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I’ve just come back from a week’s retreat at Waterperry House. It was delightful time well spent for a number of reasons. There’s much to be said to devoting yourself to nothing but quiet reflection. Combine that with some physical work - making cold frames for the walled garden - and you have a great way of spending time.
It’s an interesting expression, ‘spending time’. It begs the question as to what you spend it on. Is it worth it? As far as this individual life span is concerned it’s the most valuable thing we’ve got. I thought that a week of quiet reflection was a good a way as any of spending time, but there’s only one time that really counts if your intention is to live a full and productive life and that is now, whether that now is spent in the practice of meditation or in making cold frames.
I was bent over assembling the frames on site when a couple of visitors came by and asked what I was doing. I told them I was making cold frames for vegetable seedlings. I’m sure that from the ensuing conversation about their allotment they knew perfectly well what I was doing. They just wanted to have a chat. They asked me if I was a volunteer. I said that I was attending a philosophy week at the house. One of them said: ‘Much better out here in this lovely garden making cold frames then inside philosophising.’ I said that they both had their part to play. ‘Best thing was to spend your time wisely whatever.’ They agreed. What else could they do?
Making cold frames is hardly poetic, but then again it has its own merit. Not poetic, but the meeting reminded me of lines from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets:
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.
In conquering time there is an intimation of immortality as Wordsworth puts it. Getting a sense of that can only be at one time: Now.
Time passes; things change, but there is always something that remains. I walked in another part of the garden and remembered that many years ago I’d put on a play on that very spot. There was a passage of time between then and now. So many things had changed, but there was a sense of presence in that place that remains unchanged.
Best regards, William
INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY
These emails are encouraging a more reflective approach to life, but what exactly is reflection? What is reflecting what? In so many of the great philosophical traditions there is the concept of ‘the mirror of the mind’ or ‘the mirror of the soul’, and in this mirror is reflected both the forms of creation and the light of consciousness - that fundamental power which allows us to recognise anything . The light of consciousness is, in the normal run of things, sucked into all those concerns that captivate our minds. We are usually so involved with them that we forget the light which illuminates it all, the light of consciousness. When we reflect, however, we are taking our attention away from all those possessing concerns to rest in this inner light.
This light is cool and clear, calm and all embracing. This light of consciousness is the very substance of love. Although it illuminates everything that arises in all our minds as individuals, this is not an individual consciousness. Consciousness has no limits. Therefore, when in a reflective state we act from this consciousness, it is the sense of unity that we experience, and although we see creation in all its variety, perhaps more vividly than we normally experience it, there is also an awareness that underlying the variety is unity.
The following is an extract from Wordsworth, writing as he often does, reflectively, he speaks of consciousness as ‘the mighty being’:
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free;
The holy time is quiet as a nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven is on the sea.
Listen! the mighty being is awake
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder - everlastingly.
Times like this have their appeal. Many desire to experience the greater depth and happiness that are associated with such times. Are there not moments in all our memories just as vivid as this, moments that contain in their way, more than a touch of bliss?
According to Plato it is the function of both poetry and philosophy to awaken memory, memory of the supreme happiness which transcends time and place. He claims that although the soul has journeyed forth and finds her home in time and space, she always carries with her the memory of her own innate reality. It is not for nothing that Wordsworth called the collection of poems from which this extract was drawn, ‘Intimations of Immortality’. By reflection we may illuminate those eternal principles of beauty, love and joy, and by o doing allow them to become our reality.
Adopt a more reflective state of mind. Constantly come to yourself. Rest in the light of your own inner consciousness rather than being sucked into the next big involvement. Treat life as a journey of self discovery, not a soap opera, or if you like soap operas enjoy them as spectacles, remembering that reality lies elsewhere.