This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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11.4. Self-Knowledge

Admitting to differentiation

Our section on contemporary social issues, which enumerated so many challenges to spiritual development presented by our society, contained a number observations about the spiritual and mental condition of the general population, and however true those observations might have been, it is time to face another truth, perhaps even more unpleasant than any of the preceding: that however true those remarks might have been, the vast majority of people will never suspect any of it, and if confronted with these things will usually not even be able to discern that there is a problem that runs deeper than party politics. If you tell the average believer that he suffers from agnosticism, for example, or tell the average ‘patriotic’ American that their patriotic fervor is really the result of misplaced religiosity, you will not receive a good response. And as you contemplate the state of things, you will feel yourself more and more alienated from your neighbors because they cannot, or will not—it doesn’t matter which at this point—see what is to you undeniable. You will become more and more alienated from your peers and this alienation will be much deeper and more total than what occurs between Democrats and Republicans, or Catholics and Protestants, because even those agree on certain basic premises, and it is precisely these premises, these basic certainties from which everyone else starts, that you have left behind. Sooner or later you will have to admit, not out of arrogance but out of honesty, that you are ‘not one of them’—again not out of condescension but as a matter of your own sanity. You will begin to suspect that your very nature differs from theirs, and the purpose of this section is to tell you that you are right in what you suspect. That there are those whose fate is to lead ‘differentiated lives,’ and whose spiritual type, while sharing in some sense all of the characteristics of the modern man, does not belong. My purpose here is to explain to you what this means and how to live with it without letting it destroy you. It is also important—exceedingly important—that you understand how to live as a ‘differentiated type’ without growing to despise everyone around you; and that is precisely the next section. Here, however, we will first and foremost examine the differentiated life, and once we understand that, we will discuss how we might use this understanding to ‘love our neighbor as our self,’ rather than allowing our necessary solitude to express itself in alienation and hatred of others, who after all cannot be anything other than what they are.

Being differentiated from your contemporaries does not require that you despise others

With everything that I’ve said so far, it may seem that social life is doomed to be an agonizing experience, and from a certain point of view this is true, but it does not mean that meaningful relationships are impossible. Much of what I’ve said applies to the collective life, and the personal relationships you might develop with the people you meet are something very different and while there still may be significant mental barriers between yourself and even your closest friends, this does not imply that you cannot form close bonds with them. The mental level is not the only level on which to commune with others, and if you insist on alienating yourself from everyone simply because they do not share your mentality then this is more an admission of your own limitations than it is about theirs. In other words, there is no excuse for living a life in loneliness, even with all of what I’ve said above, although this requires us to enter into a new discussion and to focus on our likeness to our neighbors instead of our ‘otherness,’ and to examine that virtue which is called love. Through these observations you will begin to see that as you begin to understand your own differentiation, you will grow to love your neighbor more rather than less, coming to see that he too has an inner life, a reason for being, and that as men you participate in a shared vocation.

Discover the Self

It should be clear by this point that social life and solitude are not opposites. Yes, it is true that where real community still exists and where one can emerge from solitude and truly identify with others via social activity, then we could present solitude and social life as opposites, but in the modern context, social life is usually just another kind of isolation. To go out into society is to immerse oneself in a multitude of other solitudes. In fact, you can learn a great deal about the dangers of perpetual solitude by observing the average man in the street, since that is his reality.

Christian contemplation in relation to metaphysical realization

Because of the unique differences between Eastern and Western intellectuality, the Christian notion of contemplation, which you will encounter if you spend any time at all in the literature on prayer, is the closest that the West comes to something like “intellectual intuition” or the “pure intellection” of the Hindus and the Muslims. Notice, however, that I said that it is the closest thing, and not that it is the same thing. The differences between the two worlds, implying two different spiritual temperaments, make equivalencies in epistemology impossible. First, in the East man is seen as having at his core an ever present union with God that allows him at any moment to “realize” the Truth that was never separate from his true Self. For Christianity, which in its mainstream (but not, granted, always end everywhere) begins in the duality of Man-God instead of the underlying identity between self-Self, man is never acknowledged as possessing, by nature, the capacity to “realize” higher knowledge. He can obtain it, but only by specific acts of God which “infuse” this power in him. In other words, it is not something present that he must develop, but something injected from outside. This is why one of the greatest Christian contemplatives, St. Theresa of Avila, called true contemplation “infused prayer”, which would have sounded strange in a Hindu or Buddhist text.

This leads us to a second issue, which is that in Eastern traditions this is seen as the realization of knowledge, since to be man is to know and to know God is his highest act. All things are placed in terms of knowledge. In Christianity, which has more of a passional way of expressing itself, this is described as an ‘experience’ of God, and encounter, almost as something ‘felt’, which explains the prevalence of terms like ‘ecstasy’ and ‘ecstatic union’. Here we have again come upon the important distinction between the Christian experience of life and others, and it implies no inferiority or superiority in this regard.

Of course, these categories are never perfect, and there are those in the Christian tradition who speak as if they were Hindus, such as Thomas Merton whose ‘contemplation’ is less like St. Theresa and more like Shankaracharya, and there are Hindu sects whose practices lead them to ecstatic prayer, and would be more analogous to the Christian ‘mystics’. But what I have said above is true as a general principle, and helps us to understand what in general is meant by the representatives of ‘contemplation’ in Christian prayer literature, and will help you understand any apparent contradictions between their approach and the Advaita Vedanta, and this will further help you understand what is happening when you come upon the rare spiritual writer, like Merton, who manages to describe the intersection between the two ways as if they were not different at all. And ultimately he is correct, even if his approach was doomed to be misunderstood by some of his peers as a departure from orthodoxy.

What contemplation is

Contemplation is an experience of awareness, specifically an awareness of the One Reality, of the Source of our Being, and of intimate contact with this source. It is an awareness of the ultimate identity between ourselves and the Source of our being–which is to say, as much as it displeases some, the identity between ourselves and God–and this is why the terms used by the most advanced mystics to describe their experiences are drawn from conjugal language: ejaculatory prayer that leads to an “infusion” of ecstatic prayer. A touch, a caress. After all, is Christ not God and Bridegroom, and is it not the groom’s purpose to join in union with his bride, the church, and not only “symbolically” but physically? And if this is all in a mystically sense, then we are speaking of a true mystical union of things that were separated. Contemplation is thus an awareness of Christ in ourselves, and therefore an awareness of the Truth that we are none of than He, and that we only become ourselves when the husk, the old superficial ego-self is shed and the truth Self, the Christ-Self, lives through us and we become nothing other than it. This is contemplation, or at any rate its fruition.

Contemplation outruns faith

Faith provides us with a support to reach a type of knowledge that the rational faculties cannot achieve. It acts as a kind of bridge to lead us into contact with a truth that is beyond thought. Contemplation is the experience of that truth, and so its content, if we can speak of such a thing, is higher than any article of faith. Faith is the means, contemplation is the end. This is why the great spiritual advisors say not to cling to verbal or mental prayer once one feels themselves departing upward into contemplation. To cling to formulas and verses at this point is to cling to the earth at the very moment that Christ is drawing us into the heavens.

Contemplation is not visions or locutions

You might see things during prayer, and you may hear things (locutions), but these are not contemplation, and should be carefully examined and usually not given too much importance, important as they may be. They are not contemplation, which again is a contact with the source of all vision, an actual collision with the speaker of the words, and so any vision and any locution can in a way be seen as evidence of a gap not yet closed between oneself and the source.

The Cloud of Unknowing

We find God beyond all knowledge, and this is why contemplation has been described as a passing through the cloud of unknowing. This is also why the experience cannot be verbalized, and why those who have been there are reluctant to share what it was that they saw or heard or felt: they have likely tried, early on, before they realized that seeing, feeling, and hearing cannot begin to convey what it was, nor can they enunciate it in any coherent way. If it can be known, it is something that one can only know for oneself. It cannot be explained or proven or justified. Others can be directed, or corrected, on their path, but they cannot be shown the goal itself.

Contemplation is the realization of what all Christians believe but do not experience

In other words, it is the experience of one’s ideas about something being blown away in face of the reality that they only vaguely foreshadowed. I have said that contemplation is “a way,” because you must remember that it is not the only way, nor is it the exclusive possession of Christians contemplatives. Members of each of the darshanas in Hinduism, for example, seek to achieve this “realization of the Absolute” by various paths, just as, on a much larger scale, do all of the great religions. But I will dwell on contemplation because it is a way of realization that is most appropriate to the specific nature of Western peoples, and we are included in this group.

Do not worry too much about “being wrong” about contemplation. You will always be wrong about it, and the only way to escape errors of this kind is to experience contemplation–which is contact with the Truth. In other words, do not think you must try to know everything about contemplation before you hope to experience it, because in fact the only way to know about it, and to discard errors about it, is through this experience.

Contemplation is fleeting, and if I were to describe the feeling, it might be in the following terms: an epiphany, in the sense that it has always been fleeting, but instead of a “new idea” like some inspired discovery, you are instead left with the feeling that you will never see the world the same again. You do not know it, but you have been transfigured, even if momentarily, and this gives the impression that the world has shaken on its axis. It might be better to refer to this experience as a “breakthrough,” although that again seems to give the impression of therapy and psychoanalysis. But perhaps that is not altogether a bad association, since it is like those things transposed onto a higher plane.

I will stress that in contemplation, it is you who changes, and not the world, and it is not some new “insight” that you have gained that can be thereafter expressed and communicated to others. You will find that the communication of the contemplative experience is impossible, and this is because to do so would require that you do more than explain something to your neighbor. You would have to change him, as you were changed, and while you can suggest this to him, only God can deliver.

Be suspicious of any attempt to “classify” the experience of contemplation in a scientific or purely psychological way, as a kind of category or on the basis of certain specific criteria. Science is rational, and rationality is not adequate to this task.

Neither physical nor even psychic phenomena are ‘proof’ of contemplation

Another reason that science cannot grasp the contemplative experience is that it only deals with realities of a lower order: emotional reactions or physical responses. Since these do occur in contemplation, it is easy to connect them with it, but know that any emotional reaction that occurs during authentic contemplation could also occur in some other context, and this goes also for any combination of thought and feeling and posture, such that no observable or measurable collection of these responses can be said to “equal” contemplation and not something else. In fact we should also go further: even certain supernatural phenomena, such as levitation, cannot rightly be considered “proof,” since demonic possession also produces such phenomena.

Symbolism in contemplation

I’ve stressed elsewhere, perhaps ad nauseum, the importance the superiority of symbolism over rational explanation when it comes to conveying and comprehending metaphysical truths. Since the truths apprehended (or more accurately, “realized”) in contemplation are of the same order, then it makes sense that symbolism again will be very effective as a support for that realization. This is why Christians have the Stations of the Cross, and the rosary with its mysteries, and this is why there is no more powerful object of contemplative support than the Crucifix.

What I’ve said about the impossibility of describing contemplation applies completely to everything I’ve written above. My descriptions are, in the end, incomplete and over-simple. As I re-read them, they always sound superficial and “not quite it.” Remember this.

Do not cling to conceptual certainty

Perhaps you will reach a moment, after entering into the contemplative work, when you realize with great confusion and even terror that you no longer know what or who God is. The Father you have known, even since you were born, suddenly evaporates in front of you and you are left wondering if you ever knew anything at all about Him. You may draw back in fear, as if you have somehow stumbled into some great spiritual danger–that you have “lost track of God” somehow. But the opposite is true. You have finally stepped out of the comfort of a false confidence in your own conceptions–conceptions that, being products of your childish imagination, were never really true, and could only ever serve you up to a certain point in your spiritual maturation–a point which you have now reached. And now you must proceed further, and for that you must proceed differently–without the aid of your conceptions. That is why you now find yourself with no concept of God, unable even to form one. In fact you cannot even think anything specific about Him at all without it slipping through your fingers like water. Don’t worry. You are in the cloud of unknowing–you are closer to Him than you’ve ever been. Do not be shaken, but give yourself over to this darkness with fear and trembling. You must “walk by faith, and not by sight,” trusting in Him to shepherd you.

Do not expect a lasting peace

Contemplation will not bring you peace. Or, if you receive peace you will also receive new sufferings and new conflict. It involves opening the Eye of the Heart, and while this allows us to perceive ourselves in Christ, it also allows us to see Christ in the world, and in the world Christ is everywhere Crucified. It is a terrible thing to behold.

