Talent, Conscience, and Discipline (2/20/13)

Having learned that I can do certain things that not everyone can do so well or so naturally, I feel obliged to exercise those talents and abilities, do I not? The very idea of wasting or neglecting such ‘God-given’ talents is morally abhorrent to me—and not merely in my own case, but as far as all of us are concerned. Along with our gifts comes a kind of conscience that spurs us towards the opening up and full development of those gifts. I might add that this conscience (with spurs) operates independently from the social, financial, and other extrinsic encouragements to realize these talents and abilities. In many cases we must summons the will and determination to give priority to our highest (or most spiritually-psychologically fulfilling) capacities while others—our parents, teachers, counselors, recruiters, peers, etc.—pressure us to settle for the exercise of some lesser (or less challenging and less genuinely fulfilling) talent. It is certainly proper, here, to speak of such gifts and talents as a person’s ‘calling.’ To neglect or miss one’s calling, or proper vocation, is, in effect, to betray one’s life and inborn purpose. Since this is no trivial matter, it makes perfect psychological sense that this powerful—and perhaps ineradicable—conscience is essentially bound up with our most distinctive and demanding innate talents and gifts. Even if a person is highly successful, say, in the business world or in a law career, but has won that success and those financial rewards by ignoring and suppressing his deeper calling to be a musician, writer, pastor, or painter, he will find little true comfort and satisfaction with his wealth and social success—because of the self-betrayal that they are built upon and attempt, with mixed success, to cover up.

In many—perhaps most—cases, a person’s natural talents comfortably and smoothly match up with jobs and opportunities that are amply provided by society and the actual economy. For such persons, the happy marriage between calling and active fulfillment is not all that difficult to pull off. A broad and complex economy offers many opportunities for such match-ups between talent and fulfillment. But not all talents and gifts can be nurtured and supported properly by readily available positions within even a booming and diversified economy. Sometimes, our talents and gifts—those crucial, innate capacities and predispositions that constitute our true calling—are extremely difficult or impossible to match up with professional (or paying) careers in our midst, except for a tiny handful of extraordinary specimens or prodigies. What is such a person to do? If he or she is thus prevented from earning a living wage by the development and exercise of his/her crucial talent or gift, then what?

This is where the first test of our loyalty to our given talents—our true calling—is confronted. We’ll call this the economic test. This test arises whenever a person finds it difficult or impossible to pursue and practice his/her calling for a living wage. In such circumstances, something will have to suffer—unless the person is financially supported by patronage of some sort. Either economic privations or the pangs of conscience (for neglecting one’s calling) will have to be endured. To the extent that we are spiritually fulfilled by the development and exercise of our talents (say, as a poet, a philosopher, a glassblower, an opera singer, painter, Kabuki actor, etc.), we will be able to tolerate or even overlook the ‘reduced’ economic circumstances to which we are thus consigned.

The second big challenge we shall call the social-conventional test—for here we are up against the pressure to neglect our ‘impractical’ talents in order to pursue the more common and easily accessible rewards available to those who conform to prevailing norms and conventions. The more uncommon and individual (i.e., ‘unconventional’) our deepest talents are, the more their full development will set us apart from the norms, tastes, values, and easy apprehension of the generality. Collective consciousness—the so-called ‘public mind’—tends to be insensitive or oblivious to the bold innovations, the subtle distinctions and other ‘demanding’ features of truly individual thought, feeling, and expression—preferring bland generalities and flattened, familiar commonplaces that are effortlessly imbibed. Therefore, anyone who seriously devotes his best energies and care to the development of his own individual ‘voice’ and expressive style must be prepared to weather the indifference, and often the muted contempt, of the ‘distracted multitude.’ Unfortunately, the distracted multitude frequently includes many of those near and dear to us. They may not intend any harm, but their incapacity or unwillingness to properly appreciate the ‘exotic’ fruits of our calling sets them apart from us just as surely as our exacting conscience sets us apart from them. Hence, a kind of loneliness not infrequently accompanies the development of our genuinely individual gifts.

