A crystalline voice broke amidst the many murmurs of tourists, between the walls of Roskilde cathedral. A young woman had come to practice her singing here, accompanied by a pianist. I recognised the song immediately. It was Puccini‘s aria ‘O mio babbino caro’, and it sent a wave of delight through me. I recognised it because it is the opening piece and musical signature of the film ‘A Room with a View’, which I have just seen recently. A most curious movie really. A light British romance made in 1985 by the American director James Ivory, based on the 1908 novel of the same name by E. M. Forster. But the film is more than it seems. I encourage you to watch it, for I have a theory about it. The film — and therefore the novel — has been secretly made as an allegory for the seeking of truth.
The film opens up with Lucy arriving at the Pensione Pertolini in Florence, with her cousin and stiff chaperone Charlotte. This is a place where many British citizens come to spend their holidays. We are at the beginning of 1900s, with upper-middle-class characters steeped in the repressive culture and morals of Edwardian England. They come here to have a taste of the more wild and unconventional atmosphere of Italy, along with the beauty of its culture and landscapes. Of course, this film is not specifically about a spiritual search. It is a love story. But not frankly so. It lingers on the edge, giving us some food for thought. Behind the conventional clothing of a delightful romantic romp, it leaves a whole collection of little pebbles in its trail that points to a reflection on life that is both profound and open to interpretations.
“Don’t forget love;
it will bring all the madness you need
to unfurl yourself across the universe.”
~ Meera Bai (1498-1546)
I intend here to continue exploring the three different pathways towards realising our true nature. I have some time ago given my attention to Jñāna, which in the Indian tradition is the name given to the means of attaining truth through the investigative qualities of the mind, which are mostly thinking and the power of discrimination. The two other paths towards realisation are the tantric path, which involves the senses, and the path of love, which involves feeling, and is the subject of this essay.
The path of knowledge requires a certain steadiness, orderliness, being thorough, constant. But even somebody set on this logical path of knowledge will be exposed to ineffable, timeless moments of pure love. Some people are best suited to a more loving, encompassing pathway, that would allow them to be just as they are, with all their confusion and overwhelming feelings. I can be the me that I am, as long as I am too this loving, embracing presence to which I can offer myself. In love there is no theory, no guidelines to follow. And it is not a surprise to find this expression of truth as one of the means to the realisation of our true self. This pathway of love has been called ‘Bhakti’ in the tradition of India. All the Indian faith, at least in its more popular expression, is of a devotional nature, and has elevated this simple love for god or truth to the rank of art. That seemed to me a good starting point to embark on this path of devotion, which the Śivānanda Laharī (verse 61) describes as: “The way needle seeks magnet, the way creeper seeks tree, the way river unites with ocean and the way the mind seeks the lotus feet of Śiva.”
Miriam Louisa Simons is a retired artist and educator, and the creator of several excellent blogs on the non-dual journey. I’m happy that she is the first friend invited to contribute here. Out of a lifelong dedication to art and spiritual inquiry, she invites us to delve into the image of the Labyrinth, uncover its connections with our life, with grace, until ‘we arrive naked at the freedom that was always there’…
“Do you think I know what I’m doing?
That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself?
As much as a pen knows what it’s writing,
or the ball can guess where it’s going next.”
The Labyrinth is a familiar symbol. Its enigmatic presence has left footprints that fade back into the beginning of the human story. Its origins and its purpose have been rich fodder for research and speculation.
I don’t pretend to know the truth of its tale, but see the archetypal labyrinth as apt visual shorthand for the map of a life, and that’s how its symbolism is used in this little essay.
The many lanes of the Labyrinth are in fact only one long path that winds and twists and turns back on itself as it explores all the territory of a life before arriving at its Heart.
By ‘Heart’ I mean the natural essence of the ‘walker’ of the Labyrinth – beyond both conception and perception – the unknowable and ineffable awareness we nevertheless recognize as our changeless Being.