The inner landscape
Since I was a small child, I have constantly been drawn to landscapes and their “thin places”, places of energy, where the divine is sensed. Here I am called to look, listen and learn, to take on board the truths that these places have to share with me, if only I am attentive. Over the years I have learnt to open myself to these places and their messages, whether the landscape is dry, hot, open gibber plains, inland waterways, remnant rainforests, my back garden or coastal beaches, for each has something to say me. Of all the landscapes that I have had the joy to experience it is Central Australia that has the strongest pull on me, providing me with the most powerful lessons. In the desert I am stripped to the core, open and vulnerable.
‘…being in the desert is … a reduction to a state of authentic existence when all the sham and gloss is removed, leaving only that which is real. ‘Now that I am nothing – I am’ (Brown, 1991).
Here I am opened to my inner landscape or “inner terrain” (Palmer, 1997), my authentic self, called to wait and listen not only to the land but to the still small inner voice that whispers truths to me and calls me to open myself to lessons on the journey.
On leaving Central Australia and moving to the coast I was racked with grief at the loss of the “thin places” that I experienced in the Centre. My grief has since abated, though an ache remains within me for this powerful ancient landscape that taught me so much. I have learnt since leaving Central Australia that this “inner landscape” has travelled with me to the coast, is part of me and is at my core. Now I have found new ways of opening to and travelling in this “inner landscape”, through connecting with other landscapes when I walk or camp in nature, grow vegetables, practise Mindfulness or write in my Gratitude journal about all the small things in life that I am grateful for. Sometimes this “inner terrain” is rugged, teaching me painful lessons about myself that I don’t always want to learn and which at times brings me to tears or even tantrums. At other times my “inner landscape” is balm to a weary soul, nudging me to identify my strengths, values and blessings in life that in turn equip me to travel further along the road.
This “authentic self” calls to me to honour and care for it, to spend time in silence reflecting on and taking care of the condition of my soul, to fed my spirit through time spent in nature, or time with family and friends, laughing, creating and celebrating. Life has taught me that self-care, both outer and inner is never selfish, for without self-care we become drained of energy, blind to our true passions and callings and ultimately we have little to offer others in both our private and work lives.
In my younger years I viewed work as a means to an end. Over time I began to feel empty in the work that I did, often taking days off, or wishing each moment at work away, unable to be fully present to the work at hand. Over time I began to question what was happening to me. I began craving for a job that I was passionate about, was true to my values and was fulfilling. In his book, ‘The Heart Aroused: poetry and the preservation of the soul in corporate America’, Whyte (1994) describes the soul as “the indefinable essence of a person’s spirit and being” that can “never be touched and yet the merest hint of its absence causes immediate distress” (Whyte, 1994, p. 13). This is the “inner landscape” our “authentic self”. The absence of soul is “sensed intuitively” although we may not recognize or understand that something is missing or lost or what has caused it (Whyte, 1994, p. 13). Palmer (1997) writes of the importance of knowing our “inner terrain” especially in the work that we do. He invites us to listen to our “inner teacher”, to know our “inner landscape”, to be open to and follow the leadings and nudgings of our heart that lead us to work that provides us with a sense of purpose and meaning. He employs an old Quaker saying, “Let your life speak”, listening to and honouring our “authentic self” and “what it intends to do” with us. Our “inner landscape”, if we listen, tells us about our truths and values (Palmer, 2000, pp. 2-3). This is “vocation”, hearing the call within us, listening to life telling us who we are (Palmer, p. 4) and directing us to our underlying “truer life” that is waiting to be acknowledged (Palmer, p.5). Vocation is the receiving of a gift, receptive to the treasures of true self that we already possess (Palmer, p. 10). Yet as humans we tend to look to others for advice, failing to listen to and attend to our “inner landscapes” and may become lost on the journey.
In today’s world being open to our “inner landscape” and accepting the gift of true knowledge and understanding of self is not easy. We are often called by what others perceive as the standards we ‘should’ live by, distracted by the everyday ‘noise’ and busyness of life, believing that it is unimportant to appreciate the simple things in life, increasingly divorced from the world around us and from our own spiritual nature. In addition we live in world full of fear and negativity, fear of failure, of risk, of death, of a hostile world and most importantly our own insecurity about identity and self-worth (Palmer, 2000, pp. 86-90). How then when we are closed to our “inner landscape” can we face our fears, distractions, our spiritual natures and open ourselves to our “authentic self”? Palmer (2000) reminds us that we are not alone, that although our inner work is personal it is not private and that this work can be helped by being in community, by finding others open to their own “inner landscape”, for we are made for community (Palmer, 2000, pp. 74 & 92). In sharing the journey we learn that we are not alone, that others too have places of fear in their “inner landscape” but that there are also places of hope, trust, beliefs and values (Palmer, 2000, pp. 93-94). In these places we can find a firm footing to move forward on the journey of self-discovery, to undertake our soul work.
Our journey in our “inner landscape” never ends. As Sarton’s poem, “Now I become myself” reminds us this journey to true self takes time (Sarton, 1974, p. 156) and for this we have a lifetime.
Now I become myself
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces …
Now to stand still, to be here …
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant …
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
May you stand strong on the journey in your “inner landscape”
May you find your “vocation”
May you find your true self
and in finding your true self find peace.
Brown, C. (1991). Pilgrim through this barren land. Sutherland, NSW: Albatross Books
Palmer, P.J. (2000). Let your life speak: listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Palmer, P.J. (1997). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Sarton, M. (1974). “Now I become myself”, Collected Poems, 1930 – 1973. New York: Norton.
Whyte, D. (1994). The heart aroused: poetry and the preservation of the soul in corporate America. New York: Currency Doubleday
Parts of this reflection have appeared previously in an essay titled, “Journey to the Heartland”, which formed part of an assessment for a unit in my Master of Educational Leadership, ACU.