I’m in my office/studio this morning. The geese on the creek are making quite a racket. We are on the tail end of a nor’easter and there is a good deal of wind; it is cold, but not very cold considering it’s early March. The last few weeks have been unusually warm.
Over the last month, I’ve had a great deal of opportunity to ponder the question of our emotional well-being — both temporally and spiritually, that is, from both an outer and an inner point of view. I say this because there is a distinct and measurable difference between one’s emotional nature from a spiritual point of view and a temporal point of view. They touch one another; and there is food that passes from one to another. Yet they are quite separated; and this is a mystery not so easily penetrated.
I had the flu in China in late January. Although I caught it early with Tamiflu, the after effects were devastating and I spent several weeks depressed — temporally depressed, that is. I did not feel spiritually hopeless, but the energy it took to fight off the flu left me feeling empty about ordinary life and external requirements. I found myself feeling quite negative, in fact, about life in general. Negative in the sense that all of the so-called “achievements” I think I have made — and this concept expanded to everything human beings do – seemed to be hollow and not connected to the realities of our spiritual being or what the purpose of life is.
The aftereffects of this and the slow recovery as I built up my inner and outer energies again are complex and difficult to record here; but one of the things that came to me as I saw how these parts function next to each other is that we underestimate the strength of the opposition.
That is to say, we do not see at all how powerfully opposed to the spiritual world and everything it represents our ordinary being is. We can even make a great deal of spiritual "progress" (if there is such a thing) and begin to forget that this opposition is there; but it very much plays the long game. It is incredibly patient and knows how to hide until a moment arrives which it can seize for its own purposes. This reminded me strongly, especially yesterday afternoon, of Ibn Arabi’s “evil commanding ego.”
We can't escape this part, even though we think we rise above it; and we forget or ignore it at our peril. Part of acquiring real inner humility is learning to respect this evil part and acknowledging that it is always there looking for way to get through a chink in our armor. It has to be allowed its due; and I need to remember that it's always active in one way or another in me.
There's a persistent part in me that thinks I am better than others, for example, and it feeds on the fact that there are certain areas where this is true. Every human being has a few parts here or there that are "better" (more facile, quicker) than the parts of most of those around them. Some of those parts may be good, some bad; but the fact is that everyone has assets and deficiencies that are constantly deployed.
Our inner universe, however, undergoes an act of inflation in which the ego continually grows larger, seizes everything around it, and interprets it to its own advantage. One can see this happening not only in oneself, but in everyone else, on a nearly constant basis.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.