Ineffability and nature

The occasional complaint of letter-writers to editors of religious and spiritual magazines is that the course of articles is usually insufficient summary, while the real gist of insight is promised at an expensive conference or workshop in a pricey venue for an excessive number of days beyond the average person’s reach, as if the best insights are only available from celebrity figures at swank locations.

The point is reminiscent of John McQuarrie’s remark in his 1967 book God-Talk, wherein he discusses the expressability of religious experience, specifically the paradox of talking about the ineffable:

It has to be acknowledged that adherents of religious faiths are almost notorious for their habit of talking and writing at great length. Perhaps the urge to verbalize is more characteristic of the West than of the East. W. P. Paterson wittily remarked that the Indian sage’s career culminates when he retires to the forest to meditate in silence, while his Western counterpart is more likely to be invited to give a course of lectures embodying his mature reflections on life!

[The Patterson book referred to is The Nature of Religion, published in 1925.]

And if this phenomenon was true decades ago it is especially true today. What articles and books need to do is to point out the essentials, the building-blocks, and past insights, then bid readers to go and do likewise.

In this respect, the traditions that emphasize silence and meditation understand that technical elaborations and group exercises are of little value if the aspirant has not time or space to pursue the recommendations.

But, further to help the individual, they should best recommend a strong relationship to nature.

A relationship to nature can supersede the desire for social or group work that supposedly reveals self or elucidates principles. Being in nature directly, within silence, trees, forests and fields, mountains and water reveals to the self the profound integration of all being into silence. When silence is disrupted in nature, it is to adjust balance, the “Great Transformation” with its many micro (and occasional macro) changes, and restore silence. As human beings, we both understand and are part of this greater process, and must learn how to conform, reconcile, and present ourselves to this process. No matter what intellectual path we study, the complement of silence and nature always allows the meditative process to reveal the ineffable, wherein the body, mind, and soul, already charged with its origin and direction, can make more explicit its truths.