Living Alone

Chapter 7

The Burden of Sensitivity

It seems, almost by a pre-ordained scheme, that those who are destined to live by themselves for a long time, are unduly sensitive people. This sensitivity has two parts, an extreme responsiveness to the outer currents of the world, and a deep inner vulnerability that makes one flinch with pain at the manifest cruelty of society. This inner vulnerability, however, is not only affected by events outside one; it also registers the deep, recurrently emergent pain that has accrued following past injuries and insults, and is indeed in psychic communion with the thoughts and emotions of all people. This intimate psychic fellowship extends from the living to the dead, so that no created thing is outside its influence. While finer degrees of sensitivity can be seen in various individuals living a communal life of prayer and service, it is in those who are obliged to spend much of their life alone that the impact of pain from deeper sources than the merely physical world impinges most acutely. They have nobody near them on to whom the burden can be deflected, nor a communal social talk that can indefinitely occlude the awareness of deeper sources of unrest and travail.

The first type of sensitivity that is to be encountered when one is alone is the impact of memories of the past on one's present awareness. In the cut and thrust of general conversation these can be summarily dismissed from one's field of consciousness and allowed to become dissipated among the elements of the unconscious. In due course they emerge once more, usually disguised symbolically in our dream life, where once again they are rapidly dismissed from memory until their psychic charge becomes so loaded that they have to be acknowledged in clear consciousness, examined and resolved. This process is accelerated during an effective retreat; it is the Holy Spirit, the one who leads us to all truth such as we can bear at the present time, who reveals our past attitudes, inclinations and dispositions to us, and makes us face up to our responsibilities. We have to assimilate the unpalatable details of our own complicity in the misfortunes that have dogged our lives and the potential harm we have done to others, not only directly but also at a distance by virtue of our lack of charity and our resentment based on jealousy and fear.

Unpleasant as all this is, it can be gradually alleviated as the retreat proceeds and the Holy Spirit continues his work of integrating the lost, and now rediscovered, elements of the psyche, into the full personality. The essence of healing is acceptance. We cannot accept the unpleasant, perverse side of our nature until we have experienced acceptance of ourselves as we now stand. The image I strive to project is the self I would like my friends, and indeed the world, to believe in. Such a personage is artificial, having no intrinsic life in it. Only when I face the full force of my being as I now am, can I rest in myself and give myself wholeheartedly to God. Thus the apparently worthless publican is more acceptable to God than the outwardly worthy Pharisee, in Jesus' most central parable (Luke 18.9-14). The sinner, aware of his dereliction, can give only himself to God, and being empty of conceit is in a state of openness to God's grace. By contrast, the conventionally religious man is so full of his own piety and good works that he can hide behind them, effectively giving nothing of himself away at all. Those who believe they have arrived in heaven are farthest from its bounds, especially when their attitude is based on doctrinal rectitude. The ones who are in heaven are those who have lost concern for themselves in their prayer to God and their service to their fellow men.

Living alone has much the same effect of self-exposure that is produced more genially in the atmosphere of a retreat, when one is flanked about by other seekers on the way and is under the tutelage of a conductor who ought to be able to afford relief from the more painful pangs of conscience. In the life apart from others there is often no one to help shoulder the bitter burden of self-revelation that emanates from elements of the unconscious. One can consequently become submerged in the rising waters of past unhappiness so that life becomes unbearable. In this respect it is the early hours of the morning that witness the most powerful surges of emotional pain. When one awakens from a troubled sleep the barely articulate fears that are usually just below the surface of one's consciousness rise in terrifying determination, so that one's whole mind soon becomes a seething mass of confusion, resentment and blurred hatred against those whom one, in this state of troubled thought, feels are taking advantage of one. Sometimes the impulse to do something immediate to relieve the inner tension may become irresistible and in the heat of the moment one may write an abusive letter. The telephone would be another outlet for emotional release, but for the fortunate circumstance that, being so early in the day, it would probably remain unanswered should one unburden oneself on one's sleeping compatriots. And indeed, it is most important to do and say nothing precipitate during such a paroxysm of emotional anguish. If only we could check ourselves during phases of tempestuous anger, the amount of emotional debris we would let loose into the psychic atmosphere would be greatly reduced. A clean psychic environment is a prerequisite for a healthy physical world, one in which the debris of violence and conflict could be kept to a minimum as people learnt to live more peaceably together.

