That I am I.
That my soul is a dark forest.
That my known self will never be
more than a little clearing in this forest.
That gods, strange gods, will come forth
into the clearing of my known self, and then go back.
That I must have the courage to let them come and go.
- D.H. Lawrence
I have this quote practically memorized. My memory isn’t quite verbatim, but close. I discovered it when reading an excerpt from Lawrence’s essay criticizing Ben Franklin’s list of virtues that was taped to the walls of the narrow halls in the College of English at my university.
It comes to my mind, often, because it reeks of truth to me. It is true in the way of a Zen koan, an anecdote used to stir the mind into enlightenment. When you understand the meaning, things just click inside you.
After my yoga class yesterday I told my teacher that I don’t understand why my muscles and the rest of my body are so tight when I am almost always relaxing. Masseuses across the years have regularly told me I am too young to be so tense. They said it five years ago and they would say it now. Little has changed.
Saying it aloud made the issue more real and sparked further introspection. I don’t have an answer. I am still searching for one, but I have started to collect an idea here and there. I think part of the answer lies with those strange from the dark forest; I don’t know if I have the courage to let them come and go.
I wrote recently about the poet I keep chained up inside. I don’t think he is alone. There is a monster in the depths with him, a monster I have fought and killed a buried and given new life only to fight again. There is an anger within me that I haven’t voiced, a violence I don’t respect and haven’t accepted. The poet always knew the beast better than I, for the poet often wandered through the dappled shadows cast by the canopy of my soul.
I don’t know this beast and I think I fear him. He is not simply trained, or leashed, but a feral creature caged. He has been slapped, punished, beaten. He has been hidden because I became overly sensitive about what people might think of me as I aged. I locked him away with the poet so that no one would have to taste my darkness.
Without the dark god’s voice lending its rough crystal honey to my own, am I a whole man? Without his animal desires, am I body and mind? Have I striven so hard to be the opposite of the creature that my yin yang is nigh white washed? Am I so far from symbol I value so highly? I am no saint. Am I guilty of trying to be one? I only wish to be a man who stands for what he believes in.
What is this burden I carry in my flesh? Is it the arrogant child who learned early that apathy was safer than caring? The middle school student in velvet pants, long hair, and a beret with milk dripping from his hair, standing straight against the words gay, homo, freak with the entire 8th grade class as an audience? Is it the lazy, unchallenged teen who drew lines of blood so deep in his shoulder that the scars remain almost 15 years later? I once spent hours in my youth pretending I was myself, sans limits. Who did I become when I was actually trying to be myself under the restraints of life? Not that creature I once imagined I was. Not that potential.
I feel like Promotheus, had he been chained to the stone before he could give fire to the world. I writhe against the face of the rock at the injustice. I feel the weight of it beneath my skin and I cannot name it. My shoulders tense at the thought and the ache and tautness lives like a thing in my brain. Some kind of knot that loops and tangles and constricts slowly around the gravity of what I bear until its load is hidden from sight.
I am ready to name it, to let go, to be as relaxed as I imagine myself being. I think perhaps, to do so, I must be prepared for the gods to come and go from the forest. I must greet them by name, ply them with wine and song, and send them home again content in their doing and being.
I must have the courage to let them come and go.
But I am tentative.