As we follow our journey of awakening to the presence of God in all things, we need to remember that this is not a journey outwards, but a journey inwards. Life is constantly inviting us to go deeper into it. Whenever we think we have plumbed the depths of life, we can be sure that there is more just waiting for us. The presence of God is infinite, and the life of God in us is infinite. There is hidden treasure within every single thing, in every single moment. We look at the external form, and we do not see what lies inside, because we look with the eyes of the mind. We see only the surface of what is present.
The imprisoning ego
The mind of course loves to make judgments, to label and to categorize things. In a sense that is what it is for. It is a wonderful tool for assessing how to navigate the relative, phenomenal world with a degree of safety in the face of things that might hurt us. To that extent the labeling and categorizing functions of the mind can be useful, and we need them as long as we live in the world. The problem is that the mind doesn’t stop there. If I see beautiful birds in flight, as in the picture at the top of this post, does the knowledge acquired by the mind help me to engage with their essential beauty and mystery? Knowledge has its place, but there is a real danger that all the knowledge, all the categories and the labels may serve only to cut me off from everything that is truly important.
The mystical poet William Blake referred to “Mind forg’d manacles” suggesting that the ego driven mind is less of a helpful tool, and more a set of imprisoning shackles.
Just take a look at the world around you. What is the prevailing culture we see out there? Half an hour looking at the output of the dozens of TV channels available to us will inevitably bring us to the conclusion that the culture of the world is the culture of superficiality, the culture of mind in service to the ego. Material wealth, physical health and undemanding entertainment, are our primary concerns. But what about the well-being of the soul?
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
We settle for so little! Our happiness comes from things that are transient and impermanent. Even our idea of happiness is a fleeting emotion that is here one moment and gone the next. We go after satisfaction that cannot last, and wonder why we are so dissatisfied and unhappy most of the time.
Our shared delusion
The source of true and lasting contentment is never going to be found out there in the world or on the surface of things. It is always going to be found in here, in what Jesus called, “The kingdom of God.”
I once heard a well-known psychologist and writer Dorothy Rowe speaking on Depression. I have never forgotten something she said.
“Let me give you a sure-fire recipe for depression. If you want to be depressed, rely on someone other than yourself for your happiness. Indeed rely on anything outside yourself for your happiness, because the other will always let you down in the end. Every person will leave, die or in some way change in a way that undermines your sense of security. Every thing you rely on will in the end prove unreliable or ineffective.”
Since she was speaking to an audience mainly consisting of mental health service users, you will understand that her comments didn’t go down very well. Everyone it seems wants to believe that there is some external thing, circumstance or person who will make them happy forever. But lest we are tempted to feel superior, remember it isn’t only those who suffer from depression who live their lives according to this particular set of beliefs. There is a sense in which the whole world is built on the shared delusion of permanent happiness based on external, superficial and transient things.
It is little better when we engage in external religious observance, irrespective of which religion we are observing. We worry so much about the external forms that we miss the heart of the message. It was no different in Jesus day, when he berated the Pharisees for focusing on the inessential requirements of the law and temple observance, and neglecting the important qualities such as love, compassion and kindness. Is it really any different today? In any religious tradition?
God, our Beloved is always calling us to journey deeper into the heart of things. Again and again He calls us to turn our gaze away from all the bright, shiny, insubstantial toys that so engage our interest, and to turn towards the mysterious unknown interior worlds. However, this is not a withdrawal from the world. Rather it is an expansion of awareness to encompass the riches of the kingdom within.
It always makes me smile when meditation and contemplation are criticized as somehow being a withdrawal from reality. Meditation and contemplation are actually the means of us seeing deeper into the moment, seeing beyond the surface of situations and things, to appreciate the inner reality – the mystery if you like, that is enfolded in the heart of all things.
If only we will stop for a while, and really pay attention to every little detail, we will discover new depths to the world around us, and to the self within us. There is a lovely quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browing:
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”
Behind the finite and limited appearance of the world around us, there is an infinite and transcendent reality waiting to be unlocked. Within the jars of clay that are our human selves, there is a depth and a richness we never dreamed of. There are worlds within, and at the centre, the very core of our being, the heart of all the worlds, Christ in us sits enthroned in Glory.