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The Drive to Make Life Manageable: Why We Settle for Less than Abundance


The Drive to Make Life Manageable: Why We Settle for Less than Abundance
by T. Derrick Hull

Many of us wonder why certain individuals have spiritual experiences and what those experiences are like. But perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions. Maybe the question we should be asking is why people don’t have spiritual experiences. I think the answer may lie in the human tendency to make life “manageable.”

Believing is Seeing

Spirituality is often about seeing more, glimpsing the world “beyond.” By beyond, we don’t mean the afterlife, though it need not preclude it either. Beyond refers to the realm of phenomena that is not always concretely apparent. It is the depth that surrounds us. The vast majority of people through time and place have had a notion of such phenomena, and not just religious people. One need only read Carl Sagan to catch a vision of the depth available through scientific wonder at the universe.

Nevertheless, a sense of depth is not universal nor is it a required feature of being human. But why not?

There is a kind of freedom wrapped into human nature. It’s not the kind of freedom imagined by some philosophers in which free will provides one with the ability to make anything happen at any moment. We’re too humble a species for that. Instead, we are free to choose how we attune to the world, and when that attunement is oriented to possibilities of depth, abundance becomes available. One can have science and religion, or pain and potential, and so on.

But, we can often choose to tune into less. Why does one become oriented away from abundance? There are a variety of reasons, yet one seems especially common. We often hear talk of needing to work on something “manageable.” To manage is to seek to control, to direct, to wrestle to the ground. When we only pursue things that are manageable, we limit ourselves to engaging exclusively with the things we can pin down.

The result is that we often settle for less than abundance. We look past the depth surrounding us not because it does not exist, but because our chosen orientation makes us deaf and blind to it. We tune it out. This hardly makes us bad individuals, but it does mean that we miss out on a resource that is as rich as we allow it, and as free as the air we breathe. Why not take what we have and add abundance to it?

All Things Shining

A wealth of evidence has been gathered in recent decades indirectly verifying that resonating with abundance leads not to an impoverished or frenzied mind as Freud and others feared, but to enhanced cognitive, emotional, relational and spiritual resources. What an encouraging set of data that abundance is available to all, even us, as a measurable fountain of individual and social well-being.

It isn’t just in our heads. One cannot be oriented towards the contents of one’s own head and still experience growth. There must be something shining beyond that speaks to and enriches the human psyche and thus keeps it from remaining a closed system.

This abundance is a privilege that cannot be forced, only welcomed and explored. It must be picked out, not made up. Responded to, not greedily chased after. In close, I’d like share a parable adapted from Dreyfus and Kelly’s All Things Shining:

Two students had studied for many years with a wise old master. One day the master said to them, “Students, the time has come for you to go out into the world. Your life there will be felicitous if you find in it all things shining.”

The students left the master and went their separate ways. Many years later they met up by chance. Each was eager to learn how the other was fairing.

Said the first to second, “I have learned to see many shining things, but I fear I will never be filled with happiness and joy, because I have been unable to find all things shining.”

Said the second to the first, “Friend, all things are not shining, but all the shining things are.”

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