Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field. I will meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
We have just passed the longest night of the year. And this morning I woke before dawn and watched as the light began to illuminate the clouds. With every moment, the sunrise became more beautiful, and by the time I left for my Saturday morning hike, the sky looked very much like this photograph.
(I grumbled for a moment after running inside to find my camera and coming up empty handed. But I quickly decided I was meant to enjoy the coming of the light without distractions).
Last night, after I put Ella to bed, I was thinking about the Solstice and this dark time of year. With all the attention on Christmas and Chanukah and New Year’s Eve, the significance of the Solstice can easily be overlooked and forgotten.
It often feels as if we have pushed darkness from our lives. Even the darkest nights are filled with the glow of digital clocks and night lights. And when we wake in the dark of the morning, the first thing we do is turn on the light.
This pushing away of the external darkness reflects a similar pushing away of the inner darkness. But it is within that darkness that we find our greatest gifts. Jung said that our “gold” waits within the shadow. In order to find and claim those gifts we must be willing to enter the shadow.
So to honor this time of year I thought I would share two of my favorite poems about darkness: Poems that remind us of the power and beauty contained in the dark.
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light,
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
Have you ever noticed a sense of relief and excitement during a power failure? Have you ever let yourself settle into that deep darkness that descends when the flashlights are turned off and the last candle is blown out?
I think our bodies crave that deep natural darkness: The kind of darkness you get on a cloudy, moonless night in the mountains. The kind of darkness you get sleeping in the deep forest. The kind of darkness you get when the power goes out.
The kind of sweet darkness that most of us no longer experience.
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
~ David Whyte ~
So while we are in this dark time of year, and even as we now move towards the time of light, can you go into the dark? Can you turn off the flashlights, blow out the candles and step into the darkness without light? There is treasure in that darkness. There are gifts that you will not find in the light. But when you find them, you can bring them into the light, and share them.
Photo Credit: Before Sunrise by Algo.
Last night my wife and I were browsing a local bookstore when I came across a new (for me) Mary Oliver book, Long Life: Essays and Other Writings. Mary has always been one of my favorite poets. When I feel disconnected from the wild world of nature and spirit and can’t immediately get out into the woods or to the ocean, I can always get a temporary fix by reading her poetry. When I read her poems I feel like I am breathing in the essence of nature.
But I have never read any of her prose. And this book called out to me from the shelves. There is such a brilliant observation in the introduction that Mary applies to poetry but that I feel is equally applicable to blogging, and I would like to share it with you.
Poets [Bloggers] must read and study, but also they must learn to tilt and whisper, shout or dance, each in his or her own way, or we might just as well copy the old books. But, no, that would never do, for always the new self swimming around in the old world feels itself uniquely verbal. And that is just the point: how the world, moist and bountiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?” This book is my comment.
This blog is my comment, a fair bit less eloquently stated than Miss Oliver’s comments, but nonetheless unique and worthwhile.
So when you wake up tomorrow and the world says to you, as it does every day, “Here you are alive. Would you like to make a comment?” How are you going to answer?
Yesterday I needed a break. I’ve been going non-stop for over 2-weeks. I felt off-balance, disconnected and un-grounded. I probably should have listened to my wife who suggested that I take Monday off. But the little voice inside me was too strong. “You have too much to do. You can’t take a day off. Blah blah blah.”
By yesterday afternoon I knew I had no choice.
So after a nice lunch with a good friend, I walked up into the hills of Annadel State Park. I had not walked very far when a clearing at the top of a hill called to me. I wandered off the trail a bit, found a soft spot and laid myself down in the tall grass.
And I listened to the sounds of the Earth around me. Songbirds were singing in the gnarled Oak trees, a bee would occasionally buzz by, and every so often a puff of wind rustled the hanging seed pods of the grass that hung over me.
I drifted in an out of sleep, content to let my body sink into the arms of the Earth and find its center once more.
And as my body found its center and my mind loosened its grip, one of Mary Oliver’s poems drifted into my awareness.
Sleeping in the Forest
I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.
from Sleeping In The Forest by Mary Oliver
Â© Mary Oliver
As these words poured through me, I felt humble and blessed that the Earth did, indeed, remember me, even though I had forgotten her for these past two weeks.
It is so easy to forget the Earth. It is so easy to get caught up in the seductive call of computers and phones and seminars and cars and kids and other distractions.
