I didn’t predict that I’d write a third part in this series, but as I continue thinking about this book (Robert Masters’ Spiritual Bypassing), more and more important awareness comes up that I want to share.
I think one of the most important points Robert makes is that we suffer a lot less in life when we stop “expecting spirituality to make us feel better.” But spirituality isn’t the only area where it’s helpful to drop that expectation, Robert says. We’ll also reduce our suffering when we release our careers, relationships, and basically everything else from the obligation to “pick us up when we’re down.”
The Painful Pursuit of Pick-Me-Ups
This way of looking at life was hard for me to wrap my mind around when I first came across it. It’s very alien to the way we live in our culture. I think most of us learned, practically from birth, that life is all about looking for “pick-me-ups.”
You “feel bad,” we’re taught, when you aren’t making enough money, you haven’t “found the one,” you haven’t “obeyed” “Rule #1 for a flat stomach,” or you don’t have some other person or thing. But if you try hard enough, the story goes, you’ll acquire the “right” people and things, and you’ll never “feel bad” again.
This isn’t true only when it comes to jobs and relationships. Most of us also think this way when it comes to “minor” pursuits. Take blogging. How many of us are in the habit of surfing blogs looking for a “pick me up” — for inspiring words, snark, or grammatically challenged kittens to “make us feel better”?
To many of us, I think, this model of “life as a perpetual quest for pick-me-ups” seems like the only possible way to live. It doesn’t occur to us that anything else is available. But what Robert, and spiritual practice at its best, offer us is a radical challenge to the conventional wisdom.
A “Veggie Connoisseur” Approach to Living
What if, instead of scouring the blogosphere for pick-me-ups whenever we’re “feeling bad” — tense, sluggish, sad, or something else — we chose to sit and get intimate with that feeling? What if we got in the habit of turning our attention toward those unwelcome sensations, rather than seeing them as a problem and frantically grasping for the mouse when they arise?
This practice, I think, is somewhat like becoming a “connoisseur” of emotions and sensations, as if they were different kinds of wine. Each feeling that comes up in the body has its own unique “bouquet” — whether it’s tart, sweet, sharp, “dusky,” or something else. Of course, it’s a little different from wine tasting, because we don’t get to choose the sensations we feel. But that’s all part of the variety.
Another good analogy would be Patricia’s story about getting random baskets of vegetables from her agriculture co-op. Sometimes, she can’t even tell what kinds of veggies they are. But being an adventurous spirit, she eats them anyway.
This sounds more fun to me than eating asparagus, or even something exotic-sounding like bok choy or jicama, every week. What if we did the same when it comes to our emotions — welcoming each of them as if it were an intriguing new veggie that just arrived on the doorstep?
When we let go of our need to “fix” our “bad feelings,” I think, and instead learn to savor every experience that comes our way, we’re doing spiritual work in its highest form. As Robert puts it, “spirituality ultimately means no escape, no need for escape, and utter freedom through limitation and every sort of difficulty.”