In the 1970s, a book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance captured America’s attention. Basically, it showed how universal laws operated equally in a person’s approach to learning these apparently different human endeavors.
Scientist/theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg, as well as ancient wisdom traditions, held that all things in the universe obeyed the same laws. So everything mirrors everything else. Swedenborg called this universal knowledge the science of correspondences.
If one masters this special knowledge, all things in the natural world could lead us to discovering profound spiritual truths. Since a motorcycle has already been used, I will use the process of learning to play the piano as an example of how a worldly task can enlighten us about our higher, spiritual tasks.
Swedenborg stated that all process moving toward greater perfection moves from general things to particulars (details). This process is according to divine order and holds true in playing the piano. Knowledge of the notes and keys has to be learned first but knowledge is not enough. When we first attempt to play the piano, we only have control over general groupings of muscles in the fingers. Through years of practice, these general groups of muscles offer less and less resistance until we gain greater control of particular muscle fibers within those groupings.
This gives our fingers both greater dexterity and greater responsiveness (pliability) to the knowledge and will of the brain. Finally, success leads the piano practitioner to a state of joy and happiness that simulates reaching a kind of “heaven.”
However, some people feel that reaching God’s true kingdom of heaven is a matter of faith and mystery and that the process of salvation is entirely different from other human goal-seeking endeavors. What people fail to observe is that even salvation moves from general things to particulars (details) and this process always requires overcoming some resistance. We first learn general ideas concerning God and over time we become familiar with greater details. This requires a willingness to learn new ideas and overcoming any resistance in our mind. Again, knowledge is not enough. Other forms of resistance and challenge soon emerge.
Next, as we apply our growing religious knowledge to our actual lives and overcome resistance in our hearts we can finally gain mastery over body, mind and soul. This allows us to do the right thing with our whole being. Our natural inclinations toward self-love and egotism provide the important principle of resistance toward cultivating a sincere love of the neighbor. As we overcome the general resistance of selfishness we soon learn new hidden things about ourselves, which offer additional details and direction to further our spiritual perfection.
In theological language, this resistance or inner conflict in our lives is called temptation or the pain of one’s conscience. This psycho-spiritual pain does to the human heart and mind what hours of piano practice does to the muscles in our fingers.
No pain, no gain.