Grace in a Line of Risk

Grace is the bud of a rose in late summer risking the security of self to burst forth as a blossom that cannot close again.

Bud Before the Risk 0814

…and the day came

 when the risk to remain tight,

in a bud,

became more painful

than the risk it took to blossom.

(Elizabeth Appell)

This line has been appearing for around 35 years on journal covers, inside greeting cards, on opening pages of published books and, of course, on the Internet.

The only attribution I had seen was to Anaïs Nin who did not, it seems, write these words. There is a tangential reference to a bud in one of her novels but these words do not seem to appear in any of Nin’s work.

As much maligned as Internet resources are, this misattribution precedes the pervasive use of the worldwide web. I had to reach way back into my memory but I remembered first seeing the quote in the mid 1980s. This time, my memory was accurate.

It seems Elizabeth Appell wrote these words in 1979 when she was known as Lassie Benton, Public Relations Director at John F. Kennedy University (Orinda, CA) and editor of its adult education brochure.

Appell maintains she was “on deadline” when she scribbled those twenty plus words for the opening page of the brochure, perhaps determining their destiny to appear on other opening pages.

As editor, Appell would have not provided any personal attribution. In the ensuing years, the single line would Bud Opening 0814also be offered as a poem with the title “Risk.” Yet, life and truth have a way of revealing their sources, ultimately.

In 2009, the Anaïs Nin Blog received an inquiry about the risk line’s source but it was not until 2013 that Appell decided to offer her story as well as provide a copy of the brochure page that first featured the line.

Appell revealed that she has known of the confusion as far back as the 1980s having read her words in a greeting card. She wrote to the card’s publisher who never responded.

There does seem to be one instance of the poem attributed to Appell as Lassie Benton as well as some anonymous attributions but mostly, the poem is attributed to Anaïs Nin.

It was only when two of Appell’s friends brought her their published books with the quotation attributed to Nin that Appell decided to correct years of misattribution.

And she did so with the grace of the line she wrote. Honored that her hastily scribbled words to meet a deadline have meant much to many, Appell may have taken another risk in her response to a comment on the Anaïs Nin Blog:

I have been writing for a long time. Every now and then I hit a chord, but never like the chord I hit with the “Risk” line. To be in the literary circle of Anaïs Nin is a thrill. I’m proud and grateful.

(Elizabeth Appell)

To me, this story of grace in a line of risk demonstrates the lifetime that unfolds in each moment we experience. Rarely can we know the impact of the series of snapshots that are the moments of our lives. Yet, some snapshots will return revealing their source.

May we have the grace of Elizabeth Appell in the face of risk and blossom.

The Blossom 0814

Life: A Chronic Condition

Life as a condition generally denotes the state of being human but when health is implied, the meaning involves a defective state. Thus, considering life as chronic implies a wearing away, a wearing down.

Often, I use “chronic illness” to describe my health, although it makes me wince. I am no more an illness than I am a writer, a family member, a friend or a neighbor, although I have met each of these conditions with joy and sorrow, success and failure, the usual mixed bag that is life.

Life with conditions resembles what the Buddhists call clinging, attaching ourselves to this or that. We rarely regard reliving a fond memory as clinging but it is; Michael Singer describes this fondness as “I don’t want this one to go away… I want to keep reliving that moment” forever attached, completely embedded.

Just as chronically, we eschew those memories that are less than fond, even though they are always readily available. From those moments we cannot run fast or far enough, unaware we are on a treadmill of attachment incapable of escaping what we know.

Ironically, a shift in our attention from the known to the unknown of awareness frees us. Being in the moment switches off that treadmill, shuts down that memory to experience what always is, the freedom that is in every moment we ever have. Conditions result from experience but in the moment—the state of being– there are no conditions only creations. Chronically, life is; only we attach.

The ancient traditions teach us that everlasting joy is inevitable when we stop pushing away or holding onto life. The freedom integral to peace and contentment is available in every moment. In truth, freedom requires risk and risk resides in the unknown, not exactly comfortable conditions, or has our chronic response to risk become comfortable.

Embracing risk feels as if we are opening ourselves to each and every moment changing us—we are–as if risk were a mere matter of inhaling and exhaling—it is, if we focus. In a mere matter of a breath, consider the strength of a sigh, an exhaling of what is no longer necessary.

Almost any form of meditation considers the breath. In learning to meditate, I focused on inhaling and exhaling and discovered the pause in between. As basic as the pause is, I had never considered it. Only recently did I realize my daily meditation practice has immersed itself into my daily life: inhaling and exhaling, I release all-too-familiar conditions, as if I were sweeping 10,000 rooms daily, which I do.

For me, it was chronically easy to cling to conditions in the belief they secure one’s life. Labels–gender, occupation, health, neighborhood location–categorize life, as if the familiar confines could stay the constancy of change. I spent a lot of my life that way but I admit to a fascination with risk, which has always served me.

It has taken most of my lifetime to realize that joy, love, compassion, and gratitude are chronically inherent in the risk that is life. These emotions eschew the ego and all of its conditions; these emotions launch us out of ourselves into all of life. They are worth every moment of risk.

Where Risk Resides

Wikipedia photo

When risk is choosing this one or that, I always think of  Linda Pastan’s poem, “Ethics.”

In ethics class so many years ago
our teacher asked this question every fall:
if there were a fire in a museum
which would you save, a Rembrandt painting
or an old woman who hadn’t many
years left anyhow? Restless on hard chairs
caring little for pictures or old age
we’d opt one year for life, the next for art
and always half-heartedly. Sometimes
the woman borrowed my grandmother’s face
leaving her usual kitchen to wander
some drafty, half imagined museum.
One year, feeling clever, I replied
why not let the woman decide herself?
Linda, the teacher would report, eschews
the burdens of responsibility.
This fall in a real museum I stand
before a real Rembrandt, old woman,
or nearly so, myself. The colors
within this frame are darker than autumn,
darker even than winter–the browns of earth,
though earth’s most radiant elements burn
through the canvas. I know now that woman
and painting and season are almost one
and all beyond saving by children.
Linda Pastan, from the collection Waiting for My Life (1981)

The poem sets up an array of caveats—whether the woman is loved or a stranger, whether or not one is mature in experience or just beginning to experience life, whether or not to choose—each requires risking this or that, one or the other, or not at all.

Mark Nepo writes:

“There is no substitute for genuine risk…the very core issues we avoid return, sometimes with different faces, but still, we are brought full circle to them, again and again” (The Book of Awakening).

Avoiding risk, somewhat akin to eschewing responsibility, seems to be a circular choice every time. Yet, in oneness—here and there, this and that–risk is whole, not one or the other, not old or young but the one truth that resides in us:

“It is we who, in our readiness and experience, keep coming back, because the soul knows only one way to fulfill itself, and that is to take in what is true” (Nepo, The Book of Awakening). 

Maybe that’s why the poem puts the annual question to children, who are no strangers to truth.

Rhythm of ROW80 Sunday Scheduling:

On February 3, added a 30-minute writing stretch—free writing that is timed—it helps clear the minutia of the moment so my daily writing is more focused.

Alternating short fiction, novel, and blog posts as daily writing

Doing the Tao with Dyer, still stuck in duality

Nepo morning meditation continues