A Trip to Iona — Saturday June 14, 2003

Saturday, June 14
It isn’t quarter to eight yet and I’ve been up, dressed, hung around the pier to get more of my fill of sea and waves and early morning; I’m entirely packed and waiting first for breakfast, then for the ferry – which isn’t due til 9:30. Better early, I suppose.

>From last night:

1) A sort of indescribable experience. I was in the middle of a dream. My wife in the dream and I were living separate. She came to me for comfort. I was in bed, under the covers, naked. She came into bed naked, and as she fitted her self against me, backing into my front, like spoons) my body got intensely charged with energy (not sexual energy), my hands especially. As I moved from being in the dream to realizing that I was awake, I can’t find the words to describe it. One moment I was in the dream; the next, I felt myself move out of that dream state into the waking state, my body remaining unmoving. It was the strangest transition, from dream to waking. I think the fact that my body didn’t move made it more tangible somehow. (And now, transcribing this later, I remember that in a Monroe program eight years ago I once transitioned from an altered state to a normal waking state in just that way, and it was just as memorable then.)

2) I thought I was going to retrieve dad – which was confusing, since I’d seen him in Focus 25 in 1995 and had seen later that he was gone. I did go looking but can’t find him. There was something else, but I can’t remember it.

In recording these dreams, I get a sense of how actively our internal life goes on with us mostly not aware of it.

Breakfast, then a chat with an Anglican minister who is a prison chaplain, on the bench waiting for the ferry. Aboard the Cal Mac ferry to Mull, I realize that I am very sad to be on the ferry, for it means I am leaving. I hadn’t fully realized, emotionally, how I would hate to leave it. And all day, as I travel, it will seem to me that I am moving into denser and denser vibrations. Fanciful, probably. It is just traveling, after all. Still –

On the bus crossing Mull to Craignure, I think, “I’ve spent five days essentially in silence, though occasionally chatty enough. I feel (surrounded by talking pilgrims) that it may have sunk in. I don’t know that I want to go back to talking so much. But how many times have I said that?”

Craignure to Oban via another ferry ride, then Oban to Glasgow by train. I find a seat by a table, opposite a man reading a newspaper, and alternate between reading Merton’s journal and writing in mine.

“Reading Merton, it suddenly occurs to me, a difference, if not the difference, is that God is so personal to him, not in the sense that God seems to me – something we are part of, something transcendent yet partaking in humanity as in everything else. It seems as if God is a mere person to him (thought I know that statement would have shocked him. Perhaps it wouldn’t now that he’s had a rather more transcendent experience!) I am reluctant to say this so flatly; it is easy to unintentionally caricature another’s thought and beliefs. Still, I am searching for the key. Here is an intellectual, in a sense that I will never be even if I wished, and he has come to some sense of God that I cannot fathom. Surely it cannot be as simple as I seem to see it? How could he hold so simple – not to say simplistic – a concept?”

“One is – or anyway, I am – so apt to assume that others are okay and it is only I who cannot find satisfaction. But Merton in 1964 – near the end of his career, if he knew it – was complaining (justly, it seems) that he was spending too much time writing, for occasions too trivial or anyway incidental to his life. And certainly it seems he read far too much, far too compulsively. So to that degree he is a mirror image of my own complaint of producing too little. For if he produced too much, for too little reason, and often from reasons too intellectual and (self-consciously?) “artistic” – I produce too little, for too little reason, for reasons neither intellectual nor artistic, but – what – inertial? commercial? unorganized?

“Yet one sees that the version of his life we are familiar with was authentic enough, influential enough, regardless what might have been theoretically possible. Perhaps the same can be said for me. It’s just that it seems to have come to so little, and I am already older than he was when he died in Bangkok.”

“It might be well if I took what we might call a vow of essential silence; that is, speaking only what is required and appropriate and otherwise just shutting up! How much energy I must waste in what might be called incontinent talking. Is this not what Merton was doing (or anyway accused himself of doing) with his pen? Nor is this the first time I’ve had this intuition. Time to heed it?”

“(2:30) Aha! Here it is. I think that we are coming to a more profound understanding of things than the Christians have. And so our newer understanding is crying out for expression and cannot be contained in a simpler, different, understanding. It is not a matter of goodwill but of incompatibles.”

After a while the man opposite me at the table leans over and asks me, “are you Bill Bryson?” A big Bryson fan, apparently; has read all his books. Saw an American with a beard, writing, and hoped. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had read only one of Bryson’s books, and didn’t particularly like it. But I wish I had thought faster and had modestly admitted to being Bryson; it would have made the Englishman’s day. Quite a nice, pleasant man. We get into a theological discussion (what, again?) that goes nowhere in particular. But a nice man.

We reach Queen Street station in Glasgow, and I get the bus across to Central Station, accompanying a blind man who seems to get around just fine. (He had lived for a while in America, and has a girlfriend there, he says.) Then a train to Ayr and a very comfortable wait at the station hotel (Russ’s suggestion) for Russ and Jill to meet me. I’m sitting there absorbed in Merton when I hear “well, there’s a peaceful scene,” and look up to see Russ and Jill smiling at me.

On to their lovely home and garden (and fish pond!), and supper with lots of salad and new potatoes. Difficult not to overeat. I tell them, “this is the house I would have liked to grow up in”; it is full of books and fine paintings (including many by a man named Cox that I particularly like). The evening goes in talk and companionship, left out of the journal, as such times usually are. One cannot live it and record it both.

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