I’d like to share a little story with you about the value of the arts, infidelity, svadhyaya and yoga.
It’s Sunday afternoon, and I step into Bookpeople to buy a book on entrepreneurship, but once inside the business section, I decide I’d much rather pay full price for books of poetry instead and I walk to that corner of the store. I pull out my iphone to reserve the e-myth from the library to assuage any lingering guilt, then I pick out two books of poetry, purchase them with the remains of my birthday gift card, tuck the slim volumes into my purse and go on with the afternoon.
On the car ride home, I pull out the books and give a little poetry reading for Dave who is driving. I start with Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, volume II and I flip open, landing on page 57.
What I Have Learned so Far
Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, proper-
ly attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is sug-
The poem goes on (so nice…so nice) and then finishes with this line:
Be ignited, or be gone.
Dave and I admire the poem and I decide I am happy with this addition to my poetry collection: meditation, nature, a call to action…all things I appreciate.
For comparison, I open to the same page, page 57, in the second book of poetry: Sharon Old’s, The Stag’s Leap. “Tiny Siren” is the title, written at the top of the page. The words below describe a moment when the poet discovers a photo of a woman in a bathing suit floating at the top of her washing machine. Her husband acts surprised when she asks him about it and then later he reveals that the woman, a woman they both know, had given him the photo when they went running together. The poem continues…
…He smiled at me,
and took my hand, and turned to me,
and said, it seemed not by rote,
but as if it were a physical law
of the earth, I love you. And we made love,
and I felt so close to him—I had not
known he knew how to lie, and his telling me
touched my heart. Just once, later
in the day, I felt a touch seasick, as if
a deck were tilting under me—
a run he’d taken, not mentioned in our home,
a fisher of men in the washing machine.
Just for a few minutes I had felt a little nervous.
The poem ends there. Dave and I are silent.
I forget how intense Sharon Olds’ poetry is. That lady is a truth. speaker. She speaks her truth. Certainly a poet such as Ms. Olds has a profound practice of svadhyaya, of self-inquiry. I have two of her other books, The Gold Cell and The Wellspring. They have been on my shelf for years. You can’t pick those up for a casual read, which is why I haven’t picked them up lately, I guess. Dave reminds me of the poem about her sexual experiences with her college professor—it’s one he claims is burned into his mind as quintessential Sharon Olds.
Back at home, I read the rest of the 89 pages. I can’t put it down. The poetry reads like a novel but because it’s poetry, I fill in the open spaces at the ends of the lines with feelings from my own gut. To feel the stirring again, the deck tilting under me, as I read the poems about the end of this woman’s 30-year marriage I couldn’t help but recall my end-of-marriage experience. This profoundly changed the way I see myself in the world, gave me a need for yoga that I hadn’t realized before, and as a result of the experiences and the work that came afterwards, I like my life a lot more than I used to. I sometimes feel like I have resolution, but reading this, I see that things aren’t really resolved. There isn’t a conclusion. It is all still inside of me…ongoing. Even with the healing and the counseling and being together again with Dave, “every experience leaves a residue.” There is a residue from my experience that I’m still experiencing and this poetry helps me to see that it is still able to come right back to the surface…to my surface. Maybe the difference is that now, I have my sea-legs. That, and I have meditation and this opportunity with Dave to have new experiences that help to shape my memory of it all.
We need the arts. They are a form of svadhyaya. Sharon Olds puts words to her discoveries and reflections and translates these into poetry that is so very personal and so human, so sublime. Her words help us to better understand ourselves, ourselves in love, and ourselves in relationship to others. We can understand ourselves better through this work of art. This ability to feel deeply and to know what is inside (even when it is painful) is very important. It shapes our behavior whether we are conscious of it or not. If we do know going on, we might influence the direction it heads. So make art, write, dance if you feel called. Uncover what’s inside and listen to the creative voice inside of you, even if it comes through someone else’s work. Read, look for and support artists in your community and learn from this. The poem, the painting, or the object that lets you feel something unknown or untouchable inside of yourself is part of your practice of yoga. Find it and then stay with it for a while.