The implicit or explicit TLDR of spirituality is Let Go. Let go of what? Everything. And, OK, fine, but does that mean, give up on life? No! It means moving artfully, skillfully. In alignment with the flow of things. Not forcing it.
This is beautifully captured in the concept of Wu Wei, as articulated here by Alan Watts.
“Many people who study the Taoist doctrines think that Wu Wei means do nothing in the sense of laissez-faire – be lazy – always be passive. It doesn’t mean that!Alan Watts
There is a time for action when you study Judo. You use muscle only at the right moment when your opponent is hopelessly overextended and off balance… and you add a little muscle to it and you throw him across the room. But only then!
You never use Muscle at the wrong moment. For as Shakespeare knew perfectly well there is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at its flood leads onto fortune. And so Wu Wei is based on knowledge of the tide. The drift of things. Get with it. Wu Wei is the art of sailing rather than the art of rowing.”
The following runs are symbolic. When I was the tiny moving dot on these maps, I was wielding every iota of force I could muster. In more senses than one, a spiritually considerate life is not utterly passive. It’s applying energy, sometimes with all available vigor, precisely where it feels true. In these moments I felt at one with the world. I’ve been running for around 15 years and, finally, it feels like I’m cruising along like a passenger, marveling at surroundings while my body does its thing. I know these experiences won’t last forever. I’ll cherish them while I can.
Running is merely a onramp to a larger point: imagine all remaining minutes of your life as a massive tank of energy. Attached to this tank is faucet. When the faucet opens and energy flows, this is you, doing literally anything. With this analogy in mind, consider two things:
First, the faucet doesn’t even need to be open to feel completely happy! In fact, you may feel most content when it’s off. This is a core insight of spirituality. Dig into almost any established ideas, and you will find this message. It’s insanely counter-intuitive, as we spend much of our lives, particularly the early years, fervently doing, acquiring, accomplishing, chasing… waiting for destiny to deliver the ultimate jackpot. Do you not believe the “ultimate experience” is in your future somewhere? Look closely. Can this ever come true?
Second, if you grant the faucet is nonessential for happiness (or at least momentarily suspend disbelief), what are the implications? Doing nothing? Moving to a Tibetan cave and living in stillness? Again… No! That wouldn’t necessarily be very Wu Wei of you. (Unless the monkhood calls.)
For spiritually considerate non-monks – it is simply being smart, thoughtful, creative, patient, mindful, deliberate, about when you turn your faucet on, and for what. Taking comfort in the fact that happiness can flourish not as a consequence of your activity, but rather as a preexisting condition. This frees you – it opens up wild new horizons for how you might spend your life. Your energy is an abundant gift because, it turns out, you have way more than you need. The more you share with others, the better. How freaking wonderful.
An Energy Spending Anecdote
For the past year I have been paying google to find struggling people on the internet, and help them, by directing them here. First of all, I have no idea of my ability to actually help, but at least a few people have shared some incredibly kind words. Second, there are literally tens of thousands of people typing “I’m stuck, depressed, lost” into a search box every minute. I can see this in the statistics. Clearly the problem is broad and real – all over the world.
Why would anyone type this into a search box? I know in my case, it was because millions of signals we receive from this noisy world make it really fucking hard to understand where your life should go. I was stuck. There was a day when I looked at my beliefs – especially the hidden ones – very seriously – and ultimately – let them go. Today I can’t believe how drastically my life as opened up. New soil, new seeds. If I can help even a few people do something similar, then surely that would be a net positive for the world.
I have no plan or intention to profit from this. I’m not selling anything nor do I have a way to make revenue besides a few amazon book links, which have earned me .02 cents – laughably distant from my ad expenses. Someday I’ll stop advertising on google and this site may just be some obscure unreachable speck on the internet. Or, there will be a few signposts pointing here that keep some articles alive.
In the meantime, this is fun, to express and share with you all. It is a great privilege. Seriously. You know, the whole journey over destination thing.
So go on, work your spiritual asses off. Mindfully.
PS. More on Fitness.
Since running came up…
On the topic of general wellness, I am not the only one to see how radically our moment to moment existence can be colored by our body. What we eat, how we sleep, and how we exercise. Sometimes it can feel as if we are a pure mental entity – free of the body – and live our lives trying to optimize this mental state.
Ironically, by neglecting the body, our mind suffers. Science has demonstrated this over and over and over again. Food (literally) for thought. A few links…
2 responses to “Work Your Spiritual Ass Off”
This is the second article of yours i have read. I have strongly connected with both and now subscribe to your newsletter. I practiced Zen in the past and was a member of a zendo in DC linked to a monastery in New York. I ran for 30 years until my knees gave out. It looks like our distance training paces were nearly identical, 6:45. At least when I was in my 30’s, lol. I just finished a 90 minute weight training workout. I have replaced running with weights and an exercise bike. At 71 I am in very good shape and agree that the physical and spiritual realms are inextricably linked. Glad I found you.
Tim, likewise, very grateful we connected. It’s an honor to hear from someone who has considered this territory so deeply – AND also happens to be a runner, of similar distances/pace. I have no formal spiritual practice, mostly a mutt, but have read and considered extensively… and it seems all roads eventually lead to the same place. Thank you again for taking the time to comment. Please let me know if you know of any other individuals/groups who might enjoy these ideas. For the most part I am just lobbing these things out there… fun when they connect.