On the journey to harmony–Thoreau, the Sound Map and opening up the inner eye

In my quest for a harmonious life I understand the need to be still. Certain tools help in that effort:

  • Reading, to organize my thoughts.
  • Praying, to tap into my soul, drawing me closer to God.
  • Time spent outdoors, especially in the Spring, to quiet myself.

Achieving mindfulness

The landscape is slowly coming to life here in New England and when I see signs of Spring, I think of Henry David Thoreau. His intimate knowledge of the outdoors came from a sense of mindfulness–no detail missed his watchful eye. He took the time to be still and observe. And in following that simple maxim, the world revealed itself to him.


New book on Thoreau

I recently reviewed a book on my Louisa May Alcott blog by Corinne Hosfeld Smith (certified tour guide of the Thoreau birthplace and author of Westward I Go Free: Tracing Thoreau’s Last Journey) called Henry David Thoreau for Kids:

thoreau for kids

Demanding writer

I welcomed this book because while I have always appreciated Thoreau’s message, I find his his works difficult to get through. The writing is dense, demanding your full attention. Many of us suffered through high school and college English classes with his classic Walden. And yet, that message of a different way of living got through to me even though I could not begin to digest all the words.

Making Thoreau concrete

What I loved about Henry David Thoreau for Kids were the twenty-one activities geared for middle school students that help you live out his ideas. Many of these activities are just as engaging for adults.

I was intrigued by the exercise which encouraged the participant to sit outdoors for thirty minutes in total silence, waiting for wildlife to appear. Sure enough, after a few moments birds and other creatures come close for observation. I was eager to try this exercise in my quest to be still.


Helpful tool

Stillness, however, does not come easily in this busy world so I was grateful that Smith recommended another exercise to help me focus–creating a sound map.

Sitting in my lawn chair, I sketched the area you see here in my notebook and every time I heard a sound from nature, I drew an “x” where I thought I heard it and wrote down what it was. As you can see, I heard quite a bit!

panoramic photo (uses first and third photo)2-720

From listening to observing

In the listening, I began to appreciate the visual imagery around me.

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Stillness opens the inner eye

Stillness and mindfulness are hard to achieve in this high tech, multi-tasking, noisy world. Patience and due diligence are rewarded however with the opening of the inner eye, that which sees beauty and truth around us and eventually, within us. It’s a simple truth really: the wonder of life and how it was created, and how we are lucky to be alive despite all the challenges.

Houghton MS Am 1506 (4)-Cranch
Houghton MS Am 1506 (4)-Cranch

A compatriot of Thoreau’s, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once wrote of the transparent eyeball, an expression for which he was mocked. Wikipedia explains it this way:

 “The transparent eyeball is a philosophical metaphor originated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The transparent eyeball is a representation of an eye that is absorbent rather than reflective, and therefore takes in all that nature has to offer.”

Emerson experienced an epiphany that day–the discovery of the ability to read between the lines in the world around him, and come to an understanding of a deeper existence within him.

Once that eye is opened …

… you never want it to close. All of a sudden, the smallest things become lovely, compelling, even exciting. Once I became mindful of what surrounded me in the natural world, I couldn’t get enough of it, especially when it came to bird watching and kayaking.

And once I made a commitment to pay attention to what was there inside of me, allowing myself to to be drawn closer to my Creator, I find I can’t get enough of that either.

Silence is becoming an elixir.

I understand from the great mystics that you can learn to be quiet and still even in the midst of noise and chaos. Wouldn’t that be something! Somehow I think a bunch of people with that kind of inner harmony could truly change the world for the good. Think about it.


Your time of stillness

Try spending thirty minutes in the woods, in a field or by a pond this Spring. Create your own sound map and share it here. Let’s compare notes and find out how we are doing on our journey to harmony.

You can find out more about Henry David Thoreau for Kids here, and read about the author, Corinne Hosfeld Smith, here.

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Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion




Finding the mystic in me

Today I started reading a book entitled The Naked Now by Richard Rohr. I originally planned on reading it because a group I belong to, the Commission of Women of the Diocese of Worcester, chose this book as the one they wished to study this year. A dear friend of mine, a deacon in the Catholic Church, had also highly recommended it.

Rohr aims to teach the reader to see as the mystics see.

I have long resisted the notion of being a mystic though this same friend insisted that I be open to the idea. The pragmatist in me, the one who is unimpressed with splashy theatrics and celebrity, would have nothing to do with it. I saw no connection between my earthly life and supposed “heavenly visions.” I mistakenly connected mysticism with crying statues; I wanted nothing to do with it.

However, the creative in me, now being regularly exercised with reading and study, began to speak up and say,

“Hold on a minute. Maybe there is more to this than meets the eye.”

And my inner self, also exercised daily with prayer and reflection, objected too.

The Naked Now is now affirming something I’ve been experiencing ever since I started all this exercising: this newfound ability to “read between the lines,” and it is growing exponentially.

Rohr spells out three ways to view the world through a simple example: how three people view a sunset. One simply enjoys the beauty, nothing more. A second enjoys the beauty and understands the science behind a sunset, giving him extra insight.

The third not only appreciates the beauty and perhaps the science, but also “tastes” the experience. His vision enables him to transcend the physical experience to something mystical.

Rohr calls this seeing with the “third eye.” And I knew exactly what he meant.

I experienced that kind of vision all summer long in my lunchtime walks through the woods, past streams and alongside the lake at Wellesley College. Some of these experiences were quite intense, most especially my kayak trip on Lake Waban.

And I had noticed this vision even before the summer.

