In the Woods

Looking back, it seems that some unknown part of me–some questioning part deep in the heart rather than the answering part of the mind–was/is looking for a new direction, a way forward.  Some submerged and unknown part of me knew that it was time for a change. Recently, I mentioned being in England without a book to get lost in.  I visited Blackmore’s, a quaint book store next to the college I was staying in.  But I didn’t settle on a title, and as the days passed I realized that this state of book-less-ness was a quiet, imperceptively radical act against the status quo–of reading myself to sleep at night, of reading in buses and trains, of turning away from myself and any parts of reality I don’t like.

“I am poor in the material of impressions of myself,” writes Madame de Salzmann in The Reality of Being.  “What I have is so little, it has no weight.  If I really want to know something, to be sure of something, I first need to be ‘impressed’ by the knowledge.  I need this new knowledge.  I must be ‘impressed’ by it so strongly that I will at this moment know it with all of myself, my whole being, not merely think it with my head.  If I do not have enough impressions, enough of this being-knowledge, I can have no conviction.”

I took in a few impressions of myself while I was in England.  I don’t know if they were indelible, but they were quiety shocking.  I saw that I actually spend a huge amount of time thinking about what I would like to eat and how I would like to go to sleep and sometimes how well I feel and how I would like to take a walk or sit quietly.   This is the truth, I realized.  I’m pretty much a baby, just not as cute.  Yet,  I also saw that by accepting the humble ground of my being (as someone wrote in response to my blog last time “humble” and “humus” –earth–and maybe hummos–are all related) another possibility appeared.  In rare moments (when I was not obsessing about eating and sleeping) it struck me that there is another way to live–even as we go about our daily rounds.  There is a wild and unknown reality above the known world,  and we can touch it and be touched by it.  What it takes (to start) is just a willingness to see and be seen.

As I write this, Alex is off in Rome, having what I hope is a great romantic adventure.  And I’m home again, feeling as if I’m about to embark on an adventure of my own, not outward–or not just outward–but towards myself, my true nature.   I feel a little like a fire was kindled in England, somehow those humble impressions of myself, which included also the sense of time, of the energy this body has left.  I thought of Mary Oliver’s indelible poem “The Journey:”   “and there was a new voice/which you slowly recognized as your own,’that kept you company/as you strode deeper and deeper into the world….”

I also thought of a scene Lillian Firestone shares in The Forgotten Language of Children.  She describes a trip to an Onondaga Reservation, in upstate New York, to attend a PowWow or general assembly of tribes where visitors were tolerated.   There, Firestone met Henry, a tall, tanned Micmac from the Shubenacadie reservation in Nova Scotia, who asked Firestone in a kindly way “why you people want us to be like you?”    Firestone invites Henry to talk to the children she is chaperoning and he gives them a glimpse of another way of being, in which words don’t count for much and the greatest gifts are not things.  He described being taken away from his parents at 8-years-old, forced to go live in a big Catholic orphanage in Quebec, basically because it was standing empty.

“’Now before they take me away,” he said, ‘my Mom and Dad, they want to give me a present, but they are poor and they got nothing to give.  So they take me 100 miles away from Shubie in the forest and they leave me there and they say, ‘Son, find your way home.’”

It was all his parents had to give, Henry explained to the incredulous children, and it was intended to him a feeling of competence, of being safe in the midst of the unknown.  “When I get home, they know I will feel like I can do something hard, like I’m a man.”

I never was in a situation where I had to give Alex such a stark and serious gift.  But I’m tempted to give it to myself now. It’s really an extraordinary gift to give oneself, isn’t it?  Permission to be lost, to be not smart, to be not much of anything, to be bereft…left to find our own way home.

12 thoughts on “In the Woods

  1. There are so much happening, and I think that if there are a constantly willingness, this happening starts to come in more and more, you start notice a lot more of everything than ever before. Intensity takes over :)

    One thing I can say for sure, is that coincidence is happening a lot more lately and with more intensity. Just little silly things you know, that has always been there, and you just start to notice them now, for some reason, and you can see that this has started about the same time that your willingness and openness of mind started.

    By the way, I’m reading right now The Reality of Being. Wonderful…

  2. Tracy,

    Your words bring to mind the words of Paul Tillich who spoke so eloquently about God, as the “Ground of our Being” and even a “New Being.” Nearly all of us have to get lost at some point in our life, sometime more than once, to find that New Being. Here is what Tillich offers us on – Resurrection and New Being …

    “Resurrection means the victory of the New state of things, the New Being born out of the death of the Old. Resurrection is not an event that might happen in some remote future, but it is the power of the New Being to create life out of death, here and now, today and tomorrow.

    Where there is a New Being, there is resurrection, namely, the creation into eternity out of every moment of time. The Old Being has the mark of disintegration and death. The New Being puts a new mark over the old one. Out of disintegration and death something is born of eternal significance. That which is immersed in dissolution emerges in a New Creation. Resurrection happens now, or it does not happen at all. It happens in us and around us, in soul and history, in nature and universe.

    Reconciliation, reunion, resurrection—this is the New Creation, the New Being, the New state of things. Do we participate in it? The message of Christianity is not Christianity, but a New Reality. A New state of things has appeared, it still appears; it is hidden and visible, it is there and it is here. Accept it, enter into it, let it grasp you.”

    I believe that you have let it grasp you. I believe that you have let it enter into you. I believe that you have accepted it in all its mystery and power. I believe that you are participating in it all the time, this New Being, this New Creation, this Resurrection, even when you are lost and questioning and still searching, most especially then.

