Ponderings from Solitude

I wrote a journal entry collecting a few of the thoughts I’ve pondered during my three weeks alone. I present it to anyone interested below straight from the notebook.

Coming into this hermitage experience I expected it would take a few days, maybe a week, perhaps even 2 weeks for me to internalize a little bit, just a little bit of quiet. It seems it took about 11 days for the quiet to settle in a little. On Wednesday the 1st I mapped out my activity-based (as opposed to time-based) schedule for the mornings, which seemed to work very well. On Thursday I hiked up the ridge for the first time, also while it was snowing, and was swept away by the beauty. That night, I lit candles, also for the first time, and sat in bed for maybe 30 minutes. No thoughts of past conversations and embarrassing moments, no thinking and struggling over future decisions about work and the sea, no machinations about how and if I can fulfill longings I have: just quiet. Nothing in particular, in fact nothing at all except the room I was in and the candlelight and the silently falling snow outside. Blessed rest of the heart. I was present, there in that moment and only in that moment. I realized this rather quickly and my heart jumped within me for joy. A smile spread across my face so big that it made my eyes squint, and it wouldn’t go away. I reminded myself not to get excited and jump out of the experience itself.

Here I meet two temptations I myself have to battle constantly. The first is to not be present in myself for an experience of great joy and light. As soon as I realize that I am experiencing something wonderful, which is usually very quickly, I have a very strong compulsion to step outside of myself and enjoy observing myself having a great experience. This removes me directly from the experience because I am trying to analyze the state that I am in meticulously. This is a great hindrance I face to being truly present in any moment.

This leads to the second struggle, and I think this is probably what causes the first. The reason I compulsively analyze myself and my states is because I am always (also compulsively) trying to recreate past moods that I’ve felt which I like. I try to get back to a particular feeling that I had in the past in order to feel complete, in order to feel OK, in order to be in a state of happiness or wholeness. Note that these moods I re-create are not necessarily “happy” in the more common modern sense of the word, that is feelings of lighthearted positivity, indeed, many times they can be dark or sad — I am quite fond of melancholy, as anyone who knows me well can attest. Because I am either stepping back and analyzing a feeling or mood and the things that surround the mood or feeling that could potentially be causing it, or else I’m trying to re-live or re-create some past thing, I’m never actually present.

I read in New Seeds of Contemplation the other day

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of the unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity, and love.”

This in conjunction with the two aforementioned compulsions I have just described (for the first time concretely to myself) leads me to an important truth. If I had the freedom, love, and spontaneity to see it, every moment is a unique gift from God. There is no need to grasp at experiences to try to save them, there is no need to try to get back what I “lost” to the past. Truly what I should be doing is cultivating good soil so that not a single seed of the present is lost.

I cannot believe how well these thoughts are flowing together, because this leads me to yet another thought I have been pondering in my solitude: seeds. I think this thought is inspired by elder Zosima in Brothers Karamazov, for he talks about seeds as well.

“Only a little tiny seed is needed: let him cast it into the soul of a simple man, and it will not die, it will live in his soul all his life, hiding there amidst the darkness, amidst the stench of his sins, as a bright point, a great reminder.”

And it is so true, just one word or one expression or one touch from another person can grow to be a mountain of good or of evil within my soul. It is amazing to me that when I look upon myself, the greatest vices (and I suppose virtues but virtues are harder for me to see and I don’t spend as much time deconstructing my virtues, not nearly as much as I do my vices) that I carry are always based on one little thought, always a very simple one. What mountains of evil do I found upon such tiny things is most wondrous. These little seed-lies that I believe are what distort my life, draw me away from God, and make up my ego-self. If I can do the hard work of uncovering these evil seeds and open my heart and make it fertile for all of God’s good seeds, truly I will move mountains inside of me. This ought to be a stern and fearful reminder to me, because I am constantly throwing my seeds into other people by my actions and words: are they seeds of God or seeds of Satan? As elder Zosima remarks in another place:

See, here you have passed by a small child, passed by in anger, with a foul word, with a wrathful soul; you perhaps did not notice the child, but he saw you, and your unsightly and impious image has remained in his defenseless heart. You did not know it, but you may thereby have planted a bad seed in him, and it may grow, and all because you did not restrain yourself before the child.

The things I do and the way I do them, even the expression on my face, is a seed that I plant in those around me.

In turn this leads me to another thought I have been contemplating: my guilt before all men. Elder Zosima’s older brother in his youth before he dies says

Each of us is guilty in everything before everyone, and I most of all

I am very much attracted to this statement, though it seems unreasonable and paradoxical. I feel it must be true somehow, though it makes no sense to my reason. If I am constantly every moment of my life sowing seeds in people, and even in creation around me, then how unspeakable is the mystery of my connection to all that is; to all men I meet, even to those I do not meet and all men on earth, then even to the whole earth and the universe and all creation and God. Think, if I plant a seed in every man I meet, then my seeds will quickly be carried to every man on earth, and from there to all the earth itself, and even to God. Again elder Zosima observes this truth:

My young brother asked forgiveness of the birds: it seems senseless, yet it is right, for all is like an ocean, all flows and connects; touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world. Let it be madness to ask forgiveness of the birds, still it would be easier for the birds, and for a child, and for any animal near you if yourself were more gracious than you are now, if only by a drop, still it would be easier. All is like an ocean I say to you.

Because I am so integrated into creation, that is why I can say that I am guilty of everything before everyone. It is a hard thing to understand, this guilt, a hard thing to know what to do with. I think that a vastly important truth and reality lies within this statement of guilt, something of enormous import which at the moment I do not see or comprehend. But I will dwell on it and perhaps in time God will illuminate it within my soul. Perhaps this seed of truth will grow into the foundational tree of my life. I hope and pray so.

How many of God’s good seeds have I let die and lost, because I am pre-occupied with some withered shrub of my youth: while God is throwing a multitude of beautiful maple and walnut and redwood tree seeds, beautiful flowers and grape vine seeds into my soul in the present, I am too busy tending a lone dandelion that I am attached to for some reason, and a number of patches of poison ivy. If I would only open my heart and let the past live it’s natural course, perhaps then my eyes would open to the seeds of destruction I cast into all of my brother’s fields, trying to share my dandelions and poison ivy, casting these weeds into their crops. If I would be still and present, if I could see and acknowledge my guilt before all, then perhaps would God’s good seed begin to take root in my soul, and of its own accord spread itself into the lives of those around me, into the whole world, and finally back even into the very heart of God. Let it be so Father.

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