I was in the garden the other Sunday, and as I began to tackle the enormous weeding task that lay ahead of me, I listened to Poetry Please.

On this occasion, the Sunday morning quiet, the warmth of the sun behind the clouds and the gentle tones of Roger McGough, found me moved by the first poem I heard.

I stopped, closed my eyes, and listened.

It is called Now I Become Myself, and is by May Sarton

Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
‘Hurry, you will be dead before-‘
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

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How hard it is, to become myself. Life seems to conspire against it.

It is only in the past few years that I feel I have even started to discover who I am, at my essence, in my core. It takes a lot of scraping away of other peoples’ opinions and expectations, a lot of laying down responsibility and function to begin to answer this question.

And, it takes the work of being willing to peer into your own soul and not reject what you find. Which, it turns out, is harder and scarier work than it initially appeared.

It is so tempting to want to ‘[wear] other people’s faces’. To deny my individuality to enable assimilation, to ensure I don’t stand out in a crowd. To go along with the general consensus. To not provoke, but to pretend, for an easy life or a momentary feeling of acceptance.

And it is virtually impossible ‘to become myself’, while I ‘run madly’. The process of discovering who I am, is only made possible by standing still. I, we (because this is a family endeavour), have attempted to step off the carousel. We have started to ask questions about the race we inadvertently find ourselves in.

It takes courage to stop, when the world continues to move on, when people continue to work towards achievements and accolades, prioritising success and notoriety.

It is brave to decide that those things won’t define you.

It has made me feel vulnerable on occasion, and it can be lonely.

But it is only in the stillness that I begin to understand my soul. That the spirit within me can be heard.

I am likely to race on, to be onto the next job, the next meal, the next project, the next idea. I have been guilty of over-filling my days and my life. My friend Sri says that we should make a piece of work called “We should do that!”, because it is the phrase I use most often. This need to put ideas and conversations into a practical reality, to create something tangible with them, is not easy to get past.

John O Donohue writes in his book Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World,

‘It is a simple but vital reflective exercise to give yourself plenty of time: leave all your agendas behind you. Let the neglected presence of your soul come to meet and engage you again.’

The neglected presence of your soul. Yup. Guilty of that one.

Maybe if I, if we, managed to learn this lesson, for it to be imbedded into the fabric of our lives, we would be able to experience what is described at the end of the poem; an awareness of the quality of this hour, this moment, to be ourselves.

…Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

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I couldn’t resist sharing one more poem, in a similar vein. A favourite of mine.

The Journey, by Mary Oliver

 

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.