Sunday, 30 March 2014

No Reason to Live?

Something seems to be very much missing in my life, and that something appears to be related to what I have supposed to be a 'dark night of the spirit'. It tells of a kind of aridity, but also a loss of desire for that which I was doing up to the point when the 'night' seemed to begin. Amongst those desires must be included the desire to study, to write, to take part in this or that activity which at some time in the past, near or far, gave me pleasure and a sense of fulfillment. Yet the strange thing is that in this seeming desert in which I now find myself, there are streams flowing that are bringing certain understandings to the surface.

One of the most important questions that arises in this state is why am I continuing on my present path? Is there a desire to so continue? The immediate, and mildly shocking answer is that there is no desire in me to continue, yet nevertheless I must do so! Why must I? I cannot answer that question, because there appears to be no satisfactory answer. In short, there is no discernible reason that drives me forward, at least not a reason that I can determine. If there were a reason, then I could latch onto it and sense desire once again. But the focus would then be, to use Maester Eckhart's approach, a reason that is a 'thing of God', but not God himself. So, odd though it would seem, so long as I do not have a reason to continue, I cannot have an associated desire. If I have no desire, I cannot feel the need that says I am 'here' and the path or its goal is 'there'. In other words, the path and I are one; the sense of duality that is the hallmark of my ego, my virtual self, disappears.

The more closely I observe my present state, the more I realise that this apparent inner desert that appears to be devoid of life, is becoming full of life. I cannot help but examine my inner surroundings and see that somehow the 'noise' of my spiritual life has been stilled, and I am sensing the gentle breezes that get hidden by the noisy gale of 'spiritual activity'. That is not to say that all activity has ceased. It is rather that the activity is more gentle and subtle, but is at the same time quite profound. What a realisation it is that I have no reason to continue my spiritual path because a reason isn't necessary. I do not need a reason, any more than I need some carefully thought out, intellectual assessment for my continuing to breathe, or to live. I simply do these things because I do them. I must repeat, I do not breathe in order to live, I breathe because I breathe. So I continue to follow my spiritual path, not always efficiently, not always without stumbling, falling or becoming distracted, because following the path set out before me is what I do.

There is no cajoling, no being spurred on by inner, spiritual whips, no more guilt if I lose my way, although there may be some sadness, but that only reminds me of my human-ness and my well-practised art of making mistakes. It also reminds me constantly of my vulnerability and powerlessness over so many forces in life which could, if I allowed them, drown me as my obsession with those forces once did, long ago. In those days I needed a reason to follow my chosen path. Yet over the years, as I have indicated already, that reason has disappeared. That is not to say good reasons do not exist, only that they have slipped into the realm of unconsciousness. There is still work to be done, or perhaps more appropriately, there are still necessary activities to be undertaken in order to maintain and continue my journey. That may even include some re-examination from time to time, lest life takes on the aspect of dogma. I must never forget that, because my life is my responsibility.  

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Dark Night

"One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
---ah, the sheer grace!---
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled. (First Stanza from "The Dark Night")

I am always rather leery of claims by my inner self that 'the dark night of the senses' and 'the dark night of the spirit' are being experienced. In "The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross - The Dark Night", the writer describes in great detail just what these experiences entail. It seems to me that, like the experience of grace, the experience of the 'Dark Night' is usually realised after the event. Certainly that was how it seemed for me when I went through my own 'dark night of the senses'. I recall that at that time I was so overwhelmingly caught up with the experience that it felt like total abandonment rather than a mere aridity. 

I have said previously that what characterises my present state is a profound loss of the sense of Presence. This loss goes hand in hand with a great loss of any desire to continue with any part of my studies and writing that I have enjoyed so much until now. Yet there are also some signs that I welcome. I find that I am able, at least for a large part of the time, to observe myself from the standpoint of 'remembering myself', as Gurdjieff would say. That is I am aware of my sense of "I-ness" concurrent with the experience through which I am passing. Interestingly, this is not a way of being that I have ever actively cultivated. And there is something truly wonderful about that because that way of being appears to have come of its own volition, or perhaps divinely implanted in some way. Alongside that appears to be a state, if not of desired detachment, of something bordering on disinterest, freed from the constraining influences of resentment, bitterness or self-pity and so on. I am going through what appears to be a natural, spiritual period of change.

