I love making lists. Food shopping lists. Packing lists. To do lists. How to organize my life lists. Lists are my happy place; they bring calm to a very active (overactive?) mind. They are a kind of meditation; they take all that is spinning at light speed inside my mind and give me permission to lay my burden down.
Thoughts—often feel like a burden.
So when I recently read a craft essay by Gregory Orr on the “list poem”, it all made sense. He was writing about the craft of poetry; I was thinking…the craft of living. He writes, It doesn’t hurt to think of poems as a project of ordering disorder—of turning lived confusion into structured coherence by translating ‘the world’ into ‘words’, then shuffling those words into some cohesion that feels like a poem.
Yes, exactly, Gregory. Ordering disorder.
And speaking of Yes, Gregory Orr wrote a poem on the subject of yes:
If to say it once
And once only, then still
To say: Yes.
And say it complete,
Say it as if the word
Filled the whole moment
With its absolute saying.
Later for “but,”
Later for “if.”
Only the single syllable
That is the beloved,
That is the world.
So it got me thinking (yes, the irony is not lost on me…thinking…) that saying yes is about being present and the overactive overthinking let us call it anxious mind is about anything but saying yes. All this thinking is about planning the perfect conversation, scenario, life, shopping list, relationship, poem or essay or book. And it’s got a lot of expectations. And conditions. Something like…I will be ok if everything on this list actually happens. And if not, well, then I give myself permission to absolutely lose it. Or just be in a bad mood and snap at people who piss me off.
Big things, small things. I want my external environment, hell—even my internal environment—to be what I want it to be! But, as Orr reminds us, the yes is the now. The yes is the only single syllable that is the beloved, that is the world.
So I am thinking about this a lot as Rosh Hashana (The Jewish New Year) is upon us, and the fact that the new year is often a time when we make the what can I do to absolutely revamp myself list. And I’m trying to reconcile the benefit of lists—the ordering of disorder—and the practice of saying yes.
Is it possible?
It is possible to use the list, as a creative tool, as a way of bringing order, as a means to understand what is disturbing the soul, as a cognitive device to get stuff done, and simultaneously to say yes to what is.
We make our lists, because we want a better world, because we do need to buy the ingredients for Israeli salad, and we do feel a poem simmering inside and because we do need to exercise, and be kinder and maybe get a new job; how else will we progress? We also need to be present, because—well, that is all there is. We can say this is where I am today—with all my internal struggles and my external reality—and I accept it unconditionally and I will also work toward an even more loving and peaceful and kind internal and external reality.
I can remind myself to return to my breath, and I can ask myself, in the gorgeous words of WS Merwin, Whose light then do you reflect as though it came out of the roots of things…