Once, Joseph Campbell spoke to Bill Moyers of Igjugarjuk. (This is drawn from The Power of Myth, the book version of the series of interviews that Parabola had a hand in bringing to the world many moons ago). The ultimate cause of all suffering is mortality and the uncanny, unstoppable way that everything and everyone and we ourselves keep changing and slipping away. James Joyce called this the “grave and constant” in human sufferings. Igjugarjuk, Campbell told Moyers, “was the shaman of a Caribou Eskimo tribe in northern Canada…who told European visitors that the only true wisdom ‘lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and can be reached only through suffering. Privation and suffering alone open the mind to all that is hidden to others.”
When I was a child, I would often look out at the frozen St. Lawrence River or out across snow covered fields on bitter cold days and think about what it would be like to be in out alone in arctic, out in “the great loneliness.” There also seems to be a natural correspondence between our deepest experience of solitude, of being a small self relating to the big unknown, and the world around us. Merton associated his earliest yearning for God with the sound of bird song and church bells mingling together one Sunday morning in Queens, New York (where he moved with his family during WWI). For others, snow and cold have the intimacy of a cathedral.