Contemplation involves the experience of a new depth of certitude, in the way that we are more certain of the reality of someone we have met than of someone we only know through books or television or rumor. But alongside this certitude we also receive an unprecedented capacity for doubt, and this due to our position in the world, where we will always experience an infinite separation between ourselves and God, even if he is infinitely close to us. Contemplation sensitizes us at the same time to his presence and his superficial absence, and when the contemplative is assailed by this awareness of God’s superficial absence, it is a far greater trial. But this trial is not without purpose. It is an opportunity to bring to the fore those things in which we trust which cannot be trusted, and allows us, through our own trial, to submit our superficialities and the lies of the world (which we did not know we had accepted) to the fire. Worst of all for you will be the moment when your treasured religious conceptions are called to the stand, and you are forced to watch them be destroyed. Everything, as always, must be taken from you, even including your self, so that you can become poor enough to receive the real Self, the Self that is Christ in you, and which, therefore, cannot be touched by the fire.

For the contemplative, the Cartesian formula (cogito ergo sum) is nonsense. It is much like saying, “I play checkers, therefore I am.” To think is a high activity, and a human one, but what does it have to do with the experience of one’s reality? For the contemplative, there is only ‘I AM,’ and with a certainty before which rational proofs fall flat.

To identify with the false self is to avoid encountering God

God is seeking us in every moment, asking us to realize what we are, and who we are, so that we might be what we ought to be. Yet we are always trying to answer to another name that is not ours and to adopt an artificial identity, a false self.

To the extent that we have chosen to identify with our false, superficial selves, we will dread God’s calls to awakening, because that awakening implies the destruction of the ‘dream’ we have constructed for ourselves. We prefer this dream to reality because we think that our control over it is what makes it ours. We think we have built our superficial self according to our own free wills. But just like the dream, there this self we build is not only largely constructed by forces beyond our control and therefore without any free choice on our parts, but it is also not real and must, of necessity, dissolve back into nothing when the time comes.

Receptivity

The basic condition for realization is spiritual receptivity. This can easily be taken to mean ‘passivity,’ but that is not what is in question. It is more along the lines of that openness and ‘obedience’ to the creative impulse that characterizes the great artist. Artists must live a life of strict discipline in terms of the development and exercise of their technical expertise, but if they are ever to ‘create,’ they must be receptive to the new, the never-before-seen, that comes to them. It is this receptivity, and not the mere technical ability to translate it into some concrete expression, that separates the artist from the technician. And so we can say that, in the spiritual order, a similar receptivity is necessary, and it is precisely this receptivity that was in question when Christ said that what he had to say could only be heard by those ‘with ears to hear.’ Only by those who had cultivated the type of receptivity that would allow the seeds of the Sower to germinate.

Ways in which you might be closed to this receptivity: you hold only the conventional ideas; you are the status quo; your mentality is that of your time, of your place, and of your tribe, and you cannot fathom any truths beyond those exclusive to your group; your view of the world is formed by the ideology of ‘the party,’ and through the medium of the latest technology; you have identified with the superficial self–you think you are your work, your hobbies, your accomplishments, your moral victories; or worse still, you are ruled by your passions, your addictions, your desires. Where these conditions prevail, you cannot reap the reward that God would give you, because that reward is freedom and you likely believe that you already have it, and what you have is nothing like what he would give you. God would plant liberty in you, but you will accept nothing but the slavery that you have learned to love.

To be oneself is to conform to God’s will and to know it

Liberty is in cooperation–or more accurately, real union–with the will of God. Do not trouble yourself, however, trying to ‘discern the will of God’ so that you can, by some discipline of the mind or effort of the will, conform yourself to it like some kind of mimic. I find it is much better to seek after self knowledge, to become your Self. Since this process of the ‘realization of the Self’ is really a process of unification with God, then it will naturally result in God’s will expressing itself through your own. In other words, do not search, do not rack your brain trying to figure out what God wills in this situation or that, but instead focus on making yourself ready to act as a conduit for God’s will. Free yourself of attachments, die to self, become receptive, prepare, invite. You will find, in the end, that it worked in the reverse, and that instead of discerning God’s will as if it were some external thing, so that you could observe and then follow it, it ended up bubbling up from your own depths and pouring out into the world through your own acts and decisions, and at that point your love is God’s love, and no discernment is necessary.

Do not let pride hide from you the will of God. If your task is to mow the lawn, then that is the will of God for you on some level. Do not expect some revelation to come of it, and in fact if you are constantly trying to seek the ultimate profundity in every moment, you are guilty of having too high a view of your own capabilities. God is not under any such illusions about what you can handle and what you are prepared to receive. Just mow the lawn, and be at peace. And do not neglect these mundane tasks just because you wish that some more ‘meaningful’ task was yours instead. If you are tormented by such a desire, it is possible that you have some lofty calling that is being neglected, but it is also possible that you are so bloated with pride that you cannot see the value in performed the work proper to your condition and that would, in fact, render you great mental, physical, and spiritual benefit if you saw to it properly. We are so often caught up in trying to accomplish great things that God did not ask of us, while at the very same time neglecting the small things that He did ask of us.

The problem with dualism

Because exoteric religion sets up an opposition between things in order to aid the rational faculty in its comprehension of the truth (for example the opposition between good and evil) it is normal and for the most part healthy to perceive a kind of opposition between ‘the world’ or ‘things’ or ‘myself’ and God. The result is that all created things, even our own selves, take on an appearance of evil, since this is true when they are set side by side with the Creator. But that opposition only takes us so far, and in fact becomes a lie when we move beyond the surface, which is precisely what we are doing when we embark on the contemplative journey in which we progressively discover the Absolute, not in comparison to other things, but in Itself. That is why the fundamental opposition, the ‘dualism’ created by exoterism, must be transcended (although not rejected as if it were not true on its own level) if we are to make progress.

To begin, we can try to see that there is really no evil in any created thing, and in fact every created thing has the potential to act as a support for contemplation and is therefore a gift. We must cease thinking of things as ‘evil’ and begin thinking of them as obstacles, and obstacles not because that is what they are, but because that is what we make them through misuse and incomprehension. In other words, it is we who are the obstacles, and through our treatment of things we make them obstacles as well. As you can see, this does not in any way contradict the exoteric teaching that ‘the world’ is fallen, but rather brings it into focus and allows us to see it more clearly and in a higher context.

The false self, the superficial ego

Here we come to the root of our alienation from God, and from our true Self that is hidden in Him. We have set up for ourselves a false self, the ‘superficial ego,’ which we consider our personality and which we identify with throughout our lives. This false self is a mask, and like all parts of creation is not evil in itself, but becomes evil when we take it to be more than it is–when we identify with the mask completely and forget that it is only a tool for us to utilize as we act and live in the world. Most of us go our entire lives never knowing that behind this mask, which is as mortal as the body, there is a true Self, and this core is the presence of God in us, and is why we are called Sons of God and why Christ taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is within you and not somewhere outside of you, and why the body is also called a Temple in whom the Lord dwells, if only we prepare it a place. But the superficial self–the ego–if we identify with it, blinds us to this reality. And here is the truth of the opposition between creature and Creator–between man and God: that insofar as we identify with the superficial self, we are alienated from Him. This is the meaning of the Fall–that man identified himself with his mortal self, and through this identification became mortal. And here is the esoteric doctrine beyond that opposition: that insofar as a man is able to ‘die to self’–that is, to the superficial self–and instead come to realize his true Self in Christ, he becomes Christ, and in a very real sense, is united with God, and through union with God, he becomes God. Hence the witness of St. Athanasius: “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”

By acknowledging that the true Self within us is not separate from God, and that the Self is in fact His presence within us, we can see that by choosing to identify with the superficial self, the false self, we commit idolatry because we prefer the created thing to the Creator Himself, the mortal to the immortal.

He who identifies with the self refers all things to it, sees all things from its inferior perspective, and in fact cannot see anything from any other perspective. He is limited in his ability to comprehend the transcendent, since he has rooted himself to the world, and one cannot move beyond one’s center.

Worst of all, he who identifies with the self loves all things in reference to the self. The whole purpose of the Gospel of Christ, who above all else taught love of neighbor, of the non-self, is to break the believer out of his self-fixation–it is to save him from himself by exhorting him to see the Self in others and to understand that it is the same Self that is in him, and that in all cases, this Self is Christ, and we are but his members, his body crucified and torn and scattered.

Our improper use of things makes them evil

Remember: things are not evil. Wine does not tempt the alcoholic. Only persons can tempt. The alcoholic perverts the wine and destroys part of creation through his abuse. This is why, although Eve blamed the Serpent in the Garden, it was not the Serpent who was banished and not the Garden that was destroyed.

The power of detachment as a spiritual practice is not that it trains us to despise things, but rather breaks us of our ego-centric mentality that seems unable to use things without abusing them. Detachment creates the space necessary for things to be appreciated properly and in the proper order.

A hatred of the created things, and of the world in general, is incompatible with a love for God, since all of those things are His creations.

Beware that kind of obsession with what is sinful and what is not, which masquerades as ‘Christian morality’ but is really just a perverse obsession with guilt. This is the kind of thinking that would demand an act of contrition of someone for taking a drink to satisfy a legitimate thirst, as if that wholesome kind of pleasure were somehow an offense.

True saints are gentle people, not rigid moralists, and if we are presented with accounts of their lives as constant duels with the devil, as perpetual wars of endurance against temptation, then this is evidence of a fixation on our part.

Just as we make things unholy, so the hands of the saint consecrate that which they touch. The eyes of the saint make all things beautiful. This is why actions that for one person would be inappropriate and even sinful are not so for another man: because in some cases (but not all) the goodness or badness of an act depends on the inward disposition of the person acting. Hence, the story of two priests who passed a prostitute, and one averted his eyes to flee from temptation to lust, and the other watched her closely. The first priest warned the second that it was dangerous to look at a prostitute in that way, but then saw that the second priest had tears in his eyes, and when the second priest spoke he explained that he was heartbroken that such beauty would be wasted. He saw the beauty that God had created and mourned at its destruction, and lust clearly had no part in his vision.

Avoid trying to Christianize everything you do

Please resist the urge to Christianize everything you do. On the surface it seems like a good idea, like it is motivated by a good impulse, that you are just trying to ensure that you are living a Christian life. But if you insist on it, you will, I assure you, wind up deifying your own petty preferences and not only will you be insufferable, but you’ll bring shame to the Gospel by giving non-believers the wrong impression that your hobbies, interests, prejudices, and passions, are somehow essential parts of Christianity, simply because you have insisted on annexing them to it. Yes, everything that is good is from God, but it does not take much discernment to see that not everything needs to be ‘dogmatically incorporated’ into one’s faith in order to be appreciated as a good thing. One of the most heinous examples of this behavior is the tendency among some Americans to marry ‘Guns and God’ and to proudly label themselves ‘Christian gun owners.’ It is not that gun ownership is contrary to right order, but it is certainly problematic to associate Christ too closely with a weapon of violence.

While it is legitimate for an individual whose vocation is war to be a Christian, it is not legitimate to present the violence associated with that way as a normal part of the Christian life. It should be considered, within the Christian context, as an exceptional path, and not a normal one, since by any objective appraisal it is not at all the path Christ laid out for his followers to emulate.

Becoming like God, or becoming God?

Here is the central question that you must grapple with: to what extent is it permissible to say that we are called to become one with God–or to paint our final end as ‘becoming God.’ This is such a difficult question only because, as I’ve already said, the exoteric understanding begins by placing a certain irreconcilable division between man and God, and accepts a path of ‘salvation,’ but not union, which unfortunately is stopping short. An honest appraisal of commonly accepted Christian doctrine answers this question quite plainly. If we are the mystical body of Christ, then we are Christ, or else this saying is nonsense.

Perhaps some of the difficulty comes from misunderstandings about the nature of the union that would be in question when it comes to man and God, or the Christian and Christ. If it is imagined as a kind of extinction of all that we our, of our deepest reality, then of course we cannot accept it. And if, in the opposite direction, union means that our being is ‘dilated’ so that our identification with Christ means that we become Christ totally, then again it must be false. But these are misunderstandings, and the sayings already cited show how we should truly understand the union: the members of the body are not the total body, nor are they even the most superior part of it. Hence, Christ is the head and we are the members, all of us. Thus, we are given a picture of real union, although not some sort of total takeover of the Godhead, which would be absurd. To turn to the other objection mentioned above–that union entails the total extinction of what we are–this is dispelled in the saying of Meister Eckhart, that the final state is a question of ‘fusion without confusion.’ If it be asked where this appears in the Bible, we can refer again to the analogy of the believers as the “bride of Christ,’ and Christ as the “bridegroom.” These analogies are not chosen just for poetry, but convey the highest true through their representations, and if we accept this, then we are dealing with a mystical union that mirrors the conjugal union, albeit on a higher level.

