Handling “What If” Existential Questions / Traversing Spiritual Confusion

Some of us wonder ‘what if’ our life had been different, would we have been happier? But I know some (myself included) have wondered, ‘what if’ our life had been different, would our life have been sadder?

Being cursed causes longing for a better life, and makes you miserable in the present. But feeling blessed (too much of it) can cause an overdose of gratitude, and guilt.

An overdose of sadness creates unhappiness, resentment and frustration. An overdose of happiness creates guilt, shame at being happy when others are not, and fear of your (happy) life being taken away by circumstances outside your control.

Therefore, while it is good to be grateful to everyone and the world for what you have, it is also good to recognize that you don’t have everything. If you are too ‘complete’, you suffer from ‘happiness pain’ – in the form of (1) guilt for having what you have and (2) fear of losing what you have.

If you are too undernourished by life (incomplete), you suffer from ‘sadness pain’, in the form of (1) frustration at what you have, and (2) anger and resentment at what you don’t have.

True bliss is not just elimination of sadness, it also requires us to give up happiness. This is true surrender – you need to surrender your sadness to God (or the universe), and you need to surrender your happiness too.

Then, if you surrender both happiness and sadness, what DO you have left? Just awareness of your thoughts, without judgment. All emotions arise because we judge our actions as good (‘happiness pain’) or bad (‘sadness pain’). When you are in pain, you will never be in a position to understand the pain of another human being or creature, and help them when required. When we break our leg, our own pain consumes us, leaving us blind and deaf to both, the beauty of the world and the pain of others.

The only way to be able to appreciate the beauty and understand the suffering of the universe is to first free yourself of all suffering and pain. Therefore, as they say in the scriptures, you tread a ‘golden mean’, you walk the ‘razor’s edge’ between hope and fear, between happiness and sadness. Only when you are walking on a bridge can you see both sides of a river.

People who don’t handle the ‘what if’ question well get misdiagnosed as having anxiety issues due to crippling fear or shame. Half of our psychological issues today are spiritual conundrums. It takes courage to walk through the mists of our confusion and come out clean and enlightened on the other side. Confusion is good – it indicates you have begun solving a problem. There are only two kinds of people who don’t ask questions – those who don’t care or are not aware enough to question, and those who have already asked the question and found answers on the other side.

Ignorance and enlightenment are two sides of a river, but the river in the middle is raging and flooded, with strong currents, and can easily sweep you away if you are not careful. As we swim through the river, we should make sure we are moving in the right direction. If you get too caught up in the river, you can be swept away into ‘insanity’ due to over-analysis. Some of us swim back to the original shore out of fear, preferring to live in ignorance and fear, rather than cross the river of wisdom.

The river of wisdom asks us to trust it, not worry about the way it is flowing but to merely cross it. Walk on the water, but don’t bathe in it. Swim, but don’t look back. If you do look back, focus on what you are gaining on the other side, than what you are losing on this side. If you must fear something, fear ignorance. But in the end, give up that fear too. An enlightened person comes to realize, understand and accept his/ her own ignorance, and therefore no longer fears it.

In the end, you realize that if you had been ignorant, you would never have asked ‘what if’. And when you are enlightened, you no longer ask ‘what if’. Because the answer to the question is simple – you can’t do everything, you can’t be everything. As long as you live, you have to make choices. As long as you make choices to do or be something, you are also simultaneously choosing NOT to do something else. Consequently, your life will always be incomplete.

When we cannot accept this incompleteness, we ask ‘what if’. When we accept this incompleteness, we no longer need to ask the question. We achieve contentment and peace.

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