To check one's emotional imbalances does not mean denying them, let alone suppressing them. The ultimate effect of such inner subversion would be a sickly, hypocritical relationship with other people and later, as the whole personality revolted against this dishonesty, psychosomatic disorders which might find their end in serious bodily disease. The important precaution always to take is to unburden oneself alone in the silence of the secret place where God comes to us in prayer. What is confessed to oneself in God's manifest presence is cleansed of malign psychic currents, and is thereby already undergoing the first stages of the process of healing. The same principle applies to the early part of bereavement. While, as I pointed out previously, one must leave the dead to bury their dead as one moves onwards into the present moment with awareness and resolution, it is also important not to suppress one's grief, especially during the first months after the death of a loved one. The first anniversary is a particularly painful period, and the release of pent-up emotions associated with the reawakening of precious memories must not be inhibited. The sacrament of the present moment includes not only the outer events of life that one confronts moment by moment, but also the inner psychic life that impinges itself on one's awareness continually. Beautiful scenery, for instance, not only evokes an intense aesthetic response but may also recall a past rapture with someone who is now dead or perhaps has moved away to another part of the world. The juxtaposition of these two emotional impulses has the effect of lifting one's consciousness to a sublime grasp of reality in which the transience of physical beauty is aligned with the deeper meaning of eternal life. That which is beautiful and noble outlasts its physical form and remains an inspiration to all who subsequently pass on that road of life. When we attend to the present moment and give our life to the passing scene, we add our unique flavour to that moment and that scene so that both the world and ourselves are translated to a new place of bliss. It is in a passing shaft of heightened awareness, such as may follow a sensitive appreciation of the transience of all worldly beauty, that one may be transported to the realm of mystical union and see the eternity that underlies all earthly creation. Then one knows that death is not the end of life but rather its moment of transfiguration to a more spiritual dimension of reality.

The spiritual life is one in which the deep core of inner discontent, to which have been added the various burdens and sorrows of the past, is progressively encountered, explored and transfigured. The journey to God is also the journey deep into one's own psyche: the way up is the way down, and heaven can never be attained until hell is acknowledged and reclaimed. The "harrowing of hell" that Jesus undertook after the crucifixion was the final work he did on the astral planes before his resurrection. But it is important to note that he was intimately involved in the work of hell from the time of his baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended with unique authority on him and led him out into the wilderness, which we call the world, to be tempted by every dark force in creation. Each temptation has to be met without flinching, acknowledged for what it is and embraced in love. Hell is prayed over that its inhabitants, who are all of us at least for some period of our lives, may be cleansed in love and renewed in purpose. In this way alone is the thing of darkness reclaimed so that it too can attain entry into the realm of light, which is the deeper meaning of heaven. In this light there is physical radiance, mental illumination, emotional unburdening and spiritual transparency. Only that which is explored and accepted can be changed by the power of love. By love alone is the evil brought to the good, death raised up to eternal life.

