Why Spirituality Is Not Self Help.

Via Benjamin Riggs
on Mar 21, 2011
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~via The Web Of Enlightenment

Dr. Phil, The Gym, and Dieting— Oh My!

We more or less go through life assuming that there is some gigantic problem. A pressing matter that must be dealt with immediately… This transforms life into a great big scavenger hunt for the magical missing ingredient. That is to say, we assume there is some grand meaning to life… Some thing that we are suppose to be doing.

We spend a great deal of time worrying about this problem. We read a butt-ton of wordy books. Then develop all of these ideas or possible solutions to our supposed problem. We concoct all the plans of action that are intended to provide us with meaning and/or purpose. All the while, we have a sneaking, yet persistent suspicion that we are missing the point.

This is a mentality of poverty, a sense of being without something that is essential, and it is the first symptom of an ego-centric consciousness. The ego is the primordial beggar.

Once we have identified our problem, or the mysterious missing ingredient, we begin to engineer solutions or recipes for happiness… We think that more of this or less of that is the answer. Having shopped around for sometime, it is inevitable that we will bump into something attractive, a possible solution to our ultimate problem. We say, “Oh, that’s it! I must have it.” So we nourish these interactions. We convince ourselves that “it” is what has been missing all along. It might be a boy or girl, a new job, more exercise, yoga, meditation, or whatever… The emphasis here is being placed on the fact that we have convinced ourselves we are missing something, and that this is the missing ingredient.

For a time everything seems to be on the up-and-up. Our commitment to go to the gym everyday, or our new love affair seems to have reinvigorated our lives. Then one fateful day, for some reason unknown to us, that same feeling of inadequacy resurfaces. We realize that our romantic relationship, nor our endless walks around the neighborhood ever really addressed that fundamental feeling of dissatisfaction. There is obviously nothing wrong with exercise or intimate relations. The problem lies in what we expected from these interactions. We used these activities to ignore the causes and conditions that gave rise to our dissatisfaction…

We are right back where we started… However, this time it seems to be more intense. There is a frustration associated with being back at square one. We have seen this problem before, and felt like we had dealt with it, but here it is once again. We are confused, and feel stuck.

This epic disappointment emerges from the ashes of our own wishful thinking… We had convinced ourselves that we found the answer, but the problem never went away. So, we begin to ask such questions as, “Whats the point?”, and get caught up in the pessimistic whirlwind: I thought I had answered this question… I told myself I was over this… But here I am… I have fooled myself, yet again. I give up…

At this point many people come to the practice of meditation. However, it is important to address this ancient motivation at the introduction of meditation practice. From a certain point of view, addressing this motivation is meditation practice… What I mean to say is, if we come to meditation with the same intention we went to the gym with, all the while diluted by the belief that this is somehow different, then we are bound to get the same results. Just as exercise probably produced some healthy results, meditation will probably relax you a bit, but if you come to meditation with the intention of it solving all of your problems, you are bound to experience disappointment yet again.

Meditation is not a solution to a problem. Meditation is a question— an inquiry into the dynamics that sustain ego-centered consciousness. Meditation asks one particular question that cuts straight to the core of the ego’s enterprises. That question is, “What if there isn’t a problem?” Meditation questions the basic assumption which transformed life into great big search for a complex solution to remarkably vague dilemma. Perhaps our repeated failure to answer the question, “What am I suppose to be doing with my life?” has little to do with our insufficiency, and more to do with the fact that it is a terrible question…

Maybe there is nothing wrong, and our attempts to solve a non-existent problem is the only problem we really face. The situation may not be as sophisticated as we would like to think. The point of life might be life itself… That is, living may be the point of life… But maybe not. There might be some huge problem in need of immediate attention. Maybe there is good reason for sitting in front of the mirror all day, grabbing the flab on your stomach or love handles, and shaking it, while you contemplate gym memberships. Regardless, meditation is not an answer to any of these questions; it is simple observation that returns to square one, and questions the idea that a question need be asked.

Instead of churning out theories about our unhappiness or trying to convince ourselves that this or that is the answer, meditation simply observes the situation as it is. When we develop methods for creating happiness they never work out. We always find ourselves right back where we started— confused and dissatisfied. So, lets try something else…

If you keep confusing yourself, stop telling yourself stuff. Just watch. Listen. Allow reality to speak for itself, and give thought a chance to be inspired by the freshness of the present moment! Allow the gap between thoughts to serve as the inspiration for thought. This is meditation.

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About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the author of Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West. He is also the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA and a teacher at Explore Yoga. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist and Christian spirituality on Elephant Journal, and his blog. Click here to listen to the Finding God in the Body Podcast. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


6 Responses to “Why Spirituality Is Not Self Help.”

  1. jaltucher says:

    Ben, this is a great post and starts to narrow in on what is the "american religion". There really is none. We were fooled into thinking it was the corporate/money/"security" path combined with physical fitness and occasional visits to the church or temple. But I think the other extreme becomes meditation. While meditation would be great for most people , most of the 200mm people who find themselves blocked and at a crossroads in life simply can't sit for more than 2 minutes.

    I'm wondering there has to be a middle ground for people who are desperate for not spirituality but simple happiness. What for them?

  2. BenRiggs says:

    I think it very important to put meditation in its proper context… Sure there is a path— structure & formality— which surrounds the word "meditation." But this is the practice… The practice is a path or a raft, which upon the discovery of true meditation, is to be discarded… If we cling to the path of meditation then it becomes just something else we cling to, another vice, so to speak.
    Simple happiness is a direct experience, and is not conditional. It is not a theory, nor is it dependent upon structure. The path of meditation is an extreme version of structure because it is an attempt to structure a "structure-less" environment… A scheduled period of time where we withdrawal from the scheduled, premeditated, formed world of our creation, and look to see if there is anything beyond that. It is an attempt to discover an uncreated or natural atmosphere… This natural atmosphere, I believe, is simple happiness or as I would call it true meditation.
    Having discovered this simple happiness we must put aside all the techniques or methods and accept complete responsibility for our situation… That is to say, we must accept the fact that we create the world of dissatisfaction, and resting in simple happiness is not a product of our efforts to create a comfortable situation, but a matter of putting aside the need to create… Rediscovering the space or the impersonal nature of life that enables us to relax. But, we have to do it on the spot… Not in a couple of hours when we get home and sit on our cushion!

  3. jaltucher says:

    Ben, thanks for the response. I never thought of meditation in that context. Happiness itself, sort of becomes the meditation.

  4. […] be presented to us by life. And more often than not, it will come to us, as Jung said, as fate – an unwanted and feared intruder. The more energy we have used to suppress it, the more […]

  5. […] It has been used as forms of self help that, in my opinion, have been more damaging than helpful. […]