Sitting on the Rim
I expect that 60 miles away, the nation’s capital is vibrating: filling with celebrators and protesters: the triumphant and the grieving, the jubilant and the angry. I expect that it is loud and edgy and unsettled.
Here, the days and nights fall steadily, one after another, the sun rising over the eastern ridge where the Appalachian Trail crosses; and setting behind the storied Shenandoah River below. The creatures of the woods are hunkered down, nestled in cozy burrows and dens. The oaks and maples, hickories and poplars have slowed their breathing, reaching their roots down into the warm earth. The owls fluff their feathers and hunt silently in the dark, quiet air. In the chill of winter, all these form a warm circle of patient, vigilant presence around us.
The circle makes a container of communion and belonging, where in the center of the stillness you can reclaim what Mary Oliver calls “your place in the family of things.” It holds place at a moment in history marred with unnerving noise and the disorienting sensation of collapsing institutions and ruptured relationships. So we need it: this sense of soul place and connection to a deeper world that can hold us steady.
We are in a dizzying and dangerous time, and we may feel ourselves to be teetering on the edge. If we sit down and grasp the rope that ties us to our place, and wait long enough, our vertigo will dissipate, and we can look again into the troubled dark. More is there than we expect.
The recent issue of the Friends of Silence Letter has this translation of a short poem by Pablo Neruda:
if each day falls
inside each night
there exists a well
where clarity is imprisoned.
we need to sit on the rim
of the well of darkness
and fish for fallen light
The promise of this patient fishing exercise is that in time we will see and catch the imprisoned glimmer of clarity in whose flickering light it is possible to recognize our own unique power and gifts.
This morning, I listened to a podcast by Michael Meade, who had some thoughts on the choices we have even as we are rocked by the fearsome and eternal un-making and re-making of the world that happens over and over in history, and as each day falls inside each night:
Under the omens of what I think is an ill-fated inauguration, it may be a mistake to give our power too much to someone who wants power so much. That part of the world may go in a reckless direction now, and the institutions may rattle right to the ground, and things may have to be re-imagined. We then wind up in a situation where we have a choice. Do we fall victim to the fears and allow outside forces to determine the quality and meaning of our lives? Or do we turn to the idea that each person carries the meaning, value and purpose of their life inside themselves. Do we begin to imagine a different world in which the values that are most dear to us are the things that we are working at and working for. This creates the opportunity for how we imagine ourselves as active agents of this ongoing recreation of the world, for even as things fall apart other things come together.
Grace is amazing, not comfortable: out of this upheaval, this unsettling crucible, this perilous place on the rim, astonishing things will happen. Some may find themselves rekindled for their work of building family and providing alternative avenues for learning; some may step out of their shells and run for office. Some may make art they never thought possible, or turn their home into a literal sanctuary of resistance.
In a few days, I will be running toward the roar of our noisy capital with hundreds of thousands of others. In the aftermath of the inauguration, we are determined to bear witness to another kind of power and to a glowing and unvanquished vision for a society of inclusivity, respect, justice, kindness, and interdependency of species and beings.
It is risky and wonderful to sit on the rim of the well of darkness. That’s where, held steady by belonging, belief, and one another, we recognize and re-claim our gift and agency and power, and go forth again to re-create the world. Anything could happen then.
Photo used by permission from AS-I-Walk