Monday, May 16, 2011

At the Window

by Mary Oliver

Isn't it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience?  Isn't it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close,  I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I'm alive.  And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky - as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

from New and Selected Poems, Volume One

So, where to begin?

It was the middle of graduate school, a three year program for an MFA in creative writing, at the beginning of which, I was like, Great!  3 years to write! and, at the end of which I was like, What the F was I thinking?!  One summer, I had the great fortune of having a month off of both work and school.  My boyfriend at the time--my husband now--spent long days driving for FedEx, collecting sheaths of black grime on his hands and legs and arms from the open door of the truck, and returning home so dehydrated that we coined the term, FedEx Eyes, for the puffy lids that he went to bed with at night.   For my part, I spent long days practicing yoga, opening the windows, listening to lush coastal rains, writing a little, swimming in the ocean, meditating with the dog, and consulting the I-Ching about my future, which I desperately wanted to know about. 

I remember one particularly stormy morning, when the dark rain clouds came early, and woke me, and drew me out of the bedroom.  I lit a candle at the kitchen table and scrawled questions in a notebook.  It was late enough past dawn that Tim was already out in the world.  I called the dog to my side and settled on my meditation cushion (which doubled as a movie-watching pillow, back rest, dinner tray, and yoga prop). 

The day was a big one for me, for an answer came, in the middle of my rainy meditation.  The questions I was asking of the greater world were new to me.  For once, they had no agenda, no real attachment to particular outcomes.  I was not, as I did in my youth, holding a little Yoda doll with a black-bottomed robe that flashed variant answers such as, Certainly It Is So, or Not At This Time, when I tipped it upside down.  I was not asking questions such as, Will I get to stay up late and watch movies and eat cookies tonight?, with greed clearly on my heart.  I was asking about the meaning of life, literally--mine.  Should I marry Tim.  Should I keep writing.  Should I keep on the path I am on. 

And an answer came.  The moment that I heard this insight rise up in the center of my being, I felt my skin open at every pore, as if a bear's hide had fallen away from my shoulders.  I knew I was being led to unveil the truths of my heart, which were tender, vulnerable, and terrified of the light.  At the same time, this instruction felt
like the deep weight of suffocation finally leaving me. I was not given specific instructions.  No real answers at all.  But in what I was given, I found both the permission I needed to be myself, and to keep going with trust that all was well. 

I have been listening to Byron Katie's audio presentation, Your Inner Awakening, which at first I hid under a blanket in my car so that passing neighbors could not see the title and have cause to snicker.  I wonder why is it so hard to own my spiritual curiosities.  Like a child hiding under a table, I think that if I do not confess to being there, no one will see me.  When, everyone knows I am under the table.  Everyone else sees it so clearly!   

Katie says that the things we are afraid of revealing about ourselves are laughable when they finally reach the light.  These secrets we carry are simple pieces of fear that have grown inordinantly more powerful because of their place in the dark, and it is our job, our gift to our life, to bring them out where we can see them. 

I am remembering here a giddy scene in Fletch Lives, which is an excellent '80s movie that dates my sensibilities.  In the scene, Chevy Chase play's a newspaper reporter who momentarily hijacks a televangelist's show and tells audience members that God wants them to reveal their deepest secrets.  A man called forward says, Are you sure?  Chevy Chase assures the man, yes, yes.  Confess your afflictions! he says. OK! the man says, pulling down his pants on live television, and confessing to a struggle with hemmoroids. 

This is not the sort of laughable that Byron Katie has in mind, I'm sure, but it is the sort of comical turn that revelation can take.  Uncensored confession is easy to make fun of, as a general pursuit.  But what makes deeply comic laughter possible is when we spot the self-inflicted terror that our secrets have caused us, and root it out, and set it free.   

I made a cd last night, recording some poems I wrote.  I made it for a friend who has always supported my shy processes, always been curious about my creative life, and jubilant for my weird crushes, the surprises of our hearts.  I spent time with a very wise woman today, and rejuvenated my inner witness to the divine, mysterious currents that draw us along our holy paths. 

I have lately noticed that I am emotionally hiding, because I have been looking for answers to more questions about the future.  And I can see now I've been more than a little attached to their outcomes.  But today I feel it - grace around me, telling me to settle my mind and open my heart to the answers within.  The wind brings the silent wings of blackbirds overhead.  The birds swoop and flit and land on the signpost at the end of my street.  They say: We are here.  All is well.  We are here together.   

So rise, little wings of the heart!  Flap and fly on your merry way.

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