The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
The holidays are here and life is busy with social engagements and end of the year work obligations. Many of us are experiencing a barrage of bittersweet memories involving loved ones; additionally, some of us feel anxiety about seeing families and the effects of the election on the new-year. It can be a time of grief and stress. Many people feel like they need to just ‘get through’ these days rather than savor them. The holidays can feel like a time of disconnection from our natural world and from each other.
Stress during this time of year got me thinking about how we reconnect and come home to peace. When we are caught up in anxiety, we can’t see the beauty or love around us. We can’t play or relax into the moment.
I could not see any beauty or love around me during the recent election. As the numbers came rolling in, I made jokes and tried to deny what was happening. I felt like the ground had fallen out from under me and I couldn’t process my experience. After getting very angry and considering moving to New Zealand, I awoke the next morning and found myself weeping.
“Despair of the world” was growing within me, but I was too caught up in the emotions I was feeling to name them. I felt far from experiencing joy or being able to rest in the “grace of the world.”
Around the holidays, despair of the world often grows in us. We feel that we need to finish everything before travelling, get our finances and appointments together for the end of the year deadlines, and stave ourselves against difficult interactions with family or friends. We often don’t even recognize that we’re feeling like robotic slaves to our obligations. We don’t recognize that we’re not taking care of ourselves, and that we’re not honoring our bodies or our needs for rest. How do we awaken from this state and love our lives when things feel difficult?
When we are experiencing grief or stress, the first step in working through our experience is to name it. The moment you name something you give it less power, and you also give yourself space and permission to feel. There’s something about saying, “I feel powerless” that takes our guard down and allows us to have tenderness towards ourselves.
After we notice our experience, the next step is to take care of ourselves and to practice extreme self-compassion in our actions. Wendell Barry so eloquently describes his process of coming home to a sense of peace: “I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things.”
When we are hurting, or caught in an anxious trance, we must come back to what connects us to who we are, to our sense of spirituality, and to our sense of connection. For some, this involves going into nature or reading poetry. It might involve a spiritual community, nourishing films, writing, or making art.
But self care and compassion must include letting ourselves play. Laughing with someone else brings us immediately into the present moment and makes us appreciate the joy around us. We connect instantly. We become lighter, more childlike, and recognize that things aren’t so serious.
I encourage all of you to do something silly. To laugh like crazy, to embrace the moment, and to remember that letting yourselves have moments of peace is even more important than making sure everyone has the perfect present or getting all of your receipts together. You deserve a life that isn’t taxed with the forethought of grief.
The tasks will all get done; the wounds will heal. We can rest in the grace of this world. No matter what things are going on in our lives, the blind stars will be waiting with their light.
For Mike Rich
Emma Kobil is a licensed professional counselor practicing in Denver, Colorado. Her philosophically informed therapeutic approach focuses on helping creative and perfectionist individuals practice self compassion. Learn more about Emma, or schedule an appointment, at mindfulcounselingdenver.com.