Living Alone

Chapter 5

Living in Abundance

The life alone is not necessarily one of isolation from the good things of the world. It need not be a life apart from other people, a separation due to feelings of inferiority, fear or distaste. It can be a life dedicated to the service of man and the development of the individual to the peak of his excellence. In that excellence he can both commune with God and be the servant of God in the world. I do not believe we undergo any experience merely through blind chance; the apparently fortuitous circumstances of life are here as our testing ground for further development of the personality. Some people need isolation in order to grow into authenticity, that they may be less dependent on the whims and fashions of the society around them. A period in the wilderness, if it serves no other purpose, does at least help one to get one's priorities in order. The things once assumed to be essential for one's life, such as the constant company of other people, society's approval, one's own reputation amongst those who amount to something in the world's eyes, and the number of important people one knows seem suddenly to dissolve like a mist of unreality. It is a revelation in those narrowed circumstances how simple life can be when it is shriven of the accretions of social usage and conformity. What at first seems to be almost too unbearable to confront suddenly widens out into a prospect of inner freedom, perhaps the first opportunity to be oneself since one came to self-awareness when one was a small child. It is at this point that one may begin to know oneself for the first time in one's life. The self-one knows is, in fact, a central point within, the secret place which is the cornerstone on which the whole edifice of the person is erected.

To live life in its fullness in the way that Jesus came to fulfil life (John 10.10) is to be fully oneself and to flow out to every circumstance and event in one's life with expectancy and joy. The full life is not one that need be filled with extraordinary events so that a person is constantly entertained, so that boredom is crowded out by spectacular encounters and the gaping void of inner futility is deceptively carpeted over by the never-ceasing diversions of the moment. This is in reality a way of escaping from life's full thrust, a way of evading the stark, pressing questions of meaning and destiny that lie behind the diverting façade of the present show. The full life is one in which the person is completely open to the present moment, and far from awaiting distractions to mitigate inner inadequacy, gives of himself to that moment. The life of abundance is therefore not so much one in which a person is being continually filled with pleasant things that take him away from his own centre, as one in which the centre is in the closest union with the present moment. This is the inner experience of something that Jesus demonstrated during the whole of his life among us: "I and the Father are one" (John 10.30). When the life one leads is inseparable from one's deepest consciousness, one ceases to be lonely and depressed; instead, one is relating purposefully to life in whatever circumstances one finds oneself. It is then that the need for diversions, hobbies, even holidays and friendships fades away, for one finds all of these in one and around one at all times. I do not suggest that the person who lives the full life is above personal relationships; far from it, that person is in such deep, indeed perfect, relationship with all things that every part of creation is a friend of his and every work he does is to the glory of God and the benefit of his fellows. In the words of St Paul: "The life I live is no longer my life, but the life that Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2.19). When we need people around us, we find a lack that cannot easily be filled. Many so-called friends, who form the bulk of most worldly relationships, flinch from their brother who is in pain and distress, because he threatens them with a burden of caring and commitment that they feel unable to sustain. But when we are full of life that springs eternally from the depth of our being, all those around us are revitalized and renewed by our presence, and we are in communion with all life. The fullness of life that comes to the one who is open to all that the present moment can give is like the living water spoken of by Jesus to the Samaritan woman; it will turn into a spring inside that person, welling up for eternal life (John 4.14).

How can one find the life in abundance in which one is so filled with the Spirit of God that one is in eternal communion with all created things? Again this quest comprises two reciprocal actions: the prior grace of God that is always present though seldom acknowledged, and the openness of man. We may be assured of God's grace and presence because of his nature, which is love. But love, though freely available, cannot be demanded or grasped. It can only be welcomed. The inherent courtesy of God is such that he does not force himself on his creatures. If he were to do this, he would, at least to some extent, annul the freedom of choice which is the basis of the free will that he has given them. He stands at the door of the soul and knocks patiently for admittance to what is his own domain, but from which he has excluded himself as a sharing guest until he is bidden to enter. Thus the sovereignty of the human soul is acknowledged. We, in return, are bound to respect the presence of God, to treat him with a like courtesy. If he is grasped, he recedes from us, and we find only a shadow of his presence with us. There is one positive action alone that the will can take in the soul's communion with God: open acceptance, the full nature of which is worship. This is the free giving up of the self to God and the essential act is contemplation. When one gives of oneself in heart, and soul, and mind and strength to God, all that is in one and of one is now also in God, and the two are one. Then one is filled with the divine essence, and the life one lives is no longer private and isolated but is indeed the life that Christ lives in one.

