I want you to give me the key that opens the door to the room where there is no ‘I’ and there is no ‘You.’ You want me to hold the final hour of my life in the wholeness hidden in the center of my chest, whether it is midnight or midday. You want me to tend the dove you send, and take the olive branch, when it lands at my feet, not as symbol but as fact. I want to rest my left cheek on your lap. I want to see each one of your creatures in the same warm light out of which she appears, your daughter, my close companion in the night. You want me to stand alone by the strength of your name. You want me to breathe on the ember and restore the flame. I want you to break my fixed belief in the immortality of my brokenness. I want you to give me back my unspeakable name. You want me to leave the judgment up to you. You want me to fall on my knees, struck dumb by the truth, undone by remorse for the thousands of hard dark-blue nights in which I failed to call on your mercy. I want you to warn me when I’ve nearly reached the gates of hell. I want you to teach me how to earn your help. You want me to realize I can never deserve what Forever freely gives. You want me to live in the room where only the dying and the risen live. I want you to give me the key that opens the door.
Sing, Creator of song, to the wholeness inside which my soul is aching to bring itself forth in these orphaned days. The rain pours with relentless force, and the mind tortures itself in forests too dense to take comfort. And though I flee to the desert in a seven-year drought, I go drenched in this rain. I enter the black hole of fantasy, racked with dreams of fantastic rescue. Never have I been reckless enough to wreck my old ships in search of new lands, yet here I stand, floored by the actual. Let me seek with reckless indifference to cost the intangible treasures that can never be lost, and let me reckon now with how I will raze my towers to brave my mortality. Do not rock my landlocked body to sleep tonight until I have prayed with the urgency this daily emergency demands.
I resolved after my separation from Hope to stand at the window like a fire lookout and never to turn my back on the east. I wished to follow my own destiny the way a widow follows the arc of the sun over the course of a June morning. But it was winter; the days were short, and the sun was hidden.
I decided instead to hide, and I refused to confide to the beloved the contents of my discontented heart. It was not a wise decision, not a decision unanimously agreed upon by the internal jury. It was a split decision, an incision, if you will, that took me from the center, made a hole where there was once a spacious wholeness. What was simple became complex and convoluted, and I struggled with the words needed to greet people. I knew that most people greeted others with, ‘Hello, how are you?’ I also knew I could not do the same. It was not in my power to greet others in such a way, so I gritted my teeth and pretended I was deaf when my soul-sister asked how I’d ever bridge the chasm that separated my ignorance from her magnificence.
Once I removed myself from those who assured me the chains attached to their heels were benign, I wondered what to do. It was so much easier when I had a task, however deplorable. What could I do now that I had been commanded to be free? I asked a hunchback wearing a crown who was dragging his chains up a steep hill whether he wanted any help. He looked at me with the kind of vicious glance a king gives an escaped slave who, after being recaptured and hauled back to the castle through the mud, spits at the feet of the queen. After my offer of help was denied, I spat at my own feet, resolving to never again offer my assistance to a hunchback.
However, what I had been handed by those who had overcome their own uselessness, and were no longer hunchbacked, demanded a response. I recognized the paradox of futile effort met with unanswerable grace, yet I could not stop searching for the mirrored room without darkness, where through the blur of tears I hoped to witness the self stripped of what it wasn’t, but my weeping obscured the clarity of the possible. I heard a paralyzed voice, stuck in a dreamland of judgment, shout down that my words only added to the general absurdity. I claimed the paralyzed voice as my own and shrunk into a den where a lion was devouring its’ own tail.
Do not forget to tell them about the dance, whispered the voice of unreason, a voice I noticed rang clear and true and without distrust. Yes, of course, the dance. But how could I tell them? I would never be able to tell anyone about the dance. I could only show them. Everything that came to me from the voice of unreason told them about the dance, without my having to tell them anything.
Hold me, my invisible master turned mistress, as my trespasses hold me captive, as my addiction to silence produces its’ noisy hangover. I came to you to be held, and you did your job well, but I was not satisfied. I moaned to be held more tightly, and you told me to be silent. I did as I was told and was silent, and you told me to speak, to let everything out, withholding nothing. Nothing was all I could hold in and all I found when I looked in or out. To be without nothing was the only way to be, and my violent feeling that I existed without something essential made me question whether I really existed at all. If I was certain of anything, it was that I lacked everything. I especially lacked certainty. I did not know what I lacked. If I had known it, would I have lacked it? “Be still, and know…”
I knew enough to trust that my lying and cheating business partners would get me through the rough stretches I scheduled out on the calendar, the coming weeks in which I had allocated plenty of time to suffer from inexplicable grief. I boxed out certain hours of the day to be overcome by the urge to weep, and this I did during the prescribed periods, which came in the hour before bed and the hour after waking. During the rest of the time, I feigned an exaggerated grin, which was trusted by all but one. Because of this one’s flawless perception of my incongruous state, I trusted she was the one, and without flaws, both conclusions as false as her intuitions were true.
