BLOG— The shape of one life
- Published: February 7, 2017
I date the beginning of my life as a poet — the beginning of my true life — to poems I wrote four years ago this month. Sitting in the back room of our first Yellow Springs home on Pleasant Street, looking out at the trees and grass and slivers of sky, I wrote in a new way, and began to discover how to live in a new way.
Each of us has one life. It flows into us at birth and out of us at death. Life keeps on flowing, of course, but the particularity and shape of our one life is gone. New forms arise, and no forms — quite — rearise.
The only thing we’re called to do is live. We are physical beings in a physical world. To live is to experience the physical, to literally ground ourselves in the ground that we — somehow — came from and will return to. The ground that every moment holds us. You can rest there. (Oh, I know it’s February, and the lightly snowed-on ground is cold!) Your body won’t float up, though your thoughts might.
We are also spiritual beings in a spiritual world. To live is to experience the spiritual. It, too, is ground that holds us, that folds over us at the end of our individual lives. Yet I can’t think of a spiritual experience that’s not also a physical experience. The hand of a person you love. A long vee of geese with a second little vee tucked inside. The silence out of which snow falls, carrying some echo of the original void.
The physical world is numinous. And the spiritual world is carnal — bodies everywhere we look and touch. All true experience is a mesh of inner and outer, fused in ways we can’t hope to understand.
We’re called to live, yet it’s so easy to … not live. To distrust, and disconnect from, the physical world, putting in its place a purely mental one. This is the snare of the electronic realm, I believe. The worries and fantasies — the insecurities and grandiosities — that churn at 3 a.m. used to dissipate at daybreak. But what happens when it’s always 3 a.m. inside, and daybreak — what’s that? Day, a basic unit of experience, becomes exotic and abstract under pressure from the 24/7 mind-world.
And the spiritual world? It, too, may lose its salience. Spiritual experience is slow to present itself; its resonance, or range of meanings, takes time to gather and grow. Paradoxically, even though such experience often catches us unawares, attention is its precondition. How can we notice what we don’t even see? And how can we — trained into impatience — wait for the world to perform its long, slow reveal?
Life, in its inner and outer aspects, is both tenacious and easily destroyed. As I look out the window of our second Yellow Springs home, I wonder about the fate of the world, careening down new and dangerous roads, which are also old and dangerous roads. I wonder what grand and saving act I can offer. I turn, again, to poems. They are not grand acts. They are not saving. But they are the shape my particular life takes. As Life flows through me, out of me and infinitely on.