National Poetry Month, Day 9 // There are times when there’s nothing to do but stop and start over. I’ve experienced several such times, and I’ve gained so much from the stopping that it has become a staple of my spiritual practice. Emerson advised finishing one day before beginning the next and interposing a solid wall of sleep between two – stopping for the night, in other words. A Scottish song, a favorite of mine, refers to a place or condition in life “where the cares of tomorrow must wait till this day is done.” The writer might have read Emerson. The ancient Judeo-Christian tradition famously affirms the high priority of stopping for one day each week – keeping a regular sabbath, stepping away from all work to rest and be renewed.
Sometimes the stopping and starting happens intentionally, as when I observe a sabbath or stop for a zazen session. At other times it happens accidentally, even catastrophically, when our plans or even our lives themselves fall apart – as happened when my previous marriage ended, for example. Waiting has been a precious gift for me in those times, and I remember the advice of Francis Quarles (1592-1644): “My soul, sit thou a patient looker-on; / Judge not the play before the play is done: / Her plot has many changes, every day / Speaks a new scene; the last act crowns the play.” Wait it out, he says to me; don’t judge experience too quickly; and keep a lookout for opportunities that may spring up, phoenix-like, from the ashes. Or as Robert Frost described, I let everything I’ve been carrying fall apart and “try to stack them in a better load.”
“The Armful,” by Robert Frost (1874-1963)
For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns—
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once,
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with, hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.