Thursday 26 December 2013

The Great Myth

It was Christmas Eve, and we were watching the carol service from King's College Chapel, Cambridge (UK). I have lost count of the number of times I have watched this service over the years. Often, I watch with delight, but sometimes out of a sense of duty that I cannot explain. This year the experience was altogether different. It was as if, because of my loss of hearing perhaps (some 30 - 40% has gone), a third eye had opened and I was beginning to 'see' in a new way. Then, on Christmas Day, we once again followed our tradition of listening to the "Messiah." All that I had felt the day before began to wash over me again. If, in the past, I had barely scratched the surface of Christianity (see " L'Abbaye de Boquen ", posted 27.4.2013), now a new experience and understanding was beginning to emerge from the darkness that had obscured it for too many years.

It is difficult to find appropriate words to describe this sense of enlightening, or indeed to know the depth, breadth and height of the experience. Certainly, the experience was very complex, the details of which I have barely begun to understand. Yet I feel that, even if I have misunderstood, even if my words are inadequate for the task I have set myself here, I must at least make some attempt to describe what I 'saw'. It was as if a great light was shining inside me, so brightly that even I could not fail to see how woefully inadequate my assumptions about Christianity have been. What I 'saw' was one of the greatest myths of all times, wonderful in its splendour, yet flawed.

Before going on, let me say that when I use the word myth, I am not using it as it all too often is used nowadays as a synonym for a lie, a falsehood. A myth, as used here, is a story that embodies truth and which is told in a fashion that can be understood by anyone at a superficial level. The truth may well remain hidden until one has experienced that truth, but the myth points the way. A myth does not attempt to deceive, but to preserve a truth. 

In the West we are fortunate in having a great heritage of music and drama which has been put to the service of Christianity. This has helped to construct a mythological edifice of great power that is at the very heart and soul of our culture. But why is this religion so powerful? Why does it seem at times to be all things to all men? Perhaps it is because it tells the story, in symbolic form, of humanity's deepest fears, highest aspirations, its needs and yearnings, its desire to come home to the only home that really matters to sentient creatures. Perhaps it is because it speaks directly to the psychological soul of humanity. All this is projected through the life of one man, Jesus the Christ. The Jesus of the New Testament may well be different from the Nazarene who walked the Earth two millennia ago, but that man, flawed as am I, lived and taught then. Now there exists a mythological system about someone who may represent the psychological solution to all my ills, uncertainties, doubts, searchings and much much more. 

If the myth is flawed, it is because I am flawed. And that is why it is so powerful. A perfect man, a perfect Son of God, was never any use to me, because I am not perfect, whatever perfection means. He could never have been a role model, and that is why he has nothing to teach me;  his way is not my way. Only through the experience of Truth will I ever be able to approach this Great Myth and say that, finally I understand. Only then will I be able to say that I have more than scratched the surface, that I have laid bare the Truth.  

Saturday 21 December 2013

Thoughts About Morality

It has been said that contemplation is rather like sitting in the garden with a glass of beer, and gazing into the far distance. If this is true, then perhaps I was in a state of contemplation, the subject of my musings being morality. I do not recall there being any great mental effort involved. Rather, or so it seems to me in hindsight, the exercise took on the mien of an unfocused, dreamlike contact with something whose presence caused a certain sense of shock.

The image of the head, seen initially in profile, seemed real enough though existing in a non-material form. Well of course it had to be an image generated in my mind, but it nevertheless appeared to have a separate, perhaps projected, existence somewhat beyond my physical self. And there was that about the image that, if not entirely familiar, was not entirely unfamiliar either. It waited in the shadows, puzzled at what was passing through my mind, the unfocused subject of morality. As I have said, the puzzlement experienced by the image, which I had taken to be some expression of my Higher Self, generated a feeling of shock within my consciousness. It wasn't as if the image of the head was in any way immoral. That would have implied the acceptance of a moral code, but one which could be transgressed. Neither was there a sense of the image being amoral, for that would have implied the recognition of the existence of a moral code, but one which did not apply to the Higher Self. No, it was as if the whole notion of morality was totally foreign to my Higher Self, a meaningless concept. But how could this be?

It seems to me that morality serves only to make it possible for multitudes of egos to coexist in something approaching a state of harmony. That in itself means a state of separateness exists in what we see as reality, a state which also has the property of illusoriness. Now I am not saying that the world out there is an illusion, only that it is somewhat illusory. Reality and illusion can only be defined relative to a given set of parameters. Neither the experience of presumed reality nor of illusion can be considered to be absolute.