It is not easy to contemplate God whom no man has seen. The natural mystic comes closest to this ideal of contemplation, since by an inscrutable gift of God, he is aware of the divine presence in his soul and in the world around him. But even the mystic recognizes the enormous expanse of spiritual light that separates the creature from the Creator. St John reminds us (1 John 4.19-20): 'If a man says "I love God" while hating his brother, he is a liar. If he does not love the brother whom he has seen, it cannot be that he loves God whom he has not seen.' In terms of the contemplation that forms the way to union with God, this means that we must start by giving up ourselves in devotion to the things in hand at the present moment, for in even the smallest of them God shows his eternal presence by the love he bestows on all his creatures.

To contemplate the things that confront us minute by minute in the day's work means being aware of them, giving our attention to them and flowing out in recognition to them. It means being grateful that they are themselves however humble may be their form and function. And this gratitude should embrace three aspects: the One by whom all things are created, the creature itself, and the inner gift of being able to respond with a healthy body and an alert mind to the many wonderful things one meets day by day in an on-going life. Jesus tells us quite starkly that unless we become as little children we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven; we must accept the Kingdom of God like a child (Mark 10.15). The little child is not conspicuous for its spirituality in terms of such qualities of excellence as charity, wisdom, selflessness or devotion to God: all these have to be learnt and acquired in the school of life. Nevertheless, the child does have the one thing that is needed for salvation, an open mind uncluttered with dogmatism, arrogance and cynicism. Being innocent of subversive thoughts, the child's mind is immediately receptive to the wonders of the present moment. Everything around it still possesses an aura of exquisite uniqueness to the little child; it is seen as a new creation. If we, of adult stature, are to move towards the heavenly Kingdom, we must learn to relinquish our customary attitude of bored indifference to the things around us. Our senses have to be cleansed of the heavy weariness that comes from a long, heedless association with the articles of common life that we have for so long taken for granted and used without reverence. Even an object of great beauty soon cloys if we experience it simply as an article to be used, something apart from us that can be dismissed at will. Only when we enter into its excellence so that it takes its place in the greater vision of reality does it become a testimony to the everlasting providence of God. Its significance transcends its span of temporal existence inasmuch as all earthly things have their day and then perish. On the other hand, that which is acknowledged as a part of divine reality is seen in its eternal form. As such it is cherished in the memory long after its physical manifestation has disappeared in the sands of time. This memory is not merely personal to the one who acknowledged some action or work that excelled in nobility or beauty, and was thereafter changed by its impact. The memory is also part of the psychic life of creation, and is the possession of all mankind; it may be tapped by those who follow on in later generations. Their imagination may then be stirred by a renewed ideal of perfection that leads to the unclouded vision of God.

When we return to the primal receptivity of a little child, every encounter is invested with new possibilities; the amazing things of the world are seen also to be the simplest. We see that God is eternally making all things new (Rev. 21.5). This is not only a prophetic glimpse of the ultimate transformation of the world but also a proclamation of the never-ceasing renewal of nature by the love of God. In this way each moment has its unique validity - quite unlike the one that preceded it - for the person who is aware and actually participating in the life of that moment. The wonder of the world lies in its warm constancy so that we can take each moment as it comes with confidence and expectancy. The child's vision rests on the constancy of God's eternal providence, while it waits in eager expectation for some new thing that proclaims the unfolding of God's purpose in the world. We are allowed to glimpse, by a shaft of deeper knowledge that sustains a firm faith, that his purpose is the raising up of all life to immortality, the resurrection through death to eternal fellowship of all created things.

Contemplating the present scene comprises two reciprocal actions: attention and blessing. The way of attention is that of being aware of the matter in hand; it is receptive and welcoming. The way of blessing is that of giving oneself as a living sacrifice to the world around one. It means first of all a joyous acclamation of the world and then an offering of oneself in its service. When one blesses something, one pours out one's inner essence in love and prayer on to it, with the hope that something of God may rest on it and transform it. The act of blessing is not so much an outer ritual as an inner attitude; indeed, if it becomes an obligatory performance that has to be bestowed on everything and everyone, it soon assumes the proportions of an intolerable burden. To bless means to articulate good will to all whom one meets in the course of a day's work. As soon as one is imbued with the spirit of good will so that one flows out from the depths of one's being to another person, one enters into the psychic life of that person. One begins to know him with increasing intimacy, not as one to be analysed and manipulated, but as a brother whom it is one's privilege to know and to help. In other words, the blessing that comes from God brings with it a deeper fellowship of souls in which all are one in the power of the Holy Spirit, who leads us all into the truth of the situation and illuminates the way of progress to full humanity.

