when we meditate, or during some prayers, we will sometimes close our eyes. the assumption is that limiting our mental and physical exposure to the stimulation of objects and other contents in our surroundings, will aid in the often difficult task of concentration and mindfulness. the idea is to privilege the within by preventing the outside from encroaching. but whatever we have within, is the same as what is outside. if the outside wasn’t within us, it wouldn’t be in the outside in the first place. we use our inside world in order to create the outside world, and then we carry it deep within us wherever we go and whatever we do. the outside world is a reflection of our inner world, and therefore it cannot be meditated away, it must be given away. the freedom of the within utterly depends on the social transformation of the without. to be able to free our within we must radically transform our without.
one of the consequences of the dualistic error of making a distinction between the inner and the outer is manifested in the way we often interpret the concept of materialism. we contrast to materialism the concept of the realm of the spiritual. but materialism does not refer to objects, nor does spiritual to non-objects. materialism is not an ontological concept, it is a way of relationship with all other beings, it is the i-it, and that mode of relationships applies to both objects and non-objects. likewise, the spiritual does not refer to an ontological category of being, it is a way of entering into relationships with other beings, it is the i-thou, and it applies to our relationships with both objects and non-objects. both materialism and spirituality should be understood as ethical projects, and therefore the key for the spiritual life lies not in the within, nor in the without, but in the between of the i and the thou. the spiritual is the transformation of our modes of relationships from i-it to i-thou. it is that existential change that will in turn also bring about a fulfillment of the practice of meditation.
this conceptual identification of the material as referring to physical substance, has resulted in generations of erroneous spiritual practices. through our poetic expressions and mystical terminology, we have internalized a form of geographic-spiritual imagery with which we orient ourselves as we walk through our spiritual paths. terms such as inner and outer, higher and lower, deep or shallow, are all spatial images that bear no relevance to the spiritual way of life. but this spatial imagery has guided our understandings of the spiritial life through and through. so we close our eyes to go “deeper”, or we believe in “inner” transformation detached from the transformation of our social lives, or we ascribe transcendent meanings to what essentially is nothing more and nothing less than the here and now. but if we see that there is no depth to the spirit, that depth is a physical category and a poor semblance for a metaphor of the spirit, and especially, if we come to realize that the spirit will not be found somewhere floating inside our bodies, we will then be able to understand that spirit is a word to describe an ethical project. the spiritual life is the relationship with the neighbor, it is the sacrament of the neighbor that we celebrate with our here and now, concrete and ordinary daily efforts at i-thou relationships. it is to this that martin buber referred to as religious socialism.
it is as a result of that geo-spiritual error that we so often fail to see that there is nothing at all that is hidden inside, or behind and beyond the phenomenal world of the concrete, ordinary here and now existential reality. this world, as is, is magnificent in its immanence, not because of what lies “within” it. there is nothing within, and accepting that “this is it” is not only the path, but is the actual state of whole-being liberation.
Hune Margulies, Ph.D.
© Hune Margulies
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