In his essay “Meditation in a Toolshed”, C. S. Lewis writes about seeing a beam of light enter the shed. He notes that it was “pitch black” in the shed but the beam had dust motes in it. As he followed the beam and then stood directly in the light he had a very different perspective. He wrote, “Everything vanished”. As his eyes acclimated to the light, he then could see the green leaves from the tree outside and a sun “90 odd million miles away”.
What makes this essay so interesting is the concept of the beam. He notes, “Looking along the beam and looking at the beam are very different experiences”. He develops the idea of “looking along” vs. “looking at”. Lewis then goes on to discuss cases where being involved in the experience is very different from actually participating in the experience. What one observes from an objective perspective is different from what he experiences from the subjective perspective.
The objective perspective tackles issues like a reporter. He sees the facts as they are presented and records them to help in understanding the situation. The subjective experience involves processing in a different way. Being fully engaged in the situation before us, we bring our life experience and respond through feeling and sensing to its fullest extent. The act of bringing our life experience presents a sort of bias, but it is an important bias nonetheless that will help shape our perspective for the future.
Lewis advocates for the idea of engaging in life from both perspectives. He writes, “A physiologist, for example, can study pain and find out that it is (whatever “is” means) such and such neural events. But the word pain would have no meaning for him unless he had “been inside” by actually suffering. If he had never looked along pain he simply wouldn’t know what he was looking at. The very subject for his inquiries from outside exists for him only because he has, at least once, been inside”.
I thought about this valuable insight when it comes to owning our feelings. We cannot avoid the fact that we will be experiencing something very real in the act of living fully. We are bound to experience hate/love, fear/fearlessness, rejection/acceptance, pain/joy throughout our lives. Such is the human condition.
We cannot avoid the fact that we are in the world and will be hurt by others or by events. These experiences shape us. They plant a kiss or prick our hearts in ways that we remember them. Such experiences help us realize ourselves in deeper ways and help us to fully realize the experience of the soul.
It’s important that we own our feelings and process them. It is also important that we detach and become objective, so as to learn from them. We need to learn how to process then move on from our pain and suffering. This is trickier and easier said than done in some cases.
Our ability to help someone with a problem through our objective perspective is easy. When it comes to our own experience of the same problem and applying our emotions to any given situation, it’s like playing drums in a band and trying to find the right tempo and rhythm. It’s hard. It’s easy to be a critic, hard to be the artist.
Owning our feelings means that we are honest with ourselves. We are taking into account an experience of life and delving deeper to realize in a greater way what our feelings mean to us. Such is the case for a deeper realization of God. In engaging in spiritual development, it is imperative to identify where we stand with God in how we relate to our feelings.
Are we blaming God for our unfortunate circumstances? Are we being honest in how we feel about God at this time? Are we allowing God to participate in the experience at all? Are we considering what might be the deeper lesson here for us that we need to learn?
Owning our feelings may entail talking it through with a counselor or trusted friend, but the issue of God isn’t one that is always addressed in these relationships. The goal of any counselor is to challenge us to identify why we feel what we feel and bring healing to our hearts. Counselors can bring tried and true techniques to help us cope, but that does not mean that the bigger answers will be addressed. That does not necessarily mean God is always a part of the healing equation, but it should.
This is why spiritual direction is important. When we take an issue we are facing, we are focusing on the issue from the spiritual perspective. We are looking directly at the problem and working through it by delving deeper into our spiritual intuitions and being guided from an impartial person.
Lewis reminds us that it is imperative to live from both perspectives. He writes, “We do not know in advance whether the love or the psychologist is giving the correct account of love, or whether both accounts are equally correct in different ways, or whether both are equally wrong. We just have to find out. But the period of brow- beating has got to end”.
He’s right. We engage in our world; we get hurt, we move through our hurt and we heal. We need to be gentle on ourselves and allow the process of life to penetrate our hearts. Hopefully, we can allow the purifying act of God’s love to manifest in its unconditional fullness.