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Easing the Journey Through Shadow & Light

  • Dawn

Come to the edge...and...

No anti-anxiety tool this week but here's the link to the Index of all toolkits. And The Mini-Toolkit: For Those with Little or No Time.

There's a poem you have likely seen at some point in your life. Often attributed to Guillaume Apollinaire, it was dedicated to him, but actually written by English poet Christopher Logue.

Come to the edge.

We might fall.

Come to the edge.

It's too high!

Come to the edge!

And they came,

and he pushed,

And they flew.

This can be very inspiring, and so it is used on graduation cards and the like. But in my opinion it is not always the right approach.

Here's a story that might help explain why I feel that way.

Once upon a time there was a young woman who, unbeknownst to herself and others, had a good-sized clutch of something…something dark and difficult but hidden, in an almost inaccessible cavern of her soul.

Not being aware of this place, she didn’t understand why she seemed to have difficulty getting around in her life, almost as if she had only one leg, or as if neither of her legs worked very well. But when she (or anyone else) looked down she could see two whole and operable lower limbs. "What is wrong with me?" she would ask.

She lived her life with some semblance of normalcy, but was often afraid that people would see and disparage her apparently causeless struggles.

Then one day she spent some time with a pair of healers, compassionate women who knew how to recognize inner modes by paying attention to postures, facial expressions, breathing and other bodily signs. "Oh," said one of the women, near the end of their time together. "I think I am seeing...yes, I think there is terror here." The other healer nodded, putting a gentle hand on the young woman's head. "Yes, I agree," she said. "At least now we know."

No one could discern the roots of that terror. It was strangely elusive, perhaps from a time or place where there were no words. But naming it, and knowing that at least two others knew it was there, allowed the young woman to be more patient and compassionate with herself. It did not, however, go away.

But neither did it express itself very openly. In fact she was rarely conscious of it until she sat still and allowed deep quiet, but even then only sometimes.

Other parts of her were ashamed of the terror and her lack of ability to face it. "There's no reason for these feelings, you wimp," they said, taunting her. "Why are you such a chicken? Just face these fears. Just fly, you weakling! Why can’t you fly?”

None of these pleasant urgings did any good whatsoever. The terror may have been wordless and cloaked, but it was very strong. And apparently fully convinced that it could not--must not--be revealed or probed.

So the woman continued to live in that double bind of a clandestine terror that needed light, but one that vehemently denied exploration. And always she felt shame that she couldn't "just face those fears."

One day during a quiet time, the dark cavern appeared once more. "I must face it,” thought the woman. “I must!” But as always, the panic and terror clutched in her throat.

But then...

A tiny bit of awareness crept in—the smallest seed of understanding of what might have been going on, for years.

"When I begin to sense this bottomless pit, do I think I'm supposed to throw myself into it? Is that why I'm so afraid? Because I fear I would surely die if I did?

"Maybe…maybe I can just sit here, back a little from the edge, and not throw myself in? What if...oh, what an idea!...what if that chasm within is a little like the Grand Canyon? Deep and mysterious and awe inspiring? What if it is not a choice between leaping into a bottomless hole or a leading shamefully shackled life?

"If I stood near the edge of the actual Grand Canyon I might be afraid I would fall in. But I wouldn't think I was supposed to leap into it, would I? No! I would be in awe, overcome by its ancient beauty and immensity.

"Ah,” she said. “What if, back behind the edge of some lovely and perilous canyon, a mountain lion cub was born? The cub wouldn't even venture outside the den for weeks, and then only under the supervision of its mother.

"And if the cub managed to stumble near the edge, her mother would carry her back home. Only as the cub grew older could she venture near the edge with any modicum of safety. And learn to navigate the intensity and beauty of her true home. And until she was grown, under the guidance of the mother.

"I may never know the roots of my terror,” said the woman. “But I don't need to leap. I can simply live here, discovering depth and power and beauty."

In light of all this I offer a revised version of Logue's poem. Not nearly as elegant, but with more compassion for those of us who have places of terror in our souls.

Is there an edge?

Stay away. You might fall.

I have to go over the edge!

No! The edge is

for looking,

not leaping.

I need to go the edge!

I will show you the way.

And she did.

And I looked.

It was stunning

and ancient

and fierce.

I found as I grew

I learned ways

to descend.

And return,

even stronger.

Come to the edge!

When you are ready.

Until next time,


Photo credits:

Shadow child (cropped), Oleksandr Koval, unSplash

Hands on, Rosie Sun, unSplash

Grand Canyon, Jason Thompson, unSplash

Mountain lions, Joseph Os, Getty Images

In the canyon, Martin Parmantier, unSplash

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