The Expense of Spirit

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

In a virtual conversation about pursuing a spiritual life, and its importance, I had the chance to say the following.

I’ve always felt it to be a lamentable condition that a continually growing number of people have lost contact with their own spirit, or, to say it more conventionally, their spiritual side. But the latter expression always makes it sound like your skills riding a bike.

No, I think the general state of the world, and the so-called developed world in particular, is attributable to this uncoupling from matters not immediately apprehensible in the concrete universe of things, from distant galaxies to gadgets at the Apple Store.

My agnostic self never gags at the self-ministering of others to their spiritual needs. For one, it is surely not my business. More broadly, if I remember the few tattered shreds of studying ancient Greek, when I was a stripling, gnosis in Greek merely means knowledge. To say I’m agnostic means that, “I don’t know.” Perhaps atheists have that gag reflex.

I am certainly an apostate, as, like most people in the civilized world, I was raised to be a believer–in the tenets of Judaism in my case–not a bad proposition in its fundamentals; it’s when we Jews attain to rule-setting and determining behavior that I take the exit (as I did when I was 14). So I am not a believer, and I am certainly one to repudiate organized religion, as I believe it has caused more harm than good since long before when “my people” were still desert nomads worshiping snakes.

I don’t attend church (in the broadest sense), but I try to stay in touch at all times in a way (isn’t that what mindfulness is about?) with my inner being, as it is always apposite to my outer being and its relations with the rest of the physical universe.

I always kind of liked certain Taoist concepts, certain Buddhist ones. I don’t bother myself about the afterlife, which I assume is unknowable in this life, and will take care of itself if there is one. What I like is the sense that we are all in this together, not just we humans, but all things, and especially with that particular metaphysically curious notion, or perhaps it’s simply some corrupted Berkeleyan notion) that whatever happens would have happened differently, if at all, if I were not to exist. This seems especially true of more proximate incidents… When I was in the immediate neighborhood so to speak.

On the other hand, that popular expression, and whatever even its broadest interpretation may be, “the family that prays together… etc.” to me doesn’t mean it will stay together, but that there are certain periods when those family members aren’t talking to one another (which may, of course, be a good and salutary, if not a therapeutic, thing: we often get into as much trouble talking as we do not speaking). In short, what you (or anyone, other than me in fact) believe or do is not my business. I may be interested, and if I were to come to know you and care for you, even to fondness, that interest might transcend mere curiosity and involvement, but it’s not for us (and of us) to judge one another.

As I’ve grown older, and accumulated whatever poor notions I can however feebly define as wisdom, and especially given the lessons I learned about living from my dying wife, who was, as I understood at the time only inadequately, and more so since her death, a most amazing human being: heroic, brave, life-embracing, life-affirming, kind, generous, and forgiving, and even more so in the face of an inevitable confrontation prematurely (is the general consensus–she would have been 58 last summer) with her own mortality.

I don’t ever want to cause anyone any harm, and I try to live accordingly. I fail I’m sure, but with this particular bit of mindfulness at work, I am sure it occurs less often.

There has been no damage, I don’t think, to my essential nature and the personality that I cultivated–good or bad, the me I am is the me I got–and so I am the same person I always was, with the same neuroses, and parallax views, with the same disjointed ways of seeing the same things others look at. It’s the variety of points of view that ensue that are part of what make life interesting I think, and make each of us potentially compelling to others, one on one. As I like to say, I like people, and I’ve grown to love many of them (and there are others from whom, sadly, I’ve become estranged, perhaps irretrievably, but that too is life), and I have many many friends, some of whom take the trouble to point out to me (I guess because they think at that moment I need such bolstering; indeed we all do, probably more often than we admit to ourselves) that all of them adore me. I’ll take that on faith.

But, as I also like to say, it’s mankind I can’t stand. The history of civilization at least (which is a redundancy I suppose/one of the facets of civilization, if you think about it, is its habit, once it identifies itself as such, to record and sustain its own story) is a mixed one, though far too replete with tragedy, sadness, and cruelty. And of course, the state of diminished spirituality. A kind of Second Law of Thermodynamics as applied to the soul.

And with no discernible reason for any of it. Human nature is not an explanation, and it is certainly not an excuse, and never an exculpation.

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3 thoughts on “The Expense of Spirit

  1. Why Ze’ev, I didn’t know you cared. So much so as to work yourself into such a swivet. I assume it’s a swivet, because it’s only some kind of intellectual panic that could cause you to be so illogical. Indeed, one might conclude you were driven by your feelings more than some susceptibility to think about what you say before you say it.
    Thanks for the judgment about my “silliness.” I think that may not only be an instance of a little gratuitous judgmentalism, but possibly some projection, if you don’t mind a wee bit of armchair psychoanalysis.
    I mentioned “soul” in the next to last paragraph, and in the manner of what I’d call a metaphor. As for my beliefs, or non-beliefs, I think they’re of course my business, but if you want to try to make them yours, it’s a noble effort, because I know you only mean me well (unless of course I’m entertaining some dark doubts about your sincerity…). Nevertheless, I try to make it clear that what I don’t believe in are the vagaries of organized religion, not least of all the faith in which I was raised (the one I believe, last time I checked, you and your wonderful wife still practice…). I also admit right up front to being agnostic, i.e., as the Greek says, not knowing. If I were to say I was atheist, I think I’d be espousing a belief–a belief in something I can’t otherwise prove to be or not to be so.
    And finally, I think it’s quite clear from the syntax, if not from the tone, though admittedly not at all clear from the sentence structure, that the context for my being told my friends adore me was my inference that the friends who say so think I may need the bolstering of being told such a thing. It neither makes it so, nor does it compel me to believe it. And of course, speaking of belief, of course, I don’t. I do believe we all need positive feedback and the expression of love for oneself. It’s conducive to mental health. You get an abundance of it, I’m sure. So I imagine you take it for granted. I don’t.
    Some adore me, I’m sure, at least sporadically. And as Lincoln said about fooling some or all of the people some or all of the time, I can satisfy myself with fractional and intermittent adoration. I may not deserve even that much.

  2. If you are not a believer, what’s this silliness about soul and spirituality?
    As to people telling you that they adore you and taking it on faith, does that imply that if you thought about it, you might conclude that there is a significant chance they are lying. What if they are. Is that too dark. What’s wrong with dark? Come to think of it, your friends are as responsible for the fucked up state of civilization as anyone else or might be if they were in a position of authority to be responsible. And if they were, would you stop being their friend. Would you judge them then?

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