"Do not think about the world,
nor about your friends, nor about the past, present, or future;
but consider yourself to be outside the world and alone with God,
as if your soul were already separated from the body, and had no longer any interest
in peace or war, or the state of the world.
Leave your body, and fix your gaze on the uncreated light.
Let nothing come between you and God."
~ St-Albert le Grand, De Adhaerendo Deo
Many of us, in the rivers of our days flooded with chaotic rapids, persevere to record words and events. The need to make sense of what we experience forces us to create spaces of time to reflect. So, also, is the need to validate our observations as witnesses of what we see and the realities of our movements in this world. Considering the incessant schedule I have always been able to juggle, I am often asked when I find the time to write. Since words and reflections are part of every day’s living and breathing, I graft the writing in between tasks. Rarely are there spells of consecutive hours to sit and write. For the most part it has been jots in tiny hardcovered books, or sentences typed on a laptop I tote around- just in case. Written words salt my days, actions, and aspirations. Pencil and paper are also there to record and attempt to make sense of difficult events. When such noted words stare back up at me from my notebooks, I become further amazed at the absurdities I have lived through, in this short life. And as these continue, the observations and struggles follow. By documenting faithfully, it is apparent how darkness and light really do coexist.
When the struggle intensifies, and fatigue prevents hurdling more barriers, an unchanged forging-ahead becomes counterproductive. Frustration and analysis can feed one another, giving way to spiraling despair. Realities remain, yet words often fail. That doesn’t mean an end to hope, but more a change of perspective- a regathering of embers to persist through the darkness. When social structures fail us, whether on a national or local scale- or even in our immediate circles, it seems quite natural to leap with so many others into the abyss of cynicism. How inviting to be in such abundant company. The pilgrim road can surely curve into cold and dark forests. Clashing perspectives, as the ancient apostle Paul once observed, fight within the aspiring soul; only the key of grace could liberate him from the despair he described as a captivity of the mind. Even when words and knowledge fail, compassion must not fall away. At times we must quiet our thoughts, in order for our hopes to abide. At other times we find our ambitions silenced by our circumstances. Compassion never falls away, "whether prophecies shall be made void, or languages shall cease, or knowledge shall be destroyed." When an active soul reaches points of saturation, having "seen and heard enough," it is really an "enough" that lays claim on both resiliency and hope. For me, it has often meant finding places of refuge, of civility and tranquility, in order to listen for the spirit and regain my ideals. Retreating is certainly not copping out, but a way for vital embers of hope to be rekindled. Apparently, we do come to times when the high pitch of thinking and doing must stop.
Over five hundred years ago, Thomas à Kempis asked, "What can you see under the sun that will long endure?" He wrote of the wisdom of withdrawal into silence, as a regular part of life. "If you withdraw yourself from superfluous words and from unprofitable business, and from hearing rumors and idle tales, you will find convenient time to be occupied in holy meditation." Within Kempis’ essay, Of Love of Solitude and Silence, he implies how the best we can offer is what emerges from conscientious silence. "No one is secure in high position save he who would gladly be a subject... No one speaks surely save he who would gladly keep silence if he might." Silent recollection is also survival. Consciously repelling the social currents that can poison our hearts, Kempis advocates we exercise ourselves to "shut fast the door of your soul." The sum total is the balance needed for contemplatives to thrive in cultures of carelessness and competitiveness. It is worthwhile to feel stable, and stabilizing to feel worthwhile.
Our intuitions, our "insides," our spirits can testify to us that our times of extremely structured thinking and active struggle cannot be indefinitely sustained. There must be times devoted to simply abiding. This is even something we can provide for those near to us. Endeavor to be quiet, and walk honestly, Paul advised to his friends in Greece. Some translations read "study to be quiet," reminding me of how so simple an aspect of life is a cultivated discipline. In this sense, "quiet" runs far deeper than an absence of verbiage. I have met many people who speak with an impressively peaceful- even a quiet- spirit. It seems the greater discipline is in quieting one’s thoughts. As much as we can choose to commit our experiences to memory, we may also choose not to remember. Shutting fast the door to the soul is also to elect not to exhume detriments that obstruct the embodiment of compassion.
Just now, during a workday meal break, I am enjoying the natural light at the window after having looked to the wide sky outside, amidst aromatic wind gusts. Images of vastness, such as sweeping skies and the immense ocean, are consolations to remind me how temporal and small are my complaints. Looking at the small radio that accompanies me during many of my intermissions, I am also reminded of some attributes these humble and familiar consolers represent. Consider the radio. It has no memory; it does not accumulate its broadcasts. There is no baggage from the past, and only immediate moments are impartially transmitted- pulled from an unseen spectrum of frequencies. It must always be attuned to its source. It reminds me how so often the best I can do is to simply report, in faithful articulation, while receiving and transmitting the most lucid possible signal. The programmes continue, in the harsh and joyful times alike, undeterred by social hardships. From the warmth of familiar and recognizable voices and melodies, there are cadenced gauges for our precarious days. Over whatever is being conversed about at this moment on WBZ, in thickly-accented and animated Boston English, I am asking myself of the true source of my heart’s unrest- even beneath the misery I see daily in many around me. Yes, it is all perilous and we each crave reassurance in our livelihoods. But I turn from the despondence and see how the sun shines, and how even strangers greet me with their welcoming smiles. So little is within our own power. And yet I must bear these fragilities and allow them to be transfigured into something that can light the steps ahead.