Developing Consciousness: A roadmap of the journey to enlightenment
O Books £11.99
Church Times Bookshop £10.80
ONE HUNDRED years ago, Evelyn Underhill described her book Practical Mysticism as “a little book for normal people”. She was clear that the spiritual life is not a special career, involving abstraction from the world of things, but a normal human capability.
The important question for Underhill was this: What, out of the mass of material offered to it, shall consciousness seize upon? The material for a wider, sharper consciousness, a more profound understanding of our own existence, lies at our gates. It is, she explained, a matter of training our latent faculties, bracing and brightening our languid consciousness, an emancipation from the fetters of appearance, a turning of our attention to new levels of the world.
That approach has much in common with Nicholas Vesey’s Developing Consciousness. His book, the fruit of an eight-week course that he has run for the past ten years through the Norwich Christian Meditation Centre, is not aimed at the learned or the devout. It is not complicated or theoretical, but is based on his own experience of the discovery of the divine consciousness — what he calls “the spiritual DNA that makes up all life”.
This is a book for seekers, not for those who are searching for esoteric secrets, and certainly not for those who want the comfort of religious certainties. Vesey, an Anglican priest with a background in advertising, uses his down-to-earth and often bumpy life-journey as a pattern. He starts wherever the reader is: “You are always in exactly the right place to take the next step.”
The heart of the book is the central chapter on Spirituality, described in Rowan Williams’s words as “The cultivation of a sensitive and rewarding relationship with eternal truth and love.” And the book concludes with an excellent practical consideration of developing “our relationship with the essence of life”. Again, that is rooted in Vesey’s personal experience in the development of his own spiritual practice, which he describes in helpful detail.
This is a deceptively simple book. This reviewer’s personal summary of its core message is this: What Paul describes as the “secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1Corinthians 2.7) is not discovered by conscious rational thought. It is already there, in us.
When we are ready to grasp a truth, but not before, the truth will make itself known to us. The truth is there, in each one of us, waiting to be brought to light. When that happens, it is experienced as a liberating, transforming power surging up from the depths of unconsciousness and bringing with it a sense of purpose and wholeness. That experience brings about a change of heart, a conversion, an illumination. As Carl Jung put it, it makes the darkness conscious; or, in Vesey’s terms, it is the experience of enlightenment.
Canon Bruce Duncan, a retired priest, is a former Principal of Sarum College.