Be still, and know that I am not. Not all-knowing. Not always forward-moving. And not ever still. And still not—what? At ease? At one? At home? At odds with the one who is, I fizzled out in the drizzling doubt that veiled from me your kingdom. Not my kingdom. I am the veil; unveil me. Let me see my own face. I am the seeker, but how can I reach you if I remain at odds? This is no game, and there is no one to blame. Not even the one who is never still. This is no game, but that doesn’t mean there is no room to play. I play at writing, and I pray when writing. To truly play is to pray, but who of us here can play in that way?
For eleven months I have not taken a drink, he said proudly and with a strange trace of foreboding mixed with a lethal dose of malice. He heard a voice question him, ‘who has not taken a drink?’ Perplexed at this line of questioning, he said again: ‘I.’ He heard, “The ‘I’ that is afraid to die—that is the ‘I’ that has not taken a drink.” Why yes, he replied, of course. He heard nothing further.
From the Latin, abundare: to overflow;
I have never lacked the capacity to feel,
but to feel abundance itself,
to feel filled, to welcome
and accept my own lack—
this is rare.
True abundance includes lack;
the abundant one feels fully her deficiencies.
In her fullness, she does not repress her emptiness.
In her wholeness, she invites the pain of her imperfection
to be partner to her joy.
Spirit of Abundance, show me the heart so true to you
that it embraces its own lack and limitation,
the soul so full that it loves its own emptiness.
Grant me vision, Spirit of Abundance,
allow me to see you
when my nature sees lack, and lack only.
Show me the one who loves with you in her;
I will love her in her loving.
If I cannot love the seeming lack of perfect love within myself,
let me love her, the abundant one,
knowing she too experiences
the same lack that I do.
Grant me hearing, Spirit of Abundance,
let me listen for your music, music that erupts
like a fountain out of the body, overflowing
from the abundance of song in the soul.
Let the mad river of my heart stream out in dance
when I am overwhelmed by you, in me,
a dance of my emptiness and your fullness,
a rhythmic embrace of the whole.
Never am I closer to your abundance
than when I dance in time with my emptiness.
To find you there, at the center of that deep hole.
You can hear the Trumpet of Escape beckon you,
you can feel the Iceberg of Loneliness sink you,
you can suffer as the Whale of Dread swallows you whole.
You can still know abundance in the midst of it all.
Don’t ask me how. I’m no expert here.
Somehow, beauty weaves through it all,
and beauty, in truth, is always abundant.
Beauty is the tremendous weaver,
and abundance the hand with which she weaves.
“A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity – he is continually in for – and filling some other Body – The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute – the poet has none; no identity – he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God’s Creatures… not one word I ever utter can be taken for granted as an opinion growing out of my identical nature – how can it, when I have no nature?”
There is an expression I sometimes hear: ‘Can you meet my needs?’ I feel this very question is false and cannot be asked. Needs cannot be met by another. Another can only meet transient wants, desires. Others can only meet you where they are, which will leave you wanting. Needs that can be met by others are not true needs.
The single need of the solitary is to become unified in solitude, with the help of all the other solitaries of the ages.
One characteristic of the solitary, and one reason he remains alone, is because he knows how quickly he can attach to others. Do not suppose he always loves his solitude. He experiences both the joys of solitude and the pains of loneliness with greater intensity than the outward directed man. Unlike the outward directed man, who typically attaches to one person and remains with that person, a choice that alleviates loneliness as well as passion, the solitary attaches quickly and detaches just as quickly. He has had past experiences of falling for those who he felt understood him, though he could not know beyond doubt. But the solitary is without fail a deeply intuitive person in the sense that Carl Jung defined it when he wrote,
“In intuition a content presents itself whole and complete, without our being able to explain or discover how this content came into existence. Intuition is a kind of instinctive apprehension, no matter of what contents…Intuitive knowledge possesses an intrinsic certainty and conviction.”
