Realizing that I no longer believed in ‘the book’, it was time to embark on a quest to find something I did believe in. I was in my early twenties and was eager to discover the meaning of life, the secrets of the Universe, and any other enigmatic truths I could get my hands on. Fortunately, I had an open mind, an open heart, and enough spare time to immerse myself in the myriad of traditions that were just there for the picking. Furthermore, this was a time when countless books were being written on everything from Buddhism to Shamanism and everything in between. In other words, it was an explorer’s market, tailor made for the likes of me.
As you might expect, I made the assumption that the only thing I needed to do was to discover the ‘right path’, the tradition that provided the answers and meaning I was searching for. In a way, I treated this the way you would treat shopping for a new jacket. You try one on and if it works, you buy it. Alternatively, if it doesn’t fit you or your style, then you keep looking for one that does. You may even go from one store to another, searching and searching, trying on one jacket after another until you find the one that’s just right. In the end, the search is worth it as you know the right jacket is always there just waiting to be found.
And so that was how I treated my search for a new belief system. I went from one shop to the next, trying on Buddhism, Gnosticism, Shamanism, Paganism and just about any other ‘ism’ I could find. But the same thing happened again and again. Although each path would start off promising, I would hit a snag somewhere along the way, and that was when my promising journey came to an abrupt halt. Mind you, it should be noted that I was not being difficult. Quite the opposite. I was willing to bend and twist around any minor details that didn’t quite resonate for me. Unfortunately, there was one snag that was far more than a minor detail. It was nothing short of a fundamental catastrophe.
The biggest problem was that this ‘snag’ was usually the same one, which began to take a toll on my overall state of mind. After all, if each and every tradition revealed a part of me that was incompatible, what did that say about me? Was I so far gone that no path could lead me to the Truth? Or was it that none of these paths led to the truth that I was destined for? In either case, the simple fact was that I couldn’t accept a core belief that was shared by a good number of traditions from various corners of the world, and from the full span of human history. This core belief was that this physical existence was inherently evil.
Perhaps ‘evil’ is too harsh a word. After all, only some traditions actually viewed the physical world as something that needed to be overcome or escaped in order to attain everlasting life and happiness. However, most traditions did agree that there was some sort of spiritual plane that was at the very least superior to this life. Furthermore, all suffering and misery could be traced to this physical existence and all the pleasures, desires and attractions associated with it. Thus, in order to be free of distress, anxiety, sorrow and the like it was necessary to transcend this reality, and thus be restored to our ‘true essence’.
It should have been easy for me to simply say “Fair enough” and accept the overwhelming consensus that this life was somehow inferior to the reality that existed beyond. But it wasn’t. For some reason I couldn’t make myself see this world as a trial where my immortal soul was being tested, or a forge in which my spirit was being shaped and purified. I didn’t quite know what I thought this life was, but I knew what I didn’t think it was, and that was inferior or evil. Sure, life could be unfair, and the world of men is hardly the stuff of paradise, but that didn’t mean that this life was all bad, nor did it mean that this life should be risen above, overcome, or rejected outright. At least, that was what my heart kept telling me.
In the end the answer came to me as I was sitting outside, contemplating the birds, the trees, and all other expressions of nature that filled the space before me. This life was EVERYTHING. It wasn’t evil, inferior, or less perfect than some other realm of existence. This WAS existence. And it seemed that all of nature understood this simple fact. The only species that struggled to see this truth was humanity. Once I made this discovery it changed my life. I realized that this knowledge was what kept me from moving forward with so many traditions, traditions that otherwise proved quite inspiring and enjoyable. It was as though my inner nature, my intuition as it were, refused to let go of this most basic lesson in life. This life is all that matters.
Now, this isn’t to say that life is ‘one and done’, that once you die it’s all over. Quite the opposite. I do believe in a ‘spiritual plane’, for lack of a better term. I also believe that life continues after your physical body dies. But those are topics for another time. The important thing here is to realize that this life is what we have right here and right now, and as such it should be valued and cherished to the max. Anyone who wishes this life away, or who sees this life as somehow lesser or inferior to a life still to come, is robbing themselves of the joys and pleasures they should be experiencing in the here and now.
Unfortunately, this is the overall belief within the Old Paradigm. This life is seen as inferior, and therefore this world is seen as something to be rejected, even resented, which leads to the state of the planet today. The idea that this world is evil allows humanity to treat the planet as nothing but a resource, something to be exploited and even trashed while we are here. What difference does it make whether we pollute the air or the water? Who cares about the animals we kill, either for food or in the name of ‘progress’? The human soul is all that matters, and thus this physical existence is nothing, at least nothing worth worrying about. After all, once we die it won’t matter anyway. It’s not like we’re coming back… (or are we??).
This is also why so many can turn a blind eye to the pain and suffering of others. Why be too concerned whether your fellow human is having a rough life? As long as they are a follower of (insert deity here) they will have a happy afterlife, and that’s all that truly matters. Thus, when you see this existence as evil or inferior, not only can you reject your own life, but you can reject the lives of others. Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to destroy the environment, drop bombs on innocent people, and starve entire nations into submission through sanctions and other diabolical forms of extortion. Perhaps that’s why death is treated with more adoration than life itself.
Fortunately, this is the way of the Old Paradigm. The idea that this life is anything but an amazing miracle and gift is on its way out. In its place is a compassion-driven appreciation for life, one that changes how people not only treat the environment, but also how they treat each other and even themselves. If you ever want to know the true value of this life, all you have to do is spend a day in nature. Then you can see how to embrace and appreciate this marvelous miracle we are a part of. Then you can see that not only is this life not evil or inferior, but it is the most perfect thing you could ever hope to experience.