Wednesday, March 30, 2011



In our time there is much obsession with spiritual programmes. Such spiritual programmes tend to be very linear. The spiritual life is imagined as a journey with a sequence of stages. Each stage has its own methodology, negativity and possibilities. Such a programme often becomes an end in itself. It weights our natural presence against us. Such a programme can divide and separate us from what is most intimately ours. The past is forsaken as unredeemed, the present is used as the fulcrum to a future that bodes holiness, integration or perfection. When time is reduced to linear progress, it is emptied of presence. Meister Eckhart radically revises the whole notion of spiritual programmes. He says that there is no such thing as a spiritual journey. If a little shocking, this is refreshing. If there were a spiritual journey, it would be only a quarter-inch long, though many miles deep. It woulod be a swerve into rhythm with your deeper nature and presence. The wisdom here is so consoling. You do not have to go away outside your self to come into real conversation with your soul and with the mysteries of the spiritual world. The eternal is at home – within you.

The eternal is not elsewhere; it is not distant. There is nothing as near as the eternal. This is captured in the lovely Celtic phrase: tá tír na n-óg ar chul an ti – tír álainn trina chéile, i.e. The land of eternal yourth is behind the house, a beatuiful land fluent within itself. The eternal world and the mortal world are not parallel, rather they are fused. The beautiful Gaelic phrase, fighte fuaighte, i.e. 'woven into and through each other', captures this.

Behind the facade of our normal lives eternal destiny is shaping our days and our ways. The awakening of the humans spirit is a homecoming. Yet, ironically, our sense of familiarity ofthen militates against our homecoming. When we are familiar with something, we lose the energy, edge and excitement of it. Hegel said, 'Das Bekannte uberhaupt ist darum, weil es bekannt ist, nicht erkannt,' i.e. Generally, the familiar, preciseley because it is familiar, is not known. This is a powerful sentence. Behind the facade of the familiar, strange things await us. This is true of our homes, the place where we live and, indeed, of those with whom we live. Friendships and relationships suffer immense numbing through the mechanism of familiarization. We reduice the wildness and mystery of person and landscape to the external, familiar image. Yet the familiar is merely a facade. Familiarity enables us to tame, control and ultimately forget the mystery. We make our peace with the surface as image and we stay away from the otherness and fecund turbulence of the unknown which it masks. Familiarity is one of the most subtle and pervasive forms of human alienation.

In a book of conversations with P. A. Mendoza, the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez when asked about his thrity-year relationship with his wife Mercedes, said, 'I know her so well now that I have not the slightest idea who she really is.'

For Márquez, familiarity is an invitation to adventure and mystery, Conversely, the people close to us have sometimes become so familiar that they become lost in a distance which no longer invites or surprises. Familiarity can be quiet death, an arrangement which permits the routine to continue without offering any new challange or nourishment.

This hapens also with our experience of place. I remember my first evening in Tübingen. I was to spend more than four years there working on Hegel, but that first evening Tübingen was utterly strange and unknown to me. I remember thinking: look very carefully at Tübingen this evening because you will never see it in the same way. And thios was true. After a week there I knew the way to the lecture halls and seminar rooms, the canteen and library. After I had mapped out my routes through this strange territory, it became familiar and soon I did not see it for itself anymore.

People have difficulty awakening to their inner world, especially when their lives have become overly familiar to them. They find it hard to discover something new, interesting or adventurous in their numbed lives. Yet everything we need for our journey has already been given to us. Consequently, there is great strangeness in the shadowed light of our soul world. We should become more conversant with our reserved soul light. The first step in awakening to your inner life and to the depth and promise of your solitude would be to consider yourself for a little while a stranger to your own deepest depths. To decide to view yourself as a complete stranger, someone who has just stepped ashore in your life, is a liberating exercise. This meditation helps to break the numbing stranglehold of complacency and familiarity. Gradually, you begin to sense the mystery and magic of yourself. You realize that you are not the helpless owner of a deadened life, but rather a temporary guest gifted with blessings and possibilities you could neither invent nor earn.

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