Out of the Mouths of Babes

There’s an interesting thing about wisdom.  It’s fairly universally assumed to come with age.  We look to our forebears to tell us what they’ve learned through their lives so that we don’t make the same mistakes they did, and we expect those younger than us to respect our opinions on account of our age and experience.

This forms the basis for most of our religions and spiritual practices.  We have more respect for older traditions and consider them to contain great wisdom.

The weird part of all this, though, is that the very mechanism assumed to impart this wisdom is the experience of change.  We realize that those older than us have been where we are and lived far past, that they’re different now than they were at our age, and that those changes have taught them things.

But then we completely disregard the changes which have imparted a far different kind of wisdom on the young.

If I were to be given the choice of seeking wisdom from either someone from the past or someone from the future, I would speak to the person from the future.  They will have experienced a reality built on the experiences of generations beyond myself, and that kind of wisdom would be earthshattering to us now.  The past?  While I’m sure there are many ideas and nuggets of wisdom which have escaped documentation and fallen away from collective memory, the most important lessons and wisdom of the past forms the foundation upon which our reality is built.  We have it already, if we choose to access it.  Not all of it is particularly relevant anymore.

As we get older, though, we actually have access to future wisdom all around us.  The younger generations grow up in a different reality than we did, one built on our own widsom.  And yet too many of us are too quick to dismiss them.  We expect that they will grow to understand reality just as we do, disregarding that that has never consistently been the case before.

And the change which makes each subsequent generation’s reality different changes the environment in which our spiritual lives occur as well.  Shouldn’t we put a little more value on the insight of the young?

If You Had a Blue Box…

Through the research I’m doing for my biggest book project, I’m sort of traveling into the past to try and see where our spirituality comes from.  The past is a fascinating treasure trove of evidence and speculation, of the roots of the human existence and projected imaginings from our own biased minds.  The past is one of those mysteries almost none of us can resist poking at, largely because so much of it won’t ever be fully known or understood.  The past holds some of our darkest secrets and our most valuable missing treasures.

The future, on the other hand, is a constantly moving target.  We know more about the foundations being put down on which the future will be built than we know about the foundations underpinning our own existence.  Still, we know all manner of developments can change the course of the future.  And we’re far more likely to fear the future.  We don’t fear the past because we already survived it.  Judging just from our fiction, we expect a look into the future to give us either a grandly glorious picture of advancement and success or a dark dystopian cautionary tale, and rarely do we envision the simple, steady forward momentum of human progress.

I wrote a few days ago on how my spiritual path focuses primarily on the present rather than the past or future.  But it’s still a fascinating exercise to consider whether accurate knowledge of the past or a clear look into the future would be more valuable to us in the here and now.  As far as usefulness, the future offers us either a chance for redemption or a source of inspiration.  The past, even if seen with great clarity, is unlikely to provide the kind of irrefutable cause and effect explanation for human progress that would be required to change minds in the here and now.

Especially considering the state of thinking in the here and now.

So I think perhaps, for me, I’d rather see the potential future than the real past.  As much as I want to know about the past, isn’t it more important to be able to navigate ahead than it is to know precisely where you’ve been so far?

Would you rather know the past or see the future?

A Moment in Time

The biggest difference between my spiritual life now and my spiritual life as it has been on other paths is that my primary focus is on the present.  What can I do now?  What needs to change now?  How am I doing right now?

Sure, I make plans for the near future.  Ongoing routines and rituals which won’t see completion for a while.  Actions to be taken now which I intend to have certain impacts later.

And I do think of the past.  I don’t believe we can ever advance ourselves without knowing and coming to terms with our past experiences.  Some of what I do in the present is a method of working with the past.

Still, I believe the most important focus in our spiritual lives should be the current moment in time.  If we remain too much in past traditions and past ideas, we grow disconnected from the power of the present.  If we’re not part of the present, how can we hope to understand or prepare for a future?  Likewise, if our entire spiritual existence is centered in a specific future, how is it benefiting us or the world around us right now?

Don’t Fear the Future

I tend to have a bit of a problem with the all-too-common rants against “modern technology” and “today’s society” or even “kids these days”.  For every major shift in how humans live their lives (and these shifts do seem to be coming faster and faster as the years go by), many of us become filled with an overwhelming desire to dig in our heels and try to keep things the same.  

I don’t think this resistance to change is necessarily part of human nature.  I think it’s something we’ve learned, something we’ve woven so completely into our collective culture that most of us can hardly imagine another way to think.  And I think it has to do with one basic concept: that there must be One Right Way.  It’s true in politics, it’s true in religion, it’s true in business, it’s true in just about every facet of life: everyone is looking for (or thinks they have already found) the only good way to think, to pray, to lead, to love, to live.  

Of course, if there’s only one right answer, one correct way of thinking, and we’ve already found that one right way, change must be bad.  The internet has now connected us in ways we could hardly conceive several decades ago, and the negative reaction is as strong as ever.  Some believe it is eroding spiritual commitment and devotion.  It’s much the same argument as you’ll hear from anyone who thinks that the internet is actually making us less connected.  

But really, all that’s being said by all of those who lament the changes is that the more we embrace this new technology and the culture growing around it, the less we do things the old way.  Whether that statement is delivered as a complaint or not depends on how much the speaker believes in the absolute superiority of the old way.  If you believe the future is bound to bring us wonders we cannot begin to imagine, then the idea that things are changing is likely to be exciting and promising.  If you believe that the current way or past ways of doing things are the only right way, then change is only destroying what is good.

This could easily become a diatribe on how we should all be optimistic and embrace the future because all our problems will be solved by technology someday, but that’s absolutely not where I’m going with this.  Honestly, I think faith in future perfection is as misguided as a commitment to preserving some imaginary perfect past.  

But change comes whether we fight it or not.

One way or another, the future will come and it will be vastly different in some ways from everything we know and have known.  It simply will happen, and our attitude towards the change can do nothing to prevent it.  

So the question then becomes not whether change is good or bad, but how we use it for good or bad.  Instead of lamenting the shift in culture brought on by the internet and social media, real concern for the future should have us asking what abilities this new connectedness gives us that we can use to create positive change?  Perhaps we should be considering what our lives, the spiritual portion included, would look like if we accept the changes and adjust accordingly.  

Most spiritual paths focus to a great extent on the future, but few embrace the inevitability of future changes in culture and way of life.  Few encourage the kind of personal adaptability and flexibility which is necessary to smoothly navigate shifts and changes as they come.  Instead we’re taught “unchanging” truths and encouraged to remain unchanged though the world around us falls apart.  

It’s no wonder, then, that we fear change so much that we fight it.  Spirituality in the form we know it best has failed to equip us to deal with it.  I think it’s imperative that we find or create and embrace a different way, a different mindset, which focuses our spirits on becoming more discerning rather than more correct, more purposeful rather than more pious.