A Sense of Wholeness

By Ingrid Van Mater 

Not long ago I had the pleasure of rereading Gift from the Sea which for 30 years or more has brought spiritual nourishment to many people, helping them to cope with life's demands. It is not surprising that it is still in print, for it is a rare pearl amongst the sea of selections available today in bookstores. Inspired by profound insight, it speaks eloquently to this age, presenting timeless and practical wisdom simply and poetically.

If Anne Morrow Lindbergh's words filled an urgent need when they were written, how much more imperative are they today. Her need -- and that of many of her friends -- was great in her middle years, and she chose to spend a few weeks away from home on an island off the New England coast to search for a different level of understanding in life, "to evolve another rhythm with more creative pauses in it." Her concern was how to remain whole, inwardly focused and balanced, with "purity of intent," in the midst of daily distractions. Her solitude at the beach revealed to her that life is sound and spiritually fulfilling at heart, if only we keep centered, calm amidst the countercurrents of false values, material gain, and the pressure of mass thinking.

One of the first ideas developed is that of simplicity, to reevaluate one's priorities often, and strip oneself of peripheral interests and activities that bewilder and confuse. As the author began to feel the companionship of her inner being she sensed a different closeness to the wildlife of the island, and the beauty of earth and sea and sky became a part of her. She notes that not physical but spiritual separation causes a feeling of isolation; "it is the wilderness in the mind, the desert wastes in the heart through which one wanders lost and a stranger . . . to oneself" and therefore to others too (p. 44). Women, particularly, with the many functions they perform, must first of all learn to stand alone, and hold fast to their center within. They require "circular vision," encompassing the deeper aspects of life and embracing all humanity in thought and feeling. Like spokes radiating from the hub of a wheel, the challenge of this type of vision is to maintain equilibrium while reaching out to husband, children, friends, home, community, and the world.

The solitude of the island was deeply rewarding. The author came to the conclusion that one should be alone some time each day in order to foster the qualities of soul and keep in touch with the pulse of life. Each of us has an island of space within that is our very own, which we can come to know only in the silence, in moments of aloneness. But this is not in an exclusive sense for, although we are all islands primarily, solitary travelers having our own individuality and destiny, we are never really alone; we are all "islands -- in a common sea." Important also is "respecting other people's solitude, not intruding on their shores, standing back in reverence before the miracle of another individual" (p. 40). This applies to children too. Wholeness and balance can best be achieved through a mingling of "solitude and community," a blending of aloneness and sociability. Thinking of her life at home to which she will soon return, she writes poignantly: 'After the smallness of the day, of work, of details, of intimacy even of communication, one thirsts for the magnitude and universality of a night full of stars, pouring into one like a fresh tide" (p. 103).

In the area of relationships Anne Lindbergh's perceptions on the changing cycles in a life and in a marriage are illuminating. She likens these stages to shells washed up on the beach and to the ebb and flow of tides in our lives. Ideally each phase should deepen and widen in the quality of love and companionship and inner maturity on the part of both people. For the early stages of marriage a Double Sunrise shell was chosen with its two exact halves, "the dawn of a new day spreading on each." This is a more confined, fragile stage with little or no desire for change, and the ebbs in the tide of the relationship are not readily understood. The Oyster Shell was her selection for the functional, difficult middle years, because it "suggests the struggle of life itself" and is adaptable and tenacious. Eventually even the oyster shell stage is outgrown, and the latter years are characterized by independence, an inner rebirth and self-sufficiency yet mutual understanding, both "looking outward together in the same direction." This last phase does not just happen. It is the fruition of a life, and the fulfillment takes place slowly, through conscious effort.

Some people do not feel comfortable with the "afternoon" of life, but it has all the possibilities of being the most beautiful and the most rewarding if one can sufficiently let go of material attachments and move freely with the winds of destiny. It is a time to simplify in material directions, apply one's creative energy to giving more to others of heart, mind, and spirit, to enjoy each moment to the full, and then to let it go. For this stage, the Argonauta, or Paper Nautilus, was selected as symbolizing inner and outer freedom, of venturing into "chartless seas of imagination."

The weight of whatever burden is ours to carry is lightened by a recognition of the bigness of life's purpose and our vast spiritual potential awaiting unfoldment. Of particular appeal in Anne Morrow Lindbergh's reflections is her deep sense of duty to all, and her intuition that when one's thoughts are directed toward others and are grounded in the "inviolable core" of one's being, one begins to feel a wholeness within, an ever-growing harmony with life's rhythms.

(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 1989; copyright © 1989 Theosophical University Press)

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