Relax, oh little one,
we are the flowing magis,
and a whole lot more.
A characteristic of Jesuit spirituality called magis comes to mind for this month’s blog post. Magis is the Latin term for ‘more’ or ‘greater’ and it’s about responding to the needs of the more universal good so that others may connect with it too. It would be a mistake to think it’s about being busy people with busy lives, a focus on quantity, getting as many things done as possible. Often, as we know less is more.
No, magis is to do with the quality of our experiences: if we’re having a conversation it’s about deep listening and deeply-felt sharing; if we’re writing a blog post we can bring a high level of reflection to our processing; and if we’re resting it is good to empty our mind. When it comes to choosing between two good options, the magis is found in that choice which gives greater glory. A person who has lived this way of life can be content that their light has shone brightly in the world and pointed towards something more. In addition, when we check in regularly with ourselves and seek greater quality in our experiences, we can find beauty, truth, and love in all things.
I was left feeling physically and mentally sick by the end of last week and I didn’t know what to do. So I expressed my personal concerns to a meditation group of which I am a member of, and I got a very helpful response. It was suggested that I first ask myself a question in a state of silence, and then to light a candle and wait for an answer. My question was: “Why do I seem so stressed?” The answer that surfaced for me was one word, “Magis”. I was taken aback at this one word response but over the next while I reflected on it. Eventually I realised that my wrong perception of magis – a lot of striving – led to high stress levels, lack of breaks, distractions, poor sleep routine, hypersensitivity, and a cold. I need calm, rest, self-control, space, and a letting go, to be in line with the real magis.
I was already on pole position… and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my team mate with the same car. And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel. – Ayrton Senna
The psychological concept of flow or engagement is relevant here as it refers to a complete focus on a specific activity to the extent that you lose all sense of self-consciousness and time. I had such an experience recently while blogging for the Irish Jesuits. A seed was sown when I recalled a significant childhood experience during a lunchtime walk. I had had another blog post idea before this but the memory was so clear and serene that it became a priority for my writing. I returned to the office and typed in a free flow manner: I felt fully alive and fully focused, and thoughts of other tasks fell away. I received confirmation of this flow upon publication of the post with positive feedback from some who read it.
The flowing magis
The two terms magis and flow come together to form what I call the flowing magis. ‘Emergence’ and ‘perspective’ are important characteristics of this concept. Like losing all sense of time, emergence is another way of being. When we look at the story of the universe, for instance, we don’t think in terms of the 24-hour clock or the 12 months of the year. We see how one form of life emerges into another: from a fireball to the formation of hydrogen to the evolution of modern day humans.
Furthermore, our life projects can tune into a broader perspective. If we are involved in volunteering or charity work, we feel connected to the task of building a better world. In Christian terms we are ‘building the kingdom’ here on earth. We don’t turn in on ourselves because we know it is better to turn towards our neighbours and indeed to strangers. Together we can say: “Relax, oh little one, we are the flowing magis, engaged, purposeful, and a whole lot more”.
A classic example of the flowing magis can be seen in the life of Jesuit brother Alphonsus Rodriguez (1532-1617) who spent forty-six years of his life as a porter and doorkeeper at the Jesuit College in Majorca and after his death was made a saint. Surely as he heard each knock on the door he must have reminded himself that someone important was coming. He came expectantly and opened the door: in that moment he gave his full attention with warmth and compassion, and he helped and advised whenever it was needed. He put his heart into a seemingly mundane task and elevated it to a service of great dignity. He saw his life as full of invitations for goodness to emerge. He believed that the power, the energy, the soul in him was not “him” but ‘God’ (Galatians 2:20).