The Great Spiritual Questions
Living Into Life’s Grand Questions
There comes a time in many of our lives when we simply must find our true identity, the meaning and purpose beyond our normal daily activities, our relationships, and our career. This can be a scary time. We may find ourselves knocked out of the trajectory of our pattered life, shaken from the directions that our parents and perhaps even what we feel society laid out for us all while questioning the decisions we have made about how we should live our lives.
This first happened to me in my mid-twenties, so I can empathize deeply with others who have been similarly challenged and blessed. While this can be a difficult time, it is also pregnant with possibilities for a new birth and a new lease on life. The tragedy for many of us, however, is we don’t take full advantage of these moments of existential crisis; understandably, for how are we to do this? We might either sink into existential despair or seek the distractions of sensuality, shopping, liquor, drugs, or other forms of distraction. It is not that life’s pleasures are evil! It is just that they can distract us from some of life’s central issues such as identity, purpose, and meaning. Too often the gifts of “existential crises” remain unopened. Too often, there is nobody and no resource available to us to help us make the most of these grand opportunities.
The possibilities for uncertainty and loneliness always lie in waiting just beneath the surface of our lives. We spend a great deal of our time and money distracting ourselves from the challenges and the opportunities they bring. We build home entertainment systems to still the silence of our inner sanctuaries. We run off to the movies, the bars, the races, and the streets. We have our daily drinks and smokes. We head to the gym and exercise classes. We go shopping for things we want but do not need. We adorn our bodies with make-up, clothing, and tattoos that make us look attractive and confident in our life’s direction. We do these things because we think they will make us happy and will quell the existential loneliness that can underlie our lives. And we do them to fend off the questions of identity, meaning, and purpose that await each moment of silence.
During my life, I have discovered that it is the “real men and women” who have the courage to ask the hard questions, to seek meaning and purpose, to develop an inner life, and to live their lives in accordance with universal spiritual values, insights, and goals. This is not easy work, but it is fulfilling beyond all other life pursuits.
Two popular tactics for burying the big questions is to arm ourselves with either skepticism, on the one hand, or blind faith on the other. The skeptic within us might say with great confidence and certainty things like: “There are no ultimate answers.” “Searching for answers will just make me miserable.” “I don’t have time for questions.” “These questions have no answers, so why ask.” “I’ve got to compete in this world to make a living and to protect those I love, and these questions just sap my strength and resolve.” “Questions are a waste of time . . . I’ve got a life to lead.” “Real men (and women) don’t need answers—we just ignore the questions and power-through our doubts and fears.”
The diametrically opposed strategy is to ignore the big questions by clinging to blind faith. In this case we leave the questions to ‘the professionals,’ like priests, rabbis, and scientists, and we just go with the answers they give us. Depending on our religion, we might try to subdue our big questions and force ourselves to believe the answers given by Jesus, Mohammed, the Buddha, Moses, Ramakrishna, Black Elk, Lao Tzu, or Confucius.
These temporary strategies of distraction, skepticism, and blind faith might actually work for a good deal of our lives. But cracks in these defense mechanisms begin to appear when bad things happen to our good friends, to those we love, and to ourselves. They fail in times of silence and boredom. They often fail to comfort us when we near the ends of our own lives. It is in these inevitable moments of existential crisis that we must dig down deep within and reach out to others for answers to the questions that have been with us since childhood. It is then that we must confront the questions we began asking as children and which have lurked in the shadows of our minds ever since.
The solution, it seems to me, is to live our lives into these questions, to accept them, and to embrace the adventures they present. Questions are the energizing juice of life. They provide us with an inner career and a steady drum beat beneath the surface of our professional and personal lives. We can be enlivened by the search and amazed by the marvelous variety of answers that come from great scientists, philosophers, and psychologists, from the lived-wisdom of ordinary people, and from the sages of the world’s religions. The answers that we deduce and experience for ourselves become pieces of a puzzle that we gradually assemble to form a coherent picture of our lives and our spiritual paths which guide our active participation in the world.
Since all of us have questions, it is fortunate that there are so many resources for answers within the world’s spiritual, philosophical, and scientific resources. There is a wonderful variety of answers — some contradictory and others complimentary. So, the adventure for us is to engage our primary learning styles and spiritual styles to discover teachers, traditions, and resources to help us discern the answers that make sense to us. Parts Four and Five of this workbook will help us gather our answers through the lenses of our Spiritual Styles.—
The single word for each of the twelve spiritual questions connotes a family of related questions. These are the grand questions we begin asking as children. They are the perennial, universal questions that have been asked by scientists, philosophers, and theologians throughout the ages. For example, the question of consciousness connotes questions like: “What is mind?” “How do I know?” “Is consciousness produced by the brain?” “What is the ultimate potential of consciousness?” “Does my consciousness survive bodily death?” These questions are meant to inspire you to ask your own questions and embrace the mysteries that await your discovery as you define your own spiritual path.
The 12 Families of Spiritual Questions
A Brief Summary
What is consciousness? What is its potential? Is my consciousness confined to my brain and nervous system? Is my personal conscious connected to a universal sphere of consciousness?
What happens to my consciousness when my body dies? How can death be an integral part of my spiritual practice?
Is there a beginning or end to existence? Did life evolve from atomic particles and energy, or was it created by a pre-existing God or divine force? What is the relationship between consciousness and existence?
Is it possible to be free from the struggles of normal life? What would total freedom from struggles look like? How can I experience more freedom?
What is God? Is there a universal creator or divine creative energy behind all that exists?
6. Good & Evil
What is “the good?” Must I be wise to be good? Do I need to be good to be happy? What does it mean to be a good person? Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is all loving, is there another source of evil in the universe?
Is happiness the same as fun and enjoyment? What is true happiness, how do we achieve it?
Does the world around me exist in the way I perceive it? How much of the external world is created by my own bias and projection? Is reality relative to the perceiver?
Do I have a soul that is independent, eternal, and permanent? Is there a real “me” that exists behind all of my thoughts, experiences, emotions, and perceptions? Do I have free will or am I under the control of other forces? Am I created by God? Am I just my physical mind and body that will die when my body dies?
10. Spirit Beings
Are there other intelligent, non-earthly beings with whom I can communicate? Just because there are spirit beings, can I believe and trust what they have to say?
Why do I suffer? What is the cause of my suffering? How can I heal the causes of my suffering?
12. Transformation and Ultimate Potential
Are there limits to my personal potential for mental, spiritual, and physical evolution? What is the grandest possibility for my existence? Do I have the capacity to transform myself into my ideal being? How should I engage in my own transformation?