Therefore one's sensitivity should make one more available to intercept the dark forces that pervade the cosmos. As one enters the spiritual realm of light, so one can accept all pain and evil, acting as an agent of transformation to convert the powerful negative influence of malice and fear into the warm radiance of recognition and blessing. This is the very antithesis of pouring out one's anguish and venom on to everyone in the vicinity. The destructive emotions let loose in this way cause a general upheaval of relationships and set in motion negative feelings of fear and distrust. The importance of our thoughts in affecting not only our own lives but also the psychic environment we share with those around us - and indeed the world - is well recognized by schools of metaphysical speculation that emphasize the power of positive thinking. However, the good effected by this rather naļäve approach to the problem of misfortune and evil is seldom of a high degree. The reason is that superficially articulated positive thoughts proceed from the ego rather than the depths of the self. It is what comes out of the depths of a person that affects him and those around him. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Prov. 23.7). The heart is, in this connection, the deep unconscious layer of the mind where there lie submerged many emotional memories of past unhappiness. It is these thoughts that have to be exposed, relived, and accepted before they can be healed and brought into the wider company of the personality. Only then can positive thinking be undertaken in a spirit of authentic belief. And indeed the end of our spiritual life should be one, not so much of thought as of contemplation, when we, receptive, alert and dedicated, are filled with the Spirit of God. It follows therefore that, in dealing with destructive emotional forces that assail us when we are on our own, there should first of all be a frank acknowledgement of the pain of emotional upheaval. It should then be lifted up to God in rapt contemplation, so that the Holy Spirit may show us the deeper significance the pain has in our lives. After that it is possible to accept the negative emotion in a creative spirit and eventually even to love it for acting as a gateway into the psychic life of the many deprived, underprivileged people in the world. Only then will the Holy Spirit proceed with his great work of healing that which was broken and distorted.

So long as we can contain the pain within us, neither denying its existence nor flinching from it, it will cause no psychic disturbance outside us. And when it is blessed in the name of God, its negative emotional charge is neutralized, as it becomes infused with warmth and love. In St Francis's famous prayer one asks to be made an instrument of God's peace. It is only when peace has been established in one's own inner domain that one can bring peace to the greater world around one. "The positive action of peace is blessing every circumstance in one's life in God's name. Then even a potentially destructive attitude may be so transformed that it ceases to threaten the integrity of the personality and starts instead to bring harmony to those in one's vicinity. The deeper internal spring of peace is an intimate relationship with God in which one also enjoys boundless communion with all created things which are now transfigured into their eternal form. This is the peace that the souls of the blessed dead enjoy in the hands of God - an intimacy in which they know him even as they are known. And when I know myself in the light of God's love, I know everyone else also in the light. Then alone do I understand that in obeying the second great commandment - to love my neighbour as myself - I am realizing as well as affirming my identity with my neighbour. In the sight of God we are all one since God loves everything he has created. It is important in this respect that we exclude in our minds nothing from God's love, no matter how evil and destructive it shows itself in our lives. The difference between the good and the evil agent - ranging from the subtlest psychic emanation to the humblest physical form - lies in its receptivity to God's love. While God causes his sun to rise alike on the bad and the good and his rain to fall on the dishonest as well as the honest, it is only the good and the honest that are receptive to God's goodness and capable of bringing what they have received back to him with a blessing. The evil ones dissipate and squander all they receive, and are in the end as deprived as they were in the beginning. But God never ceases to care for them, hoping always that their hearts may change and their dispositions turn to love him and their brethren travelling on the road of life.

But not all unpleasant emotional forces originate from the depths of the personal psyche. To be sure, they all traverse the psyche of the individual as they impress themselves on the conscious mind, but there is a much deeper terrain of shared psychic experience that proceeds from the collective unconscious to assail all those who are especially sensitive to its impulse. The source of these forces may be the accumulated evil that has existed from the time that the creatures of God first acted independently of him and abused the free will that they were given. It may also be a more direct emanation from the mind of another individual still living in the flesh, or else from one in the life beyond death, devoid of a physical body and functioning in a "subtle" type of body which contains past thoughts and emotions that still await healing and redemption. Such assaults on the psyche of sensitive people who live on their own and have nobody on whom to lean for emotional and moral support may cause acute suffering. This suffering accrues not only from the emotional darkness transmitted from the hidden source to the mind of the lonely recipient, but also from vague, barely assimilated pieces of information that may be laid at the door of his intelligence. It reveals itself in bouts of apparently causeless depression that may on occasion be severe enough to threaten suicide. The type of circumstance that, at least in my experience, is most likely to precipitate such an intense depression is one in which the psyche of a very sensitive person is assailed by the personality of someone whom he knew in the flesh and has since died. The death is often violent in nature, not infrequently with suicidal overtones, and the "spirit" of the deceased hovers around the psychic aura of the sensitive, isolated person. Not infrequently the sensitive one and the deceased were previously on bad terms, so that the depression involved cannot simply be attributed to grief at the departure of a beloved friend.

