Posts Tagged ‘silence’

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Celtic Spirituality in Robin Hood Country

May 14, 2010

Mountain biking in the woods - a spiritual discipline?

I took these pictures last sunday 9th May 2010 while cycling in woods in North Nottinghamshire, which in medieval times used to be part of Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame. The pictures reflect different aspects of these woods – the sun dappling the ground through the leafy canope of trees; the sandy, mulchy, humus rich soil of this part of the world; the fresh, verdancy of new leaves and the winsome, tender splendour of wild flowers. They also reflect part of my life story. Riding in the woods on Sunday reminded me of a writer and how his eloquent words helped my healing and recovery from a period of illness over five years ago. 

In the spring of 2005, I began to take my first breaths of newness and to taste life afresh while emerging from a season of quite bleak alienation and personal pain. Later that year in the summer, I happened to visit a local bookshop and glimpsed the spine of a book with an intriguing title – Eternal Echoes – Exploring Our Hunger to Belong. I picked it up and began carefully leafing through it. I read with interest the gentle, peaceful words which described the enchanting landscape of Ireland and a perspective on Christianity that I had never really met before – Irish Celtic Christianity. Yet, John O’Donohue was clearly not writing a history book, but a sensitive, welcoming invitation to modern people to participate in an ancient spirituality of harmony with nature and land. I felt calmed and refreshed just flicking through it…I bought it and took it home.   

Several months later I was on holiday in Greece, staying in a splendid, small self-catering resort and enveloped in the sunny warmth, sandy beaches, warm, clean swimming pools and salty sea of the Peloponnese. At that time, I had been working for nearly five years in a brute, physical job at a warehouse and I was growing increasingly weary in body and soul of the grueling labour and repetition. My holiday in Greece was a blissful interlude, refreshing, spellbindingly beautiful, richly sensuous and a perfect opportunity to rest from activity and delve into this mysterious book.  

In Eternal Echoes, John O’Donohue made alive the temperate climes of the Irish countryside and coast – grassy mountains, blue lakes and moss-covered, weathered stones half-buried, half-exposed in the green hills. He described the echoes of the wind in the hills. He suggested that we busy, stressed, media and consumption driven modern people needed to rediscover, listen and hear for ourselves an echo from Beyond. A voice of transcendence that whispered to human souls through the ancient, natural landscapes. I was enthralled. Reading O’Donohue my own alienation and isolation from the natural world became apparent to me. I sensed the Spirit of God desiring to speak to me through nature. A feeling of release gradually welled up inside me. In those ‘sacred’ moments, the writer and his book Eternal Echoes, gently prized me free from the shackles of my suffocating, industrialised, technological and consumerist lifestyle.  

One short chapter spoke to me at the time that reminded me of the woods that I frequent so often now. That have become for me a natural sanctuary. John O’Donohue writes of ‘Our Longing for Nature’:  

‘Celtic spirituality reminds us that we do not live simply in our thoughts, feelings or relationships. We belong to the earth. The rhythm of the clay and its seasons sings within our hearts. The sun warms the clay and fosters life. The moon blesses the night. In the uncluttered world of Celtic spirituality there is a clear view of the sacrament of nature as it brings forth visible presence.’  

'We belong to the earth' John O' Donohue

 ‘The Celts worshipped in groves in nature and attended to the silent divinity of wild places. Certain wells, trees, animals and birds were sacred to them. Where and what a people worship always offers a clue to where they understand the source of life to be. Most of our experience of religion happens within the walled frame of a church or temple. Our God is approached through thought, word and ritual. The Celts had no walls around their worship. Being in nature was already to be in the Divine Presence. Nature was the theatre of the diverse dramaturgies of the Divine Imagination.’  

Eternal Echoes, John O’Donohue, Pages 19-20  

I love those words:  

‘We belong to the earth.’  

‘The Celts had no walls around their worship.’ 

‘ Being in nature was already to be in the Divine Presence.’

 

Sweet chestnut leaves burst into life - 9th May 2010, North Notts, England

Riding my bike at the weekend, I remembered John O’Donohue’s words and how they inspired me to get out my bike again and venture out into the woods. For many years I lived a divided life. Now I feel that I can live a much more holistic life. I enjoy and revere the sense of Beyond  and receive the life-giving generosity of the Universe wherever I may be. Quietly drinking in the spiritual balance of nature in the woods. Celebrating the vibrancy and plurality of human cultural expressions in the city. It’s good to be whole again.  

'See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.' ( Pictured - Bluebells, North Notts, 9th May 2010)

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The Power of Less – Blogging, living and monasticism

May 6, 2010

I have recently spent a lot of time considering what I want to do with my life and perhaps, more importantly how I should go about it. One of the recent developments in my life that has inspired and encouraged me to find work in this field has been writing this blog. I have always enjoyed communicating in general and writing specifically. It’s also something where people at different times in my life have told me that I have a knack for using words. It’s pretty fortunate that I have this ‘knack’ as my other skills can often seem somewhat limited!