On the other hand, if it is true that I experienced some projection of my Higher Self, and that that state had no concept, if that is an appropriate word for something existing beyond the intellect, of morality, then the implication is clear. There can be only one Higher Self, call it God if you wish, a state or process which can be experienced by everyone. At that level, separateness ceases to exist, and each becomes part of a universal All. 

I have lived with doubt and uncertainty for as long as I can remember. At this moment, my uncertainty is almost palpable. It sits within and around me, waiting for understanding or to be understood. Of knowledge, I feel empty. And maybe that is a good place to be. So on the occasion of this winter solstice, I wish all my readers, whether they comment here or not, the best of the season's greetings. If you, like me, are searching, may you find that for which you search. If you knock, may the door be opened to you.

Sunday 15 December 2013

The Good Shepherd

For some time now I have been hovering around the question of what Jesus the Christ (a.k.a. the Anointed One) really was from the evidence available, rather than from the mythology built up around him as part of a personality cult. The reported words of Jesus in the Bible's New Testament may not be entirely reliable. Where possible, therefore, other sources need to be studied such as, for example, the Nag Hammadi Scriptures. I also need to study my own reactions to the biblical sources to try to determine whether, and how much, my personal prejudices about the Christ, gained from diverse sources, may influence my conclusions about who and what he was. In short, I need to answer questions such as, 

"What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?" 
"But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment?"
"But what went ye out for to see? A prophet?" (Matthew 11:7-9)

And I must admit to not knowing the answers to these questions. I need to open my eyes through meditation, and hope that I see what is there, not what I would like to be there. With this in mind I can now approach the parable of 'The Good Shepherd.' (Matthew 18:12-14). This is the well-known story about the shepherd who, discovering he has lost one of his one hundred sheep, goes into the mountains in search of that lost sheep, whilst leaving the rest of the flock on a hillside.

Now as a child, and even later since I lacked the interest to query the story, I was taught that this epitomises the love that Jesus has for even the weakest, meanest, of his spiritual flock. No-one is so worthless that they cannot be saved. This was all part of the 'gentle Jesus, meek and mild,' and the almost long-suffering parent that strove to keep me out of spiritual and moral danger. It was good old Victorian child discipline through the agency of guilt. And that could be a powerful weapon in the hands of one adept at using it. But what does this parable really mean?

What kind of shepherd is it that leaves most of his flock alone on a hillside, undefended against possible, prowling predators, whilst he sets off to try to find one sheep whose survival instincts do not appear to be entirely up to scratch? What kind of shepherd is it that is unable to cut his losses, and settle for the 99% of the flock he still has? Or, and I think this is the crucial question, what is it about that one particular sheep that is worth saving, that marks it out as being different from the rest of the flock? In answering this last question I think I may come a little closer to understanding who this 1st. Century Master of spiritual philosophy was trying to say, and what it said about him.

There are countless stories of people, often teenagers and children (but not exclusively so by any means), who 'kick over the traces', refuse to conform to accepted mores, who 'go it alone', and who make good! These are the people who refuse, or who do not feel led, to follow the flock or the herd. They are the ones who strike out alone, leave their comfort zone, in search of something more, something deeper, something more worthwhile in life. These people are special in society. And that search for greater meaning and understanding is not easy. The paths to their goals often require great courage, great fortitude, and not a little humility and doubt. Without the constant companion of doubt, spiritual pride all too easily raises its head.

But that is not the end of the matter. At some stage, with some luck perhaps and a great deal of perseverance, they attain their goal and return to the fold and pass on what they have experienced and learned. This is the meaning behind the universal hero myths. We have been blessed with many such spiritual heroes in our history. And in modern times we have had our Mahatma Ghandis, Martin Luther Kings, Nelson Mandelas and many others, all following the inner call as did the Jesus the Christs and Gautama Buddhas of old, and too many more to be named here. If I have mentioned only great spiritual and political leaders here, it is not to ignore the leaders, both male and female, in other fields, the arts, medicine, engineering, science and so on.

It is the fact that humanity generates these people that, for me, is the wonder of our species. Too often I look at the world around me.....and I despair. Oh lord, I despair. But so long as there are those who seek truth, understanding and wisdom, there is always hope.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

A Life Worth the Living

The only valid reason that I can advance for the investigation of my inner life is to discover what I am, if that is possible, and to understand myself better. Unless I carry out this investigation, and do so as intelligently as possible, I ghost my way through life with no purpose other than the sating of passing desires and instincts. There is no worthwhile purpose to such a life, and I would remain ignorant of possibilities, as yet unknown, that might arise and enhance my experiences of what it means to be truly human. If I pass my life away in such a fashion, how can I judge the validity and value of what I do, except by comparison with others who may be similarly afflicted? There needs to be an ongoing psycho-spiritual awakening in my life.

