Saturday, April 7, 2018

A real Aim

The spiritual search, to the seeker, frequently looks like a search for answers. 

The penetration and explanation of mysteries; a realization, an enlightenment. We secretly hope to get something from it. Or maybe we publicly hope that; either way, there is an acquisitive element at work.

I wonder how often we consider the idea that one step deeper into mystery simply leads to more and deeper mysteries. This is not, in reality, just an idea; it is true, because the nature of God is forever concealed from man. It is possible for us to go all the way to God and still not know Him; and even if we became God, we would not know God, because God is unknowable even to Himself. (That is what He has us for.)

Anyway, this kind of thought is simply conjecture. One must start from the mystery of where one is, and see in a quite simple way that the mystery of our organic relationship with ourselves is not understood. We begin quite crudely in this area; and for most of us, the questions about our organic relationship to the energy of our life and our Being — the higher energy, the energy of life, that is — never really come up. We have relationships to hunger and pizza; to alcohol and sex. But our relationship to God, which manifests organically, goes begging. It is a categorical unknown without long and disciplined work.

I am reminded of meeting a German Catholic woman at the Cistercian Abbey of Senanque in July of 2017. We had a very pleasant conversation with her; she was earnest and heartfelt, grounded and sincere, and spoke with great conviction of the unusual experiences she had had there doing week-long silent retreats with the monks.

“After you work like this for a while,” she said in quiet, guarded reverence, “you can feel the prayer. You feel it in a different way… in your body.” 

The italics are hers. She had understood something new which was only made possible by working with the monks; and even then, she was in a special place designed to help induce such experience of prayer. Discovering a relationship to it in a cafeteria or at a football game is a highly unlikely prospect.

Yet it is exactly this kind of energy that we ought to encounter and bring into daily life. Only how? We don’t know what it is; we don’t know how to “make it happen.” We can induce it in the chakras, perhaps, using yogic exercises, but it doesn’t last and we don’t know what it means. It never becomes a part of every cell in us, speaking in its own language to us all day long, which is what is really necessary in order for a transformation to begin. 

It’s frustrating; we want something. We want to understand. Yet each step towards the cellular sensation of Being turns out to be another step deeper into mystery; and there are many, many steps into that mystery. So many that each time we think we have reached a place where we understand something, we go a little further and see that we were mistaken once again. 

Eventually, this happens so many times that we are willing to give up a little bit of our obsession with acquisition, and just try to carefully observe.

With luck, that observation becomes such an active process, and is so deeply inserted into the interstitial spaces between the cells, that it invigorates a constantly active energy which is a “permanent” sensation of Being. This is another mystery, because it does not have an origin. I only receive it. It has properties that make it quite clear to me that it is not my own and does not originate in me; it has properties that speak of life itself and the way that it flows into Being from another level that I have no real understanding of at all. I say that this happens with luck, but that isn’t true at all; it only happens through Grace, and with a directed intensity of attention and intention that is willing to engage with the energy and be truthful to it in a different way.

Being truthful to the energy means arriving in relationship with it without interference, without judgment, without assumptions and without any effort to manipulate. It must trust me and my actions, it must understand that it has an autonomy of its own in which to work. If I can bring this kind of respect to it, then it manifests quite differently and will not go away; but under any ordinary set of circumstances it understands that I have grown up a terrorist, and it is deeply suspicious of both my motives, my activities, and my intentions. Why should it trust anything I do? I am a maniac.

Well, perhaps I give myself too much credit. A maniac might have some potential and be able to do things. In fact, I am just an idiot, a kind of fool that stumbles about. So if I can dispense with a bit of the foolishness and become more reliable, already perhaps that is an invitation of a kind.

If this takes place, I need to learn to sit for a very long time and do almost nothing except observe. 

And what I am primarily observing is not the manifestations of my ego, the ups and downs and ins and outs and my cravings, desires, lusts and so on, but simply just seeing the energy present in the body and forming a better relationship with it. All of the nonsense I get myself up to in ordinary life isn’t the point of this activity, no, not at all. The point of every activity is to develop an inner sense of gravity that holds itself independent of the outer action, and forms a core relationship with this energy of sensation. 

No matter what I am doing, I ought always to attend to this question and come back to it. Once we form a good alliance, the sensation itself will help me with this all the time; but for as long as I think I am some kind of a conductor with a baton telling sensation where to go and what to do, forget about it. The energy has to be allowed its autonomy, its own core of stillness and sphere of action, in order to manifest independently and grow in strength.

All of this growth is nearly useless for outer activity. One might even argue it’s pointless, in light of the fact that we believe—everyone believes—that absolutely everything we do must have an outward “result” of some kind in order to have “real meaning.” 

The development of a relationship with this mystery has a very different aim. It’s intended almost entirely to help grow a new part that has a feeling capacity of a quite different kind than my ordinary emotions. Once again, that feeling capacity is a mystery, and although I could describe it with a number of words, it is nearly useless. Nonetheless, since we must say something, we speak of it as suffering, because this is a pretty good word for it, seeing as it’s so open-ended and conveys, in some small measure, the glorious anguish which we are requested to come into relationship with. 

This is the glorious anguish of the Lord, of God Himself, who shares His anguish (which is the greatest blessing one can earn) in direct proportion with one’s willingness to engage intimately with the energy that helps form the seed for it.

If we were to have a real aim—if we knew what a real aim was—it would center itself irrevocably around this action.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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