Slavery is identification with the false self

The only freedom is escape from the false self. In fact, freedom can be defined in precisely this way, and all other forms of freedom considered subordinate to this one, permissible only insofar as they permit that escape.

The key to escape from the false self and its insistence on abuse is found in the Gospel saying: seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and the means is suggested in another saying: the Kingdom of Heaven is within you. If this search for knowledge of the Self remains primary, then all other loves are able to be ordered properly, and we may come into possession of things as they are meant to be possessed by us.

Do not disparage things

Things are desirable. If we do not desire God first and foremost, then the desire for things draws us away from Him, and is evil; on the other hand, if our first love is God, then the desire for things undergoes a kind of reversal, and the desire for those same things can bring us closer to God instead of pulling us away, since now we love them in their proper place, which was God’s purpose in creating them in the first place. If it was always and everywhere an evil to desire things of the world, and if they could do nothing but distract us from God, then all of creation is evil. But God said that it was Good.

The false self is that which we adopt as our identity in the world but which is not our true identity in Christ, and therefore it may involve the body and the reason, but to reduce it to one of these elements of our existence is to miss the point. The false self is not a thing–it is an identification of ourselves with what we are not. It is alienation itself, congealed into a mask that covers and suffocates our divinity.

The false self is not identical with the body. You are embodied, and that is according to the design of the Creator, and this embodiment cannot be evil.

Those who hate the body, much like those who hate the world, are trying to deal with evil by localizing it in a particular object, and this will always fail.

Do not view the body as a prison. It is a tool with which you will work out your salvation, and a kind of vehicle that allows you to access that which is beyond you and outside of you. A prison? No. It is the most powerful gift you have been given, so long as you do not let it fall into disrepair, or abandon your position as master and guide.

Man is body and soul

Two errors: total identification with the soul, over and against the body; total identification of the body, while denying the soul. Both deny a part of reality, even if the latter kind of denial is obviously more profane.

The mystery of man is that he can choose to be what God made–exemplifying the beautiful and the good–or he can be something else. The rose is beautiful, and gives glory to God through its beauty, but it could not do otherwise. The rose must be what it is. Only man has the prerogative to be himself, or be something else.

Be yourself, but which self?

The motto of modernity is to ‘be yourself.’ That motto, in the context of a true doctrine about man, is the epitome of wisdom. In the modern world, however, it becomes poison, since the modern world does not know the Self. Man needs to learn to be himself through an arduous process of self-discovery and self-realization, which is at the same time a journey into the transcendent and ultimately a union with the Self who is God. The modern world teaches, on the contrary, that to ‘be yourself’ is a matter of self-invention. The self is not given from above and hidden within–it is created by the being who would be it, as one chooses a set of clothes and then puts them on. The question is never asked how a person who does not know himself is able to design and create this ‘self’ which he will then be. It is a kind of absurd ‘chicken before the egg’ conundrum, but the modern world does not care. It’s two primary requirements for a doctrine are that it not involve any power higher than the individual, and that it flatters him.

The rose in all its beauty is the manifestation of an idea hidden within God, and insofar as the rose perfectly manifests this idea, it manifests God, and is in its essential inseparable from God. The rose is ‘like God’ not in amplitude but insofar as it is His expression. If it could somehow refuse to consent to be what it is, and instead be something else, it would be less like God. Since God is Reality, to be less like God is to become less real. This is why the journey to God is the only way to discover our “real” selves; and it is always why the modern idea of ‘self-invention’ is a kind of suicide.

Every person is different, just as all things in the material order of manifestation differ from one another. All are ‘individualized,’ and because we tend to only see the surface of things, and especially with persons we tend to see their weaknesses, we take individuation as a type of imperfection. We imagine the ‘ideal man’ as this abstract perfection, with each and every ‘actual man’ as a sort of flawed version of that abstraction. There is truth in this way of thinking, but there is also error. The truth contained in it is that we are all imperfect, and that there is a perfection beyond each of us that we only reflect dimly, and which we must strive to realize. The error, however, is that we each have a ‘perfection’ that is uniquely ours, and that it is a grossly oversimplification to set up a single, abstract perfection in front of everyone regardless of who they are and what their vocation may be. If we do this, we inevitably wind up substituting some imaginary and culturally-influenced ‘superman’ for the much more real and much more perfect saint that God has in mind specifically for us.

We do not perfect ourselves by becoming like the greatest men who have ever lived; we perfect ourselves by becoming like the greatest men who have never lived. To each his own perfection, for a perfection that is not ours is actually an imperfection in us. By speaking in this way I do not mean to undermine the dictum that we are called to imitate Christ; I merely insist that the kind of imitation He asks of us is that we be animated by the same spirit, and not that we emulate his specific diet, lifestyle, and walk around parroting his words emptily.

Do you really think the reason so many billions of men have walked the face of the earth is because God keeps trying to get it right, but fails, and so keeps trying over and over? Or could it be that the limitless perfection within Him finds expression through an unlimited number of created beings, each called to realize a particular aspect and variation of the Absolute Perfection?

To find oneself is to become a saint

If we define the saint as the created being that gives glory to God by maintaining complete conformity to the Divine Will, then the birds of the sky are saints, as are the blades of grass underfoot. Of course, they could not do otherwise, and because men can do otherwise, we give glory to the saints of men, and rightly so. But we must remember that the the essential Holiness of the Saint, which comes from his conformity to God’s Will, is a holiness shared, albeit in an inferior way, with all lower beings.

Man is the only being that is given to choice of becoming more or less real, the choice of becoming Absolutely real, or of surrendering his reality entirely. To put it another way, man is the only being who is asked to participate in the development of his own reality–not that he gets to create it, but that he is asked to co-create it. This is called “working out our salvation” because to find one’s identity in God is the same as to find salvation.

Remember that the self which you are asked to co-create is not invented but discovered, bit by bit, and some of its hidden truth is present in every moment of your life, and every moment you either seize upon it and realize it, making it your own and moving the work toward its grand completion, or you seize upon something else, or you do nothing at all, and you wither away.

You cannot see the self you are to become until you have become that self. It is not some goal you see clearly and chase after, but rather that masterwork you craft in yourself through an intuitive obedience to the spirit. At one and the same time, you do not know what you are building but you know with an absolute certitude that it is good because it is not a child of your imagination, but is a child of God whom you nurture.

To refuse God’s will is to refuse to exist

To be born in sin is to say that I was born a stranger to myself, in a mask that hides me from God blinds me to the Truth and to His Will, and in this way I was born straddling the line between life and death, existence and non-existence. We are all born on the verge of a choice, and the span of our lives is the making of that choice and the concretizing of its consequences. If you are never anything more than what you were at birth, you might as well have never been born at all.

We all have a shadow that we carry with us everywhere. It is the false self that cannot release because we think that we are it, or at least that it forms an essential part of us that we cannot do without. We have made it ourselves, often with blood sweat and tears, often at great sacrifice, and only at the cost of more blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice will we relinquish it. We try to become this self, but the effort never succeeds to our satisfaction, so we make modifications and additions and subtractions. But this thing we carry can never fulfill the role we try to give it–it can never be our identity, much less give us peace, and the reason is that God knows nothing about it. God knows only you, and he will not accept this counterfeit you have created. And the great tragedy is that although this shadow cannot be made into an immortal self, it is possible for you to lower yourself to its level. And many there are who, preferring their own creation, become shadows.

As a general rule, humanity is not very good at recognizing illusions. In fact the basic lesson of the Garden of Eden is that we are easily deceived. The false self is an act of perpetual self-deceit, constantly working to convince ourselves that we not only can but should be that which we are not. We can, but we should not, if we wish for everlasting life.

The life of sin is a cult of the shadow-self

What is the substance of the false-self? What is it “made of”? All of those experiences, choices, thoughts, opinions, tastes, and preferences that I have chosen that God did not have in mind for me and which I collected due to my own weakness, my own desire for reputation or pleasure, or my own ignorance of the truth. For most people, this act of construction of a false self is, due to a culture that promotes it, seen as a great and honorable artistic journey, but it can never bring peace in life, and it ends at death.

Peace and fulfillment can only be found by answering the following questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What am I to do? Clearly, these answers are to be found by encountering the one who created you, since only the creator understands the nature and purpose of the creation. A more difficult way of putting it: God does not provide the answer: God is the answer. The reason for your being is hidden in Him, and the only way to possess it is to identify yourself with Him. This is why we must discard our false selves and seek the Self who is in God and who is God.

You are held in existence by God only because there is a point within you which is always in contact with Him. Wherever you God, unless you cease to be, God has placed a finger on you. It is this point of contact, not physical but more real than physical, which we call the heart and which is the Holy of Holies where we can meet God if only we can reach it. But it should be clear to you by now that we can never, ever reach it nor even conceive of its existence so long as we think the false self is all there is, and so long as when we say “I” we think only of it. It is superficial, temporal, and passing, but the inner abode of God is that part of us which is capable of touching eternity: it is our immortality. The false self would be obliterated if it even came near this holy place. Only by moving beyond the false self–dying to this self–can we discover the hidden temple within, and by perpetual seeking, enter into it, and by entering into it, encountering God there, and by allowing God to dwell there and to increase, while your ego must decrease, the ego fades into the shadow it always was, and only God remains, and you have then realized that you are not separate from God, and never were, and you are finally yourself.

This point of contact cannot be found through a process of emptying oneself of all desires and of all awareness, or by becoming a void. It is good to prepare, but we cannot “make it happen” by any exercise. God speaks in us, speaks our identity deep in our depths, utters our true names. We prepare to hear, but we cannot make him speak. We purify ourselves, we make ourselves supple and ready to love Truth when we meet it.

To be saved is to have the Self drawn out of the bog in which we have drowned it, from out of the muck we have piled onto it since birth. Damnation is to have this treasure withdrawn from us as a result of never having cared enough to look for it in the first place, or by denying its existence and preferring the misery of the swamp.

To abandon the search for the Self is to be “lost.” That is why the common Christian platitude about “abandoning oneself to God” should be carefully deployed.

God knows himself in all created things. When we discover our identity, it is He who discovers Himself through us, for we can only know Him insofar as He knows us, since He is Knowledge Itself.

Taking what has been said into account, meditate on the Scripture: “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me.”

Make it your daily prayer that the Self will awaken in you, and if you do this God will make a missionary journey to you. This is the prototype of all other missionary journeys.

Some people who do not understand what the Self is, when they hear of the value of Self-knowledge, and that you are making inroads into your own depths to seek the Self, they will warn you of the dangers of self-centeredness. It is true that we are born “self-centered” and therefore “selfish,” and that this is the essence of sin, but the self in question is the fictitious self, the superficial ego, and not the Holy Self that dwells in God. That is why it is best not to tell people about your inner work, because it requires that you work very hard to alter your terms to adjust to their understanding of things, but even then they will find it difficult to recognize what you are doing as Christian, so alien is this doctrine to the modern mind.

God is present in all men, else they would disappear, and in this sense he “knows” all men, but he knows them in their true identity, which is in Him and is Him. He does not “know” the false self, and those who embrace only the false self will hear Him say at the end: depart, for I never knew you.

The self made man

In order to become real, to become yourself and not some self-chosen illusion that can never be, you have to let go of the image you always had of what you wanted to be. Those who cannot do this, who try to make themselves more real not by surrendering to a higher artist’s hand but by insisting on asserting their own desires in their own self-creation, wind up merely reacting to the assertions of other, either by conforming to the desires of other and imitating what they do and what they choose, or in violent rejection of the desires of others. This latter path they assume is an assertion of their individuality against the herd, but they do not realize that it was still the herd that determined alternatives. Go ahead, choose for or against the herd, but remember that in either case it was the herd that chose what it was that you were to decide upon. Agree or disagree, you allowed the herd to choose the subject of conversation.

Along the way, those who try to make themselves real by self-assertion tend to assemble their self piecemeal, not only by gathering opinions from here and there, but also by gathering things. This is the secret of materialism and greed, and perhaps the reason advertisements are so effective in this age is because the available audience is composed of individuals who starve for an identity, and who are trained to seek that identity through the collection of things and through the satisfaction of desires. There is no better audience for the advertiser, for they will be easily convinced to desire anything, and to be discontent no matter how much they have. Since the desire will persist no matter how much these people come to possess, and since there is a limit to how much wealth can exist in the world at any one time, war is the inevitable outcome of the process, and it will always be justified as “self-preservation” in one way or another, but the “self” they preserve is a lie.