Of course, the pain of such loneliness tends to be most acute for those whose hopes for the approving response of others are strongest and most urgently pressing—but who have yet to fully develop their gifts. Once these are fully matured, they tend to be sufficiently rewarding so as to partially neutralize or counteract the pain of being misunderstood or under-appreciated. When our gifts—our calling—are are fully awakened and operative, they carry and support our inner lives so capably that the need for such external props and encouragements diminishes almost to nothing.

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Success and Failure Turned Inside Out (5/10/13)

‘Success,’ as it is insufficiently or wrongly understood—and demotically esteemed by contemporary Americans—typically spells failure for the genuine philosopher, to put it bluntly. It is perhaps the most seductive—and destiny-aborting—obstacle standing in the path of the philosopher’s rightful development, since it elevates that which is essentially and qualitatively lower while implicitly demoting (through neglect) that which is inherently higher, nobler. Consequently, the authentic success—or coming to maturity—of the philosopher is all but invisible to the ordinary citizen today. The philosopher, in extricating him- or her-self from the inverted, counterfeit values and norms of today, has developed into an anomalous creature. Within the depths of his soul, he is at odds with the established order of things in the corrupted and debased ‘anti-culture’ of the present time, and yet he knows better than to squander his precious time and energy on an exhausting, protracted direct confrontation with that established order. He watches, sometimes cheerfully and composedly, but more often mournfully and helplessly, as one after another of his former companions are successively swallowed up by the ever-expanding swamp of ‘no-nos’ for the philosopher: wealth, notoriety, comfortable self-satisfaction, conjugal and familial engorgement, onerous duties that allow for no leisure, that most precious possession of the philosopher.

For all his scintillating brilliance and psychological penetration, I sometimes wonder if Nietzsche allowed this profoundly disturbing truth to fully sink in. Of course, he was very much the anomalous creature as I have described here. He was a genuine philosopher who had seen through and beyond his own time and place—at least to a considerable extent. Early on, he appears to have glimpsed what Plato perhaps more fully grasped many centuries ago—namely, that philosophical initiation entails a metanoia, or conversion experience, whereby the ‘world’ is turned inside out as the mind itself is turned outside-in.

Here I am speaking about this ‘inversion’ as if I’m some kind of authority—as if I’ve already got it licked—but the honest truth is that I am still digesting the experience and will continue to do so, no doubt, for years to come, like a python with a small elephant lodged in its gut. Nevertheless, I have learned something of great importance from my own metanoia. I see how it has put me ‘out of phase’ with the broadcast frequency that is propping up the ‘continually running TV show’ that is audibly and visibly underway in my culture. This, more than anything, renders me (and other ‘ghosts’) invisible and inaudible to those in my midst. Of course I have a persona—or masked ‘stand in’ for myself—that vibrates in sync with the regular broadcast signal—my ‘TV personality,’ if you like. And I am certainly aware of that crucial frequency difference that distinguishes the real (invisible) Paul from his projected image on the busy studio stage set.

The upshot? Virtually all that the majority of my fellow cast members ever see—ever hear—is Paul the persona: the mask, the spokesperson, the performer. My soul is invisible and inaudible to all mere actors. Maybe one or two of them can smell me. But, as for them: I can see and hear their souls—if, that is, they have bothered to step offstage from time to time and cultivate soul. I can see and hear their souls because it takes one to know one.

But what is this about ‘cultivating’ soul? Well, I hate to be the older kid on the playground who poops on the lie about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, but if a person hasn’t done some work—and I mean some serious work—reflecting upon and digesting and imaginatively cooking his/her ‘stage experiences,’ there isn’t likely to be anything but a hole or, at best, an undifferentiated ‘stem cell’ where his/her soul is supposed to be. This observation is sure to vex and disturb those innocent Christians who ‘believe’ that it is enough merely to ‘believe’ that a soul is automatically issued at birth (or baptism) and that it is guaranteed an eternal life span. Such ‘believers’ are not for me and I am not the man for them.

