I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
T. S. Eliot - from his “Four quartets”
This will be my most personal post, and my timing for posting it is motivated by this month being not only breast cancer awareness month, but also the month traditionally associated with harvest time. But why link these two apparently unrelated events?
Recently I celebrated my 65th birthday, which for me personally happens to be quite an achievement. Twice in the short period of just six years my body fought a battle with breast cancer. People who know this about me tend to say to me: "You are a survivor". But I never know how to react to such a self-evident truth other than with a silent nod of the head.
How can one react, when there are all kinds of dying?
My body might successfully have resisted the insidious attacks upon it, but the soul has its own natural rhythms of healing. It was my spirit, and my inner space – the one of which mystics speak - which became wounded and frozen. This is something which manifests itself on an inner field of battle: a field of dull half-light and raw uncertainty. Even God and the angels seemed to withdraw themselves, leaving me to wander through this darkest twilight and waste land, apparently alone.
In my groping in the dark, every faint light on the way turned out to be a false guide, and I was like a bird that flew against a window time and time again. My piano which normally would console me fell silent, and the deep and giving well from which I drew the inspiration for my stories turned dry. I was grieving for them both, my creative companions. At the same time I felt abandoned by them. First God, then my music and my writing?
I blamed the chemotherapies. The icy-coldness of the toxic orange fluid which had been pumped into my veins, must have reached my spirit. I felt frozen, both inside and out. In that frozen state I surrendered to what my soul so clearly was going through. So I kept walking through this barren land. For almost eight long years.
I heard a voice: "you have to die deeper still", and another: "you have to trust deeper still".
But something else was asking for attention too. It knocked politely at my door, pleading to be allowed in. What was it? I did not recognize the visitor. In a most gentle way this presence spoke to me through the words of a dear friend: "you must pour compassion into yourself and console yourself. If you bring that kind of light to your soul and to its wounded places, you can affect incredible inner healing. In doing so you actually start to sense that the one who is giving consolation and compassion is much deeper than the entity you are consoling."
Compassion was the sustenance for the soul to take the final steps through the barren land.
Every living soul on this earth, whether in physical or in spiritual despair or distress, is walking this road at some stage in his or her life. And it is up to each and every one of us to break through that hidden isolation and take that one step nearer to the Truth.
When at last I was able to ‘unfreeze’, I began, gently and cautiously, to draw in the threads of life around me once more. Step by faltering step the process went, and setbacks there were aplenty. But this time there were helping hands, nearby and from far across the oceans, which encouraged me to ground myself in the circle of life once more. Gradually I acquired new vigor, and I could feel the love of my loved ones and friends revitalizing my being.
Now I anchor myself in this silent, unknowable mystery called life, with the deep and reverent sense which comes when one feels oneself drawing ever closer to the mystery. And the link with harvest time? I am beginning the harvest years of my life, not just in terms of my age, but in the accumulated experience of all that has gone before, and the awareness that while we cannot hope to understand all the things which happen to us, we nevertheless can give them a place, knowing that the most precious harvest is that of Compassion for the soul's silent yearning.
Top painting: Elvira Amrhein