‘It reminded me of the importance of the place of transformation in our lives – the changing room – the places and disciplines of solitude in which to access the wisdom that is within us.’*
Philip Newell describes what happens when we listen to our lives, providing the possibility of change, of becoming, of becoming more of who we are. He names this state “profound simplicity,” where we find ourselves in oneness with everything. I think this is what Oliver Wendell Holmes was referring to when he identified a simplicity on the far side of complexity:
*I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”
It is what Brian McLaren points to as the season of harmony, lying beyond the seasons of simplicity, complexity, and perplexity.**
This feels more like a journeying stream that we are able to slip into than it does a destination, akin to Constantine Cavafy’s poem Ithaca:
“As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with understanding.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you’ll never come across them on your way
as long as your mind stays aloft, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you’ll not encounter them
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you.
Hope that the road is a long one.
Many may the summer mornings be
when—with what pleasure, with what joy—
you first put in to harbours new to your eyes;
may you stop at Phoenician trading posts
and there acquire fine goods:
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and heady perfumes of every kind:
as many heady perfumes as you can.
To many Egyptian cities may you go
so you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind;
to reach her is your destiny.
But do not rush your journey in the least.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.
Ithaca gave to you the beautiful journey;
without her you’d not have set upon the road.
But she has nothing left to give you any more.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca did not deceive you.
As wise as you’ll have become, with so much experience,
you’ll have understood, by then, what these Ithacas mean. “^
“That was the best day ever,” declares Anne Lamott’s six year old grandson at the end of a day. The next morning he begins with the words, “This could be the best day ever.”^^
In-between lies the terror of a nightmare. Lamott comforts him in the night:
”He is like a pond, a self-contained waterbody with long brown legs, teeming with ever manner of life, rooted water plants and flowers, fish, turtles, tadpoles, ducks, but also, hidden in the silt, piranhas, stingrays, great white sharks.’^^
Such are all of us: people of simplicity, complexity, perplexity, and harmony*^
This six year old reminds me of my thirty five year old friend Steve, who loves so much about every day, declaring so many things to be the best ever. It strikes me that he has held on to and is developing this profound simplicity and, so, profound possibility. I realise we’re not meant to lose the best day ever-ness of life we knew as a young child but rather to develop it into an adult version on the far-side of complexity.
The first simplicity is a doorway life invites us to walk through, an opening or re-opening of our mind, leading to the opening of our heart and then the opening of our will.
Wisdom is not a body of knowledge that we gain, some far-off Ithaca, but a journey we immerse ourselves in and grow rich through:
‘I am in charge of one dynamic: when a door is opened, I get to choose hope I will respond.’^*
‘We relax down into higher rungs of awareness, immediacy – being. Just humanly being.’^^
(*From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(**See Brian McLaren’s Naked Spirituality.)
(^Constantine cavity’s Ithaca, quoted in part in Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)
(^^From Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway.)
(*^These are Brian McLaren’s four seasons: beginning with the first simplicity, then things turn out to be more complex than we thought, and then we face the horrors of perplexity – what can we do, before bringing all of these together in harmony, that is, a simplicity on the far side of complexity.)
(^*From John Ortberg’s All the Places to Go.)