Thursday, October 2, 2008



When a practical man - and all these remarks go for women, I just can’t be bothered fitting in all the qualifiers – who has spent a full life immersed in practical affairs of whatever nature, looks back in the consciousness that death is not far off, what does he see? He may see a fortune made, monuments to his eminence, civic honours, a dynasty founded, institutions which bear his name and so on. But these things must all shrink to mere insubstantial wraiths and vanish if they have not built up a spiritual life in him which he can view as his unique, indestructible, incorruptible good amassed over the time of his life, a possession that is inalienably his – for ever. When he has asked himself, ‘What am I? What have I done? What has it all amounted to? the monuments to his use of time, insofar as they stand outside of himself, even if they are as awe-inspiring as Mount Everest itself, must shrivel in value and disappear to nothing as he contemplates them, for they are no longer his nor him. Something else has to constitute a value in old age. This something surely has to be the degree of development of the inner life. The expansion and population of that inner space that alone connects him with all that really is. A man can accomplish much, can build empires, can move mountains, can gain the whole world and yet still be without any appreciable inner life. Indeed, his whole active life can be a protracted flight from the possibility of developing an inner life; and the expert function which he exercises can be at the expense altogether of an inner life. His activity can very frequently prevent the development of an inner life and as such it provides one of the greatest catastrophes that can befall the individual.
That there can be a cumulative development of inner life, which increases with old age is beyond dispute. That one can be wise in old age and have much to say to one’s fellows is likewise indisputable. Unfortunately, this is very infrequently the case. The silly old fart is as common as the house sparrow. Yet the evidence from those who do grow old suggests that this wisdom is most frequently sacrificed to the accumulation of things of quite a different value. The self desires to perpetuate its endurance in time by the most pitifully inadequate means: offspring, legacies, artistic works, follies and so on. This means that in death, the individual concerned has preserved the same values as he had in life, in his animal life: material values. He tries to perpetuate his existence by a continued application of his material values. In vain. The result of this can only be disappointment - except on the part of those who inherit his possessions. Even if – as is most frequently the case – they feel no gratitude to him for their windfall.
The cultivation of an inner life, even if it creates the impression of withdrawal and uncommunicativeness in the minds of those observing the cultivator, has more value than the most impressive monument, be it in the finest stone and sculpted by a master.
There is an intent listening which goes into the development of an inner life and when one is listening, interruptions from outside are not always welcome.

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