For the spiritual person, I think individualism is very limited.
I am not talking about solitude, or about introspection, but about the belief that above all else the individual alone is of ultimate importance. Let me explain…
At one level, each person is of paramount importance spiritually.
I believe that individuals have meaning, however, not because we are each an isolated individual but because each of us, individually, is more than just that.
There is a powerful passage by T.S.Eliot in Four Quartets where he writes:
‘Descend lower, descend only
Into the world of perpetual solitude
World not world, but that which is not world,
Internal darkness…’‘Burnt Norton’ in Four Quartets
And anyone who has ever delved deep within themselves may know of that ‘internal darkness’.
Because deep within I find plenty of vices, like self-interest, the desire for pleasure, the desire for security, and so on. I struggle, however, to find anything solid or stable spiritually.
Because we are not made to be individualistic. We are made to connect: with other people and with God. We are not made to be alone.
And so to be merely individualistic cuts us off from our fellow beings, and cuts us off from God.
In an extreme form, people can drift away from reality, believing only their own private experiences are what is true, losing a hold on the experience of others and of basic facts of existence.
Solitude is different, as is introspection.
For some of us, solitude and introspection are ways to understand life, process experience and recreate. We can maintain a connection with God, and we can be connecting with others through praying for them, or by thinking ahead to being with them.
I have know the dead-end alley that is extreme individualism, and what was required, as this poem which follows, inspired by T.S.Eliot’s lines, says, was a new kind of life:
to the world darker
than the shadow
of the valley of humiliation
To a placelessness
of no name
Where the soul seems about to dissolve
Here the world
and what I valued
Had little relevance
and significance reversed
In the emptiness
there is silence
and in the silence, voices can be heard
calling, insistently, critically, temptingly
and all I could do was pray
and there in the darkness was Death
and there in the darkness was God
And what was required
was a kind of resurrection
to emerge in a new kind of life.