on the road…to something deeper
I saw the film, On the Road this week. It took place a few years before I was born. I’ve heard a lot about this book through the years…steam of consciousness, etc. and wanted a history lesson about it.
I think there is part of us that envies this kind of full out existential search that is so full of passion, that sucks the marrow out of life and that seems to “burn, burn, burn”…and we may think that it is these experiences that make us feel truly alive, BUT this is not what makes us feel fully human…it is only a part of our humanity and a lower part of our humanity at that.
As we can tell towards the end of the film, the main characters begin to discover this. There is an emptiness that begins to haunt them. Their lifestyle was completely unsustainable and they knew it.
I walked out of the cinema thinking…There is some kind of higher (or deeper) aspect of humanity that these guys didn’t even begin to discover. Maybe it comes with age…after they’ve tried the other stuff.
We human beings are quite complicated…or complex, would be a better way of putting it. We have several emotional/relational/social/spiritual/etc. systems all multi-tasking at the same time. Some of these are like little applications secretly running in the background, ready pop to the front screen when needed.
Fear, for example. It is a quite primitive circuitry actually. When we get really frightened, our immediate reptilian response is flight or fight. We don’t even need to think about it. That’s the way we are made. It has saved the lives of millions of beings. But we can’t live in this system every day or we will look like a reptile…eyes constantly scanning for the next thing that will frighten us.
We are also sexual creatures. When we are sexually stimulated, like other mammals we want to have sex. We are designed that way. It is a truly beautiful part of being human. But we can’t just let this dominate our lives or we’ll end up like Dean Moriarty in the movie. All the sex we want, when we want it, with whom we want it, just doesn’t satisfy after a while. It doesn’t make us fully human. We are capable of much more.
Family is also huge for us humanoids. We have a system that will kick in to protect and even die for someone in our tribe/clan/family. But if this is the highest form of our humanity, we will mistrust others who are not like us and we miss out on the importance of “the other” in our lives.
Then there are other systems that get turned on, like ambition, desire for power, influence and wealth. Capitalism seems to be based on these mechanisms at work in us. We find a lot of our fulfillment in jobs and careers and achievement. But if this is all life is about, well, you don’t have to look far to find wealthy, famous and powerful people who are extremely unhappy and unfulfilled, and many who commit suicide.
But there’s good news: we have another system that is superior to all the others. Cynthia Bourgeault says it is like an advanced operating system available for us, already installed. Many don’t even know it is there. Some choose to ignore it. And most of us don’t really know how it works.
Recently, I leaned over a friend’s shoulder who was using a new MacBook Pro with the Lion OS (a nice, new operating system by Apple.) After just a few seconds of watching their finger swiping, I realized they didn’t know even the intermediate potential of this software. Should I say something? Give a quick course? Will I appear too geeky? All were questions that crossed my mind. Similar questions come to mind when I watch people swiping their way through life.
We do have a another system in us, that is incredibly deep and sophisticated. We need to learn how it works. It is not like the other systems mentioned above. It doesn’t work on the same stimuli or desires or ambitions. This one is… Quiet. Deep. Peaceful. Gracious. Wholesome. Spiritual. Divine. Connected. In fact, it is capable of connecting to all the other systems and making sense out of them. It is capable of connecting our life’s timeline…redeeming our past and taming our future… allowing us to live the moment. The present. “The Naked Now” as Franciscan priest Richard Rohr calls it.
I think if Jesus were alive today he would use this kind of metaphor for his main message. He talked often about living in the “kingdom of God”…or living in another realm…or in another system. He said Luke 17:21 “this kingdom of God is not over here or over there… it is within you.”
I invite you on a journey to discover this perhaps unexplored realm within you. It starts in stillness….in quietening down all the other systems….telling them that for 15-20 minutes a day, they won’t be in control…while you slowly and calmly search the depths of your humanity…while you allow the divine to heal you…while you practice living here…in this place…in this moment…in this system.
I need to say here that the other systems won’t appreciate this very much…they’re addicted to the attention they get. So as you enter into the quiet place, they will get very loud and noisy…filling your mind with messages and thoughts…trying to remind you how important they are. But each time an important thought comes to mind…just release it and think to yourself… I’m going deeper. Another thought will come…Not right now. You don’t fight it, you release it. Don’t condemn yourself for thinking, that’s what your brain does. But in this time and this place, it will yield its place of prominence to something far deeper. This repetition of moving from the other systems to the deeper one over and over again is actually a valuable practice in establishing and recognizing the path to the depths of your soul.
…and THIS is how we start to feel fully alive and truly human. It takes practice.