If I may be permitted another word about soul—for those who have dared to follow me this far: soul is the boat created from reflected meaning—the boat that carries the spiritual newborn who has just emerged from the fluid-oozing womb of metanoia. Because everything has been turned upside down and inside out, it is necessary to be carried for a while by the boat of soul before it is possible to walk with orientation on one’s own. The word metaphor means ‘to carry across.’ This is a hint for those nearing a certain readiness for transformation. The word ‘psyche’ in Greek also meant ‘butterfly.’ Another hint.

The Spiritual, Moral/Political, and Judicious/Pedagogical Use of Words (8/21/12)

How is it that I am able to justify placing the spiritual life—as I have slowly come to understand it—on a higher rung of importance than the life dedicated primarily to moral and political justice, as Hedges and Chomsky—who are admirable men—do? It is because I have learned that the practice of moral and political justice in my own life—the only life I have a measure of direct influence over—is overshadowed and subsumed by my practice of the spiritual, or contemplative life. What this means is that, so far as I can see, the best way I can contribute to moral and political justice in my social and political surroundings is to strive to maintain a relatively disinterested, poised state of spiritual centeredness. As long as I am centered and balanced in this way, I am not compelled by powerful anger, resentment, desire, fear, and other emotions that naturally prompt humans to go to war ‘for’ this and ‘against’ that—to take sides in some kind of struggle between an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’ There will, it seems, always be contending groups and embattled individual egos in the world of ordinary human affairs and the moment we take one side we enter into a potentially hostile dynamic with the other. The various pairs of opposites that appear to be composed of warring or antagonistic factions are essentially (and un-apparently or invisibly) gapless continua, not split dualisms. But in order to see—and to genuinely experience—this underlying unity beneath the apparent strife we must manage somehow to mentally transcend the dualistic or oppositional paradigm—as Arjuna does, under Krishna’s wise supervision, in the Bhagavad Gita. Of course, the simple Christian utterance which is so difficult to practice—namely, ‘Love your enemy’—is a kind of mantra, the intended purpose of which is to break the oppositional, ‘us versus them,’ mode of seeing and feeling. Alas, this is the normal mode of seeing and feeling among human beings. Consequently, the teachings of Christ and the Buddha are widely, though often privately, regarded by humans as ‘insanely’ unrealistic, and even dangerously deluded in the sort of world that we actually inhabit (one that is full of hypocritical Christians and lip-service Buddhists), while from the transcendental, centered standpoint, dogs—or even dogs and cats together in the same room—often provide a better example of how to get on in the world than most human animals can manage.

Since I am fully aware that I cannot change other persons’ minds and hearts simply by preaching to them or by apprising them of their blindness and their unacknowledged (or unconsciously projected) villainy, I am wary of moral crusades and political revolutions that aim to purge society and to right the wrongs of the unjust. Human beings simply don’t change inwardly (which is the only kind of change that matters) unless and until they are truly ready. This readiness depends on a number of factors—a capacity for honest reflection being perhaps the most important of these—but it cannot be forced or compelled from without. Unfortunately, another key ingredient to the getting of wisdom appears to be deep suffering—and no good-hearted person prays that such suffering will torment even those persons we don’t like or care for. And yet, we may have to accept the fact that their arrogant ignorance and selfishness will not likely be overcome by mere reason and reflection alone—but will need to be beaten out of them in the school of hard knocks.

It is for this reason that I have gradually come to regard preaching and sermonizing as a comparatively crude way of contributing to the social harmony, political justice, and moral goodness of our surroundings. I have found that when I am able to reflect deeply, temper my own passions, and refrain from ‘us versus them’ thinking, I am in the best position to ‘teach without using words,’ as the old Taoists used to say. And yet, because I feel very much at home with words, it’s not likely that I will ‘shut up’ anytime soon. Perhaps, instead of attempting to ‘teach without using words,’ I will just have to settle for ‘writing between the lines.’