So the solitary has felt understood intuitively, not knowing why he feels this way but knowing it is so. He also intuitively understands that the vast majority of people who he meets do not understand him, and this is why he attaches to those very few who do. However, knowing he is not yet unified and knowing he can only become so in solitude, the detachment comes not long after the attachment, and the solitary keeps within himself the one who is gone. He introjects the other, in psychological jargon.
We had a falling-out, like lovers often will
And to think of how she left that night, it still brings me a chill
And though our separation, it pierced me to the heart
She still lives inside of me, we’ve never been apart
The solitary needs to be intuitive and intellectual, emotional and physical. Only if he is balanced in these ways can he maintain his sanity while being alone. Only by being balanced can he become unified. Having a balanced array of strengths allows the solitary to stave off excessive loneliness and do the necessary work which must be done alone, the work of creation, of ecstatic vigil, of maintaining and strengthening a private love that has the unified strength of being undistorted by object, that is not lost to unloving institutions or diminished by a constant search for someone who will receive it and return it in whole. Love cannot be returned in whole because it cannot be given to another as a whole. To be kept whole it must not be revealed directly. To attempt to reveal it directly is to split it.
At the same time, there is a way of not revealing it that does not leave it whole, when the not revealing is not chosen, when the love is held in out of fear while the person desires to find an object for it. In the solitary poet, this holding in of love can exist with the desire to keep it whole. He understands that his very self, what Keats calls his unpoetical character, his lack of identity, makes a long-term love relationship where he keeps his love whole impossible. He is not nearly consistent enough, not at all certain enough in himself, far too doubtful of any possibility of happiness with another. The solitary would need to be given the opportunity to spend months at a time out of sight of the other. If this is not possible, he will probably make both his and the others’ life a misery. He will look for some way to feel in a more intense way than it’s possible to feel in a day-to-day relationship, at the expense of the relationship itself. In a life of routine where passion must necessarily be deadened in order that work can be done, the solitary feels himself deadened and can do no work, for his work is the work of passion.
The solitary is nothing if not a passionate person. One reason he remains solitary is because his passion is so deep down, so invisible to the eyes of others. The only way he can express it is through nonverbal forms, through music and dance and art. It is not possible through conversation, so he tends to be silent because he desires to be authentic more than he wants to be on good terms with superficial relations, if good terms are synonymous with inauthenticity. What are good terms? Usually terms that lack passion. Unspoken terms that everything will be out on the surface and spoken, except for the terms of course, which remain unspoken. When all is ‘open communication,’ then communication opens no doors to the unseen. Doors remain closed and people remain divided.
Even if the solitary believed in being on good terms, if he could not speak to the other of his terms — that there are things that must remain unspoken — it would not be worth his effort. For one thing, he could not help but become aware that he is going against his own essence by doing so, moving away from unification by attempting to be on good terms with other divided people. Though he does not know who he is, he knows he acts as someone he is not when he tries to be on good terms.
And the solitary draws a line here. In art, it is acceptable to speak out of character, in the voice of another real or created person, for in that case he is empathizing in a deep way with another, he is actually becoming that other — “filling some other Body”— taking the form of another for the sake of expressing a truth beyond himself. But what truth is he expressing by being someone else in everyday relationship? He is only exposing himself to the untruths necessary to be on good terms — unspoken terms of repressed passion — in society. In society, the solitary must be another, as he can only be himself when alone, though who he is remains in a constant state of change and flux. What does not change is this: Who he is only reveals itself when he is alone.
But let the solitary be careful not to create an identity out of his solitariness, for the creation of identity is the work of the social world. In creating an identity out of being solitary, the solitary will not be a solitary — in fact, he will be renouncing who he is by saying he is that — because identity and solitude are opposed. The solitary is such as he is because he lives with the tension of having no identity, of being no one to others, so he can discover who he truly is. Being ‘unpoetical,’ having no ‘unchangeable attribute,’ he writes poetry until he is what he writes and no longer needs to write himself into Being.
It is also crucial that the solitary not avoid others solely because it is with them that he feels most alone. In that way he would be like the other-directed or outer-directed man who does not want to be alone because that is when he feels most alone. Whereas the solitary feels least alone when alone, in solitude.
