The Distance of the Leap

I sit at my Grandmother’s desk, with my cold coffee, salty skin, and sweat dried clothing from an early morning boot camp. I try to shut down the verbal brawling of my thoughts in order to find a placid stream of wisdom, flowing with ideas, something that will lead me in a worthy direction. I am steeped in the rich brew of Sylvia Plath’s work, just about half way through her unabridged journals. At thirty years old, she sealed off the kitchen so as not to harm her sleeping children, and stuck her head in the oven. I dare not imagine the depth of pain she must have endured in order to end her own life, because I fear the knowledge would be unbearable. 

I don’t know why I’m so absorbed with Sylvia’s thoughts, she draws you in like a hypnotist, the imagery of her words so rich, and memorable. I think total ovulation must have been more appealing than continuing to battle her own chemistry. She sought the cessation of unrelenting pain, like the end of a difficult labor, but the result was stillborn. She was gifted, flawed, caged in her own mind, as she meticulously wrote the tragic end to her own story. We will never know her full potential, she was only thirty years old when she died, but the trail of what she left behind is extraordinary. Plath wrote, “The virginal page, white. The first: broken into and sent packing. All the dreams, the promises: wait till I can write again, and then the painful, botched rape of the first page. Nothing said. A warmup. A directive. It is almost noon, and through the short spined green pines the day is a luminous overhung gray. Some bastard’s radio jazzes out of the trees: like the green eyed stinging flies: God has to remind us this isn’t heaven by a long shot. So he increases the radios and lethal flies.” Life was difficult for the brilliant Sylvia Plath. I wish there had been something to give her hope, a sturdy branch to cling to, but that bough was out of reach for Sylvia.

“We are all at risk of something. Of ending up exactly where we began, of failing to imagine and find and know and actualize who we could be. We all need to jump from here to there. The only difference among us is the distance of the leap,” writes Cheryl Strayed from her new work Brave Enough. Cheryl is my hero, she is a survivor, and a kick-ass writer. She is brave enough to put herself out there, honest, forthright, and inspiring. She had to literally hike out of hell, from the perdition of her past, one painful step at a time. She says, “The other side of fearlessness is fear. The other side of strength is fragility. The other side of power is faith.” So there you have it, from the mouth of Cheryl Strayed, a bough we can all cling to. She also says God is a bitch. 

I’m teaching world religions this year so I have an assortment of sacred texts on my desk. My thoughts are dry as dead bones so I flip through the pages of the Bhagavad Gita (sacred Hindu text) for inspiration, it warns, “There are three gates to this self-destructive hell: lust, anger, and greed. Renounce these three.” He also advises “calmness, gentleness, silence, self-restraint, and purity: these are the disciplines of the mind.” 

I’m beginning to notice a theme woven through the writings on my desk. Be mindful, calm, and brave enough to follow your own sacred path, especially in a culture that promotes uniformity, and is saturated with mindless distractions.

It is all I can do to ignore the whispering of the patio chair, basking in the sun, longing for a wayward form to fill its emptiness. Diligently I resist the pull of my desires, stubbornly remaining at my desk, willing the illusive words onto the page. Sometimes the ideas come easy but more often than not it is a struggle to organize my flighty thoughts. I stare at the empty page, begging the words to appear, but they refuse. I sip coffee, pick at a scab, and run my fingers over the embossed title of Cheryl’s book. I decide to write what I’m thinking, in the moment, no editing, and see what happens. When the page is finally full, I leap from the desk to the patio, with cold coffee, salty skin, and ease myself into the warmth of the chair. 

I come back one day later and I’m horrified by my posting. It’s sloppy, detached, unorganized (sadly this is how my mind works), I’m sorry for those who came upon the first draft, especially when I resort to unconscious streaming. Like Sylvia says, “the painful, botched rape of the first page.” I retain the rights to redaction for at least another week. Stay tuned.

It also says in the Bhagavad Gita, “I am the taste of pure water and the radiance of the sun and moon. I am the sacred word and the sound heard in air, and the courage of human beings. I am the sweet fragrance in the earth and the radiance of fire; I am the life in every creature and the striving of the spiritual aspirant.” Amen

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