“You Stumble from Your Cave”












From Out the Cave

by Joyce Sutphen

When you have been
at war with yourself
for so many years that
you have forgotten why,
when you have been driving
for hours and only
gradually begin to realize
that you have lost the way,
when you have cut
hastily into the fabric,
when you have signed
papers in distraction,
when it has been centuries
since you watched the sun set
or the rain fall, and the clouds,
drifting overhead, pass as flat
as anything on a postcard;
when, in the midst of these
everyday nightmares, you
understand that you could
wake up,
you could turn
and go back
to the last thing you
remember doing
with your whole heart:
that passionate kiss,
the brilliant drop of love
rolling along the tongue of a green leaf,
then you wake,
you stumble from your cave,
blinking in the sun,
naming every shadow
as it slips.

from Straight Out of View
Holy Cow! Press, 2001

The kind of “waking up” that Joyce Sutphen describes here is actually a point of complete exhaustion. It’s what happens when we grow weary of a culture that always urges us to do more—much to the detriment of our minds, bodies and souls. In Tibetan, there’s a word for this exhaustion: ye tang che, which might be translated as “totally tired out,” or to be, as we say, at the end of one’s rope. The Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, defines ye tang che this way in her book, When Things Fall Apart: “It describes an experience of complete hopelessness, of completely giving up hope . . . Without giving up hope—that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be—we will never relax with where we are or who we are.” Sutphen’s poem is an invitation to become aware of your weariness and do something “with your whole heart” again, with full attention. The distracted, “everyday nightmares” Sutphen mentions are the direct result of having hope that we will win the “war with ourselves” to stay forever in control, locked in the cave of a small mind that wants to ignore the wonders of the given world—”that passionate kiss,/ the brilliant drop of love/ rolling along the tongue of a green leaf.” The only cure for such nightmares is the pouring of ourselves into whatever we happen to be doing, letting our hearts go soft enough so that we’re touched by whoever or whatever we encounter, whether shadow or light.

—James Crews