A Would Be Mystic

My urge to write comes and goes. Could be something to do with tides or phases of the moon. Or maybe the influences are more subtle, less easily attributed. More ethereal.
My state of mind for instance. It wanders, you see. My inner world is a labyrinth and my mind has a habit of sauntering through the corridors, pausing here and there to pick up an image, a memory, thoughts or a feeling, sometimes mislaid, sometimes waiting to be made sense of, catalogued and tidied away. I don’t have the plans for the building, and for some of its rooms I don’t even have a key.
That’s one reason I write blog entries. The process of writing serves to tidy up my inner world and to help me make sense of stuff I don’t have a key to access. It’s a healthy thing to do, I guess.

Now and then I use photographs as a stimulus to writing. And so it is today. Four photographs and one short video clip are my mystical muses.

What is it about us?

Look at this image of the city of Sydney by night. The world of the immediate. A world of lights and sound and tastes; where anything can happen, good and bad, benign and dangerous. The unspoken seduction of crowds, noise and lights brings people together in large numbers, as it has always done.

Why is it then that the monuments we build as testaments to our ingenuity are such contradictions? Cities across the world are showcases for the best we can do. We walk down their streets and reassure ourselves that we’re cleverer than people were in the past; that life is purposed by canyons of concrete and glass; and that we’re in control.
And yet . . .

You don’t need to look too hard to see cities struggling to match words with deeds. Communities in name only, they breed alienation and nurture inner emptiness in the souls who tread sterile urban wastelands. Blank faces, and eyes that don’t meet other eyes: Testaments to the loneliness of crowds.

City living the pinnacle of human ingenuity? Or have we got some priorities badly wrong?
Perhaps that is a bit harsh. Humans are social beings. Well, most of us are . . . even me. I enjoy a night out on the town as much as anyone, but this morning I’m in a mood to wonder why our cleverness does not often guarantee our happiness.
What is it about us?

We start out well enough . . . if we’re lucky enough to have parents who want us and care for us. I reckon these little fellas have a lot of things right in their approach to life. Living in the moment they carry no burdens. Trusting and loving, they elicit love and delight from everyone they meet.

Simple, isn’t it? So why do we find it so hard?
What did we lose along the way as we learned to take our place in the world? Our innocence? Our Wonder? Our trust? Ourselves? I don’t know. Maybe these changes are inevitable and necessary, but I wonder. Is it necessary for adults to lose their sense of wonder and their connection with themselves?
So is there an answer; an antidote to a damaged adult soul?
I’m going to be bold and claim that love is all when it comes to human well being and happiness. There is no material success; no job title; no salary or position of power means a jot of anything to me compared to loving and being loved. If I were ever tempted to forget that I would only need to look at those boys’ faces above.

As a grandparent, this is all clear to me. As a parent, to my shame, it was not always so. I wasted a lot of time and opportunities chasing mirages, and in the process took the love of my family for granted.

Why is it, that so many of us sacrifice our lives on the altar of material assets or power or seductive dreams when the substantive things escape our notice? Are we just slow learners? Or are we wilfully blind?

The mystical musings continue as I remember a beach in northern Spain. The photograph speaks of journeys. The beach begs to be walked, and the path rising to the top of the hill suggests a destination somewhere out of sight. How often have I walked such tracks? How many times have I found the journey more satisfying than the destination?

How often in my life have I chosen to follow paths, some actual, some metaphorical, hoping to find new things? A new start. A new experience. A place where things made better sense. Sometimes I found what I was looking for, and sometimes I got lost, badly lost. What I didn’t realise was that what I was seeking was not to be found at the end of a journey so much as inside myself.
That self knowledge is hard earned. It has cost me and those I love lots of cuts and grazes, and grief. Now the people I have learned to admire most are those who put others first, and go about their lives at peace with themselves and walk gently in the world. They are treasures. Perhaps you know someone like that? I would like to be one someday.

And to finish these mystical musings, I would like to share with you a short video I recorded last year in a monastery in Armenia. It is an Armenian group (obviously) who perform traditional folk songs and elements from the unbroken 1500 year old traditions of the Armenian Apostolic church. I cannot remember the group’s name, but I suppose a bit of work with Doctor Google would remedy that.

The songs were Armenian. It did not matter. I stood barely breathing, as I listened. The floor could have opened up beneath me and I would have floated, completely immersed in the moment. A mystical experience? Yes, even despite the presence of other tourist groups who, while temporarily silenced, soon wandered off chattering amongst themselves about I know not what.

I listen to this clip periodically to remind myself of the experience, and to be confronted again by the insights it gave me:
That there are things in this life that transcend the daily routine and matters we think are important. That when all else fades away these things will remain as strong and clear as ever. Love is one of them. Belonging is another.



One final thought:

Being able to stand outside one’s self and see, hear and feel the cries of others is the greatest thing I know. I am grateful for the times, here and there, I can manage to do that, and can only hope people can forgive me when I can not.


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