I opened my Facebook page to be treated with a quote attributed to the new age guru Eckhart Tolle, “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.”
I thought, my goodness, I guess, okay if you’re addressing a middle class person in the First world. Sure, it can be invaluable to take what is thrown at you as an opportunity to look more deeply.
But, there’s an enormously disturbing and false premise here.
To get a sense of that, how about a thought experiment: How would these words ring if addressed to a woman living in a refugee camp in Batai in the South Sudan watching her child dying of starvation?
The presupposition here is that the universe was created for you, you specifically, and that everything that happens is happening for you, on your behalf.
In fact there is a truth in that assertion.
We are indeed woven out of the stuff of the world, what happens anywhere, is part of a mysterious whole of which we are a part, and for which we can see ourselves at a center, not the center, but a center. We all have value.
The gift of wisdom, however, is not that our egos count for anything in particular. And here is where we find the lies in that assertion. The universe doesn’t care for you as a person. Without love or malice it will toss you about, and at some point it will kill you. The universe doesn’t have a plan for you.
The universe just is.
Meaning. Purpose. These are human things. Lovely things in my experience. But not things to be projected onto the universe.
In fact the great cognitive error, the reason for much of our anguish is when we confuse that ego for divinity, for the congregation of things that become for the duration of a flash of lightning as “me,” as something more than the organizing principle of a temporary coagulation of a corner of the cosmos. The problem is thinking our egos are somehow important in a greater scheme of things. And, worse, in projecting that scheme of things onto the universe.
Seeing where things are going is a skill set of being human. Projecting it onto the cosmos is painting lipstick on a hurricane.
It creates a deity that I personally would never want to encounter in a dark alley. Here, you’re rich beyond all reason. Here, you’ll live a brief and violent life before being torn apart for someone’s pleasure.
The invitation of the spiritual life as I’ve encountered it, is an invitation to see. To be present. And in that presence to discover how we are both individuals, precious in our passingness, and part of something gigantic, powerful, terrifying, horrific, and lovely, all at the same time.
And this is worth giving a large part of our lives to truly understand.
If we see ourselves in our passingness as part of the whole, the insight that is wisdom, well, it probably doesn’t do a ton of good for that woman and her child, but it might make those of us in better circumstances inclined to do something to help.
And that’s nothing to sneeze at.
For instance, if you’re not in dire circumstances, how about noticing what is going on elsewhere is happening to someone in your extended family? You don’t even have to adjust your attitude. Just send some money to someone who can do something, like these people.
Or, and, it might incline us to try and shift things in this world, if just a bit, toward care and responsibility for all…
I won’t make a link for this, the options are too wide, and too personal.
But so important.
This is all about the intimate way…