..from infinity, and beyond

As we enter the world we are infinite. We have no boundary. We are also zero. At three months, or so, we begin to distinguish that there is an “other” – the breast as part object. By 6 months old the boundary between us and the other (usually mother) is clear; and often frightening. Warmth, food, security and affection can be withdrawn as well as present. Our world is strait, though we do not know it. As we age and explore we push the boundary back; and back. If we are fortunate, and conquer our fear, we realise once more that there is no boundary. We are existence and all of existence is us. Death is an illusion. When we leave the world we can then fade to white and lose the loneliness and fear that haunts life, to experience all that is directly once more.

Quality of Attention

We often know when we are being looked at, even from behind. This has been proved repeatedly in mass experiments; and it’s something we each have felt. It doesn’t happen always, but the statistics are indisputable. We often know when we are being watched.

What is the quality that distinguishes the times that we do, from those where we don’t (know that we are being observed)?  Intensity surely is partly responsible. There is a difference between a casual glance and a powerful gaze. We need then to beware an intensity that intrudes, that breaks into privacy. I also believe that the type of focus is important. If you like, the intention or quality, of attention. There is a difference between a young man’s gaze at a girl, a boxer’s focus on his opponent,  and a mother’s rapt enwrapping of her infant. (Winnicott’s “maternal reverie”).

Lord, grace  this day with your restful gaze. Let me look at those around me unintrusively, respecting silence and privacy – but with something of the lilt of your enfolding joy.

What is clear, at least to me, is that living is  meeting. Thinking, no matter how clever, is futile if there is no engagement. (When all is done and all is said/ that all takes place inside my head). Attention, the meeting of minds and souls, is the stuff of life. Martin Buber (Ich und Du) distinguishes engagement of I-It (Ich-Es) from I-Thou (Ich-Du), and more – he invites us again and again to live by whole-hearted meeting rather than by withdrawal behind a barricade of ideas. He calls this living the “speaking” of the primary word I-Thou, rather than the emptiness of the primary word I-It.

“To be sure, many a man who is satisfied with the experience and use of the world of things has raised over about himself a structure of ideas, in which he finds refuge and repose from the oncome of nothingness. On the threshold he lays aside his inauspicious everyday dress, wraps himself in pure linen, and regales himself with the spectacle of primal bein, or of necessary being; but his life has no part in it. To proclaim his ways may even fill him with well-being.

But mankind of mere IT this is imagined, postulated, and propagated by such a man has nothing in common with a living mankind where THOU may truly be spoken. The noblest fiction is a fetish, the loftiest fictitious sentiment is depraved. Ideas are no more enthroned above our heads than Resident in them; they wander amongst us – and accost us. The man who leaves the primary word unspoken is to be pitied; but the man who addresses instead these ideas with an abstraction or a password, as if it were their name, is contemptible”

Lord, you are present when I I address all that I meet as Thou. This day,  let me speak the primary word I-Thou in all of my looking.





Duality, Love and Evolution

We think in terms of opposing forces, opposites. Duality flows  from the fact of boundary created as we separate from the whole of existence – initially physically at birth, and then psychically in infancy. This schism has been expressed in many ways, often as opposing forces.For instance – good / evil ;life / death; aggressive / erotic ; Me / Not Me ; extrovert / introvert. I believe that the point of duality is in our response to it. There is a fundamental difference in outcome between choice between, and integration of – opposites.

Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein conceived of opposing Life and Death instincts. However surely a “Death” instinct is incompatible with evolution, what purpose is served by a “Death” instinct? More natural is Donald Winnicott’s expression of an Aggressive component, born of opposition and an Erotic component, born of complementarity – the birth of these components arising as an infant realises that there is a Me and a Not-Me. Carl Jung conceived of the struggle to integrate opposing forces. Many of us are familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality typing that arises from Jung with its 4 dimensions –  Extrovert-Introvert; Thinking-Feeling; Sensing-Intuition; and Judging-Perceiving. From the dawn of our species we have observed the difference between Light and Dark and described our nature as Good or Evil. Martin Buber gives us the double-dual-whammy of I-Thou way of being “over against” I-It.

