The sudden sting of tears, unbidden. Grief leaking out along the edges of a prepared lid, supposedly clamped shut.
I have been surprised by joy often. Lately, it is surprising to find myself awakening to deep melancholy. I am not used to this. I think of myself as an optimist.
But I know that I live in a very protected world of my own design. I am educating myself intentionally. I am letting go of delusions.
“Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world…”
― Thich Nhat Hahn
This morning, I awoke with a visceral feeling of sadness, of uncertainty, of betrayal and abandonment. I imagine it’s a response to the images and knowledge I’m absorbing through news media and films.
When emotions arise powerfully in me, I am taken by surprise. I was raised to regulate them with logic and religious faith. I have now learned to tolerate looking closely at them.
My housemate found a poem for me that helped me put the feeling into words. It is “Dover Beach”, by Matthew Arnold.
The sea is calm tonight.The tide is full, the moon lies fairUpon the straits; on the French coast the lightGleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!Only, from the long line of sprayWhere the sea meets the moon-blanched land,Listen! you hear the grating roarOf pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,At their return, up the high strand,Begin, and cease, and then again begin,With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.Sophocles long agoHeard it on the Ægean, and it broughtInto his mind the turbid ebb and flowOf human misery; weFind also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.The Sea of FaithWas once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shoreLay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.But now I only hearIts melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,Retreating, to the breathOf the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.Ah, love, let us be trueTo one another! for the world, which seemsTo lie before us like a land of dreams,So various, so beautiful, so new,Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;And we are here as on a darkling plainSwept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,Where ignorant armies clash by night.
“…Find ways to be with those who are suffering by all means, including personal contact and visits, images, sounds. By such means, …awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world. If we get in touch with the suffering of the world, and are moved by that suffering, we may come forward to help the people who are suffering.”
― Thich Nhat Hahn
Perhaps surprise is simply the evidence that we live in a state of unknowing. We delude ourselves in order to shelter for a time in the idea that we are in control and can predict events and outcomes. The “cosmic 2x4s” of life will whack us upside the head from time to time and wake us up. It can be painful, surely. And it is beneficial as well. Once awake, we can acknowledge reality with greater perception and take actions that will be more specific and appropriate.
“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.” ―