An Ikebana Kind of Life

Yes, it’s what I want.  We’ve talked here often of contemplative prayer and its peeling away the layers of the false self.  We’ve talked of Holy Detachment.  Along with the question I placed in the previous post, another line from the video spoke to me:  “…nothing should ever be placed in such a way that it doesn’t express its own vitality and character.”   How can we express our own vitality and character, our true self rather than our false self, until the false is completely stripped away?  This is why I repeated the question asked near the end of the video:  “What actually is not needed, in order to see what is essential?”   Perhaps we could also ask, “What actually must die in order to reveal our essence?” 

I had seen the Ikebana video a while ago; it spoke to me, and so I saved the link in my drafts.  Recently, one of Lucy’s posts had me thinking deeply, and the video came back to mind.  Then one of those serendipitous events occurred.  Lucy had quoted Anne Morrow Lindbergh in her post:  “The most exhausting thing you can do is to be inauthentic.”   I didn’t know the source of the quote, but I had more than a few passing thoughts that I would like to read more of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s writings.  A couple of days later I was in the thrift shop looking for a small wicker basket and I took the time, as I usually do, to browse through the books.  Generally, I only look at the hardcover books, because the paperbacks are usually all genres which don’t appeal to me.  But for some reason I scoured the racks of paperbacks as well, and lo and behold, what did I see but Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gift from the Sea.”   And what a gift it was (and I’m not referring to the 49 cents I paid for it).  Now, I know I’m probably coming late to this book; many of my American online friends here, particularly the women, probably read it years ago, but “better late than never” certainly holds true in this case for me.  (Kristin, it is this book to which I was referring in a comment where I said it was helping me to centre and rebalance).

I know I’m making this post overly-long by doing so, but I’d like to share with you a couple of paragraphs from the book (I will be sharing more later) that coincide nicely with the Ikebana video in terms of how the artist was asking us to be curious about the weight and the fullness, to ask ourselves “where is the space, where is the line?”  Becoming aware of the weight, the fullness, the space and the lines in our day-to-day existence and doing whatever it takes to simplify and bring things into balance and harmony will lead to the same thing interiorly.  Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes:
“For it is only framed in space that beauty blooms.  Only in space are events and objects and people unique and significant – and therefore beautiful.  A tree has significance if one sees it against the empty face of the sky.  A note in music gains significance from the silences on either side.  A candle flowers in the space of night.  Even small and casual things take on significance if they are washed in space, like a few autumn grasses in one corner of an Oriental painting, the rest of the page bare.

My life in Connecticut, I begin to realize, lacks this quality of significance and therefore of beauty, because there is so little empty space.  The space is scribbled on; the time has been filled.  There are so few empty pages in my engagement pad, or empty hours in the day, or empty rooms in my life in which to stand alone and find myself.  Too many activities, and people, and things.  Too many worthy activities, valuable things, and interesting people.  For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well.  We can have a surfeit of treasures – an excess of shells, where one or two would be significant.”
[Gift from the Sea; pgs. 114-115]


15 thoughts on “An Ikebana Kind of Life

  1. Some lady friends — after I had marveled at their glass birds, or their carved seabirds, or their rooster or Hummel or unique-s/p-shakers, or their exquisite teacup collections — had asked, “So, what do you collect, Carol?” Carol didn’t collect anything but gifts from children and things left to the fates by recently deceased people or yard-sale surplus. “Why don’t you take that, Carol? It’s so you.” Ok, lol. That, and boxes of books left by the street. I thought it, thus, my domestic/maternal duty to begin to collect something. I always liked Holsteins, and husband said “no” to real ones, so I got the carved, stuffed, ceramic kinds. Meh. That got old. And I didn’t have money for Holstein-painted wooden eggs, you know? But then I found something I LOVED to collect: vacated birds’ nests. Soon, people began to collect vacated birds’ nests for Carol.. I truly considered each a real gift — I can’t tell you how many kinds and shapes and sizes; what a trip! But I realized it was more fun for others to find them, handle them, marvel over them. That’s all it was –something for others. And that’s fine, but there were too many, now. They all went out about a year or two ago — back to nature, unless I still have one or two somewhere. I “collect” Mark’s and Maddi’s discarded forgotten drawings when I encounter them, and give them back one day as if jewels of great worth. They are. Even the books I have kept are for others, really.

