The Surprising Power of the Image

"A discipline of calling up an image is an old form of contemplation," says David Whyte in The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America.

Sometimes it is less a discipline than a must for our wholeness.

Like the time of the white dove.

Oh, thinking back now, I imagine it was a lost New York City pigeon who showed up on my suburban street that day. She stood in the middle of the road, and a big old car came along, and that bird simply would not move. The car slowed, then stopped, honked its big scary horn, and the white pigeon turned its back and kept standing there. Finally, after what seemed like a long time, the car drove around it.

I had been struggling at work, with an older man who was giving me unwanted attention. Lots of whispered talk I won't get into. Graphic stuff that was making me scared. When he told me he'd seen me walking, and seen me driving, I realized he was following me around after hours.

Understand, I'd had a lot of unwanted attention in my life. From age five, when I had to turn away a step-brother who'd overstepped a big boundary, to age twenty-one, when I got fired because someone had said incredibly lewd things to me (and tried to carry them out); he then went to the boss and said I might come and accuse him of something that never happened (and so, yes, I was the one who got fired with no notice). There'd been other situations too. So I had a hard time when it started up in this case... not just mentally, but also because I desperately needed the job. It got to the point where I could barely face each morning.

Enter the immovable white dove.

I watched that bird and I suddenly knew everything I needed to know. Not in an intellectual way, but in an emotional-strength way. The next day I told the older man, in no uncertain terms, to leave me alone, to stop following me, to stay in line.

David Whyte says this too... "It is extraordinary how much of the power carried by the image itself will be present in our voice."

Yes, it must have been.

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Craving the Unhurried

A bath. Some French. Books, books, books. Sometimes a walk or a friendly phone call. That's my Sabbath—a deliberate decision for the day to contain not one ounce of hurry.

Perhaps this is why, for now, I have been taking a sabbatical from attending church. Because... always, *always,* the Sunday-out-the-door routine has been surrounded with a terrible sense of rush and tumble, to the point of absolute irritation. It has represented more work and pressure after a whole week of work.

It occurred to me within the past few months that I have been craving unhurriedness—a day I can look forward to, once a week, that truly slows. And so, I've come to a new kind of Sabbath: quiet at home.

To this, I think about what David Whyte says in The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America:

"Hurrying from one work station to another, we hope the hurrying itself can grant us the importance we seek. Slowing for a moment, we might open up the emptiness at the center..."

I have been slowing on the Sabbath. I am not saying everyone should slow in the same way I am doing it; life has its seasons. In the slowing, I have been holding the emptiness as if it was a palpable thing I could turn in my hands. It is quiet, and I am in no hurry to ask it to speak.

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Saying No as a Path to the Soul

I've been reading along at Tweetspeak. So much to consider. Today's bit is about saying no.

It's been a long time since I've felt like saying yes to blogging here, and it amuses me that the very thing that has inspired me today is a small trail that Whyte opened up with these words...

"The via negativa is the discipline of saying no when we have as yet no clarity about the those things to which we can say yes.... In the continuous utterance of the no is a profound faith that the yes will appear."

Just this morning, I'd been thinking about how the Church sometimes sucks up the life of its people, to the point where they no longer live. They simply "do church," and this is the sum of their existence. In other words, the Church does not necessarily teach us the via negativa, any more than any other organization which relies on our ever-presence to make it keep running. It is not the Church's fault per se, but it is terrifically difficult to step back and exercise the via negativa when we're wrapped up in its culture.

Maybe I could say yes to blogging today, because I've been engaged in my own form of via negativa, whether it be in relation to Church or just a night on Twitter. I don't expect anybody to understand. A no can be incomprehensible when people are so used to hearing you say yes. But I do look forward to this possibility, in the words of Whyte...

"We guard the richness of our interior hopes and imaginings even when there as yet seems to be nothing in the outer world that confirms them. When we finally do blossom, we may bear fruit in the most surprising and astonishing way."


quotes from The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America

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