Yet writing my blog has become a challenge in itself. Attempting to write interesting, thought-provoking, useful and stimulating posts sometimes comes naturally, but at other times it feels like a punishing drag – each letter of each word being engraved seemingly individually into the granite hard ether of web space – destined (possibly!)to be ignored or at best casually flipped upon and quickly dismissed.  Moreover, this sense of being gunged up as a writer can feel seemingly exagerated by the lack of  verbal response from readers.  Even a short, but heartfelt and relevant comment can make a big difference to an aspiring writer!

Still the greatest challenges I feel are inward, not external ones. One dissident of the former Romanian Communist regime, who had suffered many years of incarceration in prison and persecution during the brutal years of Communist rule, was once asked shortly before his death, with respect to his difficult life experiences whether he had any enemies? To which he replied, ” No, I don’t. I have no enemies…only myself.”

This insight seems as true about the writing life as it is about the spiritual pilgrimmage…our greatest and most persistent adversary is usually our self.

File:Russian Orthodox Monastery in Hebron.jpg

Abraham's Oak Russian Holy Trinity Monastery (Photo courtesy of CopperKettle licensed under Wikimedia Creative Commons)

One of the themes of Dark Nights White Soul that keeps cropping up in my thinking, feeling and writing is the simplicity of the contemplative and monastic life. I feel increasingly drawn, not to sexual celibacy, but to the quietude and purity of this spiritual tradition. It offers, perhaps especially to post-modern people soaked in a hyper technological world, an existence that provides firm, yet flexible, natural boundaries. Monasticism offers limitations not as obstacles to pleasure, but as the real pathway to true happiness, personal peace and joy. Such simple and ‘holy’ practices encourage me to make important choices today about what I will do with my life, both in the macroscopic ideals of my career and vocation in the future, but also to the microscopic details of practical, everyday living in the present.

I lay down this evening to read and pray feeling frustrated and burdened by the multiplicity of tasks I have made myself and my lack of concrete progress in achieving any one of them. As I lay quietly in my room reflecting a book came to mind that I picked up a few months ago from Waterstones called  The Power of Less – The 6 Essential Productivity Principles that will change your life by Leo Babauta.

I’m just going to quote a couple of lines from his opening introductory chapter:

‘…the simplicity I seek in my life is simplicity in what I do.

Do less, not more, but achieve more because of the choices I make.

Simplicity boils down to two steps:

  1. Identify the essential.
  2. Eliminate the rest.’

The Power of Less, Leo Babauta, page IX

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Keeping Quiet

April 23, 2010
  
Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda
   
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
 
This one time upon the earth,
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

 
It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn’t be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren’t unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,

If we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I’ll go.

 
From Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon
Translated by Stephen Mitchell 

  

  
I was just riding again in the woods this afternoon and these words of the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda came to mind, about stillness and quiet…
    
‘If we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.’

 

As I began my ride, I tried to ride quietly softly through the woods. There was such calm and peace in the woods. My bike gently rolled along the mulchy, sandy paths. The tires make a reassuring soft hum as they traverse the gravel. My ears register the strange quiet in the woods. It is of course, broken from time to time by the distant sound of cars passing on a ring road outside the park, or the frightened rustling of a startled squirrel, or the sweet, chirps and whistles of birds singing above. But above all I am struck by the silence. It is so quiet that I feel that I can actually hear the wood speaking to me. Speaking not through words, but through silence, quiet, peace, the breathing of the forest as I gently rumble through it, a visitor, who comes from outside the wood. Yet, a human who feels at home in the woods fresh air, forest aromas, fragmented light and peaceful green foliage.
 
I feel that the woods welcome me. They welcome me into their world of natural growth, not forced, not planned or deliberate, simply the response of living things to an environment of water, warmth, wind, soil and light. Here in the woods things grow, live and die, They don’t try to influence you to be something else, something better or more worthy, or more correct than you are…they are simply quiet – the fresh air and clean fragrances, the silence simply welcomes you. The woods invite you to take part in the rest from plans or agendas, projects and sales, shopping and winning, competing to beat our neighbour, colleague or friend. There is no competition, just the ebb and flow of death and life. We all will die, the question is will we actually live.
 
I am embraced by the wood – first and foremost, it’s simple, pure silence. I die for a moment to myself. For a few seconds I return the embrace and breath in and out the quiet and fresh air. I am nobody. I am nobody special. Simply, a very lucky man…who gets to ride his bike in the woods on a sunny afternoon. Yet, it is a welcome relief. Here in the woods there is nobody to impress or convince of my worthiness. I need be absolutely no one. I am no one important and yet…the silence of the wood seems to welcome me. She welcomes me …as me…as David…as the wounded young man with a history, that I am. A man with a history…yet, all that which the world and society weighs and measures…seems to mean nothing in the forest. Here is just me and the woods. Nothing else matters…just be quiet, David.
 
Just be quiet … still … listen … to the silence.