About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)
This morning as I’m listening to one of my podcasts for the day a spiritual teacher is talking about seeking absolute truth. Frankly, there was a lot of “deep” talk about how everything we experience as humans is relative. But, the absolute truth lies in the “nothing” (or something like that). It’s confusing to me. I’m trying to stick with the podcast because I’ve heard that if a teaching doesn’t make you squirm, you’re not learning anything and I’ve found many gems even from people with whom I have deep disagreements. But, as he goes along I find myself saying “No, no, no.”
He goes on to talk about how humans seek meaning and when we don’t find meaning, we don’t like it. No shit, What galls me though is the implication that there is somehow something wrong with seeking meaning. As the podcast mentions, the Buddha taught that life is suffering or life involves suffering. Attachment causes distress. Attachment to a particular circumstance or outcomes causes suffering. If we could give up all attachment, we would not suffer. If we could give up all preference for a specific result, we would not hurt. All of this is true. You cannot argue with any of it. If you want to end suffering, stop caring about what happens. Easy. I’ve heard teachings saying that we need to detach from our life story. They tell me to tell myself Brian is just a story. I am an eternal being who is beyond any circumstances of this lifetime, any experiences, of this lifetime. If I could only identify with who I indeed am, I could transcend any suffering. Just step outside of my story and be the observer, unattached, unaffected. The solution is to eliminate the need to seek meaning, to have no preference for outcome A or outcome B. Ideally, you’d be just as happy being healthy and wealthy as living on the street in constant pain. There’s only one problem.
Humans are, well, human. We have evolved over millennia to seek meaning. Or we were created to desire it, whichever you prefer. We pursue pleasure, and we avoid pain. This is a biological imperative. Every living being has evolved to seek comfort and to do whatever it takes to prevent pain. This is not a shortcoming; this is the design. I’ve studied Buddhism, and there’s a lot of good stuff in there. And, I think there’s some good stuff in what this guy was saying, but the problem is when we come to the wrong conclusions about seeking meaning or avoiding pain and suffering. If we could divorce ourselves from the need to find meaning, we would suffer less. If we could eliminate the preference for any circumstance or outcome, we would eliminate suffering entirely. So, this is what we must do. This is impossible, as human beings though.
While meditation, getting in touch with our higher, more authentic self can add perspective, and reduce suffering it’s additive to who we are as humans, not subtractive. We cannot deny our humanity, our biology. We can know we are that higher self, the eternal being, in addition to, not instead of. Escaping the frustrations and pains of being human is not the goal. Eliminating the desire for meaning isn’t what we are after. Instead, we should seek more meaning, more profound meaning. How can I transmute this pain? What is this pain here to teach me? Yes, I am suffering. No, I don’t want this. My higher self might be benefiting, but this still sucks. It’s OK to be human, and it’s OK not to want pain.
I’m leery of any teaching that says I have to be less than or more than human. That’s why I chose my email address (onlyhuman) at least for the years I spend here, I am human, fully human. I cannot be more. I do not want to be less. I have desires. I have needs. I have things I do not wish to have to endure. It’s part of the deal.
As an aside, another thing he said that bugged me was that I should be grateful I woke up to feel pain. That sounds good. We should be thankful for life. And, I am grateful for life. The issue I have is the notion of being thankful for waking up. It’s something I’ve heard many Christians say. “Any day on top of the dirt beats the alternative” or something to that effect; as if the worst thing that could happy to us is to die. Newsflash, we don’t die. We cannot die. We never “don’t wake up.” Be grateful that you were created and that you have the opportunities you have. Being a human being is a marvelous thing. But, don’t think the worst possible thing that could happen to you is for your body to stop functioning. On the day that happens, you will truly wake up. You’ll be more awake than you ever were here. Death is far, far from the end.
In closing, I turn to my favorite role model, Jesus. As I was thinking about the misplaced desire to transcend being human while being in the body; the drive to become this all-knowing, being who simply chooses not to suffer, I pictured Jesus hanging on the cross. While Jesus was one bad-ass Master, He was still very human. He knew who He truly was. He never forgot His Home and His true nature. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed so hard not to have to endure what was before Him that He sweated blood. He had desires. He had preferences. His last recorded words expressed a deep preference for what happened to Him “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Those don’t sound like the words of someone who had “overcome” all of His desires and was cool with just whatever. Be human. Be fully human.