Most works on psycho-spirituality approach the subject, if not openly then certainly implicitly, from the spiritual-pathology standpoint. That is to say that something needs to be cured, put to rights. And there is undoubtedly good cause for this approach, for it is most often the case that we turn to these studies when our lives feel to be in serious trouble. If it can be supposed that at some stage a 'cure' has been effected, what then? Well, assuredly, a healthy life-style of the spirit needs to be maintained so that the changes of the soul/spirit, appropriate to its right development, can take place. I would suggest that this latter process is above and beyond the stage of spiritual-pathology.      

"The Dark Night - Book Two" opens with three introductory chapters in which St. John of the Cross explains when the dark night of the spirit begins, some spiritual imperfections of people who have reached that stage, and the requirement to purge not only the spirit but also the last vestiges of the senses. I would like to quote some passages from the third chapter of this treatise:-

"In this night that follows both parts are jointly purified. This was the purpose of the reformation of the first night and the calm that resulted from it: that the sensory part, united in a certain way with the spirit, might undergo purgation and suffering with greater fortitude."

It seems to me that St. John is saying that the necessary correction of the role of the ego undergoes two stages. The first, the 'dark night of the senses' deals with the major part of the problems arising from a spiritually aberrant ego, whilst the second takes place in tandem with the purification of the spirit. There is a clear sense in these chapters that a great deal of psycho-spiritual energy is expended in this work, which seems to account for the powerful sense of lethargy that is currently being experienced. St. John goes on to say:-

"He [God] leaves the intellect in darkness, the will in aridity, the memory in emptiness..........For this privation is one of the conditions required that the spiritual form, which is the union of love, may be introduced into the spirit and united with it.

God works all of this in the soul by means of a pure and dark contemplation, as is indicated in the stanza quoted at the heading of this essay. Although this stanza was explained in reference to 'the night of the senses' (Book One of the treatise) the soul understands it mainly in relation to 'the night of the spirit', since this night is the principle purification of the soul.

I said above that I am always leery of inner claims of passing through a 'dark night'. Yet with the benefit of experience, and the searching out for an explanation of previous experiences through the works of this great mystic, St. John of the Cross, I am convinced that after all these years I have finally entered that phase of my spiritual life (or at least entered the forecourt) which I have dreaded yet also longed for. Yet still I wonder.

Friday, 14 March 2014

In the Mist of Uncertainty

If I were to be asked about how I was feeling at this moment, my instinctive response would be to say that I am feeling blocked. Faced with that assertion I would then proceed to describe the nature of that feeling, only to discover that I was unable to offer any description that sounded anything remotely like a spirit-mind-block. So what am I feeling at this moment? I am feeling cut off from a sense of Presence that has pervaded my being for these many years, but which now seems to have left. And that feeling is decidedly uncomfortable. I recall once watching an episode of Star Trek - TNG (so I like Star Trek!) in which the ship's counsellor, Diana Troy, was for a while cut off from her empathic abilities; she could no longer 'hear' the feelings of the rest of the crew. In response to this condition she wailed,

"How can you all live like this? How can you bear it?"

(If that is not a strictly accurate recall, please understand I watched that episode a long time ago.) I suppose that those are  the questions I am now asking myself. How can I live like this? How can I bear it? There ought, I feel, to be a simple answer to those questions, but it would inevitably entail a high degree of circularity, and that would be most unsatisfactory. So I will stop asking questions and get on and do something, anything, like going inwards and trying to describe what I see.

The first impression is one of standing somewhere in a mist or fog. There is nothing on which I can focus, and I feel a mind-sapping lethargy. I feel quite alone. Freed from all the complications that the ego loves to generate, in order to give it some sense of worth, of importance, I realise that my ego is transient and, at its deepest levels, fearful. It fears being cut off, of being sealed inside an iron lung where no-one can hear it. If I am truly searching for something which relates to eternal Truth, I must begin here where I presently find myself, for only in finding my Self will I find anything worth the seeking.

I am not bound to one particular place in this mist that surrounds me. I can move, but into what? If that Presence lies just beyond my senses, I do not know whether it is behind, before, or alongside me. Recent forays into the realm of meditative imagery has convinced me that if I walk behind I can choose only to follow or go my own way; no inner conversation is possible. If I walk ahead I am liable to make horrendous mistakes, and still conversation is not possible. Only by walking alongside this inner Presence can we converse, and can I be safely nudged this way, or that. Somewhere up ahead is the place at which I need to arrive. All paths lead to that goal. It does not seem to matter what I read, hear, think or feel, but that every experience - no matter of what duration - leads or points to one place. That one place lies at the very heart, soul or ground of my being. And I repeat that only in finding my Self will I find that which is worth the seeking and the finding.

