"Be All You Can Be" was a longstanding slogan of the United States Army. I like it, though the big question is what that all consists of. (In part, clearly, a soldier.) Compared to the cosmos, "not much."
I used to be pretty darn grandiose in my spiritual goals. The organization I was a member of, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, taught that it was possible -- indeed, imperative -- to experience God as a living inner presence.
At the core of the RSSB philosophy is a belief that there is a spiritual purpose to human life – to experience the divinity of God who resides in all of us... By performing the meditation practice according to the teacher's instructions, individuals can realize the presence of God within themselves.
Well, after treading this path for some thirty-five years I've made a U-turn.
The focus of my morning meditation now is on becoming as little as I can be. If God supposedly is some sort of all-encompassing ultimate reality, I'm attracted to the other direction: the most minimal state of awake-and-aware being.
I exist. I'm alive. I'm conscious. What does it feel like to be an existent, living, conscious being who isn't doing, thinking, and feeling most of the other stuff that courses through my psyche?
This meditative approach makes sense to me for several reasons.
One is that it is poles apart from the goal-orientation that marks the rest of my day, where I'm zeroed in on doing something, thinking something, feeling something. So it adds some relaxing quasi-nothing yin-yang balance to my otherwise something-filled life.
Another is that it is scientifically real. On the scale of the universe, I'm closer to being zero than 100%. Much closer. Greta Christina hits on this fact in a right-on essay, "Do You Care Whether the Religious Ideas You Believe in Are True or Not?"
I like questioning my fundamental axioms. So, why should we care whether the things we believe are true?
Why should we treat the external, objective reality of the universe as more important than the internal, subjective reality of our personal experience?
Why is the universe more important than me?
Well, for starters: The universe is about 13.73 billion years old, and it's about 93 billion light years across. I am 48 years old, and I'm five foot three. Not to be ageist or a size queen... but really. When I look at those numbers, do I honestly have to ask why the universe is more important -- and more interesting -- than the inside of my head? Or of anybody's head?
I'm not saying the insides of people's heads aren't important or interesting. Of course they are. They're what make art interesting, and literature, and so on. And they're what make psychology and neuropsychology interesting as well. The insides of people's heads are fascinating. And they matter.
But the world inside a person's head is just one tiny fragment of the vast, ancient, wildly freaky complexity of existence. Why would I give that tiny fragment greater priority than the vast, freaky complexity? Even if the head that this tiny fragment is inside happens to be my own? To me, that seems like the absolute height of arrogance.
Religions talk a good game about humility, egolessness, and self-abnegation, but they don't play it very well. For me, and many others, science is the best approach to understanding how little we are in comparison to the cosmos.
And how, according to neuroscience (along with Buddhism) the "I" which I consider to be so important doesn't even exist in anything close to the way most of us look upon the entity we call "me."
If we love life, and most of us do, it's natural to want to cling to it.
For a long time I enjoyed believing that after I died I'd be ushered into a permanent divine realm of existence. That's much more appealing than feeling that Finis is what accompanies our last breath.
But now I've come to realize that the larger I consider myself to be, the more I have to lose. This realization doesn't erase the fear of non-existence. Yet it points toward the direction where peace and acceptance appear to lie.
We are what we are. Something, for sure, but nowhere near everything.
Each of us is a minute speck of an incomprehensibly vast existence. There's no harm in trying to become all that we want to be. We just need to recognize that whatever that is, it isn't much.
And that's all right. Because reality is what is is.