Either the solitary will make an identity out of his solitariness, which is actually a renunciation — though it may be meant to be a celebration — of true solitariness, or he will renounce being a solitary with the knowledge he is doing so, go against his identity-less nature to try and find some niche where he can be someone, using some talent or other he might possess and being rewarded for that talent. But that talent will only come from what solitariness remains in his compromise. There can be no compromise in the solitary. Having an identity as a part of the social world is a compromise, and compromise itself belongs to the social world. Therefore, the solitary cannot compromise. He can write as long as he does not call himself a writer. He can dance as long as he does not call himself a dancer. He can teach as long as he does not call himself a teacher.
Instead, he must aim to accept his own solitariness. One way to do this is to learn to be comfortable with his silence, to refrain from speaking unless he feels compelled from within to do so. There have been and will continue to be many times when others try to compel him to speak, or gently push him to do so. That others will feel uncomfortable with his silence cannot be denied, and whether their approach is forceful or gentle is due to their own personality and makes no real difference. It is still an effort to coerce no matter how gentle.
The solitary must maintain his silence until the words are compelled out of him from within rather than from without. Maintaining his silence will also increase the tension in him. What is in him will strive with more desperation to find its way out. Unable or unwilling to turn to relations, he will be forced to find another outlet. His creative work will begin to take on the aspects of the solitary — passionate, intense longings unable to be communicated in any other way.
My soul is broken until all souls can be bound together,
Yet each soul can remain a separate and unique manifestation.
My soul breaks when I see another broken soul.
Did I say another?
My soul breaks when I see soul, broken.
My soul will continue to break until there are no broken souls.
My soul breaks for the loneliness of the human condition,
The sense of separation we all feel from each other,
And from the truth of ourselves.
My soul breaks for and is mended during the journey we must all undergo
From separation to connection,
From apartness to closeness,
From painful loneliness to the unburdened aloneness
That we feel when we connect to and accept ourselves in our entirety,
Realizing the wholeness within that has been there all along.
My soul is not mended yet.
My soul yearns to be broken and shattered,
It yearns to be overtaken and sink under,
It yearns for years of suffering.
My soul yearns to be unbroken and whole,
It yearns to be given over and rise above,
It yearns for years of joy.
It is a soul full of desire.
It desires also not to desire,
How can the soul not desire that?
Will the soul be broken until it no longer desires to be unbroken?
Will the soul be broken until it is no longer?
Does the soul remain after it is no longer broken?
Was the soul ever unbroken?
Is the true nature of the soul unbroken and whole?
The soul is curious about itself,
It is a mystery to itself,
It is restless until it rests in itself,
It seeks until it finds itself at rest.
Will the soul ever be at rest?
Is the nature of the soul restless?
Or is the nature of the soul at rest,
And it is only restless until it finds itself?
How can the soul find itself?
The soul is curious and restless and the soul is broken.
The soul breaks when it feels the spirit of another broken soul,
The soul breaks down in weeping and fills up with joy,
The soul breaks, it yearns to be broken and to be unbroken.
The soul will continue to break until there are no broken souls.
Today we walk five physically strenuous miles in heavy brush. After dropping our packs in a remote canyon, undisturbed by any sign of human presence, we explore another half mile farther into the canyon. We come to a pool of water below stark cliffs that make for some rather difficult climbing. I decide to risk it and engage in a little primitive recreation, without ropes or harness, in order to scale the walls to the north. After doing so, I run ahead for a few minutes, dodging prickly pear and teddy bear cacti, looking for a spring expected to be another mile and a half ahead. No luck. It’s either elsewhere or farther on. I return back to my adventuring companions and jump into the pool, into the cold water.
Sunrise over the canyon walls. I awaken early and climb up a little ways to meet it. I find a rock, take my hiking boots off, and listen to the multitude of birds giving glory to the rising sun.
Glory in it, with it, and to it. Feel your smallness; feel your significance. You are small, yet you are significant, for you welcome the sun with human song while the birds welcome it with birdsong. Let the birds educate you in the primitive art of sun celebration. Let the rocks educate you in the primitive art of waiting patiently for the sun’s warmth. The plants can teach you something there as well. Let the trees teach you how to soar while staying grounded. The branches soar and the roots are grounded. “There is knowledge only the wild can give us, knowledge specific to the experience of it. These are its gifts to us,” Jack Turner writes. Some days the gift is silent and wraps up in silence whoever uncovers it. The gift this morning is the gift of song. The birds sing to celebrate the gift of the sun as I celebrate the gift of undisturbed solitude on this hill in the sun. We are brought together in celebration.
