Sunday, April 3, 2011

the mystery of thereness that we call presence

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There is a lovely, disconcerting moment between sleep and awakening.  You have only half emerged from sleep, and for a few seconds you do not know where you are, who you are, or what you are.  You are lost between worlds.  Then your mind settles, and you recognize the room and you take up your place again in your own life.  And you realize that both you and the world have survived the crossing from night to reality.  It is a new day, and the world is faithfully there again, offering itself to your longing and imagination, stretching out beyond your room to mountains, seas, the countenances behind which other lives hide.  We take our world totally for granted.  It is only when we experience the momentary disturbance of being marooned in such an interim that we grasp what a surprise it is to be here and to have the wild companionship of this world.  Such disturbances awaken us to the mystery of thereness that we call presence.  Often, the first exposure to the one you will love or to a great work of art produces a similar disconcerting confusion.
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Presence is alive.  You sense and feel presence; it comes towards you and engages you.  Landscape has a vast depth and subtlety of presence.  The more attentive you are, and the longer you remain in a landscape, the more you will be embraced by its presence.  Though you may be completely alone there, you know that you are not on your own.  In our relentless quest for human contact, we have forgotten the solace and friendship of Nature.  It is interesting in the Irish language how the word for the elements and the word for desire is the same word: duil. As the term for creation, its accent is on the elemental nature of creation.   Duil suggests a vital elemental-ism.  It also means longing.  "Duil a chur I gceol" means "to get a longing for music."  Duil also holds the sense of expectation and hope.. Could it be that duil originally suggested that human longing was an echo of the elemental vitality of Nature?
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You feel the presence in Nature sometimes in great trees that stand like ancient totem spirits night and day, watching over a landscape for hundreds of years.  Water also has a soothing and seductive presence that draws us towards it.  John Montague writes: "Part order, part wilderness / Water creates its cadenced illusion."  Each shape of water - the well, stream, lake, river and ocean - has a distinctive rhythm of presence.  Stone, too, has a powerful presence.  Michelangelo used to say that sculpture is the art of liberating the shape hidden and submerged in the rock.  I went one morning to visit a sculptor friend.  He showed me a stone and asked if I saw any hidden form in it.  I could not.  Then he pointed out the implicit shape of a bird.  He said, "For ten years I have been passing that stone on the shore and only this morning did I notice the secret shape of the bird."  Whereas human presence is immediate, the presences in landscape are mediate;  they are often silent and indirect.

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~ John O'Donohue
from Eternal Echoes

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