Sunday, July 28, 2013

Built for the Infinite

“We are built for the infinite, Grand Canyons without a bottom. Because of that we will, this side of eternity, always be lonely, restless, incomplete, still a virgin – living in the torment of insufficiency of everything attainable.” (Rolheiser, The Holy Longing, Pg. 157)

This is one of those quotations that starts off really well and ends somewhere else. Both sentences appear to be true, but where one is rather noble and grand, the other is rather depressing. It’s nice to think that we are built for the infinite. But if that means that we will be “living in the torment of insufficiency,” the whole thing doesn’t sound so desirable.

Of course it’s not a new notion in the world of serious, honest, and sincere reflection. For example, Saint Augustine said “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Bhuddha used poignant images: “If you sleep, desire grows in you like a vine in the forest. Like a monkey in the forest, you jump from tree to tree, never finding the fruit – from life to life, never finding peace.” The Bagavad Gita says “The mind is restless and difficult to restrain, but it is subdued by practice. … The peace of God is with them whose mind and soul are in harmony, who are free from desire and wrath, who know their own soul.”

We are all conscious of a certain restlessness that is part of who we are as human beings. It’s the thing that gets us to start new projects, go on vacations, check out restaurants, seek the latest gadgets, explore the neighbourhood, play games, and even gamble. All of those things are outside of ourselves and bring some vestige of satisfaction. The activity of pursuing them provides ongoing assurance that there must be “something” that will bring completeness and full contentment. It’s not true.

Anything finally worthwhile and truly fulfilling comes from the inside rather than from the outside. Nothing new here either, except perhaps for the curious fact that we hear this again and again, and it’s something we generally agree with, but it’s also something we don’t actively pursue, generally speaking, as much as we pursue those toys of contentment. Young children know about what’s important intuitively and older people simply after long years of experience. The important things are all about what happens inside of ourselves. This is what defines our relationship with the world around us and other people. It’s also the great adventure of life, that inner journey of discovery, informed by our experiences, circumstances, and community of life.

Every once in a while, I visit a large and impressive forest or Redwood grove. Standing there, surrounded by these massive living plants that are hundreds or thousands of years old, I’m silenced and awed by their sheer presence, fully alive and yet totally immovable, rooted for centuries and yet connected to the vibrant web of life in which they dwell, intimately vested in nature’s cycle and yet bearing a solid independence that is inarguable.  It makes you think about the ground of our own being during our brief time of life. It reminds me to worry more about the important stuff than less about the unimportant stuff. It might even make me stop checking my email as often as I do, or surf the internet in a sort of technological equivalent of restless insuffiency.

The solution is not easy, but it is close at hand. Very few of us genuinely do no know the better way. We just have to start with a trickle of good habits. Even the Grand Canyon started out as a small trickle of water, and look at what became of that.