Before I discuss spirituality, and before I discuss how helping others leads to greater spirituality, let me pause to readdress our 5 great religions. We have two older religions with Hinduism and Judaism; we have two adolescent, rebellious religions with Buddhism and Christianity; and we have the final great religion of Islam. Historically, Buddha was a Hindu who rebelled against Hinduism; and Jesus was a Jew who rebelled against Judaism. My point? Our planet showcases a family of 730 established religions, topped by 5 great religions, all much more interconnected than we appreciate.
How did these 5 great religions prosper while other religions faded? Why did Christianity soar while Zoroaster’s earlier, similar religion plummeted? I have always liked the perspective of Muriel Rukeyser: “The world is not made of atoms; it is made of stories.” When I was younger, flying home from Europe to New York, I sat next to a Priest from the Vatican and I debated, for that entire long flight, that very question: Why do some religions succeed and other religions fail? Is it solely due to the authenticity of religion? Is it God’s work or man’s work? The Priest felt it was God’s hand. I argued that it was more reflective of the effort of men.
On that flight, do you know what I used as my reference point for explaining why some religion soars to great popularity? I sought an explanation through Pride and Prejudice. Do you know which characters I used as my example of how to establish a successful story and a long-term audience? Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett. That elderly Priest almost choked to death, but I had a debatable point. The success of any story (and the religion associated with that story) depends on the quality of the W-diagram. Do you know what makes up a W-diagram? In literature, it is the spine of the story. Shakespeare was the world’s best W-diagram writer, creating that path for most of his characters. For our purposes, let’s examine the role of a W-diagram for the main character(s).
Picture the W-diagram in your head. The first stroke or first down stroke of the “W” represents the opening downfall (or misfortune) for the main character. The second stroke or the first upstroke of the “W” represents a successful rebound for the main character. The midpoint of the “W” (the connecting point of the two “V’s”) occurs when the main character appears ready to succeed. The third stroke or second down stroke of the “W” represents the next downfall (or misfortune) for the main character, which is always even worse than the original setback. The final stroke or second upstroke of the “W” diagram represents the closing “rise” of the main character, as the character advances past the point of no return, overcomes the biggest challenge, and reaches the underlying goal for happiness.
For those of you who have read Pride and Prejudice, you will have no difficulty visualizing the initial down stroke for their relationship (as they dislike each other) and the subsequent upstroke (as fate brings their paths back together). You will have no trouble identifying the midpoint as the proposal by Mr. Darcy for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. You will also have no problem recognizing the sudden, second down stroke (as everything disintegrates with the shattering family news for Elizabeth). Lastly, you will have no hesitation distinguishing the final upstroke (as their paths come back together, issues are resolved, and a marriage proposal is accepted). The quality of that love story – and specifically the quality of that W-diagram – is the reason that story has lasted through generations, survived through centuries. The better the W-diagram, the longer lasting the story.
Well, are religions any different? Think of the W-diagram for Jesus. We know only bits and pieces of his life, right? But those bits and pieces have been sculpted to create possibly the best W-diagram in literature. At birth, Jesus’ life was promptly in severe danger (first down stroke). However, he survived, grew up into a wonderful man, and helped those people who were maligned or destitute (first upstroke). At the midpoint he was creating miracles, saving people. Then he was captured, tortured, and crucified (second down stroke). Can you imagine a worst down stroke than Jesus’ death? However, after his death, he rose to heaven and sat next to God. Again, can you picture a better upstroke, a more satisfying ending?
Before I offend anyone, let me say that I was raised a Catholic. So, I am not degrading Jesus or his miracles. However, his story lasted over these centuries because of the quality of his W-diagram story, and because of the disciples who were able to preach the story and the religion’s associated beliefs. Please note: the same W-diagram can be applied equally well to the life story of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. In fact, his life also offers a great story; and his followers were equally committed, preaching his story and his new religion. But let me ask again: Was the success of these two religions due to God? No, they were due to the story – and due the efforts of the men who told the story and who convinced others to follow this faith.
So, what is my point? The same truth applies to spirituality. I just does not come to you; you have to go get it. You have to take action. Your success on reaching a level of spirituality will not depend solely on your beliefs; it will depend on the actions you take to bring those beliefs to life. Some people claim that spirituality can come through meditation or silent contemplation or that long walk through the woods. For some people, that may be true. But for most of us, we need to take action. We need to follow the lead of those disciples. What is our action? I believe it involves acts of giving to others. Tell me: When was the last time that you helped someone with no expectation of anything in return? And it can’t be something in line with your work or something as part of your role as a parent. Come on, can you remember your last act of spontaneous giving?
In the final blog, I will explore how those actions of helping others will enable you to connect with others, and how those connections with others will open a pathway for you to connect with God. But for now, let me close with the old saying that it is easier to create a temple in your heart than it is to find your heart in a temple. To find spirituality, you do not need to increase your attendance at a church or temple of synagogue. You need to connect with people, then with God. You need to give. You will feel better. The world will be better. Spirituality, maybe once lost, will return. Want to give it a try? Try giving each day before the next blog and its deeper discussion? Trust me. Giving will be worth it.