“There is, Buber shows, a radical difference between man’s attitude to other men and his attitude to things. The attitude to other men is a relation between persons, to things it is a connexion with objects. ..These two attitudes represent the basic twofold situation of human life, the former constitutes the world of THOU and the latter the world of IT” Ronald Gregor Smith, translator of Ich Und Du

It appears then that fundamental to our reaction to the fact of our existence; woven into the fabric of our way of thinking and being, is duality – expressed as an opposition of forces.

What then is our response? Is it passive as in choice or balance or active – as in process or integration? Admitting polarity in all things – what should be our reaction. Do we choose – for instance between Good or Evil? Should we seek balance between different drives into a kind of dynamic equilibrium – for instance striving to be at the centre point of extroversion and introversion? Is reality in fact a process budding eternally at the very boundary that arises out of duality – life within Winnicott’s Transitional Space or Whitehead’s point of prehension? Or is it there a further truth behind this duality – the point being what arises out of unification of opposites ? After all paraphrasing Beethoven – there cannot be loud without soft, it is in contrast that music arises.

Perhaps its personal taste. If so then, at least for me, integration of duality is our purpose, and one which is unceasing because there is a counterveiling force of differentiation. There is a flow of existence which is driven by splitting and unification, birth and death. Duality is dynamic not static and the fundamental creative contrast is actually that of differentiation and integration. Freud’s Life/Death instincts replaced by Integration/Differentiation forces. This isn’t an original thought, and it’s not mine. It is inherent in the world-view of eastern tradition (Yin-Yang etc) and possibly our western ancestors (see Wisdom of the Wyrd, Brian Bates). It was  one of Carl Jung’s fundamental insights – “Much of Carl Jung’s writings are linked by the theme that mental illness is characterized by disunity of the personality, whilst mental health is manifested by unity” (Jung: Selected Writings, Anthony Storr).

If then we conceive of a schism-powered flow, what is the destination and what is the fundamental motive impulse? Well there you have Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the fundamental duality being spirit and material – an inner and outer. For him underlying existence is the force of Love, which powers evolution. An evolution conceived as complexification through spheres of the physical, chemical, biological to that of ideas – until we become conscious of God that is Love that is all. “There is a duality of material and spiritual, which he calls the “without” and “within”. He traces the development of the “within”, an evolution of consciousness. He names man as a stage in that process associated with the phase-shift from the evolution of biology to the evolution of ideas”.

In Teilhard de Chardin’s words:

“If there were no internal propensity to unite, even at a prodigiously rudimentary level — indeed in the molecule itself — it would be physically impossible for love to appear higher up, with us, in hominized form. . . . Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being.”

Seeing the forest or the tree?

Is a forest properly represented by each of the trees that comprise it? On the other hand, can the forest be comprehended without experiencing the trees that together constitute it?

The first verse of Dante’s Comedy reads – in translation..

“Midway upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark

For the straightforward pathway had been lost”


I don’t speak Italian, but the cadence of language matters I believe. If you read aloud the original, even without understanding, you get a musical sense of the meaning..

“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

mi ritrovai per una selva oscure

che’ la diritta via era smarrita”

A part, possibly the majority, of the meaning has been lost in the translation. But for those who don’t read Italian – you need that translation to understand the intellectual sense.

It happens that I have first hand experience, not just of Dante’s mid-life crisis, but of different understanding through language. My family moved to Germany in 1958 when I was tiny. I learned German at kindergarten, and moved back to England when I was 4 years old. Now I can’t understand the books I read or wrote as a 3 year old. I don’t speak or understand German “intellectually”. However strangely I do “get” the meaning of much of German that is spoken even though I don’t have the vocabulary. I know this because much of my working life has dealt with German companies. I suppose I am understanding the language as a 3 year old would. I understand, but emotionally, not rationally.

Which leads me, circuitously, to my point. An idea, person, place – anything and everything – can be understood on many levels and in many ways. The meaning does not lie wholly, or even mainly, in the intellectual rational plane.

