There is serious, rampant religious-spiritual problem that I want to address: SPIRITUAL ESCAPISM.
Spiritual escapism is a notion advocated by the famous Bing Crosby song Mister In-Between.
You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene
But, is this true? Should we force ourselves to find silver linings in every dark cloud?
As you have noticed, I’m a big proponent of the importance of attitude. After all, we don’t need to let a parking ticket ruin our day, but I do think there are limits and restrictions to how much magic we should expect our minds to perform in “turning that frown upside down.”
Let me give an example: recently, I was driving and traffic was backed up. (I know, big surprise since I live in LA.) I got off the freeway and took surface streets, which turned out to be much worse. I was stuck. Sitting there, starting to get anxious that I would be late, I told myself to “turn it around.” So I looked out my window at the big old tree I was now parked next to. Regarding its beauty, I told myself to be grateful that I was able to see that which on any other day I would have sailed past.
Great, right? Unfortunately, all I did was tuck my frustration away. I didn’t get rid of it, I just bottled it up for another occasion. I can’t say if it directly caused the snippy attitude I had with a customer service representative later in the day or the pain in my lower back that night; but I do know that frustration not expressed has to go somewhere, it’s as unavoidable as Newton’s first law of thermodynamics.
What I’m advocating is much simpler (albeit more difficult) than manipulating our experiences through spiritual escapism . . . I’m suggesting the religious-spiritual notion of living and being present to reality as it happens. In other words, being frustrated when we are frustrated, angry when we are angry, happy when we are happy, sad when we are sad. Just to experience our lives as they happen, not to judge them.
Of course, this is simpler to say than to do. The point is that in our daily lives, emotions inevitably come up that we don’t like. But we have the choice to live them or deny them.
Don’t succumb to spiritual escapism. A healthy spiritual life is not a way of avoiding human suffering or other “negative” emotions.
Be where you are, as you are.
A web version of this article is available here.
This article was also posted at Street Prophets.