Whenever I walk in a London street,
I’m ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street,
Go back to they lairs,
And I say to them, “Bears,
Just look how I’m walking in all the squares!”
Lines and Squares from When We Were Very Young by AA Milne
Whenever I walk in a London street I become a grumpy and impatient bear, resentful that anyone should have the temerity to take up space. Behind my feelings of resentment are the beliefs that I am trying to get somewhere, and that the other people are getting in my way, not looking out for me, and obstructing my free passage. While this sense of having to get somewhere is true at a surface level – I am trying to get to my destination in time – I also feel it at a deeper level. I am not yet where I want to be. I am trying to get there. People are getting in my way. Happiness (same etymological root at ‘happen’) is elsewhere.
This is an aspect of the, so-called, ‘bad spirit’. Thinking I have to get somewhere, and then feeling resentment that people and circumstances are preventing me getting there – these are desolating thoughts leading both to anxiety (“I will not get there in time!”) and sadness (“People always get in my way!”) backed up with fallacious reasoning (“God is at the end of my journey, not right where I am.”).
There is another truth that I experience from time to time. I am here and You are here. There is nowhere to go, nowhere to get to. I have arrived. If I were to slow down a little and take my time, I would realise this more easily.
Like right now.
Thoughts such as, “You are here with me,” and “There is nowhere to get to,” and “I have arrived,” are thoughts that lead to the feeling of Your presence, to trust in You, i.e. consolation.
The problem, as always, is that I am often unhappy in the present: the streets are ugly, noisy, dirty, crowded; I am tired. Or, at least, these are my initial and habitual thoughts. Perhaps this could change too.
The other consoling thought is that we are all struggling to get by, to get home, to get to our destination, to find meaning. The desolating thought is that these people know where they are going and they are getting in my way. The consoling thought is that they are just as lost as I. We are all struggling. We are all getting in each other’s way. The only possible response is kindness, compassion. This starts with kindness towards myself. I am lost. I am struggling. There’s no blame in this. This is the human condition. The choice I have is how I respond to this. I can respond with blame and resentment, or I can respond with understanding and kindness – to myself (always put your own oxygen mask on first) and to others.
Now to change the habit of a lifetime!
Consolation isn’t really a thought. Memory brings back the insight and the physical sensation of the insight. Consolation, technically an increase of trust and love of God, often arises from the felt memory of a spiritual insight.
Saying, “I have arrived,” reminds me of the physical sensation of having nowhere else I need to be, the sensation of arrival, and the sensation of Your presence remembered from those moments of insight. I remember to trust You who are always here.
Remembering that we are all lost and struggling brings back trust in God and kindness towards these other beings who are my brothers and sisters.
Repetition, the remembrance of insight and consolation, is crucial to the spiritual life, to our life in God. It is the regular drip-feed that reprograms our thinking, feeling, and being.