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.

Art – Cycladic figure

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Marble head of a figure from the Cycladic culture dated 2’700-2’500 BC.

In all probability, it is the head of a woman given that most figures of this kind were of women. Little is known of the Cycladic culture that strived during the Bronze Age in the Aegean Sea, nor of the meaning of the statues. It seems there are as many experts who say they were related to a cult, as they are who say they were not.

For us, almost 5’000 years after they were made, they are stunning for their simplicity and quiet elegance.

One may understand perhaps where contemporary sculptors such as Constantin Brâncusi, Jean Arp and even Henry Moore, may have gotten some inspiration for their clean lines and sculptures free of frills.

Figure in marble, H: 23.5 cm – via the Met, NY.

Humility

Humility is one of the foundations for achieving peaceful and respectful social relations. The truth is that it has not been mankind’s forte since it came out of the cave; to the contrary, we would not have had so many wars.

What I have observed recently though, is that very few people even mention the word anymore. One has to read old texts of philosophy and wisdom to find references to it.

Today, instead of humility, people talk about loving oneself as a path to happiness. The same way, being humble is seldom taught to children any more, while boosting one’s self-esteem is seen as the sine qua non to success in life. I find it unsettling.

Ego ad infinitum

There is a very thin line between self-worth and arrogance, and perhaps an even thinner one between loving oneself and egotism. Humility however can prevent one from encroaching upon the other.

In my view, humility is a way to step away from oneself, because by being humble, one recognizes his own fallibility. As a result, through “constructive doubt,” as Bertrand Russell once called it, one becomes open-minded, considers the position of others with respect, and hence acts with compassion avoiding the infliction of harm.

Bernard de Clairvaux, the French Abbot better known as Saint Bernard, came to the same conclusion eight centuries earlier when he said, “humility engenders compassion.”

Imagine a world where everyone loves oneself more than others, where they believe their self-worth is such that they can actually achieve anything. Given the current literature on “self-improvement” you may see these as positive qualities. For me, they are simple ego boosters, soothing an artificial sense of self.

Take the same attitude and multiply it, mix it with nationalism and religion and what do you get? – almost always conflict, and most often, violent conflict. Or take a step back and think of harassment at work or on the street, of a despotic parent, or of abuse of authority at a border crossing.

A drop in the ocean

The moment you realize that you are just a “drop in the ocean,” to quote Rumi, you can finally let go of that ego that binds you. Every drop is needed to make an ocean. And when you contemplate the ocean, no drop is larger than another one because they all form one ocean.

Being humble does not mean being less worthy, because the very notion of “worth” becomes irrelevant, and that, you see, is most liberating and does lead to the tranquillity of the heart.

Thank you for reading.

Kenza.


References:
– For Bertrand Russell’s writings on critical thinking, see “Philosophy” (1927), “Portraits From Memory” (1956) and “The Problems of Philosophy” (1973). All of Bertrand Russell’s writings are available on the Internet via the Bertrand Russell Society.
– For Bernard de Clairvaux, see “The twelve degrees of humility and pride,” written in 1127.