While sitting in meditation last week, I thought of this David Whyte poem. It was meditation, and so I let the thought go, but then it came back to me later that day.
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
What struck me is that on a surface level, this poem can seem quite arrogant. It’s a poem of struggle, retreating into solitude, and realizing that you should only spend time around people that make you come alive. (Does that make someone smart or extremely avoidant?!)
Upon deeper investigation though, this poem is about letting go. Being alone in the quiet and seeing what’s left. It’s about figuring out who you are, when you are willing to rip away all the masks. It’s about knowing you are deeply loved. It’s about learning to befriend yourself; and to stay true to yourself. It’s about knowing what is yours to do and what isn’t. It’s about knowing who your people are; and what people aren’t.
Somehow aloneness becomes a sweet confinement. The silence rips away all pretense–and you can no longer be a good version of yourself. You must be your true self. You must put away all the good things (especially the good things other people want you to do!)–and only long for the best.
This is a beautiful poem for Lent. “The world was made to be free in.”
These words have been a great support over the last week, as I’m coming to understand what it means for me to give up conformity for Lent. For me it means hearing the whispering voice say, “What do you want?” It’s responding honestly to that question.
It means paying attention to when I feel like I have to make someone else in the room comfortable–and realizing where this impulse is coming from.
It means entering into deep rest, remembering that I don’t exist just to serve other people. It means knowing that I’m worthy. Worthy of every good thing.
I excelled at a young age, both academically and athletically. I was smart, yet practical. I didn’t quite fit the dumb blonde stereotype. I beat all the boys when we would race at recess. I remember having a realization while I was still in elementary school that I intimidated people. I had strong strengths, but I didn’t like the effect this had in a group. I would either shrink to make people feel comfortable, or avoid certain people if I wanted to act like myself.
I took on other people’s insecurity. And over time, I didn’t know what was my energy or what was someone else’s.
I didn’t know this dynamic existed while I was still running and was successful. I started to realize it when my health started deteriorating, when I could no longer hide behind my external achievements. I knew then that actually my interior life was empty as well; I thought that I was what I could accomplish, but I was very wrong.
Even when I got sick, people would tell me, “You have such a good attitude” or “I don’t know how you persevere the way you do.” I would smile to be polite and to make them comfortable–because when you are sick, you are very aware of how your existence makes people very uncomfortable. I would muster some energy that I didn’t really have to say something trite like, “Well, I do the best that I can.”
Deep down in my bones though, I was tired of my over-responsibility, still trying to make other people in the room comfortable even when I was really sick.
Why? I wanted to feel like I belonged. I confused conformity with belonging. I chose to not remember the basic truth that at an elemental level, that we all belong to each other.
So in order to belong, I would do a lot of emotional labor for other people so they would understand my illness. I short-changed their learning, so that I could feel understood.
I sought support primarily externally (although I did need this), to the neglect of my own internal support & those in my life who had taught me resilience. The harder work is the inner work.
During this Lent, what I felt my body saying was, “No more.”
“Take responsibility for your own emotional wake-but that’s it.”
“Really see who you are in the silence.”
The woman that is emerging from this silence is strong and compassionate. She knows that her strength and compassion are nestled in her own body. She is in touch with her intuition, and realizes when anxiety creeps in, that she is out of line with herself. She gives to others, but also gives abundantly to herself. She recognizes that the price of discovering oneself is misunderstanding and increased conflict–yet knows that the risk is worth it. Rather than being afraid of her fatigue, she listens to it, for she knows that in it contains much wisdom. She takes deep breaths, expressing gratitude for the life source that sustains her. She knows that her power lies in letting go–only which is hers.
Here I am. In the present, as a strong woman. Yet this time, one who knows her inherent worth and dignity. I’m no longer the 8 year old on the playground-although that girl is still in me.
So is it arrogant or brave to step into the silence, with all of my gifts, with all of my hard-won wisdom? Is it arrogant or brave to rest, both alone and in community, in order to give my best self to the world?
Is it arrogant or brave to leave places or people that do not make me come alive?
Is it arrogant or brave to speak truth to power?
Is it arrogant or brave to wander until you know where you are to put down roots?
I say brave, although of course the flip side is that the ones who feel rejected, say arrogant. Yet, that’s not mine to worry about, is it?
Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash