Not Doing the Work   Leave a comment

Because sometimes, especially this time of year as we approach the Solstice, an animal lethargy creeps in and “what matters most” means eating and sleeping. You should be hibernating, whispers Oldest Brain. And I long to listen.

Not doing the work is familiar by now. And all around us flash examples too numerous to count. Headlines and posts and memes and Facebook feeds, what’s trending, and even our friends may not offer what we need. Or indeed be working actively against it. Peep at a partner and they’re no help either, most likely because they’re in the thick of their own version. Or will be soon enough. (Sometimes it’s the height of respect simply not to dump my load onto my wife’s.) To lift a few lines from Rilke for my purposes,

Often a star was waiting for you to notice it.
A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past,

or as you walked under an open window, a violin yielded itself to your hearing.
All this was mission. But could you accomplish it?

Look, if we want an easy Bard, then we need to tune to another channel. Rilke isn’t it.

Sometimes it’s not even clear what he’s naming for himself, for us by proxy, though we may feel it in our marrow. Possibility slips by and sleep calls, that easy drowse-and-wait. Sometimes, true enough, sleep is good strategy. Only you and you and I and she and he and they can tell, each by ourselves, if such a strategy fits right now, peering between a dream and a nightmare and the choices seen and unseen that keep tickling our skin and our blood.

For it seems that everything hides us.
Look: trees do exist; the houses that we live in still stand.
We alone fly past all things, as fugitive as the wind.
And all things conspire to keep silent about us, half out of shame perhaps, half as unutterable hope.

If we’re hidden, what luck finding anything else, or anything else finding us?! Especially what we feel we need most — that’s the most fugitive thing of the whole lot. I’m standing here looking and listening for a sign, but it turns out I’m it, tagged by the universe, which runs away — it wants to play — while I’ve got all this serious sh*t to deal with! If there’s a conspiracy, it’s a cosmic one, with shame and hope for fuel, a secret formula we’ve paradoxically always known.

So we take December mindsets like these with us as we go, turning them over to see where the light leaked out of what looked so very promising last week, or a month or year or decade ago.

Have I named it yet, this mood? Pause a moment and toss your own contribution onto the heap. Plenty of room.

Food-scraps-compost-640x360

There’s nothing wrong with composting these things, though we can often feel ashamed of all the brown leaves and earthy smells. It’s the right season for it. Rot and spoilage and scraps, odds and ends of the year all go in, and earth begins its long work over again, and transmutes it. Serious sh*t and funny stuff, dead skin and ideas, fingernails and ashes and brown lettuce leaves and apple-cores and the last squash that never grew once the days turned cold. That deformed pumpkin from the front steps, mummified relic of Halloween, and the remarkable sludge from the back of the vegetable drawer in the fridge. Fling in those irritations and annoyances and petty snarks. Spites and attitudes all go in, rattling as they hit the sides and bounce around against the Cave of Souls and disappear deeper down its gullet. We see that yawning mouth of darkness that terrifies us, even if only a little or for an instant, then realize we were just standing too close to the mirror and caught a glimpse of ourselves up close. So we do the work anyway, just as it does us without our permission. Because to be alive at all, we’re in it.

It’s good to take these things out and air them, get them the turning and churning and the even exposure they need, basting them in earth, so they transmute all the more readily. Everyone’s got them. Think of them as the scraps at the end of the craft session, husks and shells and scurf and skin, bone and gristle dropped into the sink after the holiday dinner’s done and guests gone, before the grand cleanup begins. Shards left over after creation’s finished. What gets swept up from the garage and basement floor. What the kids tracked in from outdoors, the carcass the dog dragged around the yard and left near the mailbox, the small furred or feathered corpse that the cat so thoughtfully dropped on the doormat. We’re always putting a foot in it.

So we squawk and shrink and blanch at these things, disowning them if we could, turning away, dismayed the universe sends such awkwardness our way. Among difficult gifts, the mind of winter ranks pretty high, because it’s pretty (not pretty at all) rank. Overripe, expired, corrupt, foul, putrid, excremental, cadaverous in its open decay.

“This too is mission”. And I can achieve it. I grasp the shame by its least offensive corner,  or shove my arm in up to the elbow and shuffle it along, helping it slither and slide into its next moment. And I might catch the eye of someone else doing the same. We nod stiffly at each other, almost imperceptibly. Earth blesses it, blesses us, accepting nothing short of all.

And I sigh and begin again, making room for that second part, unutterable hope. Which, as all Bards do, I keep trying to put into words.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Image: Compost.

 

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