“Briefly, briefly, we see it, and forget,” writes the poet Jane Hirshfield. What is that it? How can it be described? How many moving accounts have I heard by now, that rare and cherished moment when utter stillness dawns, a quiet radical okayness suffusing the body. The visceral experience of all-is-well.
And why is it we almost cannot bear to hold still for it, to allow ourselves to linger in that restful knowing? Marie Howe has a poem about this, how there is a kind of antsiness, a tendency to avoid. A reluctance (or seeming inability) to hold still enough to allow it to dawn. Even as we know it’s there, within us, somewhere excruciatingly close by. But there seems to be a default disinclination to set aside all else for it. To get out of our own way.
What could possibly be more poignant?
The mystics say you are as close as my own breath. Why do I flee from you? – Marie Howe, “Prayer”
It seems to have to do with the persistent voice insisting there’s so much to get done, things to sort out, worry about. As if any of it could come close to mattering as much as that profound emptiness, where nothing at all matters but its sweet self.
Yet during those rare and precious intervals of knowing, there is the vivid sense that none of what usually so compels is actually important. That delicious stillness at the heart of our being is quite contrary to the picture of reality, of the “necessary,” that ordinarily shapes the sense of who we are and what constitutes a life.
Yet . . . yet . . . the vast majority of our days, there is this potent reluctance to turn the back (however briefly) on all of that real-seeming stuff. As if to do so would put something at risk.
So, we live a lot of our lives in the ongoing disregard of the existence of that inner quiet that shimmers with truth. All the while perhaps quietly realizing, in a background sort of way, that we are pretty constantly lying to ourselves about what really matters, justifying uproars we ourselves generate. Although mostly, of course, we place the blame elsewhere, insisting that someone or some circumstance is the cause of what troubles us.
But doesn’t it all get sorted out in a true crisis. On the verge (say) of dying. How vivid it all suddenly is: in a flash, the clarity of what a lot of precious life force has been squandered along the way, likely for decades.
Which must be what’s behind that wise invitation-to-self, each morning on waking: Today would be a good day to die. Not that we’re “hoping” this is the day, exactly, but more to help a person remember that today really could be The Day, and that one day certainly will be. In light of that realization, what would be of value as I live this day? More to the point, perhaps, what could be let go? Might the first stirrings of an uproar be gently allowed to unwind, to float away on the breeze — the breeze that will, soon enough, carry away each of us?