Tuesday, March 30, 2010

the edginess of the moment
and the witnessing presence

It has been miserable for two days, this weather: the kind that makes you want to hunker down and hope the refrigerator is stocked, make soup of whatever the bottom drawers hold. I love rain, I do. But not when it lashes at you, stingy, soaking all of you except maybe your head if it stays tucked closely under the umbrella. And that if the wind doesn't have its way with your umbrella.

And then it is Holy Week. But this week does not feel so holy to me. By some odd twist of fate three doctor appointments converged upon this week, a friend visiting from out of town, a playdate that can't be missed because I want to make friends with this particular hard-to-pin-down mom, and the usual homework assignment for my class. But I can't let my mind wander over to the list of things to do, I'll get up from my computer to add stamps to overdue bills, further packing my grocery list with lines scribbled in along the edges: "get egg dye!" and, "check for Rebecca." It's Holy Week, but it's miserable outside and I'm overbooked. Pascha is coming and I'm fretting.

Out on my errands today, crossing the street in the rain, I thought of something so obvious and simple that you'd think it'd already have etched itself on the inside walls of my consciousness: people are happy because they make the very best of what they already have. Not just in striving to have something better--a job more suited to them, an wider network of friends, a better relationship with their family--but in what they already (yes, oh joy, already) have. It's not that I didn't know this, it's more that it hadn't presented itself as a practice. Something to do, not just to believe.

I waste a lot of brain energy on striving, or anti-striving (which includes private mockery of the New Yorkers I think are striving too ostentatiously). I may get what I want, I may not; but Lord knows I don't need to think about it so much. I read these lines by Pema Chödrön in The Sun's Dog-Eared Page this morning:
"We become less and less able to reside with the even the most fleeting uneasiness or discomfort. We become habituated in reaching for something to ease the edginess of the moment... This is our way to make life predictable. Because we mistake what always results in suffering for what will bring us happiness."
Walking down the street, wind slashing rain across my glasses, I thought about the things I most want to change in my life, and I saw how so often I blame these things directly for my unhappiness, and then I thought about just accepting those things as they are. Not just in word, but in practice. To not ease the "edginess of the moment" by trying to fix them, or assigning blame, but instead to just to let them be. And, correspondingly, to be content--happy even--alongside these things, in spite of them, because of them, regardless of them.

And here, in observance of Poetry Wednesday, and in honor of Holy Week, in honor of the rain that is supposed to end tomorrow, in honor of my mini-epiphany in the middle of a wet city street in Harlem is my poem:


Denise Levertov

Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.


Molly Sabourin said...

Fantastic poem, Amber. Your post was like a breath of fresh and clarifying air today. Not to get too speculative here, but during Holy Week I sometimes wonder if, because of our dangerous communal focus on the Resurrection, Satan ups his efforts to keep us trudging all distracted through our busyness, disappointment, insecurities and general malaise. I really needed your reminder to stop and reevaluate my purpose and priorities. Thank you!

Kris Livovich said...

Just right. I had such BIG plans for Holy Week - plans for cleaning and preparing and resting and contemplating and, well you get the picture. My week is turning something into yours (aside from the weather), and your post came at a perfect time.

Lovely poem

Jenny Schroedel said...


I absolutely LOVE this poem. I love the idea of the "witnessing presence." And I love how this idea of practicing contentment came to you in the midst of dreary rainy days, crossing the road, it came to you. Beautiful. This is such a helpful insight!

Julia said...

Thanks for sharing this, Amber. We are having the best possible weather for northern Indiana this time of year, and yet, everything Molly said in her comment about Holy Week holds true yet again this year: insecurities, distractions, busyness, malaise, etc., rearing their heads to a degree that does feel rather...demonic. I had a feeling that your post would be soothing to read at this time, and it was.

Verineya said...

Awww... the picture brought up nice memories. And that stone looks like a giant turtle...
(The post is wonderful, just as always).