Josna Rege

Posts Tagged ‘The Inner Light’

407. Inner Light

In Nature, reflections, seasons, Stories on November 24, 2018 at 5:33 pm

It has been nearly four months now since we moved, and every day is still a surprise. By mid-November, after a succession of cold, blustery days, the deciduous trees around the house had lost almost all their leaves. I emerged from the bedroom one morning to find shafts of light streaking into places I had never seen lit up before. The leaves of the potted plants we had brought in before the first frost had been looking dull, but now they were glowing; and, I was surprised to find, so was I. 

It’s counter-intuitive, isn’t it, that as the days grow shorter, the mornings and afternoons gloomier, and the shadows longer, there should actually be more light slanting into the house? As we were turning toward the darkest time of the year, I had been anticipating a season of hibernation and bracing myself to face it. But I had been wrong. Now that the trees were bare and the sun low in the sky, there was new light coming in everywhere, in unexpected places.

In just four weeks we will come around to the winter solstice, a cold, dark, snowy time when we will have to hunker down and bundle up day and night to conserve heat; but also a time to turn inward and discover that inner light.

 

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120. I once was lost (and wish I still were)

In 1960s, 1970s, Books, Childhood, Education, Inter/Transnational, Music, Stories on August 18, 2011 at 11:05 pm

from Eleanor Farjeon’s The Little Bookroom, ill. Edward Ardizzone

There was that time in primary school when I became so deeply immersed in a book that I completely forgot myself. If there were sounds in the classroom around me I probably subsumed them into the story. Something snapped me out of my reverie, and I looked around at an empty room. My classmates had all gone out to recess and I had been completely oblivious to the clanging of the bell and the ensuing din of chairs scraping, desk lids slamming, and eight-year-olds bursting out into the playground. Although I did perhaps feel a small pang at the thought that no one had bothered to rouse me, I was complacent about my utter disregard for the here and now. The world of books was just as present to me, and for the most part my book-loving family supported, even encouraged, my dreamy absorption in it.

Moomintroll and Snufkin (illustration by Tove Jansson)

Don’t misunderstand me: I wasn’t an introverted child. I spent many hours outdoors, running, biking, tree-climbing, and generally engaged in feats of derring-do. But once I got my hands on a new or beloved novel, I slipped inside it completely, sloughing off my given identity and inhabiting that of the character—or, more often, characters—with whom I most identified, and that of the narrator as well. Sometimes my identification with the imaginary world went a bit too far, as when I read Crime and Punishment and was stricken with an overwhelming sense of guilt, convinced that it was I who had committed the crime. I couldn’t shake off the feeling for nearly a week. It was like a nightmare that continues to haunt even after one has awakened. Perhaps my periodic tuning-out of the world around me allowed me to re-engage in it all the more fully when I emerged, blinking, into the light of day like Kenneth Grahame’s Mole or Tove Jansson’s Moomin coming out of hibernation.

Ratty and Mole, ill. EH Shepard from guardian.co.uk

Strangely enough, while my absorption in a book was total, my ability to fall asleep during the daytime was non-existent. Every time I began to nod off, the sensation of falling would jerk me awake again. While other children took to their beds for an afternoon siesta, I tossed restlessly until my mother gave up and allowed me to do as I wished. Most often, confined to the house with my friends sleeping or otherwise engaged, what I most wished to do was to sail away to Wild Cat Island with the Swallows and Amazons or be transported to Babylon and ancient Tyre with the children in The Story of the Amulet.

Endpaper, 1931 edition, Swallows and Amazons (rosesbooks.com)

Nowadays, however, I seem to have lost my early ability to escape in this way. Graduate study, which valorized critical detachment over identification, didn’t help. The world is too much with me. I can no longer plunge as deeply into other worlds, but keep getting recalled to the mundane. Scattered and distractable, I long for the concentrated abstraction of my youth.

Ever since I was an undergraduate my habit of procrastination has repeatedly brought me up against a mountain of work that must be completed overnight. In those days, however, I had the knack of taking catnaps on command. Once, in my senior year of college, I had seven final papers to write in three days. I remember telling myself that I could afford only a 17-minute break between papers, and instantly plummeting into sleep for precisely that period of time. Nowadays I don’t trust myself enough to take such risks, and set my alarm every school night during the teaching year, even though I invariably waken just seconds before the alarm goes off. More alarmingly, while I still procrastinate, I seem to have lost the ability to churn out the requisite work under pressure. Once tired, I find it very difficult to focus my mind, however pressing my deadline, however many cups of tea I drink. And once over-tired, I can no longer simply give myself up to sleep, however desperately I may want to do so.

In recent years there have been many words and workshops dedicated to The Power of Now, to living fully in the moment. But at the risk of wilful misunderstanding, I suggest a different approach. Living constantly in the moment is exhausting. Losing oneself in a book enables deep concentration, frees one from identification with the tyrannical self, liberates the imagination, and opens up myriad worlds. As George Harrison sings in The Inner Light,

Without going out of my door/I can know all things on earth
Without looking out of my window/I can know the ways of heaven.

While that former slave trader John Newton sang ecstatically, “I once was lost, but now am found,” I dream of losing myself again as once I used to do so easily and so often.

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