I wrote yesterday about John O'Donohue's critique - in his book, Anam Cara - about how we see. Continuing his discussion of how we relate to the world through our senses, today I'm quickly sharing some passages relating to speaking, smelling and breathing.
After bemoaning the loss in much of modern society of the rich experience that eating a meal used to provide, O'Donohue notes a broader metaphor that today's fast food society provides:
"The fast-food metaphor provides a deep clue to the poverty of sensibility and lake of taste in modern culture ... Many of the words we use are of the fast-food spiritual variety. These words are too thin to echo experience; they are too weak to bring the inner mystery of things to real expression. In our rapid and externalized world, language has become ghostlike, abbreviated to code and label. Words that would mirror the soul carry the loam of substance and the shadow of the divine."
Again, I am moved by O'Donohue's prose. Truly, his words echo experience and reflect deep thought and insight.
On Fragrance and Memory
"Experts," writes O'Donohue, "tell us that smell is the most faithful of all the sense in terms of memory. The smells of one's childhood still remain within." I found this a fascinating thought.
As anyone who reads this blog regularly will know, the subject of memory is important to me. For so much of my life, most of my memories of my early life have been filed away somewhere deep within my brain. The image of the Room of Requirement (from Harry Potter), where things are hidden, comes to mind. For more times that I care to remember, I have stood before that stone wall that conceals the Room and have tried to will the door to that Room to appear, only to face the disappointment of its refusal to materialize.
But, it seems like more and more, flashes of memory are coming back to me. Yesterday, for example, Mark and I went skiing here in Utah for the first time this year. As we rode the lift, images flashed in my mind of when I used to go skiing with my fraternity brothers during college at Big Powderhorn Mountain in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan: the room where I rented my gear in the lodge; the bunny hill there; the chair lifts; the view from the top; etc. In a sense, these flashes are like smells that waft through the air, savored briefly before they dissipate and disappear.
"Traditionally," writes O'Donohue, "the breath was understood as the pathway through which the soul entered the body." He continues:
"[Among other things], the dynamic of breathing also takes in the deep world of prayer and meditation, where through the rhythm of the breath you come down into your own primordial level of soul. Through breath meditation, you begin to experience a place within you that is absolutely intimate with the divine ground. Your breathing and the rhythm of your breathing can return you to your ancient beginning, to the house, as Eckhart [Meister Eckhart] says, that you have never left, where you always live: the house of spiritual belonging."
Meditation is something I have always struggled with. The few times I have tried it, it seemed contrived and artificial. But O'Donohue's comments have provided me with a new way to look at this practice, as have other material I have been reading over the past couple of months. I'm looking forward to putting theory into practice after the holidays when things have settled down a bit in our lives.