Numerous recent news articles have heralded science’s search for new drugs that can increase our human lifespans. Creating the real potential for many added years of healthier life for us. Perhaps there’s also a way to re-engineer our DNA through future advancements in genetic research. Now, all this isn’t to say that we’re on the cusp of immortality, of course. It is to say, however, that we might finally stop placing arbitrary limits on how long people can live in actual practice. In turn, fundamentally rethinking our many current assumptions—such as that aging is an integral, inevitable, and troubling, tragic part of human life.
Most experts agree that living longer doesn’t require futuristic science, though. Ongoing studies of so-called ‘Blue Zones’ around the world have uncovered a number of important insights into human longevity. Within these Blue Zone localities, people tend to live to older ages in better, relative health. And these communities often share some common-sense practices that contribute to longer lives. For example, the people who live there tend to have clearer purposes in life. They typically have strong family ties. They eat predominantly plant-based diets. They’ve learned to slow down the pace of their lives. They’re less stressed and they sleep more. They stay engaged in activities that stimulate their minds and their bodies. They often belong to faith communities. These ways of living and ‘being’ are making a real difference. And the supporting evidence keeps growing in this regard.
Now juxtapose onto this cheery thought the tragic and alarming trends in life expectancy in the United States. For the second year running, life expectancy in this country has dropped. Experts contend that the current out-of-control opioid epidemic has contributed significantly to this. During 2016 alone, over 63,000 people died from overdoses. Many, if not most, of these were opioid related. But it’s not just drug dependency and overdoses. Shorter life expectancies are also fueled by other health issues plaguing our country at this time. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and alcohol abuse contribute, as well. So do high levels of societal anxiety and depression, burnout, wage/income disparities, unemployment, underemployment, and violent crime. Due to these socio-economic challenges, far too many in our country no longer have a tangible sense of stability and security in their relationships, their jobs, and their sense of self-worth. However we define it, shorter life expectancy in the U.S. is highly significant—particularly at a time when science and medicine make longer lives increasingly possible. Sadly and ironically, we’re becoming more ‘finite’ in the very face of potentially greater ‘infinity’, of sorts, in our respective lives.
But this isn’t simply about shorter lifespans. Not just about our living fewer years these days in the U.S. It’s also about spiritual emptiness of too many of us. And the absence, too often, of any real comfort provided by our traditional religious paths in our ongoing searches for answers. In this sense, life isn’t primarily about quantity. Quantity does matter, but quality matters far more. Now, practices and ways of living (like those in the aforementioned Blue Zones) do contribute to a higher quality of living. But it can’t end there. Because living a higher quality of life also demands that we live a more spiritual life, as well. For we are all ‘spiritual’ beings at the core. And Hindu philosophy might offer some help here. This philosophy acknowledges that humans seek many things in life. We seek pleasure, success, and service to others, to name a few. But there are limits to each of these, and we can too easily go astray relative to any of them. These things can lose their luster and their meaning over time. They can leave us wanting for (and needing) something more. That ‘something more’ is the Infinite Self. A re-engineered spiritual DNA, if you will. This Infinite Self contains a mix of infinite being, awareness, wellbeing, and joy. This Infinite Self is God, the Divine, within us. That which feels utterly beyond us at times is already inside of us. An ‘Embedded Transcendence’. It’s there for us if only we seek it through our minds, our love, our spirits, and our actions everyday.
So where and how do we find this Infinite Self? For starters, it isn’t found in any one religion. Not in any exclusive set of dogma. No single doctrine. In fact, there isn’t any religion that holds a monopoly on achieving our liberation from finiteness. God can speak to us in many ways. Through many faith practices. In varied, different, and richly inclusive contexts throughout human history and around the world today. Sri Ramakrishna, a 19th Century Hindu spiritual leader and teacher may have said this best. He was purported to have stated:
“God has made different religions to suit different aspirations, times, and countries. All doctrines are only so many paths; but a path is by no means God himself… People partition off their lands by means of boundaries, but no one can partition off the all-embracing sky overhead. The indivisible sky surrounds all and includes all…”
I’d imagine that Ramakrishna would be ‘all-in” on each of us seeking a religion to affiliate with. But he would also caution against honestly believing that one religion or another is, in fact, the only way. Or that adhering to that faith’s doctrines is the sole path to liberation from our human state of finiteness.
