A Force within Oneself


 Here is a description of what, over the years, a Doctor had become: "You are constantly in motion. Even when you are standing still, it seems that you are always about to move somewhere else. This is not how you used to be.” 

 The seasoned Doctor had somehow lost any ability to be an inspiring presence. He had fragmented into a perpetually restless state - “always about to move somewhere else" - (perhaps now bogged down by problems with the kids and the high cost of paying for his wife’s psychiatrist.)

 A young Doctor in residence observed that his older mentor "moved so quickly from patient to patient that none of the residents could keep up with him."

 His mentor was therefore asked: "What exactly did you intend to teach by this? The young resident Doctors are becoming nervous wrecks in their efforts to keep up with you. Did you mean to teach them haste?” 

 When I was in Seminary, I observed a Pastor who, like the Doctor, lived in perpetual motion. Always in a hurry. Always in a rush. I recall when he first took me on the rounds at the local hospital.

 Resembling the Doctor, the Pastor moved hastily from patient to patient. I can still see his darting eyes and nervous mannerisms. In no time at all, he had covered several people by quick little prayers and religious cliches.  

 I felt so disappointed (I was 23 years old) for I had longed to learn some wisdom from this veteran of the business. Instead I observed a man who had become a hollow, empty suit.

 Sickened by the experience, I decided to go back to the hospital later to give the short shrifted patients the attention I thought they deserved.

 The older Pastor’s gift to me then was that he taught me how not to be a Pastor

 What the Doctor and the Pastor had in common was that they went about their affairs as bodily present, but spiritually and emotionally absent. Each of them were always very busy and speedy, but not present in the sense of being any kind of vital force or presence

 They were, we might say: Cut off from living water, or, disconnected from the power supply. 

 In contrast to what the Doctor and Pastor had become is the model of a Doctor whose presence can only be described as a healing force.  

 A thirty year old man was very ill and "nothing the Doctors could do was helping.” He hadn’t been able to sleep. He could no longer take food or liquids and was completely exhausted. (Jacob Needleman, The Way of the Physician: Recovering the Heart of Medicine)

 But then everything changed: "I can still remember this little man (the Doctor) coming right into my room without even looking at the charts, which were outside."

 "He came in and he sat by my bed and after a little while he just said: ‘I think it would be a good idea to give you grapefruit juice. Then after a little while longer, he left. And from then on, I started getting better.”

 Somehow the presence of the Doctor initiated the will of the young man to go on living.

 Think about that. Might the quality of your presence make all the difference between life and death for another human being? This Doctor’s presence by itself proved to the decisive catalytic force in saving the young man’s life. 

 I wonder if we think enough about the power of presence. To be a true presence is an incredible gift to give. I don’t know what else compares.  

 And so, how do we find that vital and vitalizing force within ourselves? Well, I think that we need to become intelligent. And by intelligence I mean here the deepest meaning of the word, which is 'to have force in oneself.’ 

 Now, this high-priority force does not appear somehow out of nowhere, spontaneously or automatically, but rather is created in relation to an intense inner struggle.

 'When you’re searching for the Highest, for God,' says the meditation master, Gurumayi, 'the intensity of your yearning is everything.’ 

 That is, put in other words, a certain intentional and voluntary inner struggle is required in order for the release of the higher energies or powers.

 And therefore for this power or force to be created, you have to become intensely aware of your two natures - of the war between the flesh and the spirit.

 You have to feel the conflict between flesh and spirit to a breaking point. 

 You have to feel that struggle, the tension, the friction, until you feel torn apart by it.

 As in the case of St Paul, who exclaimed in Romans chapter seven: "Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?!

 Here is an expression of incredible inner pain. This is the pain of someone who feels the conflict between his higher and lower natures, coupled with a yearning of extraordinary intensity to break through to a higher level.

 That higher level has to do, of course, with the descending power of grace, as described in Romans chapter eight.

 My point is to say, however, that you cannot have the grace of Romans chapter eight without the struggle of Romans chapter seven. 

 You can’t skip past, or bypass, Romans chapter seven. If you do, well, you will have what we call new age religion, or the Joel Osteen channel on Xm Satellite Radio. 

 If you think that you can sail past Romans chapter seven, the result will be an untutored life, an empty, shallow life, and a corresponding lack of presence. 

 And therefore, advises Mme de Salzmann: You’ve got to “stay in front of your inadequacy." You’ve got to “suffer the fact that you are in pieces.” 

 Our great need, she says, is to "suffer the fact of our alienation from the Real.” 

 "Without that inner struggle, nothing can change.” 

 Now, what comes of the persistence to stay with that inner struggle is the eventual creation of that gracious power that unites the warring natures of flesh and spirit. This is our healing. This is our peace.

 And yet the experience of that grace doesn’t mean that you now become immune to, or a stranger to pain. 

 No, not at all. In fact there’s a certain sense in which your struggle now intensifies. You search more than you ever have before. You’re more curious, more philosophically engaged, and your sense of wonder increases.

