Pausing on the threshold
January has always held for me the early morning quiet of the year. It seems a bit empty, still, and perhaps a bit lonely, and a bit of a relief after the pell-mell rush of celebrations that crowd the end of the year. When I come to the Village these days, before the shopkeepers and restaurant workers arrive, there’s a hush that draws me to the natural sounds, and to a vibrant landscape where nature prepares the world for us to inhabit each day.
Early the other day I watched an otter gracefully dive and surface in the splashing creek; each morning I hear the calls of several birds, large and small, and the whispering susurration of their wings in flight. I felt honored and welcomed to witness the morning and the year, in preparation for those of us who have yet to join in.
The other day, just after a good rainfall, a couple of fellows passed by my cabin carrying two brightly colored kayaks. We talked awhile about the swollen creek flowing past, a thoroughfare to be explored and traveled downstream, down through the valley and toward the wetlands of the Bay. I showed them a place nearby to put in, and watched them work their way along the shallows past my cabin. They had a different experience of the creek than I, perhaps more heartily interactive, but similar in their respect for the character and power of the flowing stream, and curious where it might take them.
Here, at the start of the year, we think of crossroads and thresholds, possibilities and choices. The choices I’ve made this past year, and the years before that, were – I decide – neither good choices nor bad choices; they were simply my choices, and they have brought me here where I’ve chosen to write these words. It could be good, here at the threshold of the year, not to think in terms of good choices and bad choices, but simply in terms of our choices. You, too, have made your choices, and your choices have brought you here to read what I have written. The question before each of us is: knowing all this, what then will be our next choice?
We know well that the road not taken is the road never taken but instead left behind, as though it had never existed, as we move on. And looking back upon the road we have taken so far, we see no crossroads where we had paused to decide which road to take. We only see where we had paused in our journey, and the road that we had taken. We do not see the roads we have not taken, for they are not there. For similar reasons, we often do not recognize the significance of the threshold we are crossing as we enter a room. It’s much easier – one could say more convenient – to consider the room we are entering, to anticipate where we are headed, rather than consider where we are – and who we are. What is significant is usually not also convenient, which is why it is often overlooked.
I do my best to awaken slowly each morning – pausing, hesitating – not with apprehensive uncertainty but with the sort of curiosity that wants to delay plunging ahead, remembering the dreams of the night to bring them along with me into the day that lies ahead. I try not to move, but to allow my eyes to fall open and my breath to increasingly fill my body, just as my thoughts fill my mind. First impressions are significant, especially if we include ourselves in the experience, and loiter there. I say good morning to myself in the bathroom mirror. I drink a glass of water at the window, looking out into the dawn taking place in the world.
Health, I like to think, is a continually evolving condition of personal awareness and responsibility – an awareness of the constantly changing circumstances life brings to us and an ongoing concomitant awareness of who we are, our own ever deepening mental and emotional responses to the circumstances of life as we learn what is right and good for us, what nourishes us and what inspires us to continue. This focus within may seem to some to be a distancing, a withdrawal from others, but it is not. Since life is not a zero sum game, the yes to oneself is not always a no to others.
There must be distance if the boundaries are not clear, for in the space of that distance we can build good boundaries, where neighbors can come together to help mend and maintain their common wall. Autonomy and intimacy are then in reciprocal balance. The word cleavage occurs to me here, for it is paradoxically enough its own antonym – what has been cleft apart may then cleave back together. And so this moment, this perpetual now, is not just what separates the past from the future – it is here that they are joined, where we remember ourselves, and see our possibilities.
Jim Shere is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Glen Ellen. He is also a writer and poet, and the executive director of the Glen Ellen Historical Society. You are invited to explore his website at jimshere.com.