A day to glory in and give glory to. Glory to the sun in the highest. Sing, glory to the sun. Glory to this rock that I sit on and peace to all the myriad creatures on earth. Let us be reconnected and reconciled.
Morning, the last day of the trip, time unknown. The sun touches the highest point of the cliffs that stand above me as I climb up the western hillside, listening to the barely audible trickling of Kaiser Spring, now thirty yards below me. Almost all of the plants on this hill are some shade of green: palo verde, ocotillo, saguaro, prickly pear, barrel cactus. All living organisms in this green desert lean towards spring. I join this open procession, this renewal; I listen as Life sings itself to wakefulness. I continue up the hill, each step on ground I have never before stepped on. Each step restores me to a new equilibrium that I could never have found on my own; I am reintroduced to the stores of energy and power within me.
The sun is now on the cliffs directly behind me, but I am still in shadow. I hear the canyon wren below me, and other unnameable birds, birds I cannot name, around me. I am surrounded by beauty I cannot name. The birds, by serenading the unnameable, become an integral part of it. They soar beyond label. They sing and I listen. I am not only the audience. I try to translate the unnameable with the power of human symbol, try to get a loose hold of some of that beauty on paper.
I climb up to a rock where the sun shines. Sitting on the rock in the sun, I say a wordless blessing. I am blessed by the existence of a place that no human can improve. It would be arrogant of me to believe I could improve this place; the best I can do is receive its gifts, be receptive to its grace, and then let it be.
Humans attempt to improve what cannot be improved in order to prove the superiority of civilized man over wild nature. Leave all that talk of superiority and inferiority, of subordination and dependency, of administration and management, of comparison and improving—leave all that to relationships between human beings. The relationship between human beings and the wild cannot be one of comparison or of improvement. The greatest improvement in ourselves is when we cease trying to improve anyone or anything else, above all anything wild.
Instead of trying to control the outer wilderness, we should strive to understand what is wild within us, which will lead to an understanding that we cannot control anyone or anything else. The more we try to control the wild, externally or internally, or use it for our own benefit, the more out of control it becomes. What is wild is intrinsically perfect, is whole as it is: “To speak of wilderness is to speak of wholeness.” When we try and control what is whole, we split ourselves. We separate ourselves from what we cannot be separate from. To become a part of the whole we must strive for wholeness within ourselves. “The whole is made of parts,” Snyder writes, “each of which is whole.”
The wordless blessing has now found words. I bless this day where I am restored in this place that needs no restoring. This place that needs to be left how it is. It is not a blessing I give so much as it is an acceptance of the blessing I receive. The wild does not need my blessing. It is already blessed in every respect. It needs to remain that way.
I scramble farther up the cliff for another moment or two and then head back down to our campsite. Before we take our leave, the four of us linger by the clear water of Kaiser Spring. The sun slants through cottonwood and willow trees, reflects off the water dripping down from the pure spring. No one says a word. “In the beginning,” Terry Tempest Williams writes, “there were no words.”
The origin of Kaiser Spring is another quarter-mile on. We shoulder our packs and depart for the Source. The sound of the water flowing the other way alongside us is like silence.
You no longer suffer from what is lost,
You know that what you lose is not your loss.
What you lose is not a cause to suffer,
What you lose is the cause of your suffering.
Losing the cause of your suffering:
This is a divine loss.
You are no longer at a loss for words,
As you were when you longed for
The never lost and the only now heard.
You no longer fear losing yourself.
How could you lose yourself?
Who you are is not a gift you can lose.
It is not a gift you are given one year for your birthday,
A gift you put in storage for a later time;
It is not a gift you misplace
And spend the rest of your lifetime searching for.
The time of your life is not Life’s time.
All the time you do not have is the time of Life.
All the time you do not have I do not have either.
All the time, weren’t you searching for
What is not mine and what is not yours?
You no longer suffer from what is lost,
You know that what you lose is not your loss.
You have lost nothing but the feeling that you are lost,
And the belief that you have something you can lose.
Now you take from all and no one feels taken from,
You give to all and no one feels in your debt.
What you have you don’t worry about losing,
What you lose you don’t worry about regaining.
What do you have?
What have you lost?
What do you lack now?
You thought in losing you would suffer more,
But what you’ve lost is not a cause to suffer.
What you’ve lost is the cause of your suffering.
Losing the cause of your suffering:
This is a divine loss.