The tree

The tree spreads its roots. The tree opens its branches to the sky and offers them for little birds to nest. It flowers with full splendor, and gives fruits and shade. The tree also brings rain.

The tree is potential displayed unabashed.

The tree is divine for its very existence, humble for its splendor, and generous for its nature.

The tree is not alone. All elements of nature display their beauty and give without limits. The moon shines and the sun warms. The night sky and the clouds are there for all to admire. Immense galaxies churn across the limitless universe. No tinkering is needed.

Mankind may have been thus once. Today, he is a being perpetually busy, disconnected from the cycle of day and night and seasons. Mankind is increasingly immersed in unhealthy dynamics of needing objects that add nothing to his being nor give to others. But for a few exceptions, he rarely looks up at the sky nor takes the time to remain in harmony with nature. A stunning sunset has become an exception; and to see beauty, he has to stand in line at a museum. Charity and compassion have become emotions displayed in full view, rather than natural and discreet inclines of his very existence. Anything that cannot be rationalized or objectified is rejected, even love, even grace.

The tree still stands effortlessly giving beauty without a spec of pride, but rather with infinite and divine humility. Mankind could learn a thing or two from the tree.

Kenza.

Inspirations: incomprehension of this busy and noisy world; love of trees; and the divine, the Tao. 

Hesychia – ἡσυχία

I have written about silence a few times in this blog, with poetry (here) and through essays such as this one on contemplative silence (here).

It is a subject that has fascinated me as I try to bring it fully into my life. Intellectualizing runs contrary to that, I know. Yet, my hyper intellect side shall I say, pushes me to inquire and seek inspiration through the words of the wise,

In the above mentioned essay, I speak about silence without effort as explained by the wise Taoist Chang Tzu. His explanation resonates fully with what I instinctively feel is contemplative or inner silence.

The Desert Fathers 

The Desert Fathers are my other inspiration —the very ones who during the first centuries of Christianity grew tired of the notion of martyrdom as a path to salvation, and of the squabbles among the various Christian communities; and who hence decided to retire to the desert. While they spent their time in contemplation, they remained very much in touch with the world, giving teachings often from the height of their columns as with St Simeon Stylites, a 5th c. Syriac Orthodox, and I admit one of my favorite wise men in history.

What many advocated, and what many in the Orthodox Church still do, is: hesychasm.

Hesychasm

It is the practice of hesychia (from the Greek ἡσυχία) which translates as quietness, stillness and silence.

As with many spiritual traditions, silence is inner silence, the one of the tranquility of the heart. In the Orthodox Church, it means quieting the mind by praying from the heart — most often “The Jesus Prayer” (for the ones who have read the soul stirring account of a Russian Monk, “The way of the pilgrim,” you will recognize it).

As I read about the practice of hesychia, I realize its immense practicality and beauty. Quieting our thoughts through prayer. The latter need not be “The Jesus Prayer,” and it can be any invocation that is kindhearted, generous and grateful. The words will help us focus our thoughts and they themselves will eventually fall into silence, as we reach inner tranquility.

This is different from the recitation of mantras where the repetition of fixed syllables stills the mind. With hesychia, words with meaning and filled with good intentions help us attain tranquility by letting light infiltrate our hearts.

Inner silence 

Inner silence is the only way I find to calm my thoughts and actions. Indeed, our thoughts are often scattered especially when we are worried. In social situations, we often speak without having pondered our words and we tend to act without fully weighting the consequences of our actions. Inner silence helps us have a full picture, gives us the ability to take a step back before speaking and acting, and to stop the turbulence that often grips our thoughts.

Of course, simple or guided meditation, watching a beautiful sunset, listening to a delicate piece of music, can also help us reach inner tranquility. Yet often, that tranquility manages to escape as soon as we are faced with a worrying thought or an uncomfortable situation.

Effortless silence amidst a noisy world

Many centuries ago, Chuang Tzu spoke about “wu wei” (無為) or non-action to reach inner tranquility. As I have mentioned previously in this blog, it does not entail idleness; rather, it is allowing things to happen effortlessly. For Chuang Tzu, silence is a natural condition.

