Thin Places, Big Questions

You can listen to this essay here (10 mins)

There is a special place not far from where I live. The road there, winding and twisting with grass down the middle, turns back on itself until the vista spans into the sea then falls off the edge, or so perspective would have you believe. This is a ‘thin place’, part ethereal, part earthy, which takes you to the thresholds of the big questions of life: who are we, were are we going, and what is beyond.

I’d gone down there on New Year’s Eve with a friend. It seemed like a fitting place to close one decade and enter another. ‘Could it bring us into the questions which would help define us, and refine us’, I had wondered. I hoped to leave feeling more certain, clearer of my next steps. So, I packed a flask and some emergency chocolate (one must always be prepared), and headed off, into the afternoon’s lingerings.

Climbing up to the cairn on the highest point, a 360 degree view of the peninsula, the castle ruins and a lake were cast in calm below, the cliff-faces looking velvet in the setting sun, the rocks with a hidden animacy felt like they were about to speak, until there came upon the wind-currents some rare, but familiar calls. Choughs. These black-winged, red-billed beauties, circling and swooping finding their roost in the castle turrets for the night. In their swooping, and the way the light was falling, time seemed to vanish. Up there was only this; no need for questions, no need for strategic plans, no need for clarity, because this was presence, this was a kind of prescience– a knowing that this is really everything: this sentience, this quality of being… and could I say it out loud, could this also be… love? The light you see had shifted. It was not light at all, but honey-hued, a golden filament, landing on our skin, our faces, threading us to the raw elemental around us. Then, across the hills, an arc of spectral light, separated into its constituent colours: otherwise known as a rainbow, reached into the great expanse. Even with a scientific lens, beauty is beauty. ‘I think this may be peak-life’, I said to my friend, ‘does it get any better than this’. And we laughed. We are also made of this.

We are also made of this. The line left an echo in my heart, or was it a clue. It also felt oddly, terrifying.

For the last few years I have chosen a ‘word for the year’ to give the months ahead some anchor. The word should plug into intentionality and focus, steering me back to course. Before going up that thin place hill on New Year’s Eve, I had some ambitious words ready to take the reign, but coming down from the hill, I knew there was only word I could choose. It is heavily loaded, often seen as the domain of the weak, the irrational, or the hopelessly romantic. To speak of it effulgently in the public realm is it is be labelled as naive, or overly-sentimental, or sensitive. To define yourself by it: a dreamer, an idealist. But, we also made of this. This being an intrinsic kind of love. An already worthy kind of love. A wild, connected love. A love which is already whole. This is not about falling in love, or finding love. This is love as a verb. This is to be love.

And so, down from the mountain, I declare: my word for the year is a verb. LOVE

But why is such a seemingly sentimental word so scary? Because, I already know, it will change things, deep things. Love as a verb is a practice, and with practice, we evolve over time. Thomas Merton writes, ‘Love affects more than our thinking and our behaviour towards those we love. It transforms our entire life. Genuine love is a personal revolution. Love takes your ideas, your desires and your actions and welds them together in one experience and one living reality which is a new you.’

To love as a verb then is a revolutionary, revelatory act. Feck. Am I willing to give myself fully to this? And what does it mean to really live my love? These are age old questions, of course, so I turn to some age old sages.

‘Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it’, says Rumi.

‘The important thing is not to think much, but to love much; and do that which best stirs you to love’, said Teresa d’Avila

‘True love is born from understanding’, said the Buddha.

Mmm…. there is clearly much I need to understand. So I go to my bookshelves for more clues. There is already quite a collection on this topic: ‘When Love Meets Fear, ‘Loving Kindness’, ‘Radical Love, ‘World as Lover, World as Self’, ‘Meditation for the Love of it’, and even, ‘All about Love’. As I am flicking through the pages, moving from poet to priestess, I realise that part of me thought I knew love, that I understood its mechanisms, dimensions and power. But as I begin to interrogate love, move into into my hands so as to contemplate it deeper in my action, I realise how much I’ve still been subconsciously operating from a notional, received love; one that gets played out in our movies and scripts; the one where love is an external rather and an intrinsic force.

Yes- Love as a verb is a force of nature, and here am I calling myself to it.

So you can see why it can be scary. Those thin place questions of ‘Who are we, where are we going, and what is beyond’, have led to a singular infinite: love.

And that is when the voice of Rilke kicked in.

‘Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves… Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.’

I feel a sense of ease arise. Maybe that is everything that is required: to be as proximate as possible to the questions and the intimations of love. To stay close to the essence of the power and presence of the this in the thin place, and try to live from that force.

In the end it always comes back to remembrance, and attempt.

So, I close my eyes, picture the light on my face and the golden filigree of infinite presence which binds us all, and I whisper into my heart, ‘Remember, we are also made of this’.

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