In the end, then, achieving greater spiritual infinity requires far more than simply going along with someone’s dictates surrounding our infinite salvation. It also demands our active participation and engagement. We have a real, substantive individual spiritual role to play. Given this, how do we live differently in definable, significant ways in touching the Infinite Self within? First, we can refuse to stop at solely ‘believing and obeying’. We can keep going well beyond this, while continuing to honor the religious foundations that have helped to shape our respective lives. In other words, we can open ourselves to broader paths of spirituality. Second, we can learn to ‘dance on the head of a pin’. Become better balancers in life. For example, balance our existing, long-held notions with new ideas and seemingly contradictory concepts for a change. Reject many of the simplistic, hurtful dualisms that seem to govern our lives these days. Then open ourselves up to the wonders of dualities, the nuances of life, and the many complex questions that can initially confound us. Dancing on the head of a pin requires balance not simply in these ways. But also in better balancing all components of our lives: believing, thinking, acting, feeling, and simply being.
Third, we can reach beyond ourselves towards the things that are truly transcendent. For those of my foundational faith practice, Christianity, we can radically re-think our notions of Jesus Christ. Christ came not simply to die for us (and erase our sins), but to live with us in a divinely, yet truly human, embodied way. Christ fully embodied God’s goodness for us and within us. Profoundly showed us God’s character—but exemplified God within us, as well. Of course, we are not God, and cannot be so. But God’s spark lies squarely inside us. And we can, therefore, be far more of God. Fourth, we can ‘get out of our own heads’ far more often in our lives. And ground ourselves in all that is sacred in and on God’s own earth. The land. Then awaken our hearts and souls to the timeless, boundless, literally infinite energy within all things on our planet. Then look skyward to contemplate the infinite space of space itself. We are part of this amazing stuff. For we come from God’s very own endless, timeless ‘stardust’.
Lastly, we become more infinite when we re-think time. As humans, we define time chronologically. Time moves methodically from second-to-second. Minute-to-minute. Day-to-day. Time has a beginning and an end. Human life is therefore time-bound. That’s how we see it, at least, as it regards our standard, narrow notions of our bodily selves. Now, to be fair, we do have to live our lives, to an extent, in accord with deadlines and timelines prescribed by our human clocks. But we, in turn, can’t and shouldn’t define ourselves fully or even primarily in this vein either. Because our eternal essence and our spirit are not time-bound. These things are eternal. Infinite. Timeless. So we can try to get in touch with this far more often in our lives. Every so often, we can step back from linear time and we can meditate on the timeless spiritual beauty of our lives as really intended by God for us.
None of this, of course, implies, that any of us can escape bodily, physical death in the end. For, as humans, we are born. We live our lives. And we all someday die. We are, in fact, finite beings in the biological sense of the word. Medicine and science will most certainly help us live longer and in healthier ways. Who knows, maybe they’ll discover a way to re-engineer our DNA to ensure this. But there are real, practical limits here. So, instead, here’s something that’s actually and truly limitless. We have the capacity for something spectacularly transcendent: a greater measure of Spiritual Infinity. Through a better set of spiritual genes. If only we’ll rediscover that which is already lies within us. No need to re-engineer these genes. Just seek them out. Find them. Tap into them. And Live Infinitely Better as your Self… Forever… Timelessly.
Thanks to Huston Smith’s landmark book, The World’s Religions (HarperSanFrancisco, Copyright 1991) for the background material on Hinduism and for the quote contained in this blog article.