Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Acquiring Specs for the Soul

"Let us collect the 'specs' necessary for the soul" says a Jesuit priest recently interviewed by the Peace Weekly. Specs, a code word, refers to what society considers necessary if college students are to find good-paying jobs. Addressing this issue, the priest wrote Where Am I Now?--a book intended to help young people learn not only with the head but with the heart. The Korean word he uses to convey this idea is 'maeum.'  It can be understood, he explains, as our deeper self, variously described as combining heart, mind, soul, spirit.

The interviewer felt that the book was permeated by a feeling of sadness concerning our young people. Although the priest says he admires what they have accomplished, many of them having studied overseas, speaking several languages, learning to handle various tasks equally well, and even contributing to society by volunteering their services, he yet wants to know how much have they looked into themselves. It's more important, he says, to pile up specs for the soul and spirit than piling up specs for their future work.

Our society seems to think cerebral knowledge is everything. This was not true, he says, of our ancestors. For them knowledge was meant to educate without differentiating between head and heart.  Knowledge today has been reduced to getting a good-paying job in a big corporation. We have forgotten our 'maeums', he says, and have turned our deepest inner self into a wasteland, strewn with suicides, bullying, corruption and all kinds of wrong doing. We have relativized the good and the bad to match our personal views of reality, forgetting we are living with others.

What does it mean to learn with the 'maeum'?  Getting in touch with our spiritual dimension, he says. Seeing it with religious eyes, we would have more meditation and contemplative prayer, more cultivation of the habit of reflection. Knowledge that the head seeks remains in the head, while what the 'maeum' seeks is the whole person, which will lead us to an intuitive grasp of our existence. How do we become truly human? What is the meaning of existence? It does not come just by prayer, meditation and reflection, he says, but by living with the 'maeum' clearly in our awareness. 

However, it does take time and effort to learn with the 'maeum'. When we trouble ourselves with the difficulties that normally appear in every life, and are confronted with serious doubts, we can be sure, he warns us, that something is wrong. It's a sign that study of the 'maeum' is necessary.

The interview ends with a question about healing. The healing we usually talk about, the priest says, does not have much to do with the spirit. This talk usually is about the psychological and intellectual dimensions of healing, which he believes are merely first-aid treatments. It may seem that healing occurs, but for true healing it's necessary, he emphasizes, to go deeper, to go into the 'maeum'. Without such contact, he says we are likely to be fatigued and depressed by life's demands. If we want to change this distortion of life, we need a new awareness of life, an awareness that can only come from the 'maeum'. The choice is up to us, he says, and we need to begin now.