The door to the deeper level 4
A bit like Eckhart Tolle who speaks about portals into the state of being present or as he calls it ‘the now’ – what also has been called the sacrament of the present moment – the idea of doors that can open into the deepest levels may also be there in times of suffering. Eckhart Tolle writes that if we can bear to be present to our suffering and open to our feelings then there may be sometimes some consolation and we may be strengthened to bear what seems unbearable.
In a way that’s what we read in some of the psalms and I was drawn to Psalm 124 which was actually in the liturgy for the daily office on 21 October.
The psalm is about looking back with thanksgiving and gratitude that the writer has survived some terrible occurrence and there is the recognition that something more than themselves was present in some form or another to guide and lead them. I would add in the inner world but the writer may have felt sustained also in the external world in some way through their faith and belief in God.
The psalmist may have been referring to external happenings and attacks but it applies equally well to inner trauma and inner attacks. Here it is the inner persecutions that can attack and it is the unconscious – the waters – that can overwhelm us with primitive fears and fantasies. Somewhere deep within is a force that is both part of and beyond us and it is this force that can hold us in times of trial if we can manage to allow it.
1. If the LORD had not been on our side, let Israel now say;
2. if the LORD had not been on our side, when enemies rose up against us,
3. then would they have swallowed us up alive, in their fierce anger against us;
4. then would the waters have overwhelmed us away, and the torrent gone over us;
5. then would the raging waters have gone right over us.
6. Blessed be the LORD, he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
7. We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8. Our help is in the name of the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.
The door to the deeper level 3
The door to the deeper level sometimes comes through other people and sometimes comes through events. One of the accounts I like best is by Robert Johnson the Jungian analyst who writes of his experience as a child. It is in his autobiography called Balancing Heaven and Earth.
He writes about a state that he calls the golden world and which is an experienced awareness of the numinous. For Robert Johnson this is the truest reality that a human ever has access to, and he has described his lifelong searching to understand what this is. In the account of his life he writes about the early experience that brought to conscious awareness the existence of this heavenly or golden world. Over time he understood that what was required in life was to inhabit a middle place where both the heavenly and the earthly are honoured. He understood that in this middle place lay a certain amount of safety but where too lay holiness. In balancing the two, the visible and the invisible world, it became clear to him that the two worlds are in fact one.
His realization of the heavenly or golden world came in strange circumstances following a car crash which pinned him, then aged eleven, between a car and a wall. He was taken to hospital where he was operated on and left that night to recover. In the middle of the night Johnson awoke feeling terribly unwell, not knowing that an artery in his damaged leg had opened loose and he was in fact bleeding to death. Johnson writes that he knew what was happening at a psychic dimension and initially was determined not to die until he found himself in a glorious world,
‘…it was pure light, gold, radiant, luminous, ecstatically happy, perfectly beautiful, purely tranquil, joy beyond bound … I could only revel at what was before me. We have words for this side of reality but none to describe the other side.’
Johnson did not die but this glimpse of the golden world figured profoundly throughout his life returning again on occasions, and so as he writes, ‘a curtain separating the two realms was for me was forever parted’, and it deeply affected his way of living and choice of career.
The door to the deeper level 2
In their search to find values which could give a meaning to life Raissa and Jacques Maritain opened themselves to what life brought them which was first the thinking of Henri Bergson and then the life and work of Leon Bloy. Bloy who was born in 1846 and died in 1917 was a French novelist and essayist who was initially agnostic and then violently against the church but following a sudden religious conversion devoted his life to search for the Absolute.
Raissa writes that, ‘life cast him up on our shores like a legendary treasure – immense and mysterious’. What developed was a unique friendship and it was Leon Bloy who brought the Maritains face-to-face with the question of God both in all its power and in all its urgency. When Raissa wrote to Leon Bloy that she was a seeker his response was, ‘why do you continue to seek since you have found?’ In other words the actual searching is in itself an experience of finding and being found.
Sometime after this Raissa writes about an awareness of the presence of God when she was looking out of the window on a journey and watching the forests glide by the car window. She was thinking of nothing in particular but suddenly there was a sense of a great change, she says it was as if from the perception of the senses she had passed over to an entirely inward perception. She noticed it when the passing trees suddenly had become much larger than themselves and where the whole forest seemed to be speaking and to speak of Another… It ‘became a forest of symbols, and seemed to have no other function than to signify the Creator.’
I like this description because that sort of perception and that sort of awareness can happen randomly and in any ordinary experience when one is not dominated by thoughts and cares. It is as if something can break through the usual surface experience of things. We might not always see it as the presence of God but it is surely a metaphysical experience. Partly this is because the soul knows that there is something more than human consciousness going on. It seems like a sudden intuition of a reality that we may normally choose to ignore. The door to the deeper level has swung open.
The door to the deeper level
Sometimes the events that surround us feel impossible – unbearable. After all, as has been said, we can only take so much of reality at any one time. And yet within ourselves lies the door to the deeper levels of reality that give us the only possible approach to existence itself.
In the memoir of Raissa Maritain which is called We Have Been Friends Together she writes of her early search for truth, a search which she describes as a metaphysical anguish which going down to the very roots of the desire for life is capable of becoming a total despair and ending in suicide.
I find her writing so relevant in our contemporary world where the sense of anguish and the false notion of progress have becomes so painful. Raissa Maritain talks about the disillusionment of the soul which believes it’s been deceived by having had faith in humanity and by having believed in the triumphant power of truth and justice, of goodness and of pity – and of all that which we know to be the good.
When she met her future husband Jacques Maritain they shared their need to find a truth that would allow them to think and act with dignity. As Raissa describes it, she wanted to know whether existence is an accident, a blessing or a misfortune – at that time she believed herself an atheist and was giving up the hope of finding any meaning for the word truth and yet without truth how was it possible to live humanly. She said she would have accepted a sad life but not one that was absurd, so she and Jacques made a pact, a solemn decision that they would search for the truth but if after a few years the experiment was not successful the solution would be suicide – in other words they would kill themselves in preference to living meaningless lives.
As it was they found an idea of the truth through the works of Henri Bergson and it was through his lectures on philosophy that both Raissa and Jacques were inspired in their thinking. Bergson acted as the catalyst in their spiritual and philosophical development. He deepened their receptiveness and began their process and their pilgrimage towards conversion. The door to the deeper level of reality became gradually opened so it was understood that thankfully life was more than surface…. A deeper reality existed and the reality that is open and available to all who want to open the door.