John O'Donohue

How the Earth Sees Us

How the Earth Sees Us

How can we ever know the difference we make to the soul of the earth? Where the infinite stillness of the earth meets the passion of the human eye, invisible depths strain towards the mirror of the name.

In the word, the earth breaks silence. It has waited a long time for the word. Concealed beneath familiarity and silence, the earth holds back and it never occurs to us to wonder how the earth sees us. Is it not possible that a place could have huge affection for those who dwell there?

~ John O'Donohue

The Gift and Sweetness that Flows from the Earth

 

For the Senses
by John O'Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings 

May the touch of your skin
Register the beauty
Of the otherness
That surrounds you 

May your listening be attuned
To the deeper silence
Where sound is honed
To bring distance home. 

May the fragrance
Of a breathing meadow
Refresh your heart
And remind you you are
A child of the earth. 

And when you partake
Of food and drink,
May your taste quicken
To the gift and sweetness
That flows from the earth. 

May your inner eye
See through the surfaces
And glean the real presence
Of everything that meets you

May your soul beautify
The desire of your eyes
That you might glimpse
The infinity that hides
In the simple sights
That seem worn
To your usual eyes.

[Thanks, Kit!]

 

Transience

"Transience is the force of time that makes a ghost of every experience. There was never a dawn, regardless how beautiful or promising, that did not grow into a noontime. There was never a noon that did not fall into afternoon. There was never an afternoon that did not fade toward evening. There never was a day yet that did not get buried in the graveyard of the night."

~ John O'Donohue

"Círculo" by Joaquín Turina performed by Trio Suleika. Movements: Amanecer (Dawn)-Mediodía (Noon)-Crepúsculo (Twilight). Live from the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, excerpt from the Dutch television programme "VPRO's Vrije Geluiden", February 2006. Trio Suleika consists of pianist Maurice Lammerts van Bueren, violinist Sanne Hunfeld and cellist Pepijn Meeuws.

 

A Complete Experience of Listening
by Daron Larson

We tend to respect and admire the development of musical performance skills while overlooking the benefits of cultivating a bit of discipline and training of our ability to listen. By default, most of us have developed a stunning and sophisticated repertoire for blocking out the world around us. We allocate the bulk of our attention inwardly toward the stories playing out in our minds.

Instead of seeing this as a flaw to obsess about, we can instead begin to explore the elements of this personal narrative. With consistent practice over time, we can become intimately familiar with its various component parts. We can even gain insight into the process working to edit it all together and making it seem so dramatic and difficult to ignore. We can become fascinated with the composition of this narrative and less caught up in its content. Paradoxically, the more familiar we become with the flow of our thoughts and feelings, the more directly and completely we experience the objective world around us.

At any given moment, we have a limited amount of attention to spend. Just being clear about what we are noticing can begin to change ordinary experience in simple yet profound ways. Listening to music offers a compelling doorway into this perspective. When we focus on one or more aspects of listening, we strengthen our ability to concentrate. When we explore music as an opportunity to cultivate attention, we also strengthen the ability to hear the musicality within the ordinary sounds we encounter in daily life. With consistent practice over time, we can even begin to experience the sense of wonder which sparks the human impulse to create music in the first place.

Explore this strategy from the beginning to end of a piece of music:

Restrict the main focus of your attention to listening to sounds around you and to verbal thinking.

There will almost certainly be additional stimulus in the background (visual activity, mental images, pleasant or unpleasant physical sensations, and sensations in the body that seem to be emotional in nature). There is no need to wrestle with any of these or to try to suppress them in any way. To the best of your ability, allow them to operate in the background while your primary attention rests on external or internal sounds.

Whenever you become aware that your primary attention has become focused on one of these background activities, gently bring it back to listening.

Let your attention drift and wander freely within the acoustic space around you as well as in the space where verbal thinking seems to be take place. This internal space varies for each individual. Not being completely sure if you are identifying it properly is a significant part of the process of becoming more familiar with it. We give musicians time to find their way into virtuosity, right? Give yourself time to become more intimately familiar with where verbal (and visual) thinking occurs.

Every few seconds, try to be as clear as possible whether you are listening to external sounds or internal sounds. Then just hang out with the activity of sound that you’ve noticed. Savor it. External sounds and verbal thinking count equally in this exercise. Try not to prefer one over the other. There is no need to try to suppress thinking. Get acquainted with it as internal sound. What matters is that you bring some effort to noticing where your attention is and whether it is focused externally (out) or inwardly (in).

You can support this process by using mental labels to help clarify and aim your attention. If you notice that your attention is resting on the activity of sounds around you, you can say to yourself in a soft, mentally whispered voice: OUT. If you notice that your attention is resting on the activity of internal conversations, you can say to yourself in a soft, mentally whispered voice: IN.

That’s it! Just keep going until the end of the song and enjoy. Take breaks between practice periods as needed then try again. You might also want to explore some of these alternative strategies.

 

Homecoming

"When you think about language and you think about consciousness, it's just incredible to think that we can make any sounds that can reach over across to each other at all...I think the beauty of being human is that we're incredibly, intimately near each other. We know about each other, but yet we do not know or never can know what it's like inside another person. And it's amazing, you know, here am I sitting in front of you now, looking at your face, you're looking at mine and yet neither of us have ever seen our own faces. And that in some way, thought is the face that we put on the meaning that we feel and that we struggle with and that the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach. And that's the mystery of poetry, you know, is poetry tries to draw alongside the mystery as it's emerging and somehow bring it into presence and into birth."

...

"That's what I call spirituality, the art of homecoming. So it's St. Augustine's phrase, Deus intimior intimo meo — "God is more intimate to me than I am to myself." Then you go to Meister Eckhart, and you get the other side of it which you must always keep together with it, where in Middle High German, he says (in German) that means, "God becomes and God unbecomes," or translated it means that God is only our name for it and the closer we get to it the more it ceases to be God. So then you are on a real safari with the wildness and danger and otherness of God.

"And I think when you begin to get a sense of the depth that is there then your whole heart wakens up. You know, I mean, I love Irenaeus' thing from the second century, which said, the Glory of the human being — "The glory of God is the human being fully alive." And I think in our culture that one of the things that we are missing is that these thresholds where we can encounter this, and where we move into new change in our lives, there are no rituals to help us to recognize them or to cross them worthily."

-- John O'Donohue in conversation with Krista Tippett on Speaking of Faith (2.28.08).