Beware of Darkness

George Harrison

Beware of darkness
Watch out now, take care
Beware of the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head

(George Harrison)

There is a line in the Gospel which I’ve always found somewhat enigmatic “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt 6:22-23) I guess that it points towards the same idea that Gautama Buddha gives as “All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage” (Twin Verses 1)

It is, I suppose, characteristic of the differences between Christianity and Buddhism that where Jesus begins from the external world and works inwards Buddha begins from the internal realm and works outward. Whatever the initial mechanism might be in any event the suggestion is that the thing upon which we most focus becomes fused with ourselves to such an extent that we cease to be in any way independent from it (like Gollum and the One Ring.) In times of great societal stress like that experienced in the time and at the place where I am now writing (the United Kingdom, March 2017) the temptation to obsess about world-changing events is huge.

Much of what I see on social media appears to be produced by people who have developed a Gollum Syndrome. Almost everything they observe, think over and comment upon is filtered through what they feel about their particular Precious. I use the word feel advisedly since it goes beyond mere intellectual analysis. They have become so invested in what, perhaps, in the beginning was simply a reasoned opinion that reason, thought and intellect have become junior partners in the coalition between mind and emotion.

One consequence of this is that highly intelligent, extremely well educated and normally empathetic people will believe (and retweet) the most egregious nonsense without any evidence whatsoever provided it weakens the other side in some way. Normally sharp critical faculties and analytical tools which are still used effectively in other contexts get abandoned in such cases as the powerful feeling that this thing must be right becomes an all sufficient proof that it is right.

The parallel with the One Ring is not precise because humans possess the capacity to transform that which is light in itself into darkness within the person who looks at it. That is, an object may be good in itself, a peaceful Europe, a socially just America, but once it has been processed by a passion-distorted consciousness it becomes something else; a bludgeon aimed at enemies rather than a philosophy intended to effect social and political improvements.

The only remedy for those afflicted with Gollum Syndrome is, I think, detachment. There is nothing wrong with passionate commitment to a cause, emotion gives an energy which desiccated intellect on its own would lack. Yet these things, thought and feeling, should always be held in a good working balance. If you suspect that your superior centres of reason are being overwhelmed by waves of passion then remedial action becomes an urgent necessity.

Detachment does not mean distraction, taking your mind of the issue for a few hours by listening to music, going for a run or doing some gardening. Nor does it necessarily mean abandonment, giving up your cause altogether. What it does mean is immersing yourself, your whole self, in some activity which transcends the limitations of any one political or social struggle, however important it may be, and doing this for an hour or two every single day, preferably at the start of the day. As a Catholic when I say this what I mean, of course, is prayer and meditation but other options are available. However that may be once you have done so you can return to your cause of choice anew with a different and more dispassionate perspective upon it. This will enable you to use to the full the analytical and critical skills which you have been holding in abeyance. Thus detachment not frenzy provides your greatest chance of success.

George Harrison knew what he was about when he used words like linger and winding, the process he describes is insidious and pervasive. It can creep up on us without us noticing it. When we do realise, though, it is important not to justify ourselves by reference to the supreme importance of the issues. Defective tools will perform defective work doing more harm than good. We will best serve the thing we love by detaching ourselves from it in order to re-form our Self.

thoughtfully detached has a Facebook page


My other blog is Catholic Scot

The picture is George Harrison taken by Barry Feinstein


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