Do not try to save
The whole world
Or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest
Of your life
And wait there, patiently,
Until the song that is your life
Falls into your own cupped hands
And you recognise and greet it.
Only then will you know
How to give yourself to this world
So worth of rescue.
– Martha Postlethwaite
I have been thinking of this wonderful, little poem a lot of late. The wisdom here is deep and giving and is a comforting reminder that not everyone has to forge the path for the rest to follow. In fact, if everyone is doing that; the slashing and burning, the scything and beating back, then the path is going to get crowded and dangerous, pretty quickly.
The imagery in Martha Postlethwaite’s poem is beautiful and, extremely timely, I feel. It is an invitation, a validation. Yes, it is not only okay, but necessary, to become mindful as we tread the path of our lives. It is a reminder to slow down. To let things unfold organically.
Is Postlethwaite suggesting apathy? A refusal to engage in the building of your life? Well, I don’t think so. The opposite in fact. I know that similar confusion still exists around the life-changing practice of meditation; isn’t it selfish to sit and dwell on your inner self when you could be out there actually helping in some way, I have heard many people say. Here in the west we, sadly, place so little importance on our inner development, on the journey of our spirit, on our connection to all of nature, that unless we are ‘doing’ something then we are being self-indulgent or lazy. In fact, the absolute opposite is true. Meditation offers the opportunity to build inner strength and awareness which actually and demonstrably increases one’s capacity to engage compassionately with the outside world, helping you meet with others on a deeper, more understanding and humane level. And, in Postlethwaite’s advice, the same is true, where, conversely, the best and deepest and most productive work comes from a place of stillness, reflection and patience.
The forests of our lives are varied and busy and at one point or another will almost certainly contain joy and suffering, anxiety and certainty, depression and euphoria. We are a rich and complex species with a deep well of inner wisdom. How else can we access that wisdom if we don’t first allow ourselves the quiet in which to listen for it. In almost all spiritual tradition there is emphasis on times of silence. Silence in which to talk and listen to God, silence in which to formulate answers, silence in which we feel intuitively for the right way to proceed. The silence enables us to still our chattering minds and tune in to a deeper voice. the whisper of wisdom. Nature is our natural amplifier, turning up the volume of our inner selves. The trickling stream, the lonely night owl, the brushing of leaves in the windy trees. Listen in and listen hard. It’s everywhere and in all things – the voice of wisdom.
So, how do we make a clearing in our lives? What does that even mean? I interpret this both literally and metaphorically. Making space has absolutely changed the way I live my life. And, in that wonderful, counter-intuitive way of much wisdom, slowing down and creating silence and ritual when I previously thought I was far too busy to make time for such things, has actually increased the time I have available and has reduced drastically that horrible sense of overwhelm that the non-stop, hamster wheel living can induce. Starting and ending each day with the right tone and intention has been a game changer. This can be as simple as setting the alarm 15 minutes earlier to enjoy some moments of quiet and dark, relishing that first cup of tea rather than dashing headlong into the day. Or lighting a candle before bed in the evening or reflecting on the day in a journal.
And, as if by magic, the clearing of literal space in our lives begins to open up a deeper, spiritual spaciousness, a clearing amidst the chatter and clamour of mental activity and inner dialogue. And as those voices quieten, as their panicky and insistent noise recedes, the quieter whisper of your innate inner wisdom has the space to be heard. You may feel this as soft nudgings. Or a felt sensation in your heart or solar plexus. The wisdom my manifest in mental imagery, the flowing of ideas, an increase in energy. Maybe it will seep in silently. Maybe it will shout itself heard.
This practice is particularly useful in two circumstances; when you are very busy and when you are stuck. It will seem counterintuitive to slow the pace and pause for quiet time if you are a frantically busy, busy, busy person. Maybe you have people depending on you. Or are trying to make ends meet with two jobs. This shit is real – and it’s really hard. But offering yourself the precious gift of time and creating opportunities in which to step out of the motorway and into the trees will benefit you in oh so many ways. As you start to slow – your systems, your breath, your thinking, as your heart rate slows and your breathing deepens, time becomes expansive. Suddenly you may find that you have the feeling of more time. Maybe you begin to prioritise better. Or become confident in managing your energies and saying no to things so you feel less over-extended.
The other time is when you feel stuck. When you have the nagging feeling that you want more but you don’t know where to start in bringing about change in your life. When you feel immobilised by indecision or feel the weight of expectation or the pressure of other people’s demands. When you are financially unable to move in the direction you want. Or when you feel tethered to something which no longer fills you with joy. Then is the time to create a clearing. A refuge inside. A place of safety. Meditate to let go of the tangled ball of wool which hold the answer. You won’t find it by trying to unravel it from the whole. Rather, view your mind like a snow globe with your indecision at the centre. The more time you can create for peace and sanctuary, them more time you spend in the clearing in your life, the more chance you have of allowing the frantic and grasping thinking mind to settle to the bottom of the globe, revealing the wisdom which was there all along. Then the song that is your life will fall into your cupped hands. And you will be there. Hands outstretched. Waiting.