There is a deep and troubling division that permeates the hearts and minds of us Western folk. It goes down to the core of how we see the world and it causes a constant nagging tension within us. This became clear to me in a conversation with a friend years ago. She was making the argument that rational thinking and reasoning are not necessary when it comes to seeking out answers to the bigger questions of life such as meaning, purpose and fulfillment. Now, mind you this is a person who is intensely rational in all other areas of life. She was an excellent student and is now quickly advancing to higher levels of success in her career.
Somehow we have come to the notion that we have two utterly separate layers to our view of the world. On the bottom, there is our reasonable, rational and logical perspective which encompasses all of practical life. This is our public life, educations, political views and career. Here we are reasonable creatures, living in light of a practical story that logically explains daily life.
But then we go home at 5 pm. We crack open our books, turn on our TV’s, scroll through our Facebook feeds, pull out our running shoes or our hiking backpacks and a whole new element of American culture starts to surface. Here, in the realm of the private life, we seek for a sense of meaning, belonging and restoration from the busy lives we live in the world. For some of us this means delving into various ideas of spirituality and meditation. For some its found in pursing art or getting into new hobbies. For many its simply found in the flickering lights of our oversized HDTV’s.
Here, rationality is not a requirement. Here we can be anything we want, as long as it does not interfere too much with our public rational selves. As long as it works for you, as long as it makes you feel more whole and gives you meaning, go for it. In fact some would go so far as to argue that it doesn’t have to make sense, it just needs to take care of your spiritual needs.
So whats the problem? The problem is this: we truly believe that we can keep the two areas of public life and personal values separate. The reality is that we are whole creatures and sooner or later we are dominated by one over-arching story that makes sense of our lives. Separating ourselves into two types of individual inevitably creates a tension within.
The engineer that takes up meditation sooner or later comes to the place where he takes a step back and says, “What’s the point? I am an educated individual. There is no magical spiritual world. Science tells me that what we can measure and study is all that is. I am wasting my time.” So he rolls up his yoga mat and gets back to the weekday grind. Keys, stoplights, elevators, paychecks, educated conversations, technology and so on.
And yet all the while he is haunted by the restlessness that there is something more; a longing for transcendence, meaning and purpose. No matter how much the rational side of him brushes these things off they creep slowly back in like a low silent fog.
For many of us, this conflict is often subconscious. Like a slow growing back ache, it starts as a subtle discomfort which grows and grows until we finally stop and realize that we need help. This is a problem and its not going away. Its a split that goes to down to the very heart of how the educated Western heart sees the world.
So where do we go from here? Well it starts here. Its starts with honestly looking at ourselves and seeing the deeper issue, the fundamental split, and with acknowledging the need for a story that actually brings it all together.