Our basic spiritual predicament outlined in the simplest possible non-religious terms
Existence is, when all is said and done, something of an unpleasant affair. Yes life can give you good times, but if you have a certain very specific sensitivity – which doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a good or saintly person – then no matter how good the good times are, you always feel as if something is not quite right. Something is missing. Something is definitely wrong somewhere.
But what exactly ? This is the mystery, made all the more mysterious by any attempt to grab hold of it. We may have a sense of something not quite right, but as soon as we turn towards that sense, it disappears into the background, leaving us with only a trace of its having been there in the first place. And even at its most persistent, it remains elusive.
More to the point, it is a ‘something wrong’ that begs to be put right. We can’t really leave it alone. It interferes with everything. This is our basic spiritual predicament, because it involves our entire being, and entire existence.
So we try various solutions, covering every possibility we can think of, physical, psychological, and intellectual, but nothing really works. That is to say, nothing works in the long run. You can suppress, or ignore, or distract yourself from facing this strange dissatisfaction at the base of existence, but you never quite get rid of it. You may think you have dealt it a fatal blow, but it has a habit of returning as if it never went away.
Perhaps we could at least ‘locate’ this predicament somewhere ? That would be a start. Could we say that this is a problem of the body, the soul, the mind, or the intellect ? Or could it be a combination of different factors ? The point is, we honestly don’t know. We can decide that it is one thing or the other, but this is merely pretending, and risking becoming dogmatic. We just don’t know why our existence doesn’t quite work itself out.
But even if we can’t explain our basic dissatisfaction with existence in causal terms, and can’t find its root cause in our experiencing being, we can be sure that, whatever we present it with – in terms of a possible solution to the predicament it presents us with – the predicament itself will always undercut that solution, and return to haunt us. Nothing is ever quite deep enough to resolve it completely.
Does this mean we are doomed ? Not if you are prepared to give it some thought. We know from experience that nothing that can happen in experiential terms is going to resolve our basic dissatisfaction with experiencing itself, but this does not necessarily mean that all is lost. Because besides knowing that we don’t know how or why experience itself doesn’t quite work itself out, we also know that experience, or experiencing, is not all there is to the totality of our ‘being’. In other words, we know we are more than merely the sum of our experiences: we are also a ‘knowing’ capacity, a capacity to apprehend experience knowingly. And this capacity to apprehend knowingly is not contained within experience as something we experience directly – it is an elusive lucidity which is ever-present but also mysteriously ever-absent at the same time.
And we also know that without this elusive lucid capacity to apprehend experience knowingly, we can’t have any experiencing of any kind. To experience anything, we have to apprehend that experience knowingly. There is no other way of doing it. Yet when we turn our attention on to our capacity to know, our capacity to apprehend, we don’t find anything there to apprehend, except as a vanishing afterimage, which when you look at it is really just the work of our imaginations. Which means in fact that we know as little about our apprehending capacity as we do about the mysterious dissatisfaction that poisons all our experiencing.
So it could just be that somewhere there, in this elusive lucidity, is the answer to the ultimate questions that bother us. The secrets to everything. The spiritual resolution to our quest. To put it in graspable terms, if this elusive lucidity could awaken on to itself, perhaps it could reveal why we are ultimately dissatisfied with mere experiencing, no matter how extensive, cosmic, positive and sacred that experiencing might be.
Spirituality is about this problem, the problem of primordial lucidity, and how to get it to awaken onto itself, and it is not about anything else. It is not about love and compassion and mysticism and other manifestations of human self-obsession. Leave all that to the religious celebrities. The problem is much more immediate, and basic, and straightforward. And this basic predicament can be described in the simplest of metaphysical terms, as shown above, completely devoid of any and all religious doctrine, religious sentiment, and religious jargon.