Something Is Wrong

That's the Beginning of Wisdom

When I was young I thought the goal of a spiritual life was some form of bliss or contentment. In my pride, I wanted not only to attain this but to be seen to have attained it. Christian mysticism and Buddhism intrigued me, and of course I understood neither of them.

Being a fool for a while is part of the process. It wasn’t until many years later that I turned around to look at my life and saw that what had led me to where I really was involved a mix of depression, anger, fear, and anxiety. I had gone through a serious illness as a child, there were deaths in the family that struck me hard, and no doubt these contributed to whatever I had become. I lived as if I were a clenched fist, even as I hoped I was making some sort of progress. But seeing all this more clearly helped me to begin to relax: I learned, among other things, that the problem was not so much with the universe itself, but with me and my perception of it. This discovery came as a great relief since a local and contained wound is better than a universal catastrophe. The rest of reality may indeed be wounded, but all you can deal with at the start is yourself.

I know a man who was ordained a Zen monk, and is now an Orthodox Christian. He teaches meditation and asks his students, “What do you hope to gain from this?” They may say something about having a more whole life, serenity, etc.—the...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.