On the Question of Solitude and Letting Things Be (4/11/12)

After deriving very little satisfaction from the books I have recently been reading, I picked back up with Jung’s Psychological Types yesterday—a text I can always rely upon to re-excite my keen interest. I was reading from the Definitions (of his key terms) and I was once again powerfully impressed by the subtlety and scope of Jung’s mind.

In paragraph 758 he writes:

As the individual is not just a single, separate being, but by his very existence presupposes a collective relationship, it follows that the process of individuation must lead to more intense and broader collective relationships and not to isolation.

The passage caught my attention because recently I have wondered if my ‘individual’ ideas and my unusual way of life have not succeeded in isolating me to some extent from my fellows. It is true, though—and certainly worth mentioning—that I feel much less antagonistic towards ‘the herd’ or the collective than I used to. I may not yet have attained the Christ-like attitude that can say, in sincerest compassion, ‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,’ but I am slowly beginning to move in that direction.

My dear friend C— often likes to call attention to the outward resemblance between our quiet, solitary, and retreating personal lives—but I am not altogether comfortable with the comparison. Since I have slowly and reluctantly become convinced that the ideas I’m working with can be of some benefit to a few others besides myself, I will not remain forever content to keep them hidden, along with myself, away from the world. C— is not inwardly moved by such concerns and pressures, so far as I can see, so, for her, it is a somewhat simpler matter to retreat into anonymity. I love my solitude as much as any monk out there, but I don’t want to be so tyrannically governed by this love that I avoid the world altogether and miss out on opportunities to be of some service to those who stand to benefit in any way from my modest reflections and observations.

Of course, ‘moving out of my individual isolation’ can certainly be understood to mean something other than attending convivial social events. Interestingly, I find many of these ardent socializers and heavy investors in their personal relationships to be mentally, culturally, and emotionally isolated. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is precisely this interior poverty and isolation that often drives such persons outwards into superficial or merely sentimental relationships with other inwardly blinkered and impoverished souls. I must confess that the company of my own thoughts or the impressions from a good book provide more than adequate protection against the needy isolation that many are consigned to because of their lack of inner/outer exploration.

Therefore, it is not for lack of trying that my social and interpersonal dealings have withered almost to a stalk. Although I often find ostensibly serious conversations quite superficial and tepid, I persist in my attempts to deepen and extend my connections with others. Is it solely my fault if they don’t show more enthusiasm and interest in the ideas and themes that supply my life with meaning and with spiritual passion? Throwing aside such edifying and transformative passions for the sake of campfire conviviality and glutinous ties of schmaltzy affection is no longer a viable option for me. I’m afraid that my unpopular passions and compelling interests are constitutional and ineradicable, and I should not—and dare not—suppress or conceal them. If these passionate interests have not inspired others in my midst to seek my company for the sake of lively dialectics—or for the spark that may kindle a kindred fire—I don’t know what more I can do. I am becoming less and less inclined to proselytize as I get older—less and less eager to seek or inspire ‘converts’ to the contemplative life.

More on the Spirit and Soul as Bases of the Coniunctio (8/6/11)

Have I become too hard on humans—my own human side, as well?

Sometimes—this morning, for instance, when I woke up in my typically somber and mildly fretful mood—I view my human side as a brow-beaten, neglected and abused dog. It is loyal to its daimon master, suffering all manner of privations on its behalf. But what if these austerities, this forced seclusion in a state of emotional-erotic ‘purdah,’ could be relaxed a bit—allowing this starved and shivering little mutt to grow into a mature and respectable man—to ‘come into his own’?