    If I lived alone, my surroundings would be pared down to only what is absolutely necessary. I’d like to ultimately be pared down to yes or no, smile or frown, laugh or cry, and wearing the equivalent of scrubs. I’ve had WAY too much time on my hands to contemplate. I’ve been able to also contemplate how much an easier life for others depends upon my bringing in something, too.. At any rate, I was once the kind of dizzying busy I never want to be again — seeing kids off to school, then working all day, then the gym, then tennis, then tutoring, then supper and homework and others’ errands, and falling into bed in a stupor. Was God in it? Nope. Well, indirectly, yes, but where was the thought of Him? It wasn’t present, really.

  2. Hi gabrielle, no apology for length needed – I’ve recently read much longer posts by people who have much less to say.

    “how the artist was asking us to be curious about the weight and the fullness, to ask ourselves “where is the space, where is the line?” Becoming aware of the weight, the fullness, the space and the lines in our day-to-day existence and doing whatever it takes to simplify and bring things into balance and harmony will lead to the same thing interiorly”

    I had an art instructor who asked us, during our life drawing sessions (as in where we drew people not wearing clothing), to consider such things as we drew; line weight, volume, and also to examine the same in the so called negative space surrounding the subject. I became fascinated with this “negative space” and how it informed the figure. This is perhaps a connection to what is not needed to show what is essential. (?)

  3. C, I’m not a collector of any particular item either, but there is still too much “stuff” for my liking, and as Lindbergh says, many, many other kinds of things filling up our space (exteriorly and interiorly). Now this was just one small section quoted, of course, and done so because of the previous post and what I’ve been thinking about lately, but she develops other themes in the book as well, all of which I really related to; she really speaks to the contemplative trying to live in the world with a family and many, many obligations.

    Owen, thank you; sometimes I feel like I’m going to burst (or implode), but I usually try not to do it all in one post! The reason I was attracted to the Ikebana video was because of all the ways in which I found it related to the contemplative life. I had never heard of this particular thing (Japanese flower arranging) and it was not Ikebana (in and of itself) that particularly interested me. It’s hard for me to explain, but I have trouble now talking or thinking about one area of the contemplative life without many other areas coming into the picture. The last year or so my thoughts and spirit have been constantly caught up in mysteries of time and space, how they relate to each other, how they relate to the soul and the spirit, etc., whether it be Merton’s temps vierge and pointe vierge, or Arthur Young, or the many writers focusing on the present moment, all of which ties into detachment, abandonment, the false self, the need to just be, etc. The video for me was simply a metaphor for some aspects of the contemplative life; maybe that is what all the contemplative arts are, or what they grew out of, or what they express, and why certain people are drawn to them? But the negative space – wow. I just looked up a few definitions and explanations art-wise, and I can see exactly what you’re getting at and why you were fascinated. I can certainly see many spiritual parallels. Yikes. More months of pondering now.

  4. Pardon my lapse in commenting.. I was busy signing up for life drawing class.
    Actually, I was sitting here marveling that my son blew off a fun invitation to finally fulfill his vow to go to Confession.

    I dare not look up negative space, nor much about contemplation, as I’m actually afraid of thinking myself to death. (Really, it wouldn’t take much..) When I found out about our personal space being 18″ all around, and how we guard it, or not, and thought how very few have been allowed to breach mine, or I, theirs–and that when I opened it up to another or vice versa, it was more gift than either of us knew, I got to wondering about its spiritual sister..does the soul have a say on who comes into that 18″ *circle*? Does it ever bristle when some bozo comes galumping in? Is that even possible? If not, why not? One thing’s for sure: Christ has no personal space, or rather, for us fish, He is all ocean.

    I’m gonna go just be, now. Just be happy. Quiet. Thankful.

    You all do the thinkin’ –I’ll do the marvelin’.

