Little bins

Photo at Pixabay

Every day, twelve little bins in which to order disorderly life, and even more disorderly thought

Mary Oliver
Upstream, page 25

Recycling in the UK has had a bad press this month. I read I’m not as good at it as I once was, and need to live in one of four counties to pass muster. Boxes and bags are out. Ubiquitous and ugly wheeled bins host the nation’s best-ordered recycling efforts.

Mary Oliver writes of the social self that might be cycling life through ‘twelve little bins’ – the hours of the clock – more concerned with keeping pace with the ‘regular’ governor of time than with whether or not it gathers ‘some branch of wisdom or delight’ along the way.

Containers play their part, like the hours. But both the regular and the irregular – coupled with an ability to reflect and to ask ‘what am I doing and why am I doing it?’ – are essential elements whatever we’re talking about, wherever we are, and whatever we do.

When we have put it into words

Another day of surprises in British politics – and a new Prime Minister lined up for Wednesday evening. I wish outgoing and incoming leadership every possible success. The burdens of high office are immeasurable – and are incalculably demanding across any and all party boundaries.

As I’ve suggested many times before, it would be the sea of words that would most get to me. Something in me insists on reaching deeper than mere words – and it’s a reaching inwards that I aspire to, every bit as much as a reaching outwards. Richard Holloway has perhaps put a finger on why:

… we are creatures who use language and sometimes only know that we know something when we have put it into words. We are, therefore, destined to struggle with language and concepts, to find the words that approximate to the realities we encounter. We must recognise a fundamental difficulty with this at the outset: language can sometimes suggest the reality of the thing to which it refers, but it can never be the thing to which it refers. This is true when we are talking about one another and human experience; it is trebly true in our attempts to describe spiritual realities. Language is analogical, it describes by likening one thing to another; or it is metaphorical, it operates by using dramatic figures of speech that suggest the reality of the thing described in an image or a sound sequence, such as Tennyson’s

The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.

Language is revelatory. It can bring us close to the reality described but we always have to remember that it is not itself the reality. It is an interpretation, a way of thinking about something, but never exactly the thing itself; it is flesh made word.

Richard Holloway
The Stranger in the Wings

So be we president, prime minister, prophet or observing person in the street, any and all who write, or place their hope in human manifestos must also “hear” them, deep within, if ever we’re to believe that flesh made word might truly be turned into word made flesh.

Yes: leadership on the one hand and “ordinary” human lives on the other are tough calls! Talk is not the same as action – and shouldn’t always be allowed to trump the wisdom found in deep reflection and silence. And too hasty action can sometimes be worse than none.

There are no easy answers to be found when it comes to the governance of nations, nor even of our own governance of ourselves. All humankind then ought to do everything it can to reach deeper than mere words in sincere attempts to encourage one another along life’s way.

Leaderless teacher

Not for the first time Dr Bill Wooten set me on the trail of another good book today – and I’ve tracked down Ecopsychology a collection of essays that includes one on The Way of Wilderness by Steven Harper. I’m looking forward to its arrival here in a day or two – having a sense that I’ll be as taken with the collection as I was when I read the late, great Dr Gerald G May’s The Wisdom of Wilderness seven or eight years ago.

It’s Lent, of course, and every year, and for that reason, I have an eye out for some new insight on wilderness and what it might have meant for the Hebrews, and later for Jesus of Nazareth, and might mean for any of us, wherever in the world we are, in our own personal growing, in fractious, stirred and evolving times, physically and metaphorically – refugee camps and modern-day exiles in mind on the one hand, and the miracle of the International Space Station on the other!

Harper is writing about opt-in experience of course – a privilege not presently granted to refugees, who are where they are because they had little or no other choice. Dare we hope that the “leaderless teacher” (again, physical or metaphorical, outer or inner work) may instil something of “faith, hope and love” in any and all who encounter her? I need to hope and so dare I must …

When we are truly willing to step into the looking
glass of nature and contact wilderness, we uncover
a wisdom much larger than our small everyday selves.
Uninterrupted and undisturbed nature takes care of
itself. One of my favorite guidelines for facilitators
comes from Esalen Institute’s cofounder Richard Price,
who used to make the same distinction I am making here
between therapy and practice with respect to Gestalt.
Price liked to say, “Trust process, support process,
and get out of the way.” He frequently added, “If in
doubt, do less.” Personal evolution then becomes like
nature; instead of being a struggle, our process,
uninterrupted and undisturbed, becomes unfolding
growth. Wilderness is a leaderless teacher; there is
no one preaching change to us. The only personal
transformations that occur arise from within ourselves.

Steven Harper

And that’s how the Hebrews, and the man from Nazareth, and many others before and since, came upon such a deal of Wisdom to be shared – on the other side of wilderness encounter.

Mind your head!

The entrance door to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was among the very many things that touched me deeply when I first visited the Holy Land twenty-one years ago. Why this particular door? Because it’s tiny. Most adults are required to stoop to half-height to gain access and many are the cries of “mind your head” – though the entrance itself seems to suggest precisely the opposite.

The door seemed to be saying “Come down from your lofty heights! Worthy Magi, wisdom-seekers all, get down from your camels. Come, by all means, whoever you are and from wherever you’ve travelled, offer your gifts gladly and quietly. But pay less mind to what goes on in that head of yours! This place is about wisdom of the heart, known only by persons willing to bend the knee, to stoop, to enter in to the cradle of a quite different and very particular kind of “nativity”, an epiphany Now: veritable adoration, wondrous contemplation, most glorious meditation, healing and restoration, Otherness-in-ordinariness.

Some Carol words come to mind: “Do you hear what I hear?”

This nativity is about a baby, and about all babies, about the baby – the promise and potential – at the heart and in the soul of everyone, everywhere, and so about you and me. This is Emmanuel-revelation, a manifestation: something in littleness that all of us need to see, and to be … “Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost [and thereby found] in wonder, love and praise” *

* from Charles Wesley’s hymn: Love divine, all loves excelling

Sunrise stands still

“The tree is now lush in the summer morning mist, exuberant in the warmth of afternoons. Through summer, the sunrises and sunsets move back toward the south each day, gradually picking up speed, “falling” south through the autumnal equinox. The tree’s oval leaves turn crimson, a few at a time at first, then all rushing to keep up. Raucous vectors of geese fly, and the leaves fall. Chill comes. The tree’s deep scarred bark seems to become darker as the sunrises and sunsets slow in their southward movement. The sun’s arc is lower, the days shorter, nights longer. Then the place of sunrise stands still again at winter solstice and the tree is once more a black skeleton, dead if you didn’t know better. Then, ever so slowly, the place of sunrise begins to move northward again.”

Gerald G May
The Wisdom of the Wilderness, p80f

The wonderful Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has written:

“the person who does not know how to die does not know how to live” …

Thich Nhat Hanh
You are here

… and I wonder whether Gerald May ever read that? I think he’ll have known the truth in it. Deeply sensitive to the seasons of life, he observes summer and winter, dying and rising, an eternal cycle, “southward movement”, a brief standing still, and a “rising northward again”. Dr May, like all of us, had cause to lean hard upon his sense of life’s natural beginnings and endings, oft repeated. I need to remember “summer morning mist” too. I have to know how to die, the better to know how to live.