It stands to reason that there will be more sadness, regret, and frustration in my life than perhaps needs to be there, so long as this condition persists—this power arrangement where the daimonic taskmaster restricts the opportunities for ordinary human happiness for the anxious ‘host’ he now exploits and dominates. And it seems ridiculous to suppose that the ‘human, all-too-human’ sadness and pain experienced under this rather draconian ‘regime’ do not find their un-merry way into my philosophical and psychological reflections, strongly coloring the general worldview that is emerging therefrom.

It would also make sense that the frustration and sadness, the dour disappointment and deprivation, that my human side suffers under the current arrangement gets ‘translated’ into envy and resentment towards those—the majority?—who more freely enjoy what life (this life) has to offer. Of course, it would be difficult for me to acknowledge this envy and resentment because that would suggest that somehow I got things seriously wrong about how life should be lived. Then all of my criticisms of collective norms start to carry the ‘stink’ of a rearguard attempt to defend a stubborn ‘spiritual’ prejudice, a proud blindness, and an inability to relax and enjoy life with moderation.

But what would this move entail? If the restraints and repressive habits currently in place are relaxed, can my life as a whole be fairly expected to improve? In exchange for the ‘promise of greater sensual and social happiness,’ won’t I be running the risk of slackening this spiritual tension it has taken so much care and time to establish?

And what form would this happiness I’m currently deprived of be likely to take? Isn’t it the companionship of like-minded friends that I yearn for more than anything else? But this raises additional questions, does it not? If these ‘like-minded’ persons I’m interested in befriending are like-minded insofar as they, too, share many of the same exacting critical standards and ‘unpopular’ concerns that fuel and propel my thinking and writing, then don’t I run the risk of jumping from the frying pan into the fire—at least where my impatient distaste for slack feeling and slack thinking is concerned? Such ‘like-minded’ friends might serve only to reinforce and intensify my ‘ascetic’ and asocial leanings. Maybe, maybe not? Perhaps what I need to cultivate is simply greater compassion for my fellow humans.

A passage from Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis (par. 175) sheds relevant light upon my present question. Fittingly, it is found in a chapter dealing with the alchemical symbol of the dog:

The theriomorphic form of Sol as lion and dog and of Luna as a bitch shows that there is an aspect of both luminaries which justifies the need for a ‘symbolizatio’ in animal form. That is to say the two luminaries are, in a sense, animals or appetites, although, as we have seen, the ‘potentiae sensuales’ are ascribed only to Luna. There is, however, also a Sol niger, who, significantly enough, is contrasted with the daytime sun and clearly distinguished from it. This advantage is not shared by Luna, because she is obviously sometimes bright and sometimes dark. Psychologically, this means that consciousness by its very nature distinguishes itself from its shadow, whereas the unconscious is not only contaminated with its own negative side but is burdened with shadow cast off by the conscious mind. Although the solar animals, the lion and the eagle, are nobler than the bitch, they are nevertheless animals and beasts of prey at that, which means that even our sun-like consciousness has its dangerous animals. Or, if Sol is the spirit and Luna the body, the spirit too may be corrupted by pride or concupiscence, a fact which we are inclined to overlook in our one-sided admiration of the ‘spirit.’

As usual, Jung packs a cluster of potent insights into a compact passage. First, I would make these links: Sol = daimon = spirit; Luna = ‘human’ = ‘abused/neglected bitch’ = body. What’s missing here is soul, and yet I certainly associate soul as a perspective with a generally melancholy, somber mood. It is feminine (in the sense merely of being absorbent, passive, not dynamic like the daimon) and it has links with both the daimon (spirit) and the body, for which it ‘feels’ a measure of compassion.

