A very old Chinese meditator told me once that even at this late phase of his life he was sometimes beset by what he called ‘fearful thoughts’. They came from his past but still felt very powerful in the present. They might concern his health, his guilt for things he had done wrong, the fear of failure, rejection or exposure. They would surge up but, since he had been meditating, they were far less capable of overwhelming him.
I was reminded of an experience I had for a while as an adolescent, when I would often wake up in the morning initially fresh and clear-minded. But within a second or two of consciously remembering who and where I was and what I had to do that day, I would feel a tight, heavy, dark knot grow in my chest. Not quite a physical pain, yet, but it could easily have become one. I had to ignore it, get out of bed and then quite quickly, my activity pushed this knot of fear back into its hiding hole.
The old meditator told me how his old fearful thoughts periodically rushed out of their hiding places during meditation. He would say the mantra as faithfully as he could through these storms, feeling he was not having a ‘good meditation’, but also knowing that he was doing just what he had to do. He knew that these fears were illusory; but they were nonetheless disturbing and he feared the effect of the fear on him should it become unmanageable. After the meditation he had regained his freedom and a sentence would often form in his mind: ‘It’s so good to return to reality’.
The Samaritan woman at the well might have felt that after she had confronted the fear and anger that she projected onto Jesus and the rest of the world at the beginning of her encounter with him. At the end of the story she has regained her place in the community of the village and has re-sourced the inner freedom selflessly to give others something good that had touched her and that she knew she could share. Jesus had called it a stream of living water welling up from within.
A few days ago at Bonnevaux I was walking through the grounds with some visitors. We visited the two springs, each at either end of the property, which I find very holy and pure places. At each of them, the ground around has been opened up to expose the stream of clean water flowing from some secret and mysterious place deep in the earth. Maybe this was done by the twelfth-century monks who came they to build their monastery there, but probably also by much earlier, unrecorded dwellers on the land. Springs are timeless. Ever-present, constant and new. They heal the wounds of the past.
The French for ‘spring’ is ‘source’.