Monday, May 16, 2011

(Re-)Turning to Nature


Teachers and Students, Glendalough May 2011
 I am just two hours home from a wonderful trip to Glendalough in County Wicklow.  We teachers brought the boys from our ASD classes on a trip there today.  Luckily the weather remained very kind to us as it did not rain once.  It was a little bit windy, but that in no way detracted from our day.  We viewed an informative video/dvd on monasticism in early Christian Ireland, visited the interactive exhibition and went on a guided tour of the ancient monastery with our OPW guide Mary who was very cheery as well as being informative. This early Christian ecclesiastical settlement was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. Set in a glaciated valley between two lakes, the monastic remains include a superb round tower, stone churches and decorated crosses. The Visitor Centre has an interesting exhibition and an audio-visual show. This Centre is fully accessible for visitors with disabilities, though access to the graveyard is very difficult for wheelchair users.

(Re-)Turning to Nature

The calm Upper Lake, Glendalough
I remember an old priest-friend of mine saying that monasticism was basically a Romantic urge.  This man in question is a poet as well as a priest and he believes that he is very close to God out in nature.  Those of us brought up in a Celtic Christian spirituality will realise that nature was always very central to the devotion of the early Irish Christian monks.  They chose the locations for their monasteries in the most rugged and most isolated of places where they could commune with their God.  Birds of the air and beasts of the field and mountain abound in their writings.  They wrote poems as well as transcribing ancient religious manuscripts. 

One of the founding fathers of Irish monasticism was St Enda (Naomh Éanna) (d. 530 A.D.) who set up his monastery on one of the three Aran Islands, namely Inis Meáin. His monastery was established at Killeany (Cill Éanna) on this rugged island . Among those who came there for formation were Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, Jarlath of Tuam, and Carthage who later had monasteries at Rahan and Lismore, so that Enda along with Finian of Clonard are regarded as the patriarchs of Irish monasticism.

St Kevin was the founder of Glendalough - The Glen of the Two Lakes - which was a wonderful Gaelic or Irish monastery.  At his birth in 498, he was given the name of Coemgen, which meant "beautiful shining birth." Legend has it that he also came into the world without the usual pains of labour.  Several sources have given his year of death as 618, which would make him a grand old monk of 120 when he died. Obviously there are no accurate dates for his life, but this legendary length of life need not detain us here. If you are interested in an account of his life, see this link here: St Kevin.

St Kevin was essentially an ascetic who wished to live alone worshipping his God among the quiet woods, streams and lakes of Glendalough, but his holiness was so renowned that many others joined him in his secluded prayer.  Hence the monastery of Glendalough grew up around this great spiritual guru.  He spent much of his life living in a lonely cave, walking the isolated paths among the hills and sleeping on a stone bed. We are told that "the branches and leaves of the trees sometimes sang sweet songs to him, and heavenly music alleviated the severity of his life." Perhaps it was in his cave, too, that Kevin learned to play that harp of his that would long remain a treasured relic. When he later wrote his monastic rule, it was composed in verse. Possibly, he even set it to music on the harp.

Contacting the Psyche (Soul) in Nature

Model of the ancient monastic site at Glendalough, Visitor's Centre
However, it was the quietness and tranquillity of the place that bowled me over today, even though I was accompanied by a group of 26 others.  One could veritably capture the ancient Celtic monastic peace.  The old monks really knew how to choose a location for a monastery - a beautiful glen surrounded by mountains and two wonderful lakes.  I remember practising a meditation once where as one sat in one's position one was advised to imagine that one's body or torso as a mountain and the world of the psyche/soul (divine/transcendent/spirit), call it what you wish, being the sea or lake below one.  As I have already maentioned in the previous post both Mountains (Hills) and Seas (Oceans, Lakes) are metaphors for the psyche.  When we meditate we plumb the depths of the psyche (sea metaphor, hence depth psychology) or we scale its heights (mountain metaphor, hence height psychology).

This is not to deny or to take from the more religious/spiritual/Christian sense which many visitors get when the visit this ancient monastic site.  For me the experience is more soulful or psyche-related than religious.  As I have journeyed through life my religious sense of my being has diminished, nay almost disappeared, while my spiritual awareness has increased a hundredfold.  Again, I repeat, I have great respect and much time for all spiritually-rooted religions unhindered by the chains of power.  Their ways may not be mine, but I sincerely respect them.


The big lesson for me today on a spiritual/psychic/psychological level was the sense of connection I could make with Nature, with my Self and with my Soul.  I have journeyed beyond what William Wordsworth experienced at Tintern Abbey, and which he spoke so passionately and poetically about in that eponymous work, where he felt he was communing with his maker, the Christian God who created the whole universe.  I felt I was connecting with the world of consciousness or awareness of which Deepak Chopra speaks so poetically and passionately.  In turning to nature today, I truly felt that I was returning to that greater consciousness which generates and governs the very universe.  There are many who call this God!  And that is alright by me, but I prefer Infinite Consciousness or Awareness.

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