Friday, January 25, 2013

Insofar As That I Can See

Yesterday I came across a famous quote, a paraphrase of a line from a Robert Frost poem:  "The only way out is through."  It was attributed to someone I know did not speak it originally. She may have used it, like so many of us have, but it did not originate with her.  It was fascinating to see the comments posted beneath -- "L. Ron Hubbard said that, but before him, I don't know."  "That's a line from an Alanis Morissette song."   Someone else thought it was a quote from the Buddha. 

Just for fun, I googled the quote and discovered that it has been used in song lyrics by another female artist, and as the name of an album by another.  I found two art exhibits with this title and one sculpture.  There was a tattoo advertised by a tattoo artist and a hand-lettered t-shirt, both misquoting Robert Frost who actually worded it slightly differently.

There was a Psychology Today article with this quote as its title and about a gazillion blog posts. Articles by life coaches.  A few pieces by writers offering this as good advice to budding word smiths.  It was even dialogue in a video game.  Most of the blogs and articles were about perseverance, dealing with pain, fear, illness, grief, and life transitions of all kinds.  There was an article about being productive in business. My favorite was an article about a 12th Century Indian poet, mystic, and saint - a woman - Akka Mahadevi.

He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or insofar
As that I can see no way out but through --
Leastways for me -- and then they'll be convinced.

"The only way out is through."  "The best way out is always through."  I prefer the original.  And I think I prefer it for the same reason that the woman who is telling her story in the poem does -- that I can see no way out but through...what other way is there?  Hence, the paraphrase.  What I really like about the original is I get to discover it for myself. No one tells me it's the way it has to be. 

That's an important part of the spiritual journey and core to waking up -- discovering the great and deepest truths through one's own experience. You can read ten thousand books by a thousand masters and see all the wisdom of the ages on the page before you, but what really matters is embodied experience.  This is the way to wisdom. 

Of course, just being does not bring us to wisdom.  We can move through life unconsciously or we can be conscious as we move through life.  Some ancient cultures describe warriorship - the way of the warrior - in terms of mindfulness and consciousness, showing up and choosing to be present.  Present to our own lives, our own experience, to each moment, thought, and feeling, and to others and the world around us.  That enables us to see.  Seeing enables us to move through the world without the blinders that sometimes enable us to get through difficult times by simply moving through something any way we can, distracting ourselves with being busy, so that we don't have to think about, feel, or see.  Not everyone would agree with me about this -- for many people distraction is exactly the way they get through the hard times.  Insofar as I can see...leastways for me...  

The way that I engage with all this is through story.  I write poetry, short stories, sermons, reflections and other devotional pieces, blog posts, speeches, retreats and workshops, journals, columns, and probably other things that I'd need to check my resume for in order to remember right now.  It's my language for moving through the landscape of our fractured-expanding-and healing selves.  It's the way I attribute meaning.  And the way I offer something to the world so that others can pause and attribute meaning as what I offer merges into an unexpected alchemy with their own experience.

In Robert Frost's poem A Servant to Servants, the woman who is telling her story describes some brutal life experience, and in telling her story, she is actually moving through her story and out of it into something new.  This is the power of sharing our stories with each other.  We gain perspective - see where we have come from, what we have come through, and the new place we have come to.  And through it all we, and the world, are transformed. 


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Flowers in Winter

I go into the wilderness and rediscover the home within.
                                                                                               - China Galland

I was walking by the river the other day.  It was a beautiful day -- sunny and unseasonably warm for a Mid-Atlantic mid-winter.  The only green in sight are the evergreens.  The grass is brown.  The deciduous trees are naked.  There's not a vine in sight. Oddly enough, the herb garden in the middle of town has some kind of ornamental purple plants that have survived in the winter. I have no idea if this is their normal behavior, but it certainly feels weird.  Everything else has died away. 

For the most part the days have been grey, so this sunny day felt like a huge gift to me.  Grey days make me feel a bit blue in winter.  When there is sun, no matter how cold it is, I tie on my hiking shoes and head outside to walk briskly in the sunshine and watch my steaming breath pour out into the cold air. 

The skies are so blue and the clouds so huge and white and puffy I'd begun to wonder what season it really was.  It was one of those sublimely beautiful days that do not feel quite real, but enable us to feel more fully alive than usual -- simply because they feel so unexpectedly good.  And as I walked, I began to feel fully alive.

And this was a huge surprise for me.  But, then, days like this almost always catch us by surprise.

Winter is one of those seasons that so often feels like we are sleeping -- but in our culture we work against the natural cycles and tend to push as hard through the winter months and to be as productive as we are the rest of the year, when what we should really be doing is allowing ourselves to lie a bit fallow so that we can rest before another growing season begins.  We need more sleep in the winter when there is less light and many of us get sick.  We need time to reflect, to draw near to our hearth fires and be quiet.  To come home to ourselves. 

And it's easy for us to do because it feels like a wilderness outdoors.  Snow, ice, sleet, freezing rain, icy chill days and nights, and winds that bite the skin as they blow through can feels as rough and uninviting as a desert or scrubland.  Winter days make many of us feel like there is anything we'd rather do than go outdoors.

But on this winter day I found myself being drawn outside.  The air was brisk but far from freezing.  The winds were more like breezes.  And the sun was shining so brightly it felt almost warm on my face.  It felt good to be outdoors in the fresh air and to leave the stale indoor air behind for awhile.  I was outside walking for a good, long time in the cold.  And on my way back, I looked down into the brown grass and saw a golden yellow face smiling back at me. A dandelion beginning to open...there on a winter's day in mid-January.  I breathed deeply and felt like springtime was filling up my tired wintry spirit.  Suddenly filled with energy, I came home and put the flower in a small vase, where hours later I walked by and it had fully opened there on my windowsill.  Meanwhile, instead of being productive, I used the energy to ponder some things that have been knocking around the corners of my mind. 

I am reminded of a day last winter when I wrote a poem that begins,

There is forsythia blooming today --
Four little bright yellow blossoms on a wild branch
That has reached through the fence between
My neighbor's yard and mine --
A long, trailing branch....
I just saw her dancing on the breeze

I remember being surprised that day also.  And smiling deep down in my soul. And writing in my journal with wonder, how in the middle of such cold, a sunny day or two can bring out flowers in winter.