I have become increasingly sensitive to this ‘concupiscence’ that Jung ascribes to the spirit or daimon. Occasionally I sense the ruthless, single-minded driven-ness of the daimon, with its uncaring, indifferent—nay, contemptuous—attitude towards the body and its ‘human’ needs and yearnings. The important psychological observation here is that the daimon or spirit is not the serene, neutral, blissed-out topos within the totality of the Self, as I have erroneously supposed it to be in the past. It can be like the sunlight intensely focused into a point by a magnifying lens or a raging fire that burns through everything upon which it is directed—evaporating the moisture of feeling and even of imagination. In other words, it very definitely has a destructive aspect or character where all (imaginative, personal, and feeling-related) forms are concerned, while being a reliable force of liberation at the same time. Whether it is experienced as ‘creative’ (liberational) or destructive depends, it would seem, on whether or not we are identified with these ‘forms’ which are shattered or incinerated by the all-penetrating sun-like fire of spirit—or to what extent we are.

It also occurred to me, as I was reading the passage from Jung, that it might not be an outlandish stretch to link the spirit vs. soul/body with Nietzsche’s ‘Masters vs. Slaves,’ respectively. There is actually quite a close alignment between the two symbolic polarities.

Under the diluted but culturally pervasive influence of Christianity’s absorption and assimilation of soul into the much more powerful theological concept of spirit, I have tended in the past to conflate the soul with my ‘daimon.’ The differentiation of these two standpoints or qualitatively distinct energies can help enormously in my ongoing efforts to establish ‘where’ I am (under the principal influence of which complex I happen to be at any moment) in the psyche. By more completely and distinctly differentiating these inner figures—all of which may be said to behave like more or less organized, coherent personalities, each with its own character, aims (telos), and traits—‘I’ am in a better position to become disentangled from a state of identification with any or all of them. They become further relativized—interdependent—parts of the composite that ‘I’ am, at any given moment.

Why do I find this a preferable situation to the former one—where spirit (or the ‘daimon’) and soul were largely conflated, regarded as one and the same? For one thing, I believe I might be in a better position to understand the dynamics of my psychic life with greater fidelity to the facts—observable facts that have largely been hidden until now. I strongly suspect, for example, that there is a relationship between soul and the daimon (now that they are understood as two distinctive centers of gravity, each with its own ‘will’) that was invisible to me before. What if the loneliness and alienation I often experience is the soul’s response to the spirit’s bold and solitary forays into uncharted territory? The spirit, itself, being of a cold and inhuman character, does not register these painful feelings of isolation and estrangement from all that is comfortingly familiar, but the soul feels this quite poignantly. Thus understood, the daimon’s penetrating and subtle explorations of the remote frontiers of psychic experience invariably elicit a more imaginative, feeling-toned response from the soul perspective—and this response by the soul is a crucial part of the mapping-project itself—and psychic cartography is a central component of my life task. I have too exclusively associated my ‘vocation’ with the daimon, but now I am beginning to see that the daimon, or spirit, is only half the picture. Like a drill or a spacecraft, it ventures into new territory, but the soul is responsible for working up a suitable portrait or rendering of the newly uncovered terrain or topos. The soul needs the probing, penetrating spirit to enter into (and gather raw data from) the new territory—since it must remain anchored in the depths—which it then decodes and clothes in appropriate imaginal dress. Because this process happens simultaneously when I am writing, it has been difficult to recognize, until now, just how different these two functional properties—spirit and soul, daimon and imagination—are. Perhaps the coniunctio is between ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ (rather than between Self and Ego, or some other pair of opposites).

Death in Life (4/7/12)

From time to time I remember, all over again, what a prodigious misfit I am within my cultural world—if not within this species! My daimon must either be an avatar or an atavism—or more than a little of both. If I ask myself what is at the bottom of my misfitness, the first thing that leaps to mind is the recognition that the lights I strive to live by are noticeably different from—and often diametrically opposed to—the aims and purposes that almost everyone I know lives by. Sometimes I seem to be trying to undo what virtually everyone in this culture was brought up to do, to seek, to shoot for. I, too, was brought up much the same way, but obviously at some basic level it never took. My notion of freedom increasingly assumes the character of ‘wu-wei’ or ‘not-doing.’ This is certainly not born of laziness—since ‘not doing’ seems, paradoxically, to require a good deal more initiative and concentration than conforming to the generally prescribed norms and hitching my wagon to popularly endorsed pursuits, political figures, opinions, behaviors, etc.

