Dani Shapiro
February 12, 2014

On What Disturbs, Then Nourishes

Lately I’ve been moving at a rapid clip.  My bags are no sooner  unpacked, it seems, then once again I’m pulling them from the closet, and completing my flight’s online check-in.  My desk is littered with lists.  .  My toiletries are in a plastic bag filled with sample sizes.  I’m reading more on screens — lots of downloaded sample chapters.  Little bite-sized pieces of literature.  My dogs are confused.  They hang their heads when they hear the zip of a suitcase.  My husband and I compare calendars, hoping we might be in the same place at the same time.  It’s all good.  That’s what I keep saying, and in fact, it’s true.  It is all good.  But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t challenging.  Or complex.  Or difficult to navigate while staying true to my deepest self.

As I write these words, I am once again stretched out on my chaise, in my office at home.  My dogs are sleeping near me.  The house is quiet.  This is my natural habitat, that place where I come to know what’s happening in my heart and mind.  We all have such a place, if only we are able to identify it for ourselves.  For some of us, we become reacquainted with ourselves in nature.  For others, it’s during meditation or yoga.  Others find it in music.  In silence.  In community.  But when we stray too far from whatever it is that allows us to know what’s going on, we risk losing our center.  I think of it as a pilot light, always burning inside of me.  It’s there –– just as the breath is there –– but if I ignore it, it can’t catch hold.  It can’t set aflame any ideas or insights or emotional truths.  It just dims and sputters.

A couple of weeks ago, I led a remarkable retreat with a small group of spectacular women writers, and invited a very dear friend of mine who is a great yoga teacher to join us.  She led us in two very beautiful asana practices, and at the start of one of these practices, she read  “The Winter of Listening by the poet David Whyte.

No one but me by the fire / my hands burning / red in the palms while / the night wind carries / everything away outside. /  All this petty worry / while the great cloak of the sky grows dark / and intense / round every living thing. 

What is precious / inside us does not care / to be known /by the mind / in ways that diminish its presence. /  What we strive for / in perfection / is not what turns us / into the lit angel / we desire, / what disturbs and then nourishes us has everything we need.

What disturbs and then nourishes us has everything we need. 

The truth of these words penetrated me on that blustery winter afternoon as the great cloak of the sky grew dark around me.  Whatever I know, whatever I have learned, whatever glimmers of wisdom I have gained in my life, has come from what has disturbed and then nourished me.  Think of the way a wound heals, that tender, shiny new skin knitting itself together, protecting, yes, but also signaling: something happened here.  If we are fortunate enough to live long and full lives, we are covered with these scars, these disturbances.  What we do with them is our choice.  What disturbs does not have everything we need.  Only what disturbs then nourishes.  If we take in the difficulty, turn it over in our minds, feel the facets in our hearts, find the stillness to grow and understand –– well, then we are making something profound out of our experience.

And if we are artists, this is the way we make art.