Quotables: The Spiritual Wilderness
Rilke said that during such times we should endeavor to stay close to one simple thing in nature. When the mind is festering with trouble or the heart torn, we can find healing among the silence of mountains or fields, or listen to the simple, steadying rhythm of waves. The slowness and the stillness gradually take us over. Our breathing deepens and our hearts calm and our hungers relent. When serenity is restored, new perspectives open to us and difficulty can begin to seem like an invitation to new growth. This is also the experience of prayer. The tired machinations of the ego are abandoned. It no longer needs to push or prove itself in the combat of competition. Beneath the frenetic streams of thought, the quieter, elemental nature of the self takes over and calms are presence.
Rather than taking us out of ourselves, nature coaxes us deeper inwards, teaches us to rest in the serenity of our elemental nature. When we go out among nature, clay is returning to clay. We are returning to participate in the stillness of the earth which first dreamed us. This stillness is rich and fecund. One might think that an invitation to enter into the stillness of nature is merely naïve romanticism that likes to indulge itself and escape from the cut and thrust of life into some narcissistic cocoon. This invitation to friendship with nature does of course entail a willingness to be alone out there. Yet this aloneness is anything but lonely. Solitude gradually clarifies the heart until a true tranquility is reached. The irony is that at the heart of that aloneness you feel intimately connected with the world. Indeed, the beauty of nature is often the wisest balm for it gently relieves and releases the caged mind. Calmness flows in to wash away anxiety and worry. The 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart always encouraged such calmness: Gelassenheit. Over against the world with all its turbulence, distraction and worry, one should cultivate a style of mind that can reach through to an inner stillness and calm. The world cannot ruffle the dignity of the soul that dwells in its own tranquility. Gradually, this serenity will begin to pervade our seeing and change the way we look at things.
Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O’Donohue (New York: HaprerCollins Publishers, 2004), p. 17.
The late John O’Donohue was awarded a Ph.D. in philosophical theology from the University of Tubingen in 1990. He is the author of several works, including a book on the philosophy of Hegel, Person als Vermittlung; two collections of poetry, Echoes of Memory and Conamara Blues; and two international bestsellers, Anam Cara and Eternal Echoes. He lived in Ireland.
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