So here we are in the United States, celebrating Independence Day this July 4, and my philosophical mind is thinking independence is impossible. And who would want it, anyway?
But lest my fellow citizens accuse me of wishing that the colonies had never broken away from Britain (ugh! what a horrible idea; I'd have to watch boring soccer rather than exciting football), I'm talking about a much more cosmic level of reality than political.
Religions are big on independence, though the concept almost always is expressed using different terms, such as salvation and liberation. Whether Eastern or Western, dualistic sorts of faiths consider that humans are trapped: by sin, karmas, maya, illusion, ignorance, the Devil, and other imprisoning forces.
I used to belong to an Indian spiritual organization, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, which published a book called "Liberation of the Soul." Christians and HIndus differ a lot theologically, but this title reflects a point of agreement -- people are spiritually enchained and need freeing.
Jesus is the key to liberation or salvation in Christianity. A guru performs this role in Radha Soami Satsang Beas and other Eastern belief systems.
When I embraced churchlessness, quite a few people told me that I'd given up on the spiritual search, on finding meaning in life, on delving into the essence of what reality is all about.
Hearing those accusations, my reaction was "What the hell are they talking about?" I didn't feel that way at all. I'd simply headed in a different truth-seeking direction, one which made a lot more sense to me.
There's another way of looking at independence: as an impossibility.
We can't be liberated from the world, because we're a part of it. We can't float free in some ethereal realm, because we're embodied beings. We can't detach ourselves from emotions, desires, memories, and thoughts, because these are integral aspects of our humanity.
I used to believe that my spiritual goal was to rise above this world. Now, I consider that to have a meaningful life I need to fully embrace my interconnectedness with other people, nature, and the rest of reality.
I, you, every person alive and every person who has ever lived: we breathe, we eat, we drink, we urinate, we defecate, we sense, we experience, we communicate. Each of these activities involves interchanges, sharings, givings and takings between us and what is other than us.
Who wants to be independent of all this? Who wants to be a drop isolated from reality's ocean? How lonely this would be, how depressing.
Yes, I'm fully familiar with the spiritual/religious platitudes about oneness, merging, and all that. Supposedly if we detach ourselves from this world, we'll gain a better one. However, that other world is nowhere in evidence, while this world is.
Heaven is imaginary. Earth is here, now.
Today, Independence Day, I went for a walk with our dog in central Oregon. We ambled along the banks of the Metolius River. I'm not saying that nature, especially wild and scenic rivers like the Metolius, is a cure for religious believers who are afflicted with a urge to free themselves from the confines of material existence.
But I sure feel much more satisfied with simply being who and what I am when I'm embraced by the natural world.
Stretched out on a log, keeping my toes out of the frigid water of the spring-fed Metolius, I saw lots of bees and butterflies doing their thing around these flowers. They live. They die. Just like us. What's the problem?
Our dog, Serena, sure doesn't have a problem with diving into the physical world. Especially when a watery aspect of it is wet and cold on a hot July day. Is this unreal, illusory, maya? Not to me, not when I got off the log and waded back to shore in my Teva sandals.
I understand the appeal of philosophies and religions which view this world as a pale reflection of more vibrant higher planes of reality. But look! Look! Don't miss what's right in front of you because you're in love with a concept.
Yes, some places are more striking than others, the Metolius being where I regularly get struck with a big reality stick that bonks this realization into my psyche: there's nothing I need to be liberated from; what I need is to be freed from is the notion that independence from the world is desirable.
Eventually each of us will reach the end of life's path. We'll be swept up by the river of death. No one knows where it leads. Somewhere. Nowhere. No one knows. Why not walk on the path as happily, joyfully, meaningfully, and productively as possible? Until... it ends.
I'm not our dog. I don't want to be our dog. Anyway, I can't be our dog. Still, when I look at her, I often feel like she naturally understands something that most humans don't: the virtue of not trying to understand what doesn't need to be understood.
Sun. River. Walk. Stuff to smell. Cold water to lay in. Who wants to be independent of all that good stuff?