Passages: Gift From The Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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Anne Morrow Lindbergh

In 1955 a forty-nine-year-old Anne Morrow Lindberg (Wife to famed aviator Charles Lindbergh) spent two weeks alone in a New England coastal cottage, where she penned her thoughts on aging, relationships, solitude, being a woman, and caring for the soul. Sixty years and three million copies in forty-three languages later, Gift From The Sea remains a highly relevant work of inspirational literature. Lyrical prose and uncommon insights elevate this book above the genre.


Copyright 1955, Pantheon Paperback Edition, 1997

The heart’s desire for grace

“I want to give and take from my children and husband, to share with friends and community, to carry out my obligations to man and to the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen.

But I want first of all – in fact, as an end to these other desires – to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact – to borrow from the language of the saints – to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible.

I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and the inward man be at one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”

– p. 23


The Balancing Act

“For life today in America is based on the premise of ever-widening circles of contact and communication. It involves not only family demands, but community demands, national demands, international demands on the good citizen, through social and cultural pressures, through newspapers, magazines, radio programs, political drives, charitable appeals, and so on. My mind reels with it. What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. It puts the trapeze artist to shame. Look at us. We run a tight rope daily, balancing a pile of books on the head. Baby-carriage, parasol, kitchen chair, still under control. Steady now!”

– p. 26


The Contemplative

“How desirable and how distant is the ideal of the contemplative, artist, or saint – the inner inviolable core, the single eye.”

– p. 29


Shedding the mask of insincerity

“The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting; one is wearing a mask. I have shed my mask.”

– p. 32


Grey hairs and cobwebs

“The unfinished beams in the roof are veiled by cobwebs. They are lovely, I think, gazing up at them with new eyes; they soften the hard lines of the rafters as grey hairs soften the lines on a middle-aged face. I no longer pull out grey hairs or sweep down cobwebs.”

– p. 33


Our fear of being alone and the vacuum of our inner life

“We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. Even if family, friends, and movies should fail, there is still the radio or television to fill up the void. Women, who used to complain of loneliness, need never be alone any more. We can do our housework with soap opera heroes at our side. Even daydreaming was more creative than this; it demanded something of oneself and it fed the inner life. Now, instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms, we choke the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum. When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place. We must re-learn to be alone.”

– pp. 41, 42


Spiritual isolation and the wilderness of the mind

“For it is not physical solitude that actually separates one from other men, not physical isolation, but spiritual isolation. It is not the desert island nor the stony wilderness that cuts you from the people you love. It is the wilderness in the mind, the desert wastes in the heart through which one wanders lost and a stranger. When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too.”

– p. 44


Among the most important times in one’s life

“Actually these are among the most important times in one’s life – when one is alone. Certain springs are tapped only when one is alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose; the saint, to pray.”

– p. 50


The problem of the stirring, hungry soul

“The problem is not entirely in finding the room of one’s own, the time alone, difficult and necessary as this is. The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of its activities. In fact, the problem is how to feed the soul.”

– p. 51


Feeding the center

“Nothing feeds the center so much as creative work, even humble kinds like cooking and sewing. Baking bread, weaving cloth, putting up preserves, teaching and singing to children, must have been far more nourishing than being the family chauffeur or shopping at super-markets.”

– p. 53


The Kingdom of Heaven

“Men, too, are being forced to look inward – to find inner solutions as well as outer ones. Perhaps this change marks a new stage of maturity for modern, extrovert, activist, materialistic Western man. Can it be he is beginning to realize the kingdom of heaven is within?”

– p. 58


On relationships, and refinding oneself

“With each partner hungry for different reasons and each misunderstanding the other’s needs, it is easy to fall apart or into late love affairs. The temptation is to blame the situation on the other person and to accept the easy solution that a new and more understanding partner will solve everything.

But neither woman nor man are likely to be fed by another relationship which seems easier because it is at an earlier stage. Such a love affair cannot really bring back a sense of identity. Certainly, one has the illusion that one will find oneself in being loved for what one really is, not for a collection of functions. But can one actually find oneself in someone else? In someone else’s love? Or even in the mirror someone else holds up for one? I believe that true identity is found, as Eckhart once said, by “going into one’s own ground and knowing oneself.” It is found in creative activity springing from within. It is found, paradoxically, when one loses oneself. One must lose one’s life to find it. Woman can best refind herself by losing herself in some of creative activity of her own. Here she will be able to refind her strength, the strength she needs to look and work at the second half of the problem – the neglected pure relationship. Only a refound person can refind a personal relationship.”