The odd thing is that I couldn't see this, I mean really see this, so long as I was aware of that sense of Otherness that is my ever-present companion. Only now, with the attendant feeling of being bereft, am I able to be aware, even if only in a limited way, of that towards which I am headed, and have always been so. There can be great strength and durability in something that seems as intangible as the ground of my being; and there can be great weakness and transience in something that seems as ever-presently demanding as my ego.

If I have rambled on and gone in circles in this script, it is because I cannot yet see a clear way forward. The mist still clings to me like an extended shroud, and I am unable to focus on nothing-ness. If I have been placed in this state for a purpose, I will remain here until that purpose has been fulfilled. I need only to watch and wait for that clearing of the mist which will surely come. This is what the spiritual life is about. The valleys are every bit as important as the tops of the mountains; and down here there is at least some cover, and places at which to enjoy a rest every now and then.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Language of the Soul

"The more God is in all things, the more He is outside them. The more He is within, the more without."                                     [Meister Eckhart]

There would appear to be not only a contradiction in this statement but also a possible error. It has been said at many times, in many places, that the search for God involves a search within oneself, because God can only be known through those internal faculties of wisdom, understanding and gnosis. Those faculties are not of themselves God, but can point the way to God. How then can he be inside yet outside?

The universe that I perceive around me is a construct of my own making. That is not to say that the material universe has no relative reality, only that I cannot know that universe in its entirety or be certain that my perception of the universe tallies with that relative reality. The incoming data that I collect through my senses enter through a very limited window and are processed by my brain, a material body that is as much a part of the 'outside' as is the rest of the universe. The ultimate interpretation by my mind, quite regardless of the nature of the processing that takes place in my brain, comes from that inner sense of "I-ness" that seems to live separately from the rest of the material universe. In other words the universe is my interpretation of heavily restricted, and very limited, incoming data. It naturally leads to a very limited perception of the world around me. That which lies beyond my consciousness receives much more information than my ego-consciousness alone, but how can that ever be enough to meet the requirements for total knowing and understanding?

Now the more I increase the quantity and the quality of that incoming data by the use, for example, of ever more sophisticated equipment, the broader becomes my perspective, and the more accurate (but never perfect) becomes my perception. Yet even if the whole of the material universe were to reside inside me in the form of images, there would still be so much more to know. If I need a language with which to speak with God, the language of the soul, or imagery, is a good place to begin. But imagery extracts its source material from the outside world. Thus the more accurate the perception of that source, the less room for misconceptions in the use of the soul language and the greater my understanding, wisdom and knowing. Thus the more improved my communication with God, the better I can know the universe around me; the more accurately I perceive the universe, the more sophisticated and gnostic is my inner understanding. The greater the divine presence within, the more without.

William Law (English cleric 1686-1761) once said, 

"Though God is everywhere present, yet he is only present to me (my underlining) in the deepest and most central part of my soul. The natural senses cannot possess (understand?) God or unite thee to him."

He is not present, therefore, in my physical self, my thoughts and my emotions, that is in my ego, any more than in the rest of the physical universe. That is tantamount to saying that only that sense of "I-ness" that resides in the ground of my being wherein I meet God, has any real and true existence. 

William Law continues,

"There is a root or depth of thee from whence all these faculties come forth [which] is called the centre, the fund or bottom of the soul. This depth is the unity, the eternity - I had almost said the infinity - of thy soul." 

God is beyond any activity of my brain, which itself lies in the outer universe, and is present only in the beyond-conscious root of the most basic essence of that which is my sense of "I-ness". Only there in that uttermost root can exist that unity which is the ultimate seat of resolution of universal duality.

Saturday, 1 March 2014


It was, and still is I imagine, traditional practice in monastic orders for monks (and nuns presumably in their convents) to listen to a passage from scripture whilst enjoying the partaking of a meal in their refectory. This period of listening would be followed by a silent meditation on the passage, and thereafter a period of quiet contemplation. A relatively recent addition to this meditational scheme, used in the field of psychology, has been the practice of pathworking and its more strictly organised practice of guided imagery. What is so valuable about pathworking, and in particular that form of pathworking that erupts spontaneously into the mind? 

