This morning I meditated, as I always do. Via my iPhone I also listened to a Buddhist speak about Buddhist teachings, as I sometimes do.
What surprised me, sort of, is that afterwards I felt somewhat worse. It was as if trying to improve myself led to me feeling like I'd temporarily gone backward on the improvement front.
As soon as I went back to simply living my life -- having lunch, going grocery shopping, listening to CNN and MSNBC as I drove around in my car -- my mood improved.
For quite a while I've been toying with the idea that engaging in a never-ending spiritual search for more... more self-awareness, more control of my emotions, more mindfulness, more knowledge of how my mind works, all that is akin to running on a hamster wheel of self-improvement.
Meaning, when I'm always trying to get somewhere better than where I am now, I'm missing the opportunity to be satisfied with the present moment.
Obviously this isn't a groundbreaking insight. It's common sense that's been echoed by many people much wiser than myself. Today I simply had a stronger feeling that I need to break free of the habit that was with me for the 35 years I was a religious believer, Eastern religion variety.
The habit of considering that there always was another step to be taken on the spiritual path, another flight of stairs to be climbed on my ascent to the spiritual heights.
Though I've been able to leave behind most of the religiosity that used to be so important to me, the desire to keep searching for greater levels of meaning, happiness, and contentment never left me. But more and more, I'm getting used to the idea of not needing more.
This is hard to describe.
It's not like I'm becoming fatalistic or uncaring. I still have many goals that I want to pursue. I'm dedicated to trying to make the world a better place. I'm committed to remaining a good husband, father, grandfather, friend.
However, I can do all that without feeling like some essence within me needs to improve. After a lifetime of studying the world's religious, philosophical, and mystical writings, along with daily meditation for up to several hours a day, there's really nothing new that I need to learn or experience in the realm of "spirituality."
(I put that word in quotation marks because it doesn't capture what I am getting at, but it's the best word I can come up with.)
It's a relief to just settle into the life that I've living, instead of feeling there's a better life awaiting me around some corner.
For many years I've been saying on this blog that mindfulness has become my meditation. That's still true. It's just that even mindfulness can become a chore, an exercise to get better at, instead of simply attending to what's happening right here, right now without viewing that as mindfulness.
If what I've said in this post doesn't make sense, here's some previous posts on this theme, along with an excerpt from each. Maybe they'll help explain what I'm trying to get at here.
Always looking for more from life than what life already is giving me is beginning to seem unwise.
More meaning. More happiness. More purpose. More depth. All that more, more, more seems to lead to a hamster-wheel sort of existence.
Spiritual seeking can become such a habit, the seeker doesn't realize that they're going around and around without really getting anywhere.
If we're in an endless loop of seek-find-seek-find, the way out is to either stop seeking or find that which satisfies completely.
Since I'm not completely satisfied with life (who is?), it seems to me that giving up a quest to make life into something that it isn't already is the best way to go.
I've experienced that sort of who cares? clarity now and then. Sometimes life seems so simple, so fine just the way it is, yet also so mysterious, so impossible to comprehend. I grok that there's no answer to life's biggest spiritual, religious, and philosophical questions -- because there's no way to form a cogent query.
And a little while later I order another spiritual, religious, or philosophical book from Amazon -- because searching for answers to unanswerable questions is just so darn much fun.
"It's a little harder for most people to realize that not only is the mind that I'm trying to escape the only mind I have, but that the mind that I'm seeking is also the mind that I already have. The perfection that we're so busy pursuing is to be found nowhere but right here in the very moment, regardless of its content. This is the most basic spiritual insight that we can have. This moment is it! What we've desperately been seeking is already here."