 You feel pain and simultaneously feel the unifying power of grace, just as when listening to the world’s best music you feel at once torn apart and put together - both seared and healed by the music.

 I tried to live otherwise at the age of 20 when, with the zeal of a new convert, I pasted a Christian fish on the back window of my car and a picture of Jesus on the dashboard.

 And then one day a new girlfriend got into the car. Her first move was lightning quick. She ripped the picture of the Lord from its exalted place on the dashboard. Next purged was the poor fish.

 Why? Because, well - bless her - she hated the sentimental. She regarded the sentimental as a menacing threat to life and in particular, to our relationship.

 And her wrath against the sentimental still boils, some forty years later.

 Ravi Ravindra, states that two menaces undermine spirituality. The first is the menace of sentimentality, the second, the menace of scholasticism

 The sentimental is the la la dream land of liberalism, which, as I have observed it, is a reality denying mentality, sometimes appearing to be almost hopelessly naive.

 I’ve come to see sentimentality as a cover, as a well practiced state of denial.

 The la la land liberal, for instance, tends to a sugar coater. Romans chapter seven means nothing to him. It’s completely beyond his experience. For there’s no evil in his shallow world, and no personal responsibility for one’s behaviour. 

 His constant refrain is that we’re all just too polarized. His answer to everything is, 'If we could all just get together!’ There’s always some collectivist solution to every problem.

 What, he wonders, has caused the jihadists to cut off the heads of twenty-one Coptic Christians? What are the root causes of their behaviour, he asks? 

 His answer is that they feel misunderstood. They feel excluded and alienated. The West created them. They are not therefore responsible for their actions.  

 At his worst, such a sentimentalist is an undiscriminating, undiscerning dolt

 Jacob Needleman describes that for a time he once lived in the dreamy, vague, la la land of liberalism. He’d been trained in a sophisticated form of it called existential therapy.

 He had been trained to "resist making judgments about the truth or falsity of the patients’ perceptions in order to intuit the main and central theme of their lives, their “world project,” as it was called in this school of thought.” (Jacob Needleman, The Way of the Physician: Recovering the Heart of Medicine p. 59)

 As a therapist in a psychiatric ward the question to ask was: 'What is the patient's world project?’

 The idea was that the mentally ill patient needed to be understood from within. No judgment was allowed, no matter how wild and bizarre the behaviour.

 "In those days, says Jacob Needleman, "I was a fervent believer in this school of thought and so I was all the more surprised, as I actually began observing and interacting with these patients, to hear myself saying under my breath such things as “this guy is really nuts." I kept such thoughts to myself.”

 The second undermining menace to a vital spirituality is scholasticism. The scholastic way is to resolve all questions and to create a series of dogmas to believe in. You then have a systematic theology. No room for mystery remains.

 Now, the alternative to both sentimentality and scholasticism is the theme of this article, the need to become intelligent, which is to develop that force within oneself that enables presence.

 When philosopher, Jacob Needleman, was a young man he was inspired by his family Doctor, whose chief characteristic was a quality of presence that made young Jacob want to become a Doctor. 

 Now, of course, he became a philosopher, rather than physician, but remained in contact with the Doctor through correspondence for many years.

 When finally he went to visit the Doctor, he learned that he was dying.

 The encounter between the two men is tremendous to read about, but even more compelling to me was to read what happened between Jacob and the Doctor’s niece, herself a Doctor, in her early thirties.

 Jacob’s family Doctor had shared Jacob’s letters with his niece and had sometimes argued against Jacob.

 The niece was anxious to tell Jacob that whenever her Uncle had criticized him that she had often found herself defending him. "Sometimes, she said laughing: I really did not understand what you were arguing. That was when I defended you the most.”

 She then said to Jacob: "Please excuse me if I seem to be presuming on our slight acquaintance. But having read and reread your letters, I feel I know you well." At times, it seemed to me that your letters were written to me, rather than to my uncle.”

 She then shared with Jacob: "I am not a dissatisfied doctor. I am not an impaired physician. My work is very rewarding, as far as it goes."

 "I am not interested in saving the world. I feel that I myself am one of these seeds that has never grown. I dream of things I can't speak about to anyone else, neither to my husband nor even to my uncle." 

 "They are both fine men and very good doctors, but what I dream of is incomprehensible to them and I sometimes wonder if what I want is simply madness.” 

 "She lowered her eyes. "Do you understand what I'm speaking about?" she said in a voice suddenly soft and fragile. Your letters reawakened these dreams in me.” 

 The young Doctor obviously felt through reading Jacob’s letters that he would understand her search: "Your letters awakened these dreams in me.” 

 I understand her to be saying to Jacob: 'You have embodied what I am searching for. You give me hope that I can find it.’ 

 She recognized in Jacob, through both his letters and his presence, that force of intelligence within herself that was beginning to awaken.

 I think that to share with another on this level is what makes life worth living. 


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