form that’s been set loose on this planet I need an outlet for the photosynthetic energy that nature has stored up in my system (thank you Sun!) Better to channel this natural bounty toward mildly consequential pursuits than to allow it to dissipate and find dark crevasses to ferment in. And by recognizing the skimpy stature of my own schemes within the grand scheme, I am better able to impose order over the unruly hatchery of my dreams. After all, dreams complain incessantly when they aren’t allowed to come true. Unfortunately, they are like those little sea turtles on the mad dash for the ocean. All of them want to see the watery world. Only a few are truly destined for a taste of existence.

Anyhow, I think there might just be some real value hidden in my pot of fool’s gold. The phony bills I’ve got stashed there can be used to redeem existence from a sad state of excessive seriousness. We are all playing with the same pile of monopoly money; it’s a currency that can convert the dour business of living into a more enjoyable game.  An existential game that is, not a nihilistic slugfest.

The rules of the game are the same as those that apply to living anyway: The clock is always running. It all amounts to naught. The final score will always be zero. And you play as though your life depends on it.

While such thoughts wandered back and forth in my mind, all I had to contribute to the discussion was the following simple definition of spiritual progress that the monk had previously offered: If you are suffering less, you are making progress.

It’s hard to argue with that.

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