When we consider anything from a spiritual perspective, we encounter a paradox in some way, because both our spirituality and paradoxes take us into the mysterious unity that gives rise to the incredible diversity of life. And the beauty is that, within this mystery, we do not have to have precise, conclusive answers for our questions: it is enough to be aware of them and to be nourished and enlightened by the power they acquire by belonging to the infinite wholeness of reality.
From, In the Middle of Things, p. 115
In the Middle of Things is a book about reflecting on everyday life in ways that keep us in touch with what gives our lives meaning in a deep sense. For me, this kind of reflecting activity is what “spirituality” actually is in its fundamental sense. So, because I understand spirituality primarily as a human capacity for finding meanings in the events of our lives (rather than adhering to a specific religious or philosophical tradition), the book draws on ideas from a wide variety of sources, ranging from speculations about the spirituality of our prehistoric ancestors to contemporary music, poetry, and quantum physics.
Basically, the book is a collection of reflective, philosophical essays, which focus on common questions and paradoxes that are part of everyday life. But I’m not using the word “philosophical” in an academic sense: I’m not trying to put forward any particular theory about anything. For me, philosophical reflection is a “way of life,” which makes it an extremely practical activity, in spite of its reputation as being excessively intellectual and abstract. Deep reflection always involves us with more than our intellects: it brings into play our emotions, our experiences and aspirations, and perhaps most importantly, the mysterious sense I believe we all have of being participants in a reality that transcends what we can know and experience at any given moment. When we pay close attention to the ideas and events that occupy us in our everyday lives, we are, I believe, giving expression to our nature as persons capable of spiritual insight, capable of seeing beyond the objective facts of our experiences into the heart of what gives them meaning.
This way of understanding philosophical reflection in a practical, spiritually nourishing way is in keeping with a longstanding tradition, which is brilliantly depicted by Pierre Hadot (1922-2010) in his book, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault (1995). In keeping with this tradition, In the Middle of Things is not a book that puts forward a specific method or teaching, rather, it is intended as a way of stimulating readers to delve into their own lives in ways that bring them closer to the source of their own deepest meanings. It is my belief that, as we delve deeper into the nature of ourselves as persons, we come into a realization of the fundamental unity to which everyone and everything belongs. So, in this sense, the book is centered around or grounded within a core idea, namely, that we live in a world that belongs to everyone and everything in it. But this idea is so fundamental that I believe it resides in the minds and hearts of every human person, which means it can act as a kind of catalyst or stimulus for each of us to explore ourselves and our world in creative ways that honor both the diversity and the unity of our world.
In keeping with this understanding of our world as a diversity-in-unity, the first section of In the Middle of Things is about asking meaningful questions in ways that bring people together in spite of having different points of view, and in the second section, it’s about doing this in spite of the apparent contradictions – the paradoxes – we face as part of our everyday lives.
Because In the Middle of Things presents spirituality as a basic human capacity, I believe it is in tune with an emerging body of literature devoted to recognizing a common wisdom that can be shared by all people, regardless of their cultural background or faith tradition. Recently, the Dalai Lama has been an outspoken advocate of this viewpoint. But it’s not really a new idea. In fact, many aspects of our major religious traditions point to the underlying unity of all spiritual aspirations, although, as history clearly shows, this unity has yet to become fully realized.
Obviously, we need to nurture our capacity for this kind of fundamental spiritual activity, which sees ourselves and our world primarily as a unity, or more specifically, a diversity-in-unity. Why? Because today there are so many cultural and ideological pressures that perpetuate an acceptance of living in societies that are highly fragmented, perhaps the most obvious being our addiction to objectifying many if not most aspects of our lives. But because our world actually is a unity we share with everyone and everything, and because human consciousness gives us a capacity for recognizing this reality, we can respond to those aspects of our lives that generate the illusion of separateness by living as genuine participants in the events of our everyday lives. When we do this – when we live as genuinely interdependent rather than independent persons – we are living “in the middle of things,” which, I believe, is a place where we can always be in touch with what is most meaningful to us.
Table of Contents
Preface: Common Ground
Part One: Questions That Bring Us Together
Question 1 Do We Already Have What We Need?
Question 2 Why Are There Spiritual Experiences?
Question 3 What Do We Belong To?
Question 4 Why Do Images Penetrate Us More Deeply Than Thoughts?
Question 5 Are We Born To Be Good?
Question 6 Why Do We Get in Our Own Way So Often?
Question 7 Why Is There Always More Than Meets the Eye?
Question 8 Why Is an End Always a Beginning?
Part Two: Seeing With the Eyes of Paradox
Paradox 1 Light in Darkness: Seeing with Eyes of Faith
Paradox 2 Complete by Being Incomplete: Living with the Heart of a Small Child
Paradox 3 Strength in Weakness: Embodying Fundamental Power
Paradox 4 Freedom in Necessity: The Creativity of Submission
Paradox 5 Extraordinary Ordinariness: The Art of Always Belonging
Paradox 6 Life in Death: Sustaining the Journey of Unconditional Love
Afterword: Uniqueness Unfolding in Unity
Book available at Indigo Chaptersand Amazon
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