Recently, my daily routine has been thrown off by the usual exigencies of life: illness, weddings, fleas.
Instead of getting an early start, walking the dog and meditating in the cool of the morning, I seem to be rushing out of the house, leaving things undone—laundry, bills, insurance claims—myriad small things that add up to a crushing sense of playing catch up all the time. I make lists: get labs done, make vet appointment, pack Adam’s clothes, Jiffy Lube. On the car radio, I hear of war and rumors of war, of conflicts whose intricacies I cannot hope to understand, and I have the sinking feeling of a widening disaster to which I’m somehow unwittingly a party. So much information to take in, to process. My email is an overflowing disaster, as are the notices falling to the floor from my desk. I seem to work unceasingly, yet have little to show for it.
I want more than anything to create order, simplicity and meaning. I long to lose myself in the garden, where I can drop down into a river of being, my arms, hands, eyes working without thinking, my skin caressed by breezes, my ears filled with the soft rustle of the bamboo, the mourning dove’s call. Yet I let everything else come first, and so I end up frazzled and depleted. I haven’t solved the world’s problems or even my own.
Recently, I came across an article by Jerome S. Bernstein which looked at Native American, in particular, Navajo, understandings of healing. For the Navajo, illness is a symptom of lack of balance or harmony in an individual or in a community. The Navajo believe that it is up to humans “to restore harmony when energies are out of balance.” According to Bernstein, a medicine man he worked with put it this way, “Balancing the individual balances the world.”
The poet Adam Zagajewski in his wonderful poem, “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” speaks to the tension of acknowledging the world’s brokenness and ruin, while also offering a way to restore a sense of harmony by remembering beauty:
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
Further into the poem, he suggests
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
I suppose that we rarely manage to find perfect balance in our lives, but the poet suggests that by both experiencing nature, beauty, and love and then by remembering those experiences, we can balance the ugliness of much of life. What I really love about this poem is that Mr. Zagajewski doesn’t ask us to pretend that life is other than it is. His is the mind that can tolerate paradox and live between the tension of the two.
In order to remember beauty, we have to partake of it. So I’m going to try to make time for my garden, and for music, even if my to do list grows longer. Maybe if I can restore my own balance, I can add to the harmony of the world. It’s a nice thought.