THE GUEST HOUSE This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond. —Rumi
The sadness starts most years around the second week of April.
It’s not even that I’m thinking about the date. The sadness comes, and then I remember—oh, yes. It’s that time of year again.
Somehow my body remembers. I think it must be the angle of the sun, the look of the light at this calendar moment, here in Massachusetts. Something reminds me on an unconscious level. I forget, but my body remembers.
I’m grateful for that. That means it’s real. It’s not just a date on the calendar, marked with self-conscious solemnity. It’s stored more organically than that—forever a part of me. It may well be trauma that made the imprint: We know now how trauma etches memories in particular ways. But in this case, the memory is of someone who was dear to me. I’m glad my body hasn’t forgotten.
As humans, I suspect we often miss the information encoded in our bodies. I mean, where else would it be encoded? We are made of matter, we have no alternative. The most ethereal thoughts still need a neural network to run on. The profoundest mystic, wrapped in prayer, needs operative brain cells to reach for highest heaven. (In this life, anyway. I can’t comment on any other.)
Worldly information is bodily information. But people screen a lot of it out. A lot of it we just don’t know how to interpret. So we focus our attention on what we can consciously know and choose.
The birds, the squirrels, the chipmunks, the rabbits in my neighborhood are out there doing what wild creatures do in springtime. They’re singing their spring and summer songs, they’re establishing their territory; they’re pairing up and building nests, following the deep, wise promptings of their bodies, while I try to decide what to have for breakfast, and later, wonder why I seem to be feeling especially sad that day. (It’s spring, honey. It’s the second week of April.)
I suspect that most of us, most of the time, don’t really know why we are feeling what at any given moment. Feelings well up from a place our conscious minds can’t reach. I know why this time of year stirs up sadness. But what about all the other times? All those other shifts of mood, the whole emotional palette, clouding over and lightening again in shades of blue and purple, white and gray, like a New England sky in springtime. Was it something someone said? Did an old memory get triggered? Maybe something happened in my gut microbiome that altered my state of mind. Who knows.
We’re a mystery to ourselves. We only see a part of what’s going on at any given moment. We’re a mystery living inside an even bigger mystery, the universe, which is mostly hiding from us—mostly made up of something we’ve never seen, which we evocatively call “dark matter.” All of it inside the biggest and most dark-shining mystery of all.
I am learning to let the changes of mood come and go, like breezes through an open door. From a spot in the middle of the room, as it were, I register them, but I try not to let them consume me. I keep my balance by remembering what it feels like to look at birds. It’s a way of reminding myself that calm and peace are already present: I don’t have to go looking for them.
Yesterday I checked ebird for updates on a local pond, just to see what people had been reporting there. A couple of people said they had seen a common loon—despite the name, a rare occurrence—and one person helpfully added a note: “the north side of the pond.” So this morning I stopped by on my way to work.
The pond was as utterly still as I’ve ever seen it, reflecting back the morning light. I walked along the north edge, scanning the surface, mentally registering a background chorus of song sparrows, blackbirds, red-bellied woodpeckers, robins, jays… and then I spotted it. A tiny blotch off in the distance, coming nearer, its wake spreading behind it. I lifted the binoculars. Loon.
I don’t know why I feel the way I do about loons, or why it didn’t happen to me until I was well into middle age. But it feels close to the center of who I am—not the emotions that come and go, but the joy and peace that dwells serenely at my human heart.