The Inexpressible Privacy of Life

At any given moment, we can transform our relationship to life.  How?  Pay attention.  Pay really, really, really close attention.  I know.  We’ve all heard this a million times, but really, try it!  It’s transformative!   I glimpsed this last week, choosing to try to be mindful inside and outside while I was on a retreat  in the high desert in Joshua Tree, California.  Since a theme of the retreat I was on is diversity and finding a true voice for what is usually suppressed and oppressed, a lot of pain was getting expressed.  I decided to be very quiet and watch and listen, allowing everything to arise and unfold without rushing in to label what was happening or insert my opinion or reaction.  What would Jane Austen or Tolstoy make of this?  What would any great-hearted, spacious-minded person do in this situation? Let alone Buddha or Jesus.  I decided to be voluntarily passive and attend, attendez, really practicing the patient waiting that comes with real attention.  As Trungpa once said (I’m paraphrasing), patience is really being.  I practised being with what was happening (naturally, I don’t mean all the time, just when I wasn’t distracted by the usual self-centered preoccupations with dinner, etc.)  I discovered that reality has a way of unfolding all by itself, without any coaching from the stands.   A reality that is far richer and more subtle than can be reduced to words can enter and bring light when we are prepared to receive it.  Even painful events are transformed by the alchemy of really seeing.

Early every morning last week, I prepared for the tumultuous day ahead by taking a walk alone in the high desert.  Below is a passage from a journal entry by Thoreau, sent by a friend, that perfectly describes the way life can unfold and enter when we are willing to receive:

When I detect a beauty in any of the recesses of nature,
I am reminded by the serene and retired spirit in which it requires to be contemplated,  of the inexpressible privacy of life – how silent and unambitious it is.The beauty there is in mosses will have to be considered from the holiest, quietest nook.
My truest, serenest moments are too still for emotion; they have woolen feet.
In all our lives we live under the hill, and if we are not gone we live there still.

To be calm, to be serene!
There is the calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind;
there is the calmness of a stagnant ditch.  So is it with us.
Sometimes we are clarified and calmed healthily, as we never were before in our lives,  not by an opiate, but by some unconscious obedience to the all-just laws,
so that we become like a still lake of purest crystal
and without an effort our depths are revealed to ourselves.

I awoke into a music which no one by me heard.
Whom shall I thank for it?  I feel my Maker blessing me.
To the sane man the world is a musical instrument.
The very touch affords an exquisite pleasure.

~ Henry David Thoreau, taken from a journal entry, June 22,1851.

9 thoughts on “The Inexpressible Privacy of Life

  1. Tracy, your last two posts are helping me with this Socrates meetup group I decided to lead.

    The topic for June 16 is

    “May the outward and inward man be at one.” Socrates

    Because if we are honest we can see that for some reason what we DO doesn’t seem to reflect what we consider to be our inner man or what we ARE. Plato describes this sitution as if being in a cave. What does it mean?

    We’ve seen how difficult this is to be at one and even just understand what it means. This question of the human condition can be considered superficially and also at the depth you are referring to. How to be challenging but yet not losing all but those who have pondered the human condition?

    It is a challenge to try to introduce this question on several levels. But I need the practice especially if I will be involved in some extensive presentations on Simone. You’ve offered some insights that I hope to weave into the evening.

    It could be good. We shall see. If all else fails, at least the Orchard House will make a few bucks

  2. Can you over-prepare for reality? I can honestly say that I always approach meditaion or prayer with dread – for all the anxiety I generate I never seem to get anything out of it. But when I am painting or helping to temper/tune a pipe organ, the time flies by and I suddenly find myself mourning for the spiritual experience unprepared for and now passed. Perhaps there is a needed diversity in the varieties that attention can take.

    1. Good point, Lewis. I think there does need to be diversity, and a willingness to catch a glimpse of reality on the fly.

  3. For me the A-has of contemplation do not require that I am doing nothing nor that I am intentional, only that I am in quiet stillness….thinking…..yet driving, gardening, reading, waking, walking, cooking…..

    There is room for contemplative practice even in the midst of other activities.

  4. I think that’s right. Lately, when I’ve been walking, esp. in nature, I have moments when I feel every part of myself–body, thinking, feelings–coming together, joining the present moment.

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