I have a habit of collecting quotes and poems that I like, copying them out by hand, and posting them around the house. Several quotes have traveled with me from home to home – one of them, in the handwriting of my dear friend and roommate, is among my favorite possessions and has been with me for over ten years. After a while, I stop noticing them on a regular basis – they’re just familiar background.
A few days ago, I woke up (sniffling with my third cold in as many months, sleep-deprived, fuzzy-headed) to the zillionth day of gloomy skies and waning daylight. I stumbled into the kitchen, opened the cupboard to get a juice glass, and was greeted by this on the inside of the cabinet door:
Don’t surrender your loneliness
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My need of God
It’s written by Hafiz. I can’t remember reading it for the first time, or copying it out, or why I taped it up in the first place – but goodness. It was just exactly the right thing for me to read in that moment.
This season of darkening days, our complex world, the intensity (and did I mention sleeplessness?) of parenting an infant. It creeps up on a person, you know?
Suddenly, where there was joy and lightness, there’s a temptation to wallow in the immensity of life’s challenges. Or, often just as futile, an urge to shove the challenges aside and put on a happy hat. You know what I mean, yes? When you don’t feel like risking a tete-a-tete with your less-desirable thoughts, so you smile at them with an almost aggressive gusto and give them a big old shove out of your consciousness? I’m happy, and cheerful, damnit! Not super effective, if you’re wondering.
I need Hafiz’s invitation on a regular basis: Don’t surrender that loneliness; that fear, confusion, darkness, overwhelm. Let it ferment and season – let it do its work. Because, as we all know, you can’t get compost without the worms and the stink. As Thich Nhat Hanh is fond of reminding us, “No mud, no lotus.”
We all feel lack in our lives; sometimes it’s acute, sometimes a general sense of unease and incompleteness. Maybe it’s a first (or fifteenth) holiday season after losing a loved one. A lingering negotiation with physical or mental illness. A yearly bout of seasonal depression or gloominess. It’s unpleasant, and can even feel threatening to our very being. The first impulse is to resist at all costs – and that’s fair! who wants to feel that kind of loneliness, that intensity of lack? Maybe, I can almost hear my mind strategizing, maybe if I hold onto my breath, and futz around on my phone, and avoid all the hard things, it will go away?
Hafiz, though – Hafiz is there, hanging inside my kitchen cupboard to offer an alternative. Just a thought, just a gentle nudge. What if I let it in – the exhaustion, the lack of clarity in my tired head, the ache of the dark season? Can I trust that it’s part of the whole, and as necessary as the joyful, light-filled things? That it will soften me and help me stay aligned with Big Love (or God, or spirit, or whatever iteration suits)?
I will most certainly give it a try.
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If you’re in need of a few ideas for helping yourself stay grounded and open to that divine fermentation this season, here are a few resources to divert you from your spinning thoughts and media streams:
A brief gratitude meditation
A gorgeous series of short videos from L’Arche
A reflection on winter darkness and choosing light
A real, human podcast
A gallery of natural beauty
An opportunity to build your own sweet, sweet, sustaining yoga practice with a friendly guide (plan now for a fresh start in January)