Saturday, October 24, 2009

Throwing myself away

I've been reading A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle. My interest in her was spurred on by fellow blogger Happy. The name of the book is taken from the special place where Madeleine retreats when she needs a moment alone. "Often I need to get away completely, if only a few minutes. My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings. I sit for a while, then my impatience, crossness, frustration, are indeed annihilated, and my sense of humor returns." Oh yes, I can relate to this lady.

In this autobiographical book Madeleine truly shares herself with the reader....her insights, fears, musings, thoughts on writing and her spirituality. I've found it to be food for my soul.

Particularly compelling for me in my quest to cultivate humility is a part early in the book where she talks of pride, self-consciousness and humility.

"When we are self-conscious, we cannot be wholly aware: we must throw ourselves out first. This throwing ourselves away is the act of creativity. So, when we wholly concentrate, like a child in play, or an artist at work, then we share in the act of creating. We not only escape time, we also escape our self-conscious selves. The Greeks have a word for ultimate self-consciousness which I find illuminating: hubris: pride: pride in the sense of putting oneself in the centre of the universe.......The moment that humility becomes self-conscious, it becomes hubris. One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time. Therefore, the act of creating-painting a picture, singing a song, writing a story-is a humble act? This was a new though to me. Humility is throwing oneself away in complete concentration of something or someone else."

To me this speaks of the selflessness that Jesus talks about.... putting others first.....being a servant...dying to self. I find in my life that I withhold out of my own self-consciousness. I miss out on the essence of the moment and other people. I'm too worried about what I look like, how I fit in, how I'm coming across, to truly just be. Or as Madeleine would say to live ontologically. - a concept she explores throughout the book.

I'm inspired by this thought. Rather than trying to minimize myself in an effort to be humble and selfless could I simply forget about myself and see where that takes me? It seems soooo....well....reckless. I like it!

Any thoughts? Please join me in a discussion.


Happy said...

Reckless ontology. I might make that the new explanation of my religious views. :)

So much of A Circle of Quiet has spoken to my soul over the years, and I learn something new with every re-reading, as I grow and change and bring new perspective with me as I read.

Just now, reading your thoughts on a book that has shaped so many of mine, I realized that I am still spending more time trying to get *back* to my ontological self than I am actually *being* my ontological self. No wonder I get tired... And it's usually not intentional - I don't wake up in the morning and decide to be somebody else for the day. But it happens - in Zumba class, feeling embarrassed and wondering how many people saw me goof up that last step, I forget that I got the first 1/2 of the routine right today for the first time, and lose a little bit of joy that could have been mine. On stage, no longer being able to just kick of my shoes in worship without thinking about it (this makes me sad) - wondering what people will think. I've lost a bit of my ontological self these past few years, and I need to get it back. I need to find that Circle of Quiet more routinely and figure out while I'm there what it is that changes when I'm not there.

This loss of ontology shows up in the weirdest ways. I used to wear fun socks. Now I tend not to. Why? What changed? Well, someone told me they were distracting. Somewhere along the line, that became "something about who you are is distracting - tone it down." Ordinary socks and dressing down are a way to do that - tho it's inhibited self-expression. Which over time becomes stifling - and suddenly I'm in desperate need of a shady glen by a brook and sunlight and sleep and the quiet that comes with it - so I can stop striving to be who I *think* everyone else wants and expects me to be, and re-become who I really am - even just for a minute.

This isn't the way it's supposed to be. I'm not sure we'll ever truly be recklessly ourselves at all times in this lifetime- but I think the key towards moving towards that is in finding that Circle of Quiet within ourselves and learning to live from that.

It's called rest. And when we're at rest, suddenly not being focused on ourselves comes easier, and seeing a need that someone else has and meeting it becomes instinctive. I've not been as rested - as confident in my identity in Christ, as assured of His ability to get me where I need to be in His time, as child-like in my trust and faith - as I've needed to be to simply... be. One moment, one task, one day at a time.

There's a lot to be said for slowing down, and building in time for what Christopher Robin wisely called "doing nothing." (Pooh asked him what that meant, and he said, "well, it's when grownups ask you: 'what are you doing?' and you say, 'oh, nothing.' and then you go and do it.")

Settling down and doing nothing for awhile this afternoon suddenly seems like an excellent plan. :)

Happy said...

p.s. sorry for the post-length comment!!! i think i started preaching to myself towards the end there... ;)

Ruth said...

Happy thank you so much for blessing me with your thoughts. Don't you go apologizing for the length of it either! You gave of yourself and I really appreciate that.

"Reckless Ontology" I like that. I totally get what you mean about losing joy that could be ours by being self conscious. On one hand we need to be self aware and adjust our behavior, thoughts etc as we grow. However, I like what you said about being at rest.

"And when we're at rest, suddenly not being focused on ourselves comes easier, and seeing a need that someone else has and meeting it becomes instinctive."

It's that restful place of being comfortable in my own skin and at peace with myself that I long for. A place from where I can instinctively be attentive to others.

For me, living ontologically means taking risks as well. And not dwelling on my mistakes.

So what do you do in Zumba class???

I hope you had a restful do nothing afternoon. I did. I just love afternoon naps.

Happy said...

Hey, Ruth - sorry it took me almost a month to get back here to answer your question! Eek - how did time fly by that quickly?

So Zumba.... it's kind of like an aerobics class with a Latin twist - we do all sorts of Latin dance steps like sambas and mambos mixed in with the traditional aerobic grapevines and jumping jacks and whatnot. The music is really fun, and every aerobic routine becomes a dance. It's HARD - and the songs are so fast that if you're still trying to figure out which direction you're supposed to be heading, you can get lost pretty quick - but a friend of mine warned me to expect to feel completely lost for the first month's worth of classes, and to hang in there - and I did, and I'm really glad. That said, I'm typing this while skipping my Zumba class this morning... lol. But I have a wedding to go to, and I'm not feeling 100%, so taking a morning to chill just seemed wise. :)

Anyway, Zumba's really fun if you like to dance. :)

Topic shift:
It was really cool coming back and re-reading your post this morning. I had to grin when I read your last thought: "Rather than trying to minimize myself in an effort to be humble and selfless could I simply forget about myself and see where that takes me?" I think I tend to do that a lot, without thinking - try to minimize myself. TRY. Put it effort. Instead of just chilling out, being me, and loving people.

And I'm thankful again for Madeleine's wisdom and her vulnerability in sharing her stories - it takes courage to tell the world that you HAVE impatience, crossness, and frustration, when the world wants to hear "I'm fine, how are you?" rather than the truth about where we really are. But I do have all those things from time to time, and in truth, we all do sometimes, and finding that quiet place to unwind from them is just wise.

I'm off to find mine again today. And hopefully my sense of humor will meet me there too... ;) I take myself FAR too seriously some days.

Ruth said...

Zumba class sound like fun. I need one of those.

It dawned on my as you reminded me of my words that I enjoy others much more when they give of themselves in a unselfconcious way rather than try to be all quiet and humble.

I do enjoy you Happy the way you give of yourself. You are a breath of fresh air.

Have fun tonight!