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Easing the Journey Through Shadow & Light

  • Dawn

The Ocean of Longing

Somewhere along the way I picked up a fragment of a quotation, which I see from my file of quotes, is attributed to Irish-British-American poet David Whyte:

"...robust action masquerading as right action."

I haven't been able to track down the source of this quote, or even if it is actually from Whyte. But I find it very helpful. Because I often blame, even berate, myself for not acting more robustly or boldly. This quote is a great reminder: just because someone does something with vigor or self-confidence does not necessarily mean it is the wisest action at the time--for that person, for others around them, or for the vast jigsaw puzzle of our world.

How to know if something I am doing or thinking of doing is "right action"? I really don't know. I wish I did. Except to say that sometimes sitting with a possibility before I leap can be wise. Another possible marker of something that is well seated is what author Elizabeth Elliot described as "a slow and certain light." Which speaks for itself.

This is kin to what a Tibetan Buddhist sage once taught me about the rule of three. If something--an idea, an insight, an action--comes up in your mind or returns three times, with a true letting go in between, then probably it is not just about your ego or your isolated ideas, but might in fact stem from or lead to right action. This is especially true when that idea, insight or action is about, or might affect, another person or persons. In other words--wait! Slow down.

Leaping is fine sometimes. But our world proceeds at such a crazy pace, with very little space or time for reflection. So, pausing to ask the question, "Is this right? Or is it simply intensity masquerading as right?" can be an important counter-cultural mode to adopt, at least some of the time.

David Whyte's poem, "Song for the Salmon" offers more light.

Song for the Salmon

For too many days now I have not written of the sea, nor the rivers, nor the shifting currents we find between the islands.

For too many nights now I have not imagined the salmon threading the dark streams of reflected stars, nor have I dreamt of his longing nor the lithe swing of his tail toward dawn.

I have not given myself to the depth to which he goes, to the cargoes of crystal water, cold with salt, nor the enormous plains of ocean swaying beneath the moon.

I have not felt the lifted arms of the ocean opening its white hands on the seashore, nor the salted wind, whole and healthy filling the chest with living air.

I have not heard those waves fallen out of heaven onto earth, nor the tumult of sound and the satisfaction of a thousand miles of ocean giving up its strength on the sand.

But now I have spoken of that great sea, the ocean of longing shifts through me, the blessed inner star of navigation moves in the dark sky above and I am ready like the young salmon to leave his river, blessed with hunger for a great journey on the drawing tide.

* * * * * * * *

This has become one of my favorite poems--for the beauty of the words, the poignancy of the images, the immensity of the loss...desire...courage.

I love it because I am invited to understand it with my heart and soul instead of my mind.

Like Whyte, there are many times when "I have not written of the sea, nor the rivers, nor the shifting currents." Have not given myself. Have not heard. Not just for days but for weeks, months, sometimes years. This poem helps me know--even when I have walked off and lost my way--that the immense ocean of beauty and love and longing is still available. That I can come back. If I can find the courage.

May the ocean of longing shift through us all. May we have the courage to allow a deep hunger for our great journey on the drawing tide.

Until next time,


Photo credits:

Those waves, Silas Baisch, unSplash

Between the islands, Christopher Kuzman, unSplash

The drawing tide, Vidar Nordi Mathisen, unSplash


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