Self-creation through self-assertion contains in it the root of all violence; it is contrary to reality, and destines all who engage in it to frustration, hatred, and conflict.

We fight to become real by distinguishing ourselves from one another–by separating ourselves from one another. Our opinions must be original, must be “our own” (but they always wind up simply becoming those we heard on television, or the prevailing opinions of our group). Our home decor must be unique, whether futuristic or retro (but it usually winds up mimicking something we saw on the internet). We fight to be distinguished, and at the same time we become a cliche. Only God can save you from becoming a cliche.

Enter the ‘cult of personality,’ another product of a bad autology, or of a Christianity that has no autology. We seek to have a ‘personality’ that is unique, ‘quirky,’ ‘colorful. We must have a personality that is not like his, or hers, in fact even the designation of “he” or “her” is too restrictive for us. We must be able to choose even this. And the process of self-creation ends, even before death, in a kind of suicidal self-mutilation due to an inability to feel at home anywhere, even in our own bodies. Everything we did not choose for ourselves is felt as a kind of mistake in the creation process, and we cannot accept it.

Remarks on unity and division

“We are members, one of another.” There is the truth of man in his relation to other men, and the lie of all individualistic anthropologies, social theories, and political philosophies. Man does not live iwth other men as a necessary evil. He is a social being and needs them in order to fulfill himself, because he cannot do it alone. They help him realize himself, because like him, every “other” is also an expression of the mind of God, and each “other” carries in his heart the same kernel of God’s presence, which we have called the Self, and Self is not separate from God but is identifiable with Him. The profound truth of this is, as the Scripture above suggests, that we are all parts of one another, because we are all members of one body.

Insofar as we set up divisions between ourselves and others, seeking to define ourselves by our differences rather than unifying ourselves through mutual concern and understanding–insofar as we define our relation to others by the barriers we erect between us–we tear the Body of Christ apart, rending “member” from “member,” flesh from flesh, until we have made of Him a bloodly sacrifice. We do this every day, perpetually.

Now you are in a position to understand the true doctrine of the Crucifixion, and the meaning of Christ’s historical crucifixion, which was the expression in time of this metaphysical truth. You are in a position to see that Christ’s historical Crucifixion was not the result of some legal process on account of a sin that happened at one point in time and committed by one man. His historical crucifixion was the manifestation at a specific time and place of the perpetual Crucifixion that happens at every moment of every day, acted out in man’s animosity toward man, toward his own self, toward the world, and through all these things, toward God. We rend God at every moment.

Follow this logic: To become real, to truly become a ‘person,’ we must know the Self and the Self must live through us. This Self is also present in others, and if we know it and love it truly we will know it and love it in others as much as ourselves, and we will see that insofar as we are ‘real,’ we are one body even if we persist in life in separate physical bodies. From this we can see that the man who lives in division, we see others only in their separateness, does not know the Self, and has therefore not discovered his own identity. He is not real. The man who defines himself in terms of his separateness is not a ‘person,’ he is just an individual, and any self he thinks he has is not real.

The great danger of trying to become real by distinguishing ourselves from others is that we cannot in this view ‘live and let live,’ however much individualism might pay lip-service to that notion. I must distinguish myself from my neighbor. This can be accomplished by adding things to myself, but it can also be done taking things from my neighbor. I can increase, or my neighbor can decrease, and both enable me to accomplish what I crave, which is distinction plain and simple. Since it is very often easier to diminish others than it is to improve ourselves, we will be driven to seize every chance we get to diminish others. We must, lest we lose our reality. To become real in this way of living, we must hate other men. We can never love them.

Do not spend your life admiring the distance between you and someone else, especially if this involves looking down on them. Remember the words of the Pharisee at prayer: “I am not like other men.” Defining one’s goodness, one’s self, in this way, is to live in death.

In Christianity, there are few heroes more respected than the martyrs of old. Thus, in Christianity, pride often takes the form of a believer who insists on being a martyr.

Due to the emphasis and honor placed on martyrdom, and a kind of romanticizing of the Christian life as a constant experience of persecution by “the world,” a Christian population that has grown tired of loving those “on the outside” will fall into the grips of a martyr-complex. It will insist on seeing itself as a persecuted minority, not because it is necessarily being persecuted, but because people everywhere have become tiresome. It will embrace the martyr-complex because this reinforces its pride and justifies its social impotence. Such a Christianity does tend to be despised by the world, but it is despised because of its arrogant and condescending attitude toward all of the ‘unsaved,’ and not for its Christ-likeness, which has by that time largely disappeared.

Regarding the human conception of holiness, and the judgement of other men, it is good to keep in mind that Christ was put to death because he did not measure up to man’s idea of God’s holiness. When you are looking out at the world and wondering how men can be so profane, so blind in comparison with yourself, remember that Christ too sounded profane to the learned of his time. I point this out not because I think you should entertain some kind of false humility wherein you pretend that profane men are not profane, and ignorant men not ignorant, but mostly so that you will keep in the back of your mind a warning: we tend to insult that which is alien to us, and when Christ presents Himself to me in the form of my ugly obnoxious neighbor, he will certainly appear alien. I need not pretend that my neighbor is not ugly or obnoxious, but I do need to remember that he too carries Christ in his breast, even if that presence is not manifest in his words or actions, and even if he is completely blind to it. This should help shield you from a certain degree of pride regarding your own holiness.

If our identity and real truth of our being is to be found in union rather than separation, what of solitude? Is solitude not permissible or healthy? The answer is that solitude is not only permissible but is essential when it comes to the realization of the Self and contact with the Absolute, but that it does not accomplish this by itself. Solitude is not an end, but a means. It allows us to gather our powers in silence and unravel psychic knots so that we may return to the world and the people within it with renewed life.

We are windows through which the light of God shines into the world. Solitude is the time spent cleansing and repairing the window so that it might permit the most possible light to pass through. Solitude is never the closing of the shutters.

One of the primary dangers of solitude is that it exposes us to spiritual enemies in a way that cannot happen when we are in intimate contact with others. In other words, in solitude we allow ourselves to be immersed in the unknown, and while that is necessary in order to encounter God, it also permits temptations and harassments from below.

Intimate contact with other people can act as a cure for demonic harassment. Brotherly love is a kind of exorcism. He who seeks solitude because he is unhappy will often become completely miserable in solitude. He who chooses to be alone because he cannot stand to be in the presence of other men will flee into the wilderness where only his demons will dwell with him, and he will be at their mercy.

Solitude permits us to draw ourselves together, to have a center, and to become a unity in ourselves, in the image of the One God, who is Unity Itself. And only by becoming whole do we build the strength to face the world and to bring unity into it through us. We begin with inner work but we manifest it outwardly. Solitude empowers us for this.

Another danger of solitude: the tendency of the ego, voice of the false self, to carry on a never-ending dialogue with itself. It will enter into speeches, diatribes, fantasies, and slanders, and you will find that there is no end to its fuming if you do not check it. Never confuse this with meditation, much less prayer. It is rather a preview of hell.

Never idolize solitude, and never seek it for itself, because it pleases you. Much like worldly power, it should not be given to those who demonstrate a craving for it. If you find yourself craving solitude constantly, and despising people merely for getting in the way of this craving, then you had better be careful.

I do not write all of these warnings because solitude is an evil. Remember, I’ve said that it is necessary for any kind of progress. Just keep in mind that very few men in the history of the world have been called to solitude as a vocation. Are you one of them? Perhaps, but it is very unlikely. And if you are not one of them, then you must know that you not only benefit from the presence of others in your life, but you need them to maintain a balance between your inner and outer worlds. However appealing it may seem to isolate yourself from others, unless you are the exception (and in the Dark Age there are few exceptions), then one of the most valuable aids to spiritual development that you will ever obtain is a spouse. Like a handrail on a decaying staircase, they will time and time again keep you from falling, and with their stabilizing influence you will climb higher than you ever could by yourself alone.

Now that I’ve warned against the toxic yearning for solitude that drives us to escape from society, I should warn against the opposite danger: the desire to plunge into the crowd to escape oneself. When you find yourself constantly driven to ‘socialize’ and are uncomfortable anytime you are alone with yourself for any period of time, you ought to take care to find out what it is that bothers you. It is in these moments, remember, that you are given the opportunity to see yourself for what you really are. Many cannot tolerate such a prospect, since they despise themselves on some level, so that anytime they feel such a vision about to occur, they get up and run to the nearest crowd. In that crowd they are able to ‘lose themselves’: they are hiding from their true self by running into the herd, where their shadow self can pretend to be real and where its reality will not be called into question. And since the crowd does not call into question the reality of our false selves, neither do we.

The impulse to plunge into the crowd is evidence not only of a fear of our true identity–it can also be evidence of a fear of other people. It is possible to escape from people by drowning yourself among them. Think of those people you know who are ‘social butterflies’ and who seem to have a real desire for human contact, but then you try to have a real, meaningful conversation with them and they are repelled by you. They do not really crave intimate human contact, and in fact they cannot stand it. They love the crowd because the crowd permits of only a passing familiarity between its members. Real conversation, real intimate relations, are not possible within the crowd. We might meet someone in the crowd, but to really know them and to encounter them as they truly are, we must go somewhere more quiet. We must step away from the hustle and bustle and noise and open ourselves to them alone. If you are often driven into the crowd, and if you tell yourself this is because you love people, you should reflect on how many of those people you actually know on an intimate level, and how many you permit to know you in that way.

There is contemplation of the Self, and there is self-contemplation. The first is the goal of contemplation, and is a precursor to the vision of God known as beatitude, and it is at the same time the fulfillment of the age-old adage to ‘know thyself.’ The second, self-contemplation, is a narcissistic fixation on the ego and an inability to silence the workings of conscious mind: the rational faculty, its emotionally driven ravings, its fears. To enter into the dialogue is the death of contemplation. It is circular, driving us back against the rocks of our own impotence and frailty until we learn to despise self-reflection because of how it torments us.

If you feel the need for solitude, do not deny it, but do not let it go untested. Just because the impulse is authentic does not mean that you will act on that impulse in a healthy or appropriate way. You might begin with a very sincere need for solitude, kindled in you through the awakening of the Self, and that is the beckoning hand of God which you should never refuse. But if this is the case, you will not be asked to alienate your wife or children, or neglect your worldly vocation, or grow in resentment at your obligations, just to find that solitude. In other words, be careful how you seek your solitude, that you do not turn something good into something ugly.

Plunge into solitude so that you can find men in God; plunge yourself into the world so that you can find God in your fellow men. He is to be found in both places, and to seek Him exclusively in one or the other direction will cause you to lose all perspective.

If you asked me which was more dangerous: the solitude of the person in the anonymous crowd, or the solitude of the person in the wilderness, the answer is difficult. The man in the crowd is responsible for everything that happens to him inside and out, with no one to help him. He is almost certain to fail. But the man who joins the anonymous crowd, he is responsible for nothing at all, including his own identity. He cannot therefore fail, but he also ceases to be a person, because one of the essential elements of personhood is responsibility.

A man who lives alone is not necessarily isolated; a man who lives with others does not necessarily communicate with them.

To have communion with those around us, we must have some way of communicating with them. Modern mass society has gone very far in the obliteration of communication, setting up for itself a whole host of counterfeits. The internet, the television, the radio, the bombardment of the sense with messaging we cannot recognize and cannot guard against…all of these things manipulate thought and condition the mind to work in terms of pre-packaged responses to familiar ideas. No one speaks to one another–they only regurgitate cliches. This is easy enough to see in any ‘political debate,’ whether on the White House lawn. There is no thought, there is only the repetition of slogans. Only the man who is real, who has found his identity outside the mass, can offer anything that is truly his own to the world; everyone else can only return what they have been given and repeat when has been impressed upon them. Man is not necessarily a ‘product of his environment,’ but this is what the mass-man becomes.

Perhaps the worst kind of solitude you will ever experience occurs when you realize for the first time that you cannot communicate anything meaningful to the people around you. You can speak to them, but if you want to be understood you must stick to the talking points they saw on the morning news, or the weather, or the latest reality television show. Should you actual bring up something for which they are not conditioned, you will receive a blank stare, a confused dismissal, or ridicule.

He who has a self is a person; he who only has a false self is an individual; he who has no self whatsoever because he has surrendered it to the crowd is not even an individual, but an atom. The most obvious example of such a person is the politician who will do quite literally whatever the people or his donors ask of him, but the politician is only the most widely recognized specimen of a type of creature who is far more common than you think.

Solitude is interior, and that is why it is possible for it to occur, or not to occur, both in a crowded room or on a mountaintop.

