Adam and Eve couldn’t blame complex structures of economic systems or multiplex ties of work and relationships when they ran into problems with the moment at hand. Which tells me want and regret may comprise a problem which pre-dates every other hiccup, spiritual and otherwise, on the road to happiness. One of Emily Dickinson’s poems that gives me a big dose of “now” is “The difference between Despair”.

The difference between Despair
And Fear – is like the One
Between the instant of a Wreck –
And when the Wreck has been –

The Mind is smooth – no Motion –
Contented as the eye
Upon the Forehead of a Bust –
That knows – it cannot see –

Is there a “…difference between Despair” over BP Oil’s cataclysm in the Gulf of Mexico, “And Fear” that drives our revulsion about, and anticipation of, environmental problems? While the disaster has everyone focused on causes and solutions, it doesn’t have the instantaneous delivery aspect “of a Wreck – /And when the Wreck has been -”.  To dramatize the focus when our body is paralyzed and consciousness is as a light beam on the here and now of being caught in a smashup in traffic, the poem at once lifts us out of danger and shows us one of calamity’s values. Finding benefits of commonly held abhorence for pain, loss, death and other human suffering is not unusual in a poem of Dickinson’s.

Everyone wants to enjoy prime focus; ability to concentrate on the work in front of us. One of the benefits of meditation, of which I am a regular practitioner though for less time each day than is recommended, is increased awareness. This is another way of saying meditation can improve our ability to resist stress and worry. What is the difference between the attention given to the moment when we are caught in a disaster like “..the instant of a Wreck – ” and an instance of peace such as meditation? Both focus attention on the here-and-now to a heightened degree. Dickinson’s example, though, says that living in the present is far more intense than just having improved thoughts and an ability to prioritize. Or, another of meditation’s advantages, a better circulatory system and cardiovascular health. I think what’s going on here is a challenge to realize life itself is intense, dramatic and potentially overwhelming – if we’re paying attention.

The second stanza actually sounds like meditation. “The Mind is smooth – no Motion – / Contented as the eye”. Instead of the bitter, harsh experience of a car crash, now the poem’s emphasis is on a pleasant, mild and agreeable stillness. Instead of imagining the stare of frightful eyes from a head-on driver plunged, like me, toward mutual doom, I have the honeyed stare of one admiring “.. the Forehead of a Bust -”.

Perhaps, like our ancestors, we will never be able to avoid the impulse to look for what the future will bring. For goodness sake, I don’t even understand most of what my past brought. I also wonder whether the cagey use of “it” in “That knows – it cannot see – ” avoids precision about whether “I” have potential for freedom from worry.

Or, if it’s the lifeless, stone head that is alone in its freedom from either despair or fear.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

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