It seems to me that primarily the value lies in the conversation, albeit somewhat one-sided, that takes place between consciousness and the unconscious, that source of power and wisdom that desires to communicate. Put into religious terms, it is about talking with God. Now why would that not seem to be important? Clearly, one does not need to be a religious in order to take part in this conversational exercise. It is available to all. Taking part in this inner conversation also allows one to gain both instruction and understanding. Recently, Fr. Richard Rohr drew reference to something that C.G.Jung said, namely that people who just look outside are dreaming, but people who look inside are "awakening." Well I want to be very wide awake.

Recently, I wished to meditate on the question of petitionary prayer. Now it has to be said that asking favours of the Divine is not something in which I tend to indulge. Alright, so I've had the occasional rant against the heavens, but God-bothering really isn't my thing. For me that would pander to the idea of an anthropomorphic God which would give me an decidedly uncomfortable itch. Furthermore, my inner Self knows better than my outer self or ego, just what my needs (rather than material wishes) really are. In fact it is probably true to say that I cannot know what my psycho-spiritual needs are until I am told by that inner purveyor of wisdom. 

Let me now turn again to the experience of the image of the Temple recently introduced in, "The Chalice." Some of the imagery that arises is universal, whilst some may be particular to me. After all, the idea is to communicate using the best available images. It seemed to me that the very least I could do was to converse by taking up the offer of the Temple as the chosen language. The actual inner journey, or pathworking, is in bold italic script.

"..........Once again I sat on my throne, wondering about, mulling over, what it was that I needed so that I could move my development forward. What were the Divine methods of advancement as distinct from my own uncertain, probing ways? There came a point when it seemed to be appropriate to descend to the Altar, to kneel holding the Sword by the blade, hilt upwards, and wait. Only later did I realise that this was an act of submission that I had willingly entered into.
On the far side of the Altar, the entrance to the central stairway was glowing a gentle red, and it was to that arched entrance that I made my way. I found myself at the foot of a very long, climbing staircase. As I climbed, the walls closed in on me to form a rough-hewn, reddish-brown corridor. When finally I reached the top of the stairs, I found myself in what appeared to be another, but inner, Temple from which issued a number of exits, each closed behind a door. The floor of this Inner Temple was very dark, and appeared to be almost alive, or at least in a state of continuous movement, and quite insubstantial. It was this insubstantiality that made me hesitate before moving forward.
At the very centre of the Inner Temple, suspended at the height of my head, hung a large representation of the Sun from which the corona had entirely disappeared. It was as if the solar image were being viewed at a wavelength that made the corona invisible, for what I saw was the solar surface beneath the corona. As if in the far distance, I could hear a soft murmuring. Every so often, plumes of solar matter would erupt from the sphere, only to fall back again to the surface. Then one particularly large eruption occurred. The outflung, insubstantial material, seemed deliberately to reach out, wrap itself around me, and pull me inwards towards the Sun. As I came closer to the sphere, the whispering became more insistent, a strange hissing like ions radiating into the cosmos.
Gently I was drawn into the very centre of the Inner Temple, with my head then inside the Sun. I seemed to hear something, although hardly what I could describe as a voice, which said,


Now I immediately recognised that this was a situation in which my natural reaction would have been to argue, debate, and question the method by which I might achieve a state of listening. In that split second, my inner surroundings seemed to be so clear, so simple and therefore so simplistic, that I knew I was in danger of experiencing great loss. So I did not argue, but kept my peace. I became surrounded by a white, misty non-mistiness, an aura of nothingness yet of great complexity. My thinking and all my instincts and intuitive faculties were finally stilled. Yet I knew that there was a beyondness, a state into which I might be accepted, if I were patient. And the strange thing was that I, this most impatient of men, had no problem with that. I could wait for an eternity if need be.........."

Now there is much in this imagery that is significant, full of meaning, because of my earlier studies of the mystical Qabalah. Now is neither the time nor the place even to attempt to offer a precis of that work. What is clear from this pathworking is that contact had been made directly with my Higher Self, freed from the coronal mask of my ego. The Sun has been worshipped for millenia as an image of God, and to echo an observation made by Prof. Jacob Needleman, the question of one's Higher Self and of God, may be the same question.

Many years ago, when my offspring were still young, there would come occasions when I too would say to one of them, 

"Listen!" Often I would receive the response,

"But dad, I am listening!" It wasn't true of course. I wasn't really being listened to, nor were they really 'hearing'.

Maybe that is the position in which I now find myself.