Sanctuary — the sanctum of an inviolable sacred space and a time-out of time — is becoming increasingly difficult to find and to preserve. Muslims bombing mosques; secular governments and churches disrespecting the principles of sanctuary. We are, today, also subjected to universal surveillance. But without sanctuary, there can be no true autonomy and preservation of the person as an individual.
My thoughts turned to this issue this morning after reading an article on artificial intelligence in The Guardian entitled “Smart robots, driverless cars work – but they bring ethical issues too“. All received and present custom, law, tradition, meanings and values are being challenged, and are being threatened with annihilation, by the potentialities of new technology — bio-technology, robotics, and technologies of social regulation and political control. But the whole notion of the individual and of individuality as autonomous personality with an inviolable consciousness may well be one of the first casualties of this “brave new world”.
I have noticed of late that some guided meditation programmes, such as one finds on YouTube, employ the device of having the meditator imagine to themselves an inner sanctum— a secluded beach, a garden, a forest, a castle, an Eden, maybe even another planet — where they can relax in safety and security and “let go” — this “letting go” being a dropping of roles, masks, agendas, schedules, timetables, deadlines, and so on. Nothing to do, nowhere to go in this inner sanctuary except just be who and what one truly is.
This seems novel to me, in my experience. I don’t recall ever having otherwise encountered meditation techniques that involve the creation in the imagination of an inner sanctuary. The odd thing about these fantasy refuges, retreats, and sanctuaries is that they all remind me of commonly advertised tourist destinations — of so-called “tourist Meccas” — such as one might find in Cuba, Thailand, Hawaii, or Mexico. Pristine sandy beaches with palm trees, singing birds, a sparkling blue ocean whose gentle waves lap rhythmically and entrancingly upon a virgin shore which has never seen the foot of man, a lounge chair with a cool piña colada at hand, and not another human being anywhere in sight. This inner sanctuary seems to be some private version of Fantasy Island.
There seems to be some confusion of the practice of meditation with fantasy. Nor does this fantasising have much in common even with Carl Jung’s method of “active imagination”. It seems to me rather to point to something more disturbing — the loss of that sacred space of retreat, asylum, refuge, sanctuary in which the autonomy and inviolability of the individual person and their consciousness is respected and honoured, and in which it can be, in fact, renewed and revived. The person turns inward, towards a private Fantasy Island of the imagination — one’s own private Disneyland — because our social order no longer allows a space for the autonomy of the person. It is, however, only a mirage of sanctuary. Everything is being assimilated into the designs of the techno-corporate system, and it does not recognise or acknowledge sacred times or spaces or the autonomy of the person and the inviolability of consciousness.
By “autonomous” I do not mean, here, “free will” (which is a misunderstanding) but of time-out from time. “A man’s home is his castle” was really a statement about sanctuary, and sanctuary as the space of personal autonomy. But this is not true of the home any longer. It has also been invaded by the marketplace and has been equally assimilated into the 24/7 techno-corporate system. The social philosopher, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, puzzling about what had happened to the spaces of sanctuary that had supported the autonomy of the person in the past concluded that sanctuary in the secular society had become the space of the private automobile, and particularly in the time of the commute between the home and the office or factory. Here, one was still completely with oneself, at least temporarily being neither the family man nor the cog in the machine.
Opportunities for voluntary withdrawl into seclusion — to be present with oneself alone — are fast dwindling, and becoming more and more difficult to preserve in the face of the assimilatory pressures of modern technology and economism and the logic of the techno-corporate state. As Eckhart Tolle noted in the interview I posted earlier, we tend to treat the present as a means to an end in our frantic “pursuit of rational self-interest” rather than as the only place where life can be truly experienced in its fullness.
What our besieged souls want at “the end of history” is sanctuary. But our present social, political and economic arrangements do not recognise sanctuary (except, perhaps, in the form of the annual vacation). Consequently, they also undermine the basis for individual autonomy, which appears instead to have now turned inward into a fantasy paradise in a failing attempt to preserve itself. Sanctuary is the place of autonomy, and autonomy ultimately means time-freedom, a time-out from time itself. If people today complain that they have no time, it is because sanctuary is disappearing and the possibility of autonomy and authenticity with it.
The logic of the new techno-corporate state does not seem to me to promote authentic individuation, which is integration of the personality as fulfillment, but rather mere egoism and massification, and which still confuses assimilation with integration.
This seems to me the gravest error of the contemporary mind — that it has confused higher and lower values. Integration is not assimilation, any more than the unity and integrity of the whole depends upon the uniformity of its parts. Error, error, error!