The power of presence is unleashed when you walk in a beautiful landscape. I remember walking in Ireland once and feeling the life of the neon green grass, a waterfall and bubbling brook of bliss, and the surrender of rolling hills pulsating in my being. There was a nonverbal communication taking place between myself and Nature that I rarely experienced before and this awareness of invisible realities has stayed with me.
Part of me thought it might be the magic of poetry’s connection to my ancestors’ past through collective memory, but the other part of me reminded me this is what Romantics wrote about in ghostly stories pulling back the veil to other worlds, and Transcendentalists with the concept of touching the Oversoul.
As I drove along the coast on the PCH this week, I looked out to the vast ocean and thought something is happening in that sea of nothingness – there is so much life hidden beneath those waves – a whole other world. The juxtaposition of the Santa Monica mountains of southern California and the mist of the marine layer inspired this thought as well.
The Irish writers have close ties to mythic realities, and the land inspires the imagination to conjure deeper spiritual realities. The philosopher/poet John O’Donohue understood this and wrote about it in his book “Beauty: The Invisible Embrace.”
In an interview with Krista Tippet, O’Donohue revealed how he came to this understanding.
He said, “I was blessed being born in the Byrne region, which is limestone in the west of Ireland. It’s a bare limestone landscape. I often think the forms of the limestone are so abstract and aesthetic, it’s as if it was laid down by some wild surrealistic kind of deity. Being a child and coming out into that was a huge wild invitation to extend your imagination. It’s right on the edge of the ocean, so there’s an ancient conversation between the ocean and the stone going on.”
Regarding landscape as it relates to human beings, O’Donohue said, “It makes a huge difference when you wake in the morning and come out of your house. Whether you believe you are walking in a place to get you to your destination, or you are walking into a place that is just as much if not more alive to you, makes a big difference. If you move towards it with an open heart and watchful reverence you’ll be amazed at what it can reveal to you…. Landscape recalls you into a mindful mode of stillness, solitude and silence where you can truly receive time.”
“Connecting to the elemental can be a way of coming to the rhythm of the universe. There’s a way the outer presence can be brought inward to a sustaining thing.”
What O’Donohue is saying is that we can use this rhythm in Nature to sing the song of the universe in our own lives. The song brings vitality and life-giving properties. It is an opportunity to play the presence of Oneness for our purpose. Once we have tapped into the unveiled treasures of nature, we must take and share our talents with the world through exploring the landscape of the imagination.
The desert landscape I recently enjoyed presented a solemn mystery to me. The stillness of the desert wraps you in its arm and gives you a false sense of security. I’ve been thinking about those who rely on the desert for survival.
Steinbeck wrote in “Travels with Charley,” “The beaten earth only appears to be defeated and dead, but it only appears so. A vast and inventive organization of living matter survives by seeming to have lost.”
I thought, “Don’t be fooled by its crafty serenity and simple haunting beauty of deadly stoic stillness. It is very much alive and every plant, every brush, every piece of flora and fauna is fighting for life.” Its energy invigorated by its own vulnerability, armed with what it needs to take on the fight and addressing every quirk in its vicinity in its own manner.
We are more present to life in the muted calm of the desert’s might; the whoop of a raven’s wings is heard and the echo of its squawk in the canyon stirs the quiet; a whisp of cold wind crisply rapping the ears, and slow, steady burn of its whisper; the sudden dash of a shaggy gray jackrabbit kicking up sand in a frantic act to live another day. Then silence. Nothing but the cold breath of stillness, the silence between movements.
My friend Cherie reminds me that every Joshua Tree is part of a network. They are all connected as one entity, though scattered throughout the landscape. I recall O’Donohue’s statement that there is an ancient conversation happening and Steinbeck’s view of the desert playing dead while very much alive.
Our place is in there somewhere as well — talking back without saying a word.