Last week was really busy and kind of brutal on my body and schedule and my housekeeping (honestly, by the weekend it looked like a tornado had hit this place, kind of gruesome–fortunately I’m capable of looking away from stove crumbs). So if I’m behind on replying to your poem or email, I’m sorry. The to-do list I made Saturday took two sides of the page.
But there was also a lot of brightness. I met a lot of beautiful people who I may never share physical space with again (but are maybe here reading), and whose grace buoyed me through the next thing and the next thing after that. I ended my two day tour eating lunch beside the ocean while having the most incredible conversation about (among other things) form poetry and happiness and fulfillment, what it means to be on a path that makes sense and to feel personally sated in a broken world. My life is better than it’s ever been/I don’t get everything I want.*
Some time ago, I conversation-stumbled on a measure of happiness that really made sense to me: happiness is the ability to feel genuinely happy for other people’s successes. The more fulfilled I am, the more certain I am of my own path, the happier I am for others. But when I feel askew, I tend to feel a little jealous. That can actually be how I notice when I need to take a step back and reevaluate how I’m spending my energy. A few months ago a colleague told me about a book he read–shit, I wish I remembered what the title of the book was–that contained the idea that to find deep joy, one should regularly wish happiness on others, consciously. It is love in practice. So perhaps it can work in the other direction: to start wishing for others’ happiness in order to feel more complete.
For some years, I have been in the practice of imagining people as their child selves in order to increase my compassion for/understanding of them, which I think originates from the point in Jimmy Santiago Baca’s A Place to Stand where he encounters this capacity in himself while choosing whether or not to engage in a violent confrontation while in prison. He sees the baby inside a man, and is both no longer afraid of him and no longer willing to inflict violence upon him. But I really liked the idea of wishing happiness on others–it’s hopeful. Just looking intently at someone and thinking, “I wish you happiness.” And doing it really makes me feel expanded.
If it sounds hokey to you, so what? Do it anyway. It’s not like it’ll cost you anything. I won’t even know you’ve done it, and you needn’t confess. It can be between you and your not-as-cold-as-you think-it-is heart.
Our poem this week is by Lucille Clifton, a blessing to get us started. Eboni Bugg, the Program Director of The Women’s Initiative in Charlottesville (and one of the most graceful people I’ve encountered), read it at the “Challenge into Change” ceremony in Charlottesville. It is perfect. I think we’ll be closing all of our groups with it this week.
April is National Poetry Month–it’s nearly time for the 30/30 challenge. 30 poems in 30 days. These six sensory memory notes will count as your first few poems until I post next week with further instructions. I wish you love returned and the certainty to move towards what makes you better, what pushes and expands you, even when it’s scary.
blessing the boats
(at St. Mary’s)may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to waterwater waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that
Last week I assigned my Tuesday writers (and myself) the task of writing down six sensory memories each day–we’ve done this before. I want to ask you all to do the same, but make sure that each day at least one of them is about witnessing someone else. Try to include some strangers/near strangers (or even enemies), some people you are looking at from afar, whose happiness has little or no impact on your own.
*what I really want is to receive in my NYT feed the headline: “Crisis Averted: Earth’s Oceans Restored”