(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 water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

by Lucille Clifton

 

A poignant well-wishing, this poem. I like it’s water-like rhythm, the intimacy with the elements and the invitation to trust the bigger forces around us. How does it feel to live ‘certain that [the wind] will love your back’? As a cyclist and a sailor, the image of the wind in my back is a powerful one!

But it’s especially the last line that visits me regularly in moments of difficulty as a spontaneous kind wish to myself: ‘may I sail through this to that’. And it’s not just a wish for something better/easier/nicer than ‘this’ that I’m wishing for (though I admit that can certainly be in the mix!), but it’s the image of ‘sailing through this’ that moves me.

The poem doesn’t speak of ‘struggling through this to that’ or even ‘working’, but sailing. Such a contrast with the sweat and blisters of rowing or canoeing, the borrowed loudness of motor boats – there is something so elegant and almost effortless in the sailing: the harnessing of the power of the storm which tilts the boat and glides it forwards, and without any engine, the only sounds are the rushing of water and the whistling of air.

And even in the midst of a difficult passage, I know I need to go through  this. My little boy Finbar has learned this wisdom from the Bear Hunt song: “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, oh no, we’ve got to go through it!” Moving through this is where the richness of the learning takes place, where the distress tolerance grows that Paul Gilbert speak of as one of the compassionate attributes, where I practice staying with the discomfort and allowing it, moment by moment.

And inevitably, things chance from this to that. The blessing of impermanence, some equanimity can start to grow when remembering this bigger perspective. ‘Just keep going. No feeling is final’ says Rilke. Before we know it, we can sail in our innocence through this, to that.

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