Spiritual states

Walking down to the town in the sunshine, with the wind, vegetation, clouds, birds, I am not in any sort of spiritual “state”, but I am aware of my surroundings far more than I would be most of the time indoors. Previously, feeling this awareness or presence has felt like a spiritual state. A mere leaf could produce in me a sense of wonder. It felt completely different from ordinary life, and felt like something I wanted to cultivate.

It is worth cultivating, I have cultivated it and if it feels more routine and less exalted that is because it is a quotidian skill not a rare blessing for me. Now I am merely pleased not overwhelmed with delight, like the person who after walking across a desert carrying strictly rationed water returns to Britain where water flows abundantly from taps- and remembers drinking less than she might want. It is a state it is good to be in, in the Quaker meeting, but as a means to the end of sensing leadings within rather than an end in itself. And still I can recognise that it felt spiritual, simply for itself, close to the feeling of being aware of this wondrous universe and my part in it. It’s not quite feeling one with the universe, but is close.

I met Angela, who felt the need to explain her coat and thick fleece in the sun. There is a slight sheen of moisture on her forehead. She explained that she did not know it was this warm. She likes being outside, she said.

I noted that the sense of joyous awareness applies just as much to the shape of that roan pipe or the colour of the asphalt on the roads as it does to a roadside flower. The joy is in my awareness not what I am aware of. It’s not that everything is beautiful, but that really looking at something is a joyful experience. I remember feeling bored on the train if I could not read. Now, I can sit with equanimity noticing what is around me or in a reverie, and wonder if this is me increasing in wisdom, or merely changing desires and responses as I age.

The reverie, though. Sometimes I think through something for the first time, and more often I think something I have thought before. The sense of awareness of surroundings is less important in the civilised world. As I sit with my computer in the dark, I know exactly what is behind me- printer, hi-fi, wi-fi, piano, chaise longue- I do not need my senses alive to perceive changes. Outside, so much more is going on. There could be a balance between awareness of outside and cogitating on problems; we ruminate because we do not need so much to be aware of sensation.

I walked from Tate Modern to the Royal Festival Hall to meet H for dinner. The tide is high, and I loved the sound of the water slapping against the wood and stone of the banks, the steps, the piers. I looked over the rolling swell and loved the light brokenly reflected from its fractured, constantly changing surface. There is a busker. Here, the delight is in the things perceived as well as the heightened perception. I have found art galleries have been able to put me into my state of heightened perception, presence, awareness, whatever, and it takes less and less effort. In Awareness, I have wanted that “state” to persist when I am involved in a task, but my concentration on our conversation, with some attention left for the food, is close enough. As I speak I cogitate, but listen to her rather than plotting what I might say.

The concert at the Royal Festival Hall was Bach arr. Schönberg, Hindemith, Parsifal put into a symphonic suite by Stokowski, and the Four Last Songs. I found the singer’s voice ravishing, and the third song moved me to helpless tears. H puts her arm around me to console me. I am “in a state”, and my state pleases me.

This whole recording is worth listening to, and at 15.15 it introduces Lauren Marks, who after an aneurysm lost her internal monologue. She was simply aware of her surroundings, not chattering to herself about anything.