But the wonderful thing about the Earth is that, no matter how long we forget her, no matter how disconnected we become, she always remembers us and she will always welcome us tenderly back.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
Where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
I’ve written of that poem before on Evolving Times. Since I began waking up at 5:00 every morning, there have been a few mornings when the temptation to return to sleep has been great. And admittedly there have been a couple of times that I have succumbed to that temptation and allowed myself to sleep for another hour or so.
But this morning, after waking up at 5:00, when I felt the alluring call of sleep, Rumi’s words popped into my head and I knew that this morning the breeze at dawn did, indeed, have secrets to tell me. Secrets I would only hear if I arose.
Were those dawn secrets contained in the insights I had during my meditation.
Were the secrets contained in the salamanders with whom I crossed paths as I walked through the wakening woods or the family of deer that stood 20-yards ahead of me on the trail, watching, waiting?
Or were the secrets perhaps contained in the impressive vocal display of territoriality being expressed by the Canada Geese you hear in this recording.
Their determined honks piercing the peaceful morning symphony of rustling reeds, chittering songbirds and soft clucks from hidden waterfowl. The clouds, hanging low over the lake, amplified and echoed the insistent sounds.
The secrets, I believe, were contained in all of these experiences and much more.
But Rumi’s words, for me, are about much more than just waking up at dawn. They are about waking up!
Those of us on the leading edge, actively walking the path personal evolution are the ones awake at dawn. And, just as the temptation to go back to sleep in the morning can be great, there are times when the temptation to turn our backs on what we know and what we believe and return to the sleep that is our collective unconsciousness is equally strong.
But if we are to change ourselves, and in so doing, change the world, we must continue to choose the path of wakefulness, staying awake and listening for the secrets the dawn breeze has to share with us.
For every secret to which we awaken as individuals becomes available for others to hear. The secrets that each of us hears, in the solitude of the dawn breeze, are not for us alone. These secrets are to be shared. And by sharing these secrets we make it easier for others to choose to awaken and experience the breeze at dawn.
So will you choose to stay awake today? Or will you return to the comfortable warmth of your sleep? The choice is yours in every moment.
Yesterday afternoon I went for a much-needed walk in the woods, Armstrong Woods to be exact. Here in Sonoma County, we’ve already had two decent storms ushering in an early start to the rainy season.
So, as I entered the great quiet of the redwood forest there was a wetness infusing the air and the ground. The bark of the majestic trees was dark with moisture. Droplets of water hung from the ends of the fern fronds. And, in the distance, I could hear the faint trickle of water beginning to flow through the creek bed that would soon be overflowing.
When I walked into the shadows of the redwood canopy, my eyes seemed to play tricks on me as they adjusted to the darkness of the forest. In those moments of adjustment, taking in the darkness around me – dark wood, dark ground, even dark air it seemed – the moss on the trees and rocks appeared to be glowing. This brilliant green presence within the forest darkness struck me the way a neon light stands out on a lonely highway. The moss seemed to be lit from within.
I immediately thought of Galway Kinnell’s poem, Saint Francis and the Sow. It begins like this:
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self blessing;
It was as if the early rains had come and awakened the moss to its self-blessing. Now, after the long dry season, the moss was flowering from within and shining its inner light out into the world.
In the poem, Kinnell goes on to say:
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on the brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
The early Autumn showers were like a hand on the brow of the moss, reminding it, retelling it that it is lovely, allowing it to once again, flower, from within, of self-blessing.
We all need that reminder from time to time. We all need a hand on our brow or a word or two reminding us of our loveliness so that we can awaken our self-blessing and flower from within.
What is your rain? What awakens your self-blessing? What can you do today that will encourage the flowering from within of self-blessing?
I just read a wonderful comment from Linda on the For Perfectionists Only…Not post. In the post I mention William Stafford, and Linda, who was a student of his at Lewis and Clark college, shares a lovely personal story about him and his down-to-earth humility and kindness. She also shared this interesting fact about Stafford:
Something else I haven’t seen written about him: he was also a photographer. He brought a camera to class and took photos of his students’ faces, which he had printed and posted all over the walls of his campus office. It was those photos, he said, that helped him to remember his students’ names and faces years later, as he did mine when I heard one of his last readings in 1992.