Reading the Bible had always been a difficult and dry experience. I simply could not understand what it was trying to tell me. However, last year I began to experience a strange sensation while reading: my mind and my heart would be literally flooded with ideas and insights. It was thrilling and a little scary. It was like God was chattering at me!

I don’t remember when I began acquiring this “third eye” but I am guessing it is connected to a few newer habits in my life: challenging reading, journaling and blogging, and set times for prayer. (This blog is a result of those new habits.)

I allowed myself to be carried in the flow of God’s will, just like my kayak floats down river. I went with the flow and without realizing it, accepted an invitation from God to go deeper with my faith.

I didn’t really know what was happening but had a sense that it was better to just “go with it” rather than to question.

And now, I have a book that will explain what’s been happening.

And the best part is, you can experience this too.

Everyone is called to be a mystic. It’s what Jesus intended. It was not just for those saints we see commemorated in statues and prayer cards.

Jesus means for each of us to experience this “third eye,” a direct result of a close, intimate relationship with Him.

The closer we get, the better we see.

And that’s when life really starts to take off. Surrounded by and immersed fully in this Divine love, we can experience what Henri Nouwen wrote in that post I highlighted the other day, “It is in the heart of God that we can come to the full realisation of the unity of all that is, created and uncreated.”

We can Be As One.

You can find The Naked Now on Amazon. Treat yourself, and then tell me what you think!

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Review: Jeff Goins’ impressive new book, WRECKED “slams” into life as we know it

Pain, suffering and sacrifice are dirty words in today’s world, meant to be avoided at all costs. In the process, the meaning and value have been lost.

Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life, the impressive debut book by blogger Jeff Goins not only restores the meaning to suffering and sacrifice, but exhorts the reader to value, embrace and learn from them.

What does it mean to be “wrecked?”

Goins describes it as a painful, often messy experience that opens your eyes to a new life. It is transformative, introducing you to sacrificial love if you’re willing to go along for the ride.

He shares experiences in his life that have “wrecked” him, the first one taking place in Spain while spending a semester overseas.

Putting a name to the poor

Goins met a homeless man and quickly developed a relationship with him. The “poor” suddenly became a flesh and blood person with a name and Goins grew to care about him. It was a first of many experiences that would alter his life course forever.

Why Wrecked is important

  • It is a radical book, “slamming” into the conventions of
    21st century life
    “Our culture is so individualistic and wired for success that we often miss the point of life. We think it’s about self-actualization, about becoming the best version of ourselves. It’s not. It’s about losing ourselves.” (pg. 40, ebook)
  • It is counter to everything society says is necessary for
    “the good life:”

    “We are conditioned to believe life is supposed to be comfortable. But ask anyone like my friend Matt who has radically changed his life, and they’ll tell you the best decisions they made were when they were uncomfortable … What we have to learn to do is lean into the things that hold us back, to move through the pain and push forward.” (pg. 42, ebook)
  • It gets to the core of the Gospel of Jesus, a core that is often sanitized, glossed over in favor of the warm and fuzzy “God loves you.”
    Instead it confronts the Cross:
     “If we are to follow the Jesus who suffered with us and bled for us, we too must suffer.” (pg. 33, ebook).

Christian without being “Christian”

Wrecked imparts the core message without mucking it up with a lot of “church speak.” This book, although produced by a Christian publisher, speaks clearly to all people with a language that anyone who is searching for the meaning of his or her life will understand.

A book for Millennials

Even though there is much written about mission work and social justice (as this is Goins’ experience), don’t be fooled by this emphasis – this is not a book on becoming a missionary. Wrecked is the handbook for the Millennial generation. A Millennial himself, Goins spells out the problems, diagnoses them and offers the cure.

Wrecked also shouldn’t be construed as just another self-help book or spiritual guide. It is rather the authentic account of someone who writes honestly, understands spirituality and has “been-there-done-that.”


Wrecked isn’t perfect. Goins’ trajectory for the journey of life (having adventures when you’re young and making long term commitments as you get older) is sound but maintains that if you don’t have these adventures when you are young, you will spend the rest of your life trying to recapture your youth or relive old dreams (pg. 71, ebook).

Obviously that is true in many cases but what he doesn’t take into account are late bloomers like me and the whole idea of second chances. I was too timid in my youth to have adventures and married young, raising two children. Losing my parents between 2003 and 2010 “wrecked” me and subsequently transformed my life. Now in my 50s I am pursing the creative vocation I believe God has called me to with total dedication, confidence and commitment. I did things backwards – committing first (to my vocations as wife and mother) and having my adventure later on.


My other problem with Wrecked is one I see frequently with regards to Christians and service – that of the the cart being put before the horse.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment (Matthew 22), He presented two: loving God and then loving neighbor, making it clear that loving God needed to comes first. A close, loving relationship with our Creator results in a pouring forth of grace which empowers us to love and serve our neighbor. Being immersed in God allows us to see Him in others and the desire to serve becomes irresistible.

Goins mentions the Gospel story of Martha (the busy one) and Mary (the introspective one) but fails to mention Mary and the need to take the time to sit at the feet of God. I can’t be sure if he assumes the reader knows this or not. He does stress the importance of taking care of our inner lives and he also makes it clear we need to let go and allow God to lead but I was hoping for a more direct connection between taking care of ourselves and allowing God to take care of us.

Committed to Wrecked

That being said, I bought a copy of Wrecked as a going away present for my Millennial son who is heading to New York City from sleepy central Massachusetts at the end of this month.

I also got the Wrecked ten-week study guide which I intend to use with my eleventh-grade Sunday School class. And I’ve recommended it to a deacon friend of mine who runs a young adult book club at his church.

My advice: commit yourself to Wrecked.

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