– pp. 68-69


Rediscovering the double-sunrise

“One way of rediscovering the double-sunrise is to duplicate some of its circumstances. Husband and wife can and should go off on vacations alone and also on vacations alone together. For if it is possible that a woman can find herself by having a vacation alone, it is equally possible that the original relationship can sometimes be refound by having a vacation alone together.”

– p. 70


One-and-only, moments

“For not only do we insist on believing romantically in the “one-and-only” – the one-and-only love, the one and only mate, the one-and-only security – we wish the “one and only” to be permanent, ever-present and continuous. The desire for continuity of being-loved-alone seems to me “the error bred in the bone” of man. For “there is no one and only,” as a friend of mine once said in a similar discussion, “there are just one-and-only moments.”

– pp. 72-73


The fallacy of the permanent relationship

“One comes in the end to realize that there is no permanent pure-relationship and there should not be. It is not even something to be desired. The pure relationship is limited, in space and in time. In its essence it implies exclusion. It excludes the rest of life, other relationships, other sides of personality, other responsibilities, other possibilities in the future. It excludes growth.”

– pp. 73-74

Note: nineteen years after Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote these words, her husband, aviator Charles Lindbergh, would pass away, after forty-seven years with her, leaving her a widow for the last twenty-seven years of her life.


The dynamic nature of relationship

“One learns to accept the fact that no permanent return is possible to an old form of relationship; and, more deeply still, that there is no holding of a relationship to a single form. This is not tragedy but part of the ever-recurrent miracle of life and growth. All living relationships are in process of change, of expansion, and must permanently be building themselves to new forms. But there is no single fixed form to express such a changing relationship.”

– pp. 74-75


Middle age: a time to be completely oneself

“Perhaps muddle age is, or should be, a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego. Perhaps one can shed at this stage of life as one sheds in beach-living; one’s pride, ones false ambitions, one’s mask, one’s armor. Was that armor not put on to protect one from the competitive world? If one cesses to compete, does one need it? Perhaps one can at last in middle age, if not earlier, be completely oneself. And what a liberation that would be!”

– pp. 84-85


Climbing above the plateau and freeing one’s self for spiritual growth

“Many people never climb above the plateau of forty-to-fifty. The signs that presage growth, so similar, it seems to me, to those in early adolescence: discontent, restlessness, doubt, despair, longing, are interpreted falsely as signs of decay. In youth one does not often misinterpret the signs; one accepts them, quite rightly, as growing pains. One takes them seriously, listens to them, follows where they lead. One I afraid. Naturally. But who is not afriad of pure space – that breath-taking empty space of an open door? But despite fear, one goes through to the room beyond.

But in middle age, because of the false assumption that it is a period of decline, one interprets these life I signs, paradoxically, as signs of approaching death. Instead of facing them, one runs away; one escapes – into depressions, nervous breakdowns, drink, loves affairs, or frantic, thoughtless, fruitless overwork. Anything rather than face them. Anything, rather than stand still and learn from them. One tries to cure the signs of growth, to exorcise them, as if they were devils, when really they might be the angels of annunciation.

Annunciation of what? Of a new stage in living when, having shed many of the physical struggles, the worldly ambitions, the material encumbrances of active life, one might be free to fulfill the neglected side of one’s self. One might be free for growth of the mind, heart, and talent; free at last for spiritual growth…”

– pp. 87-88


Two wholes, rather than two halves: the personal relationship

‘And in this new freedom, is there any place for relationship? I believe there is an opportunity for the best relationship of all: not a limited, mutually exclusive one, and not a dependent one; but the meeting of two whole, fully developed people as persons. It would be, to borrow the definition of the Scottish philosopher MacMurray, a fully personal relationship, this is, “a type of relationship into which people enter as persons with the whole of themselves.” “Personal relationships,” he goes on to explain,”… have no ulterior motive. They are not based on particular interests. They do not serve partial and limited ends. Their value lies entirely in themselves and for the same reason transcends all other values.’