Good will is the beginning of a changed attitude to one's fellow men and to the world. It shows itself initially as the capacity to respond in blessing to a creature, be it a plant, animal or human being. But the blessing must not remain simply an inner attitude of benevolence. It must be realized in actions that have their end in healing the injured and binding up the broken-hearted. This means that good will has, if it is authentic and not merely a complacent attitude devoid of commitment to those in need, to embrace a positive will to good. This shows itself in giving up one's time and leisure for the benefit of all who are in difficulties, especially those in psychic and spiritual distress. This consideration provides a point of departure in the life of anyone who is obliged by circumstances to live alone. What might easily become a solitary, isolated existence if allowed to pursue its own course can be resurrected into a life devoted to others. Jesus is sometimes described as the man for others; the one who lives alone in awareness and contemplation will soon know his vocation in the ministry of healing and reconciliation. Living alone provides an admirable means of being available to many people in need. But I would emphasize that this availability is the fruit of a long, bitter, exhaustive encounter with one's inner nature and a slow working-out of personal difficulties and inadequacies. The end is an emergence from the depths of dereliction with the scars of suffering as a testimony that one has fought the great battle with the dark forces within one and has come through triumphant and strengthened. If one simply offers oneself to others in order to evade the challenge of the inner silence that is the entrance to the truth about oneself, one will use people rather than help them. The encounter will degenerate into gossip and mischief making, a perennial hazard of those who live alone, since they have fewer family interests to occupy their time and attention.

The way of gossip can be seen as the antithesis of the life in abundance. It is a means of escaping from the pressing demands of life into a secluded realm where one can look down on other people and dissect their weaknesses with the destructive zest and shallow morality that arises from malice and jealousy. There are few more pleasurable diversions for those who are dissatisfied and unhappy than to be able to reduce other people to their level of unfulfilment also. It is a source of relief to most of us to know that our heroes too have feet of clay, that even the acknowledged masters of the spiritual life can be cut down to size when we are given inside information about their private lives. The harm this attitude effects does not hurt the desecrated victim nearly so much as the one who has cast the stone at him. The tendency to gossip, which moves subtly to vicious mischief making, prevents the spiritual growth of the agent of the malicious rumours. When Jesus lay disgraced in the hands of his adversaries, even his disciples wanted to have as little to do with him as possible during the final hours of his mortal life, while the majority of the populace rejoiced in the humiliation of yet another acclaimed Messiah. How delighted they were at his impotence on the cross! If the summit of all human aspiration proves to be only a flat mediocrity, one too is exonerated from making any special effort to become a real person. The end of this view of life is parodied in the advice, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (1 Cor. 15.32). It is the logical conclusion of the work of those who aim at demolishing everything that is noble and inspiring, that by its witness lifts the common man above the limitation of his own egoism and gives him a fleeting vision of reality.

It is, of course, possible to invest celebrities and cults with glamour, and we should be alert to detect and cut away any false sentiment that may cling to a person or an institution. The aim here is to raise up that which is true and to heal the errant or distorted person or society. This can be done effectively only in the spirit of innocent contemplation that sees clearly, acts decisively and heals with love all that is torn down and stripped of its vanity. The end of this destructive work is the raising up to a new vision of perfection the one who had first to be brought low by a confrontation with the truth about himself. This process of stripping away personal illusions is performed by the Holy Spirit during the course of life; we do not have to act officiously as agents of cleansing for our deluded fellows. If we are still and filled with good will, the Holy Spirit will use us in his work of reclamation. He will do this by putting the appropriate words into our mouths at the right time, and inspiring us to the necessary action when the moment is ripe. If we are open in contemplation, we will never be unresponsive to the Spirit of God, who speaks to us through the spirit within us.

