"Once one knows oneself, one might find that one's spiritual capacity, which has a more eternal nature, is actually more stable and still than our more changeable earthly capacities, which are subject to aging and shifting social energies."
I am grateful to Stewart Berger for posting these comments after my previous blog entry: ‘What is Spirituality?' He is speaking about mature spirituality and has put his finger on a vital point: that the central experience at the heart of spirituality is of a comforting stillness that feels reliable and secure. We can find that still-point most easily and most often in silence.
Silence is also the starting point of ‘A Simple Path', Mother Teresa's guide towards spiritual maturity (from her book of the same name). It goes:
The fruit of silence is prayer
The fruit of prayer is faith
The fruit of faith is love
The fruit of love is service
The fruit of service is peace
Mother Teresa is not speaking of petitionary prayer, asking for something, but about contemplative prayer, a form of meditation involving silence, stillness, alert listening, paying attention with all your senses.
Dostoevsky, in his great novel ‘The Brothers Karamazov', has his saintly character, the Russian Orthodox Christian monk and priest Elder Zosima express the following: "Much on earth is hidden from us, but to compensate we have been given a precious mystical sense of our living bond with the world of the spirit, with the higher heavenly world; and the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not here but in these higher realms. That is why many philosophers say that we cannot appreciate the true, full essence of things on earth. God took otherworldly seeds and sowed them on this earth. His garden grew up and everything that could sprout came forth, but what grows lives and is alive only through the feeling of its connection with the other mysterious world of the spirit. If that feeling weakens or is destroyed, spiritual awareness and growth will die away in you. Then you will be indifferent to life and even grow to hate it."
A real monk, the Cistercian Thomas Merton (1915-1968) wrote about a still-point where the true self lies. He often used a French term for it, ‘Le point vierge', and here's what he had to say: "At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God... from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness... is so to speak His name written in us... It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely."
The quote comes from Merton's book ‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander' (1966, New York: Doubleday. p. 140-2).
Although the three writers quoted have taken a Christian perspective, similar ideas are found elsewhere, not only in other religions but also in mature secular ideologies that recognise the possibility of transcendental influences in our lives. Many people think of themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious', and have discovered the benefits of silence and stillness, of meditation, in the quest for our eternal, true, spiritual self.
These ideas are also consistent with the new holistic or ‘psycho-spiritual' paradigm for psychology mentioned in earlier posts. Victor Schermer describes the ‘pristine ego' of the infant as a fore-runner of the ‘spiritual self' (or true self) with which our everyday ego's are in perpetual tension throughout life's journey. The dissonance grows in the early stages of spiritual development, as the innate spiritual awareness of children atrophies if not encouraged. The proximity between worldly ego and the soul's true self increases again with advancing maturity and wisdom. I will say more about this next time.
Copyright Larry Culliford
Photograph of Thomas Merton by John Howard Griffin. Used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University.