SPIRITUALITY 101

The field of spirituality is loaded with meaningless babble and deception because we've all been convinced that spirituality is hard for us regular thinkers to understand and so we'd better just leave the tall thinkin' to the people specially selected by the supreme being. As a result, we let our spiritual leaders get away with a lot. I'm not so impatient with them about the occasional instances of fraud and adultery so much as the fact that they don't manage to see to our spiritual needs. I don't even think they know what our spiritual needs are.

They use terminology that is either vague (like "state of grace") or exotic (like "karma") in order to pretend that they know something, which they don't. Then when you ask them an honest question like, "How do you know there is a god?" or "Why does God allow this to happen?" they're going to blather at lenght about His mysterious, inscrutable ways until you give up and go away. If you don't buy into the proposition that your misfortune is God testing your faith, then let's blame it on the devil. God's customer service department operates much like those of other corporations.

These habits are not limited to Christian spiritual leaders. Just buttonhole a New Ager and ask him an open-ended question about, say for instance, geological power vortices. Then get comfortable. Might as well order drinks. You're not going to learn anything.

In the face of all this, how do we figure out what our spirit needs and how do we get it? And let's have it in regular old english words like we use every day. No biblebabble.

First and foremost our spiritual development is about truth. Every historical spiritual adept puts Truth at the top of the list, but preachers and gurus confuse you by pretending that truth is vague, cosmic and too big to put into your head, or worse yet, that truth is subjective. It's not. It's plain old nuts and bolts truth. I'm talking about learning to see the world the way it really is. Which bank offers the best interest rates? Is organic produce better than regular? How much FD&C red dye #40 do I need each day? Is this salesman lying to me? Which alarm clock radio is right for me? Do these shoes hurt? How come every politician that gets elected promises a tax cut, but taxes in general always go up? Why am I buying this pair of pants and not that pair of pants?

Pretty prosaic stuff. Sounds easy enough, but sorting out truth even on this level is surprisingly difficult; and our inability to do it causes our social problems.

Our civilization trains us not to see truth. Advertisers want to find the button that bypasses your brain and opens your wallet. Politicians want to find the button that bypasses your brain and causes you to vote for them. Every authority you've ever come into contact with is doing the same thing at the same time. Parents, bosses, auto mechanics, ministers, bureaucrats, celebrities, news organizations, law enforcement, in ways both subtle and brutal, just about everybody you meet is trying to buffalo you.

The sum of all this is that our civilization becomes a machine which wrecks your spirit and tells you you're doing just fine. If you're working yourself into a heart attack and your children don't remember what you look like, your boss is going to reward you with a corner office and a fancy new title (oh boy!). Nobody, including your spiritual leaders, has any interest in leading you out of ignorance; so unless you take on the task yourself, it ain't going to happen. Enlightenment is a lonely path and people are going to try to trip you up. Let's face it, the better you see, the worse they look, and they're not going to take that if they don't have to. Have you ever tried to convince a racist that he's a racist? Have you ever tried to point out to a thief that what he's doing is wrong? They're not going to like you. They're going to ridicule you. They're going to harass you. They're going to mislead you and scare you and cheat you, and they're going to giggle like idiots while they do it.

So it's in your best interest to begin quietly. If you announce at a company picnic that you're now a "seeker of truth," you might as well have said, "Thow yer rotten termaters now."

So now that you are quietly and privately a seeker of truth, fight that initial urge to buy an orange robe and cloister yourself in an ashram. It might come to that eventually, but you can start with safe and fruitful studies in your spare time. Visit your local college bookstore and buy two textbooks, one on logic and one on statistics. Read the books and work the exercises. Learn about inductive and deductive reasoning and common pitfalls of fallacious logic. Learn about histograms, bell curves, degrees of freedom and standard deviations. Learn what they mean and learn what they don't mean. You won't get an hallucinatory visit from your Hopi animal spirit guide; but you will learn to spot certain kinds of deception, and deception distracts you from truth. There's a paradox for you. Truth can be discovered by exploring deception.

You wanted meditation, incense and sitar music. You were hoping for some introspective deep breathing, search your feelings, ten minutes a day to tighter abs, feel-good power crystals. I can sell those to you. I can keep selling them to you until you discover that they don't help you see the world the way it really is. I guess buying all that stuff at least teaches you not to buy all that stuff, so go ahead if you must.

The reason you start with math and logic is that the material is really true, and you don't have to take a guru's word for it. Even a poredumignernt hillbilly like I can point you to a road that leads somewhere you need to go. If you hop right into cosmology or psychology or sociology you have no way of sorting out what is fact and what is theory and what is opinion. A little time spent on math and logic will help you avoid time-wasting exercises in the future.

Now for some exercises with your TV set.

Watch you favorite situation comedy with you back to the screen. Notice the mechanical laughter and the formulaic nature of the jokes. Yes, yes, you already know it's phony, but I don't think you realize just how phony. Compare character mixes. The Geena Davis Show is very nearly a remake of Caroline in the City. Isn't Sports Night just Lateline without an opinion?

Record the David Letterman show on two consecutive nights. Make a list of material that is identical from one show to the next (introductory graphics, running gags, theme music, jokes he told yesterday, showing the tape of the dog biting his lip one more time and so on) and note how much time each bit takes. Subtract those times from the hour. Then subtract the commercial time. How much original material does David Letterman give you each day? How many writers are on his staff? Divide the amount of original material by the number of writers. (In fairness to that show, part of the joke is that they are making fun of the repetitive format.)

The next time you watch Saturday Night Live, drink a beer each time you see a sketch containing characters and situations that are variations of sketches from previous shows. Drink a beer if you see Mr. Peepers, the Cheerleaders, the Ladies Man, Simma Dah Nah, the Girl Group with the rotating member, The Delicious Dish, Celebrity Jeopardy and all the others. You'll be drunk before Weekend Update.

Then, in order to sympathize with the writers, sit down and write an original five minute comedy sketch. Take it to a mall and get a stranger to read it to you. Not so easy, is it? Feeeel the anxiety! Mail it to yourself. When you get it back, read it again. Does it still sound original, or is it actually a variation of comedy sketches you've seen? Now that you know it's not very good, send it to Saturday Night Live. Get yourself a rejection letter.

Originality is a lot to ask. So there. You've learned some truth about TV, and since TV is such an important influence on our culture, it's a truth you need to know.

Now watch the news the same way. How much news is the same news you heard yesterday? How much time is spent telling you about stories that are coming up later in the week or later in the broadcast?

...to be continued.

RTJ--3/1/2001


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