Recently while talking with a friend about writing I evoked a memory of an evening writing class I started in the Navy. We wrote the first evening submitting our pieces. In the second the instructor sat on her desk reading from our papers.
She cynically read the first line of mine with exasperation and incredulity stating “God! Someone wants to be a poet!” I stopped breathing. Rolling her eyes she threw my paper to the side of her desk for effect. I don’t remember the remainder of that evening’s class nor did I return to others. My first line concerned itself with a handmade wooden boat pulled high on the sands while yet buffeted by the waves of a rising tide, and the sounds of the surf and wind.
As I continued talking with my friend my neck began to hurt and stiffen and my throat tightened. In my mind’s eye I was watching images of ancestors on my mother’s side: they were inured to constraint upon constraint of their expression. I saw too my own history of constraints: In the seventh grade for example, the band teacher told me to put the sticks to my snare drum down and return to study hall as “I was having too much fun and not taking class seriously.” I did as he directed.
The Mystery is bent on changing us. Though not exclusively, we are changed by how we navigate difficulties. The late anthropologist Angeles Arrien said “Neither push to make things happen nor hold yourself back.” If we collapse in the face of difficulties, we are holding ourselves back. If we blame or attack, we are caught up in the folly of pushing to make things happen. Each response is self-defeating and disempowering. **
In each of my examples I collapsed. Proving we are more powerful than opposing forces never occurs through attacking, pushing-back, resisting, or collapsing. Rather, prevailing ensues from becoming a countervailing force equal to the opposition in each moment: neither pushing nor collapsing. Prevailing is standing in our relaxed sovereign power; it is being guided by non-ordinary forces informing the what and how of our next actions.
The seventh grade boy in band and the nineteen year old in the writing class were ill-prepared to do anything but collapse. They lacked a connection to Wisdom: They had unhealed ancestral, familial and personal injuries (Aka: difficulties) awaiting remedy. Collapsing in their respective circumstances was inevitable, of necessity; though painful their collapses were boons to later changes and healing.
The boards or timbers comprising the hulls of beached boats shrink leaving the boats devoid of buoyancy. For these boats to fulfill their purpose they need be submerged in water for extended periods. Only then may they be surfaced and placed in service. The waters and seas are feminine. At nineteen I was unaware of the absences of feminine nurturing in my upbringing; of her absences in the lives of my parents—and those before them, and those before them.
The crush of difficulties and our proper responses to them gives rise to gravitas—our soul weight—our rightly weighted keels ensuring our stability, our seaworthiness, and our capacities to counterbalance forces opposing us.
The lecturer, explorer and mystic Paul Richards reminds us that our power is assessed not in how hard a punch we can throw but rather in how hard a punch we can take. Being gracious, embodying an equanimity, consenting to and relaxing into the difficulties we face garners us greater ease in our lives. So too does being attuned and in touch with the Mystery. She provides clarity regarding what to do and how to do it. Being so attuned furthers our capacities in seeing and appreciating beauty—in our difficulties—and in all things. (Beauty is code for the feminine.)
The younger me, the one having too much fun in band unwittingly knew the rhythm of Life was something other than seriousness. The guy in the writing class was unaware of his deeper intent in taking the class: he wanted to learn to skipper his boat. Thanks to the selves I’ve been I am in open waters now reacquainting myself with non-ordinary Life rhythms.
I want a poetic life and to be myself. Both are more easily realized by being kind, generous, gracious and compassionate with my Self and others. Gratitude helps too. In the cycling repetitions of Beauty in the canon in which I find myself I ask—“How is the snare drum in Ravel’s Bolero?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KgpEru9lhw
* The Russian ballerina Ida Rubinstein commissioned Ravel’s Bolero, thus her painting by Valentin Servo.
** There are times of course when the Mystery demands that we fight for our lives or those of others. We know this. Let go of any beliefs standing between you and genuinely caring for, defending and preserving yourself and others in your care.