I came across this poem by the brilliant writer, teacher and activist Parker Palmer while reading his book, “Let Your Life Speak” for about the third or fourth time. It’s amazing how we can read the same book numerous times and, each time we do, we find something new that speaks to us, something we somehow missed before. I don’t know if we truly missed it, or if we were just not ready to see and understand it. In any case, here is his poem:
The plow has savaged this week field
Misshapen clods of earth kicked up
Rocks and twisted roots exposed to view
Last year’s growth demolished by the blade.
I have plowed my life this way
Turned over a whole history
Looking for the roots of what went wrong
Until my face is ravaged, furrowed, scarred.
Enough. The job is done.
Whatever’s been uprooted, let it be.
Seedbed for the growing that’s to come.
I plowed to unearth last year’s reasons –
The farmer plows to plant a greening season.
We cannot hope to build an authentic life going forward if we do not accept and embrace who we’ve been and where we’ve been. That means taking the good with the bad, the shadow side with the side we show the world, and the history that we have lived, and owning it all. We can spend a lifetime trying to figure out the how’s and the why’s of what went before, but as my Buddhist friends have tried to teach me, “not knowing” is okay. In fact, it is a blessing. When we go through life with “beginner’s mind,” we are open to whatever comes along with no attachment to the outcome and no self-criticism if things don’t work out the way we thought they should. This was a hard one for me to learn, especially as I am the eternal academic, always searching for answers to questions that have been asked since the beginning of time and may very well remain unanswered for eternity.
I know now why this poem waited for me, only to reappear again when I needed it. It is because Autumn is my favorite time of year, harvest time, a time when I usually pick new ideas and projects to pursue just like kids starting a new school year. I needed to be reminded that whatever I did not accomplish this year, or even in this life so far, does not need to be uprooted and examined. All I need to do is plow it under and let it compost into the soil, ready to accept the seeds of new ideas. It’s all part of who I am and where I’ve been, as author and psychologist Florida Scott-Maxwell tells us:
“You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done … you are fierce with reality.”
When you think about it, that’s not a such a bad way to start planting the seeds for the greening of an authentic life.
This week over on the Home Page, our writing assignment will ask us to look at what we’ve been trying to “uproot.” Be honest, plow deep, and remember to just keep writing.
Peace and blessings.