‘Doing’ in the collectively sanctioned and endorsed ways often seems to entail ‘going with the flow,’ something I have instinctively resisted—in large part because this indeed strikes me as the lazy way of going about one’s business, even if such doing frequently involves burning off a lot of calories. It often amounts to a lot of huffing and puffing simply to push oneself further and faster in the very direction in which everything is already heading. (When and if the ‘giant pendulum’ reverses—as I am certain that it always eventually does—those who are first will be last, and those who are last will be first—in the new direction. But staying close to the center is the most prudent and moderate course to follow, I reckon.)

How do I feel about this general situation that I have sketched here? I can honestly say that I am neither happy and content nor ashamed and dejected—but, depending on the day and the circumstances, somewhere in between. The ‘human’ in me understandably longs for the soothing and affirming embrace of my fellow mortals—but the daimon subtly discourages my taking any more than a modest share of such comfort, since a few companions of quality outweigh a battalion of fragments. To continue to remain true and faithful in my service, the daimon limits me to only the most carefully chosen and mutually respectful affiliations with a handful of other like-minded comrades. Thus, soul-making is a kind of death in life, which, as it turns out, is infinitely preferable to the empty life of a dead soul.

Clutching my Crutches (2/7/12)

On my more honest days, I am willing to acknowledge how much I rely on being able to make reasonably coherent statements (of a philosophical-psychological character) in order to prop up my general sense of spiritual well-being. In admitting this I am not quite conceding that my philosophical claims make no positive contribution to other inquiring minds or that their function as supports for my spiritual well-being is their only salutary function. In blunter words, I am not ready to grant that these philosophical observations and speculations are merely consoling fictions I tell myself (and anyone else who will listen) simply in order to shield myself from the corrosive waves of ‘nihilism,’ ‘cynicism,’ and ‘pessimism’ that incessantly lap against my vulnerable shoreline.

It seems to be true, then, that my daily invocation of a select set of theoretical/spiritual principles plays a crucially decisive role in fighting back these waves and occasionally devastating tsunamis. Apparently, I see myself as a man besieged and that if I did nothing I would soon be engulfed by the muddy flood threatening to over-run the sandbag wall of philosophical journal entries behind which I have encamped for safety’s sake…for purity’s sake…for ‘God’s sake.’ For let me be candid: at some level I seem to believe that I am going about ‘my Father’s business’ in sheltering my soul from the mud and the slime that beset me on all sides—don’t I? How might this (now not so secret) conception of myself as a ‘servant of God’s plan’ feed into my pride and egotism? How might it widen and deepen the imagined gulf between me and ‘the others,’ those ‘ignorant and lost sheep’ who have swallowed down so much dirty, slimy floodwater that they are on the verge of drowning? What can I possibly do to assist such beleaguered souls? Don’t I have my hands full simply trying to maintain a hygienic distance from them? For in all honesty—aren’t they the flood? Or at least the contaminated carriers of all those malignant, microbial pathogens that I work so hard to keep away from my person—out of my breathing space? Is misanthropy simply one more occupational hazard faced by anyone working for God, Inc.? (Ltd.?)

Perhaps my job description needs to be revised—expanded and made more complex—in order that I may work more effectively and more humanely at what I am called to do. If the good doctor of bodies hates the disease but not the patient, the good doctor of souls will hate the sin but not the sinner. The medical doctor confronts his string of ailing patients face to face—he does not flee from them, even if he avoids taking unnecessary risks (by kissing and sharing needles with them). Likewise, the spiritual physician—recognizing the real distinction between ‘corrupted’ and sound elements within himself—assists those whom he can with their own gradual recovery. He does not shun them, even when he suspects that they are beyond hope for recovery. For these, in particular, he summons from within himself the deepest compassion. Such ‘incurables,’ however, are perhaps not as common as we might suspect.