In class I often try to get pupils thinking about how people react to, are affected by and manage the landscape around them. Geography is a very external subject in that regards. But if I ask pupils how they feel about a landscape then we are dealing with a much more internal interaction. There aren’t many children who just want to know how the cliff gets eroded, they like the parts where that natural process impacts on the lives of people.
In her book “The Wisdom of No Escape” Pema Chodron talks about how any place can be holy.
In fact that wherever you are
“you’re the centre of the world, standing in the middle of a sacred circle”.
But the trouble is
“if you stand still long enough, you’ll start to worry about something. Then you realise …. that it feels as if everything is closing down and getting very small.”
Standing in the Himalayas, on a quiet Irish beach, in front of the Valley of the Kings or wherever we may gain some space, some sense of wonder and be able to stop, breathe out and marvel at it all. But for how long before grab on to some passing idea and it all begins to close in? How long till we want to get a better position for a photo or think about how long the return journey will be?
So for me, so near to the starting line of my spiritual journey, I have to rely more on the landscape around me. I have to be careful choosing where I go because I know in some places I cannot find any sense of the bigger picture. There are situations that cause me to fill with fear and see only a small dark room around me.
I wish I could stand still right now right here and wake up. But for now I have to partly rely on external geography to make it easier for my mind to cope. Facing down the daemons is beyond me for the moment. I shall notice them and then retreat to a safe place; run away and fight another day so to speak. But once I have the strength I can then do as Pema Chodron goes on to say
“Life’s work is to wake up. to let those things that enter [your] circle wake you up rather than put you to sleep. The only way to do this is to be open, to be curious and develop some sense of sympathy for everything that comes along, to get to know its nature and let it teach you what it will. Its going to stick around until you learn your lesson, at any rate. You can leave your marriage, you can quit your job, you can only go where people are going to praise you, you can manipulate your world until you’re blue in the face to try to make it always smooth, but the same old demons will always come up until finally you have learned your lesson, the lesson they came to teach you. Then those same demons will appear as your friendly, warmhearted companions on the path”