Spirituality, Escapism, and Certainty

Remember the Sesame Street song, “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong?” It’s very true of the title of this post, yet we find these three things together with alarming frequency. The one that doesn’t belong, of course, is spirituality.

So many people use spirituality as a kind of escapism. It’s used to deny reality, either by positing that the reality we experience is either an alternate or false reality, or by saying our perceptions of reality are so distorted that they may well be useless. To be sure, perception is extremely subjective, but when we say that our perceptions are so distorted as to not reflect reality we are suggesting that we may be either psychotic or schizophrenic – a diagnosis most of us aren’t qualified to make.

Certainty is a kind of escapism. Both religion and spirituality are chock full of certainty, or at least the illusion of certainty. Human beings struggle with not knowing what is going to happen in the next moment because it naturally creates anxiety. There is no shortage of people and systems offering certainly, from Harold Camping predicting the end of the world (his record is now 0-3), to products “guaranteed” to help bald men grow hair, to spiritual formulas guaranteeing blissful life starting this moment and continuing into the next life.

The problem is that none of us knows what is going to happen next – not the next second, minute, hour, day, week, month, year, or lifetime. We are so desperate to know that we will even accept a load of nonsense that costs us a whole lot of money – but authentic spirituality refuses to offer us a certainly that can’t be found. Authentic spirituality is largely about learning to cope with life on its own terms, including uncertainty. The reason is that the systems we construct so that we can escape or convince ourselves we have it all under control take us away from reality and into fiction. If we spend all our time in fiction, we aren’t really living.

Most of the time we get overwhelmed by life because we try to tackle too big a piece at one time. We can learn to worry about the moment that is in front of us right now and refuse to worry about the next moment until it arrives. In doing this we actually encounter life and find out it isn’t so bad after all – and that the joy of being present far outweighs any delusions of certainly we previously entertained! It takes some practice, but we really can live in the present moment!

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