Monthly Archives: May 2015

We are all one – deepening appreciation of nature

When Thomas Merton was on his final journey he stopped off in Calcutta where he attended a conference and this meeting ended with a special closing prayer in which famously Merton said that we are all one in God. Appealing to those from different faiths and I would add those of none Merton I am sure would have included all living creatures in this. I don’t know if it’s to do with getting older but a couple of other people seem to be having the same experience. Perhaps it’s rather to do with the realisation of what we are losing – it’s a deepening appreciation of nature. Walking along the canal the other day it was deeply pleasurable seeing the kingfisher zooming past, the ducklings and two herons. All seemed to be so wonderful in their very existence.

At a recent talk on acknowledging that Christians are mammals too the speaker movingly spoke of a colony of eider ducks who whilst sitting on their nests were shot by a gunman. They were not taken for food just shot as literally sitting ducks. The speaker asked whether Christ was present in the suffering of the ducks as part of God’s creation. Over half those who were there thought that Christ would have wept and indeed does weep for the suffering of all God’s creatures. In other words love includes all of creation.

see what Bonaventure thought:

Christ has something in common with all creatures. With the stone he shares existence, with the plants he shares life, with the animals he shares sensation, and with the angels he shares intelligence. Thus all things are transformed in Christ since in the fullness of his nature he embraces some part of every creature. –Bonaventure

And after all love is more important than religion with its limited vision and thinking.

Why when God’s world is so big did you fall asleep in a prison of all places?

This is a lovely quote from the Sufi mystic Rumi that encapsulates the feeling of being trapped in one’s own false way of seeing ourselves, the world, and others.
So what do we hide from ourselves?

Sometimes we hide who we really are – our true self and cover this with a false pretend self. Perhaps we have had to do that partly as a way of protecting ourselves. As a baby and as a child we may have learnt to be compliant and fit in with other people’s expectations. We may have learnt to respond in a way that pleased a parent or that protected one parent from another, or that protected us from our parents. Then our true self becomes taken over by a false self. It becomes a pretend self so we always feel a little bit inauthentic – not quite genuine, not quite real, rather self-conscious.

Sometimes we have to hide our real feelings because they are too painful or something too terrible has happened to us. In these sorts of situations we may have been so overcome by fear or distress that part of us just disappeared – slid away to a safe place deep within us. Another part of us managed somehow to get through what was happening and then become a false apparently coping self.

Sometimes we gradually become a false pretend person as a way of dealing with constant undermining, feeling unloved, or criticism or being bullied or got at. Perhaps we become good then at laughing at ourselves, or hurting ourselves before someone else does. Perhaps we become used to being with people who hurt us and make us feel unhappy.

There are lots of reasons for our true self to go into hiding and lots of ways in which our false self takes over.

So why do we hide from each other?

Again lots of reasons, but if we’re expecting a certain response when we meet someone – perhaps we expect them to be critical of us or not to like us or even to hurt us – then we’re going to be a bit on guard putting our false pretend self forward. We take into all our relationships the lessons we learnt as children, and that can mean we don’t really meet each other face to face.

The other thing that happens when we meet each other is that we tend to quickly judge the other person – weigh them up. She or he looks like this or belongs to this or that group or this or that religion – they’re not like the pretend me therefore I don’t like them. We do it all the time. We don’t really see each other as we are and sometimes we do this almost without realising what is happening. Try it next time you meet someone new and see how quickly the prejudging thoughts come into your mind before either person has even spoken.

So why do we hide from a loving God?

Often we hide from the experience of a loving God because we feel bad about ourselves. We don’t feel that we’re loveable let alone likeable. We don’t like our selves so why would God? Perhaps we’re angry about what has happened to us – it’s all been so unfair, we can believe in a punishing severe God but why would we want to believe in a loving God after what has happened to us. Perhaps we’re ashamed or feel guilty. One young woman when asked about going to church replied with incredulity, ‘Why would I want to go to Church I feel bad enough about myself already’.

Sometimes we cannot imagine that there’s a loving God. The whole idea is so far from our life experience that it just can’t be possible. It’s again linked with this idea of the false self. Somewhere deep inside we don’t feel that we’re loveable and likeable because we don’t feel authentic.

So what’s to be done?


The answer is that we need to wake up and come out of hiding. Often we’re woken up to our true self by events. Something happens. A relationship ends, someone we’re close to dies, we have a baby, we become ill, or we lose a job. A gap or space opens up and we start to feel some of the things the false self has kept hidden and kept a lid on. Freud who was the founder of all counselling and psychotherapy wrote about ‘the return of the repressed’. What we’ve spent all those years keeping hidden have a force of its own and re emerges. This happened to me when I became a mother I found all sorts of childhood experiences that I’d more or less managed to keep at bay started to break through into my conscious awareness. That’s what forced me into therapy – and it took a long time to bring it all to the surface and sort out. But now I’m pleased I did it. One of the reasons is that it then made it easier to meet other people without constructing a lot of defences around myself and in time it also allowed me to accept the idea of a loving God.

