It was the author Ursula Le Guin’s birthday this week.
In her novel A Wizard of Earthsea, the young wizard Ged, eager to become powerful and knowledgable, begins his apprenticeship with his first true teacher, the elderly Ogion.
For the first few months, they mostly accompany one another in silence. Ged sweeps the floor, tends to the goats, prepares food. They take long walks through the tall trees and groves of the nearby forest. It’s an immersion into the everyday. No talk of magic, no talk of spells, no talk of knowledge.
One afternoon, with growing frustration, Ged turns to his master. “When are you going to start teaching me?”. And Ogion, with great patience, turns to his student. “The lesson began long ago and all around you”, he tells him, “but you did not discover yet where to look for it.”
So many of us wear our cynicism and our world-weariness as a badge of sophistication, as if it’s a mark of our intelligence that nothing can touch us, no idea or possibility or hope move us, no idea illuminate our lives. We’ve seen it all, we tell ourselves. We know what’s what. And in doing so we separate ourselves from our lives.
But, like Ged, it might be possible even then to find out that everything and everyone can be our teacher, if we’ll only drop our defences and rigidity long enough to let the world in. We might discover, as Ged does, that genuine wisdom is cultivated by never setting oneself apart from life and from other living things.
And, as the years unfold, perhaps we get to learn as Ged does, “what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees.”
Photo Credit: Emma Lucia Gregory