Meditations (Spiritual): Finding Balance
"The function of diversion is simply to anesthetize the individual as individual, and to plunge him in the warm, apathetic stupor of a collectivity which, like himself, wishes to remain amused." - Thomas Merton
Perhaps all creative work is an attempt to balance different aspects of one's own nature. For me, that means balancing the contemplative, philosophical, and political dimensions.
There is a natural tension between the contemplative and philosophical spheres. The former has to do with silence and emptying, the latter with questioning and reason. But between those two and the political level, there is not merely a tension, but a chasm.
That is why throughout history, those who are serious about the spiritual life have withdrawn from society, and cultivated a compassionate indifference to the world.
When there was still untrammeled wilderness and many diverse cultures (rather than a monoculture insidiously demanding compliance), that strategy may have made sense--even if there were no nearby caves to retreat into! But now contemplatives have no choice but to engage.
The necessity of response is not just driven by human technology and population. In addition, and far more ominously, the policies of the most powerful and intensively resource-consuming country in the world are designed to reduce the earth to an unbroken chain of Wal-Mart stores.
Perhaps the contemplative cloisters of history have existed to provide a reservoir of spiritual potential for our critical juncture, the summation of all the cycles of human history. Even so, that does not solve the problem.
There is a reason that contemplatives were admonished not to involve themselves in the affairs of the world. They risked, more than people who felt little calling to develop their spiritual potential, losing that potential.
Must one focus on spiritual development to the exclusion of concern for the world? Is there something in human nature, or even in the nature of life itself, that disallows the authentically spiritual person from engaging in politics?
These are unprecedented times, and the risk of doing both must be taken.
If politics is essentially a social process by which humans prioritize and organize, what choice is there but to balance it with the other dimensions of human nature? Even so, no matter where fate is leading me, I'll always need solitude in nature. It is the first thing.
A water bird landed on a tiny protrusion of a rock in the middle of the stream. It appeared rather non-descript, with a single monotonous note and a dark gray body lacking any trace of color.
Then it began to do quick little knee-bends over and over, making me smile. And that was just the start of its show, simply its warm-up for the splash it was about to make.
The bird eased itself into the current, and began an astounding display of marine acrobatics. It dove and wheeled and spun, looking as much at home in the water as any avian in the air.
Whether it was pursuing insects, bathing, or playing for the sheer fun of it, the scene unburdened my heart, and put things back into proper perspective. The world of hate and vengeance was suddenly far away. I saw the world with sadness and pity, rather than feeling inexorably sucked into its vortex.
A slight movement of my legs was enough to send the small creature from the water. Obviously, even underwater it was aware of the person sitting on the rocks a few feet away.
I stood for a few seconds on a rock on the edge of the creek, did a few quick knee bends, and then took off up the hill, feeling much lighter.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.