Best Possible Outcome

Tatoosh Range, Mount Ranier National Park, Washington, Taken by Barry Cosme, Copyright (c) 2017, All Rights Reserved

I have been thinking about the best possible end results of learning, self-discovery and revelation.  It seems to me that it is better if learning is not entirely focused upon teaching only facts.  Learning should also provide the foundation of a tentative structure for relating facts to one to another and to the learner.  It is best if the learner observes directly and relates the second hand observations of others to his/her own.  Further, it is vital that we, as students and observers, consider the relationships and value of facts in relationship to purposes that engage us.  This is a process of self-discovery as much as it is a process of observing reality.

Yet, education and growth are more clearly characterized by skills and capabilities than merely discovering and deciding about facts.  With the development of skills and capabilities, the discoverer works out a new level of understanding and demonstrates the integration of the self with his or her understanding through application.

Going further, the ability to perform well in various capacities is not the highest end result either.  It is better if the individual can evaluate potential courses of action and choose what needs to be learned and how, including developing additional skills as needed.  In such proactivity, the passivity of the student’s initial journey is left far behind.

Moving beyond education and self-education, it is better yet if the individual can recognize a vastly larger scope for the process, leaving the small self behind, no matter how accomplished and self-determining that self may have become.  The individual’s consciousness has thus expanded and transcended merely being a “self” to the recognition of this same spark in others encountered everywhere.  This is the beginning of rising into the level of Christ Consciousness; the Bridge between seeming opposites; the Reconciler of conflict, tension and opposition.

Expanding beyond the level of recognition and appreciation for the unity that dissolved the barriers between self and others, it is again better to develop an all-embracing unity, including all that has been created whether material or biological.  Such all-inclusive unity encompasses all of matter-energy and space-time as well as spirit.

Continuing beyond the embrace of creation, it is an even more profitable outcome to embrace the Creator as well.  This includes the Unity, the Love and the Peace that extend from the Creator through all of creation.  This stage of growth accepts the gifts of Spirit, the inspirations these bring and the revelation from the Source of all that is good.

Finally, there is Being… Being that exceeds all attributes, transcends all roles and encompasses More than all we can identify.  This is the Stillness from which creation and activity extend.  This is the Alpha and the Omega, that which IS… infinitely and eternally in the present… just as before the beginning and after the end.  This is the Sacred Void at the center of ALL.

“No Pain, No Gain” Misses the Point

Snowy Peak, Mount Rainier National Park, Taken by Barry Cosme, Copyright (c) 2017, All Rights Reserved

Religion could be viewed as a form of self-improvement, like working out.  In the gym we often hear the phrase, “no pain, no gain”.  This idiom expresses the understanding that to obtain fitness results, we must be willing to work hard, even to the point of experiencing discomfort or pain.

Even beyond fitness, if one is not willing to experience the unpleasant aspects of the physical world, one’s mental/emotional/spiritual growth will also be greatly inhibited.  Overcoming physical and emotional suffering in the pursuit of a laudable purpose is both admirable and freeing.  The wise observation that in the long-run, “there is nothing more painful than the avoidance of pain” is a central teaching in many wisdom traditions.

Yet, the phrase “no pain, no gain” implies that the only way to gain is through pain.  Obviously, besides hard work, there are many strategies for positive gain: intelligence, creativity, proactivity, empathy, compassion, skill, knowledge, good timing, sociability, networking, etc.  By itself, hard work is simply not enough, even when taken to the extremes of pain.

Hard work/effort/energy, is plainly on the level of physical/material things.  Therefore, as a strategy “no pain, no gain” is most applicable to physical objectives, like exercise.  Yet, while effort is a necessary ingredient to fitness, even here knowledge, skill and other strategies can completely outperform sheer hard work.

In less physical endeavors like playing music, sculpting, writing, programming, etc. effort alone is not central to success, which is to say  to “gaining”.  While, in the broadest sense, effort plays an important role in all education, I would argue that pain that is artificially added to circumstances, in other words punishment, is counterproductive to the very purpose education.  The point of educating is to promote the growth of knowledge and capabilities.  At the least, punishing a student through tedious or irrelevant work, or corporal suffering, delays growth.  Punishing with physical and emotional pain helps a student’s education no more than thrashing a plant aids in its growth.

In the area of religion, the idea of “no pain, no gain” is almost completely inapplicable.  Indeed, the idea is so fixed on the physical that its use in this context tends to distract one from the recognition of Spirit, which is clearly non-material in nature.  Yet, it has happened that, to turn toward Spirit, some religious people have felt the need to turn away from the physical body and the material world, even in violent ways.  Especially in ancient times, some religious seekers practiced mortification and flagellation (flogging or beating) to punish their sinfulness.  In other words, these individuals and groups believed that pain was the means to gaining divine forgiveness, love and grace.  Instinctively, we are suspicious of such inconsistency.

Miriam-Webster online defines consistency as follows, “marked by harmony, regularity, or steady continuity :  free from variation or contradiction” (emphasis added).  In philosophy and science consistency is one of the classic tests of Truth; Truth must avoid contradiction with itself.  This means that truth shows us, by one means or another, a continuous process, an unbroken chain of causes and effects ,leading from one state of being to another.  To be convinced of the plausibility of truth, scientists should be able to start at the same beginning point and observe the same process leading to the same results each time an experiment is carefully repeated.  Thus the repeatability, which is to say the regularity, is an aspect of consistency and a sign of truth.

If the idea of the Divine as compassionate has any merit, does it make sense that God would demand such sacrifices as beating ourselves to obtain His/Her love and compassion?  Such an idea is a violation of consistency and thus a clear indication of falsehood.  If God is compassionate, such a demand would be impossible.  Perhaps you might think that such inconsistency is common in human relationships.  Yet clearly, such human behavior is far from divine and not a good example to help humanity to transcend the faults so common in our world.  God’s love is infinite and eternal, thus without bounds or limits.   This consistent Love is unconditionally who He/She ISThis divine will/love is what we are all called to receive, to return and to give to one another.