Reason and imagination 1
‘It was when the human mind became separated from its roots in feeling and instinct that it became diseased, and the infallible mark of the disease was the ugliness of its productions.’
This quote from Bede Griffiths reflects the philosophy he developed early in his life when comparing the ugliness of the modern city with the beauty of the Cotswold towns and villages. He went on to say that ‘when the mind was in harmony with nature… Then its products had a spontaneous beauty.’ He thought that imagination was the real essence of our human existence and that reason in contrast was a destructive nihilistic power working as ‘Anti-Christ in our human pilgrimage’.
Later on as he turned towards Christianity he began to read the Gospels and believed in an objective truth that had to be faced. In particular St John’s Gospel he had no doubt was the record of an experience of unfathomable depth: ‘I realised that to reject this would be to reject the greatest thing in all human experience; on the other hand, to accept it would be to change one’s whole point of view. It would be to pass from reason and philosophy to faith.’
It’s often the case especially in both depth psychotherapy and in contemplation that reason falls away and it seems as if there is a divide between the polarities of reason and faith, intellect and experience, mind and heart. We cannot discard reason but there is a sense from many mystics that wholeness and the inner truth goes way beyond. So there is imagination and there is faith and beyond both or through both are great glimpses of awareness of the love of God. These are often described as moments when the harsh external world dominated by reason, busyness and noise is perceived through the state of enlightenment so that the eternal truth and beauty is realised as the universal law. Then everything is seen differently even in the city streets:
‘Everything seemed to lose its harshness and rigidity and to become alive… The hard casing of exterior reality seemed to have been broken through, and everything disclosed its inner being. The buses in the street seem to have lost their solidity and to be glowing with light.’
That’s the description from Bede Griffiths which has great similarities with Thomas Merton’s famous revelation in downtown Louisville. It is described this way in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander :
‘In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.’
If we can really allow our imagination and faith to be freed up and so be in touch with the transcendent then everything is imbued with the sacred…even what is rational and reasonable such as a bus!