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20 May 2010 @ 02:14 pm
Led to insights by a poem  
The semester has come to an end at the U -- a window of time for me to catch up on pleasure reading and blog posting. Right now I'm reading Kim Rosen's book Saved by a Poem. Rosen  talks about entering into a relationship with a poem, as a way of developing a deep understanding of both the poem and oneself. I chose to work with "Lost" by David Wagoner.

Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is call Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again saying Here.
No two trees are the same to raven.
No two branches are the same to wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you
You are surely lost.
Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

One thing Rosen suggests is that difficulty in remembering a word, a phrase, or a line of a poem can point to some particular issue one has with the imagery, some repressed blockage of energy that causes certain elements of the work to resist being taken into the mind and heart. This isn't a rule, only a possibility. A lot depends on how the poem makes one feel as a whole, and how the parts that are difficult to remember feel in particular.

I chose without hesitation to work with "Lost" because the poem and I met briefly about a year ago, and it was an intense, dramatic, and somewhat confusing encounter. I was listening to David Whyte's Clear Mind, Wild Heart, an excellent audio book I would enthusiastically recommend to anyone who enjoys poetry even a little, even if it didn't include a discussion of "Lost", but it does, and when I heard it, all sorts of frozen parts in me were touched and released, as if tapped with a magic wand. It was very painful, very liberating, and as already mentioned, very confusing. I didn't understand entirely what was happening, why I was suddenly sobbing. I was alone, but it felt as disconcerting as being introduced to someone, saying hello, shaking hands, and bursting into tears. I wrote a brief journal entry about it at the time (not posted here) and tried to sort out what I could understand, but I knew that much of the poem's force was still unavailable to me. I knew at that time that feeling lost had long been a fear of mine, in both real and abstract senses. I have a poor sense of orientation, so getting anywhere has always been somewhat challenging for me. It also happens now and again  that I fail to follow anything I'm participating in -- a conversation, a meeting, a film -- while simultaneously imagining that most other people are following just fine (the there's something wrong with me syndrome). I also hit walls in my work sometimes and feel at a loss for knowing how to solve my problem. That inspires the same fear in me as being really, physically lost.

So I understood all this a year or so ago, and felt I'd seen enough. I backed away from the poem then because it felt too uncomfortable to go any deeper, and only went back to
it about three weeks or so ago when Rosen suggested choosing a poem to work with.

I have learned it by heart (which took more time than I expected) and recite it softly or silently at least once a day. I enjoy doing this in the morning especially as I lie in bed and pass through the layers of consciousness that connect sleep and wakefulness. This morning, I thought particularly about why the parts of the poem in bold, above, were difficult for me to remember. I left out the "Must ask permission" line several times when I was learning the poem and experimenting with reciting it and persisted in replacing "breathes" with "whispers."

I realized this morning that "Must ask permission to know it and be known" simply means, must be willing to enter into relationship with it, this "powerful stranger." These lines force a shift in perspective from seeing the forest (through the eyes of the lost child*) as threatening and as something to master and find one's way out of,  to a powerful and benign but challenging entity that one must befriend in order to reorient. In the panic of realizing that one is utterly lost in a dense forest, the wise elder counsels that one must respond not by wildly searching for familiar signs anywhere, but by relaxing and opening completely to a new relationship with that which inspires fear, in this case, the forest. Wagoner seems to suggest that the manner in which we hold our experience of anything is in turn the way we are held by that experience. Entering into relationship with the forest is a metaphor for entering into relationship with one's own fear; to do this requires radical presence, courage, patience, and determination.

Being in the Now in the face of fear means encountering that fear directly, without checking out. I have difficulty doing this in my life now, and I was even worse at it in my childhood and young adult years. My usual response is to bolt from the Now, to go away mentally and emotionally. I space out and have poor recall of places and people because of having closed off part of my mind to those events. I saw these things this morning as I recited the poem in my head and thought about it. This is a poem about having enough courage to remain open, awake, and relaxed in the face of fear in order to let the fear pass through you. Once you're over it, you no longer need help in navigating; sacred assistance is offered from the very thing that scared you.
     The forest knows where you are.
     You must let it find you.

What seemed like an enemy now holds and supports you.

As for the verb breathe, in my mind, it is simply another way of understanding present moment awareness. The breath is the touchstone of meditation because it forms a moment-to-moment strand connecting body and mind. Breathing is the quintessential phenomenon of the body in the Now. This morning, I realized that many of the stressful experiences in my life that have caused me to check out also disrupt my breathing. This was easy to recognize because of an article I read recently entitled "Do You Suffer from Writing Apnea?
" by Daphne Gray-Grant. I totally suffer from writing apnea, email apnea, and if such a thing is recognized, daily activity apnea. With significant frequency, my breathing grows shallow or stops altogether throughout the day when I become involved in performing any activity that is effortful. It has been eye-opening for me to notice this during the past two weeks.

I also wondered this morning if psychic wounds aren't like a virus that mutates from generation to generation. The stresses and traumas that have invoked my habit of self-desertion and shallow breathing have created energy blocks in me. This is not a theory; I actually feel these tight areas from time to time in my lower belly, solar plexus, and throat.
I thought about my son who suffers from asthma and wondered to what degree his disease be traceable to blocked energy patterns in his mother? I will talk to him about this. It may be worthwhile for him to reflect on this to see if he detects any relationship between his breathing problems and causes that seem other than physiological.

Now that I'm gaining more awareness of what's happening, I think I'll be able to remember to stick around when I feel uncomfortable and touch those feelings directly. And if Skylar can gain any useful insight related to his asthma, that would be wonderful.