‘It is a narrow path that leads to life and few they are who find it.’ Like the Christian symbol of poverty of spirit or the Buddhist idea of emptiness, narrowness does not at first sound very appealing. We associate it with constriction, a curtailing of our freedom of movement, and intellectually with narrow-minded, prejudiced points of view. So, what is good about a narrow path?
Firstly, it is realistic. When you are taking a close-up photo you narrow in on the subject, zooming in as close as you can get while keeping in focus. You get nearer to the subject this way even if you are physically far from it. If you are interested in a panorama shot you still have to focus on something but what you gain in breadth of field you lose in the sense of intimacy. A narrow path is a good symbol because it suggests solitude, which means the uniqueness of personal encounter not isolation or loneliness. On a narrow path that you tread with others you may be going single file but nonetheless you feel together.
Meditation is a narrow path – solitary and in zoom mode, focusing wholly on the mantra. But after the meditation, when you return to the broad highways of life, you zoom out and the whole context becomes apparent – or at least as much as you can see of the whole. The bigger picture becomes sharper and better in focus because of the time spent in close-up.
When we look at a large panoramic view we intuitively search for objects or angles that we can focus on and which organise, give meaning, to the broad sweep view. The time we spend on the narrow path is not unrelated to the busy lanes of life. In fact, with enough practice, we do not lose the close-up attention of the times of meditation even when we are re-immersed in activity and interaction. This ability to maintain a dual-focus – to be still in the midst of action, to be silent while communicating – is what Jesus refers to as the ‘one thing necessary’ when he is calming down the fragmented Martha.
The narrow path leads to life lived well, single-file leads to communion, zoom view to cosmic panorama. And ‘few are they who find it’? This doesn’t mean that only a select few are allowed in, but that not many give the space and time in their day to discover it. Anyone, like Jesus, who has found it regrets that not more people do.
That’s what Lent is especially for, deepening our knowledge of the narrow path.