Monthly Archives: September 2014

Stretching Christianity

At an enjoyable meeting yesterday evening when we listened to the Eckhart Tolle ‘Awakening in the Now’  DVD .. we listened to about half of it and in it Tolle twice speaks of Jesus’ sayings: one is that famous verse from John 10 v 10 that he comes to bring us life in all its fullness or abundance.  Tolle equates this to living in the present moment which is essentially non dualistic. I find Tolle who ascribes to no particular faith or religion – for him these would be mere forms and thought forms or objects that can obscure living in the present moment – ‘speaks to my condition’ as the Quaker George Fox put it. And as my condition is Christian his words nurture that experience. Someone else at the meeting, a Buddhist suggested that I was stretching Christianity. I think he meant that Christianity is an I-Thou religion and in that sense dualistic. Certainly the forms of Christian worship strengthen that perception but they also obscure the deep mystical tradition found in the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the medieval mystics and the Spanish mystics. Thomas Merton wrote about crossing the Red Sea of separation. He is saying that we have to cross the abyss that separates our surface consciousness from the deep realms of the spiritual unconscious (note the psychoanalytic terminology he uses -this offers for me an added richness to his thinking). He continues that when we cross over we become our true self but at this point all dualistic language breaks down as who is it that crosses the abyss? For of course there is no crossing over and no one who crosses. The true self simply IS … it was always there and had to be awakened.  Which is what Tolle is also saying.

As Merton writes from the Christian tradition he sees our subjectivity moving towards union with God – what he calls a state of radical dependency… knowing ourselves we know God. Now that’s the stretching to which we are invited to surrender.

Charleston – a place where you could do what you wanted

Visited Charleston in East Sussex on Wednesday – what an amazing place and full of fascinating paintings and pieces of furniture, textiles, decorative arts and so on.

One thing particularly struck me which was in the film shown in the  shop area where Quentin Bell  spoke about what it had been like to grow up in Charleston. He said that this was  a place where you could do what you wanted. Everyone was doing what they wanted. For the children this was about playing and exploring with apparently no limits and no restrictions. The adults painted, wrote and talked – they also had relationships with one another and seemed able to remain friends with ex husbands, lovers and so on. Clearly as Bell added someone else was doing the mundane tasks of shopping, washing the laundry, cooking and cleaning.

This raises various questions about knowing what it is one wants and whether of course this interferes with someone else doing what they want. How does one person’s desires or even work impact on another person’s? How does the Christian respond to this or is that merely a Puritanical out dated stance? Is it guilt making then to do what you want when clearly so many others have neither the money nor the spirit to do so?

Perhaps it appeared idyllic to a child …. or perhaps just to Quentin Bell , as  a contrary view is put forward by Angelica Garnett in her extraordinary account Deceived with Kindness. . In the preface to the 1995 edition she writes: ‘Bloomsbury believed in and largely practised intellectual tolerance, but often failed to recognise the power of the emotions or the reasoning of the heart . Fascinating and vital, they hid their feelings behind an apparent detachment that I found at the time repressive and confusing.’

I wonder what Virginia Woolf felt as she cycled over from her house seven miles away? Was she doing what she wanted as she drowned herself…

Primitive masculinity

I have been very caught up in the news story of Ashya King and the bizarre antics of the institutions involved. The psychological, the humane and the compassionate had apparently gone right out of the window and the overly masculine aspects of the law and sticking to set principles no matter what has held sway. Today in discussion with a Jungian we talked about Jung’s thinking about this primitive masculinity where the feminine is derided and all signs of weakness are seen as feminine and so are brushed away. It is then an entirely defensive stance and reflects the tradition of patriarchy. Feminine qualities which of course belong to both sexes are seen as less valuable, probably because they are not associated with competition, achievement and so with money making.

For in many ways materialism is part of this same primitive masculinity in the sense that things of the spirit  are seen as non scientific, non verifiable and somehow soft. The world seems caught at present in the grip of this…. it has been now for centuries and it is this ideology that is so powerful and it is this ideology that leads to destruction. However individually people are not like this and care hugely, offering compassion and care. We know that things are unbalanced it is finding how to make changes that matters. And of course as Jung thought one has to begin with oneself.