August 28, 2007

The Presence Within / Mother Theresa

I wonder if Mother Theresa had a friend whom she allowed to get close to her heart, if she would have felt a holding and mirroring presence... And if so, I wonder if Mother Theresa could have born the weight of revealing her primitive agonies and the pain of betraying her essential presence (God within)… In the light of love, of loving kindness, of holding, and most importantly, of accurate mirroring, I wonder if with this kind of holding Mother Theresa may have drawn closer to realizing her own essential presence, her own authentic connection with God, with Being. If she had this, she may have turned within and realized this Presence right there in her own heart.

I’m speaking of a spiritual friend’s deep capacity for loving-kindness, for holding and accurate mirroring, which is huge and infinite in importance. Each of us has this capacity within, this authentic self that is the touch-point with God, that is the conduit, opening through which God-as-the-Unmanifest is connected with God-as-Manifestation, where the inner sky of emptiness meets the outer sky of form. Suzuki Roshi said we are the swinging door between these two, which are "not-two, not one." Here on this spot is where non-dual Presence is realized.

One could feel as though I were aggrandizing another’s capacity in this regard. However it seems to me that one cannot really inflate the capacity of this authentic Presence within. What is your experience of touching this Presence in others? Is not its capacity for light and love, wisdom and compassion, clarity, accuracy and warmth unfathomable? I see this essential presence in others. I see and feel and sense this touch-point, an access or opening to authentic presence, or God. This is the intimacy that cannot be manufactured. It does not come and go. It is inherent in our very nature. It is already, always present within, only usually covered over, hidden in the open, deep within our primitive agonies and all the subsequent strategies of creating a shell and distraction through preoccupation that we use to deal with our suffering. Being honest with oneself, one cannot pretend to this intimacy.

In her deeply private moments, talking honestly to herself in her journal, Mother Theresa bared the alienation she experienced; she tried to fathom the depths of her emptiness, understand the silence and separation she experienced when she turned her heart to God. She had performed this tremendous selfless work over the course of a lifetime, yet something essential was missing, she was not connected with what she sensed was something essentially important, the most important thing, and she could not fake it. The pretense of sainthood did not feed her. Apparently divine sustenance did not follow from her works or other's conviction and projection that she was the epitome of goodness, love, charity, and benevolence.

Mother Theresa could not pretend to intimacy with God. She had tasted it long ago. She had the marker for it, the bliss and freedom of this connection, so she could not pretend to its sacred intimacy when that connection was missing. She realized the taste of real water, the deep authenticity of it, how it refreshes, enlivens, rejuvenates; how deeply delightful it is. No picture of water, no image, no words, concepts, ideas or representations of water will quench one's thirst. It cannot be faked. Only genuine water will quench her thirst, and she had a deep, deep thirst for communion with the divine. Nothing can take its place. Not all the riches in the world. Not all the philosophical speculation and genius. Not all the asceticism, or all the good works in the world can take the place of realizing one's true nature. And it seems to start with self-realization. It seems to start within, with a return to the vast silence and emptiness of the inner sky. But there is a gate within and that gate seems to be not so easy to storm or take by force or will. It is not responsive to wealth or bribery, or acts of any kind, whether good or bad. It seems somehow indifferent to all of our strategies and manipulations. In fact it seems that we have to go through considerable layers - often involving suffering, facing our unfinished psychological business, exposing our shell, cocoon, and conditioned identity, the primitive agonies of the early wounds, particularly the wound of separation when we turned from our essential presence to get along and survive in the world - to even get close to the gate. Then we still find we are not able to just walk into that intimacy we so deeply thirst for. We have to wait, ripen, inquire, open and uncover more subtle layers of pretense, or resistance, of holding on, before we are, suddenly, spontaneously, pulled through the gate without the use of our hands. It is a mystery, involving grace, not-knowing, humility, suffering, softening of the shell, release, openness. Even then the groove of conditioning revisits us repeatedly, pulling us back into conceptualizing our experience, and rehabilitating the shell.

What impulse has us begin to experience our shell, to seek out our essential presence, to return to the gate, the source? St John of the Cross speaks to this mystery beautifully when he says,

"I always shall be moved to go
largely to something I don't know
that one may come on randomly."
This is really open. This deep openness, not-knowing, is not found in a church or in the teachings of a religion; not found in the tenets of Mother Theresa's foundational faith. There was some point of aliveness and authenticity within her that she was out of touch with. There is a touch-point of vastness in each of us that the mind cannot get itself around. That is a good thing as it holds the possibility that the mind, when it encounters this vastness, might come to rest, fall into silence, giving way to the emergence of intimacy of the soul.

Whoever made the call to release Mother Theresa's journals instead of burning them according to her wishes made a contribution. There are many people sincerely wrestling with their own alienation, and these honest admissions may provide insight and honest encouragement to them as they come to grips with their own loneliness, as they muddle through and discover what their particular suffering, their soft underbelly of tenderness has to teach them; as they explore their primitive agonies, the origins of their own feelings of separation and disconnectedness; as they face the vast emptiness of the unmanifest, and realize within them is the touch-point of their own original face, their true being. In my experience this is the antidote to alienation and the door to love, freedom and bliss.


irving said...

A beautiful post :)

On the Sufi path, doubt is part of the lessons we learn; and always, always, when in the greatest doubt, some small miraculous act will trip you in your doubting tracks; some small voice out of the depth of your heart will laugh at you. Doubt is like rust on the mirror. We polish and polish to let the light shine through, but sometimes the world intrudes and we neglect our inner work, and the rust collects.

Apparently Mother Teresa heard the Voice once, and wanted so badly to hear it again, as if one such great blessing were not enough. Such is human frailty, though it does not make her work and her deeds any less. Look what she accomplished in her doubt. What have we accomplished in our belief?

Peace and Blessings!

iHermit of CowPi said...

Beautiful post, but...

I mostly agree with your comments about mirroring, but mirroring only works up to a point. Whether we are married or not, we all sleep spiritually alone until the Wedding Banquet in heaven.

Who could have mirrored and shared the emptiness of Mother Mary after her son's crucifixion (or even his Ascension)? Mother Theresa is not on par with Mary, but can a mirror see itself reflected in another mirror? The more polished the mirror, the more is reflected, less interference, less absorption.

"Apparently divine sustenance did not follow from her works..." -- Why should it? The opportunity to love *is* the reward for loving. Giving goes with receiving. Mother Theresa gave almost as much as she received, and so it follows she would feel empty. She held nothing for herself.

"As flowing water falls to seek the lowest point, it gives all its energy away until none remains, and then returns to its source to fall again. What does the water gain from this falling? What does life gain?"

I partially disagree with Irving. You can view doubt as rust on a mirror, or you can view doubt as what polishes the mirror.

"On the thin border
between faith and doubt walks Christ,
calling all to trust."

A total and complete trust. A total and complete giving over to God. A total and complete emptying of oneself of dependence on things of this world so that one can depend totally and completely on God. If that does not involve doubt--doubt in what is not seen, doubt with oneself--then it is not faith; it is something else.

Which leads to the question we all eventually must answer: Do you love God for his consolations? Or do you love God for God's sake? Although she may have wished for the consolations, Mother Theresa has shown us, as you have elegantly pointed out, that she would rather love God (and others) for God's sake.

Sometime ago before this recent round on Mother Theresa's suffering, Fr. Cantalamessa, the preacher to the the pope, outlined three purposes for her suffering: to provide the humility necessary to inoculate against the fame and praise the world would shower upon her; to enable her to experience the isolation and desolation of the sick and rejected she ministered to; and as a special gift, a share in the Lord's spiritual suffering during His passion.