In cases of this type there is sometimes an additional history of mental imbalance, and only when the conventional psychiatric and psychotherapeutic measures - which should always be employed first - have failed to help the person does the possibility of psychic obsession, or even possession, present itself to the minds of those concerned in the person's welfare. If the therapist has a psychic gift he may sense the obsessing entity directly. In any case the entity concerned must be delivered from its morbid attachment to the psyche of the sensitive recipient and commanded to seek its place in God s kingdom; on occasions it does not realize that it is dead to the flesh. At the same time the recipient must be instructed to abstain in the future from any psychic practices in which he may have indulged, and instead constantly practise contemplative prayer centred on the presence of God. This type of unpleasant obsession is especially liable to occur in those who dabble in the occult. The work of deliverance, a more constructive term than exorcism since the invading entity must be sent to the place which God has prepared for it and not simply cast into the outer darkness of oblivion, should be performed by an ordained minister in the main-stream Christian tradition, one that has a trinitarian basis, since the deliverance should be carried out in the name of the Holy Trinity. The authority conferred at ordination will bear its own stamp of effectiveness provided the minister accepts it and believes in it, and leads a life befitting one who is privileged to call on the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God alone can deliver us from evil while at the same time caring for the obsessing powers that have lost their way and caused psychic havoc. They too have their share of love in God.

Sometimes the sensitive person is given vague intimations about future events of an unpleasant type, such as accidents that may result in the death of people whom he does not personally know. On occasions he may feel that he should have done something about it, and subsequently be filled with guilt when the event occurs. He may even believe that he was partly responsible for the tragedy. Psychic impressions can wreak havoc on the lives of sensitive people who are ignorant about paranormal phenomena and the tendency of the mind to misinterpret and distort information that it only partially grasps. The situation is not helped by the ignorance and antagonism (the two go hand in hand) shown by most psychiatrists and ministers of religion to the subject of psychic phenomena. It therefore follows that the field is dominated by ill-informed enthusiasts who dabble in occultism and lack proper psychological, theological and spiritual training. The harm that can be done by these practitioners is alarming in its magnitude, since only a psychologically balanced, spiritually experienced and emotionally mature person can have the discernment necessary to interpret psychical communications with authority. The fleeting, nebulous, unpredictable content of psychic information makes it dangerous as a guide to sound living, though on occasion it may shatter the most sceptical mind by its accuracy.

The important principle that the sensitive person should grasp is that God is in charge. He may indeed inspire us with his Spirit to act directly in a confused situation, but he does not rule our lives or trample on our own power of choice. In other words, God strengthens the human will by infusing it with purpose and confidence, but he does not ride roughshod over it. He who stands patiently at the door of the soul and knocks quietly for admission does not take over the personality or control the will. This is the difference between the courtesy of God to his creatures and the power-hungry lust of an intermediate psychic intelligence that uses everything in its vicinity for selfish motives. God raises his creatures to an image of his own nature (as mirrored in Christ), whereas predatory psychic powers reduce all with whom they come into contact to the state of compliant slaves.

