I got some great questions in an email today, boldfaced below.
Brian, out of curiosity.... I was wondering after you left RS [Radha Soami Satsang Beas]... How did you deprogram all the fundamentalism out of your brain?
The whole "The world is a bad place, don't get "involved" in worldly things.... and pursuing things in the world to find happiness is bad...
How did you start to finally pursue your own happiness, without the fundamental programming snake coming in and poisoning your progress?
I told the person who wrote me I'd reply via a blog post tonight, adding that I'd been planning to write about something else, but found these questions more enticing.
However, on my evening dog walk a little while ago it struck me that my previously envisioned theme actually fit in nicely with How did you deprogram fundamentalism and pursue your own happiness?
Our older dog, Serena, is almost twelve and a half. That's old in dog years, especially for a larger dog (she's a 70 pound Shepherd/Lab mix). Serena seems to really enjoy our daily two-mile loop walk along a little used two lane road in our rural neighborhood.
She used to walk really fast, almost trotting, the sights and smells were so enticing. Now, for much of the walk, I feel like I'm almost in slow motion. My wife, who is a habitually fast walker, asks me, "How do you handle Serena walking so slowly."
"Because this walk is one of her joys in life. She's old. She isn't going to live much longer. Being a dog, Serena doesn't know she will die fairly soon, but I do. I want to make her moments as enjoyable as possible, since after she's dead, almost certainly our dog won't experience anything. For forever. She'll be dead.
So for as long as Serena is alive, and can walk even haltingly, or limpingly, I'm going with her on our evening walk around the loop. If it eventually takes us hours, that's fine. I'll walk as slow as she can go. Serena deserves to drink in the smells and sights -- deer...another dog...squirrel...ooh, ooh! cat! -- because this is her one and only life. For forever."
Somewhat strangely, when I was a religious true believer and accepted the dogmas of reincarnation, soul survival after death, and the prospect of eternal life in a heavenly realm, I was much more afraid of death than I am now.
I'm pretty sure that I never actually believed what I thought I did. It was more that I wanted those things to be true.
My fear of death testified to that: fundamentalism tries to push truth out of sight where it can't conflict with dogma. But truth has a way of making itself known... through feelings, emotions, intuitions, inner voices that speak honestly to us when we open ourselves up to what they have to say.
Eventually I got tired of lying to myself.
I grew weary of being two people, one who had fantasies of being chosen by God and the guru to experience eternal life in divine realms unattainable by the vast majority of humanity (including my non-initiated wife), the other a decidedly imperfect, average, often-confused man who was doing his best to live life as happily and wisely as possible, but with mixed success.
Accepting that I was nobody special... what a relief! To once again feel that I was simply a normal person with a mix of virtues and vices, good and bad qualities, positive and negative habits... what a joy!
Our dog, Serena, can spend several minutes sniffing a particularly sniffable clump of grass. This used to irritate me a bit, because while she did her dog-thing, I'd be standing there holding the leash, thinking about all the important human stuff I planned to do when the dog walk was over.
Now, I'm happy to watch Serena sniff away.
I no longer find it easy to divide life into important and unimportant aspects, into meaningful and unmeaningful activities. I used to think that several hours of meditation was the most important thing I could do each day. Today, observing Serena gorge her highly sensitive dog nose with scents only she could appreciate, I was happy doing what I was doing.
Walking with my dog on a country road, both of us experiencing moments of everyday life that now strike me as being the infinitely precious reality which I used to believe lay in a transcendent realm.
Not true. It's right here. Right now.
That's what I know. For myself. Can't prove it to anybody else. Have no desire to. I'm just telling the truth as I see it, as I experience it, as I live it. It's a fundamentalism-destroying truth, because religious dogma can survive only in a there and then, not a here and now.
I just poured myself what was left of a bottle of Trader Joes' Green Fin organic red wine. I like the taste. After I finish this blog post I'm going to watch a West Coast Swing dance instruction DVD. My wife and I have forgotten most of what we learned about West Coast Swing in a beginning class, and we want to take a "Level 2" class this month, so we need to do some brushing-up.
Simple stuff. Real stuff. It's enough for me now. Plenty enough.
What permeates my consciousness now isn't abstract, conceptual, theological, dogmatic notions about what some divine reality might be like. It's the realization that every moment is infinitely precious, because before my birth and after my death stretches an infinity of me-not-being-me.
Unconscious. Not existing.
I'll be talking to someone at a coffee shop. Suddenly -- unbidden, uncontrollably -- a strong feeling will wash over me of this moment never will come again; in fact, one day no moments ever will come again. This feeling makes everything more vibrant, more lively, more real.
The feeling reminds me of the familiar Zen story about a man, two tigers, and a strawberry. How sweet it tasted! That's how life is for me much of the time now. After giving up religion and a belief in an afterlife, I've vastly deepened my appreciation for presentlife.
That West Coast Swing DVD beckons. I have no idea if this answer to the emailed questions will make any sense to anybody. No matter. Life isn't a question, and it isn't an answer. Life is just what it is. Don't miss it by looking beyond to a fantasized other life.
Better to be a dog sniffing a pile of poop, in the really real world, than a saint imagining himself or herself in a realm that doesn't exist.