Experience is the Angled Road Preferred against the Mind By — Paradox — the Mind itself — Presuming to it lead
Quite Opposite — How complicate The Discipline of Man — Compelling Him to choose Himself His Preappointed Pain —
~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #899)
I’m not quite sure what Emily is getting at with this poem but it did get me thinking. Many folks say that experience is the best teacher, but personally experiencing all that life has to offer would take forever and, in my mind, often amounts to wasting time and learning things the hard way. But is it any better to submit to the discipline given by other people, obeying potentially immoral rules from authorities that might oppress or harm ourselves or others? Perhaps experience and discipline are opposite sides of the same coin. Perhaps we are as likely as our teachers to make painful mistakes in judgment as we learn ways to make sense of the world.
On that specific Pillow Our projects flit away — The Night’s tremendous Morrow And whether sleep will stay Or usher us — a stranger — To situations new The effort to comprise it Is all the soul can do — ~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1554)
This poem brings to mind the restless sleep or sleeplessness we might have the night before a new experience, like the first day of school or a new job. Or traveling to a place we’ve never been to before.
But I suspect Emily is talking about death. The specific pillow, the kind we find in a coffin, when death interrupts all our projects. Will we stay asleep in death or will we find ourselves in a new situation, an unfamiliar life after death? There are many “answers” to choose from but there is no way to “know” for sure. The universe is full of wonder and mystery. After years of spiritual struggle I’ve finally made peace with uncertainty, sometime in my 40s I think. Just this. Here/now.
How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light. ~ Barry Lopez (Arctic Dreams)
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. ~ Max Ehrmann (Desiderata)