Stephen D’Evelyn on Disability, Skepticism, and the Opening of the Self


With New Year’s upon us, our thoughts may turn to the passing of the year and to our own mortality. So too we may consider possible New Year’s resolutions and simultaneously feel a pang of regret or scepticism about the likelihood of keeping our resolutions.

It seems to me that scepticism is a kind of faith in the self. That is, we must trust the self even though it is really no-thing, defending it against all comers. The self is the focus of attention. The self must be preserved from vulnerability. So we doubt anything other than the self.
When we are disabled by society, this gets complicated. We routinely encounter vulnerability. We cannot tell the difference between a king and a bishop when playing chess with our six-year-old son. We get eye-strain headaches from the brilliant mobile phone and tablet computer screens that seem to flash at us everywhere. We feel cautious about our surroundings. We can’t quite trust we won’t get hurt. But we also have to trust, have to trust our children to help us play chess. We cannot afford to make the self the isolated and protected centre. It has to be permeable and to love as well as wounded by pain, open to love and help freely given. We cannot freeze the self. We have to let things happen. We have to let time pass.

We find ourselves in between. Disability, temporary as well as enduring, may afford more intensive experiences of being in the middle — in the middle of physical variety and societal conditions, but also between life now and what lies beyond:

‘…a lifetime of disappointment, of skepticism, of bitterness, of unbelief can dull the spontaneous surge of the love of eternity in us. It is so mysterious—as is our deepest self-love, and not only our deepest loves of others—that we come to find it hard to credit it. A life has clogged the more original porosity of living; we think we more truly live, but the artery bringing blood to the heart of the soul is laboring to allow the flow. There are no boundaries in the true flow of life, not even the boundaries between life and what is beyond life now…’

Desmond, William, The Intimate Universal: The Hidden Porosity Among Religion, Art, Philosophy, and Politics (Insurrections: Critical Studies in Religion, Politics, and Culture) (Kindle Locations 6585-6589). Columbia University Press. Kindle Edition.

What is this “more original porosity of living”?

Desmond writes of “clogging.” This seems built in to being human in all its vaiety. We may feel pain because bits of us get tired or don’t work as we would like. We may feel pain realising the children are growing up or realising we won’t ever really get to play the guitar the way we once hoped we would. We may feel pain watching out parents get older.

But finding we cannot help but be open–we cannot wall the self in with scepticism–we may find ways to feel the passage of time more deliberately. Making adjustments, we may get to know the “more original porosity of living” — the more original connectedness of all things. Not seeing as well, we may touch more sensitively. We may feel and touch more intimately, and not try to hold on to time passing but sense the motion and the change, like body-boarding in Cornwall some sunny summer afternoon with that big swell swelling beneath us as we feel the pull of time. We may well sense a “more original” community than that we’ve come to expect. That original community is the primal gift of life: to be open to that is to be open to the gift itself.
So I will try to resolve to be open and not skeptical, to beliieve the wave is coming even as I know I may fall off.


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