Once when we were on Maui, walking along Lahaina's charming Front Street, I saw a Proust quote on a board outside an art gallery. Since we were vacationing on a tropical island, far from home, it made me think.
There are several versions of the translation. Here's one close to what I read that night:
Proust seems to have hit upon a central existential choice. In pursuing personal growth, do we focus on doing different things, or on looking upon things differently?
Some friends and I chatted about this last Sunday. None of us are big into traveling or thrill-seeking. Outwardly our lives appear pretty mundane compared to people who are always off on a new trip or fresh adventure.
Yet we didn't feel that we were stuck, unchanging, mired in routine. I said that even though every day I usually go on the same dog walk, around the same lake, each time is different.
I'm never quite the same person. Even when nature looks much the same -- climate, vegetation, wildlife -- my senses and brain process the dog walk differently. So I never get tired of taking the same geographic route, because the journey always is varied within my psyche.
Much discussion on this blog centers around a similar Proustian distinction. That's because religions, spiritual paths, philosophical teachings, and meditation approaches tend to reflect the same duality.
Some emphasize having different experiences. Others, experiencing differently.
Zen Buddhism, for example, doesn't focus much on other-worldly, mind-blowing mystical experiences.
Everyday here and now, such as pouring a cup of tea, is valued just as much (if not more so) as far out extraordinary excursions into alternative realities of consciousness.
Other faiths, such as the version of Sant Mat that I followed for over thirty years, emphasize the necessity of soul-soaring inner experiences, hearing cosmic sounds and seeing divine light.
These are considered to be the touchstone of spiritual progress, which helps explain why some commenters on my blog posts say that if I haven't had such experiences, then my decades of daily meditation have been in vain.
I used to agree with that perspective. But now I resonate more with "have new eyes" than "see new landscapes." And I don't think it's entirely, or even mostly, due to not having seen the inner regions that, Sant Mat teaches, await the soul traveler.
Seeing different things... this approach says that reality is divided into better and worse realms, that where we are now is not where we should be, that what we have to do is transplant ourselves into a heavenly domain far distant from Earth's crude materiality.
However, there's a lot to like in the notion of seeing things differently... accepting that reality is just fine the way it is, that what's needed is a shift in perspective rather than a shift in time and space, that no matter how many new experiences are added to our "What We've Done" account our wisdom net worth won't increase much.
As I've mentioned before, one of the things that drove me in a churchless direction was having more involvement with higher-ups in a mystical-religious organization, Radha Soami Satsang Beas.
These were people who had risen to positions under the direct supervision of the guru, who is considered to be god in human form. They had lots of meditation experience, lots of face time with RSSB gurus, lots of volunteer (seva) time under their karmic belt.
Yet I saw that they were just as egotistical and flawed as I was. Maybe more. So this led me to wonder, "What good is all of these supposedly spiritual experiences that they've had, if their attitude toward life hasn't changed in any observable fashion?"
People can travel to India every year, meditate for hours every day, feel love and devotion for a guru at almost every conscious moment. Yet all this can leave them just as they were before, aside from memories of their experiences.
I've found that when I don't worry about having certain spiritual or mystical experiences, it becomes easier to open up to a fresh way of experiencing -- everything.
More and more, my life is suffused with a sense of mystery and wonder that I hadn't felt during my true believing days, probably because back then I wrongly considered that I was well on the way to unraveling the Big Cosmic Mysteries.
So I understand, imperfectly but at least a little, how it is possible to flip into a fresh way of experiencing life that isn't dependent on particular experiences.
This doesn't denigrate the importance or significance of experiencing this or that. But when we're always waiting for something more to happen, we're not going to appreciate the happening that always is right at hand.