The restlessness of transition

William James said that our inner lives are fluid and restless and always in transition, and that our experience “lives in the transitions”. . . . it is only a short  step from saying that our experience  “lives in the transitions” to saying that one ought to seek our and even provoke these transitions: if I am closest to God when I am most in crisis, then bring on the whirlwind; if I am most alive when love is beginning or ending, then let this marriage die, let this affair take flame, let me let myself go.

The truth in James’s idea inheres in that “always.” If our inner lives are always in transition, then our goal should be to acquire and refine a consciousness that is capable of registering the most minute changes in sensation, feeling, faith, self. Unless we become aware of the transitions that are occurring all the time within us, unless we learn to let experience play upon our inner lives as on a finely tuned instrument, we will try to manufacture inner intensity from the outside, we will bang our very bones to roust our own souls. We crave radical ruptures when we have allowed the nerves of our inner lives to go numb. But after those ruptures — the excitement or the tragedy, the pleasure or the pain—the mind returns to what it was, the soul quicksilvers off from the pierce of experience and the kingdom of boredom, which could be the kingdom of God, begins the clock-tick toward its next collapse.

 

Christian Wiman, My Bright  Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

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