To deal with unwanted psychic invasion a determined mind is the first prerequisite. All extraneous influences should be seen for what they are - a foreign interference in the life of a free agent that brings no benefit with it. Even if some of the unsolicited information appears accurate in the short term, it does not contribute ultimately to the welfare of the person, and the end of the matter is a subtle enslavement of the personality and sacrifice of the will to sinister outside forces. The same principle holds true of those who allow their lives to be governed by astrological predictions or the teachings and advice that fall from the lips of mediums. All of these may have enough truth to impress the confidence of those attuned to their utterances, but they do not lead to the full growth of the person. We certainly need to know more about the inner workings of psychic phenomena, for these too are part of God's dispensation. But they are no more acceptable as oracles of truth than are the utterances of the worldly purveyors of wisdom who dominate the fields of politics, economics, psychology or science. The acid test is always the same: by their fruits you will know them (Matt. 7.15-20). Spiritual teaching alone affords the word of life, for it brings with it the unconditional love of God and infuses the person with the Holy Spirit who inspires him to new peaks of endeavour in which he himself is the master. Therefore a determined mind will tell all invading psychic influences to depart. The difficulty lies in the ambivalence of most people: they want the best of all worlds. Thus, while they would like to be free of psychic interference so that they can lead an independent existence, they also bask in the unwonted glamour of psychic communication that boosts their ego and promises material benefits. This was the supreme temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, when the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory. "All these," he said, "I will give you, if you will only fall down and do me homage." The reply of Jesus has to be repeated in the lives of all those who aspire to true freedom, which is God's service: "Begone, Satan. Scripture says "You shall do homage to the Lord your God and worship him alone" " (Matt. 4.8-10). I would emphasize that it is not the fact of psychic information that is evil, but the source of much of that information. The message of God that lifts up our hearts and sets the captive in us free is also mediated psychically. The discernment of spirits is essential to know the source of the information.

Once the mind has bidden all invading psychic forces to leave its domain, it must seal the door of the soul lest they return, indeed augmented in number, by the invitation of fresh members to the company. Jesus warns us that merely expelling one evil spirit is no guarantee against its later return, indeed accompanied by others even more wicked than itself (Matt. 12.43-45). The last state of the person may be worse than the first. The inner chamber of the secret place, where we present ourselves for communion with God, is protected against psychic assault by the practice of prayer. Where God is allowed entry, all subversive powers are, by his very presence, excluded. But it may be necessary to stabilize the psyche against further invasion before prayer becomes possible. It is in this respect that an understanding of the human psychic constitution is of great help.

There seem to be certain bodily areas that correspond to tracks, or channels, through which psychic impulses impinge on the mind, especially that of sensitive people. These psychic centres should be under control so that they do not admit foreign emanations indiscriminately. The centre that is especially important in admitting (or rejecting) psychic material of a strongly emotional charge has its bodily counter-part in the upper part of the abdomen above the navel. If the mind can be fixed on this area of the body while the person is deeply relaxed, a degree of control over the centre can be attained. The way usually recommended is to attend to the rhythm of normal breathing; the abdomen moves outwards with inspiration and retracts during expiration. To make the focus of attention even more definite the sign of the cross can be visualized on that part of the abdomen. If this simple exercise is practised several times each day for about five minutes each time, the psychic centre will come under such control that it will no longer allow the entry of baneful impulses indiscriminately. This exercise is in no way a substitute for prayer, but as I have already mentioned, it may, under some circumstances, be a necessary preliminary action before more profound spiritual devotions can be carried out. Certainly it is hard to meditate effectively until every part of the psyche is at rest to the world and fully attentive to God. When one's prayer life is vigorous, the possibility of obsession by extraneous psychic forces becomes small.

In the end the determining principle is the love of God and the confidence we have that all things work out for good to those who love him. If we can keep our minds fixed on the present moment and all that appertains to it, we will immediately be in psychic rapport with the entire created universe. Then our constant solicitude for the world's problems will bring us into a creative psychic fellowship with our fellows and with all life. We are members of one another at the level of the soul, or true self, and the closer we are to our own souls, the more authentic will be our relationship with all people, and the more immediate will be our knowledge of God. This is the supreme lesson that psychic sensitivity impresses on us. It may be a great burden, but if properly accepted it brings one into fellowship with a vast range of people and lessens the pain of living alone. It is the person who lives alone who will bear the brunt of psychic sensitivity, because there are fewer distractions in his life that would serve to divert his attention to the things of the physical senses. But as he persists in exploring his psychic sensitivity, so new dimensions of spiritual understanding will be revealed to him.

Chapter 8