Words of WonderWhat Else – Carolyn Locke

the way even the late-blooming aster
succumbs to the power of frost—

this is not a new story.
Still, on this morning, the hollowness
of the season startles, filling
the rooms of your house, filling the world
with impossible light, improbable hope.

And so, what else can you do
but let yourself be broken
and emptied? What else is there
but waiting in the autumn sun?

by Carolyn Locke

A curious poem, this one, full of contrasts and contradictions, and to me perfectly matched in mood by the picture recently taken on Holy Isle by Tom Jordan. The ‘hollowness’ of the season ‘filling’ the rooms of your house, and ‘filling the world’. And yet this hollowness, which has a melancholic or even painful connotation for me, is said to offer ‘impossible light’, and ‘improbable hope’… how come? And the poet even suggest we join this hollowness by letting ourselves ‘be broken and emptied’, and connect this with ‘waiting in the autumn sun’…

As I sit here today under the grey November skies, it somehow makes sense, and I feel the invitation of the season to let go rather than try to bolster myself into holding it all together. It reminds me of Leonard Cohen singing in his own inimitable melancholic way that “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.

There are others who recommend letting ourselves be broken, rather than letting the heart hide behind hardening walls that are meant to keep us safe from hurting. Joanna Macy, the Buddhist scholar and environmental activist who we draw on a lot in the Engaged Mindfulness course, dares us to “walk boldly through your life with an open, broken heart”. For it is through that openness that we discover the treasures, the poignancy and love of being alive in this continuously changing world.

So we can allow ourselves to be a compassionate mess, no longer arguing with the reality we find and insisting we should be different. And what a relief it is to soften into the movements of life ‘the way the trees empty themselves of leaves’. Breathe in, and out……..

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash


  1. This has been a difficult week, so allowing myself to be ‘a compassionate mess’ and allow myself be be broken has also given me permission for time for healing and self love both on a physical level and an emotional level. I have been working with pain from both of these aspects, allowing the layers to fall away like leaves fall from the tree in autumn and so have come to a much more peaceful place of acceptance.

    I also love your reference to Cohen, “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” and I am reminded of the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold – kintsukuroi … maybe mindfulness is a way of using the golden light of acceptance and compassion to mend our broken selves… thank you for sharing your beautiful poems and words of illumination

  2. Lovely to hear how this landed with you Kathryn, and glad to hear you have refound a more peaceful place of acceptance. And yes, I love the symbolism and beauty of kintsukuroi! I hadn’t thought of it as a metaphor for mindfulness but I like the imagery of it… Go well, kristine x

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