The Spirit of Listening
Exiled from Country: Deep Listening to the Spirit of Place Alice Springs, 21-24 July 2016
There’s a lake near where Neil and I live in Canberra. It’s called Lake Ginninderra. We visit it often. At the moment, we’re walking around it most mornings in rain, frost, fog and sleet because (in Canberra’s bleak mid-winter) we’re training for a 900km pilgrimage in September/October. Earlier this year, over four days at Easter, the contemplative community we lead gathered at the lake on a small island just off-shore. We stood among a grove of paperbark trees on Maundy Thursday and remembered the betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane; we looked up to a row of three casuarina trees on Good Friday, placing ourselves at the foot of the cross; and we faced over the water towards the sunrise on Easter day. On my regular retreat mornings, I find myself likewise drawn to the lake to sit on the island, or on a jetty a bit further round, contemplating the birds, the grasses and rocks.
I am starting to be acquainted with the life of this place. There’s a willy wagtail who lives near where our walk starts, and black swans who ‘own’ the island. There are trees the energy of whose presence is palpable – a stately stand of black gum just over the bridge, a larger, more foreboding grove of trees down one side of the peninsula on whose shaggy bark the empty shells of cicadas cling. The more I remember to pay attention, the more I become aware of being immersed in a vast livingness I seem never to be fully present to, and never able adequately to love. The more, also, I’m frustrated by a deep sense of being still separate and disconnected, thwarted in my longing for real communion with this place.
What do I think communion might look and feel like? I don’t really know first-hand. I rely on the testimony of others – of mystics and poets. But it seems to have at least two dimensions.....
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