Spiritual Bypass & Spiritual Materalism
There are two spiritual games I play, rackets as Alan Watts might say, as meaningless and diverting as solitaire on my phone. One is spiritual bypass, and the other is spiritual materialism. They are related. Spiritual bypass is the hope that I can transcend the painful grit of my life by rising above it spiritually. Maybe I won't have to feel my chest and groin torn apart when my lover betrays me, maybe I can just forgive everyone involved - as a saint might do.
As it turns out, those feeling in my chest and groin are an auger deepening my compassion (a technique that actually can reduce my suffering in the long run). Authentic forgiveness, like all spirituality, punctuates suffering rather than replacing it. If spiritual bypass is the hope I can do something to avoid suffering; spiritual materialism is the hope I can acquire spiritual power that will do the trick. Spiritual materialism tries to apply economics to enlightenment. I am playing at spiritual materialism when I fancy that I can work harder than someone else (meditate more, be kinder or more compassionate) and somehow get "ahead" of them. Spiritual materialism likes to speak of levels. There was a time when I hung out with spiritual masters in Hawaii. There was a lot of talk about transcendence and "not coming back". I was honored to be welcome in their midst. I thought it, and I, were something special. It was a time of great awakening for me.
One day, around that time, I was driving in my car. I heard a sonorous voice. "You are right, it said, the laws of your reality are merely agreed upon conveniences. On this planet everyone agrees to these illusions. Now that you know, you may choose to do anything. Anything. What would you like to do?"
I felt completely blank, totally unprepared. OK. Three wishes. Quick..Quick... "Um, win the lottery?" The voice said, "OK, what else?" Maybe I should test this out. I looked at the mountain in front of me. "Move Haleakala a couple feet?" There was a little pause.
The voice came back with contempt. "The power of the universe and you want to win the lottery and move a little bit of dirt? Look..."
In a flash I suddenly could clearly see every driver near me on the road. I could see where they had been and where they were going. I saw one on her way to pick up her child. Another on an errand for work. One was eating, one was laughing and passing a joint to their passenger. They were indescribably, iridescently beautiful, filled with love and confusion and hope.
I looked down my own arm and saw my hand on the wheel as if it was an unknown thing. I followed my wrist to my arm and into the astonishing miracle of being embodied. I had my third wish, my first real wish. All I wanted to to be here, alive on this planet, as a human, as me. All I wanted was this extraordinary opportunity to play along, all I wanted is what I already have.
Despite that experience I still occasionally think of spirituality as a video game. Sometimes it feels like this or that difficult person is a boss I have to beat with compassion or forbearance before I can level up. Then I remember that we have all already arrived. The most difficult person or the most ignominious microbe are all embedded, as you and I are, in a magnificent system ineffable to human measurement. To be embodied and alive is a degree of spiritual success so enormous and uncommon that our actions are meaningless in terms of further "progress". It's like confusing a kindergartener's star-shaped sticker for drinking all their juice with a nobel prize. If you are alive, everything that can be known about your spiritual level is part and parcel of that fact.