I have been reading and thinking about the Ignatian principle of indifference this week. It may seem contradictory given my last post about the grief felt in Christchurch at the loss of the cathedral to write about indifference, but let's say that it is a concept that I think is important and valuable at the same time as I struggle to understand it. Ignatian teaching tells us that we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created. These are hard teachings, which have elements in common with the Buddhist idea of relinquishing our human desires in order to achieve happiness. Indifference gives us a distance from things that allow us to choose without prejudice. Transcending our own limited wants, needs, fear and doubts confers freedom and self knowledge. Achieving distance allows vision. It is rather mystical philosophy,very much a life time endeavour and one we are only likely to partially succeed in.
Ignatian indifference does not mean being callous or unfeeling, but rather aiming to put our lives in context and focus on God's perspective rather than our own. One of the messages of the Ash Wednesday service I attended this year is one vital lesson we need to learn is that we are not important. This message runs contrary to all our modern day ideas about self esteem, the deceptive mantra that we deserve the best because we are worth it. We are, of course, worth it. So is everyone else. We need to know this. At the same time, paradoxically, if our whole thinking revolves around how much we deserve from life then we are going to find it hard to cope when bad things inevitably happen. I would suggest that, even if we live a relatively happy life, such an approach can encourage us to be shallow, unappreciative and can destroy happiness. Indifference is another of those topsy turvy messages that is simultaneously profoundly conceptual and very practical, that sounds like it will deprive us but actually enriches us.