We need to be intensely careful of judgement. Very often we do not understand that which we judge, but instead project out our own concerns and meanings to clothe the outward idea or person – and then utter condemnation or approval.

Returning to the theme of trees. Here is a stanza from Buber’s Ich und Du…


“I consider a tree.

I can look on it as a picture: stiff column in a shock of light, or splash of green shot with the delicate blue and silver of the background.

I can perceive it as movement: flowing veins on clinging, pressing pith, suck of the roots, breathing of the leaves, ceaseless commerce with earth and air – and the obscure growth itself.

I can classify it in a species and study it as a type in its structure and mode of life.

I can subdue its actual presence and form so sternly that I recognise it only as an expression of law – of the laws in accordance with which a constant opposition of forces is continually adjusted, or of those in accordance with which the component substances mingle and separate.

I can dissipate it and perpetuate it in number, in pure numerical relation.

In all this the tree remains my object, occupies space and time, and has its nature and constitution.

It can, however, also come about, if I have both will and grace, that in considering the tree I become bound up in relation to it. The tree is now no longer IT. I have been seized by the power of exclusiveness.”


All that is appears to us divided

There is me and you or rather

so it seems.

But I, I alone, am dead, for what enlivens

is the fullness of the space between

Vibrating with knowl – edge

It is our boundaries that hum as they connect

Ours alone self-centred on neglect,

The reason we are apart, you and I is

just so

That we can see each other and thus – us

we be

wholly, wholly, wholly. Whole.

Lord God Trimegistus. Ich und Du. Wir Danke.

Consciousness arises from integration, which.

Is possible only with separation





I and Thou

There is a brilliant introduction to Buber’s I and Thou in the English translation by Ronald Gregor Smith. I have extracted some excerpts below..

“There is, Buber shows, a radical difference between man’s attitude to other men and his attitude to things. The attitude to other men is a relation between persons, to things it is a connexion with objects. In the personal relation one subject – I – confronts andother subject – Thou; in the connexion with things the subject contemplates and experiences and object. These two attitudes represent the basic twofold situation of human life, the former constitutes the world of THOU and the latter the world of IT.

The other person, the THOU, is shown to be a reality – that is, it is given to me, but is not bounded by me: “Thou has no bounds”; the Thou cannot be appropriated, but I am brought up short against it. The characteristic situation is here one of meeting: I meet the Other. In the reality of this meeting no reduction of the I or of the Thou, to experiencing subject and experienced object, is possible.

The world of objects or things, on the other hand, presupposes a single centre of consciousness, one subject, an I which experiences, arranges, and appropriates. This is the characteristic world of modern activity…

Put in another way, this primary distinction between the two orders in which men live concerns on the one hand the meaning of community, and on the other hand the meaning of organisation.

The relation of the one observing subject to the other observing subjects within the same closed system was not seriously considered. Buber has given intellectual status to the problem of the relation between persons (..and God) and has thus called in doubt the massive monistic system within which idealist philosophy has worked.

In dogmatic theology, too, the same new tendencies are at work. Objects are in the past, but the relation of the I to the Thou is in the present.

What Buber has done is to state in classic form the nature of the claim made upon us by the “transcendent”… faith is a meeting: it is not a trust in the world of It, of creeds or other forms, which are objects, and have their life in the past; nor is it, on the other hand, a reliance on the “wholly other” God; but it is the meeting with the eternal Thou Who is both the Other and the Present One.

.. the influence of Buber is thus manifest in every fundamental sphere of human activity, it is possible to perceive both anticipatory and parallel influences at work. Already in the middle of the nineteenth century Soren Kierkegaard, in his attack on the reigning Hegelian philosophy, had shown the limits of thought along the old lines.

To the reader who finds the meaning obscure at a first reading we may only say that I and Thou is indeed a poem. Hence it must be read more than once, and its total effect allowed to work on the mind…

I and Thou, even in its English translation is a moving and nourishing work of philosophical poetry. It is a flowering of Jewish mystical thought.