The New York Times’ Ezra Klein’s conversation with poet Jane Hirshfield yields many remarkable insights, not the least of which is Hirschfield’s embrace — in her precise, measured way of speaking — of her unique poet’s makeup that runs counter to the speed and chatter of today. But what dazzled us most was her reading of her poem A Cedary Fragrance and the story behind her writing it:
Not for discipline,
nor the icy, awakening slap,
but to practice
to make the unwanted wanted.
The poem references the three years in formal Zen training Hirschfield spent at a wilderness monastery near Big Sur. Although she didn’t always like its many required disciplines —waking at 3:30 in the morning, washing in cold water, living without electricity — she would not have changed any of it for the lifelong practice she learned:
I’ve written many, many poems out of the need to find a way to say yes to what I would, at first, rather say no to. Because our whole lives consist of such moments. Many things will happen to us that we would prefer not. We would prefer our loved ones don’t die. I would prefer the world were more sensible and kind and compassionate. I would prefer there not to be forest fires of such extraordinary devastation as we’ve been having, or fill in the blank.
But a human life requires all of these things. And so to every day begin the day with this simple affirmation of “I will make the unwanted wanted” has been a practice of decades for me now.
It is somewhat akin to the Zen practice of saying YES YES YES to things but with way more nuance, acknowledging the unwanted’s qualities, our resistance to them and the conflict there, and finding the path to embrace them.
It’s not easy, which is why it is a practice. It makes us see how much we fear discomfort. Sometimes, we only get as far as recognizing the “unwanted” and deconstructing the reasons for our dislike, managing only a step or two testing the waters to endure what is unpleasant or transform it in our minds. Sometimes if we’re lucky, we stop fighting the unwanted and let it, and ourselves, be in a kind and miraculous harmony.
Listen to (or read), Klein’s full interview with Jane Hirshfield here.
Images: Rudolf Sikora via Photon Galerija: “Sikora built his way of metaphorical thinking on the use of diagrams, texts, exclamation marks, and work with photography or photomontage. Through a peculiar sign system of codes, he named the categories of origin (*), motion (→) and extinction (†), symbolizing the endless circulation of cosmic and life renovation”.