Sometimes we have to hold open the questions

Heavy snow here in France and very cold weather is forecast for the next few days. Here is a poem from Mary Oliver in similar conditions as she walks in a landscape covered in its white blanket. The beauty of nature changes the way we hold the questions which are always present in our lives.

The snow began here this morning and all day
continued, its white rhetoric everywhere calling us back to why, how, whence such beauty and what the meaning; such an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now, deep into night, it has finally ended.
The silence is immense, and the heavens still hold
a million candles, nowhere the familiar things: stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect and nightly turn from.

Trees glitter like castles of ribbons, the broad fields smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions that have assailed us all day
remain — not a single
answer has been found –
walking out now into the silence and the light
under the trees, and through the fields,
feels like one.

Mary Oliver, First Snow

Everything today is special

So many of us have been trained to think that being particular about what we want is indicative of good taste, and that not being satisfied unless our preferences are met is a sign of worldliness and sophistication. Often, this kind of discernment is seen as having high standards, when, in actuality, it is only a means of isolating ourselves from being touched by life, while rationalizing that we are more special than those who can’t meet our very demanding standards.

The devastating truth is that excellence can’t hold you in the night, and, as I learned when ill, being demanding or sophisticated won’t help you survive. A person dying of thirst doesn’t ask if the water has chlorine or if it was gathered in the foothills of France. Yet, to be accepting of the life that comes our way does not mean denying its difficulties and disappointments. Rather, it means that joy can be found even in hardship, not by demanding that we be treated as special at every turn, but through accepting the demand of the sacred that we treat everything that comes our way as special.

Mark Nepo, Being Easily Pleased

The work within us

Real growth in life is slow and can sometime pose its challenges. It requires that we keep the  space within us open in face of the unknown and move towards being comfortable with that. Often this means that we have to keep our heart curious and vulnerable, resisting the impulse  to close down the experience by putting labels on it,  or on ourselves. When faced with the unknown, the temptation  is to put on armour in case  we will be hurt. And our experience now can often bring us back to where we were once wounded or where our needs were unmet and release old fears. However, it is by having a conversation with the unknown in our lives that we can clarify what we need to hold on to and what we need to let go of. Only then can we take the next step on a journey into something bigger,  into who we can become, into where our life actually is now.

The work of the eyes is done.

Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.


Being Quiet

Being quiet in the midst of a frenetic life is like picking up a new instrument. If you’ve never played the violin and you try to play it for the first time, every muscle in your body hurts. Your neck hurts, you don’t know how to hold that awkward wavy thing called a bow, you can’t get your knuckles round to touch the strings, you can’t even find where the notes are, you are just trying to get your stance right. Then you come back to it again, and again, and suddenly you can make a single buzzy note. The time after that, you can make a clearer note. No one, not even you, wants to listen to you at first. But one day, there is a beautiful succession of notes and, yes, you have played a brief, gifted, much appreciated passage of music.

This is also true for the silence inside you; you may not want to confront it at first. But a long way down the road, when you inhabit a space fully, you no longer feel awkward and lonely. Silence turns, in effect, into its opposite, so it becomes not only a place to be alone but also a place that’s an invitation to others to join you, to want to know who’s there, in the quiet.

David Whyte, The Questions that have no right to go away