In the solitude of the reading room we can build up in ourselves a focused awareness of certain ideas, a thorough understanding of some metaphysical principle, and it seems to us that we have built an acceptable temple here in the mind, and we feel content with our work, even proud of it. This focused attention to the mental life is the benefit of solitude for the sake of concentrated thought. It is also its drawback, which is an exaggerated appreciation of what are really frail concepts. It is at this point that actually going out into the world is a kind of salvation.
The moment we walk out of the house all of our theories are reduced to dust. Man cannot be what I knew him to be back in the quiet of the inner room. My knowledge of the order and significance of beings does not seem to help me appreciate it in beings as I encounter them. People everywhere begin to annoy me by defying what I said about in my mind a few minutes ago. The tree I praised for its lofty symbolism is now ugly and filled with fruit that is either insect-eaten or underdeveloped. I quickly get the impression that the world that I had so deeply penetrated that morning is so far beyond me that I am like a child lost in the grocery store not knowing where I am.
It is in these moments a kind of panic or despair sets in, which represents the vacillation from interior to exterior, which is difficult for the consciousness and plays havoc on our sense of equilibrium. All of our inner lights get a blast of cold air and are extinguished.
The task in life is to remain aware that neither the external chaos of life nor the deceiving comfort of our concepts are real. Both possess significance but neither the concept nor the objects encountered in the world convey their significance on the surface: they must be pursued and appreciated to a depth at which they intersect. These moments, which are the final demonstration of the value of both thought and life, are rare, but they may prove to be the most profound. We may say in meditation that the created order is a demonstration of the power of the Absolute, and that nature is capable of conveying an awareness of divine splendor. So far so good, but this means nothing until that moment when we actually see a sunset, not as a mechanical and chemical aspect of the physical universe, but as an awe-inspiring and indescribable experience of meaning. Then, finally, both concept and experience unite and the result is the encounter with the inexpressible, an encounter which would not have been possible, or would not have been possible to the same degree, if either life or concept had been rejected. Tears of despair become tears of reverence.