I thought I’d share a selfie with you. There you see it – posted at the top. It’s of my boot-clad feet.

I realise that there are significantly more captivating selfies out there but please stay with me. What you see is that the toes of my boots edge onto what is Spain’s Kilometro Cero. This is the point in Madrid from which all of Spain’s roads radiate. Therefore, most unlike my boring boots, it is very noteworthy, placed there, at the Puerta del Sol, as the country’s beating heart, pulsing the equivalent of freshly oxygenated blood around the rest of the country along arterial links.

Still, while important it may be, Spain’s Kilometro Cero is just one amongst many Kilometre Zeros all over the world. There are symbolically-centred beating hearts in city capitals everywhere. Nevertheless, they all lead back, as roads do, to Rome…

…Although not so much literally, more metaphorically. This is because Rome is the home of the archetype. Madrid isn’t the home of the archetype, nor yet are any of the other countries that have Kilometre Zeros because it was Rome’s Milliarium Aureum, or ‘golden milestone’ that started all this off. It is that symbolic heart that formed the centre of what was essentially the Compass Rose from which all other points of the Roman Empire took their bearings and established their place in the world. It’s Rome’s centre that supplied outlying satellites with their individual spatial, political, hierarchical, religious and cultural orientations.

So it’s from the Milliarium Aureum that we get our idiom, ‘All roads lead to Rome’ and, with it, the notion that everything leads back to some central point. So, for instance, we say all roads lead to Rome in respect of mystical or religious practices with the idea that all these, irrespective of who has them, lead back to The One. It’s as if it doesn’t matter that, most of the time, between us all, we speak the 101 names of God because when push comes to shove and we experience spiritual union, we return en masse to a single spiritual home.

But there are difficulties with this and these are understood by pushing the analogy a little further. So, just as there are certainly many roads leading out of Rome, so there are many paths leading out of each religious or spiritual tradition too. And, more than that, just as there are a multitude of Kilometre Zeros across the globe all mirroring Rome in having many roads leading out of them, so there are many, many religious and spiritual traditions all with many paths branching off them too. Sometimes I play a game with this idea: the point is to plot a return journey back from where I am now spiritually-speaking to where I began and, I tell you, it’s not easy. I guess it’s for this reason that I can’t, for the life of me, see how all the billions of us can get back to one single, central spiritual point, something like St Augustine’s City of God. I think in reality there must be a network of crisscrossing paths with myriad ‘spiritual homes’ dotted as nodal points all over the place. Sure, these spiritual homesteads approximate each other in various ways but, still, none are the same.

Spiritual traditions are often seen as ‘paths’ which, if followed, lead back to rather than away from. For instance, in the Christian Bible’s New Testament, Matthew (7:14) talks about the narrow road that leads to life. Then there’s the Tao which is a path too by definition, and following it restores and maintains universal order. But to follow the Christian Road is not to parallel the path of Tao. Of course, some might argue that this is because one or other of these paths – either the Christian or the Tao – has taken a wrong turn. But, then, how to reconcile the differences between, say, the Christian path followed by an anti-violence Quaker with that followed by an American evangelical who interprets the bible and their constitutional right to bear arms as linked, inerrant, literal truths? And, I’m wondering, if there’s one heaven and if both the Quaker and the American Evangelical pass the checks and get through the pearly gates when their time comes, how on earth will they rub along for eternity? I’m not imagining perpetual bliss!

Mystical experiences occur during times when external reality is less than usually distracting because something has happened to alter an individual’s state of consciousness. It might be that the individual has drifted off in a daydream, is sick and hallucinating, has taken drugs, is meditating or praying, or is in a psychotic or trance state. But, however it happens, the hegemony of external sense-perceptions is suspended in a way as to allow objects that usually exist only in an individual’s understanding to become reified and made supra-real and, thus, more imminent and demanding of attention than physically existent objects.

However, the thing is, objects of supra-reality arise within a person, and a person is a product of their environment which means that mystical and religious truths are, by nature, situated. This isn’t to downgrade them to mere wraiths because the very subjectivity of their inexistence makes them mighty. Even so, the supra-real objects of the mystical experiences of an anti-violence Quaker will have an entirely different quality to those of an American evangelical who believes that the world is a battlefield between good and evil (and, as an aside, I’d prefer to meet the former ‘egregores’ on a dark night than the latter!).

In any case, it’s true: all roads do lead to Rome…in a way.


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