Journey to Nowhere

Somewhere, over the rainbow,
Way up high,
There's a land that I dreamed of
Once in a lullabye.
xxxxxx--Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz   

As we progress along a spiritual path, we may eventually come to realize there is no essential difference between seeking God and seeking riches.  Both proceed from the same starting point: a sense that there is something lacking in life. We are haunted by a feeling that real life is somehow passing us by, even as we strive blindly for the stuff of dreams.  If only we get that promotion, win the lottery, find God – whatever we think it takes to live happily ever after.  We will seize on anything to distract us from the problems of everyday life.  Why did Dorothy start mooning about Somewhere Over the Rainbow in the first place, if not to get away from a crabby neighbor who threatened to call the sheriff on her dog?  We imagine that by wallowing in God we won’t have to deal with our pain  -- or, better yet, that God will kiss it and make it go away. 

Spiritual seekers are often seduced by tales of sudden illumination that gleam like fool’s gold along the pathways of every spiritual tradition.  The trouble with all those stories that end happily ever after is that you never hear about the “ever after” part.  Exactly what is it like to live happily ever after?  Wouldn’t it get kind of boring?  Mark Twain had a particular aversion to the prospect of living happily ever after in the hereafter, a theme he revisited numerous times in his writings, including some considered so scurrilous that they remained unpublished until a half-century after his death.  “Singing hymns and waving palm branches through all eternity is pretty when you hear about it in the pulpit,” he wrote in Capt. Stormfield's Visit to Heaven , “but it's as poor a way to put in valuable time as a body could contrive.”

A good story always leaves us just a little disappointed when we get to the “happily ever after” part, because we no longer get to find out what happens next.  For a small child, “happily ever after” means you’ve gotten to the end of the story and it’s time for bed, with all the little terrors that the night may bring.  Any self-respecting youngster will demand that you tell the story again, leaving out nothing.  It’s the telling of the story, not the outcome, that we crave.  Finding out what happens next is how most of us who aren’t scientists or theologians satisfy our hunger for meaning.  We are carried along by the hope that what happens next will provide us another clue, perhaps an answer to our dilemma or even some semblance of the thing we lack, whatever that might be: a brain, a heart, a home, the nerve.

Does it matter that what awaits us down the Yellow Brick Road is some canny old humbug who can give us nothing we don’t already possess?  Poor Dorothy, who doesn’t even get a fake diploma out of the deal, has it in her power all along to go home to Kansas.  “Why didn’t you tell her before?” the Scarecrow demands indignantly.  “Because she wouldn’t have believed me,” answers Glinda, the Good Witch.  “She had to learn it for herself.”  What does she learn, for all that?  “If I go looking for my heart’s desire again,” Dorothy vows, “I won’t go looking any further than my own back yard.”  Ah, yes, but there’s the rub: if Dorothy had never gone looking further than her own back yard, there would have been no story.  And without the story, she would never have learned not to go looking.

Each new stage of the spiritual journey negates the stages that went before, until the journey itself becomes superfluous, along with the seeker who sets out on a spiritual quest.  Eventually we may discover that this journey has no destination.  There is nothing to be found over the rainbow, no answer to our heart’s desire beyond the precincts of the heart itself. There is no secret to life, no salvation, no enlightenment, no transcendence, no hope of a better world.  There is only what is happening right now, and that is everything.    

"Over the Rainbow," lyrics by E. Yip Harburg

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