My mind is my shelter


The imagination of light: how gradually light will build a mood for the eye to discover something new in the familiar

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Paintings by Padraig McCaul

„I love the imagination of light: how gradually light will build a mood for the eye to discover something new in a familiar mountain. This glimpse serves to deepen the presence of the mountain and remind the eye that surface can be subtle and surprising. Gathered high in silence and stillness, the mountain is loaded with memory that no mind or word can reach. Light never shows the same mountain twice. Only the blindness of habit convinces us that we continue to live in the same place, that we see the same landscape. In truth, no place ever remains the same because light has no mind for repetition; it adores difference. Through its illuminations, it strives to suggest the silent depths that hide in the dark.

Light is always more fragile at a threshold. An island is an edged place, a tense threshold between ocean and sky, between land and light. The West of Ireland enjoys magnificent light. The collusion of cloud, rain, light and landscape is always surprising. Within the space of one morning, a whole sequence of different landscapes can appear outside the window. Now and again, the place becomes dense with darkening, then a cloud might open and a single ray of light will drench a gathering of stones to turn them into oracular presence. Or light might tease the serious face of a mountain with a crazy geometry of shadow. Some mornings it seems the dawn cannot wait to break for the light to come out and play with the stillness of this landscape. Such light offers a continual feast for the eyes. Artists have always been drawn here in search of its secrets. The landscape curves and undulates. Each place is literally distinctive, etched against light and sea with vigorous and enduring individuality. Even the most untouched, raw places hold presence. No human has ever lingered here long enough to claim or domesticate them. They rest in the sureness of their own elemental narrative. Such places are wild sanctuaries because they dwell completely within themselves and can quietly draw us into their knowing and stillness. Almost without sensing it, the mind is gradually relieved of its inner pressing. The senses become soothed and the clay part of the heart is stirred by ancient beauty.

Perhaps because they are so much themselves, wild landscapes remind us of the unsearched territories of the mind. The light over a landscape is never a simple brightness; it is mixed and muted. Clouds love to play with light. A cloud can suddenly introduce shadow and reduce a glistening field to an eerie grey space. Or alternatively, a cloud-shadow can modulate the depth of colour a hillside receives. This alternating choreography can turn hillsides purple, green or even cream, depending on how the angle of light and the cloud’s shadow conspire with each other. The visual effect is often breathtaking.

Light is the great priestess of landscape. Deftly it searches out unnoticed places, corners of fields, the shadow-veils of certain bushes, the angled certainty of stones; it can slink low behind a stone wall turning the spaces between the stones into windows of gold. On a winter’s evening it can set a black tree into poignant relief. Unable to penetrate the earth, light knows how to tease suggestions of depth from surface. Where radiance falls, depths gather to the surface as to a window. The persuasions of light bring us frequent mirrors that afford us a glimpse into the mystery that dwells in us. Sometimes in the radiance, forgotten treasure glimmers through ‘earthen vessels’.

The earth is our origin and destination. The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows. When we emerge from our offices, rooms and houses, we enter our natural element. We are children of the earth: people to whom the outdoors is home. Nothing can separate us from the vigour and vibrancy of this inheritance. In contrast to our frenetic, saturated lives, the earth offers a calming stillness. Movement and growth in nature takes its time. The patience of nature enjoys the ease of trust and hope. There is something in our clay nature that needs to continually experience this ancient, outer ease of the world. It helps us remember who we are and why we are here.


The beauty of the imagination is that it can discover such magnificent vastness inside a tiny space. Our culture is dominated by quantity. Even those who have plenty hunger for more and more. Everywhere around us, the reign of quantity extends and multiplies. Sadly the voyage of greed has all the urgency but no sense of destination. Desire becomes inflated and loses all sense of vision and proportion. When beauty becomes an acquisition it brings no delight. When time seemed longer and slower, the eye of the beholder had more space and distance to glimpse the beautiful. There was respect for the worlds that could be suggested by a glimpse.

A striking illustration of this can be seen in the traditional cottages in the West of Ireland. These cottages were often built in the most beautiful landscapes. Yet the windows were always small. There was certainly a practical rationale behind this. There was no central heating then and there was a lot of rain and cold. Yet a small window exercised a discipline of proportion in relation to the external beauty. It never offered you the whole landscape: instead, from every angle you looked, it chose from the landscape a unique icon for your eyes. The grace of limit suggested more than your eyes could visually grasp.

But times have changed. People who now build here insist on huge windows that flood the house from every side with landscape. If one inquires about the particular rhythm of the place or the patterns of light the owners often seem baffled. The total view detracts from the eye’s refinement.”

divien-beauty_john-odonohueJohn O’Donohue –
“Divine Beauty: The Invisible Embrace”

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