Light a flame somewhere, anywhere.
I have something to tell you.
From now on you belong.
Are you surprised at this?
Feel it, feel into it.
Not just to your family and your friends,
But to all of your ancestors, everyone who ever lived before you.
All who are within you, who made you, whose rhythm is your rhythm, whose mysterious combinations, unique alchemies, all conspired to make you, you.
How precious, that belonging. How rich and rare and true.
Here at last, the art.
Here at last, you.
And you belong to this land.
Wherever you are, exactly.
This land where you walk now, it longs for you to know its name. The names of its curves and veins, its rocks and depths, the names people gave it, and the people before them, but don’t stop there. There are names and names and names before people, before places, before time could understand time…the world trembles for you to know this. The trees, the plants, the animals, the earthworms, the waters, droplet and river, rain and stream, the winds, the difference between dawn and dusk. They want you to know, they say all you must do is pay attention, it is not easy, though the names of things are easy. They are simple names that contain infinite wealth.
And why can’t you know this? You are no less than any before you. Your heart carries their grief, your senses hold the possibility of joy. For once, no matter who you are, what race, what color, what creed, what gender, what line, once in your lineage was an ancestor who lived with the land, maybe even this land, but if not this land, another. That ancestor was not separate, was not alone. (When you have a moment, thank your ancestor, the one who knew all of the names, the songs, the stories of a land. In your cells, in the marrow of your bones, in the infinite cycles of air and water, maybe you can meet that ancestor and ask them to introduce you to the land. Ask them to teach you the names.)
Here is an exercise: when you feel sad or anxious, when you feel angry or dejected or ugly or broke or inadequate, walk in the world. Throw your phone away. Lock your computer. Resist the urge to watch TV, to go to the store and buy something. Resist the urge to medicate with the trappings of modernity, with the very essence of your separateness. Abandon your house, your job, your car and walk in a place without people. Tell your sorrows to the stones, pull hair from your head, lint from your pockets, that half a sandwich you were too heart sore to eat, place your offering on the earth with your tears. Then walk and listen, watch and wait. Sometimes one day is not enough, sometimes you must return again and again, but then a hawk will fly circles and you will read in the ellipses a song. Then you will know you have had a place here all along.
The price of contentment is devotion.
The world wants you. Yes. It needs, you, it loves you. Each cell of the web that is the earth, the universe, wishes for you. And because of the love of the world, because you are part of this belonging, this beauty, you must begin your work. The work of your heart. The work of art.
Begin it every day, new. Don’t make your beginning based on money, on things, on the fear that saturates each step outside the norm. Continue to walk, place the offering, return home and begin to let the world speak through you. Remember, you are the offering, your life is the gift, you have a gift. Many gifts, and your work is to share them. This is everyone’s work. To allow their gift, to share them.
Tending your gift is, of course, not the only work. There is the work of bread. The work of sustenance and satisfaction and winter stores and planting seeds, the work of new garden plants by the window and house tending and kin work and child rearing. And this work will run you if you let it, will eclipse your longings will obscure your gift. You will start with the litany, “I don’t have time,” which becomes the excuse. This is why you must begin every day with honoring the art first.
Remember, you are part of everything. Don’t worry, don’t judge, don’t think about how others see what you create. Let it take you. Let the world take you. This life might be the only one, you may one day whisper into the empty ears of your descendants, you may shine out into a soulless depth, you may beyond this life slip into a gentleness like the light of every star, so far away nothing can touch you, nothing can burn. But here is the secret hope: before this life ends, you become in the making of whatever you can make—art, books, music, poetry, embroidery, wood bowls, carvings, gardens, sculptures, food—the world.
You already are. You are the world, you are the tiniest mosses on the stones, you are the heaving molten core, you are the imperfectly perfect between that is paradox, a desiccated ancient corpse, a newborn infant blindly seeking warmth. You are an infinite expression. You have only to open yourself, and let the world move.
(The title of this piece comes from Wendell Berry’s poem How to be a poet (to remind myself), it first appeared in The Jefferson Monthly magazine January 2015 edition.)