This morning I was reading some poems from 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, by the Arab-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye. Her poems have a beautiful simplicity, which is so poignant and also so refreshingly earthy. She writes about family, Jerusalem, the West Bank, peace and war and humanity. She writes the way I wish I could write!
I was just reading the title poem, and it stopped me in my tracks. I re-read it a couple of times and mulled over a few of the lines.
A gash of movement,/ a spring of flight. She saw them then/ she did not see them. The elegance of the gazelle caught in her breath. The next thing could have been weeping.
Later in the poem she describes the gazelle again:
They soared like history/ above an empty page.
And here’s where I stopped and read the lines again and again:
Where is the path?/ Please tell me./ Does a gazelle have a path?/ Is the whole air the path of the gazelle?
Paths. Lines of certainty drawn through the chaos of life. With the image of gracefully leaping gazelle fresh in my mind, the idea of a path, a set course, leading from point a to point b, in a straight and rigid line sounded like a terrible and soul-choking affront to the natural wildness of life.
I can’t deny that paths have their uses. They are a clear way, free of obstruction. The stones and thorns and fallen branches and tall grasses are thrown aside, uprooted, tidied up. You can see a greater distance ahead of you. You know what’s coming next on the path, at least to some degree. You are less likely to step in a hole, fall into a pit, or be surprised by a snake or poison ivy. Your shoes are likely to stay a bit cleaner. You can move more quickly and efficiently, cutting out the nonsense and just getting where you want to go.
But paths are also somewhat barren. The grass and weeds and wildflowers have been trampled down by so many feet. They are a dull and dusty brown, spotted with muddy puddles, stagnant water pooling in other people’s footsteps. They are like hard-beaten scars cut across a vibrant, wild and tantalizing landscape.
Do paths help or hinder us in life?
It is perfectly understandable that in a world full of the unexpected, full of mortality and change and uncertainty, we try to create a bit of order in our daily existence. We long for a little safety and security in our lives. We often go the same way others have gone before us, because it is a tried and true path. There is certainly wisdom in learning from the experiences of others, individuals, communities, cultures. Or maybe we have a particular destination in mind and devote ourselves to reaching that point, or achieving that goal, whatever it may be. It can be very useful to have a focus point and a realistic path to help you get where you want to be in life, instead of wandering around clueless and without direction.
But there is also a risk that we stifle the creative, wild, spontaneous impulse in us that is so life-giving. While we can learn from what others have done and seen and accomplished, we can never live their lives. We can never become them. Nor should we want to. We’re our own beast, so to speak, and there’s something beautiful about finding our own way to be and exist and live.
Lately I have been trying to reconnect with what is important to me in life, what I really want out of this whole experience of living, and reassessing what I am currently doing that is helping or hindering my happiness and fulfilment. I am again at one of those crisis/turning points that make you ask big questions of yourself. The most overwhelming and obvious thoughts/emotions for me at the moment are a) an intense desire to be somewhere else, doing something else, contrasting to b) my strong feeling of responsibility to my job, to saving money for important future investments, and to fulfilling a variety of expectations, including the self-imposed, those from the outside world, and probably a good few that I project onto the outside world but are really my own creation.
At the moment I feel that I’m on a path of ‘shoulds’ and ‘have to’s’. I have trained myself for so many years to try and be what I ‘must’ be, as so many of us do. We are on the path, we have a plan, and we have to stick to it. We have to do the ‘responsible’ thing, we have to tough it out and accept our lot; we have to put on a brave face, get our heads out of the clouds and face ‘reality’. We’ve all heard those old clichés so many times, and if you’re anything like me, you occasionally realize one or two of them are clanging around in your head like a personal mantra!
Now, I’m not going to advocate we all become forest dwelling hermits so we can reconnect with our innate wildness. But there must be small, everyday ways we can let our wild self off the tether for a while, so it can stretch it’s legs and get a breath of fresh air! How can we practice placing a little more trust in our natural wisdom, our creative impulses, our untamed and carefree inner gazelle? How can we take refreshing breaks from all our ‘shoulds’ and ‘have to’s’?
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, in no particular order…
- Care less about what other people think and stop trying to make other people happy-this is a big one for me. How can you discover your own voice and what makes you truly happy if you are always thinking about other people’s judgements and wants? Not to say you shouldn’t care about other people. But if you feel worn out by expectations, yours or others, you won’t be in a very good position to help anyone else.
- Free write– take time to write whatever comes to your mind in a journal, blog or whatever. Practice just letting the thoughts flow without self censoring or analysing.
- Poetry, poetry, poetry– read more of it, recite it, sing it, live in it, write it. Or if poetry isn’t your thing, beautifully written fiction will also do the trick nicely.
- Take time every day to sit and do nothing but let your mind wander and reflect, i.e. daydream- Maybe start with 15 minutes and gradually increase it to 30 minutes or more if you have the time.
- Listen to beautiful music– JUST listen, don’t do it while writing or reading or cleaning or anything else. Just get totally absorbed in the music.
- Spend time outside enjoying the natural world– even if it’s just your little back garden or a public park, take some time to feel the grass on your feet, listen to leaves rustling in the wind, walk in quiet places, take big, gulping breaths of fresh air. Be still and just soak it all in.
- Find a better, freer, life-affirming mantra– a lot less ‘should’ and a lot more ‘wild’ and ‘adventurous’.
- Create something every day– try out a new recipe, paint, draw, write poetry or a blog or a short story, work on a crafty project, do origami, colour in a colouring book, ANYTHING.
- Eat healthily and exercise– good, natural and wholesome food makes the body feel energized, happy and light and fluffy. Exercise does the same.
- Reconnect or stay connected to people who inspire and rejuvenate you– There are so many amazing people in each of our lives, doing brilliant and awesome things, and they revive the spirit. Keeping in close contact with those big hearted, interesting and life-affirming people in your life is always a positive thing to do. Love and encouragement are infectious and it’s good to share all those positive energy you receive from others!
- Do something you’ve never done before; repeat regularly– the world is full of opportunities and surprises. Do one new thing every week, big or small; 0r even better, every day! Read about a topic you know nothing about. Try a new flavour of ice cream. Listen to a new genre of music. Visit a new park or restaurant or take a different route to work. Learn to dance or play a sport. Play a new board game.
Maybe we can never give up the path entirely, but it is certainly possible to take adventurous detours. Step into the tall grasses, follow the winding stream, wander into the tempting cave full of hidden secrets. Follow butterflies that flutter across your path. Search for the source of melodic bird songs. Climb a tree and see things from a new perspective. Chase after those leaping gazelle and see what awaits you in those wild, pathless places.
What do you do to stay connected with your wild side? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.