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June 25, 2012

Our potential for spiritual presence is the source of attentive and compassionate presence in our everyday field of life.  We can grow in empathic presence to others to the degree that we diminish the obstacles and nurture the conditions for spiritual presence.  In this reflection we consider some of the obstacles to empathic presence that we experience in our daily lives.

Refusal to attend, to listen, to reality as it is speaking in one’s life situation

     Through the ego dynamics of suppression and repression we keep certain experiences out of consciousness.  Such refusal is a suppression of spiritual consciousness. We may refuse, for example, to listen to our bodies, especially if we think what happens to, or in, our bodies is not worthy of our attention.  In his memoir Teach Us To Sit Still, Tim Parks relates how for him the body was merely a “vessel . . . which allowed us to get on with all these pressing (Christian) tasks” of life.  As he puts it in the foreword to his book:  “The body was a necessary hassle on the way to success and paradise.”  We may treat much of what is “ordinary” in our lives in this way — as not worthy of care and attention.  The result of our refusal to attend is often pain, dysfunction and lost possibilities.

Escape in Functionalism

     In looking away from our actual life and circumstances as we find them we often distract ourselves in functioning.  Our functional life can take over the other dimensions, obscuring the vital and transcendent dimensions, such as caring for ourselves and others; making time for friendship; opening up to the mystery that lies at the heart of all of reality in every moment of our lives.

     Functioning gratifies the illusory and grandiose ambitions of the central ego; i.e., the tendency to see everything from the perspective of our projects and plans.  The central ego views itself as a fixed axis in the world rather than as inter-formatively related to all that is.

Attachment to Routine Dispositions

     We may see ourselves — our dispositions — as already formed.  In fact, what we understand about ourselves and our possibilities for formation may be nothing more than the false self — false in the sense that who we are up to this point does not at all represent our possibilities for a life of authentic freedom in formation.

     “Ordinary life” is a field of unsuspected possibilities.  The ways we have routinely confronted our life-in-formation can be changed.  Therein lie our greatest opportunities for renewal and growth.

     In Tim Parks’s personal account of chronic pain, the subject undergoes a series of events — eruptions — that render him more capable of dealing with his physical pain, looking at the way he lives his life — treats his body — and understands his relationship to others and his participation in life in general.  By the end of the book he is still himself, but he has come to experience himself and the world around him in a more expansive way.  He has made a personal journey from closed off and rigid dispositions to open and flexible attitudes which dispose him toward receptivity and new life.

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Last updated: 11/24/10.