Dreaming To Some Purpose


 A few simple words from a Moody Blues song have never ceased to inspire and instruct: “With the eyes of a child you must come out and see.” You must learn, in other words, to see with the child’s sense of innocence and wonder.

 Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, immediately comes to mind as the embodiment of a man who was seeing in a child-like way, though well advanced in years.

 In the famous PBS interviews of the 1980’s with Bill Moyers, Mr. Campbell appears as the very antithesis of the cynical, closed-hearted man, whose capacity for transcendence has atrophied from inattention.

 No, what’s seen rather in Mr. Campbell is a warm-blooded man in love - an inspired man who, when he spoke about being spellbound and enchanted, looked it

 Here was a man who, in Colin Wilson’s words, was still dreaming to some purpose.

 My hope ever since has been (in some sense) to emulate Mr. Campbell's very evident open-hearted expectancy

 To possibly be open-hearted and full of wonder at 81, would be, I think, some kind of great attainment.   

 How then might I, or any of us, remain in such an enchanted state? 

 How might we stay in a state of love? How might we remain inwardly alive enough to be full of wonder, love and praise?

 The answer is, I think, to cultivate a certain kind of awareness. I will call it here a transcendental subjectivity, by which I mean a posture of stretching forth into transcendental dimensions. 

 Such a stretching forth is to experience a constantly expanding sense of identity, the opposite of the impoverished mental state of the one-dimensional man.

 It is to fulfill what some have said is the goal of life - to attain the Spirit. 

 This is to be in a state of love such that there is a constant sense that there is always something more to stretch towards.

 There is more to behold. More to contemplate. More to fall in love with.

 Which is therefore not to be bound up too much in any ordinary sense of self, but to participate more fully in that larger sense of self that arises from moments of contemplation. 

 An example of this stretching forth - this expansion of identity - is found in Don DeLillo’s novel, Falling Man.

 Lianne, the wife of a Twin Tower survivor, is "trying to make sense of life as a Manhattanite in a post 9/11 traumatized world.” (cited in The Realms of Desire - the Thought of Bernard Lonergan, the Fellows of Woodstock Theological Centre.)

 Lianne is "a self-styled infidel who wants to disbelieve in God,” but, interestingly, has doubts about her doubts.

 Lianne is, in other words, an unsettled non-believer. She cannot quite relax into unbelief. 

 She doubts her unbelief because of something that keeps happening inside of her. Though determined not to believe, welling up from her mind and soul is what she calls a "dreaming toward something unreachable.

 Like Colin Wilson, she dreams to some purpose. She remains hopeful against all hope. She is pulled towards some higher realm of meaning. She keeps stretching forth to some as yet unrealized possibility of meaning.

 She wonders if the persistence of this desire is an indication that there actually is a possibility of fulfillment?

 Does the persistence of this desire point towards "something there at the limits of matter and energy - a force responsible in some way for the very nature, the vibrancy of our lives?

 Does the very presence of the desire point to transcendence? Is the persistence and intensity of this desire, a signal that points towards the nature of ultimate reality?

 "Is there,” she asks, "something there to be discovered from the mind out - from that mind that "in little pigeon blinks extends the plane of being, out beyond logic and intuition?” 

 Lianne recalls that her father believed this - that there was indeed a realm of meaning "beyond the limits of logic and intuition."

 Her architect father used to reason with Lianne: “Look around us, out there, up there, ocean, sky, night.” Lianne’s father "believed that God infused time and space with pure being. He made stars give light.” (Don DeLilloFalling Man, p.173)

 She’d think, however: “But this was crap, wasn’t it, night skies and divinely inspired stars?”

 And so would scornfully answer back: "A star makes its own light. The sun is a star.” 

 Case closed. Conclusion? There’s nothing to search for. The persisting desire is about nothing.

 Nevertheless, on Sundays this unbeliever had begun to take a taxi "uptown, weekdays, two or three times a week, to sit in the nearly empty church."

 "She followed others when they stood and knelt and she watched the priest celebrate the mass, bread and wine, body and blood.”

 And there she would sit - "stuck with her doubts" - but liking somehow to be there: "She went early, before mass began, to be alone for a while, to feel the calm that marks a presence outside the nonstop riffs of the waking mind."

 One question in particular persists: What if it’s the case that it is "the world itself that brings you to God?" All of it? - "the beauty, grief, terror, the empty desert, the Bach cantatas - All of it? - meant to take you to God?

