Book Review: Seeing the world with new eyes
The Virgin Eye: Towards a Contemplative View of Life by Robin Daniels (ed. Katherine Daniels), Instant Apostles, 320pp., £9.99.
reviewed by Pia Matthews
The Virgin Eye: Towards a Contemplative View of Life is the fruit of a very long gestation. Daniels, a one-time music critic, publicity manager for SCOPE, counsellor, social worker and Jungian psychoanalyst, was prompted to put into writing some lectures he gave in the 1990s on the interface between psychology and spirituality. The book was finally edited by Daniels wife Katherine and published after his death.
An invitation not a demand
This long gestation is obvious in the structure of the book. Very much the reflections of a man who is interested in slowing down, centring on contemplation and the inner life, embracing the God-givenness of life, there is no clear line of argument or driven progression. Instead, the book reads like a collection of wise and insightful comments on the world and how we can be in the world. Daniels does not urge us to see the world with new eyes, the virgin eye. Urge would be too strong a word. Rather, in the five sections of the book Daniels leads the reader from the challenges that we all encounter, to the vision he offers of a new kind of enlightenment, an enlightenment of awareness, to attention to our relationship with God, with ourselves and with others. Seeing with ‘the virgin eye’ takes time to perfect because it involves becoming aware of God’s presence in daily life. It is an invitation not a demand.
In his first section Daniels begins by exploring the contemporary challenges that face us today. We may perhaps recognise worries over change and notably advances in technology leading to added anxiety, worries over the causes and pseudo-solutions to stress, and worries over time pressures that end up devaluing time. Daniels ends each chapter of worries with prayers to become more serene and accepting of such worries and, perhaps in homage to his psychoanalyst past, to find balance, patience and a level of detachment. In his second section Daniels suggests a process of decluttering the mind to enjoy the present moment and mindfulness to be open to the silence around us. In order to overcome self-absorption he advocates seeing in the way of a poet, child or artist so that we become open to creation and the creative activity of God. This openness can prepare us for change and for a letting go into a contemplative form of living, into enlightenment, where God is the light.
Uplook, inlook, outlook
The following three sections form what Daniels calls a triad, and he thinks that this triad is fundamental to the spiritual life. Daniels describes the connection in the triad as ‘uplook, inlook, outlook’: as we seek to know ourselves we find God and reach out to others; as we seek God we find ourselves and others; and when we reach out to others we find ourselves and God. However, he also thinks it vital to work on all three areas so that we are balanced in our spiritual life. For Daniels developing a healthy relationship with God rather than holding onto a polarised view of God as judge or rescuer is key to all the other relationships, and it is prayer that enables us to practice and grow into that relationship. Drawing on the monastic tradition, Daniels thinks that contemplative prayer and silence that raise us heavenwards, in conjunction with a sense of community to keep us grounded, form a good middle way for spiritual living.
The wisdom of the body
His attention to the ‘wisdom of the body’ to aid decision-making takes perhaps a clear steer from his Jungian studies of psychoanalysis. Listening to gut instincts, limiting information to avoid overload, listening to your sense of timing, developing a sense of detachment towards options, getting your own orientation before asking the opinion of others, trusting your unconscious, are all ways in which a person can work to bring together conscious awareness and experience into a more balanced relationship with unconscious elements of the psyche. Nevertheless, no less important for Daniels is becoming more aligned with God and with God’s will. This becomes further evident in Daniels’ discussion on support and self-examination where what amounts to an examination of conscience goes beyond mere self-improvement to a deeper relationship with God and with others.
Facing our shadows
It may be expected from a psychoanalyst that there is space given to personal growth. On the interface between psychology and spirituality Daniels argues that psychology serves to unblock what closes off our potential; spirituality gives meaning, direction and grace for transformation. Facing our shadows and integrating them, developing a relationship with our old wounds, come as no surprise, as does growth in self-esteem. However, Daniels goes on to explain that this freedom gained not from self-absorption but from self-awareness, naturally leads to responsibility since freedom is, he says, a social word.
Rather surprisingly at first glance, chastity appears at the beginning of the section on the Other. Daniels’ take on chastity is that this is the virtue that enables reverence for the other. Understood in this way the idea of seeing with pure virginal eyes perhaps takes on added significance in the area of human love. Love of neighbour as ethical responsibility follows so that we can put ourselves at the service of others in recollected, prayerful outreach.
Whimsical but valuable
Daniels’ book is very wide ranging and eclectic. He joins commentary on economic theory, psychoanalysis, beauty and art with quotes from Einstein, Eliot, Chesterton, various archbishops, Milton, Keats, Shakespeare and Scripture. He includes explanations from Christian mystics and lectio divina as well as psychology found in the poems of Lawrence and Brooke and the six degrees of separation from Frigyes. Such eclecticism may irritate some readers who are used to a less whimsical style. Nevertheless, there is something of value for everyone in this book.
Dr Pia Matthews lectures at St Mary’s University, Twickenham and St John’s Seminary, Wonersh.