Yet, as we become embroiled in thoughts and daily confusions, the art of silence needs to be nurtured because frankly, it would be luring ourselves to believe we can attain inner silence by just remaining still while the world twirls and whirls around us.

I find that the practice of hesychia leads to that effortless tranquility the Tao, Zen and other spiritual Masters all spoke about. It remains one “tool” among others and a beautiful one at that.

So I will end with these simple words:

“The first stage of tranquility consists in silencing the lips when the heart is excited. The second, in silencing the mind when the soul is still excited. The goal is a perfect peacefulness even in the middle of the raging storm.” — St. John Climatus, Mount Sinai Monastery (6th-7th c.)

Kenza.

Dawn and dusk

I am one of those who, everyday, watches the sun rise and set.

It is for me a way to remain aware that we are part of nature, of a cycle of day and night, and of a movement vaster and faster than we can ever imagine.

Watching the sun rising and setting does not require a view upon the sea or even a large window, a small patch of sky suffices.

Days are filled with activities and noise, so I like the simplicity of seeing the slow lightning up of the sky announcing the start of a new day in total silence. And I like taking a few minutes from the hustle and bustle of a late afternoon to witness the sun setting, even if it is a simple reflection on a glass pane.

Every dawn and every dusk are distinct in sights, with different colors and sometimes birds flying across the sky; and in sounds, with silence or the echos of thunder. Each rising and setting of the sun has its own atmosphere, and I am grateful for being a witness to it all.

These are simple pleasures really, reminding us that beyond the fracas of the world, there is serenity and there is beauty.

Kenza.

Inspiration: changing skies. 

Art – Van Eyck

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Detail from “Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife,” by the Master of Northern Renaissance Jan Van Eyck (Bruges, d.1441), painted in 1434.

Van Eyck, known for his illustrated manuscripts, portraits and of course the Ghent Altarpiece (dated 1432), brought life into the scenery and the people he painted like no one before him. He helped define a new trend in art where painting became the medium of grandeur or “the art of arts” as it became known, rather than tapestry or architecture.

He defied the Church (then divided between Rome and Avignon) in many ways, especially for portraying religious figures with human feelings. Yet, he was adored by the nobility (especially the Duke of Burgundy) and the common man who in the aftermath of the great plague, saw renewal and hope in his art, most particularly for his use of light.

Painting on display at the National Gallery, London.

Silent for one day

Now that parts of the world are getting immersed in their self-created whirlwind of consumerism and loud celebrations, silence may be welcome. It will not make the other parts of the world any richer or happier or less violent, but it may just may, make you aware of where you stand and bring some serenity along with it.

For one day, just for one day, stay in silence. Silence your gestures and your words and your thoughts. For one day simply remain.

Your body will dance softly as though clouds were beneath your feet. You will smell the aromas that words always cover, and see the colours that thoughts hinder. On that day, anything you cook will taste like a smile, and the water drops on your skin will turn into pearls.

Silence.

You will finally breathe at the pace of your own heart. You will be still for one day and the universe will whirl around you. From that immense emptiness, things that were entangled in your heart and mind will open up, and you will see bright ideas settling on your canvas like a thousand stars.

You will understand then, that there is no need for prayers, that there is no need for rituals. Silence —and anger will dissipate into forgiveness, fears and wants will follow, and only kindness will remain.

And when you gently go back into the world, an irrepressible soft smile will be drawn on your lips. That is serenity. Cherish it.

Kenza.

Slowing down

Yes. Slowing down. Going at a lower pace.

Looking, really looking around us.

And feeling also. Feeling the wind and immensity of the sky upon opening a window. Feeling the emotions, like a dress we smooth discreetly as we stand up.

Walking without running.

Taking in the taste and texture and colors of each dish when eating, and doing the same when cooking.

Listening to the other person, speaking with precision, pondering each word and adding comas.

Slowling down.

It is not to stop time; rather, it is to live it fully.

Kenza.