On Guidance by Wally Swist

The Gospel of Thomas offers us guidance in what is an essential understanding of our lives, when it states toward the end of the text that “the Kingdom of Heaven is spread across the earth but men do not see it.” This, like all guidance, is not only worth noting on a daily basis; these words can offer us more in the form of a daily meditation and daily practice. Seeing the world differently, with more of an intrinsic radiance, is practice, indeed, during dark times and periods of providence. However, as the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke suggested, it is in first living our questions that we ever arrive at integral answers to them; and our questions direct us to the ways we might return to seeing that “the Kingdom of Heaven is spread across the earth.”

Thirty years ago, I began a practice of listening to my inner voice. Several years before this I had observed that my inner voice was never faulty, never wrong, and always pointed to a veritable true north, whether regarding moral, practical, or spiritual questioning. For some 20 years, my practice was to develop my vigilant listening to my inner voice. This was a daily effort that mirrored silent prayer practice. Silent prayer practice can be instituted while driving to work, standing in line at the grocery store, or while washing the dishes. It can also be a form of mindfulness practice. Mindfulness practice can be based in a simple task such as “taking care of the horses,” as the British spiritual philosopher Russel Williams did for some three years before he experienced a rather extensive spiritual awakening, but it can also be a daily practice that is not rooted in a specific activity. Regardless, the basis of all such spiritual discipline is in vigilant listening—and that begins with listening to your inner voice.

About 10 years ago, I began to move on quite intuitively from listening to my inner voice to the practice of presence. The practice of presence evolves from listening to your inner voice, but it is a broader, deeper, and richer experience. Presence itself can include a daily prayer practice (such as the Jesus Prayer, modified such as “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” or in prayer for another as “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on my wife,” etc.), or it can be as simple as Russel Williams “taking care of the horses.” The essence of presence is in living in the moment. This may sound easy to do, and it may eventually become a practice we can keep going and facilitate most of the time, but it is a practice, and by nature and definition, practice is arduous.

Concomitant to my moving into presence about a decade ago, I also began to experience what I have come to describe as listening to guidance. Listening to guidance differs from the resonance of your inner voice, most specifically because this resonance is distinctly heard from outside of your mind and body—in fact, you hear it coming from outside of your mind and body since you have become present enough to listen to such guidance. Such guidance is sometimes heard, but it may also move you into sublime action, as if by invisible hands.

The last decade, and more, has been my “Blue Period.” As in the case of Pablo Picasso’s phrase, “Blue Period,” these years have been pervasive with an expansive creativity in which I have composed and finished nearly two dozen books of substance and substantive size: both prose and poetry, in various genres. I can’t certainly claim that I have been the recipient of automatic writing, as William Butler Yeats did on occasion; and I also can’t posit that my aesthetic practice has been “channeled.” But I do actively discern that I have been listening to guidance in much the same way as I have practiced the mindfulness of hearing my inner voice and being present enough in daily life to really listen to what thoughts and feelings my partner is expressing to me, for instance, which all leads to an accrual of grace in my hearing guidance. This affects what it is that I write, or what decisions I make during each day, and leads not just to my own health and benefit but, more significantly, to the health and benefit of all those with whom I come into contact.

That daily practice opens you to listening to guidance, and that listening to guidance showers you in active grace, is not just a perennial philosophy but an active spiritual boon. However, as Pierre-Auguste Renoir claims in the 2012 biographical film Renoir by Gilles Bourdos, “It’s all about the work.” Ever since he was a painter of porcelain china plates, it was Renoir’s practice to honor the ardor of work. It is in the ardor of work itself that we can discover the seam in our lives, which can also be the very seam in the air itself. This is where we can be present enough to listen to guidance, and to experience what St. Thomas illustrated in his epigrammatic phrase about the kingdom of heaven as being “spread out across the earth” in such an ostensible radiance that “men do not see it.” What St. Thomas is saying is: See the radiance. And we can, indeed, see it each day and every day. That is, if we listen to guidance.

It is not only our responsibility to learn the practice of vigilant listening for our own benefit but also, most specifically, to learn and institute this practice for the sake of all those around us—our loved ones; our families and friends, including those individuals with whom we may not always be in agreement; and everyone else who enters our lives—so that we may experience our eternity here and now. As I try to describe in one of my own poems, “The Map of Eternity,” that experience is located in

            . . . an expanding

            moment of the ineffable, one in which
            I would come to be aware that

            the map of eternity was only beginning
            to spread out in all directions.

Wally Swist’s recent books include The Map of Eternity (Shanti Arts, 2018), Singing for Nothing: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir (The Operating System, 2018), and On Beauty: Essays, Reviews, Fiction, and Plays (Adelaide Books, 2018). His book A Bird Who Seems to Know Me: Poems Regarding Birds & Nature was the winner of the 2018 Ex Ophidia Press Poetry Prize and published in 2019. His other books include The Bees of the Invisible (2019) and Evanescence: Selected and New Poems (2020), also from Shanti Arts of Brunswick, Maine.

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