William Turner, “Choir of Salisbury Cathedral”
“Bene vixit, bene qui latuit.” (To live well is to live concealed)
An article on Virginia Woolf’s idea of privacy written by Joshua Rothman has caught my attention recently. The author quotes from Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway, in which she explores the idea of solitude in marriage and the need to preserve a gulf between two people who have devoted their lives to each other:
“And there is a dignity in people; a solitude; even between husband and wife a gulf; and that one must respect, thought Clarissa, watching him open the door; for one would not part with it oneself, or take it, against his will, from one’s husband, without losing one’s independence, one’s self-respect—something, after all, priceless.”
I also feel strongly that finding a balance between sharing and withholding in a relationship is an ideal we should perhaps never stop reaching for. There will always be an ineffable part of our being that cannot be shared with anyone: our private self.
Nowadays, intimacy has entered the public sphere, perhaps like never before in the history of humanity. Rothman goes on to explore the apparent exhibitionism of the social media:
“Usually we think of social media as a forum for exhibitionism. But, inevitably, the extroverted cataloguing of everyday minutiae – meals, workouts, thoughts about politics, books, and music – reaches its own limits: it ends up emphasizing what can’t be shared. Talking so freely about your life helps you to know the weight of those feelings which are too vague, or too spiritual, to express – left unspoken and unexplored, they throw your own private existence into relief. ‘Sharing’ is in fact the opposite of what we do: … we rehearse a limited openness so that we can feel the solidity of our own private selves.”
I also feel that with all apparent exhibitionism of the social media the most important truths about our selves remain concealed. What is more, we can spend years with a person under the same roof and never really let them inside our most private realm. It was Saint Teresa of Avila who compared the soul to a castle, the entrance to which is shrouded in darkness. We can choose to reveal our soul to another but they will never know it fully and they will never enter it because it is our private realm:
“There is a secret place. A radiant sanctuary. As real as your own kitchen. More real than that. Constructed of the purest elements. Overflowing with the ten thousand beautiful things. Worlds within worlds. Forests, rivers. Velvet coverlets thrown over featherbeds, fountains bubbling beneath a canopy of stars. Bountiful forests, universal libraries. A wine cellar offering an intoxication so sweet you will never be sober again. A clarity so complete you will never again forget.
This magnificent refuge is inside you. Enter. Shatter the darkness that shrouds the doorway…
No one else controls access to this perfect place. Give yourself your own unconditional permission to go there. … Believe the incredible truth that the Beloved has chosen for his dwelling place the core of your own being because that is the single most beautiful place in all of creation. Waste no time. Enter the centre of your soul.”
Saint Teresa of Avila, “The Interior Castle”, translated by Mirabai Starr