  5. Thinking can be a form of marveling as we worship God with all of our mind. I’m not sure I can marvel without thinking though I can think without marveling. And here’s an example from our blog host: “The last year or so my thoughts and spirit have been constantly caught up in mysteries of time and space, how they relate to each other, how they relate to the soul and the spirit, etc.,”

    Meanwhile, gabrielle, as my mother used to say, “Don’t hurt yourself.” 😉

  6. A candle flowers in the space of night.
    That line in particular speaks to me here. It takes darkness and no other lights for us to truly appreciate the little light of the candle and yet in its own space it can shine really bright.
    Too much clutter, too many appointments , to many things on our to-do list, that we forget to make space for ourselves in order to see, to hear, to imbibe the presence of the One who makes it all possible in the first place.
    Lots of ponderables here. Gabrielle. I’m guessing you’ll be excerpting more in time from Gift from the sea?

  7. Carol, that’s wonderful news about your son, and even if something were to have happened that he wasn’t able to get there yesterday, the intention is in his heart now, and get there I’m sure he will. I see you had a little tear in your eye – no wonder. Re a protective barrier around the soul – great question; I’ve never really thought about it in that way before. IMHO, I would think yes, not necessarily a physical protective space, but certainly the ability to let things in or keep things out (do you remember the serpents and creepy-crawlies in the First Mansion a couple of years ago, and you joked about wearing rubber boots). 🙂 The three powers of the soul are memory, understanding and will, and all three must be developed and strengthened so that evil will not be given any access, and so the Divine will have greater access. I know what you mean about being afraid of thinking yourself to death instead of just being; too much of our energy is in our head; probably that’s why we have sinus problems…

    Owen, ha ha. My Mom would have said, “You need all this like a hole in the head.” 🙂

    Ann, I loved that line and the image too; and we need darkness ourselves sometimes, don’t we, in order to see His light.
    Yes, I will be highlighting some more passages soon; I think you’d really like this book, Ann; I had such a sense of peace reading it, much like with Caryll Houselander’s writings.

  8. i am so delighted you have discovered “gift from the sea.” don’t worry, you are not such a late comer. i only read it about 1 1/2 years ago. i’m not certain i would have been ready for it any sooner in my life 🙂

    look forward to more musings!!!

  9. I’ve added this book to my list.. perhaps tomorrow I can fit a trip to the library into my utter-dynamo schedule.. *sigh.. and bring back Dorothy Parker, Complete Stories— over which I both roared and marveled (oh, what love and respect in an allegedly love-lacking and raw life–if her poor Dysmas soul made it into Paradise, and if mine shall, I guarantee I will find some way to hug that brilliant and underloved little woman), and will borrow Gift of the Sea.

    Gab, I could’ve been knocked over with a feather (alright, maybe a whole half a pteradactyl wing) to arise today to find son gone to Mass. : ‘ – ) Geez Louise, when I think back to all the times I went up for Communion when he stayed behind. My heart broke and broke, and I even wondered at times if I should go, I mean, why should I have Everything if my own kids didn’t.. the only thing that decided me on that was knowing how weak I am without Him. I’d be even more useless, and that wouldn’t help anyone at all. At any rate, I’m joyful today. Very very thankful. : – )

    Yes, I recall the rubber boots. I think the Lord looks at creepy crawlies in the mansion the way we look at gum on the sidewalk. Pretty soon, they’re just blobs of nuisance to us, too, and (some) easily avoided.

  10. Lucy, that’s a really good point about not always being ready for certain writings at different points in our lives; I should try to remember that whenever I read something I regret not having read earlier. I have found the same thing too when rereading works I read when I was younger, and realize that much had been lost on me at the time.

    C, that’s so wonderful; I think this may be a very grace-filled period for him – more than worth every minute of the wait. I remembered this morning whose hands you had put him into…
    I haven’t read Dorothy Parker, C; I will try to remember her next time I go to the library too. I mean, I’ve heard of her all my life, but never read her, and know nothing about her, but I trust your roaring and marveling!

    Owen, too funny! Sometimes you have to wonder who comes up with these things.

  11. My dad, years ago, decided to go to a neurologist to figure out why he sees two moons (a sort of nocturnal double vision). The doc told him he has a more than usual amount of liquid around his brain. “No worries, though, because if you have no other symptoms, just leave it that way. If on the other hand you should start to have other problems, all we have to do is drill a hole in your head and remove some of the liquid”. Can you guess what my dad replied? Oh yes, “I need that like I need a hole in the head! 🙂

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