SOLITUDE a difficult lesson to learn
“It is a difficult lesson to learn today–to leave one’s friends and family and deliberately practice the art of solitude for an hour or a day or a week. For me, the break is difficult. Parting is inevitably painful, even for a short time. It is like an amputation, I feel. A limb is being torn off, without which I will be unable to function. And yet, once it is done, I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh
How often do you spend time alone in solitude? No distractions, no smart phone, no T.V. or radio, just simply alone with your thoughts in a quiet space or with the elements of nature, to listen, to observe and to discover who you really are.
Antony Gormley is one of our nation’s most celebrated contemporary artists best known for his ‘Angel of the North’ – an iconic sculpture situated on a hill on route to Newcastle. Much of his work is based upon his own body, literally an embodiment of the artist himself. Raised a Catholic and attending a Benedictine boarding school in the 1960’s, Gormley learnt the spiritual disciplines that have continued to shape his art work and the processes involved in their making. His spiritual journey continued when he spent three years in India where he became interested in meditation.
Each sculpture begins when Gormley’s vulnerable, naked body adopts a chosen position before being wrapped and completely encased in jute cloth and plaster. Cut off from the rest of the world for an hour or two in his plaster tomb, the artist has learnt to be perfectly still, alone with his thoughts in a blackened space and a heightened tacit knowledge of his own body as the cold wet cloth dries to a hard solid form around him. He writes, “I am trying to make a case for a man containing the boundless space of consciousness……. Part of my work is to give back immanence both to the body and to art,” suggesting that spiritual presence permeates all created things.
Suspended in a void over the staircase in the glass atrium hangs “Filter”. Floating, as if cast off in space, the empty figure gently sways as people move beneath it. His arms are held firmly to his side, as if standing to attention, rather than outstretched as would be expected if falling from the sky or flying. This personal, yet generic figure invites each of us to practice the art of solitude and to reflect on what it means to be human. To become aware of the life giving beating of our heart we need to slowly begin the work of accepting and welcoming who we really are, to cease striving and just ‘Be’ – be aware of both our material and spiritual existence, our external physical body and the deep space that is our interior nature; to be at home both within our body and our soul and to discover that we are all on a journey of becoming.
In his own words, “The work is a point between origin and becoming. Like a seed, between death and the new life there is a point of stasis and silence, a time for reflection. Sculpture can use that time”.
“My soul is silent before God. Being silent really means no longer being able to say anything; it means feeling as if a strange, loving hand is laid on our lips and tells us to be silent.
Being silent means being blessed in the sight of the One longed for and loved; it means devoting oneself completely; it means capitulating to the greater power of the Other, the totally Other; it means for a moment no longer seeing oneself at all, but seeing only the Other. yet it also means waiting, waiting to see if the Other has something to say to us.”
Take time to be silent.