“If you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.”Clarissa Pinkola Estes
When the days are most beautiful, when the sky is the brightest blue, I take the long way home, through the park. The leaves flicker as if lit from within, parents push bundled babies in strollers, and I force myself to slow down my walking pace from New York City street back to human. I am reminded that when I feel most attentive to something beyond me, beyond my own worries and narratives, time feels slower, and in abundance. Or perhaps feeling connected to something beyond me is the reason for feeling like I have more time. Either way, I find myself wanting to press pause, to rest within a day that I know isn’t slipping away from me as I live it.
Often I have come to writing because it is a place of stillness, a vessel to hold the busy days filled with heartbreak and absurdity and immense joy. To write something down means to distill an hour or a year or a lifetime of attention to something, a way of forever saying: “Here. Stop. Look.” Poems also provide the meeting ground to re-encounter past versions of ourselves— when you reread the same poem (or book or journal, etc.) every few years, you begin to notice how your perception of the story changes.
That’s true for books and poems, but also for the narratives we tell ourselves about our own lives, our own pain, our own loves and losses. How often do we find ourselves in the shower or falling asleep late at night, re-living a conversation or moment and wishing we had said or done something differently? How long will we carry and retell these stories, over and over again? How do we know when it’s time to let go?
In a favorite poem of mine, called “The City Limits” , A.R. Ammons wrote that radiance does not “withhold itself but pours its abundance without selection into every nook and cranny.” “Radiance” might as well be a synonym for attention — poems expand the hours through their attentiveness to the smallest things. By reading, we become absorbed into that attentiveness, and even after reading, carry it with us. In this way, poems can be considered a way of pressing pause, a way of pointing a finger to something as simple as the light falling through the curtains. They are preserved fragments of attention. Not only do they slow down time, they are also a way of turning it back. They remind us to reflect and consider (or reconsider) how we have examined something in the past.
At Brooklyn Herborium, we speak often about how radiant skin is skin that is not suppressed or controlled. And, when we speak about skin, we are usually speaking about life as a whole, too. “When you consider the radiance, that it does not withhold itself but pours its abundance without selection into every nook and cranny not overhung or hidden,” wrote Ammons, and Leonard Cohen, wrote of radiance, too: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Hundreds of years before him, Rumi: “The wound is where the light enters.”
How do we open our stories up, so that the light enters? Or, is the light already there? And if so, what must we do differently to notice it?
If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that the answers are so often the questions themselves. So, I will walk in the park, watch the leaves turn and fall, read and reread the poems to myself and to loved ones over candlelight or coffee whenever I can. And, I will hold space for the questions, which perhaps, like the wounds or cracks, is another place the light enters.