I have never been given a lot of reasons to believe religion is terribly important or good for me. I’m deeply skeptical about Christianity in particular. However, I want to be educated in the great words of humanity, so I’ve been skimming “The Bhagavad-Gita As It Is.” The one thing I found troubling about this particular text (even though it provides the original sanscrit text and very precise translations of each word before giving you a direct English translation) is that the fellow who wrote it gives you his interpretation, or PURPORT of the words you just read. Why give us something else? Shouldn’t I be able to make my own conclusions based off the text itself?
Well, in this particular instance, I found myself finding a true nugget in the purport section. “Religion without philosophy is sentiment, or sometimes fanaticism, while philosophy without religion is mental speculation.” (That’s from Chapter 2, Verse 39).
I find myself struggling with flying off the handle being too much “in-my-head.” I think a lot. One of my favorite activities is to just sit down and think about things. Stories, plans, lost loves, future friends, songs. But it gets to a point where I start to wonder what it’s all for. It’s purely mental speculation, and nothing more. It creates nothing more than good feelings in my brain, or sometimes just allows me to wallow in a sad feeling, which in its own weird way can be just as pleasant.
I follow a great guy names Austin Kleon (and you should too if you like thoughts on the creative life), and recently he made a post concerning religion. Taken from the words of Karen Armstrong, the basic idea is that “if you don’t do religion, you don’t get it.” It describes that religion in many old traditions means a devoted practice to something, a work ethic that transcends just saying you “believe” something to be true.
I’m in the middle of a lot of projects right now, and they all suck. At least, that’s how it feels to me. I’m writing a screenplay that has no structure, terrible lines and bad characterizations. I’m working on a short film that’s undeveloped, unfocused, overly personal and weird. I’m making a documentary with my pal Annie that has no direction or through-line yet. I’m making comics that lack sufficient draftsmanship and aren’t funny. Everything I’m doing at the moment feels uninspired. Although they came from a place of inspiration, an idea that interested me, their execution is messy, stupid, bad, directionless. I hate these moments in my life, when everything just seems terrible and unworthy of my attention.
But it’s all practice. I get very turned off when the perfect idea of a project as it is in my head isn’t turning out the way it’s “supposed to.” But maybe that’s not the point. Mental speculation is fine, but at a certain point we need to give up on thinking and planning and just jump into the messy fray of making something that is going to be important to us. To me, that’s where the interdependence of religion and philosophy come into play in my life. The feeling I get from finishing something, in as good a fashion as I can get it before it’s done, is not the same one as when I conceived the notion. The end product has work, devotion and practice behind it. If it’s not perfect, I still see the places where I exceeded my own expectations, where I hit the wall of my own limitations, where something outside myself surprised me.
As Ira Glass said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “the only way to get good at something you aren’t good at is to keep doing it.” So, I’ll keep trying to make good things and failing, because what else am I gonna do?