Friday, June 13, 2008

Of Margins, Borders and Other Interrelated Matters

The beauty of fixed beliefs is the possibility of definition and precise definition at that.  If you are a conservative Catholic, well you have very quickly defined where you are. Rome and the Pope will be your centre of gravity and you will take your lead from there.  If you are a committed Presbyterian, Calvinist or one of the many other Christian Evangelical Churches you will take your lead from the value of "being saved in and through Christ."  If you are a Jew or a Muslim you will likewise look to the founders and prophets of your faith as well as the Godhead of your religion to be your guiding light.  Then again, you may be a member of the Anglican Communion where you may be more High Church (a little more "Catholic" in practice and liturgy) or Low Church (more Evangelical).  Indeed you might be any where in-between, because one of the beauties of the Anglican Communion has been its proud boast of being a broad church which encompasses many viewpoints between High and Low.  You may even be a dyed-in-the-wool atheist or materialist or atheistic humanist.  You, too, will know where you stand.  Then you may be a skeptic or indifferentist and really do not give a damn.  Then again, you may just be unsure of where you stand at all.  You may simply be lost, confused and confounded. Perhaps you are agnostic and are open to wherever the truth lies or to wherever you are led by not only the lights of your own reason but the lights of your own heart and soul, by the lights of your own conscience.

Sometimes I'm not very sure at all where I stand myself with regard to the ultimate questions, with regards even to where my own inner lights are leading me.  I am too full of questions.  My mind is always buzzing with some new idea or insight.  It is so hard to rule things in or things out.  "Open" is a word I really love and it best describes my take on the world. 

It is my considered belief that too many people are way too sure of where they stand.  Fine and dandy if you have worked out your viewpoint and considered all the alternatives.  Admittedly, very few people have the luxury of either the time or even the commitment to pursuing such investigations because simply they have too much to do, too many other commitments like family and job.  They do need some star to steer their often much-buffeted craft by and so they take refuge on some little island of belief.  Otherwise, their seemingly fragile craft is very much in danger not alone of capsizing but also of sinking. Hence, we must respect all viewpoints and all religions and all "takes" on life if they provide support and necessary psychological sustenance for their adherents.

I suppose from my intense and deliberate reading and reflections on life and its problems, concerns and questions I have become more interested in psychotherapy as the real healer and sustainer of the soul rather than religion.  That, of course, is neither to deny nor criticize the latter for its important role in human life.

I have been a pilgrim of life.  I have been on a journey to make sense of what life places before me.  I have followed willingly my inner lights to try and make sense of the whole enterprise.   I have spent three years in religious life, and that was a very happy and enriching period of my life.  I met so may kindly and good people.  I learned so much about community, about living in a caring and sharing environment.  I have worked with the sick, the elderly and the young, with alcoholics and drug addicts.  I have studied and studied and I have taught.  The older I get the less sure of things I become.  I remember my spiritual adviser saying to me when I was in religion that I was very sure that that particular way of life was for me.  I can remember him saying that perhaps I was too sure, that probably I would change my views as I got older.  Sure enough, this sagely and wise gentleman was correct.  I was only to stay three years in that order.  Therein I made great friends, I read a lot, had the company of scholars in community and grew up.

I have appealed to Socrates many times in these posts as an instinctive leader in my life.  I always loved the way he questioned everything and sought to get to the heart of the matter at hand.  I loved his appeal to basic ignorance at the start of any enquiry.  I made his quip "The unexamined life is not worth living" my own.  At times that examination drove to distraction.  I have been through a major breakdown at forty years of age - 10 years ago.  That breakdown taught me so much.  In fact for me it was truly a break-through rather than a break-down.  I have discussed the impact of this crisis in my life before in these posts, and so won't repeat too much more on this issue here.  I came out a knew man, a new creation of my own making after this severe taste of hell if I may forge a few metaphors here.

From my reading I see that Richard Kearney, whom I have quoted rather widely in my last post sees himself not as a "pure philosopher", but rather as a philosopher of the borders.  I have used another word in my above title, that of margins.  I, like Kearney, have always felt myself called to the margins, never to the centre of things.  I have been severely criticised by many of my lecturers over the years for going sideways, rather than going straight ahead academically.  I am a jack of all trades and have done some three primary degrees and then a more interdisciplinary masters somewhere on the border lines between philosophy and theology.  I remember my director Rev Dr. Brian McNamara saying that my thesis could equally be argued as a Master's in Philosophy or as a Master's in Theology.  Then afterwards I began to be more interested in spirituality and than in psychotherapy, psychology and psychiatry.  At the moment I am pondering becoming a resource teacher who may begin working with Asperger's Syndrome.

There are so many avenues one might follow.  The thing is discerning the true path.

Above I have uploaded a picture of a Fulung Gong practitioner in Dublin Christmas 2007. These practitioners strive to centre themselves through meditative movement. Through such meditative action one can draw the splintered bits of self from all the various margins and frontiers and borders into some semblance of unity.

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