Words of WonderTo the New Year - W.S. Merwin

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

by W.S. Merwin


I’ve been saving this one for precisely this moment: the first week of the New Year (and I’m glad I haven’t forgotten it, as happened with other month-related poems that now have to hope I’ll still be posting poems when that month comes around again). The delicate and poignant mood speaks to me, the question of what exists if it’s not witnessed, and that tender flower called hope…

I think hope (and intentions, aims, goals) is a curious thing in the context of mindfulness. Most people I know (myself included) start meditating with the hope to become – in one way or another – a better version of themselves. More enlightened and accepting, less stressed, more present/focused/alive, less irritated and distracted. Fair enough, for why would you do anything unless you have hope of a good outcome? And then we start each session reflection on intention and motivation: what you’re aiming for and why.

I vividly remember Rob Nairn, midway during a four week silent retreat in the hot month of February in South Africa  when I was fairly new to meditation, saying during a guided meditation: “There’s nothing to accomplish, nothing to achieve, and nothing you can possibly fail at.” And I remember how angry I felt. What do you mean, nothing to achieve!? I’m sitting here, dripping with sweat, trying not to get lost in fantasies about the hot guy sitting two places in front of me, bored and irritated but trying so very hard to be a good meditator and staying with the breath in a calm and equilibrious way, and you’re telling me there’s nothing to achieve and I can’t get this wrong!? Are you joking?? And if not, why am I trying so very hard getting nowhere?

“Abandon all hope of fruition” is a well known lojong phrase. And I guess that’s exactly it, giving up the striving for results can lead to the sweet resting that has always been ready to welcome with open arms – as soon as we stop trying. As soon as we stop hoping to become ‘better’, space opens up for seeing what’s already here and “everything happens by itself” as Lama Gendun says.

So at the beginning of practice, we’re cherishing that sense of what’s possible – our deepest potential – and again and again aim to meet whatever arises with kindness by abandoning all hope of things being different.

and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

May the New Year bring that

Photo by Vivek Doshi on Unsplash


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