“Be the … Lewis and Clark of your own streams and oceans; explore your own higher latitudes … be a Columbus to whole new worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought … it is easier to sail many thousand miles through cold and storm and cannibals … than it is to explore the private sea; the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s being …”
Living as we do in the 21st century, there doesn’t seem to be much left to discover on planet earth – no oceans, islands, or continents have eluded our searching gaze. This being the case, our explorations are now focused on space – our own and other galaxies consist of yet to be found territory that calls for a daring and adventurous spirit. But author Fenton Johnson offers another realm of fascination for the courageous among us, one that is so close at hand that it is easily over-looked; it is the often uncharted terrain of the soul.
The reason it is “easier to sail many thousand miles through cold and storm and cannibals” than to examine our soul, is that soul-searching requires the disciplines of silence and solitude that enable us to hear the voiceless voice and sense the precious presence that lies within. Silence and solitude can be daunting not only because many of us are addicted to noise and busyness, but because being quietly alone puts us face-to-face with aspects of ourselves that are less than attractive – pettiness, fear, insecurity, vindictiveness, negativity, and the like. These dark shouters can cause us to stop short in our exploration, for they have the power to convince us that there is nothing more to be found; we are what is wrong with us.
One who did not allow his journey of self-discovery to be diverted by those sinister voices was monk and mystic, Thomas Merton. Knowing that we are all more than our imperfections, Merton wrote: “No matter how low you may have fallen in your own esteem, bear in mind that if you delve deeply into yourself, you will discover holiness there.” The holiness Merton refers to is not that of piety, purity, and perfection, but a simple sacredness that is our essence no matter how flawed we may be.
It is the task of each one of us to venture into the unknown within, where we can discover our own “higher latitudes,” the holiness that is at the center of ourselves.