The first thing is this: I am capable of living in ways which are good for me, and I am capable of living in ways that are not good for me. I can give myself to that which is “me,” and I can give myself to that which is “not me.” I can surround myself with toxic personalities, and I can search out the people who are a blessing for my soul—who reconnect me to that which is deepest, truest and best about me—who provide me with an environment which enables me to be true to myself within the context and circumstances of my life.
The second thing is this: I am capable of living in ways which are good for those about me, and I am capable of living in ways that are not good for those about me. I am capable of influencing the lives of others for good and for ill. I can live with them as a toxin, or as a purifying, cleansing, agent of grace and compassion.
These are the two things. I can live in ways that are good for me and I can live in ways that are good for you. And I can live in ways that are bad for me and I can live in ways that are bad for you. How much for me and how much for you?
Where do I stop and you start? When my good becomes your bad, what do I do? When your good becomes my bad, what do I do? How do I live with good and bad on the line? What guides my living when I have to choose between you and me? How do I decide what to do? How do I know what to do? Who is to say?
All the religious edifices in all the cultures that ever have been or will be exist in part to answer the question about my good and your good. Morality is about the difference between my good and your good. All the real conflicts are values conflicts—conflicts over who’s good will be served, and who’s bad.
We have to learn about sharing, about empathy, about compassion, about compromise, about giving up this to get that, about delayed gratification, about sacrifice, and self-denial, and self-surrender. We also have to learn about self-assertion, and self-reliance, and self-direction, and self-protection. We have to lean how to take care of ourselves at the expense of others, and how to take care of others at the expense of ourselves. How much for me, how much for you? Where do we draw the line?
Fraser Snowden said, “The only true philosophical question is ‘Where do you draw the line?’” Who is to say? We do. There is no one here but us. We decide. We choose. We say—with everything on the line. How do we know? We don’t know. But. It is our call to make. We bear the weight of our decision throughout our lives, perhaps throughout eternity. How much for me? How much for you? How much for us? How much for them?
This question about your good and mine is the proper place of the cross in human living. We stand squarely between self and those who share the world with us, and experience the tension of “my good” vs. “the good of the others,” and we bear the pain, the agony, of that tension. We carry we weight of the anguish of choosing between self and others. Our place is to bear the pain—to bear the cross—of that terrible place. Our place is to remain in place, refusing to take refuge in some sheet of “rules to live by”—some “policy statement”— and make a decision, and bear the pain of having decided, and having to live with the consequences.
Nothing is more important on the Spiritual Journey than bearing the pain of the conflicts that come our way along the way. Conflict is the nature of the path. The Spiritual Journey is really nothing more difficult than growing up. There is nothing more difficult than growing up.
Growing up is taking how things are in one hand, and how we want things to be—how we wish things were—in the other hand, and, that term again, bearing the pain of the full, conscious, realization of the conflict, discord, opposition, dichotomy, enmity and antagonism between the hands. That’s how things are.
Things are conflicted to the core. Even with God, or so it is said, with God’s Justice not knowing quite what to do with God’s Love. And reconciliation, and integration, and compassion come to life in us, and through us, as we step into the conflicts on every side, and do the things that make for peace.
Carl Jung said that there are no solutions to the real problems of existence. Those problems, he said, are not to be solved, but out grown. We grow up through the agonies that have no solution. There is no balm in Gilead, or anywhere else, to protect us against the pain of seeing, hearing, understanding—knowing how things are and doing what needs to be done about it, in each situation as it arises. That is the spiritual journey.
“No one can be my disciple without picking up their cross every day, and living as they have seen me live, facing what must be faced, and doing what needs to be done about it” (Or words to that effect). And what will that mean specifically? It will mean something different in each situation as it arises!
Sometimes we will sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others, and sometimes we will sacrifice others for the sake of ourselves. On the basis of what? Maybe, on the basis of nothing more substantial than our mood of the moment. Maybe it just hasn’t been our turn for a while. Maybe it’s nothing more reliable than that.
We have to adjust ourselves to the fact of the wholly arbitrary. Our lives are judgment calls all the way. The laws upon which society is based keep us from having to worry with whether to stop on red and go on green, but when it comes to the important matters, we are on our own. We make it up as we go every day. How do we know what to do? We decide without knowing for sure what must be done. We may decide differently next time, in the next moment, tomorrow. We might live tomorrow trying to redeem how we failed today.
At times we act with the good of ourselves in mind, and at times we act with the good of others in mind. We cannot always sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others, or others for the sake of ourselves. Sometimes we do it this way and sometimes we do it that way. We have to live knowing sometimes us and sometimes the others. We live between our good and the good of those about us, and we choose with everything riding on the choices we make—bearing the pain of having to choose, and of having chosen.
Such is the nature of life on the Spiritual Journey.