June 25, 2012
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.
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.
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