You will have gifts that others do not, and if these gifts happen to be intellectual or moral, it will be tempting to see in them a kind of separation between yourself and others who are weaker of mind and character. But God does not grant you these things for you to enjoy alone. Are you not ‘members one of another’? One is strengthened in the service of the rest, for the sake of love. You are the door through which God enters and ministers to others, and this takes the form of your talents. Of course, we must acknowledge the fact that others might reject you, and will not allow you to use your gifts. This is very much the case for all wise men in all of history–they received perhaps the highest gift of all, and they are usually rejected when they try to use it for the benefit of others.

Moral uprightness is necessary, but I would recommend that you not make too much of it. Certainly don’t take it as seriously as contemporary Christianity would advise. This is because we live in disordered times, and as a basic doctrinal principle, it is harder to be upright in this age than in previous ages, and the problem is that moralists are always using an abstract standard to condemn and excuse, and they have no idea how to account for the general decadence. Muhammad said it truly: in the beginning, a man who neglects a tenth of the law will be condemned; near the end, a man who accomplishes a tenth of the law will be saved. Such is the traditional view of things near the end.

If you focus too much on morality, making the terrible mistake of seeing it as the end-all-be-all of the spiritual life, you will fall inevitably into two evils. First, since you are not perfect, you will be too hard on yourself for your failings; second, you will compare yourself to others and you will have to find all sorts of sin in them in order to assure yourself that you are better than that. By holding morality at the apex of your religious life, you will tremble at the fact that you are not much better than everybody else. You will hate yourself and others, all on account of a set rules that, although extremely important, are not the ‘one thing necessary,’ which is the love of God.

Do not be virtuous for the sake of virtue, because then you will become fixated on your own virtue and you will fall into self-admiration. And that is called pride, and you will discover that you have been virtuous for the sake of a vice. If you wish to practice virtue, it had better be as a means to the realization of God in yourself. That is why I will insist again that morality and the pursuit of virtue are always of secondary importance–means to an end that is found elsewhere.

If you only think of yourself in terms of the sensational things you plan to do with your life, or in terms of your holiness, such that you cannot conceive of yourself without either a king’s crown or a saint’s halo, you will miss the vast majority of opportunities that God places before you, since they generally require you to recognize your mortality more than you immortality, your humanity more than your divinity, and your mediocrity over your excellence.

You can never possess God until God overwhelms you and possesses you, and only at that point does the “you” that God had in mind come into being. This is why it is said that you must die before you can live.

When God’s love flows through me into the world, you receive it from a direction that it would not otherwise have come. No one else could have provided this but me. When God’s love flows through you also, then the presence of God’s love in the world is doubled, and the world becomes a better place, and so on with every heart that becomes a conduit for the Absolute.

We are called to grow in unity “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” We are one body, and it is the body of Christ. In our hatred, we sacrifice that body, and in man’s atrocities toward other men, God permits Himself to be murdered. This is the meaning of the eternal Crucifixion, of which the historical crucifixion was only a reflection in time.

Remember that even the saints grated on their companions, and we can be certain that saints grated on each other. Thus, even the most holy among us and the most refined have not been refined enough to do away with that ‘separateness’ of fallen man.

You will always feel division between you and others. Small reprieves may come, but by and large, sooner or later, you will feel the agonizing loneliness that reminds you that you are separate from them by a chasm and cannot be bridged in this life. Every living person experiences this, and in response to this pain, every living person has two options: they can love or they can hate. Choose.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that those who show love are loving because they don’t feel the separation that you feel. They feel it. It is part of the human condition to feel it. But they have made the decision to meet pain and loneliness with love and not hate.

The discord between my neighbor and I is like a broken bone in Christ’s mystical body. Hatred is the fearful avoidance of the pain that comes with resetting that broken bone into its proper place. Hatred fights tooth and nail to avoid reunion. It is terrified at the prospect, and will come up with any number of rationalizations as to why reunion cannot occur.

Those who feel the agony of loneliness, and hatred is a type of anger that is a response to loneliness. Some take this hatred and aim it at themselves, and punish themselves. Some punish others. Those who punish others tend to create for themselves a blood-drinking God, and in the name of this God wars are waged, the poor are trodden underfoot, and the weak are everywhere abused. The weak are the chosen targets of this kind of hatred because at root it is fueld by the hatred of one’s own weakness and unworthiness. The more readily a person or group or party wages war on the weak or the ‘unworthy,’ the more we can be certain that they are fighting to escape the knowledge of their own inner ugliness.

Some people hate their own inner ugliness, and they think they can make themselves beautiful by attacking the ugliness of the world, and the result is that they become uglier and they make the world uglier. Hate is not only murderous, it is also suicidal.

In remedy to hate, in summary of all Christian doctrine, in summary of everything I’ve said thus far, you need only remember this: ‘I in them, and Thou, Father, in Me, that they may be made perfect in One…And the glory which Thou hast given me I have given them, that they may be One as we also are One.’

A silent environment, physical isolation, the desire to compose oneself in this context and reflect: all of these are, I must emphasize, good things and not only good but necessary for realization of the Self. However, they are a means to that end only and all that it implies. If you seek these things for themselves or for any other end, then you will end up abusing them and there will be no profit in in.

I suggest, as a safeguard against toxic solitude and a support to true solitude, that you avoid a ‘lifestyle of solitude’ at all time, but at the same time ensure that you have some place, or several, that can provide physical solitude in some degree. This can be a room or a corner or a place near your home, so that when you delve into your inner work, you can “enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret.”

I do not recommend using churches as places of solitude, even if you find yourself led to attend one regularly. I mean this especially when it comes to ‘contemporary’ churches. In them there is nothing that has not been overcome by modern tendencies, and the environment created there is contrary to inner work. They are not plain, and so they cannot induce the sense of inner poverty that is needed; they are designed around the idea of worship as a kind of entertainment, and those grounds they tend to ‘stimulate’ the senses rather than quiet them. Not every church fits this description, of course, but most do, and you should be aware of this.

Should you enter a church and see a television, know that you are not in a church.

One final warning about solitude. Never allow yourself to adopt a habit of solitude simply because ‘you like to be alone.’ To adopt this mentality is to open a doorway to Hell.

That is all I have to say about solitude, and it is probably more than what needed to be said. The reason for that is probably that I myself tend toward solitude and have gotten it wrong in every imaginable way, and I would not have you follow my example if at all possible.

Detachment has much to do with the capacity for solitude. A man who is ‘attached’ to things must take them with them everywhere he goes. Not always physically, of course, but within himself. They possess a part of his mind, and he carries them through his desire for them and they demand his attention. How can someone with unwholesome or excessive attachments ever have solitude when so many things–even things so small as a cell phone–cannot be set aside for a few moments without nagging at his awareness? Thus, we again discover that the traditional preaching against attachment to ‘things’ is not because those things are somehow evil, but to make us aware that our desire for them so easily becomes unhealthy, and we use these things to build barriers between ourselves and inner freedom.

What was said above regarding things is equally true regarding one’s appetites. A person who cannot say no, or refuses to say no, to his hunger or his tastes or his lust or any other passion is someone who is not free. Hence the emphasis on the discipline of the body and the appetites, which seems so overbearing and insane to the modern world, which prefers that everyone gratify every craving immediately and without a moment’s thought.

As a general principle, no inner work is possible without some form of ascetic practice.

Warning against moralism

Morality is the science of right and wrong. Moralism, however, is a kind of all-encompassing mentality that renders the moralist incapable of seeing anything beyond the moral. All questions are moral questions, all art is moral art, and all men are moral men, or else they are not. Since the truth is that all men are not moral, it is safe to say that anyone who cannot see beyond the moral plane will not be able to love men. That is why you should flee from moralism, for it is a poison to brotherly love.

Know right and wrong, but do not let yourself be drawn into the common error of reducing all problem and all differences to a matter of moral difference. Others make us uncomfortable by being other than we are, and it is all too tempting to justify this discomfort by making it a matter of morality: he makes me uncomfortable because he is less than I am, because I am more righteous than he is, because something he is doing is wrong. When the truth is that whatever is alien to us frightens us, but no one wants to admit that he is a coward. It is easier to formulate moral condemnations.

Beware the Christian who has boiled down Christianity to a simplistic dichotomy of the saved vs. the unsaved, which claims, implicitly, that the focal point of the Christian life is not love but sin and its consequences. Here is how the devil brings a man to such a point: he convinces him of the great sinfulness of himself and the world, and brings him to a moment of immense pain about his own sin, which drives the man to a confession of faith. This would seem to be the opposite of what the devil would want, but for what happens next: because this crisis was motivated by a kind of guilt aimed at oneself and the world, the outcome is that the individual is released, in a moment, from guilt about their own sin, but the hatred for the sin of the masses remains. Such a one immediately considers himself a member of the elect, and is effectively separated from ‘the damned,’ constituted by roughly everyone else who is not a member of his elite group, which he joined merely by feeling bad about himself. He spends the rest of his days patting himself and the other elites on the back and mourning the awful sinfulness of the rest of the world, and the devil is quite satisfied.

Beware the religious man who is constantly condemning other men for their sin. He will spend a great deal of time talking about his love for God, but his fixation is on the devil.

When men condemn others for their sin, sometimes the explanation is really quite simple: they think these men have wronged them in some way, or perhaps they are even jealous of the pleasures that these sinners get to enjoy, while ‘we good Christians’ have to abstain. And this obsession with the sinners of the world is how the Christians get even. It is as if the only way they can keep themselves from joining the sinners is by constantly imaging what they will look like as the burn in hell. And if they are the jealous types, they take pleasure in the scene. It is their way of getting even.

The devil is not afraid of preaching in favor of righteousness, provided that the rest of the Gospel, especially when it talks about ‘mercy’ and compassion,’ is conveniently excluded. The devil fights on all sides and makes use of all means.

When contemplating your own frailty, which is good and healthy, be uplifted by the truth that when God manifested his presence through the person of Christ in the world, it was not to bring about judgement, but to save men from it. When God visited men, his purpose was mercy.

Yet another problem that comes with a moralistic view of life–or ‘moralism’ plain and simple–is that it transforms all differences to a matter of good versus evil. The truth may be that we are all partially or mostly at fault, but the moralist will never encounter this truth because he will be too busy painting everything in black and white. In the world of men, and in men themselves, however, things are always some shade of grey. The moralist therefore distorts the truth. He needs things neatly separable, and so he permits himself to paint a few white things black and a few black things white, and he makes himself and others more ignorant as to the nature of truth even if he succeeds in simplifying it into a false obviousness: this is obviously good, can’t you see that? and this is obviously evil, as anyone with a conscience can see. It is obvious! Always so obvious! In this way the moralizer sets men at each other’s throats. He makes believers intolerable and judgemental, and he ensures that non-believers will see nothing of Christ in Christianity.

I think I can summarize by saying that moralism is detestable because in almost every case it places far too much emphasis on the devil.

Various related problems

The man who does not find his identity in God has no backbone. He cannot have integrity because he does not know who he is. He is like a poet or an author who spends his time trying to imitate Whitman or Dickens, and never gets around to writing anything that is really his own, and so whatever gifts he has and the purpose for which he was given those gifts are never seen.

The poet or the author who writes only to sell books, to please the crowd, to win an audience, is also without integrity because although he does not choose another ‘self’ over his own in imitation, he does allow his art to be dictated by the tastes of the crowd, and this is perhaps even worse because the crowd has no taste.

Do not place too much emphasis on either conformity or nonconformity with the world as you find it. The world is often wrong, but it is also sometimes right, or at least it is sometimes right to conform to it as a matter of humility and following one’s vocation with prudence. Do not follow the crowd, but you should also avoid the urge to distinguish yourself by rejecting everything it does. The person who is a ‘nonconformist’ on principle is really just a conformist in reverse. Seek your identity, know the Self, and everything else will follow.

Do not allow yourself to assume that just because the world does not conform to you, that it is wrong. Even if you achieved perfect self-knowledge and lived a life of pure integrity, it would not be good for others to do what you do, read what you read, eat what you eat, live as you live. In some ways, perhaps, but you have a vocation and a self that is not theirs and you must respect that enough to let them seek it, even if their actions are not always according to your tastes, convenience, and temperament.

Unity in God does not imply uniformity among personalities. One cannot make a complete body using only toes or fingers.

Humility means acknowledging your frailty, which can also mean your inferiority with respect to others who are strong where you are weak. Yet we cannot forget integrity, which requires that you acknowledge your superiority, not from arrogance, but from honesty.

