Here's a thought that came to me a few days ago and I've pondered it since then.
Imagine for a moment that we can represent true spirituality and even the purpose of our existence in this world as a tall tree. High up in the tree is the fruit that we're here to pick and enjoy. It's life changing. It's meant for us and is the true nourishment we need. But it's beyond our normal reach. So we find or build long, tall ladders we can climb to get to the fruit.
Imagine a positive religion as a ladder, or a life philosophy as one. Any enterprise, any structured activity or array of human activities could be conceptualized as a ladder propped up against that high tree. Some of the ladders may be rickety and dangerous or too short, but some are great and even truly inspired. Perhaps, many are. And you may properly believe that you're on the best one of all, a great ladder that's been explicitly designed for reaching the highest fruit of all. You've been taught how to climb the ladder. And suppose you've learned well. So you climb high. And you've not just mastered the techniques of ascent, you've learned lots of other things along the way because of what you've experienced and seen as you've climbed.
But here's the problem. Many people who climb in search of the ultimate fruit tend to cling tightly to their ladder with both hands. And they won't let go. Ladder climbing has been turned from a means into an end. And that's a problem. When people keep a firm grip on their ladder, some fearfully and with white knuckles, they can't actually reach out for the fruit that awaits them and take it and eat it, and share it with others.
Only those who are willing to let go of the ladder can reach for the fruit. They can still keep their feet firmly planted on its rungs, but they have to reach out beyond its structure with an open hand to get the real treasure they've sought.
And the tragedy, it seems to me, is that many people who have good ladders just become ladder experts, ladder specialists and aficionados. They work on their ladders a lot, and paint them, and polish them, and keep them in good repair. They may even gild them with gold and show them proudly to others. But when they climb, they simply cling and don't reach out for what's really the purpose of the climb.
The moral of this little metaphor is, of course, simple. Find a great ladder and climb high. But then learn to let go enough to reach for the fruit that's the real point of the climb. Life, after all, isn't about the ladder, but ultimately the fruit.