We are all experiencing challenges in life. They may stem from the loss of a loved one or the loss of love or even the loss of innocence in a world that inundates us with cold, hard reality. Our struggle may be the result of a dark night of the soul and our quest for deeper understanding.
When grieving a loss, there is a feeling of exile. We tend to isolate and work through the chaos of our feelings during such times. We experience the pangs of loss and separation. This separation can lead to mental, emotional and physical anguish or a distant feeling and cloud of unknowing that leads to deeper spiritual angst. For some it takes months or even years to work through such pain.
When you are stuck in the middle of an experience of mental/emotional exile, it could be unnerving. It could drive a wedge in relationships and the desire to participate in community lessens.
Some of the great literature of the world discusses this idea of exile and how it leads to alienation. One of the greats in addressing it was Samuel Beckett. His play “Waiting For Godot” addresses the void of exile comically and brilliantly. Didi and Gogo are left to their own devices waiting for Godot to visit them. Lucky and Pozzo who break up the monotony of waiting visit the characters. Pozzo enlightens them on his understanding in the short time he spends with them while keeping tabs on Lucky, his lackey. Some consider that the joke in the play is that Godot has visited them and the two men, Didi and Gogo, fail to realize it.
Sartre’s “No Exit” the characters are doomed to spend eternity with people they cannot stand. He illustrates the idea that “Hell is other people”. Although the existentialists tend to have a darker view of exile, it is critical to understand that this experience of exile is a part of life for all. Sartre’s ideas of self-alienation and the problem of community were fiercely debated by Christian apologists in the forties and fifties.
These works of art challenged me in my youth and my lack of understanding of their meaning inspired great anguish. In my younger days I meandered through life in a persistent brain cloud. Foggy uncertainty and fatigue crippled me in significant ways. Only through a strong spiritual director who challenged me to dig deep into a meaningful understanding of existence, did I begin to dig myself out of the deep muck of dissatisfaction that stifled me.
Our ability to cope and rise above through self-realization and communal mechanisms is critical to our survival. It is also critical to our understanding truth.
Ramana Maharshi, the great Hindu mystic developed his spiritual concepts of self-realization. Ramana Maharshi taught that inner wisdom provides for all who seek to connect with the world. He writes, “One must realize the self in order to open the store of unalloyed happiness”.
Maharshi’s vision of the inner quest for knowledge is nothing new in spiritual teachings, but his words are dynamic and his wisdom and presence inspired people to go deeper. He silently offered “darshan” (blessing) and it is said that the beholder understood his message immediately. He noted that words were a lesser vehicle and silence is where the truth is made manifest in the deepest part of who we are.
Maharshi focused on the individual “I” that is connected to the universe. Through turning within and experiencing the depth of this “I” one is able to see the connection of “I” to the cosmic reality. Once the individual experienced truth within, he was able to extend that to the greater community.
Maharshi wrote, “Society is the body; individuals are its members, its limbs. Just as the individual limbs help and co-operate with one another and thus are happy, so each must be helpful to all in thought, speech and action… One must see the good of one’s own group, i.e., the group that is immediate to him, and then proceed to others”.
This is similar to the idea espoused by St. Paul who wrote about the “Body of Christ” found in its members. The community is critical to the well being of the individual and vice versa. We need each other to function. Although Paul uses this model to refer to each person who uses his gifts to participate in the Body of the Church, Paul alludes to the power of using our gifts to awaken Christ in within.
Ultimately, our experience of the void and helplessness from trouble and loss is healed by our ability to reach out to community. Our conscious connection to a life within will bring deep understanding to our lives without.