It is not enough to accept unquestioningly the knowledge or opinions of others, even though they may be great spiritual leaders without, at some stage, making that knowledge my own from direct experience. Spirituality, in other words, that which has to do with what is most important in life, is experiential. It is not a foreign import. Only through the ongoing investigation into what I truly am, and the spiritual power with which that firsthand experience endows me, can I respond to life through conscious choices, rather than react to life as if I were sleep-walking, as if I were a robot or a zombie.

It is the ability to make genuine, conscious choices, after the mists of illusion have been blown away, that is the joyous outcome of a life lived by responding to the universe. Living a life that is one of reaction rather than response is not only a life lived less satisfactorily than it might otherwise have been, but also a life that can lead to increasing difficulties and unnecessary pain. Rather than being helpful, reactive behaviour creates a state of increasing disharmony within the body, which rather misses the point of living a happy, fulfilled life. Put into religious terms and stripped of judgemental and pejorative connotations, unmanageability of one's life is a measure of sin, or the degree of missing the point of, or one's way in, life. If this situation remains unaddressed, physical and psychological ill-health and even a form of insanity will result. To every action there is an equal reaction. That law is as true of the world of the spirit as it is of the science of physics.  Measure for measure is a form of justice, but not reward and punishment. It is a matter of consequences. If I may put that idea another way, I would affirm that God is not mocked.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Scratching the Surface

..........As I chased the elusive figure ahead of me, I found that my progress was constantly hampered by fishing nets hung out to dry. Other nets were in the process of being mended, but laid out in a manner that seemed to be designed to catch my feet. Gradually Jesus was increasing the distance between me and him. The more I tried to hurry, the further away he became.........More nets were being thrown across my path. The actions had about them a greater sense of intent, as if I had to be slowed and stopped. The shore of Galilee suddenly threw up a crop of large rocks surrounded by broad layer of very sharp seashells. That not only slowed me even further, it also made me lose sight momentarily of the man I was chasing. And the fishing boats being drawn up out of the water by Jesus' disciples didn't help. Finally, I called out to the now very distant, fleeing Jesus, asking him to stop. He called back that this was his Way; it wasn't mine..........

              [From my private diaries, and posted in "God Loves You, Tom!" - 29.6.2013]

..........It is no teaching and no instruction that I give you. On what basis should I presume to teach you? I give you news of the way of this man, but not of your own way. My path is not your path, therefore I cannot teach you. The way is within us, but not in Gods, nor in teachings, nor in laws. Within us is the way, the truth, and the life..........
                                                                                       [From "The Red Book" by C.G.Jung]

..........Woe betide those who live by way of examples! Life is not with them. If you live according to an example, you thus live the life of that example, but who should live your own life if not yourself? So live yourselves..........
                                                                                       [From "The Red Book" by C.G.Jung]

[The quote from my private diaries was a report of a meditation journey along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The quotes from "The Red Book" were part of a dream sequence experienced by C.G.Jung just prior to the start of the "Great War".] 

In the "L'Abbaye de Boquen" - posted 27.4.2013 - I reported that whilst meditating on the rood screen, I 'heard' the words:-

"You have not even begun to scratch the surface of Christianity."

Today is the First Sunday of Advent. Now I am not a religious person - at least not conventionally so - and neither could I claim to be a Christian, although my upbringing was within the culture of Christianity. Nevertheless, today I feel as if I have been refreshed. Whilst intending to come to grips with that indictment delivered in the Abbey of Boquen, hopefully at some time in the near future, I discover that already I have been laying the groundwork, or at least that preparation has been taking place inside me, for this coming venture.

Part of that preparation has been recognising that although I need to experience what the Bible and the religion of Christianity has taught, I am not obliged to throw in my lot with the Church. I think I have always known that, but I needed to be certain that I wasn't simply trying to impose my will on God. As the image of Jesus said on the shores of Galilee, his way is not mine. I need to live my own life, not the life of some image or exemplar. The question might be asked as to why should I need to experience the teachings of the Bible and Christianity at all. The answer to that question is a simple one. My life is geared to discovering truth through the Way of Knowledge. Truth is something experienced through the process of meditation. No truth can be obtained from the printed word, no matter how holy those words may be. In the end, words are nothing more than symbols which point the way. 

So, on this lovely Advent Sunday, the sun is shining and not only on the material world.