Monday, September 7, 2009

Lights In The Dark

Clear moments are so short.
There is much more darkness. More
ocean than terra firma. More
shadow than form.

Adam Zagajewski

When Adam Zagajewski wrote this poem, i'm not sure if he was writing specifically about his life or, being a poet, about life in general. What i do know, though, is that he could have been writing specifically about mine.

It's almost not even a poem at all — it much too short and really nothing but a statement of fact. But what is there packs a mighty punch.

Most of us go through our days blindly deceiving ourselves into thinking that all is well; that as long as the paychecks keep coming in, as long as the mortgage is being paid, as long as our car is at least as nice as those owned by all our neighbors, as long as the career ladder is still pointed upwards, ... then life is going well.

Yet, every now and then, someone blinks, and realizes that something isn't right. And it appears that this is what happened with Zagajewski — much as it happened to Kūkai a little over 1,200 years ago. Suddenly, something clicked, the last tumbler dropped into place, and the lock that kept reality out of view sprung open.

Once it does, life is never the same; it's very, very difficult to go back to the way you were. Unfortunately, the first views aren't of how wonderful everything can be, but how messed up everything has been up to this point. This is what Zagajewski saw, and is pointing out to the rest of us.

Clarity, at first, comes in spurts and last that ever briefest of moments. Why? Because of all those thoughts that cycle endlessly around and around and around and around through our minds. Those thoughts of anger, hatred, jealousy, pride, shame, doubt, desire, etc. that cloud our lives and keep us in the dark.

This means there is much more darkness than there is clarity and light. This means you live a life in Plato's cave interacting with shadows instead of real form. This means you live a life floundering in a sea of worries and anxieties, at the mercy of every wave of thought that breaks over your head, instead of crawling onto firm ground where you can stand up and see the path home.

But, darkness does not mean a lack of light, it means a lack of willingness on our part to see the light that is there. Our unwillingness to open the door and let that light into our life. Our unwillingness to look for that door even though it is hidden in plain, unobstructed view, right before our eyes — just between any two of the thoughts that rush by unopposed.

Being in the cave of shadows doesn't mean that you have to be trapped. You can turn around and notice the light, and the real forms that cast those shadows you have taken for reality for years.

Being afloat and buffeted by wave after wave doesn't mean you can't get your head above the water even if it means you can't get your feet on the ground. All you have to do is stop the struggle, and look for the calm between the waves. Ride out the wave, don't waste your energy, and then in the calm between, head for safety, one stroke at a time.

Then, as you get closer to shore there will be a point where you can finally get your feet on the ground, and at that point it is up to you to walk to safety, to walk to that door between your thoughts, and to take your first tentative step through. And when you do, you'll notice that it has never been dark, the shadows have never been real, your feet could have always touched the ground — if you had only taken the time and made the effort to open your eyes.

Zagajewski is right in pointing out that where we are isn't as idyllic as we think it is, but he doesn't go far enough and tell us where we could be if we had the guts to look. I might finish his poem like this:

Clear moments are so short.
There is much more darkness. More
ocean than terra firma. More
shadow than form.

But in those brief moments,
there is a life eternal. More
immense than infinity. Clearer
than certainty. Brighter than
all the suns in all the galaxies
of all the universes.
There is no door, but
you can walk through.
With just one step.

(OK, now back to the man who walked away from dinner. I had an idea about it this morning between waking up and getting up, but......)

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