Friday, August 24, 2007

Fifty years in the desert

It turns out that Mother Theresa, who spent a lifetime in practice, found herself, for the last 50 years of her life, in the desert.

In her case the desert was a place where she did not feel the presence of God. At least, she did not feel what she understood to be the presence of God. Apparently she was looking for something specific, and it wasn't there.

We've all been in deserts of this kind. Everyone finds themselves in life looking for things that we earnest feel should be there, but are not. In some cases it is external things-luck, success, wealth. In other cases it is something more fundamental, a sense of deeper meaning.

However we choose to understand it, there is in a men distinct lack, and that lack is emotional. Typically human beings try to fill that lack with material things, because they are what is close at hand. They grasp for money. They drink alcohol or take drugs, or indulge in food or sex. Any way you look at it, human beings continually seem to find an emptiness at the center of their existence that cannot be fed.

Perhaps it is even worse when one feels one is spiritually called. In cases like this we feel we are
called to serve some higher purpose, but we're unable to connect with it.

Does that mean there is no higher purpose there? Atheists, who are getting a disproportionate amount of air time these days, would have us believe so. Instead of respecting Mother Theresa's struggle, her half a lifetime of anguish, and her steadfast faith, they have seized on it with delight, triumphantly proclaiming that it "proves them right."

Of course, atheists can no more "prove" there isn't a God than others can prove there is one. Best not waste time on these people and their ideas, which have produced, proportionally speaking, absolutely nothing of cultural value over the course of human history. Their behavior in this single instance takes their full measure, and it comes up short.

Coming back to the question of the "inner void," this bottomless pit that cannot be satisfied, I believe we can see, if we study our own cravings, that in the end the deficiencies men discover in their lives are almost always emotional ones at the root. The key to finding meaning in lie is to discover how to find the right food for the emotions.

This is not as complicated as it may seem. Gurdjieff's explanation of it as being the food of impressions is quite right. The issue lies in understanding how we relate to the food of impressions. If we relate to it intellectually, it does us little good. Man must develop a physicial understanding of the food of impressions in order to take it in more effectively.

Discovering the presence of something higher in life depends on learning how to take in the impressions of life differently. The numerous discussions of the inner flowers in this blog continually refer back to that, simply because there is no way to digest the nectar of impressions properly if there are no open flowers and there is no exchange of energy between them.

Unfortunately, it appears Mother Theresa had no teacher to show her this work. The supreme irony is that she was a contemporary of Paramahansa Yogananda's, and even lived in his native land. Had she chosen to avail herself of his teachings,--which, given his own lifelong devotion to Christ, would have been entirely compatible with her own Christian devotions--she might have learned a bit more about this subject.

As Yogananda and Gurdjieff both maintained, discovering the presence of God is not just a matter of faith. It is also a science.

And, lastly, it is not what we expect it to be. I'm currently taking a brief break from Dogen to reading Chogyam Trungpa's "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism." He certainly makes the point that expectations get in the way of opening to real practice. Our expectations of the divine, our demands of the divine, are unreasonable. We cannot acquire reality on our own terms.

In the desert, everyone seems to want the spectacular view from the peaks...

but all the water's down here at the bottom.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

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