The Helplessness of a Child

The Helplessness of a Child

The Third of May, by Francisco de Goya. 1814

I had several eureka moments when I was a kid, regarding organized religion. These led to various breakaways and new directions, which I developed as I aged. No straight lines to some predetermined goal, to be sure. No easy paths to easy answers. There were always surprises and readjustments, new realizations of past errors, and new understandings of previous ignorance regarding this or that view held by others. And I tried to remain humble in the face of the mystery of why religions developed as they did and why they are so important to so many.

I was reminded of one of those moments recently when I heard a song about the helplessness of a child, his call for help, his plea. It made me think about how natural it is for humans to look outside themselves for answers, for protection, for sustenance, for guidance. Natural. We are born in an extremely vulnerable state and stay in that state for our entire lives. Even though we generally develop means for coping better with dangerous surroundings as we age, we never entirely free ourselves of our vulnerability to outside forces. Sickness, violent weather, financial disasters, the loss of loved ones, crime, war, even the occasional encounter with the wild, all push us back closer to our days in swaddling clothes, crying for mothers and fathers. And, unlike all other animals—as far as we know—we actually know we will die. We never really leave our state of vulnerability.

We are conditioned from a young age to voice our wants, to tell parents and other adults our desires, oftentimes to plead with them for things we feel we must have. Of course, we may quickly learn that other adults just don’t respond the way our parents did, when we were in the crib, in the playpen, or bouncing around the house like it was our own personal kingdom. But that early conditioning is so deeply ingrained, we never really lose the connection between wishes and pleading or cajoling others to attain them. I think most of us retain that connection for life, at least on a subconscious level. Not attaining our wishes is never enough to stop us from asking. We seem not to worry about that, or take the time to make statistical charts regarding the success rates of our pleadings. We continue to ask for what we want in a thousand different ways.

It is not really a very big step to go from pleading with parents and other adults to pleading with gods and goddesses. That is also a natural progression. It is, however, a considerable leap to go from asking for divine intervention for yourself, to asking for divine help for others. It is yet another leap to go from asking for intervention for your closest loved ones and friends, to a broad inclusion based upon general need. “Selflessness” is a sign of human maturity and a big step away from the playpen.

The Prayer, by William Bouguereau. 1865


But it is still tied to the originating idea. The original equation. Wants and desires + propitiation = attainment.

Of course, religions are complex, and they deal with much more than the above. The reasons for joining them are complex as well. For tens of thousands of years, people have been drawn to them for a multitude of reasons that I don’t cover here. That said, I do think the above equation is central to part of the endeavor.

Which leads me to this: mysticism. In general, mystics are the Olympic athletes of spirituality. They take religion to a whole new level. Their practice is daily, their intensity something most members of most religions never experience. Their main goal is oneness. Becoming One with God, or Nature, or The All. Most mystics have broken entirely free of the equation. Most do not want something outside themselves to give them something. They want to create it themselves, build it from within, journey to it, grab hold of it, and never let go. Rather than asking a divine being to come down here and hand deliver a requested boon of some sort, they have decided to travel to that divine being, or thing, or everything, and merge with it. They have decided to stop asking for things and merge with everything, thus rendering all such requests superfluous.

Were and are there gradations involved? Certainly. Were and are there complexities too difficult to sort through? Yes. One such complexity might be the object of the merger. With whom or what does the mystic seek merger? And are there objects that seem morally or ethically or spiritually above other choices?

I’ll address some of those questions in my next post.


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