"How do we get there?" was the question raised last Tuesday at the conclusion of the first meeting of the Caf Society, an intergenerational dialogue held every Tuesday morning from 8:30-9:30 in the Rumsey Room of Shepherd's Student Center. Co-facilitator Mike Austin had turned to my silent self at meeting's end to inquire if I had anything to add. The issue before us was income inequality. While I did not have anything to say on that specific issue, I did offer a thought from 13th century Persian Sufi mystical poet Rumi who said, "Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field, I'll meet you there". I commented that I always find that quote helpful in maintaining peace of soul when dealing with life's intractable issues such as income inequality. From across the room a gentleman asked, "How do we get there"? My answer was "You're already there".
That answer is true in concept but no doubt left the questioner still perplexed. So this being a column on spiritual development, I thought I would elaborate on Rumi's "field" and how to get there.
First of all, what is this field he refers to? It is a place within the soul that transcends the capabilities of the intellect. It is a place that medieval mystic Meister Eckhart refers to as "the cloud of unknowing" in his classic work by that name. It is difficult to describe because, being mystical, it is ineffable. We may imagine it though as a place where opposites are reconciled, paradoxes dissolved, where peace prevails. It is a place within the soul that rides, as it were, above the issue. This does not mean that the issue is dismissed; it means that the person considering the issue maintains him/herself in peacefulness while addressing it and also maintains its perspective: the big picture.
While it can be presented to the intellect by means of the imagination, its felt energy is more than that: it's a gift of Spirit. To arrive at this place of feeling ordinarily requires a regular spiritual practice such as meditation or shamanic journeying. Usually in the immediate moment we anchor ourselves there by reminding ourselves of its existence and then taking a deep breath. We step back. This gets us through. What regular spiritual practice adds is a sense of the field as one's home space, readily accessed and dwelling in the memory, and never far from awareness. When all is said and done, it is a place of Love. Having been there once, the soul cannot forget it.
I think of the movie, The African Queen, named for Humphrey Bogart's boat. He and Katherine Hepburn are intently travelling down river on the boat trying to escape catastrophe. What they want is a quick escape but they find themselves mired in reeds, covered with leeches, and unable to move. As they look at each other in despair, the camera rises to reveal that their destination is just yards away beyond the reeds but out of their sight. Were they ever to be in that spot again, they would simply say, "It's right over there. No problem." It's also a life lesson they can take to all other situations, "Remember how hopeless we felt? Let's look beyond the reeds this time."
Bill O'Brien is a spiritual development practitioner. He and his wife Linda have lived in Shepherdstown since 2005. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.