It is becoming more clear every year that young people are becoming more lonely and terrified. They experience inner emptiness, because they are told they can be whatever they want to be, but, at the same time, they are told that the world doesn’t have any inherent meaning, apart from the meaning we impose on it ourselves. Perhaps, this suffering has something new to it, but, like all suffering, it is also very old. And there are very old treatments for it, but in the deplorable state of education we created for our children very few of them will ever hear about them.

In the third century AD, Plotinus described this state of being lost by referring to the ancient myth of Odysseus: “What then is our way of escape, and how are we to find it? We shall put out to sea, as Odysseus did, from the witch Circe or Calypso?” No, answers Plotinus, there is no point in changing places (or undergraduate courses, haircuts, romantic partners, jobs, diets, or governments, for that matter). To find our true home we have to do something else: “Let all these things go, and do not look. Shut your eyes, and change to and wake another way of seeing, which everyone has but few use.” (Enneads, I.6.8, tr. A.H. Armstrong).

More than a century after Plotinus, Augustine read those words in Latin translation, in a period of his life when he felt lost and disoriented. And he decided to do exactly what he read. While he was looking deeply into his own self (intravi in intima mea), he saw the immutable Light (lucem incommutabilem). In his looking he didn’t let himself be distracted by all those things about himself which are constantly changing: memories, fantasies, plans, desires, fears, bodily sensations, sense-perceptions. He noticed that all those flowing, moving, changing things are being experienced by virtue of something which sheds light on them, which gives them both reality and visibility. And that something is Truth (Veritas). Truth is not a property of propositions and statements, even though we’ve been told so for a long time now. She is the only thing that doesn’t move or change in our experience, the silent, peaceful, intensely alive background of the inner and outer flux.

Suddenly, Augustine realized that the home that he was longing for is everywhere, inside him and outside him, because it is not diffused in space (neque… per infinita spatia locorum diffusa est). Rather, it was he that was constantly diffusing himself like a spiderweb (tabesceresicut araneam animam meam) of desire and fear spreading out in time and space towards things which flow incessantly. Augustine saw clearly that all that we call our “self”, our (so important!) “identity”, has the solidity of a spiderweb and it owes its supposed reality and importance only to our incessant, obsessive activity of spinning it. Augustine says his whole life changed when he realized that this luminous Truth, by which we experience the world and ourselves, is the only thing that truly exists (viderem esse quod viderem). All the other things are hanging between existence and non-existence (nec omnino esse nec omnino non esse), like a spiderweb glittering in the morning wind. He also saw that, in comparison to Truth, he himself didn’t exist at all or, at least, not yet (nondum me esse qui viderem).

Not yet, because this shining Truth is the source of the realness of anything that is real insofar as it is real. The more we give ourselves to her, the more real and true we ourselves become. We feed ourselves on her existence, but in this process we don’t absorb her into us, but are instead absorbed and transformed into her, we grow, become stronger, more true. What a relief that we do not have to think anymore about “our truth”, “our values”, “our lived experience”. We don’t have to think about ourselves at all, because we find ourselves existing and living only in and by that Truth.