Cutting Loose

by William Stafford

Original Language English

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose
from all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.

Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell you where it is and you
can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path -- but that's when
you get going best, glad to be lost,
learning how real it is
here on earth, again and again.

-- from Ten Poems for Difficult Times, Edited by Roger Housden

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This poem was featured earlier this week in Roger Housden's poetry email and I found myself rereading it and spending time with it in a way that told me this is one worth sharing.

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing.

This opening line really hooked me. The word "sorrow" here evokes for me the sense of someone who is privately wrestling with depression. I think I remember reading that the poet, William Stafford, dealt with depression in his life. I myself went through a particularly difficult bout of depression as a younger man, and several beloved friends and family members have gone through their own experiences of depression. So I read this entire poem through that lens.

This is what rings true for me in that first line-- sometimes the most unexpected joy and exuberance can emerge from those dark states.

Depression is not what most people imagine it to be. It is not actually about feeling sad. Depression, in my observation, is not an emotion at all. It is more of an energetic state, an overload of the nervous system and the outward-focused attention. It becomes a forced state of interiority and disconnection from the busy external world. But depression, when understood and well-integrated, can become a rich, dark reservoir of creativity, self-awareness, and surprising fulfillment.

When intense, depression can be frightening and bleak, but when we let go of the constant need for "up" energies, cultivate stability, and learn to drink in the small, quiet joys, we discover a richer, deeper sense of self.

I will take it a step further and perhaps even upset a few people by saying that a certain amount of depression is a healthy and necessary thing. Of course, depression can get extreme for some people and, when it is not understood or well-handled, it can be devastating. But I genuinely believe that a certain amount of depression is a normal response for a healthy person in a world that is often out of harmony. In other words, depression, in its moderate forms, is not an emotion or even an illness, it is a response. The great challenge is to not deny that natural depression and, instead, to integrate it, channel it, use it well and finally emerge from that shadowed space as a more whole, clear-seeing, and compassionate individual who can exist in the world without being unbalanced by it.

I say all of this because I think a lot of people are experiencing their own private depressions right now and feeling more isolated because of it. It is important to remember that no one is alone in that experience and, as difficult as the state may feel, it can be utilized as a tool for self-awareness and personal growth. It is within these dark spaces that transformation occurs. Where it feels like only shadows and sorrow exist, a new clarity emerges, a new voice rises full of life -- and you find yourself singing.

Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else.

Have a beautiful day full of new inspiration and unexpected joy!

Be well.

Recommended Books: William Stafford

The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems My Name is William Tell Even in Quiet Places The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems
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Cutting Loose