Dear Fr. O’Shea,
…. I notice that you write about meditation a lot. Not meaning to be offensive, could you write about something else for a change? Meditation seems to be a very subjective thing and when there are so many real problems in the church like child abuse why don’t you write about them? What we need now is to deal with real problems…. There’s a real world out there and we need to be objective. I like some parts of your website… I’m just trying to help. Joe C.
By asking this question you are forcing me to write once more about meditation! In fact I just try to give replies to the questions I’m asked.
Someone asked me the other day how people who have had spiritual experiences get back to ordinary reality afterwards. I replied that they have no trouble, because they haven’t been anywhere. Meditation is not about going into an alternative reality (can there be such a thing?); it is about going more deeply into this one.
I always shift in my seat when someone talks about ‘the real world out there.’ There is only one world, and it includes us human beings with all our thoughts and hopes and fantasies; it includes our ‘subjectivity’, if we have to use that word. We shouldn’t imagine the subjective and the objective as alternative worlds that we can choose between. There is ultimately no way to avoid facing what we call our subjectivity. We don’t become ‘objective’ by ignoring or denying subjectivity. If we haven’t faced our own subjectivity we don’t know what we are doing in the ‘objective’ world. Modern history is rich in examples of dictators who brutally imposed their own unexamined egos on whole populations.
Undesirable as it might appear to many people, the question of subjectivity keeps on arising. Modern popular culture is seriously messed up at this level. We love to read about people in the papers (and if that isn’t turning them into objects, what is?), but what we want to get at is their subjectivity. We want to get inside the minds of public figures – politicians, actors and celebrities. We want to know ‘objectively’ what these people feel subjectively. It’s a form of pornography: it is an attempt to access subjectivity ‘objectively’. You may remember T.S. Eliot’s terrible indictment of the 20th century: it will be remembered, he said, as a time when people “fornicated and read the papers.”
I am convinced of the practical necessity of meditation. It is a determined effort to confront our own subjectivity in the interests of our real life and the lives of the people we live with – in the interests of ‘the real world out there’, as you call it. What would Mahatma Ghandi have been if he had never meditated? What would Hitler have been if he had?
Meditation doesn’t impose itself as an urgent necessity. In the world of advertising, in which we are steeped, the real urgent necessities are fashion accessories, convenience foods, and electronic gadgets. I’ve no doubt you will agree that no one can live on these alone. But while ignoring the products on offer we are still in danger of being controlled by the mind that underlies them: a mind that says the remedy for our ills lies in yet another product ‘out there’. The so-called ‘real world’ is mind-made. Meditation is about having a different mind, “a new mind,” St Paul called it. It doesn’t impose itself as an urgent necessity, but it is probably the most urgent of all.I hope the meaning of meditation will click for you sometime, Joe. In the meantime don’t be put off by anything I say about it. It is more than all of us. It is simpler than any of us. It reveals itself to us when we are pulled out from under the mind-made world and become simple like children. It is the depth that is “hidden from the wise and the intelligent and revealed to infants” (Lk 10:21).