Reflections by Jerry Webber

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Two Images for Life and Prayer and Reality

This summer a large group of folks with whom I share life is reading Anthony De Mello’s The Way to Love. I’ve come across a couple of images in recent days that illumine the spiritual journey in some helpful ways. It occurs to me that they may be companion images that would help process De Mello’s ideas in The Way to Love.

First, we each respond and react to life and to life situations in ways we have learned over many years. Most of these responses live beneath the surface of our awareness. We react in certain ways and then assume, “This is just the way I am,” or “That is just the way life is.” In a sense, we have a whole storehouse of internal videos that play in our heads. These “videos,” which include our commentaries on people and events, also include attributing motives to others which may or may not be factual.

For instance, if we feel excluded, we may have a video that plays back other times we felt excluded, and the video may include a commentary that says things like, “That person has always excluded me,” and “I must be a bad person to be excluded like this,” and “She is a bad person because she has shunned me” . . . and on and on it goes.

For me, anyway, the impact of this internal video and commentary is spiraling. I spiral downward . . . downward . . . downward. The further I spiral, the more outrageous my commentary becomes. And all the while it seems very reasonable to me. If I don’t catch the “spiral” early and stop the internal video, I can be in a deep funk for hours and even for days. (“I needed to talk to him. . . . He didn’t answer my phone call. . . . He never answers my phone calls. . . . He must not like me. . . . I’ll never call him again. . . . Maybe I need to quit my job. . . . I should move to another city. . . . I’m such a failure. . . .”)

See? It makes no rational sense. If it weren’t so real, it would be humorous to see it written like this. But this is the internal noise with which each of us lives.

Every person has a whole host of these internal videos. In a sense, they have served to help us make sense of life. And for most of us, they have served as defense mechanisms, ways we have protected ourselves from the hurts and cruelties of life.

Most often, though, these videos are the cause of our upset, turmoil, fear, and defensiveness. We may say to another person, “You did this to me,” but the other person did not “cause” our specific reaction to their behavior. While their behavior may have been inappropriate, unhealthy, and even hurtful, our response to them is mostly a product of the internal video that plays within our minds in reaction to them.

The spiritual life invites our awareness of these internal videos that play within us, some of which are dear to us or seem hardwired within us. Awareness of the videos is the first movement toward detaching from them and from their compelling, addicting pull on us.

Here is another image.

Imagine you are in a valley, looking up at a mountain. You see the mountain and its shape, the trees and rocks that cover it, and the peak of the mountain. The mountain is really there. But take your gaze off the mountain for just a moment . . . then look at the mountain again. This time, you cannot see much of the mountain, because clouds have moved in to block your view. Your vision is obscured by the weather pattern.

If you didn’t know better, you could believe that the mountain no longer exists, or at least that the mountain’s pinnacle is no longer there. You could easily believe that the clouds are the main thing, that the weather is the only reality. After all, on this gaze, the weather is all you can see.

And in fact, the weather pattern is one part of the reality, but it also masks another more solid, more foundational reality . . . which is the mountain or the landscape behind and beneath the clouds.

If I am not careful, I can allow the clouds or the weather to determine my perception and shade how or what I see.

And the reality is that the weather will change. The clouds will move in and out, based on the weather.

You could liken the clouds and the changing weather to our human perception of reality, to the way we see life. To lean on the previous image, the clouds are something like an internal video. They are the immediate focus of our sight, what we most quickly perceive. If our gaze stops there, we will miss the more solid, foundational reality behind and beneath the clouds.

In a sense, the clouds, though beautiful, are a distraction. They obscure the mountain and its peak. The clouds come and go, but the mountain remains.

Spiritual vision, which is grown within us over time, is a function of prayer and meditation, the slow unmasking of the clouds and the gradual learning to trust what is behind the clouds. Quiet prayer, contemplative prayer, gives a foundation for connecting most deeply with God, grounding us in the Real, learning to recognize the distractions for what they are, and helping us to see beyond the scope of our physical vision.

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