In a society that idolizes equality and uniformity, it takes a special kind of humility to acknowledge that one is superior, that one has gifts that go beyond one’s neighbors, and to combat the guilt that egalitarian society would place on such a person simply for acknowledging the truth.

Integrity is when you can look at ‘classic’ manual for prayer or spiritual development and, in the face of almost universal admiration, set it aside as not applicable to your specific vocation, temperament, or method. There is nothing wrong with ignoring ‘The Imitation of Christ’ as if it were a book written for a different human type other than yourself. Integrity is being honest enough with yourself to know when that is the case, and honest enough with others not to hide it or to pretend otherwise.

Sometimes it is necessary to explore new spiritual methods or ‘ways’ that are alien to us in order to learn more about ourselves and what profits us, but with this comes the temptation to adopt externals, whether rituals or postures or techniques or even doctrines, that may apply to others but not to us. To accept a practice that does not fit your human type is to where a spiritual disguise. You might be able to fool yourself into thinking you are called to be a hermit, or a Benedictine, or a Carmelite, or a Sufi, but you cannot fool God in this way, and often you can’t fool anyone else either.

The road to sainthood begins in the realization of one’s integrity, and most people do not know what to make of this when they observe it from the outside. Has this man simply become ‘too good for us’ that he no longer does this or that thing? Or has he given up the faith? Do not worry too much about them, because they are not God and they are not you and so they cannot see the relationship between yourself and God. But if you maintain your integrity, they will sooner or later recognize at least that in you, even if they don’t know what to make of you in general.

Trauma precedes the discovery of one’s integrity. It occurs at that moment when we realize that the abstract notion of ‘a good Christian’ or the ‘spiritual person’ cannot be applied to us–that what is offered to us as good behavior is not good for us, and even though the only alternative we’ve ever been given to this is to become a ‘backslider’ or a non-believer, we know that we have nothing to do with those things, and so we are plunged into limbo and loneliness. It is there, at that moment, that integrity–a kind of certainty about oneself–is discovered. Then we feel a new kind of strength build in us, and if we permit this strength to come to fruition, we become unshakable.

The person of integrity does what he does because he knows who he is, and wishes only to be more fully who he is, and disdains what would make him less himself. It has nothing to do with practicality. You must not do what you do, believe what you believe, love what you love, because of the promise of Heaven or the threat of Hell. These are motivations for children and those who never become more than children in knowledge.

I do nothing in order to avoid Hell. I grant that an individual’s journey to the Truth might initially be motivated by a fear of damnation, but once you reach maturity I don’t see any need to think of Hell at all. Punishments and rewards are for children, not men of full stature, for whom only the Truth matters.

When I see signs along the road asking me where I will spend eternity, telling me in an obnoxious capitalized font that I need Jesus in my life, I do not think of Jesus but of the people who put up those signs, and how intolerable their Christianity must be to non-believers. They do not spread Jesus. They spread themselves, and they preach ‘their Jesus,’ and I think their counterfeit Jesus is just another obstacle the devil places between Jesus and the lost.

Many Christians carry with them an imaginary Jesus that is actually just a projection of themselves clothed in a white robe. They are Evangelize, but only for the sake of this projection. They are really just trying to make the world in their image.

Do not let the false Jesus of bad Christians become a barrier between you and Jesus.

To resent people and things is to be attached to them in some degree, and so it is contrary to freedom. Sometimes those things we most resent are those to which we are most attached.

Sometimes we resent the things to which we are attached by necessity, but to resent necessity to resent God. It is to resent reality. It is to resent truth. This does not make it easy to set resentment aside. It is an incredibly difficult thing to live in the modern world, see how it dehumanizes people, see how it destroys beauty everywhere it is found, how it despises knowledge–it is an immense challenge to see this system, work in it, be unable to escape it, and to not resent it for its cruel power. But here is the truth: it is not you who is subject to the Prince of the World. It is the false self. The false self lives under the power of the world and will die with it. Know the true Self, and identify yourself with it, and you will finally see that subjection is a subjective state, and that it cannot apply to you. The you that matters–the you that is real and is immortal–can never be a slave and is always free under any and all external conditions. To what degree you experience and appreciate this freedom depends on your progress in self-realization, and how much you’ve been able to leave the superficial self to its own distresses.

Is this or that job, this or that person, this or that attachment, preventing you from doing what you would do ‘if you were free’? Imagine you were suddenly released from all of these limiting conditions. Follow the thought to completion. What would you do with your supposed ‘freedom’? Have you considered that your external subjection is the context in which you are best able to work out your inner freedom, which is of a higher order? There are some who throw away any chance they ever had as assuming their true identity when they insisted on their ‘freedom’–by which they mean the mere ability to do whatever they want whenever they want.

When someone or something is preventing you from being free or happy, ask yourself if you really know what it would take to make you happy. We tend to focus on what is unpleasant about where we are, and we assume that a change of scenery is what we need. We go to great lengths to escape our situation and the people who are ‘tying us down.’ And then, in a new apartment in a new city with a new wife, we wake up to the fact that we are still unhappy, and that we did not really understand what it will take to become happy. We finally come to the realization that it was not the place or the person making us unhappy, but we ourselves. We were living in subjection to ourselves, to our ignorance or our passions or our egoism, and we changed the external conditions of our lives, burning bridges and wounding people as we fled, but since we could not escape ourselves we merely carried our slavery to this new place.

We enter into ourselves to create; we enter into God to be created.

It is said that men kill one another because they are afraid of one another. I say they fight because they are afraid of everything. Afraid of themselves. Afraid of their children. Even afraid of the dark. I’m not sure there are any human activities that do not have some grain of fear embedded in them. Fear is a basic element of the human experience of life.

Good men are those who have learned to deal with fear by loving, and bad men are those who deal with it by hating.

We explain the sins of others by saying that they are evil; we explain our own sins by talking about how the devil tempted us.

On those rare occasions when we admit that the evil we do is ‘within us’ and is part of us, we cannot help but try and excuse ourselves by downplaying the severity of our particular brand of evil while we exaggerate the evil we see in others. We might be bad, but at least we’re less bad than everyone else. In other words, we are still ‘better than them.’ Therefore, we are good.

War is fought for noble and ignoble reasons, although it is most often the latter.

The reasons for war are usually simple, but they vary depending on the group in question. The average man on the street goes to war for freedom, out of patriotic feeling, or because he has nothing better to do and to gain a sense of belonging in a tightly-knit group. But the average man on the street is not the one who chooses to start wars–he only answers the call. And those who make that call have much more nefarious reasons for starting their massacres: power and greed. Bad wars that are initiated by bad men for bad reasons are always fought by good men for good reasons, and since most people only look at the fighters, the bad men who started it all are enabled to hide behind a mask of nobility and sacrifice.

There is something in us that refuses to accept the good intentions of others. It is our selfishness.

Why does political life usually devolve into two parties who believe that the other is completely, in every way, wrong about everything? Think of yourself and when you face the prospect of having to cooperate with someone you don’t like, who has offended you in some way in the past, or whose habits or religious beliefs or looks offend you. You look for an excuse not to cooperate. You do not want them to want to work with you because you do not want to work with them. You would prefer the conflict, and so that is what you will find.

Contrary to the modern myth, religious conviction did not cause as many conflicts as political convictions in the absence of a larger religious framework. In other words, secularism kills more people than the crusades. This is because religious conviction could to some degree satisfy the religious impulse on the social level; within secularism, the religious conviction persists but attaches itself to political ideals, and then a terrible thing happens. Political problems always have more than one answer and these answers are more a matter of cooperation and compromise and fellow-feeling–in other words, a willingness to get along–among participants. When the religious impulse tries to find satisfaction in politics, political opinions begin to seem like dogma, and are clung to in the same way and elevated well beyond right reason by those who hold those opinions. And since there are many legitimate opinions, for example held by different parties, then these parties no longer become men of good-will who reached different legitimate conclusions, but opposing religious sects.

When political opinions are held in a way that is idolatrous, it becomes impossible to see any goodwill in those who think differently than us, because we have ceased to see our political opinions as opinions and started to see them as absolutes. Our opponents, who deny these absolutes, can therefore only be absolutely wrong. This makes our job much easier: we need not offer them conversation. We only have to condemn them as heretics.

There may be some who think that it is necessary to have this passionate conviction in one’s ‘rightness’ in politics, lest we fall into complacence. That is true to a small degree, but it is more important to acknowledge, from start to finish, that we are all the problem and that the solution is found not by everyone listening to me but by all men of goodwill contributing something.

Even if we discern that our opponents do not have pure intentions, it is enough that they have partially good intentions. They need not be pure, since no one is, for us to be obligated to accept their goodness and try to meet it. The refusal to accept mingled intentions usually leaves us a situation in which one side will have nothing to do with the other until the other converts completely to its ways, which never happens.

I would not ask you to trust anyone who clearly could not be trusted. We do not need to pretend that men who have sinned are not sinners. We need only remember that we too are sinners, and when we make ourselves vulnerable to other sinners we are not so much trusting their sin as we are trusting whatever good we find in them, which is to say, we are trusting God.

We mock God when we pray for peace and then go about doing things and implementing policies that make war inevitable. We mock God when our leaders stockpile weapons capable of destroying life on earth, and then those same leaders accept Nobel prizes for peace. We are like sick men who beg God with pretended sincerity to be cured, and in between breaths we drink from a bottle of hemlock.

If a person wants peace, that person must stop sowing seeds of discord. Sometimes the seeds of discord are profitable. Sometimes the seeds of discord work to the benefit of a particular party. America learned long ago how to stay on the winning side of conflict, and has grown fat on its fruit. At this point it would require great sacrifice to the American ‘standard of living’ in order to really work for peace. This is why America is never likely to be a force for peace.

Some of our leaders really do want peace, but what they mean by peace is simply the ability to do whatever they want without limits and without fear of retaliation when the ignore the international law or the dignity of foreign people. Their notion of peace is ‘peace for me, and to hell with the rest.’ This is no peace at all.

Peace without justice is nothing more than the tyranny of some men over others.

Always remember that evil is not a positive thing–it is the absence of a perfection that ought to be there. Something that is utterly evil cannot exist, because the total absence of perfection means the total absence of anything. It is for this reason that we can say that no one desires evil for evil, since that would mean the desire for nothing; people appear to desire evil because people desire what is good, or what they believe to be good, and there is always something of the good mingled in each evil thing, however diluted that good may have become.

Evil, being the diluted version of some good, is always relatively boring.

All men desire the good, and when men choose evil they are, in a sense, like the unfortunate animal that chooses the bait in a trap. That is not to say they are blameless in the matter, because unlike the animal we know the trap is there, but it does mean that the degree of blame is usually not as bad as it would seem, because even when we suspect the trap the reasonable attractiveness of the bait must be taken into account. This is why a starving man who steals a loaf of bread is hardly guilty of anything at all.

When we are one with God, all created things are our allies; when we have no relation to God, all creation aligns itself against us. This is why the Taoist say that whoever has the Tao has no enemies.

The myth of equilibrium

The psychologists, with their mechanistic materialism, obsessed with equilibrium and chemical reaction, have led you to believe that your mental health—your so-called “happiness”—is a matter of eradicating all inner tensions. Any sort of insanity and disorder, as they classify those things, is seen as a result of chemical imbalance or cognitive dissonance which calls for resolution. This is, to some degree, a valid premise, but they go too far. To remove all inner tension is to remove all humanity from the person. Only animals are without inner tension—they have nothing other than instinct, they have no “self” to transcend, and no spirit capable of that very transcendence. They are therefore always at peace. The “happiness” of the dog does indeed lie in “homeostasis.” Man, however, having his highest realization not in simple biological potentialities but instead in states of a supra-physical character, requires an almost constant inner tension. “Homeostasis” is for him a degradation, for a man will never be fully human until he climbs higher than his own humanity. Man is the only creature born incomplete, as a work in progress. Man is the only creature on earth with “something to gain” from life. Thus, you must always shun Aristotle’s “bovine happiness,” because, although it will tempt you with its sedentary comfort, this sort of peace is not your goal, nor is it a stage for you to occupy temporarily. You should pass it by without stopping.

There must be a sort of “balance” between inner and outer activity, because you cannot give yourself to both the inner and the outer at the same time. As one is engaged, the other must necessarily be sacrificed. Therefore, be wary of your calling. Are you called inward (towards knowledge)?—then act accordingly and do not become lax. Are you called outward (towards action)?—then act accordingly and do not become lax. Mind your calling. No one can fill it but you. And beware of inertia, for it is equally dangerous for all callings.

