The Sound of a Glacier Melting: Reflections on Thawing our Frozen Gifts
Updated: Nov 27, 2018
‘Then, at his command, it all melts.
He sends his winds, and the ice thaws.’
– Psalm 147:18 (NLT)
When I was in high school, my Year Eight art teacher had a reputation for decimating students’ artwork for sport. I remember vividly how, on one occasion, she held up a girl’s drawing before the entire class and said, ‘I would give this a two out of twenty.’ She then went on to list in detail why the drawing was worthless. It should come as no surprise that after two years under this woman’s tutelage, I largely lost my love of art, coming to view it as something I had to ‘get right’ rather than a way of expressing myself. Once I left school, aside from a couple of brief forays into cartooning and painting, I effectively put my art on ice. But more on this later.
The Inner Glacier
I have never heard the sound of a glacier melting; not until a few days ago when I attended the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize at the South Australian Museum. There, I had the opportunity to experience an installation by artist, Selena de Carvalho, called The Elasticity of Time.
This installation involves a wooden sound horn attached to a block of concrete. When you approach it, a motion censor detects your presence and plays a recording of an Icelandic glacier melting. At the sound of this unearthly tinkling and splintering, you can’t help but incline your ear towards the bell of the horn and listen to this metallic symphony. The primal uncoupling of cell from cell is reminiscent of subterranean birth pangs; the Earth splitting herself open to release the gift of living water.
I stayed there a long time, waving my arm in front of the motion censor. There's something about eavesdropping on the dismantling of an ancient, elemental and seemingly impenetrable structure that kept me transfixed.
Origins of the Great Internal Freeze
The English language has many expressions that use coldness to convey the human experience: a person can be frozen with fear, have ice in their veins, freeze someone out, or simply be cold-hearted. Our language reflects our understanding. Even the most warm-hearted among us harbour frozen pockets within.
So how did these frozen pockets get there and what might they be?
They could be:
- painful wounds we have chosen, consciously or unconsciously, to numb
- an inability to forgive someone
- an inability to forgive ourselves
- gifts and talents we’ve ‘put on ice’
- emotions we’ve deemed unacceptable or dangerous such as anger, grief or love. Today, I’ll be exploring two of these possibilities: gifts and wounds.
I recently learned that as a result of climate disruption, for the first time in millennia, permafrost in the tundra is beginning to thaw. As a consequence of this, long dormant plant species are waking up, their seeds able to germinate. Leaving aside the significant concerns around global warming, I can’t help but wonder:
What gifts might be dormant in each of us, frozen for so long we’ve forgotten they even exist?
The idea of releasing my long-frozen gifts is both appealing and alarming. After the trauma of my sadistic Year Eight art teacher, I finally enrolled in a class in portrait painting in my thirties. I lasted four lessons before my inner critic (who sounded uncannily like my former teacher) told me my painting wasn't good enough. So I stopped. I did, however, keep my paints. They've been in my cupboard ever since.
I use this story to demonstrate that thawing out our frozen gifts isn’t simply a matter of unscrewing the cap on the paint tube, tuning your dusty violin, or filling in an application form for your dream job. The thawing process involves encountering the wounds that led to your initial decision to freeze them in the first place. And this may involve descending into the dark, murky, messiness of the past and tending to the wounds you find there.
The value of revisiting ancient wounds
If the melting glacier teaches us anything, it’s that ice and flowing water are made of the same substance. That being so, how can we cordon off a part of ourselves and consider ourselves cured? All our parts are necessary to make up the whole. Freeze one part and you lose access to the wisdom contained within it.
How then do we begin to melt our inner glacier and reclaim what's ours?
Listening to the sound of something as immense and ancient as a glacier melting, I was struck by the fact that nothing is permanent – not damage, not trapped gifts, not a frozen heart. However your inner glacier formed, what is clear is that, like water, it didn’t begin frozen; it froze over time. And that means it is, by its very nature, capable of melting. Like the formerly dormant plants in the tundra, frozen does not mean dead, only asleep. Knowing this is the first step.
The second step is to foster a willingness to look without judgement at what we have frozen. This may be confronting and painful. It may certainly make us feel vulnerable. The good news is that when we surrender to the process of melting, we begin to return to wholeness. Future blog posts will explore practical and gentle ways of doing this.
Finally, and most importantly, we need to remember that we do not do the melting. As Psalm 147:18 reminds us, it is a force much greater that us who sends her winds to thaw the ice. All we need do is incline our ear to the sound of dripping water and make room for our reawakened self.