(about a 5 minute read)
So often in life, the obvious masks a truth rather than…well, rather than makes a truth obvious. I suspect that’s because when we think something is obvious, we have a tendency to look no further than it.
“That’s obvious. Case closed.”
You notice a pretty girl strongly favors red clothing, which goes strikingly well with her dark hair and complexion, and her blue eyes. It’s obvious why red is her favorite color, so you never ask her what her favorite is.
Years later, you learn through a mutual friend she wore red at that time in her life to help her feel that her mother — a woman who had recently died, and whose favorite color really was red — to feel she wasn’t really departed.
To me, one of the most obvious things in life is that we are only motivated to change ourselves or our ways when we or our ways become problematic. So long as my one or two beers each evening are no problem, I am entirely unmotivated to give them up. It is only when something happens — maybe my tastes change — that I want to change my habit.
Indeed, I can go for years thinking, “Well, I should be kinder”, but it’s only when my lover threatens to leave me that I am roused to actually become kinder.
By the way, is that why so many of us are stupid about things that don’t directly affect us? Not because we lack the brains to be smart, but because we lack the motivation to reason well?
At any rate, it’s obvious that we do not typically seek to change ourselves unless and until there’s a problem. We need look no further than that.
But let’s look further anyway, because this is Café Philos, after all, and there might be some chance, however small, of revealing a traumatizing truth by looking further. “Café Philos: We’re sure to traumatize you — and if we can’t do it with our insufferable posts, then we’ll hunt you down and stalk you into therapy. You’re welcome.”
It is quite obvious to me 98% of my readers are daredevils who thrill to the challenge of beating the master traumatizer at his own game.
The remaining two percent are here for the loose morals.
It seems to me the fact we are motivated to change only when something goes wrong has many, many consequences. One of the more interesting (i.e. traumatic, no doubt) is that most of us become religiously devout only when we want something fixed.
To be blunt, relatively few of us are all that interested in god, nirvana, samadhi, kensho, living according to the Tao, or perhaps even atheism in most cases, until the trouble starts. We might be interested before the trouble, but we’re ten times more interested after they’ve begun.
Of course, that should be obvious, but what does it mean?
Consider that the questions, “How do I solve my crisis?”, and “How do I live a good life?”, are too very different things. That is, they can have overlapping, but still significantly different, sets of answers.
I submit to your candid judgement the following proposition: Most of the major religions would be quite different animals if they were much more wrapped around answering “How do I live a good life?”, than around, “How do I solve my crisis?”. We might not even recognize them as religions were the former the case.
To be sure, living the good life might include references to such things as enlightenment, etc., but I think they would also include so much more than they do today. To live the good life, you need both spiritual and material things. Everything from enlightenment to indoor toilets goes into improving human lives.
Put differently, if people turned to religion mainly for reasons other than to fix problems, then perhaps religions would have created the sciences a thousand or more years before the sciences were invented. Among so much else.
Traumatized yet? How about this? Have you ever known someone whose religiosity or spirituality to you seemed quite narrowly focused on, say, salvation but nothing else — or in the South, perhaps, banning LGBT marriages, but nothing else?
Isn’t there a sense, though, in which it might be said that all of us when we get especially devout in response to some problem in life narrow the focus of our religiosity or spirituality?
Isn’t there a sense in which we’re all somewhat superficial?
“Café Philos: Proudly serving up the finest cases of PTSD for 12 years.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti was acutely aware of how motives affected the outcomes of spiritual quests. He said, for instance, that you would never attain to god if your motive was to avoid pain and suffering. For Krishnamurti, only a handful of motives were innocuous enough for someone moved by them to attain to god. Chiefly, idle or dispassionate curiosity.
Now, having said all of the above, let me qualify what I’ve said. It seems to me there exists a special category of people — call them “dreamers” or “visionaries” — who are not always motivated by a desire to fix things. Most of them are, of course. They want to “improve” life. But it seems a few are just in it for the “what ifs”.
I’d put the Wright brothers in that category. They didn’t want to fix walking. They just wanted to fly.
This post was inspired by a post on Dr Andrea Dinardo’s blog, which can be found here.