The ultimate vice

Sometimes a behavior which would be contemptible in one type of man is acceptable in another, not because good and evil are somehow relative, but because the inner differences between types dictate different modes of life. For a contemplative (the Priest of Brahmin), it is a vice to neglect the pursuit of knowledge in favor of incessant activity. The man oriented towards action (the Kshatriya), it is more contemptible to be unproductive and sedentary. A level of physical activity which is necessary for a Kshatriya is, for a Brahmin, a neglect of contemplation, which requires stillness; likewise, the level of stillness necessary for a contemplative to serve his function would amount to “laziness” for a Kshatriya, whose business is action. Thus, the ultimate vice for the Kshatriya is laziness, and the ultimate vice for the Brahmin is hyperactivity.

The war of ends and means

Means are rebellious by nature, always trying to dethrone their proper ends. Means wish for nothing more than to be exercised to their fullness. They are full of hubris. Ends serve for direction and moderation. Ends are therefore superior and prior to means. Because of this hostility, means are always seeking to drive out ends, and, because men are also full of hubris, they are easily convinced to forget about the ends and worship the means as ends in themselves. This perpetually “revolt of the means” is destined to create a vicious circle wherein there is no other “end” conceivable besides the further development of means. Once this happens, there is nowhere left for man to go but forward, as fast as possible.

Defense against flattery

Modern man is anxious and exceedingly insecure, for the simple reason that he does not know himself. Such a man becomes incredibly susceptible to flattery. Through this weakness, modern civilization wins acceptance of all its subversive doctrines: freedom, equality, and progress. Therefore the best defense is self-knowledge. The man who honestly knows himself could never be convinced that he is equal to all others, or that he deserves unconditional freedom, or that his generation is the wisest in all history. In short, he who knows the truth about himself becomes both confident and humble. Such a man cannot be flattered.

Temperament

Occasionally, or even frequently, you may find that your natural disposition coincides with the demands of your higher principles. Never confuse temperament with principle, lest you mistake your own idiosyncrasy for an expression of truth; or, to say it another way, you will confuse your personality with yourself, or, worse, mistake yourself for God. Sooner or later, the overlap will cease, and you will foolishly err on the side of temperament.

You are needy

When you notice the absence in most historical periods of material comforts that you deem essential to your happiness, that traditional man was not nearly so needy as you. For example, when you realize that he did not have breath mints and neatly packaged deodorant sticks, do not assume he was unhappy because of it. It is true that you would be made uncomfortable if such things were withheld from you, but this is not so for your ancestor, for he did not have your highly developed collection of petty needs. He did not live his whole life under the influence of marketing and propaganda, with new ‘needs’ thrust in his face all day every day. Instead, he knew what it was like to smell human, and for his neighbors to smell human, and while it would probably be a stretch to suggest that he did not notice it, it would be wrong to project onto him the same feelings you could experience. It is a question of degree, and what for you would amount to agony or disgust might for him amount to a small annoyance barely noticed, or noticed and set aside without a second thought, or peacefully endured as part of the nature of things. Do not pity anyway for not living in your world. It would be wiser, when you realize the great many things he did not have, to judge him happier for it, and wonder in some ways if he would not pity you.

Uses for the fall

The doctrine of the “fall” once proved useful for explaining the evils of the world to man; as of late, it has proven even more useful as a device evil men use to justify their actions to themselves and others. That is to say, it serves the opposite purpose. So many times I’ve mentioned a cruel public policy or complained about the ugliness of an act, and well-meaning Christians will say, “yes, well man is fallen and so we must take these measures to deal with him.” These people will create policies that encourage sin and justify it on the grounds that they are dealing with sinners. They use the doctrine of the fall to justify a further descent.

Recognition through familiarity

Beware when you perceive some great weakness or flaw in your neighbor. Chances are, you recognized it because it was familiar to you, which is to say, because it is a flaw you also possess.

Goal of the alcoholic

Alcohol is a way to kill yourself without the commitment of actually committing suicide. It allows you to obliterate the consciousness, discarding for a time the seat of all human pain, without quite obliterating the body. All drunkards are suicidal; they just found a way to do it and keep waking up every day.

Be careful with reflection and do not dwell too long on yourself

Still waters run deep can sound flattering to the inward-oriented individual but considering the fact that darkness and unknown dangers lurk in the deeper places, you should take this as a warning. Meditation is good, reflection is necessary, but do not over-extend yourself and do not become too caught up in your own inner life. It can be a lonely place, and you were placed in bodily form during this life because it is the condition proper to your utmost development. Do not neglect the outside world or consider yourself superior to it, or you’ll suffer for it.

Pope Benedict XVI has said: “No one shapes his own conscience arbitrarily, but we all build our own “I” on the basis of a “self” which is given to us. Not only are other persons outside our control, but each one of us is outside his or her own control.”[1] This is a concise summary of traditional autology.

The meaning of our lives is not conjured into existence by ourselves. It is detected and once detected, nurtured and brought to fruition.

As written by José Ortega y Gasset: “It is only in isolation that we gain, almost automatically, a certain discrimination in ideas, desires, longings, that we learn which are ours, and which are anonymous, floating in the air, falling on us like dust in the street.”

We think too much about what we are meant to do with our lives, as if life were a grocery store where God sent us to ‘pick up a few things.’ We are not sent here so much for the doing as for the becoming. If we do not do anything ‘real’ it is because we ourselves have not become real. The purpose of life is to be what we were intended; particular actions will follow of themselves. If you find your identity in God, nothing will stop you from doing what you were meant to do; but if you do not first become who you were meant to be, how could you possibly do what you were meant to do, since only the person you were meant to be is capable of these things.

It is no exaggeration to say that we are undergoing a crisis of alienation, and this alienation is two-fold. Man is alienated from himself, and stemming from this fact, he is alienated from others, for a man can only related to others to the same depth that he can relate to himself. We go back again to the observation that “if an ape peers in, an ape peers back out.” If a man perceives himself as an atom following a mundane but predetermined path as nothing more than a single part in a chaotic mass society, then he will see everyone around him in the same way and will be incapable of perceiving them as anything more until he is able to perceive something more in himself.

Alienation drives men quickly to the escapisms which modern society has learned to mass produce. These troubled men can’t help but perceive themselves being tossed into an absurd existence, in an environment echoing with superficial chattering, meaningless catchphrases, hollow compulsions, unsatisfactory diversions. They live amidst a constantly frantic, but acutely futile activity which is called “work.” Any lucid individual recognizes his conscious life as something more than animal existence, but it currently caught up in a civilization which compels him to spend his entire life developing only those aspects of himself which he has in common with the beasts. The successful man today is the man who has material comforts, is physically healthy, secure, emotionally balanced (again, this is a biological homeostasis, and not a spiritual one), and who has all the most primitive satisfactions. What accompanies this kind of ‘success’ is, of course, the extreme atrophy of every superior power within himself. To become successful is to become degraded. Hence the Gospel saying, he who is great in the world is least in Heaven.

The inner void of modern humanity must be filled. The mania for athletics, whether child or professional, is one example. When directed at children it is quite disturbing. In the case of adults and ‘professional athletes’ it tends meld with a materialistic celebrity worship—a Cult of Personality combined with the Cult of the Body. Aside from the practice of democracy and its pseudo-religious rituals observations, professional ports might be today’s most widespread and vulgar mass opiate.

Psychology goes wrong in its theories of personality in the same way that science in general goes wrong in its theories of matter: it is a reductionism. The problem is not that Freud traced psychoses to the subterranean drives of sex, and I would not even deny the validity of the Oedipus complex in certain contexts. If he had stopped at what he saw, which was often insightful and could therefore have been helpful, he would have retained his legitimacy as a scientist, but he did not. He did not say that certain manifestations of madness are unhealthy expressions of the unconscious—he said that all of them were. He joined in the scientific reduction ad absurdum which has contaminated the sciences in general.

We tend to see the conscious mind as a kind of fixed point at the summit of our being, but this is not so. I think we tend toward this reductionistic view because when we peer out of the seat of our consciousness, we see only things of an inferior order. We look down at the body, at the world, and we perceive through our senses, and the primary purpose of the rational faculty is to perceive and direct these lower orders. There error lies in forgetting that just because we naturally ‘look down’ at what is lower, that this does not mean that there is nothing up above or to the side. We can reasonably admit that there is something like a ‘subconscious’ below what our rational faculty deals with and sees, but there is also a superconscious, even if we cannot easily turn around and see it, and there are, in addition, a number of forces that operate on a somewhat parallel plane and are called ‘psychic.’

This brings us back around to the reductionism of Descartes. What he did with his “cogito ergo sum” amounts to the institutionalization of alientation from the self. To arrive at the knowledge of our existence through our “thinking” is to move in reverse and to distance ourselves from ourselves. Confusing the mask for the man. It should be no surprise what follows from this: existence is then reduced to a rational concept, to be thought about objectively rather than experienced as a reality. Once the self was reduced to a mental construct, God followed almost immediately. Descartes’ proof of God was essentially the same as his proof for himself; that since I can think of God then he exists.

Descartes reduced himself to a thought about himself and reduced God to a thought about God, thus ushering in the age of rationalism and the slow alienation of man from God. But let Descartes serve as the example: with his “cogito”, he was first alienated from himself. The entire Enlightenment is a grand “following of suit”, and modernism is its child.

Psychoanalysis is the natural consequence of this thinking—a boomerang effect. Descartes denied everything outside the rational faculty. Freud discovered that this is not the case, but being unacquainted with the traditional understanding of things, only recognized that the rational faculty is exceeded in a downward direction.

When the rational faculty is made the summit of man’s existence, access to the Self, to man’s true Identity, is barricaded. The “I” or the superficial “ego” becomes all there is. Man was once open-ended, able to climb to the heights, or sink to the depths. Descartes closed off both the heights and the depths, binding man within his consciousness. Freud reopened the depths.

In our rare moments of clarity, when we are really scratching the surface of reality, there is no ‘cogito’, for the rational mind becomes speechless; there is no ‘ergo’; because logic has become futile; there is only SUM: It is only then that we glimpse the great ‘I AM’, which we are, and it is only then that we become real by participation.

Contemplation is not a passivity. Remember that passivity is a drift away from life into lower instincts and eventually dead compulsion. Neither is it the peaceful extinction sought by the Buddha, being freed from all desire only to sink into an eternal slumber of non-existence.

Awakening feels like a calming awareness and a detachment, which does not “leave” the awareness of life but only becomes detached from it. It amounts to a sort of “lucid inebriation”, which is the polar opposite of that ecstatic opening of oneself to primordial forces, instinct, etc., which we find it the various forms of hysteria and demonic invocation. In the former case one becomes a being eternally awake—in the latter one temporarily ceases to exist, as a human, and is for a time seized and directed by forces either below him or surrounding him.

In the latter one rather weds himself to emotions and impulses which underlie the purely biological existence.

It should also be said that familiarity with self is not limited to certain “types” of men, in the sense of certain personalities and temperaments. It is not limited to the monastic life; it is not limited to the thoughtful; it is not limited to those inclined to sit for long periods in silence with a blank stare on their face; it is most certainly not limited to intellectuals (in fact, it is probably precluded in the case of most modern intellectuals).

The passive personality which we quickly call to mind at the word “meditation”, then, may actually present a barrier to contemplation and such a man may have serious difficulty puncturing the film of the superficial self and go deeper. His passivity may well prevent him from experiencing the crisis that finally wakes him up, that ruptures the superficial veil of personality and “I” and sends him beyond into a strange void where neither personality nor intellect can find expression—into what mystics call “the dark night of the soul”.

On the opposite end, we also have the man who is far too active and ambitious to easily pass into the void. Men who, like myself, tend to seek contemplation and the self as if it were a “goal”, achievement, or prize to be won by an effort of intellectual—or even ascetic—exertion. Ambition is an appetite of the intellect and leads only grasps outward—it cannot reach behind itself, behind the intellect, and towards the self. As long as ambition exists as an active force, all reflection will be stopped dead in the intellect.

There are also examples of human experience which superficially resemble contemplation but which are actually abdications of consciousness in favor of emotional and psychic hysteria. These collective expressions of “mystical” enthusiasm are escapes from consciousness, but escapes in a lateral direction rather than an upward direction. It is a surrender of awareness as in sleep or hypnosis, which really goes nowhere. Contemplation releases superficial awareness only for the sake of transcending it.

