Maybe I was a weird child. I don’t know. Perhaps all children think deeply as they try to understand the world around them. Surely, as children
with limited experience, we all make assumptions that make sense to us at the time. As we age, gather more information, and achieve a larger perspective, our understanding may change. Have I stayed stuck in my childish views of the world or have I changed?
With this morning’s first cup of coffee, I perused the latest sales circular from Bed, Bath and Beyond. In it were such items as organic cotton robes (on sale for $67.50, regularly $90.00), slippers and towels (similarly marked down), and a towel warmer (another great buy marked down to $97.50 from $130.00). My eyes were already starting to cross when I looked over at the facing page. Personal products from electric toothbrushes and razors to body-part-specific massagers were featured. My favorite was the “Touch Control Sensor Mirror” on sale for only $159.99, being marketed as a must-have for the man who wants a clean shave! Somewhere in my early years, I must have absorbed the principle of “a penny saved is a penny earned” because all I could see were a bunch of luxury items that no one could possibly need.
That’s the moment when I was catapulted back in time to my childhood. I clearly remembered sitting in our den watching TV. The room had once been our carport but was enclosed to make a den and informal dining area. The old living and dining rooms were then used only on special occasions. This extra room was undoubtedly a luxury to my grandparents, who still lived in a 4-room double shotgun in New Orleans. But such things didn’t occur to me at the time. I did think that someone on TV was always trying to sell us the “latest” product. The offending product, at the time, was Tide laundry detergent. The commercial was touting the “new and improved” formula for cleaner, brighter clothes. With the impertinence of my young self, I thought: Why didn’t they just invent the best detergent from the start? Why did they put out an inferior product first?
As I moved through my school years, I enjoyed learning new things. It was exciting to test out my newfound knowledge in the world around me. I felt like I had been born at the bottom of a deep well, and with every passing year, I moved closer to the light at the top. Knowledge and experience were the stairs built to climb out of darkness and ignorance. I couldn’t wait to be “out there” in the real world, where I would have all the knowledge of an adult! I’m still waiting.
Along the way, I’ve realized that evolution is constantly happening. Not even nature brings forth its penultimate creation on the first try. I once believed that practice made perfect. Now, I hold fast to the notion that practice makes progress. Perfection is too high a standard for mere mortals to attain. The impulse to make progress is built into life. The natural world may not be conscious of that, but we can be. We are moving towards something. The question is, what?
We can build a million different kinds of “better mousetraps,” but we haven’t made any spiritual progress if we refuse to develop a better awareness of ourselves and our world. We remain at a primitive level of “us and them,” as evidenced daily in our media. The players and teams change names, but the game remains the same. Demonize “them” and praise “us.” This will continue until we collectively realize that “winning” means spiritual evolution. That’s the goal of human life. Not bringing home a trophy or having the biggest house, but becoming a better species. It is arduous work. Our daily lives, made increasingly easier by technology, don’t lend themselves toward hard work of any kind. But, unlike a device that warms our towels, spiritual evolution is not a luxury; it is a necessity.
This holiday season, along with the tangible gifts we give, let’s give our loved ones the gift of changing our objective in life. As spiritual beings, our aim is to: 1) realize that we sleepwalk through life; and, 2) commit to our own awakening. I don’t think we get there in one lifetime. Remember, it’s progress we’re after, not perfection. As encouragement along the way, I keep these words from Robert Browning near:
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
Keep reaching, striving, improving. Celebrate the daily progress of your spirit!