From Quiet Desperation to  Overflowing Fullness


 While in Chennai, India, some years ago I noticed many blank and expressionless dogs. These dogs were such a contrast to Amy, my little dog back home who was always so wide-eyed with expectancy.

 Amy lived on hyper-alert. Even if I said quietly, "Go for a walk?" she’d leap up and run around in circles! 

 Human beings can be similarly contrasted as either like Amy - perky, alert and expectant, or like the vacant, impassive, Indian dogs. 

 On a trip to China, Arthur Waldron, observed a group of people who like the Indian dogs, were similarly stolid. He describes them as "silent and calm, waiting for their morning meal of scalding hot cabbage and mystery meat.” 

 “They were,” says Waldron, "motionless as they stood, drab, glum, calm, resigned.” 

 Then suddenly everything changed. Someone left the line and another was somehow offended by this. She exploded in a fit of fury as she "poured out loud and obscene abuse in the gutter dialect."

 Not to be outdone, the other person went into attack mode, responding in kind "like a tiger" issuing forth "a torrent of abuse as rough and cruel and profane as can be imagined."

 "And then something astonishing happened. The whole previously passive line waiting for breakfast exploded as well, as if a cue had been given."

 "They loosened into a crowd, they shouted, they cursed, they struck one another. It was stunningly violent and beyond unexpected."

 Yet "in a minute and a half it was over. They were back quietly in line; hot sandwiches were again passed through the window. The explosion had left not a trace."

 “Arthur," my friends shouted at me, with a mixture of joy and astonishment, “You have seen it. You have seen the real thing. You have seen what China is really all about.” (adapted from The New Criterion, November, 2016)

 It was a revelation of the unrest below the surface in Chinese society. Below a calm surface a simmering, seething rage exists, liable to explode at any time.

 Waldron comments that “this was the most important happening on this, perhaps my fortieth, trip to China. For the first time ever I saw its true nature as I never had before: in person, forced on me unexpectedly, face to face.

 What’s fascinating to me is that Waldron's Chinese friends wanted him to see the truth of things, for the West is following, according to Waldon, a false narrative about China that bears no relation to what is actually going on there.

 "My friends were almost ecstatic: their judgment was that I had the good fortune to have seen, for the first time, the real China. Their faces almost beamed, with a deep sense of accomplishment."

 "They had been able to show me. Now at least one foreigner knew what they knew every day. I had learned more in two minutes than in years in classrooms and even travel.” 

 Now such a level of repressed rage suddenly erupting may be hard to comprehend for those of us who are relatively cozy - cozy in our own life and circumstances. 

 Though most of us aren't waiting in lines like the desperate Chinese, I think,  nevertheless, that there may be certain parallels between the Chinese experience and our own. 

 For example, who has not beheld instances of road rage in a Canada that is supposed to be full of nice people? 

 Or who has not noticed how quickly a mob will form to break store windows and overturn police cars if a hockey game is lost? 

 We too, in our own way, may be as lost as the Chinese described above.

 We, too, in our own way, may be living lives of quiet desperation, as Henry David Thoreau once discerned.

 We, too, may be dams about to break at the slightest provocation.

 Which may be because of psychological repression.

 In Yogic terms, not a few of us live our lives from the lower energy centers of our bodies called chakras.

 To be confined in the lower regions is described by Joseph Campbell as the mode of being "outwardly turned" - a state of blunted awareness and stunted growth.

 Outwardly turned, inwardly impoverished.

 Breaking past the lower regions into higher ones, is the challenge of life.

 The call is to breakthrough into the fourth energy center at the level of the heart. And then to expand beyond that.

 It is only then, when the heart chakra is opened that, a spiritual life begins.

 It is then and only then, that one begins to dream dreams and to see visions.

 Now, this opening to transcendent dimensions has been described by the philosopher, Jacob Needleman, as the struggle to exist and to not disappear!

 If we go slack in the struggle to exist we begin to disappear and fall back into that life of quiet desperation 

 Thus de-energized, we are no longer dreaming to some purpose, but have fallen into merely getting by. Just surviving. 

 “The struggle of life,” says Needleman, "is to exist and to not disappear.” 

 The best therefore that we do for each other is "to help each other in this struggle.

 Which is to say that I ask and you struggle to respond. Then you ask and I struggle to respond

 In the best friendships I know this is precisely the dynamic that is at play. 

 There is a shared passion to ask with great interest and to listen with great care. 

 There is therefore no small talk, only big talk. 

 The result of big talk is the creation of wonder and the appearance of a deeper I.

 The I behind the I appears. It is the real I or true I

 It is the true self, as opposed to the false self.

 What is then shared together is a feeling of enchanted awareness.

 It was this level of enchanted awareness that Ireland’s greatest poet, W.B. Yeats, was concerned to find. 

 In an essay titled, Magic, Yeats expressed his central belief in the powers of the other world: “The borders of our mind are ever shifting, and many minds can flow into one another and create or reveal a single mind, a single energy.” In other words - where there is true communion, there is a sense of participating in a deeper mind or deeper energy.

 The magic occurs when one pilgrim soul makes contact with another pilgrim soul.

 In 1895 Yeats wrote a poem called The Man Who Dreamed of Faeryland. 

 Which needs to be qualified for the man didn’t dream much! For he was usually caught up in "money cares and fears - the worldly things."

 But there are times when his worldly life is interrupted - "he hears a voice calling to him from a mystical world.” 

  At each stage of life he hears the call in mysterious ways. These are "strange intrusions" -

 "a fish singing about a land of faithful love,

  - a lug-worm singing about a gay exulting race,

   - a knot-grass singing about a rich silence where lover next to lover is at peace, 

   - a worm proclaiming that God has laid his fingers on the sky.

 The question of the poem is - will the man take heed, or ignore these calls?

  He is being "cut athwart" by strange intrusions that come crashing into his life - "upsetting its carefully constructed schemes.

 Well, we too, are being “cut athwart" in this way or that as we receive intimations that there is a something more that we are called to. (adapted from Dennis Taylor’s The Need for a Religious Literary Criticism, Boston College.)

 I spoke with someone a long time ago about a call that had come to her. She wanted to tell me about it and asked to see me after class.

 "I know," she said, "what youre talking about. I know this call. But I am not going to go there. I cant afford to. I wanted to let you know that I value what you are trying to do, but you will never see me again."

 And I havent. I often think of this dear lady when I ponder Joseph Campbell's reflections on the call and the refusal of the call.

 She felt the call to feel her soul released and activated but for whatever reasons decided to leave it all alone.

 Though called, she did not want to live what is called the contemplative life, or awakened life

 I have always felt that for her to recognize her condition so clearly was in itself something quite wonderful. 

 I therefore trust and pray that in some way that I will never hear about that, she found a way to come back home to herself and to God.

 I hope that one day she decided to act from “a deep inner self”, and to give a “lower priority to the promptings of the superficial self.” (Thomas Merton) 

 For indeed it is worth everything to renounce the false self with all of its familarity and convenience - to detach ourselves from our comfort zone and to set out on a voyage of discovery the destination of which is unknown. (T.M.)

 And finally, to quote Merton again: “In order to become oneself, one must die. That is to say, in order to become one’s true self, the false self must die.

 That is what the journey is about - from the false to the true - from quiet desperation to a condition of overflowing fullness. 

Summer Breeze, The Front