“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace till the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle! Life is but a shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”– Shakespeare’s MacBeth
Is that true?
Is life…your life…my life a mere shadow? Just the strutting and fretting upon the stage of some cosmic comedy club? Is it a tale told by a bad comic? Full of noise and nonsense but nothing else? Nothing of value?
What is the point of human existence?
The purpose of your life and mine?
Those are very big questions. But, unfortunately, most people never quite seem to figure it out. It’s not that they fail to try. To the contrary, most people spend the greater part of their lives being told, and so believing, that they must figure out what it is God put them on this earth to do. And, this becomes their greatest aim.
Their greatest disappointment, too.
I was told this time and again myself.
As a consequence, I spent the greater part of my young adult life thinking I had figured it out. I was supposed to be a “preacher.” After all, I had gotten the “call,” as it was called. Consequently, during my teen years, I tried to be a preacher. I was pretty good at it, too. However, like all teenagers, I also wanted to be liked. Not too many of my peers were very interested in cruising on Friday night, drinking underage, and looking for girls with a guy who was also trying, and succeeding, to be a popular evangelist on Sunday.
I always felt like a hypocrite which, of course, I was.
But what was I to do?
I had received the “call.” Unfortunately, it came when I was but a young teen. At a time when the goal of my life was anything but the fulfillment of some grand purpose. Therefore, I lived a rather conflicted life. I wanted girls and I wanted God but, on Friday nights, I wanted more of the former.
Then, I graduated college, and, as every aspiring young preacher, I went off to seminary. For eight years, I immersed myself in the study of Hebrew and Greek and church history and Christian theology and preaching and pastoring and church administration and, as much as I loved…and still love…the study of all these varied disciplines within Christianity, I was conflicted still. The only real difference between my inner aspirations as a young minister and my desires as a teenager is that I exchanged the pursuit of cute girls for career goals.
I wanted to be the best preacher.
I wanted to be a better preacher than other preachers.
I wanted to pastor the fastest growing church (visible proof I was evangelizing and saving the world).
I wanted to earn a doctorate and so impress the theological world.
I wanted to write “bestsellers” and so impress the literary world.
Isn’t it strange when authors will promote themselves, as I have done, too, as “bestselling” authors. If you have to tell others you are, isn’t it more likely you aren’t?
When I put these ambitions of mine on paper, they all sound so insidious…as if I were some kind of manipulative maniac out to serve only my own needs.
Well, there would be some truth to that assessment. Much of my behavior was self-serving and perhaps bordered on a little insane. But I was anything but insincere. To the contrary, I was infinitely sincere.
Just misguided. As is virtually everyone else raised as I was to believe “You are your name, your career, your accomplishments, your body, your mind, and, in this instance, your calling.”
Isn’t this the kind of self-delusion in which most everyone lives?
Not until we awaken out of such delusion – which is, my friend, what salvation really means or enlightenment or whatever you want to call it – it is that moment…no, that instant when you suddenly realize “I am not here to DO anything. I’m not sent here to fulfill some glorious purpose.”
This awareness began to dawn on me when I left the ministry at age thirty-nine, just months after my father’s untimely death about which I have written extensively in The Enoch Factor.
I suddenly found myself in this huge crisis: “If I am no longer my ‘calling’ then who am I?”
It took several years but, slowly, I began to realize…
I am not some “calling.” I’m not a minister either. That isn’t why I showed up. I’m not my name or any of my accomplishments, impressive though they were. Just ask me. I am not my titles, trophies, triumphs, any more than I am any of my tragedies.
I am not the story I tell myself, or tell others, about myself. I am really not even this story I’m telling you.
That IS the delusion.
You and I do not show up on earth because some of us are to be preachers and so save the world, while others are to be doctors to cure the world and still others mechanics to keep the preachers and doctors on the road to do what they’re “called” to do.
Yes, of course, all of these are needed. But none of them could ever possibly be who you really are. Or, why you’re here.
This, and other stuff, the Buddha called “impermanent,” and Jesus described as the temporary and transient “treasures we seek and so cling to on earth” (Matt. 6). But, and this IS their point, what may seem permanent, lasting, even real IS the human illusion and so the cause of immense personal and communal suffering.
Jesus put it like this: “Lay not up treasures on earth where moth and dust doth corrupt and thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19). This was his way of saying what the Buddha described with the word “detachment”…and, what a host of other spiritual teachers have been saying to every generation caught up in the madness of living which is…and always is…the madness of missing the point of human existence. The Buddha told his followers to “detach” from all things that seem permanent…or real…in favor of what Jesus described as “the treasures in heaven.”
What are the treasures of heaven?
It isn’t the “tithe” you give to the church.
It isn’t the “souls” you’ve rescued from hell by leading them to recite the “Sinner’s Prayer.”
The treasure of heaven is the gift…the awareness that nothing material is real or lasting. That what’s seen, acquired, saved in a deposit box or 401-k plan, or what is carried around in your head as the story of your life…even your “calling”…that all of this is transitory…temporary…really unreal. They represent the myriad of attachments of the “false self” – that part of you that finds its purpose, its reason for existence…its significance in all the wrong places…the illusions…the attachments…or, as Jesus put it “the treasures on earth” that will be destroyed.
To put it as simply as I know how…
My friend, you did not show up to be a pastor or a lawyer, journalist, or missionary, or a mechanic or server at Waffle House.
You are here instead to awaken out of all illusions. The illusions cause the suffering.
The illusion of separateness that puts you in competition with everyone else;
The illusion of godlessness that leaves you eternally doomed until rescued from original sin;
The illusion of “rightness” that makes you feel smug and secure in what you believe and to look down on those who hold, according to your enlightened view, inferior beliefs;
The illusion of your own importance that justifies your material opulence while others barely exist.
There are a myriad of illusions.
You think detaching from any of these is easy?
Well, you could only ever think that because you are attached still. Which is why following a spiritual path isn’t for the faint of heart.
It is a lifelong journey toward the point of human existence.
Which is to learn the art of letting go…
Even heaven. Why would you need it when letting go IS IT?
When you get this, my friend, you’ll understand why they ask, “What are the two most important days of your life? The day you were born and the day you figure out why.”
Until then, you and Macbeth have little more reason than to sing the same refrain…
“Life is a tale told by an idot, full of sound and fury…”
But not much else.