    Indeed, aren’t we all. And isn’t this simply a sign and a symbol of how we are all in the process of changing, all the time, and that there is no permanent self, but a self that is always evolving, always questioning and seeking and learning new things. A self that is eternally moving into new states of being and new relationships that in turn change and shape us in new and wonderful ways.

    Isn’t that a mystery worth embracing and living?



    1. This is magnificent, Ron. Thank you. The message of Christianity is not Christianity but a New Being.

  3. Tracy, your third paragraph is exactly right based on my own experience. It can be a bit surprising to see on what, in what my thoughts and emotions dwell; not at all what I ‘imagine’. The seeing of them, the quite different quality of attention that permits it puts me in a world, at least briefly, of different densities of matter, of different possibilities and different laws. It is this that, at times, I wish for all humans but then I do not know if that is what is needed. What of this knowledge should we attempt to transmit? All, part? I do not know but I feel that the question is beginning to arise in some people.

    I also loved the book The Forgotten Language of Children. I especially loved the story about the young boy who was given a task by “Peggy” who I assume was Peggy Flinsch, to remember everything that happened to him during the day and he was to tell it at the end of the day. His attention changed and at a certain point what he began to see was magical.

  4. Yes! Thank you! I loved that story about the little boy given the task of remembering everything by Peggy Flinsch and then told to report on it. Very quickly the ordinary thinking/word mind was overwhelmed. He began to really experience the vibrant, magical aspect of reality. He skipped a meal to go bask in the beauty of flowers! I loved that. It was proof that we are all capable of more reality. Yet how much to try to share? Be like that kid, I think. Just be direct, without too much padding of explanation.

  5. Tracy,
    Thank you for the story of your trip to England and Lillian Firestone’s The Forgotten Language of Children.The story of Henry, the Micmac man is hopefully becoming a minor part of the lives of Native Americans.
    Another way to look at being lost or bereft is being open to the world being present. Not letting the past and our projections of the future cloud the present unfolding situation.

    1. Indeed, I believe “lost” comes from a root that means (among other things) undefended…in other words, open.

  6. Hi Tracy

    “I am poor in the material of impressions of myself,” writes Madame de Salzmann in The Reality of Being. “What I have is so little, it has no weight. If I really want to know something, to be sure of something, I first need to be ‘impressed’ by the knowledge. I need this new knowledge. I must be ‘impressed’ by it so strongly that I will at this moment know it with all of myself, my whole being, not merely think it with my head. If I do not have enough impressions, enough of this being-knowledge, I can have no conviction.”

    It seems like we’ve been coming to this same observation from complimentary paths. I like referring to Simone because there is no Simone Weil school so I don’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing and misrepresenting ideas. Simone is the true “individual” and beyond classification. Take from her what you will.

    Just yesterday I received an update on Julia Haslett’s documentary on Simone. It is coming to the United States and will debut in Sarasota Florida.

    There is a link to the vhcle magazine interview with Julia. Reading it elaborates on what Madame de Salzmann wanted us to become conscious of: the need to see.

    Julia suffered family tragedy and rather than sink into escapism wanted to be able to understand why suffering affects the world as well as her. No “wonderfulness” here. Just the willingness to be open to “impressions” so as to be impressed by the results. It ties in well with Gurdjieff’s explanation of the kundalina. She concludes her interview quoting Simone:

    She also wrote that even if we can’t prevent the forces of tyranny from prevailing, we can at least “understand the force by which we are crushed.” And in a sense, my documenting of that time was an attempt to do just that. And, if nothing else, preserve a record of it for future generations.

    Why are we unable to be impressed by the obvious in more than our head? If we cannot, how could we ever expect to transcend the Ninth Wave? Nothing wonderful here. This is the reality and the horror of the human condition. It is also why I’ve been making efforts to further Simone. She is not wonderful, politically correct, or anything else. But IMO she is right and in her own way, vivifies what Madame de Salzmann was well aware of and a necessary influence in the world.

  7. I am lost, I don’t feel smart or much of anything, I am bereft and I haven’t considered these things a gift … until now.

  8. Dear Tracy,

    A friend of mine, an editor, showed me a game she plays with her family. They’re out driving somewhere, and they say, “Let’s get lost!” So they turn down some road where they’ve never been and have no idea where they are going. Sometimes, they set out on a Saturday with the intention of getting lost when they leave the house.

    I was visiting and she turned to me in her car with that playful glint in her eye and said, “Want to get lost?” We had a great time. Saw things with fresh eyes. Eyes that would have glazed over if we had a destination in mind and knew just how to get there.

    This is a light-hearted way of tasting a little of what you’re talking about.

    A heavier-hearted way is grief. Seven months ago I lost my beloved of forty years to a heart attack. It came out of the blue. This is a very different taste of how it feels to be lost.

    The gifts hidden deep in the alchemy of grief will emerge in time. I trust that. The hollowed chest, the ache, the feeling so bereft, will slowly give birth to new being, some new abundance and fresh vision. I trust that it will, and there will be gifts of joy though I haven’t felt them yet. Life will come one day and tug on my sleeve and say with a smile, “Come on let’s play! Want to get lost?.”

  9. Dear Barbara,

    I’m very sorry for your loss. I also believe that gifts will be revealed in time. May wisdom and compassion accompany you now, at this aching time.

    After my mother (who happened to be Danish) died, I remember feeling and saying that I felt lost–then learning that a Nordic root of the word meant to disband an army. I looked for that root today and couldn’t find it. Did I dream it? It felt very right and apt. In grief I was disarmed, vulnerable to life in a way I usually am not. And it dawned on me (literally waking up at dawn one day) that I could trust my own love for my mother, that this powerful force might be a source of wisdom and compassion for me, as I grieved.

    Thank you for the story about the game. I’m going to play it.



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