So sometimes we can come out of the false prison self where we have been hiding through the help of another person. We need a trusting relationship where we dare to reveal our true needs.

Jesus Wept- what swearing means from a psychoanalytic view point

If Jesus matters to you then hearing someone swear using his name can feel like a personal attack. Some people use ‘Jesus’ only as a swear word and there is the story of the child who asked why people were then worshipping a swear word – I guess it might be apocryphal.

Of course swearing is an interesting subject in itself and  can be a huge relief in channelling aggression without physical violence. It is the way that pent up feelings can be expressed. Usually we swear using body parts so looking at this from a psychoanalytic view this is about projecting out the fear of an attack on the vulnerable parts of one’s self. In other words the fear forces a fight mode and the projection expels the tension of the conflict. The term ‘Jesus wept’ as a swear phrase must then have a connection with a vulnerable deeply sad part within the person which has to be pushed out in an angry way otherwise the vulnerability might become overwhelming. Compassion is not something that can be borne at that point what is needed is the energy that anger brings.

Of course for those of us who believe in a loving God and a compassionate Christ the experience is that Jesus is alongside us both in our rage and our grief and weeps with us at the sadness that we are keeping at bay.

Ironically after writing this and going out I passed two young men – just as I passed them one was talking about some event and loudly commenting on it said ‘Jesus Christ’ with some venom. It led me to think about Jesus as an embodiment of surrender and vulnerability. This is how Eckhart Tolle describes the crucified Jesus Christ  on the cross and for some people it must again be the projection of that vulnerable and defeated part of themselves which has to be expelled at all costs especially if you are the tiniest bit anxious about that aspect of your psyche. And of course again for those of us who find Jesus Christ as a redeemer it is this aspect of his life on earth and the amazing breakthrough into the resurrection that is an empowering belief  – an aid in times of weakness and defeat. By calling on Jesus Christ we aim to limit our separation from God and to grow ever closer to the source of being.

So what for one is a swear word for another is the saviour – funny old world.

Thomas Merton – the explorer

“I have become as it were an explorer for you”
So why does Thomas Merton still matter…? A number of us were invited to write something on this for the latest edition of The Merton Seasonal which is published by the International Society. I’ve taken a short extract from a letter that Merton wrote in August 1967 to the Abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Frattocchhie near Rome, Dom Francis Decroix. The letter was requested by the Abbott as a “message of contemplatives to the world”. Merton explains that his response, written the day he received the letter was written directly and simply, but with undoubted speed and spontaneity in order to be returned to the Abbott in time. My suggestion is that this same extract, so quickly penned, can speak poignantly and with much relevance nearly fifty years later.
The extract is prefaced by Merton who says that from his exploration of the contemplative way of life he has no answers; rather he has merely begun to seek the questions. The questions are those that ultimately lie at the heart of each person: What is the meaning of life? Can any explanations answer that? Why is there evil? What might it mean to live a good life? Merton in the ten or so lines that follow offers three crucial and challenging thoughts.
The first: “perhaps in my solitude I have become as it were an explorer for you, a searcher in realms which you are not able to visit – except perhaps in the company of your psychiatrist.” The truth that Merton touches on is that silence which is such an anathema and rarity, to be avoided at all costs in the contemporary world, is indeed a place of confrontation, rather than easy consolation. Silence and encountering God in the silence, opens up the inner world where all sorts of feelings some acknowledged and others repressed, lie in wait. Merton understood that here are all those parts of us that have been denied and repressed, where the root of projections and prejudice lurk, and where the unpalatable human emotions of rage, lust, envy and hatred lie.
This reality is further acknowledged by Merton in his next couple of sentences when he writes: “I have been summoned to explore a desert area of man’s heart in which explanations no longer suffice, and in which one learns that only experience counts. An arid, rocky, dark land of the soul, sometimes illuminated by strange fires which men fear and peopled by specters which men studiously avoid except in their nightmares.” Merton takes us here to the heart of the experiential where rational, coherent, conceptual thought has no place; down into the deep unconscious where the primitive, strange, uncontrolled heat of passion and anger and the ghosts we would rather banish from the civilised world are encountered.
Merton’s final sentence in this chosen extract confirms the personal journey that he has taken through this unforgiving terrain when he writes: “I have learned that one cannot truly know hope unless he has found out how like despair hope is.” This is the mystical recognition that beyond the usual sense of good and bad, black and white, lies the darkness which is itself light – where the apparent emptiness contains a fullness, and so where dualistic thought includes an immanence beyond the separation. Later, in the same message Merton tells us that the hope in the despair is from the love of Jesus that also is found by those who search within: “Hope because Jesus is with those who are poor and outcasts … no one on earth has reason to despair of Jesus because Jesus loves man …”
Rather than find answers for big existential questions Merton urges us to first seek our inner world, to know ourselves in all that complexity. As Merton wrote elsewhere, “I am realising more and more that my big task is within myself.” This then is the message for now – far from any triumphalism or intellectual certainties Merton returns us to, at the very least, an awareness of the “log in our own eye” before rushing to sort out “the speck” in another’s (Matt, 7:3).