Recently, I was inspired to emphasize the importance of opening the door into the light before it is too late.
If the word “light” rubs you the wrong way, or reminds you of some pseudo-spiritual garbage, perhaps it is better to think of it, more simply, in terms of freedom.
An Indian ma I stayed with in Rishikesh once told me a story that has continued to stick with me. I think it’ll provide you with a good idea of where the inspiration for this poem came from.
Shaking her hands and bobbing her head in the traditional Indian way, she began: “Preston, a businessman was once shown the stairway to heaven. Upon hearing this, an incredible amount of energy surged through him, and without thinking twice, he dropped his briefcase and walked up the stairs. But when he reached the top, when he saw the ‘awe-full’ light shooting through the clouds and crawling up his skin, he looked back. Eventually, after a considerable amount of deliberation, he decided to walk back down the stairs.”
I was on the edge of my seat at this time, caffeinated on too many cups of chai.
I looked Ma in the eyes.
“Why did he turn away from the light?” I asked.
“Because it annihilates us…more than the darkness,” she said.
We ignore the light, even when it is laid out in front of us and crawling up our skin. Why? Because the light is not here to coddle you. It is here to destroy every false idea and concept you ever had about yourself. And something within you knows that. But something within you also knows that facing the light is the right thing to do.
That is why the poem starts off with a question: “If we don’t look and see, what remains?” This question is intended to shake you up a bit and put you in a vulnerable place, remind you of all the times you ignored the light when it showed up to liberate you.
What we need to look at and see is nothing but the light—our true, unconditioned Self. Throughout our lives, so many opportunities present themselves so that we can get a clear glimpse of it; so many doors open for us to surrender to a higher call.
But the door, as Adrienne Rich said, is just a door. It makes no promises.
We have to muster up the courage to go through, otherwise what remains are “the vestiges of what has not been looked at, the unseen, dormant, and deeply breathing, a body lived in opposition of a force that wanted to come through, now cold in the ground…”
Read this slowly, please.
If we don’t look and see, what remains?
The vestiges of what has not been looked at,
the unseen, dormant, and deeply breathing.
A body lived in opposition of a force
that wanted to come through,
now cold in the ground because
it did not allow wind to birth a hurricane,
because it did not allow the immense
feeling to lift you up above the
ground, and then underground,
so that heaven and earth may
celebrate as rain and root, as
mountain and cloud, as angel and warrior,
as spirit and soul. It was there, in gaps
and instances, begging for your
defeat. It was there, in tears and books
of victory that tasted like something
real, like something had shifted.
It was there, when no one was looking,
screaming secretly into the opportune
spaces, waiting to craft a body of art
unique to an all-encompassing sky.
But you weren’t paying attention.
Now, after this, after reading
these words, where will you run?
From whom will you hide away from?