Sunday, December 5, 2010

Landscapes of the Inner Life

Music pours out, as if I was born to it, or it was born of me through dimensions, layers, lifetimes. I am searching through dreams, thoughts and memories for the words and soundlines to bring this story through. Long ago, before any maps were made, there were people who found their way across vast oceans, sensing and imagining their way over distances where none of their known ancestors had ever gone before. Of course, the ancient people used their ordinary senses, looking out across the endless water, feeling its currents, the movement of winds and the play of weather, day after day, month after month. Physically traversing those distances, with all the rigors of the body and the elements, they also believed themselves into the space, bringing the other shore to them magnetically. Way-Finding they called it.

We each have our own Way Finding. My own predilections always draw me back to the white marble room, an immense lustrous chamber with high vaulted ceilings and tall arched windows. It is a dear, familiar place, a refuge from the rush of the modern world. I have spent many days and nights there, reading, feeling the sun on my face, looking out at the stars and moon.

Sometimes I wish that I were still living in a time when we could bury ourselves in solitude, when the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge and the work of the soul’s metamorphosis had at least as much collective import as did outer successes. I yearn for that amidst the depredations of the current era. Inwardly, I yearn for leisure, spaciousness, and grace. Outwardly, I yearn for great forests, glens, prairies and all the undiminished richness and variety of Nature to sing out in ecstatic splendor, drowning the sounds of machines, drowning not only their sounds, but their imprint on our lives, our enslavement to them.

In this marble wonderful room there is a globe that stands on a long wooden table. Aside from the table and two chairs, the room is very empty. But it has a sense of space, light, and depth that never fails to refresh and renew me. Texts with gem-like illustrations, their pages edged with gold, fill one wall of the room. The instruments and substances of alchemy are also set out on the wooden table. In that room, I am the woman whose forehead shines with light. I am my own beacon.

My house has many other rooms. From the beautiful white marble room, a heavy wooden door opens out to a narrow hallway. I must take the lantern with me. The hallway winds and turns, its stairs descending deep into the earth. The air here is old and dry. I remember the first time I went down these stairs with this same lantern, arriving at a doorway covered with heavy, deep red brocade cloth. I gently pulled the cloth aside and looked into the room that appeared before me. It was not more than ten feet by twelve feet large, illuminated by votive candles set on a ledge that ran along its walls. Its ceiling was low, its dark walls were hewn from black rock. Three icons hung on the walls-- one of Jesus, one of the Black Madonna, and one of St. Michael. In the candlelight, their golden halos blazed out from the dark backgrounds of the paintings.

I saw all this instantaneously, the way the mind's eye takes things in. At the same time, I saw an ornate, jewel-encrusted coffin in which lay an old King, strong and undecayed. His deep red robe was embroidered with flowers sewn of golden threads. His beautiful golden crown was set with rubies and emeralds. It took me many months to bring back the memory of the Queen who lay beside him like a still flower. She had a perfume, not of death, but of the ineffable.

The sheer wonder of the place drew me in. I was thirsty for the things that showed themselves to me there, though I cannot now put words together to explain what they were, nor would I wish to. I hope you do not want me to explain the subterranean chamber or the marble room. Every definition I fix on them confines their numinous resonance. I do not wish to flatten or inflate them. Let them be just as they are. Let them remain or fade away as they will.

Of course I have a Tower. To my mind, no house is well done without a Tower reaching out to meet the sky. This is a story of my house and my journey. Of course that makes me fall over laughing. Why? Because as Lorca once said in a poem, “My house is not my house, and I am no longer I.” It is not real or solid, none of it. It has no substance. I have no substance. The whole thing is dreamlike, as much a dream as the splendid and transformative marble room to which I return again and again.

As I approach my seventh decade, I return to these landscapes of my inner life and those that comprise my outer story and I reflect on their patterns, meaning and luminous, empty nature. Even when I am washing the dishes in my kitchen part of me lives in these mythically resonant rooms of dream and imagination, in the woods and fields, the white marble room, the Tower. Even when I am deeply immersed in my inner life experience, everyday activities draw me to them, reminding me that they too also have an unpredictable, mysterious depth. In the midst of family and friends, with the appearance of both invited and unexpected guests, the mythic drama of the present moment spills forth. Decade after decade, treasure accumulates.


  1. Mysterious and wonderful, aren't they? These inner landscapes through which we wander.

  2. Enjoyed walking along side of you as you examined and displayed your inner space for us. My own shocks me when I return to it to find it has changed seemingly on its own. Marvelous.

  3. Gaea -- Inner spaces appear to have different contexts, meanings, and patterns for each of us.I like your words -- decade after decade treasure accumulate. As I age, now 70, the minutia parts of life can reappear in my mind as treasures. -- barbara