“Sometimes I worry you’ll all realise I’m ordinary,” said the boy. “Love doesn’t need you to be extraordinary,” said the mole.*
When we do not protect with great care your own inner mystery, we will never be able to form a community. It is this inner mystery that attracts us to each other and allows us to establish friendship and develop lasting relationships.**
We can be tempted to reinvent ourselves as extraordinary, a movement from the eco – the true Self found in our connectedness to all things – to ego – the false self, being more or less than who we are through disconnection. These are extremes; we’re usually somewhere along the continuum.
Into my mind slipped Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out, which I read eleven years ago, and yet the book’s “three movements” have remained with me: from loneliness to solitude, from hostility to hospitality and from illusion to prayer.
When Nouwen writes about our inner mystery I am also thinking of Joseph Campbell‘s personal myth, a story we need to shape that contains who we are – and who we are becoming.
This connects with the first question my work is wrapped around: Who am I?
Loneliness can be not knowing this story. Solitude is finding it, content with our own company. Loneliness can mean not wanting to be left alone with ourselves.
Without this story, we struggle to shape the second myth or story Campbell believes we need: the societal myth, or how we connect with others:
In the solitude of the heart we can truly listen to the pains of the world because there we can recognise them not as strange an unfamiliar pains, but as pains that are indeed our own.**
We discover there’s something we can bring to others out of the rich story of our innermost mystery.
This connects with the second question my work is wrapped around: What is my contribution (work)?
And so we do not approach one another with the hostility of suspicion, cynicism and competition, but with hospitality, making a place in ourself for the other – not ignoring, not debating to win the argument, not simply opening a dialogue, but fostering the kind of generative dialogues in which the emerging possibility is one unimagined by either side.
Every guest brings a gift into our lives, even though they may not know it.
But to be such a host we have to first of all be at home in our own house.**
Thus, the third movement emerges necessarily from the second:
When we do not enter into that inner field of tension where the movement from illusion to prayer takes place, your solitude and hospitality easily lose their depth. And then, instead of being essential to our spiritual life, they become pious ornaments of a morally respectable existence.**
Another word for prayer may be faith, the action of a life convinced of something greater or more important than itself, even though it means moving into deep uncertainty and scarce guarantee.
When we are prepared to give up on extraordinary and move into solitude to know ourselves, to move into hospitality and connect with all things, and move into faith and give expression to these, we will find there is a very rich fullness to our ordinariness.
(*From Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.)
(**From Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out.)