January with Jane 16- A Cottony Fate

Long ago, someone

told me: avoid or

It troubles the mind

as a held out piece of meat disturbs a dog

Now I too am sixty

There was no other life.

There is no other path than the one we have taken. Looking back, the path we have trod is no longer there. It has vanished! So, there is no retracing our steps, going back, starting over. For even if we turn back, the self that turns back is not the same self, and so the path will be different than the one the old self took.

That’s not to say there isn’t ‘beginners mind’, or ‘begin again’. Each day, each moment we are given that humble grace. It’s just that we are not at all going back when we begin again. As yesterday’s poem instructed so eloquently, we are made new in each moment, with each interaction, each breath.

There is only the next step, unknown until we step forward into it, for there is also no path ahead but the one that we make with each footfall, which will also disappear as soon as we take it.

The idea that each moment in our lives has not led us to the place where we are today, and that the place where we are today would not at all be the same if we hadn’t followed whatever path led us to this place, is to refuse growth. The yearning to go back, with regret, is to refuse to Love what is now, to be blind to who you are because of the path you have trod.

We live in a culture of choice overload. I once heard a social scientist state that the optimal number of choices for human well-being turns out to be 3. More than that and we are paralyzed or cannot committ (will willy nilly jump ship onto another nearby in that sea of choice if the choice doesn’t turn out the way we supposed) or conversely are filled with regret for the choice (now believed to be a better one) not taken. Any less than 3 and we feel powerless, without self-agency or individual expression.

Perhaps that’s why we live life in 3 stages. At least that’s how some pardigms imagine a human journey. Maiden-mother-crone, for instance. In each stage we get to begin again, reinvent, perhaps…. and yet , and yet still, all that has come before is a part of us. We cannot erase it, the path is no longer there to rewind. We may become as a child again, but with the wisdom of the crone.

I’ve spoken of this here before, but I share again, because it fits. I was haunted for years by the oft-quoted and beloved line from Mary Oliver’s poem, Summer Day. You know the one, “Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life” during one of those transitions— from Mother to Crone for me. As a very young mother, I’d fully poured myself into being the best mother I could be and I truly inhabited that role with passion and Love, and yet I also fully believed that my true self was waiting in the wings for her turn to be who she was meant to be. Foolish errand that search for self, outside of my life as it was lived, turned out to be. As if Who I was, was anything other than Who i had been!

There was no other life.

Besides, if you look closely at the preceding lines to Mary Oliver’s poem, you will see that what she is granting herself (and the reader) permission to Be is In Love with Life— for her, that means watching a grasshopper move its jaws back and forth.

In the end I let go those foolish ways, laughing lovingly at myself as I did so, as if waking from a silly dream. My life, and the path that led me to this place today, has been exactly as it should be. Warts and disappointments, losses and traumas, failures and detours, missed opportunities and abandoned possibilities, chaos and deep sorrow included. And it has grown my soul deep and wide, like a fountain flowing, just as promised when i was a little girl.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. kidfriendlyyoga
    Jan 18, 2022 @ 20:31:19

    Your words, “The yearning to go back, with regret, is to refuse to Love what is now, to be blind to who you are because of the path you have trod.” Love these words of yours, Vicki!



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