This comment brought back a memory of my grandfather’s medical office. We were there to pack up his things after he passed away. He had been a general practitioner for thirty years or more, in a low-income section of Boston.
He had a camera – I forget the make – that used 35mm film but took half-frame shots. He took photographs of all his patients, had contact prints made from the film and taped the images to his office walls.
There were hundreds of these tiny images on the walls. He organized them by family. It was amazing to look at the images and see all the families he was treating. There were loads of three generation families, and I’m pretty sure there was at least one family that he treated four generations.
I wonder if, like William Stafford, this was how he remembered his patients’ names and faces. Or could it be that he was offering his patients a moment or two of “fame” when they got their picture on his wall.?
Last week, on a lovely walk along the Laguna path with my friend and colleague Suzanne Murray, we wandered onto the topic of perfectionism. She admitted to being a “recovering perfectionist,” having recently discovered that she could settle for excellence instead. And while I have made a similar shift from hardline perfectionism to compassionate excellence, I constantly battle the powerful allure of perfectionism.
Suzanne mentioned the poet and teacher William Stafford who is recognized as one of the most prolific poets of recent times. For the last twenty or more years of his life he wrote at least one poem every day. And, to the dismay of his students at Lewis and Clark University, he assigned the same task. I can just imagine the groans and complaints that must have followed that announcement. But when the students asked how it could be done or insisted that it was impossible, he replied simply, “Lower your standards.”
“Lower my standards?” The thought of lowering my standards flies in the very face of my beloved and comfortable perfectionism. If I’m going to put something out in the world it had better be perfect. And, as far as my inner perfectionist is concerned, nothing will ever be perfect! And that, my friends, is the problem.
But see, there’s a key component to Stafford’s assignment that my inner perfectionist doesn’t quite get. Stafford never told his students to, publish a poem a day. He told them only to write a poem a day, which is exactly what he did.
I bet if we were to look at some of his daily poems – the ones that did not get published – we would agree that many of them, perhaps most, were not so good. I’m sure he would agree with us as well. But when you write a poem a day, you’ve got a lot to choose from. And out of those daily poems he found enough good ones to publish more than 50 books, one of which – Traveling Through the Dark – won the National Book Award for poetry. He was also awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and held the post which is now called the Poet Laureate of the United States.
Clearly there is something to this idea of “lowering your standards.”
Do you want to know how many “unfinished” essays, stories, newsletter articles and other stuff I have stashed away on my hard drive? I bet you do! But I’m not going to tell you. Suffice it to say that by lowering my standards, not a whole heck of a lot, I could have been publishing 2-3 newsletters each month instead of one, plus articles, books and who knows what else!
What would happen if I lowered my standards just a bit? What if I took out these essays, gave them a final (quick) revision and posted them online? What if one person happened upon one of them and it turned out to be exactly the thing he or she needed to hear at that moment? Is it worth it? Is it worth the risk that I might publish an article that stinks? Is it worth it to risk posting an article that isn’t perfect? Is it worth lowering my standards? Even if I can reach just one person, you bet it is!
And what about you? What “articles” do you have sitting on your hard drive? What creation of yours is waiting to see the light of day because it is not yet “perfect?” What if you lowered your standards? Just a tiny bit. Just enough to finish it and get it out into the world.
Here’s my commitment to you: I’m lowering my standards. I’m going to start writing a lot more, and publishing a lot more of what I write. Some of it will be crap. And some of it won’t.
When you read something that’s crap, feel free to let me know. And when you read something that’s not, feel free to let me know that too. And who knows, you may just find a kernel in something crappy that really works for you, a bit of insight buried in the not-so-eloquent stuff that helps you take the next step in your life. Remember, one person’s crap is another person’s fertilizer!
And now here’s my hope and my challenge to you: Can you lower your standards? Just a bit? Can you look through your hard drive, or your closet or workshop? Can you dust off your chisels or brushes, get our your business plan or novel and reawaken your creative dreams? Can you lower your standards just enough to get those creations, those ideas, those dreams that are waiting inside of you, out into the light?
If you find yourself stuck in the process, wondering if it’s perfect enough, remember this line from the last poem William Stafford wrote on August 28, 1993, the day that he died, “Be ready for what God sends.”
Indeed, be ready for what god sends, and be willing to let it come through you and out into the light.