How About A Soma Holiday?

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 A quote from A.W.Tozer has stayed with me for years now. It goes something like, 'In order to have fellowship with someone, I need to know what he hates,' not just what he loves. 

 I need therefore to know, as I contemplate whether a relationship has any potential or not, whether the person in question is drifting along in a moral and spiritual vacuum or someone alive and gritty enough to make informed, clear and strong judgements.  What does he love and what does he hate?

 If he's someone paralyzed by the spirit of the age into making statements like 'you can't be judgemental,' the relationship is hampered from the start. If said being is living adrift as an amorphous lump of clay, the friendship has no chance of even getting off the launching pad. There needs to be a shared grounding in deep values. A mismatch on the level of values will result only in trouble down the road.

 Incongruous relationships, in other words, have no chance, as Rilke warned: "Young people fling themselves at each other in the impatience and haste of their passions." Rilke called this recklessness a "disordered giving of themselves.' They fling themselves at each other, just as they are in all their untidiness, disorder and confusion." And then what? What comes of it? - scattered debris, every time. 

 This 'disordered giving' happens so very frequently! Two persons unite around their weaknesses instead of their strengths and down they plunge. The ideal rather is for two already formed and rich natures to unite and then to spend years together, firing each other's natures up as they live from strength to strength.

 I mean, I don't know how you build something substantial and enduring with Benito. Have you met Benito? He's the character in Huxley's Brave New World about whom it is said: "Benito was notoriously good-natured. People said of him that he could have got through life without ever taking soma! The malice and bad tempers from which other people had to take holidays never afflicted him.  Reality for Benito was always sunny." (gasp) 

 Is there a Benito in your life? How's it working out between Benito and you?  How long has it been now? Are you still laughing all the time?   

 It is the spirit of the Upanishads to encourage a careful discernment between the real and the unreal, the shallow and the substantial. The student on the spiritual path is summoned to leave the unreal for the real, which of course, requires that strong judgements are required and real choices made. 

 So, here's Fred and Sally, my new acquaintances. I want to know what stuff they're made of? I would like to know whether their discerning powers are alive or not?    

 If Fred or Sally are inclined to say that they don't like to question things and don't like it when things get too intense, then you have a little idea of how it's going to go in their relations over the years. You can expect to see featureless,  colourless lives.

 How many voices have I heard who say,as another Brave New World character says: "I don't understand anything." (and doesn't care to, since she is determined to preserve her incomprehension intact.)" 

 For this woman, every perplexity can be resolved by taking some soma. So to another she pleads: "Why you don't take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours? You'd forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you'd be jolly, so jolly." 

 You can live, she's saying, in a somafied state and if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering." (All honour, praise and glory be given to soma!)

"In the past, you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow a two or there half-grammed tablet, and there you are."   

 Life can be one long soma holiday! It can be for you and your friends "the warm, the richly coloured, the infinitely friendly world of the soma-holiday!"  And then, when you look back upon your soma-saturated life, you can rejoice by saying: "How kind, how good-looking, how delightfully amusing every one was!"   

 For myself, not wishing to live such a drugged, pallid existence, I would like to know, having just met you, what you value and care about, but also what profoundly disturbs you? What you love and what you hate is character revealing.

 After all, as has been said: 'You cannot truly love something and be complacent about the things that oppose or threaten it.' There is, in other words, a certain holy hatred that is inseparable from what it means truly and deeply, to love.' 

 If, for instance, you love your wife, 'you hate anything that would defile or injure her. If you love your children, you hate anything that would harm them.  If you love unity, you hate discord.'  (adapted from unknown blogger on the subject of holy hatred) 

 I saw some discernment in action many years ago when my father-in-law simply got up and walked out of the room when someone had made the suggestion that we all watch a new show called Three's Company.

 Well, it took my new father-in-law about one minute, if that, to discern that he was being asked to watch silliness and nonsense. In a flash, but graciously and without a word, he left the room. 

 It said so much about him! I remember him with admiration! He had no time for that kind of trash, or anything like it.  He spent his evenings reading the poetry of T.S. Eliot. That's what I remember about him!  

 How undiscerning and tolerant we can be, as C.S. Lewis put it: "We are too easily satisfied. If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak."

 "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." (C.S Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

 So what does he hate with a holy hatred, this person standing before me? If he's like Broadbent in Bernard Shaw's John Bull's Other Island, Act 4, I will politely distance myself.

 Says the dreamy Broadbent: "I find the world quite good enough for me - rather a jolly place in fact." 

 Apparently Broadbent doesn't get out much! Or he's on soma, or on some other medication that happens to be working a little too well these days. Or perhaps he's out on a day pass from the institution where he's being kept.

 Seemingly hazy and confused, he calls the world some kind of jolly place! 'It's such a lovely place!' he likes to exclaim: 'All the happy people, living in a happy world.' It's his constant refrain: 'Everyone is beautiful and I just love everyone!' 