 All of these varied forces appear to be closing in on, Lianne, the unbeliever. God is closing in: "Others bring you closer - church brings you closer - the stained glass windows of a church - the pigments inherent in the glass - the metallic oxides fused onto the glass - God in clay and stone.

 But then she’d react: "I'm just babbling to myself to pass the time.” (adapted) 

 After a while Lianne comes to realize that she is actually afraid of a Divine encounter.

 In fact, she dreads it. She’s afraid that "God will de-create her and that she will be "too small and tame to resist.

 She fears de-creation, and yet understands that the de-construction will open the way to the fulfillment she seeks. 

 Now the desire that Lianne feels has been described as a sense of eternity in the heart - a felt desire that in her case simply will not go away.

 An  atheist might say in response that there is nothing in that heart space.

 An agnostic may say he's unsure.

 A humanist may disallow the question to arise. (adapted from the Fellows of Woodstock Theological Centre, The Realms of Desire, the Thought of Bernard Lonergan)

 My observation is that the negations of the atheist, agnostic and humanist are refusals of the call. 

 These negations are examples of an inner warfare engaged against that  inner drive that kept stirring in the heart of Lianne in Manhatten.

 As Fr Henri LeSaux puts it: "In the heart of every man there is something - a drive? - which is already there when he is born and will haunt him unremittingly until his last breath." (Fr Henri Le Saux)

 And if that call of the heart is refused there will be various consequences.

 One consequence of the refusal of the call is that life will be trivialized into mere fun-seeking. Life will be reduced to the pursuit of fun.

 I hear this from people all the time. 'Are we having fun yet? Where can we have fun today? I hope you had fun on your trip! That was fun! Let’s do it again.’

 Behind the obsession with fun in our culture is an inner lack, an inner emptiness  - a refusal of the call.

 A second refusal of the call results in a fall into the view that life is harsh. Since life is harsh, the best you can do is to grab whatever power you can get. And so, you stay empty within, but become outwardly powerful. How many have fallen into that trap? The cases abound.

 A third refusal of the call is to fall into the view that life is absurd. It is to conclude that no meaning can ever be found. (adapted from Fergus Kerr, Twentieth Century Catholic Theologians)

 These refusals of the call are negations of the self and of God, as in the case of the philosopher, David Hume. For what clearly can be seen, according to Professor Jacob Needleman, is that Hume gave up the search too soon. He, too, refused the call

 Dr. Needleman points out the failure of anyone to ask about Hume’s method of investigation: "How did he look? What precisely was his method of inner observation? How long did he sit focused on his inner universe?” 

 Needleman’s assessment is that Hume failed to engage in the discipline of inner empiricism.

 “To Western minds," says Needleman "accustomed only to flights of intellect and the incessant dance of thoughts," Hume was some sort of hero.

 But to a Vipassana Yoga teacher, or to a Zen master, Mr. Hume’s search was superficial. He had only dipped his toes into the water. 

 The practitioners of deep meditation would have challenged David Hume to  “Stay with the process for another two, three, four or five years and you'll see a lot more. And even then, there's a lot you won't see.” 

 Concludes Needleman, "Hume appears to have been "completely unaware that he was stepping onto the very bottom rung of a giant ladder of self-observation.” (Jacob NeedlemanQuestions of the Heart - Inner Empiricism as a Way to a Science of Consciousness)

 And therefore, if any of us would like not to be stuck in atheism, agnosticism, humanism or skepticism - if we would like rather to answer the call, our inquiry needs to continue and to deepen.

 My experience is that when I’m feeling empty, or inwardly disconnected, I sit for meditation, a few minutes before bedtime.

 Sometimes I relax quickly into a transcendent state. Other times, all I feel is my own restlessness.

 But there always is a pay off for the attempt to enter the stillness. 

 Following that effort, I almost inevitably wake in the early morning with a longing to meditate.

 And it’s that longing that carries me to the meditation cushion.

 That little dip before bedtime makes all the difference. The little dip leads always to a greater plunge later on

 And thus therefore, every tiny step matters. Take enough little steps and next thing you know you’ll be experiencing what Bernard Lonergan called the "sweet adventure."

 For we are indeed human beings whose nature is a well spring of desire.

 In Lonergan’s words, “We are body-spirits and the energies of desire permeate our being."

 A little attention to the presence of that ever beckoning, built-in desire will go a long way to enabling the ability to stay enchanted, to stay in a state of innocence and wonder, to stay dreaming to some purpose.


 Sentiment, Kettel