It's a Manger in There
There is an activity of the brain that continuously goes pop pop pop pop like an endless display of fireworks. Something emerges from the darkness, bursts into sight, then disappears back into the darkness. This activity is very colorful; it’s a dazzling, sequential display, comprised of coming and going, arriving and disappearing. Who sets off this display? No one knows. No one decides. The activity just happens. This activity of mind is called thinking. Our thoughts come and go like fireworks. Who decides to think them? We don’t know. They just arrive. Think about it: you don’t decide to think your next thought, do you? Our minds are like hip hop: an array of repeating samples and patterns and riffs, and new rhymes and rhythms too. Or put it another way: it’s a zoo in there.
There is an activity of the heart that reminds me of the way temperatures change when we swim in a lake. The water is cold at first, then it seems warmer as you get used to it, then you hit a really warm patch of it, then a cool patch, and so on. The temperatures in your heart are constantly changing. This activity is called feeling. Our emotions run warm and cold, changing on a whim, a thought, a pretty sky, a fear. They pierce us like a flock of birds. Who decides where the flock will fly? Who decides how to feel? No one knows. Feelings and moods come and go, like thoughts. Music expresses this well: it’s full of changing harmonies and shifting layers of anticipation and tension and beauty and dissonance and resolution. It’s always moving, always passing, always temporary. Or put it this way: it’s a zoo in there.
There’s an activity of the soul that creates a silent space. It’s like the canvas on which images from the mind and heart are painted. It’s like the sky across which feelings flock and thoughts pop. The sky itself doesn’t change, because silence is not an activity. This activity is no activity, because no effort is involved. Who decides to be silent? No one knows, because no one does. There is no one to know. This activity of soul is called the mystery of presence. This silence of soul, while it is not activity, is not nothing. There’s a presence there. There’s a warm tidal wave of presence, an empathy with all creatures, and even a slipping into the shapes of others. What’s left is not nothing, but everything. Rilke said it once and I’ll say it again: “you must change your life.” Or put it this way: it’s a manger in there.
Dr. Huntley Beyer is head of the Art Department at Seattle Prep. He teaches music, directs the choir, and is a composer. Dr. Beyer and his wife, Jody, are parents to Sophia `10, Gus `12 and Eva`15.