Saturday, 3 March 2012

Indifference

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.

6 comments:

  1. Hmmm! A sort of Nirvana ringed in ice.

    Perhaps, and only perhaps, the very rare Jesuit, might aspire to such a life, but what a chilly, solitary existence it would be.

    We are after all human, flawed and unlikely to succeed if we aim so impossibly high.

    Personally, I would prefer to aim a bit lower and perhaps achieve a tiny measure of success from time to time.

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  2. I must keep this and ponder it, Sue. I did the Ignatian exercises many years ago now and need to revise what i learned then.

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  3. I'm not sure it is a chilly thing really Ray, although I can see it might appear that way. Is it so very different from Christ's teaching that he who would keep his life must lose it and he who would be first should be last? I wonder if it isn't more about a complete "letting go in trust" rather than a "chilly self discipline."
    A few years ago I was finding something very difficult and it was causing me a lot of worry and anguish. I came across the verse (think it is in Peter) "humble yourself under God's mighty hand and he will exalt you". It also is followed, I think, by that rather well known verse about casting his cares on him for he careth for you. Funnily enough though, it was the verse about "humbling yourself under God's mighty hand" that brought me a sense of utter peace and reassurance that my life was in the hands of someone a lot bigger than me. I am having to go back to that "relinquishing and trusting" at the moment because of some worries about the future (connected with work, but I can't say too much.) I'm certainly very, very, very far from being indifferent about my health or longevity or finances by the way! but as you say, even a small measure of success from time to time does help!

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  4. I like the idea of putting our lives in context by focusing on God's perspective. I agree we are not 'important' but I believe each of us is significant i.e. each of us matters to God more than we can ever imagine.

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  5. I have to agree with that:)

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  6. I know it as non-attachment, not as indifference and I find that distinction helpful.
    All it means is that our identity should not be bound up with these things, whatever they are.
    During the 30 day Ignatian prayer retreat the pray-er is encouraged to discover his or her particular attachment and to become aware of it. It will be different things to different people.
    That doesn't mean we must let go of those desires (for health or money or knowledge or friendship etc.) completely but that we should accord them the status they ought to have and not allow them to become our prime motivation in life.

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