– p. 93


Becoming world to one’s self

“Perhaps both men and women in America may hunger, in our material, outward, active, masculine culture, for the supposedly feminine qualities of heart, mind and spirit – qualities which are actually neither masculine nor feminine, but simply human qualities that have been neglected. It is growth along these lines that will make us whole, and will enable the individual to become world to himself.”

– p. 97


Communication as coffee; thirsting for the night stars

“…good communication is stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after. Before we sleep we go out again into the night. We walk up the beach under the stars. And when we are tired of walking, we lie flat on the same under a bowl of stars. We feel stretched, expanded to take in their compass. They pour into us until we are filled with stars, up to the brim.

This is what one thirsts for, I realize, after the smallness of the day, of work, of details, of intimacy – even of communication, one thirsts for the magnitude and universality of a night full of stars, pouring into one like a fresh tide.”

– pp. 102-103


The only real security in a relationship

“We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching ad they pass, but partners in the same pattern. The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.”

– pp. 108-109


The luxury of silence; communication as communion

“At home, when I meet my friends in those cubby-holed hours, time is so precious we feel we must cram every available instant with conversation. We cannot afford the luxury of silence. Here on the island I find I can sit with a friend without talking, sharing the day’s last sliver of pale green light on the horizon, or the whorls in a small white shell, or the dark scar left in the dazzling night sky by a shooting star. Then communication becomes communion and one is nourished as one never is by words.”

– p. 116


I bake biscuits and feel just as pleased

“There are all kinds of experiences on this island, but not too many. The simplicity of life forces me into physical as well as intellectual or social activity. I have no car, so I bicycle for my supplies and my mail. When it is cold, I collect driftwood for my fireplace and chop it up, too. I swim instead of taking hot baths. I bury my garbage instead of having it removed by a truck. And when I cannot write a poem, I bake biscuits and feel just as pleased.”

– p. 117

Note: this is the sublime.


The richness of the unknown

“We tend not to choose the unknown, which might be a shock or a disappointment or simply a little difficult to cope with. And yet it is the unknown with all its disappointments and surprises that is the most enriching.”

– p. 119


A false sense of values vs. conscious selectivity

“When I go back will I he submerged again, not only by centrifugal activities, but by too many centripetal ones? Not only by distractions but by too many opportunities? Not only by dull people but by too many interesting ones? The multiplicity of the world will crowd in on me again with its false sense of values. Values weighed in quantity, not quality; in speed, not stillness; in noise, not silence; in words, not in thoughts, in acquisivitiveness, not beauty.”

‘I will have to substitute a conscious selectivity based on another set of values – a sense of values I have become more aware here; simplicity of living, as much as possible, to attain a true awareness of life. Balance of physical, intellectual, and spiritual life. Work without pressure. Space for significance and beauty. Time for solitude and sharing. Closeness to nature to strengthen understanding and faith in the intermittency of life: life of the spirit, creative life, and the life of human relationships.’

“Island life has been my lens through which to examine my own life in the North. I must keep my lens when I go back. Little by little one’s holiday vision tends to fade. I must remember to see with island eyes.”

– pp. 129-120


American vs. European living

“The present is passed over in the race for the future; the here is neglected in favor of the there; and the individual is dwarfed by the enormity of the mass. America, which has the most glorious present still existing in the world today, hardly stops to enjoy it, in her insatiable appetite for the future. Perhaps the historian or the sociologist or the philosopher would say that we are still propelled by our frontier energy, still conditioned by our pioneer pressures or our Puritan anxiety to “do ye next thing.” Europe, on the other hand, which we think of as being enamored by the past, has since the last war, strangely enough, been forced into a new appreciation of the present. The good past is so far away and the near past is so horrible and the future so perilous, that the present has the chance to expand into the golden eternity of of here and now. Europeans today are enjoying the moment even if it means merely a walk in the country on Sunday or wiping a cup of black coffee at a sidewalk cafĂ©.”

– pp. 126-227

Note: this is writing par excellence.


Growing pains as part of a necessary collective evolution

“Much of this exploration and new awareness is uncomfortable and painful for both men and women. Growth in awareness has always been painful. (One need only remember one’s own adolescence or watch one’s adolescent children.) But it does lead to greater independence and, eventually, cooperation in action. For the enormous problems that fave the world today, in both the private and public sphere, cannot be solved by women – or by men – alone. They can only be surmounted by men and women side by side.”

– p. 138

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