 In my experience, anyone who says he loves everyone is sure to have bodies buried in his back yard.  

 The conversation between Keegan and Broadbent continues: "Keegan looks at Broadbent with quiet wonder: You are satisfied?"   

 Broadbent: "As a reasonable man, yes. I see no evils in the world - that cannot be remedied by freedom, self-government and English institutions."   

 Keegan: "You feel at home in the world then?" 

 Broadbent: "Of course. Don't you?"

 Keegan (from the very depths of his nature): No." (Adapted from Colin Wilson's The Outsider) 

 Keegan knows what he hates and it is the kind of superficial, sunny satisfaction that he sees on display in Broadbent! 

 "Twice, in my forties," says Parker J. Palmer, the writer and educator: "I spent endless months in the snake pit of the soul. Hour by hour, day by day, I wrestled with the desire to die, sometimes so feeble in my resistance that I 'practiced' ways of doing myself in. I could feel nothing except the burden of my own life and the exhaustion, the apparent futility, of trying to sustain it." 

 Parker then goes on to say that he fully understands why some depressed people kill themselves. He then humbly says that it remains unclear to him how some are able to find new life. 

 So Palmer hesitates to give pat answers and wonders whether a stance of 'not-knowing' may sometimes be more of a help to others. 

 Says he: "I recently met a woman who had wrestled with depression for much of her adult life. Toward the end of a long and searching conversation, during which we talked about our shared Christian faith, she asked, in a voice full of misery, “Why do some people kill themselves while others get well?”

"I knew that her question came from her own struggle to stay alive, so I wanted to answer her well. But I could come up with only one response. I have no idea. I really have no idea.”  I find it refreshing that he did not try to answer and explain!

 "After she left," Parker writes: "I was haunted by regret. Couldn't I have found something more hopeful to say, even if it were not true?  

 "A few days later, she sent me a letter saying that of all the things we had talked about the words that had stayed with her were 'I have no idea.'  

 These were the words that helped more than any others! Says Palker: "My response had given her an alternative to the cruel spiritual explanations she had received. My 'not-knowing' had freed her to stop judging herself for being depressed. As a result, her depression had lifted a bit."  

 After all, says Parker elsewhere in his writings: "When you speak to me about your deepest questions, you do not want to be fixed or saved: you want to be seen and heard, to have your truth acknowledged and honoured. If your problem is soul-deep, your soul alone know what you need to do about it, and my presumptuous advice will only drive your soul back into the woods. So the best advice I can render when you speak to me about such a struggle is to hold you faithfully in a space where you can listen to your inner teacher."

 It was Dr. Johnson in the eighteenth century, who consistently ridiculed what he called the cant concerning imaginary views about the human condition. He was critical of utopias and sentimentized versions of happiness based on 'the noble savage' and the 'happy Indian.'  

 In his novel, the young prince, Rassalas, lives in the happy valley surrounded by comfort, beauty and pleasure.  

 However, he's not a happy camper in his happy valley!  Rassala is not content in the happy valley and says about those who are, that their satisfactions are to be compared with the animals grazing in the fields.  

 Rasselas comes up with an insight into human nature. It is that "man has surely some latent sense for which this place (happy valley) affords no gratification, or he has some desire distinct from sense which must be satisfied before he can be happy.' I believe he is making reference to a certain inner faculty that needs to be recognized and then developed. 

 Martin Lings once heard C.S. Lewis lecturing on this subject of the human soul and its faculties, according to Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy.

 The faculties, Boethius had said, are arranged in a hierarchy: First of all, beginning with the highest, there is 'intellectus, then 'ratio,' then 'imagination,' and 'sensus' at the bottom.

 Lewis had stressed in that lecture, says Lings, that the "intellect is not for things of this world."  

 Eckhart called the intellectus the higher and deepest part of the soul. It is constantly gazing at the Divine.  It is a faculty of attention.  

 "This was for me like a flashing of lightning," says Lings, "for I had never before heard of the intellect in its true meaning. It was something wonderful and in a sense I never recovered."  (this is adapted from Professor James Cutsinger) 

 In that moment, Martin Lings had felt the deepest part of himself open up to a new way of being and seeing. He was to stay with that inward realization for the rest of his life, so much so that it was said about him that conversation would cease when he entered a room, so tangible was his holy presence.

 I would like myself more and more to hate and to be intolerant of anything that takes my focus away from a close attention to That which truly sees and knows at the heart of my being. 

 That's my point today - a no and holy hatred towards the somas that present themselves in their many soul-numbing shapes and sizes, and a heart-felt yes and love for a disciplined focus upon the soul's higher faculties

 No, to the soma holiday - yes, to the awakening of the soul's highest faculty, intellectus.

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Audio:  Tibi Christe Splendor, Monks of Fontgombault