Friday, June 20, 2008

THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE / KAREN ARMSTRONG / AND WHAT EXACTLY DOES IT ALL MEAN? - REVISITED

Photograph - Alden Smith

In an earlier post I asked the question, "What exactly does it all mean ?" and talked about the existential questions that arise in our lives. Most of us push the questions out to the boundaries of our lives and they are often only revisited during times of trauma or great stress - the death of a loved one, a fall from grace from a very great height or worse - sometimes it may be our own impending death.

Many of us spend our lives thinking about these questions. It becomes a lifetimes work or perhaps an obsession. Sometimes the prompting has come from unusual or formidable transcendental experience of one sort or another. For me it has been an enjoyable obsession. I have read many of the western philosophers, delved into the works of Carl Jung the great psychoanalyst, read some of the more accessible theologians and read much on comparative religion, especially Christianity and Buddhism.

The conclusion that I have come to is that the meaning of life is not a set of philosophical principals, a system of beliefs, but a process of finding out how to be fully human, to live with intensity and creativity in the present moment. Why this conclusion? - because to try and understand ultimate reality is impossible. The ultimate answer is Gods alone, however you might conceive the term God. If this ultimate enlightenment comes to us it will be in another life, another reality, beyond our present situation.

Perhaps one book that has struck a resonance with me beyond all others has been "THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE - My Climb out of Darkness" by Karen Armstrong. Her story is about becoming human, being recognised and finally recognising herself, about dead end byways off the main track that paradoxically in the end help her find her own royal highway to self hood and a kind of redemption. It is a wonderful story. At the end of the book she has this to say:

" He had told me that in most traditions, faith was not about belief but about practice. Religion is not about accepting twenty impossible propositions before breakfast, but about doing things that change you. It is a moral aesthetic, an ethical alchemy. It you believe in a certain way you will be transformed. The myths and laws of religion are not true because they conform to some metaphysical, scientific, or historical reality but because they are life enhancing. They tell you how human nature functions, but you will not discover their truth unless you apply these myths and doctrines to your own life and put them into practice."
"I have discovered that the religious quest is not about discovering "The Truth" or The Meaning of Life" but about living as intensely as possible in the here and now. The idea is not to latch on to some superhuman personality or to "get to heaven" but to discover how to be fully human - hence the images of the perfect or enlightened man, or the deified human being. Archetypal figures such as Muhammad, the Buddha and Jesus become icons of fulfilled humanity. God or Nirvana is not an optional extra, tacked on to our human nature. Men and women have a potential for the divine, and are not complete unless they realise it within themselves. A passing Brahman priest once asked the Buddha whether he was a god, a spirit, or an angel. None of these the Buddha replied; "I am awake." "

10 comments:

Katherine said...

YES! Absolutely.

Alden Smith said...

I think that's why some of us are sailors and kayakers. Some of the experiences I have had (and I'm sure you have had too) are intense, the more intense and immediate the more alive you feel!

VenDr said...

Thanks Alden. I am, as you know a fellow Karen Armstrong aficionado .

I'm thinking of packing for hospital, and pondering the greatest of the dilemmas which face me: what books will I take?
*Playing God - a brilliant poetry collection by Glen Colquhoun - medical doctor and poet from the Kapiti Coast
*Love Poems From God , Twelve Sacred Voices From East and West - a collection of religious poetry
*All Shall Be Well - a novel by Tod Wodicka.
What with the Ipod full of music, and a couple of New Scientist magazines, should be enough for the 5 days, what do you reckon?

I'll look in on your blog when I get back. Travel well, dear friend.

VenDr said...

Love the sailing blog by the way. I must point my brother in law at it.

Alden Smith said...

Yes KA is great. Her big tome 'A History of God' I have found very useful. Huge intelligence and insights won against formidable odds.

I have a Glenn Coloquhoun book of poetry titled 'The Art of Walking Upright' - he's a good accessible poet.

New Scientist - I have the 31 May edition - the cover story 'Grand Theory of the Brain' is a good read. I learnt that a typical desktop PC can deal with 25 billion instructions per second, the human brain 100 Trillion per second - amazing. Whoever built our brain sure has a good set of screw drivers.

Books - when I go away I usually always take too many. Usually half a dozen is enough. Mags are really good, easy to pick up and put down.

Thankyou for your encouragement over my blogs. I am finding it a very creative past time.
I am going to create one specifically for my classroom some time soon.

Well, take care my old and dear friend, all will be well for you, I can feel in my bones.

And don't forget we have the small matter of a coastal voyage to do together some time :)

VenDr said...

Give me a date. It will be something to work towards. You supply the boat, I will supply the speights.

Alden Smith said...

How do these coming Christmas holidays sound? - plenty of time, good warm weather.

Anonymous said...

You have put into words here so much ... and much i would find unsayable.
Wonderful.

Alden Smith said...

Descretion, tact, appropriateness, timing and patience always finds its voice.

Alden Smith said...

Mind, I'm not referring to my words but to the words that you might find unsayable at the present time :)

But I'm fishing here and might be entirely mistaken.