I fled Him down the nights and down the days ….
This first line of a poem written by Francis Thompson has taken residence in my mind ever since it was first spoken to me many years ago. It’s words and cadence steadfastly cease to leave perhaps, I assume, because it touches a deep unrelenting inner truth of which I have to date gained only partial understanding and even less experience.
First, a bit about the author. Thompson had a difficult life marked by poverty, homelessness, ill-health, and opium addiction. He spent his early student years in medical school for which he was ill-suited. However, in time he found writing to be his natural gift and passion.
After living on the streets for years, he left a scribbled set of poems on a publisher’s door step, who quickly noted his talent and assisted and mentored him throughout his lifetime. As part of his treatment for Opium addiction he spent years at a pastoral Priory in England where his poetry flourished and his Catholic faith renewed itself. He died in 1907 at the age of 47 years.
I would like to quote a few of the most quoted lines from his most famous poem, The Hound of Heaven.
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
When I first heard these words, I was touched in a soft and serene place which I knew, but didn’t know. At that time, I could neither have told you who the hound was nor even less so the heaven whose scent it surely and tenaciously pursued. Yet nevertheless something awakened within that would persist over time.
I now realize that Thompson’s hound is a poetic metaphor for the irrepressible urge that “hounds” each of us to recognize and unite with the source of our being, our most natural and essential, or if you wish, divine self. It has taken time, detours, misplaced pursuits, and subtle resistance for the ripening to occur which allowed that inner heaven to subtly reveal itself to this wandering pilgrim, at first in brief glimpses only. That hound within may have had the scent, but for many years it was barely detectable to my ordinary mind.
Do you know your inner hound and the heaven it pursues? Can you sense your hound chasing you, urging you deeper, urging you to go beyond? Does it show-up as a nagging sense that there must be more to life? Can you sense the inner heaven it is pointing toward? Perhaps it’s at times catalyzed by a moment in nature, beauty, dance, music, or intimacy. Look carefully at what happens in these moments. Your personal self drops away, leaving in its absence an incomprehensible glimpse of a natural flow, serenity, and well-being.
Are we fortunate enough at these seemingly serendipitous moments to recognize the significance of this glimpse of Self, stop, and know it as our essential and immutable self, our inner heaven? And how have we learned to hide from our essence, our heaven? What things betray the unchanging presence of our true home?
Make your own list. Here are some of mine: procrastination, distraction, meaningless entertainment, trivial conversations, transient pleasures, materialism, busyness, judgments, over-indulging in numbing comforts, mental gymnastics, and finally an unquestioned and tenacious belief that I am my petty personal self and nothing beyond. What would be the individual and cultural result of each of us listening to the call from within, to our inner hound, and acknowledging and living from our true nature?
The poet goes further to say, “All things that betray my essence betray me. All things that betray me betray life.” That phrase shakes me. I don’t usually think of my accustomed and usual activities and attitudes as betraying me, betraying life. I usually consider them as worthwhile pleasures, human comforts, amusing moments, social pleasantries, learned ways to relax. Are these self-betrayals, life-betrayals? Ask for yourself.
What happens in meditation? For a blessed period of time, the outer world, with all of its activities, falls away. The mind stills. No distractions, social requirements, entertainment, tech devices, and so on. At first it can be difficult to calm the restless habit of the mind. It seems to be on automatic, defying efforts to take it out of drive. But if in time we stop logging into the overactive mind, it stills, we ease up, let go, allow life to happen and finally, rest in our natural self. No more hounding, no more urging, home at last to serenity, ease, and contentment.
Why do we spend a lifetime, individually and as a culture, inventing ways to distract our self, to betray our self? Why? Is it we fear that without the reference point of an individual self and personal identity we will be lost in a vast abyss of nothingness, or worse? Does your actual experience reveal that to be a truth? Or, do you in actuality reveal a sweet inner heaven?
Once again consider what happens when we lose our usual sense of “I” in meditation, immersed in nature, in beauty, dance, art, music, or selfless love? Do we fall apart or do we find our self in a space of flow, openness, ease, and delight? What are we hiding from, anyway? We must know how and why we hide in order to recognize it moment-to-moment, stop the conditioned ways of hiding, be still, and drop into our natural self. Then, we can show-up in day-to-day life experiencing what was once mundane from the ground of our natural being.
The poet ends with these words:
“I am He Whom thou seekest!”
That which I seek, seeks me. And it is unknown to understanding, known only to experience.
To learn more about Dr. Dacher’s work or the practice of meditation, visit: http://ElliottDacher.org