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Awake In Light and Dark

As dark and crazy as the world currently is, something bright resides beneath the darkness—and it’s the light of a single awakening human soul, multiplied by tens of thousands, in many cities, towns and countries.” – Mark Borax.

I used the above quote to begin a blog five years ago. The first draft of A Ritual to Read to Each Other, William Stafford's* poem about staying awake during times of deep darkness, is dated June 23,1953 (pictured above**). The subject of darkness and light as metaphors about time is a timeless subject—be it geological, religious, political, philosophical, cultural, cosmological, quantum, or personal.

In the present moment, it is how we think, speak, and act that will color our days, affect those around us, and sway the pendulum one way or the other in the future. As it is in the making of a poem, this being-awake is a work in progress, a reaching toward some rhythmic harmony that is often surprising, and worthy of sharing. Here is the final draft of Stafford's poem:

If you don't know the kind of person I am

and I don't know the kind of person you are

a pattern that others made may prevail in the


and following the wrong god home we may miss

our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,

a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break

sending with shouts the horrible errors of


storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each

elephant's tail,

but if one wanders the circus won't find the


I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty

to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something


a remote important region in all who talk:

though we could fool each other, we should


lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the


For it is important that awake people be awake,

or a breaking line may discourage them back to


the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —

should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

*William Stafford, "A Ritual to Read to Each Other" from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1998 by William Stafford.

Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.

**1953 draft found at:

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Calming Practice: Start Over

Consider this action:

When nothing is working, delete all of your stories, and start over.

If something new and more beneficial doesn't come from this action,

sit in silence until a ray of light illuminates something.

Breathe on it, and when the flame grows stronger, nurture it.

When it flickers and goes out, sit in silence.

Repeat as necessary.


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