Today I learned that I’m heading for the Sixth Level of Hell, where heretics are sent. Well, it could be worse. Fraudulent, malicious, pandering, and treacherous souls end up in levels seven, eight, and nine. I’ll be living the good afterlife by comparison.
To find out how doomed you are yourself, head to Dante’s Inferno Test. After answering a few questions (be honest or you’ll make it worse on yourself!) you’ll know what’s in store for you, hell-wise.
Funny thing is, I don’t feel spiritually lost. I realize that my Sixth Level of Hell score is based on Christian rules (this test is founded on Dante’s Divine Comedy). My answers pointed toward a non-belief in God and an acceptance of conditional morality.
To Christianity this earns me a hot spot. But a Buddhist scoring system might well have given me a “You’re cool.”
There is no objective criterion for being spiritually lost. That’s because there is no way of knowing for sure what the destination is. How can you be lost without an observable “there” about which you can say, “I don’t know how to get there”?
Here’s what it’s like to be really lost. Or at least, on the edge of it. Some years back my wife and I got new cross-country skis and decided to try them out on a supposedly easy trail near the Hoodoo ski resort.
The trail wasn’t as easy as we had expected. The sun was starting to set and we hadn’t gotten around the loop. The snow was crazily deep that winter. So deep, almost all of the trail marker symbols stuck high on the trunks of trees were covered up. In places it was hard to follow other people’s tracks.
Then it began to snow. And get darker. We hadn’t seen any other skiers for hours. We seemed to be heading in the general direction of the parking lot. But at times we appeared to be heading toward a wilderness area.
I wasn’t sure that we were lost. But it was beginning to look like a good possibility. I vividly remember the chill up my spine. It wasn’t from the cold. It was from thinking, “We could be out here all night if we don’t find our car soon.” Being lost in a deep snowy dark forest is a scary proposition.
It turned out that we were on the right path. We turned a corner and saw a couple coming toward us. I wanted to hug them. They assured us that the parking lot was just a little ways ahead. It was.
My point is, when you’re really lost, you know it. Yes, it’s possible to wander around for quite a while believing you’re on the right track. But eventually the mismatch between where you are and where you want to be will become obvious. In the case of our cross-country ski excursion, scarily obvious.
There’s no similar obviousness in religion and spirituality. An adherent of a particular faith has to tell you that you’re lost before you suspect you are. After I hear, “Did you realize that unbelievers will never find their way to heaven?” I may think, “Gosh, then I’d better believe!”
The thing is, though, if you wait a little longer you’ll run across someone else with a markedly different idea of what the “way” is. Every religion has its own spiritual goal and a unique approach to getting there. If the goals were as obvious as a parking lot, it would be easy to sort out which spiritual paths get you to their destination and which don’t.
However, in reality the ultimate goals are invisible. If a religion could show me “God,” “heaven,” “paradise,” “enlightenment,” “satori,” or “Tao” I’d eagerly sign up for instruction in how to find my way there. Failing that, I’m left to my own devices. As are we all.
If you feel spiritually lost, it’s temping to latch onto someone who promises to lead you out of the wilderness. Before you do, though, consider a couple of questions:
Are you really lost? Or do you have a different problem? Such as feeling unhappy, unfulfilled, unloved, or uncertain. If so, I’d suggest that you’re not lost at all. You’re finding what it’s like to be human.
To repeat my favorite mantra, I don’t know. There may be a promised spiritual land over the horizon. One or more of the world’s religions and spiritual paths may be able to lead you there.
Maybe. But right here, right now, are you spiritually lost? Is there any spiritual place that you know exists, yet you can’t find your way to it? If there isn’t, are you really lost?
Trust your gut. If the only time you feel lost is when someone else tells you, “you’re lost,” then you’re not. Out in the snow I didn’t need anyone to inform me of my physical situation.
The same holds for our spiritual situation. No holy book, Pope, or guru is needed to tell you that you’re lost. Decide for yourself. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re exactly where you want to be.