We have been speaking of words, especially in images and stories, that may speak to our heart. And we have spoken of listening from the heart. We referred to Erich Fromm who insists, in The Art of Loving, that the content of our listening and speaking is less important than its source. What counts most is not what we listen to or say, but where we listen and speak from. It makes a difference whether it comes from our heart or core or inmost centre, or whether it comes from our surface or fear or hostility.
To listen or speak from the heart, we must be there. We must be present to ourselves and to others. Behind such presence is a different kind of energy. I recall once seeing a play in Detroit called Inherit the Wind in which a key character was attorney, Clarence Darrow. I was sitting close to the stage within a few feet of the actor who played this role. In one scene, he spoke with such intensity that his face became a bright red. What most struck me was not so much the words that he spoke but the presence and energy behind those words. I have no recollection of the words themselves, but have never forgotten the intense presence behind and within them.
I have spoken before of the sense that there is an extensive homelessness in our society, not simply in the absence for so many of a clean, affordable, safe place to stay, which is a profound human need. Rather, there is also a sense in which people are not at home to themselves. Many of us skate around on the surface of our lives, either unaware, or even uncomfortable and afraid, of what is within us. Or we measure the success of our lives in the clutter of things with which we surround ourselves.
Behind this flight from self may well lie a fear that this self is either of little or no value or even is wrong. Our whole thrust in these reflections has been to underline the sacred worth of each and every human being. And we have said that this sense of worth may be discovered though silence, friendship, and social outreach.
Looked at through certain eyes, I have seen this message repeated in folk tales and mythologies, and many stories, often expressed in a longing for worth that is felt more as a question than an answer. Folk tales like Sleeping Beauty recognize that this worth may be surrounded by hedges of thorns and need to be awakened. This is also an awakening to who we are rather than what we do.
Stories like Snow White and Hansel and Gretel suggest that it is found at the other side of a dark forest. That forest stands for all the unknown, chaotic, dangerous and destructive forces within us and around us. In other words, our journey to be present to and at home to ourselves will pass through these forces, but with the realization that they our not the core or essence of who we are. Our sacred worth is deeper than and not overcome by them. It is hidden in the house of the witch that the children, Hansel and Gretel discover the precious jewels.
It is in the silent waters of self-awareness that Narcissus discovers who he is. He comes to an awareness that he is worthy of love and no longer needs to flee from himself. The young woman, Psyche (in Eros and Psyche), after the cocoon of her underworld journey, is able to soar like a butterfly. It is likewise after her time in the isolation of the tower that Rapunzel is able to sing beautifully. Her song expresses who she really is and also enables her to reach out beyond herself. The reference to the strand of silk and the growth of flowing hair both bring out that it is out of our own substance that we give access to ourselves freely. In other words we must both be in touch with ourselves and communicate from the deepest substance of our being.
The fact that in Rapunzel, her expression comes in the beauty of song indicates at once the beauty of the soul and the energy that comes from it. When we are present to ourselves, we can be present to our expression, whether in word or music or even in our very face. People like Louis Armstrong or Leonard Cohen reach us because they sing from their soul, they are fully present in their songs.
I once had a colleague, who studied extensively the philosopher scientist, Teilhard de Chardin. I asked him what, for Teilhard was the underlying energy within and behind the universe. He replied immediately that it was love energy. His response reminds me of the words of the Group of Seven painter, Lawren Harris who affirms that he tries to get to the summit of his soul and paint from there, there where the universe sings. He also adds that the artist does not pain the branch of a tree but the urge to its growth–in other words, he paints the life energy that is present and flows into that branch.
All these thoughts suggest that the deepest energy within us is that of love, and we tap into and connect with that energy when we are fully at home to and present to ourselves. We are then able to express and embody that energy in our words, our stories, our songs, and our lives. Of course in the process of coming home to ourselves, we will encounter and contend with our insecurities, fears and hostilities. Yet we may come to do so with an underlying sense of hope and in a trust in the process of life unfolding within ourselves
May you more and more be in touch with and at home to your core self. And may you more and more come to experience and express its beauty with the song of your life.
Norman King, May 02, 2022