The life of abundance is one of blessing. It gives thanks for the blessings that surround it, and it blesses all the things it meets. We begin to know a thing only when we have moved into its essence by giving thanks to God that it is what it is. And then we begin to know ourselves also. This self-knowledge comprises an initial acquaintance with the elements of our personality, such as the practice of recollection will foster. But then comes the more important aspect of accepting what we have been shown and flowing out to it also in an act of blessing. It is hard to bless an unpleasant trait or a destructive attitude that seems to mar our inner composure and darken our relationships with other people. But until we accept every part of our personality as ourselves, rejecting nothing and holding everything as equally dear, we will be at constant war with aspects of our own nature. The teaching of Jesus that we should love our enemies and pray for those who use us spitefully, and that we should not resist evil applies especially to the things in us that are awry and disturbed. Only when they are brought into the greater community of the self and given their due of recognition can they undergo progressive healing, so that eventually they may play their full part in the work of the person. This is also the way towards a peaceful society, but we are deceiving ourselves if we believe that outer peace can be imposed on those around us while we ourselves are in a state of internal disorder. The life of abundance is not merely restricted to the individual; it flows out to the greater world and brings peace to those who are in turmoil, healing to those who are disordered. The psychic rapport that binds us all together in one body is usually so weak that we tend to live fragmented lives. We are so often in conflict with ourselves that we cannot respond in open receptivity to other people, and what we do emit is disruptive to the harmony of the group to which we belong. This again is the antithesis of the abundant life where all are brought into the larger community by the attitude of blessing that extends to those who are far off no less than to those who are near at hand.

Conflict itself is an important part of growth. Where everything is smooth and harmonious there is often little progress. True harmony flourishes in the reconciliation of conflicts by their synthesis into a new understanding of reality. Where conflict becomes demonic in its effect is in those situations in which the opponents seek to destroy each other. Where, on the other hand, conflicting points of view can be surveyed in detachment, a fresh light can be shed on a confusing situation, and all involved in the dissension may grow in tolerance and understanding. Those who live alone, as they grow into that deeper self-knowledge which is the precious fruit of self-acceptance, can be agents of reconciliation for their fellows who are so obsessed with their own point of view that they are unable to appreciate the validity of other approaches to truth. A life alone can make the many - faceted diamond of truth more apprehensible, in that it induces an attitude of non-attachment to the passing scene of life with its numerous distractions and a greater awareness of the principles that underlie constructive living. If people could view the wood of life as something greater than the trees of individual desires, possessions and power drives, they would move beyond acquisitiveness to an awareness of all that is worth while in the world - its freshness, its beauty, its unceasing variety and its challenge each day to fresh fields of human endeavour. These are beyond price, and are held in common by all who are aware and whose contemplation is vibrant with blessings for every created thing.

The life of abundance does not depend on the outer circumstances nearly so much as the inner disposition of the one who responds with his whole being to the vast pageant of present events. The abundance streams out from within and enriches the world; it does not need the continual stimulus of outer events to renew it. The person who lives from the inner centre, the secret place within, is one from whom the Holy Spirit pours in unremitting profusion to fertilize all those around him - not only his fellow beings but also all life. This is the inner meaning of the ministry of healing; one does not have to do anything so much as to be in continual communion with that which is, whom we know as God.

It can be summarized therefore that the life in abundance is the life in God, in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17.28). This life is essentially one of constant acknowledgement of the divine providence by prayer, thanksgiving and an identification of oneself with all aspects of the present scene. To see the world eternally anew requires a self-giving to every creature one meets, a blessing upon all who impinge on one as one moves through the varied pageant of life, moment by moment. Even more essential is to be able to pour out oneself in concern on all who require one's attention, never forgetting to thank the Creator that the world is as it is. This is no hollow complacency appropriate for those whose lives are prosperous and whose future seems assured, at least in terms of worldly attainments. It is an intuitive acknowledgement of the essential goodness of life and the justice of each situation as it arises, that even when, on the surface, the event appears disastrous, it is invested with superhuman possibilities that will show themselves to us provided we have the courage to persist and the faith to wait. As St Paul says: "For I reckon that the sufferings we now endure bear no comparison with the splendour, as yet unrevealed, which is in store for us" (Rom. 8.18). The basis of this hope is not wishful thinking. It is a deep mystical vision of the world of reality that underlies the insubstantial astral mist in which we live in everyday consciousness. This mist is a psychic emanation of desire that arises from the unsatisfied ego, and its components are boredom, fear, jealousy and resentment. These are assuaged by the constant distractions that the world needs for entertaining itself and diverting its attention from the one thing that is necessary for health - the spirit of truth. Only when the distractions have been finally torn away in the pain of loss can the reality of God be clearly known. Then there is silence, and all who can hear will listen to the message of truth. The truth alone sets us free, because it tells us of the day when all will be well as we progress beyond the limitation of worldly selfishness and enter into the knowledge of eternity. This is attained by living perfectly in the moment, and offering ourselves freely as a living sacrifice for all that presents itself to us at that moment.

Chapter 6