One of the great deceptions of our automated world, where people as well as perishable goods are
earmarked with an expiry date, is the dreadful lie of the easy path to peace and enlightenment. These two ways are invariably sold and
packaged together. The reality
is more sobering and gut-wrenching. Most of us know, as if by an inborn instinct, there are no short-cuts to realizing the divine
within. For some of us this struggle
to realize our potential and come to terms with our “faith seeking
understanding” will take many years, if not decades. Anselm knew well what he
was talking about with his famous motto fides
In other words, “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.” And
even after having arrived at this “good place”, where we have touched upon some
little understanding, the struggle
does not end. No one can
fight this most important of battles for us; we are alone to work our way through the darkness until we come across one or
two shards of blazing light.
That is, until we go to sleep one fateful night knowing and believing
we would suffer it all again... All of
it… to be at the place where we are at that very moment, when it seemed the
heavens opened up for us alone that we might catch a glimpse of our true name:
“…and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one
who receives it” (Rev. 2:17).
There is no hidden secret to peace and enlightenment. If there are any secrets, they are evident ones we all discern and attempt to put into practice knowing in our hearts the truth is stumbling upon us rather than the other way round. Gratia urget nos, “grace presses on us”. There is a mystic in each one of us: we have all prayed, or have been dazzled by the stars, or have wept to music. The search for peace itself is mystical at its core. The problem is though these ‘secrets’ are plain enough to see, it is very difficult to consistently put them into practice. These universal truths, sagacious and sensible lessons, have been freely given to us and put down in writing by the wisdom teachers of our collective spiritual tradition. I lived by these few simple but life-altering lessons for many years until without realizing, I gradually abandoned them as I became immersed in the games and intrigues of the world. When I did begin to understand once more, it was almost too late. I thought that “I” knew better and tried to resolve the suffering in my life on my own terms. This is one of the fundamental mistakes which normally goes by the name of pride and is particularly dangerous for a religious who believes they are practising humility. Of course, there is and will be, that right moment when it seems the great resolution has come, but pride would make us blind to the fact that there are strong forces, even on the outside of ourselves, which influence our decision making and can often determine the journey ahead. These ‘strong forces’, opportunity or chance for instance, cannot be ignored nor can they be underestimated for they are always there. This interplay between the self and the outside is like the flesh and sinews which wrap around the bones of the living.
Everything which was good and peaceful in my life revolved around detachment, for example, making an effort to remain unaffected by either praise or criticism. Detachment is not indifference.  It is neither apathy nor absence; it is a dignified and quiet presence. It is from this place of stillness and self-control that most favourable things will flow. I will talk again about these lessons later, but they do revolve around three things: love, humility, and self-knowledge. Above all else self-sacrificing love. “Love, and do what you will” are the famous if not scandalous words of Saint Augustine. But what he really is saying, that everything we do, should find its first cause in love: our silence, our tears, and even all that from which we refrain. Those who genuinely experience and participate in this communion of Love are incapable of causing intentional hurt to others. Admittedly, these are idealistic words and few of us will know what it is like to live wholeheartedly by their creed. Yet whatever our weakness or frailty, it should not exclude or discourage us from sharing in the ancient wisdom of such timeless revelations which have from the beginning been disclosed to the heart. In the Gospels the “heart” is where both “good” and “evil” can be stored up (Lk 6:45) and it is the organ of our spiritual and moral cognisance (Mk 2:6-8). This is typical of spiritual literature and emblematic of the universal comprehension of the heart as the place of the subconscious, and seat of the emotions, passions, and appetites.
One of the enduringly hard questions for those interested in the religious experience of humankind has been: why does it seem that the great religious traditions lead us on different, if not often times diametrically opposing paths. Is not all of this hopelessly misleading for our spirit, and can it not ‘twist’ us out of shape? I will not pretend to know the answer. All I can do is to share something of my own response as I have grappled with the question over many years and after having sat at the feet of some wonderful teachers. In my personal encounters with these wise men and women from both the desert and the city, I could not help but observe a discernible parallel in the philosophy of how “good religion” is both understood and practised. I was profoundly excited by this “discovery” for though it was certainly no hidden secret and it is there in plain print in our wisdom literature, it is a lesson that will not come easy. It is for the individual soul to wrestle with the revelation. None of this belongs entirely to the imaginary realm, but it is real like a deep cut to the flesh or the sharp sting of a red pepper on the tongue.
 Saint Anselm’s Proslogion, Preface.
 If you wish to explore “detachment” at the profoundly deeper level and its connection to apatheia [‘passionlessness’ or ‘dispassion’] then please see: Anthony M. Coniaris, A Beginner’s Introduction to the Philokalia, (Light & Life, USA, 2004).
 In Epist. Joann. Tractatus, vii, 8.
 John Climacus: From the Egyptian Desert to the Sinaite Mountain, John Chryssavgis, [Chapter 3 Kardia: The Heart], (Ashgate, England, 2004).
 Ninian Smart, The Religious Experience of Mankind, (Scribner, New York, 1984).