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Saturday, March 25, 2017
Book: The Virgin Eye: Towards a Contemplative View of Life
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Robin Daniels

The Virgin Eye: Towards a Contemplative View of Life. Robin Daniels. Edited by Katherine Daniels. Instant Apostle, Great Britain, 2016. Pages 416. £9.99.

This is a beautiful book, full of practical wisdom. Robin Daniels (+ 2012) worked in private practice for 30 years as a Jungian analyst. He was supervisor for St Marylebone Healing Centre, London, facilitating a reflecting group for hospital chaplains. He also ran marriage enrichment and bereavement groups.

This book is a compendium of the author's life's work. It weaves insights from psychology and literature with those of his Christian faith. It is condensed from material twice the length and lovingly edited by his wife, Katherine.

The book is a vast treasury of wisdom drawn from a whole array of sages from the past, all smelted in the author's own personal experience and presented in very readable language. The author shows an acquaintance with an immense variety of writers. Among those most liberally quoted are the two Lawrences, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection and DH Lawrence, reflecting the book's emphasis on spiritual mindfulness and living in the present moment.

The book covers a vast canvas, beginning with a masterly assessment of contemporary challenges, which include the pace of change and the concomitant stress, and it then presents a vision for wholesome living, under three broad headings: God, Self and Others. One of the beauties of the publication is that all these are knit together in a cohesive way under the expert pen of the author and the sensitive arrangement of the editor.

As intimated by its title, the book inculcates a pristine vision of life, drawing the reader into the experience of seeing things as if for the first time, and keeping wonder alive with the simplicity of a child. The author is a great observer, and his vision is filtered through a sympathetic eye, with tangible compassion for the human condition, but always aware of the "immortal diamond" that is each individual person. A quote from Matthew Arnold on the flyleaf points to one of the aims of the book: 'A longing to inquire Into the mystery of this heart which beats So wild, so deep in us'.

There is a strong contemplative dimension throughout the book, justifying its sub-title: 'Towards a Contemplative View of Life'. A random quote will suffice: 'What does it mean to observe? To be in the presence of, simply and humbly, without motive or manipulation, without the movement of thought, without trying to get something, anything; and not trying to change who or what you are seeing. Just watch, clearly and closely, with charity and due reverence' (p. 116).

The theme of beauty is also prevalent: 'Beauty is truth speaking to the senses and the soul, pointing us to the source of all beauty, all love, all goodness ... An artist sees creation enlivened. A mystic sees (or senses) the Enlivener of creation' (p. 119).

All in all, the publication is a highly-charged blend of psychology and spirituality, drawing on the author's wide practice in the former and his obvious living of the latter. There is a gentle pedagogy evident as the book develops, with the author leading the reader to gradually explore the "immortal longings" deep in the heart and to respond to the challenge of the open sea. A wonderful section on love towards the end of the book is a fitting coup de grace to what is a classical exposition of the spiritual journey.

The author's modesty is evident throughout the book, nowhere more so than in the lovely dedication at the beginning: "To Katherine, who does with grace what I just write about".

The end product is a treasury of wisdom, gleaned from enormously wide reading and profound personal experience, and offered to the reader as a companion on the journey of life. There are gems on every page. It is a book that requires slow reading, for there is so much material to be pondered, containing riches that, if absorbed slowly, will be abundantly rewarding.

Fr Vincent O'Hara, OCD. Reprinted courtesy of Mt Carmel magazine.

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