Places That Speak

I am not I.

I am this one

walking beside me whom I do not see,

whom at times I manage to visit,

and whom at other times I forget;

who remains calm and silent while I talk,

and forgives, gently, when I hate,

who walks where I am not,

who will remain standing when I die.

—Juan Ramon Jiménez

From what place do you write?

When you enter the space of writing, where, exactly is it that you go, if anywhere?

The poem above makes me think about a shocking moment I had as a beginning meditator. When I was asked to notice my thoughts, gently label them “thinking,” and return to the breath, I was struck with the question, “who is doing this noticing?” Is there more than one “me?” “Is this perhaps the first stage of Multiple Personality Disorder?”

I still don’t have an answer to who it is doing the noticing, but what I’ve come to understand is that there is a deeper, more peaceful part of myself who, as I get older and as I spend more time doing contemplative things, becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. I’ve come to think of it as a truer self, but maybe it isn’t even “me”at all, maybe it’s far less limited than that. I know I’m not alone in this experience, which says something.

What I know personally is that it is very difficult for me to write if I can’t first come to some place of stillness. I can do the physical labour of writing, but it is very hard, and far less joyful than entering and inhabiting the places where my characters live and breathe. And after more than three years of working with these characters, I can tell you that they do indeed live and breathe. And that I’m more than a little in love with them.

Beyond the psychological though, there seem to be actual physical places that for some reason, are more conducive to writing, or to stillness. I am fascinated by what makes these places so.

My family travelled to Panama recently. We had an amazing time and were treated royally by our dear friends. To say that they went out of their way to show us their home is beyond understatement. When they recommended that we visit El Valle, a mountain town not far from where we were staying, we didn’t hesitate. What we discovered was for me, one of these places that seems to “speak” from its very soil, whose energies were so strong that I wanted to stay longer than our time permitted. This is the spot in the photo above.

There was in fact one point, when my kids and husband were off chasing monkeys, that I sat in a place so arrestingly beautiful, with a small pond in front of me and a mountain peak beyond that, and had an experience most closely described by Virginia Woolf as a “Moment of Being.” Alas, I had no pen and paper, but it was a place so calm and silent that I was able to meet, in Jiménez’s words, “the one who walks beside me” without effort.

Is there a place for you, either physical or philosophical, that invites you to find the deeper side of yourself, whether or not you produce art from it? If you are willing, would you share some advice about how to find these places inside, in the swirls of a world less and less inclined to attend to quieter truths?

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