I’ve lately been revisiting David Whyte’s work, including one of his audiobooks titled What to Remember When Waking. He suggests having faith in things falling away.
It caught my attention because usually we speak of faith in what we judge to be positive: Courage, kindness and the sun coming out tomorrow. Having faith in the shadow side of life suggests a deeper wisdom.
This coincides with my current personal focus on shame, which I discover (to my chagrin and sorrow) is a burden I carry every day and can’t remember being without. I knew it was there, in the roots of me, but generally speaking I try to hide it and look the other way. I’ve never had any idea how to eliminate it or transform it into something less painful and more effective, so it’s become firmly and almost invisibly established.
Whyte, a magnificent poet, prompted me to think differently about feelings and experiences we typically cast as negatives and try to avoid, ignore, hide or minimize. Have faith in things falling away.
Leaves in autumn, innocence, comets, people, memories, time, feelings, others beloved by us, and our own lives. Flowers drop their petals. Snakes shed their skins. Seconds and years fall away, one by one. The sea ebbs from the land and then returns. What we can see of the moon wanes and falls away to nothing before it waxes once more. A fertile woman watches each month’s possibility of new life fall away when she is not pregnant. The dark falls away before the light, and the light before the dark. Cell by cell, lash by lash, hair by hair, our bodies fall away during our lifetimes.
Sometimes we fall away from others, or tear ourselves away from jobs, relationships or places.
Some things we are glad to let go and leave behind us. Other losses are so terrible we feel permanently maimed.
Then there are things like shame that are forced upon us by others, that cripple our joy and our ability to love ourselves. We long to be free of such burdens, to let them fall away, but we don’t know how to do it. Even if we find a way to loosen their grip upon us, we are sometimes unwilling to cast them completely aside, because then we would become strangers to ourselves, strangers in our own lives, and we fear that change more than our familiar suffering.
Faith in things falling away. Trust and confidence, in other words, in both loss (things we don’t want to lose) and relief (things we do want to shed).
Could it be that the way through shame, longing, fear, anguish and the like is to turn toward it, embrace it, kiss it on the mouth? Is that what must happen before it can fall away? I wonder.
Can we trust in the approaching storm as much as we trust in the sun coming out tomorrow? Can we trust in the unraveling, the fraying, the slow decline, the darkest shadows of our hearts and actions, as well as healing, vigorous new life, and our kindness and compassion?
I suppose what I’m really asking is if we can trust in all of our experience and feeling, whether comfortable or agonizing, in any given moment. Can we trust in change and suspend our judgement about whether it’s good or bad? If our world is burning around us and everything we know or have is falling away to ash, can we have faith in the purification of that terrible loss?
Taking it further, am I willing to have faith in my own frustration, anguish, scars and shame? Am I willing to explore these things, talk with them, allow them to teach me, even love them, and then let them go or transform? Do I possess the courage to let an outdated version of myself fall away while I enlarge my soul?
Inevitably, inexorably, things change and fall away. As human beings, how do we choose to live with that fact? Faith or resistance?
Tonight I will sleep with my worries through dreams dark with soil
and the heaving cataclysm of the spade
turning earth round me
not speaking of air
or light fused with greenness
but of darkness
and the first leaves
like hands in prayer
clasped inside the seed.
— David Whyte, “Inside”
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