The art of living that we try to refresh, or even discover for the first time, in Lent is to live from the source. The spring of consciousness flows into visible existence as naturally as water bubbles up from the ground or a new born baby appears. The closer we are to the source the more innocent we know we are. Inevitably, though, the water acquires a certain cloudiness, impurity or even toxicity after it has been flowing for some time. It is sad it has to be like this, but it is one of the ways that we actually become more conscious. So, we might say, impurity, loss of innocence is both inevitable and has a purpose. It makes us conscious of the effect of the ‘distance’ between us and the source and what our relationship to the source really is.
We have to put ‘distance’ in inverted commas or else we take the metaphor too literally. If we’re not careful (attentive), we can easily fall into feeling that we are out of touch with the spring of being. That we are lost, alienated, separated. We become nostalgic for a primal purity and innocence of being. Experience, age, time, feel like a sad decline that overshadows even all the real benefits and delights that life brings. Unchallenged, it would lead into a bitter old age. This despair can strike down even the young.
The truth is that every moment we are carried along on the stream of existence that flows from the spring of being. Even when blocked it will force its way through and flow again. Being (like the Father in the Christian idea of God) remains always invisible, a hidden source. Existence (like the Son) is the visible expression of being. It unites the source to the other end of life, the goal, the ocean of being that first becomes knowable in the little spring bubbling up in a corner of a field. The unity of the source and the goal is the Spirit of wholeness.
The visible stream of being in daily life mysteriously mingles purity with impurity, joy with suffering, innocence and guilt, peace with stress, love with fear. In Lent, through giving up, letting go and making more time to pray, we learn to see and accept and actually rejoice in this mixed up mixture that is human existence. We are not angels, thank God. We are not exact answers to mathematical questions. We are not mechanical models. Through our growth in self-knowledge, we see that impurity is useful because it makes us better able to taste the freshness of the spring.
The Kingdom is very close to you, Jesus said. The wisdom of the ages is that the sense of distance, however real it feels and however crippling it can be for our psychological performance in the world, is in fact illusion.
Meditation convinces us not to identify ourselves with the impurities, the flotsam and jetsam that the stream of life accumulates as it becomes a river. We have a wonderful variety of words to describe the different sizes and manifestations of the flow of the spring: words like brook, stream, rivulet, river, ruisseau, courant, fleuve – sorry translators, please add words from your own language to the list… Silence, fortunately, does not need translation, because it is neither conceptual nor linked to the pictures that words embody. Meditation purifies our minds by the always fresh experience of discovering that we are the source as well as the stream and the river. We have this wonderful oneness which makes us essential spiritual beings. In fact, even when we are most impure we are still divinely fresh.