I have mentioned group or individual hysteria as a way of escaping awareness, but this would be to present the practice as something not necessarily helpful, but also relatively harmless. This is not entirely the case, and the reader will do well to consider the historical uses of this hysteria, which, in civilizations more in tune with the spiritual dimension, were used not simply to suspend normal consciousness, but to invoke certain subterranean influences into the then vacant personality. That is to say that these group hysterias were used in the past for spiritual edification, just as they are today in various churches, but they were only found useful for the invocation of demons in rituals of possession. They were generally not considered a valid means of non-demonic spiritual expression.

The self-induced ‘possession’ sought by certain tribal groups wherein they say they are ‘ridden’ by demons, is rightly described by psychoanalysts as a “flooding of the id.” It represents a release of the lower, subterranean forces, the demonic things (in the older impersonal sense of the word), which expresses itself largely through irrationality and sub-psychic means, powered by emotions, instincts, and evidencing itself through spasmodic physical contortions, etc. Contemplation does not involve seizures or psychic paralysis (aphasia). Invoked spiritual or social hysteria, however, might. Such are the symptoms of the demonic forces, and are to be expected.

Before we end, it is important to note that while it is a supreme pity for man’s reality to be reduced to only that which his five senses can perceive, it does not necessarily follow that those who intentionally limit themselves in such a way will live morally inferior lives. Christian condescension has made a habit of assuming that the virtue of faith, in and of itself, invokes all the other virtues along with it, and therefore its absence implies a rejection of any hope of good behavior. This flies in the face of reality, and causes a great deal of unnecessary animosity and confusion among the faithful.

There are a great number of individual who live their whole lives in an impoverished state, alienated from themselves and limited to what they can prove with their five senses, and who are at the very same time quite moral and personable. The great crime of such an existence is not that it results in rampant carnal vice, but that it precludes the familiarity of man with himself. The “self” of such men will be forever hidden from them, and they will be stuck only with a personality to be “expressed”. For such men, it is perfectly valid to say that only psychoanalysis can save them, because they have set themselves within its absurd limits. They have adopted the impoverished human existence that psychoanalysis assumes, and so they have becomes appropriate material for the manipulations of the psychoanalyst. Man must invalidate himself, then, before Freud’s theories become helpful to him, but, as we have seen, they can only help become stable in his alienation—they cannot save him from it. They may well live a comfortable existence, conditioned entirely upon sense experience—let us not lie to ourselves and assume that because they are closed off to the heights, and to God, that they will necessarily drop to the depths. He may wait there very much within moral safety, but unable to answer the call of God which asks each to venture out beyond the infantile security of the five senses.

The history of psychology is actually a hopeful one, and we have reason to be optimistic about its advances, despite whatever parts of it we must currently reject. Consider this progression: Freud based much on a will-to-sex, Adler stepped a bit closer to transcendence by adopted instead the will-to-power, and the clear-thinking Viktor Frankl came closest to the truth yet when he identified man’s deepest urge as a “will to meaning”. We see here in psychology an encouraging progress from the most materialistic reduction of man to biological drives (Freud) upwards, ending with something undeniably metaphysical.

Take also the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow, and his famous “hierarchy of needs”. It takes no stretch of the imagination to see that his pyramid leads directly to contemplation and the “experience” of God. He called such things “peak experiences”. Let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater, but enjoy the gifts which such minds can present to us, all the while, of course, rejecting their claims to universality.

A wise man said: “Two souls, alas, live in my breast”. This is a very optimistic assumption today. The average man today, liberated from castes and any “oppressive” traditions, he is often at a loss, impotent, caught in a ceaseless flux of the will, formless and liquid, defenseless against the supposed limitlessness of his possibilities.

[1] Caritas in Veritate, 68.

Actaeon’s lesson

The myth of Actaeon goes like this:

He was a great hunter and one day, hunting deer in the forest with his dogs, he became separated from them and accidentally encountered the goddess Artemis, who was bathing naked in a stream. In punishment for what he had seen, she transformed him into a stag. His dogs turned on him, and their master became their prey.

Here is the symbolic interpretation (which ought to be far more elaborate but is simplified for our purpose here):

When you finally glimpse the beauty of higher things, a transformation takes place, and in fact must take place. We become something different than what we were. This can, from a certain point of view, feel like a punishment, even a condemnation, since in most cases the result is that, after our encounter with the transcendent, our worldly pursuits turn hostile and try to destroy us. Friends become enemies, and what nourished us becomes poison. We’ve changed, and it is only natural that our old habits and obsessions might do us harm, even to hounding us to death.

Reciprocal transfiguration

In order to regain the sacred context of life, you must first make your life sacred. You must become “the soul that, having being, plunges into becoming” (Ecce Homo, sec. 6) and “by transfiguring itself, it transfigures existence” (Will to power, 1051). You can only change your surroundings by first changing yourself. You cannot just try to “get out of this town.” If you feel like the world around you is profane, it is possible to move elsewhere and live among different people, but if you yourself are profane, then you will just profane the ground you walk on no matter where you go. The banality which characterizes your existence and torments your soul will follow you because it emits from you. You’ll only see enchantment if you become and enchanter.

You cannot truly escape the effects of your environment

Never make the mistake of assuming that you are not, to some degree, a product of your environment. We are all subject to an indefinite number of conditions, and these all influence our development. Not completely, mind you, but in a very real way nonetheless. The trick is to identify where they help, and to embrace that help, while at the same time identifying how your environment has stunted or twisted your development, and work to overcome that damage. On the intellectual level, this means that no preference, no opinion, is solely the result of your own judgement. Your judgement was involved, I hope, but you exercised that judgement within a social context and on the basis of a limited set of life experiences combined with the conceptual framework that has been imparted to you as a result of innumerable decisions and psychological pressures. You are not completely conditioned, but you are positioned within a specific hermeneutic site and this will dictate your perspective.

Be comfortable with your mortality, but recognize your immortality

Learn to see your mortality and come to terms with it. That will be difficult for you, but even more difficult will be the task of learning to see your immortality and its manifestations in your life and actions. Your immortality is that still, small voice that speaks with absolute authority and can be ignored but not refuted. Please don’t think I’m talking about the moral conscience. Hardly, although the conscience is perhaps its pale shadow. Obedience to your conscience might set you against the grain of society; obedience to one’s immortality makes one appear altogether insane. It does not manifest itself so much as a “moral stance” as it does a conviction that a particular duty has impressed itself upon us without respect to logic or external circumstance. One of its signs is that it cannot be justified to anyone but you. A literary illustration of a man recognizing and obeying his immortality might be the character in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Crossing,” and other of McCarthy’s characters as well. Here a boy sets himself to the task of transporting a wounded wolf to its home in the mountains of Mexico. He pursues this, and it costs him everything, and it is clearly that no earthly compensation awaits him. Even after it dies he cannot leave off the task. He carries the body. He can’t explain the duty he feels, but he obeys it because he knows that by its nature it is superior than all other duties: to family, to bodily well-being, to even to right reason and practical prudence. It is this part of him–a sense of what can only be described as a “sacred duty” toward a thing that, by normal standards, has no importance or purpose, and that even comes off as madness. This kind of madness is the recognition and submission to one’s immortality. I suspect that most people never even feel it. Should you be lucky enough to feel it, never deny it, and never question your allegiance to it.

The impotence of knowledge

Herodotus said that ‘the worst pain a man can suffer is to have insight into much and power over nothing.’ But I think it was Nietzsche who added that this mostly applies to the powerfully minded young, who are just beginning to recognize their powers while at the same being confronted with the world’s indifference to it. But this passes, or should pass, with maturity.

Do not pit faith against works

If you run upon the question of “faith vs. works,” you shouldn’t find it difficult to solve. It is a false dichotomy. Pope Francis stated it well in an Apostolic Exhortation that I happen to be reading just now: Man is not saved by either faith or works. Man is saved by grace. In other words, like all dualisms, it is solved by transcending it.

But what is grace? It is the action of the spirit to which we must be open and to which we must respond, but it does not have its origin in ourselves. God, in salvation, initiates. We prepare and respond. The response takes place in the will and usually manifests itself first as a “decision” or a reorientation of the will. An individual’s “faith” and “works” are nothing but two different ways of manifesting that response, and they are both in a sense secondary to the essence of the thing.

Faith and works are two levels of action, but they are both “actions”: one is a movement of the mind, the other of the physical body, both having their origin in the will and initiated on the basis of a decision. Those who put them at odds as if they are entirely different orders of human activity are fooling themselves. Once seen as what they are: basically two ways of expressing the will (one bodily and the other mentally), the whole debate becomes a bit silly, and at the same time we begin to see why Paul could insist on faith while James could insist on works, since on the level at which they operate, they are both necessary.

If we use the terminology of Evangelicals, who are perhaps more insistent than any other group on the notion that “faith” is the means of salvation, we often hear from them that one must “make a decision” for Christ. And this “decision” results in Salvation.

But where does faith come in? Every decision manifests itself in an action of some kind, whether mental activity of physical activity. Faith in the Gospel message is correctly assumed to be the result of the “decision for Christ.” But this means that faith is really an “action” that results from a decision. It only differs from “good works” in that it is strictly internal.

The Evangelical rejection of good works, then, becomes even more problematic because “good works” are also, according to St. James, the necessary result of this “decision for Christ” and evidence of it.

So in reality, Salvation occurs at the moment of decision, while faith and works are two “actions” that testify, albeit on two different levels, that the decision has truly been made.

To sum it up plainly, if one cannot be saved by works of any kind, then one cannot be saved by faith, since belief in something is nothing other than a kind of action or “good work” of the mind.

The moment we put faith and works in opposition to one another, we become blind to the nature of grace.

The Middle Way

Much of your struggle will be to maintain the middle way between the monsters on either side of you–between Scylla and Charybdis–and while the middle way is a spiritual teaching it applies at various levels and not only in the lofty sense in which it is usually treated. You find yourself in a position where physicians who deal in human health often do not know the first thing about the human condition. They understand its physiological function and they understand how to chemically manipulate that function and, to a degree, how to repair physical damage to the body and its parts, but that is a limited kind of knowledge since it treats the lowest parts of the human person and only a fraction of the whole. When the issues at hand are rooted in non-material causes, they are helpless, and this is often the case. This puts you in a difficult situation because you are left with the task of trying to discern within what limits you can trust doctors, which would not be so difficult if the doctors themselves understood these limits, and if society understood them and accepted them, but neither do and so whenever you do reach a point where you legitimately deny the competence of the physician you will almost certainly be considered a conspiracy theorist or a radical or a hippie, rejecting the valid knowledge of “science” for your own unfounded notions. Sometimes this will be the case. Sometimes you may go too far and doubt the opinions of scientists when you should trust, because these opinions are unpleasant to you or offensive. But that should not keep you from doubting, because it would be far worse to surrender yourself entirely to them. To exercise your judgement and possibly make a mistake is more honorable than to surrender yourself to the mistakes of other individuals or groups. Whenever possible, make your own mistakes. Do not let others make them for you. That is the key, and that will bring you closer to perfection as you try to travel the Middle Way through life.

Forget your good deeds

I have found that it is a good practice to try and forget your good deeds as soon as possible. Not because it is any crime to remember them, but mostly because I’ve never found that remembering them served any useful purpose, and on the contrary it tends to open the way to arrogance. Besides, if you hold onto these deeds, you will start to expect that they ought to have specific repercussions in this life. Either you will be rewarded in some way, or recognized, or the good you did for someone will have a visible influence on his life. This may happen, but probably not, but if it happens it will happen whether or not you remember the deed that caused it. So again, better to forget, and to let the good works remain only in the mind of God alone. This is, I suspect, what the Bible calls ‘storing up treasures in heaven.’

Do not argue with the willfully ignorant

Many people are willfully ignorant, and it is futile to try to engage them in any kind of serious discussion, even if it is only for the sake of listeners. It is not that their ignorance is difficult to bring to light. That is often quite easy. The difficulty is that you will find that this does not change anything, and that they will simply retreat to another position of ignorance that is slightly different from the first. And if you again show the ignorance of this new position, they act as if that was not their real position after all, and then they will dig another trench at a fresh distance. And you will find yourself advancing on an infinite retreat, wherein there can be no victory since there is and endless variety of errors the determined individual can invent. And the entire time he will be able to maintain the conviction that it is you who has failed, since you have not “proved him wrong,” and it will be true. You have not proved him wrong, because in order for a position to be disproven it must be stationary. And so I say again, never open yourself to this kind of futile chase. You must always discern two things. First, discern whether or not the person is mentally capable of comprehending what you have to say; second, and more important, discern whether or not they are willing to comprehend it. It is easy to forget that if the second thing is absent, the first thing is irrelevant.