Last week we saw how Teilhard de Chardin described his journey into himself in which he, without aid of conventional religious thinking, begins to unfold the leaves of his being to find the bud, the kernel, of his person. While overtones of Christian belief obviously color this description, this week we’ll take a look at some of the steps that he describes for their secular basis.
We will be exploring the idea of secular meditation.
The Steps of Teilhard’s Journey
The poetic nature and religious overtones of Teilhard’s description of his meditation belie the secular nature of the five basic steps he describes:
Step 1: Recognizing the facets of our person
“I took the lamp and, leaving the zones of everyday occupations and relationships, where my identity, my perception of myself is so dependent on my profession, my roles- where everything seems clear, I went down into my inmost self, to the deep abyss whence I feel dimly that my power of action emanates.”
Here Teilhard explores the ‘scaffolding’ of his person: those influences which affect the development of personality: beliefs, faiths and fears. How much of who we are and what we believe have we consciously accepted, as opposed to those facades which we have grown as a protective skin to ward off the dangers of life?
Step 2: Accepting where we are
”At each step of the descent, with the removal of layers of my identity defined from without, a new person was disclosed within me of whose name I was no longer sure, and who no longer obeyed me.”
What happens when we begin to recognize these facades and scaffoldings, and try to imagine the consequence of divesting ourselves of them? How can we ultimately trust that what lies beneath is indeed ‘trustworthy’? Upon what can we place our faith in our capacity for the ‘dangerous actions’ that we must undertake each day?
Step 3: Acknowledging our powerlessness
“And when I had to stop my descent because the path faded from beneath my steps, I found a bottomless abyss at my feet, and from it flowed, arising I know not from where, the current which I dare to call my life.
This is a difficult step for most of us. As Teilhard puts it, “My self is given to me far more than it is formed by me.” Whatever skills I have learned, tactics that I have developed and beliefs that I have forged, I have no control over the basic person I am or the energy of cosmic becoming that flows into me.
Step 4: Accepting powerlessness
“My self is given to me far more than it is formed by me.” “In the last resort, the profound life, the fontal life, the new-born life, escapes our life entirely.”
This step is even more difficult. Beneath the trepidation of the many actions required of us in our daily lives is the fear of their consequences. Will I be able to successfully deal with the consequences of my decisions without the armors of ego, self-centeredness and emotional distance? Am I even able to predict the consequences of my actions, much less survive dealing with them? Ultimately, in spite of my profession, family and friends am I not alone?
Step 5: Trusting the ground of being
“At that moment, I felt the distress characteristic to a particle adrift in the universe, the distress which makes human wills founder daily under the crushing number of living things and of stars. And if something saved me, it was hearing the voice of the Gospel, guaranteed by divine success, speaking to me from the depth of the night:
“It is I, be not afraid.”
How do I dare believe that whatever is at the source of my being, it is nonetheless on my side? How is it possible to see this ‘fontal’ life which pours into me at each moment as an individual instantiation of the general forces which have brought (and are still bringing) the universe into being? How do I dare trust that these forces, welling up over billions of years, will continue to well up in me. How can I begin to recognize and more importantly cooperate with this inner source of energy so that I can be carried onto a more complete possession of myself?
There is nothing religious about these five steps. The assumptions about the nature of the universe (The Framing of the Universe, parts 1-4, 11-23 June) that science and biology assert, once the phenomenon of increasing complexity is added, are all that is necessary to state them. As these posts discuss, the addition of this phenomenon, while not a specific scientific theory, not only is necessary for inclusion of the human person in the scope of scientific enquiry, it is also necessary for the process of evolution itself. A universe without increasing complexity would not evolve.
Many readers will note the similarity between these five steps and the very successful “Ten Steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous. The foundational step of exploring and learning to trust one’s self is at the basis of much of Western thinking. Psychology, as we will see in the next few posts, can therefore be seen as ‘secular meditation’.
The Next Post
This week we explored Teilhard’s approach to meditation as a skill through which we can make contact with our ‘core of being’, and through this with God, and identified five basic steps which emerge from our general search for the “Secular Side of God”.
Next week we will take a look at how psychology can be seen as a form of “secular meditation”.