…. a word, a memory, something about you that is tender and close, a word you would never email or text or even encrypt against the NSA. Tell me something you will entrust into my heart’s care and protection, and only when we are in each other’s presence.
Forget the news. Tell me a word I don’t know about you.
A word. The ancient people would go into the desert and ask a man or woman who lived there, for “a word.” Where is that man or woman to be found today?
To live in the desert was to have journeyed down into oneself to the other side of your own horizon, and not to have gone crazy, but returned with a wisdom that had been wrestled from the tightest grip of the unknowable mysteries who inhabit the wilderness. That’s what it meant to live in the desert, and that’s not Sonora or Taos. The wilderness is the address where you live. How does one find such a man or woman of wisdom today?
In those years leaving the city for the wilderness, one knew where they lived. One just knew… didn’t have to ask.
Entering the cave, the escapee from the city bowed in silence, and sat and sat and became focused, leaving everything behind. Then one asked, longingly, for a word, not literally “one word,” but a word, a phrase, a thought which had been rent from the grip of the unknowable presences who also lived in the wilderness… a word which created “a tear in reality for spiritual energies to pour through.”
Forget the news. Isn’t this what we long for? …a word we can live wholeheartedly.
Sitting together in silence and in trust … a word comes forth from the Un-Nameable One, the Beloved, the One Who Has No Opposite. Silence once again… for the word to take root and begin to sprout. Now, without words, both know when… They bow. The person backs away with respect and gratitude for the gift given, slowly turns, and returns home.
Today as then students and adults are praised for parroting back what is already known, what the teacher has said. The teacher fills the margins of the report with praise or blame for the quality of parroting.
Once a student waited after class with her report in hand. There was nothing written in the margins, no praise, no blame. Nothing.
When she was alone with the teacher in this wilderness, she exclaimed that she has always been superior at remembering and spitting back everything her teachers had said. She waved her paper with empty margins, no praise, no blame, no ego rewards, all blank. She had never experienced this before. Isn’t this what you wanted, like everyone else?
Ignoring her plea William Stafford said I want you to tell me something I don’t know, something that no one in this class knows anything about. And I make this promise, if you tell me something I don’t know, I will give your writing my complete attention. I will ask you questions about the tender threads you tell me. I will follow your clues, your tentative word so I can go with you, where you are going. Here, you lead the way, not me.
One question will unfold and lead to another and another, and off we go.
Tell me something I don’t know, something no one in the class knows. And I promise you that I will listen, take notes of what you say. By our listening with great care we come to belong to each other, and we will see your horizons move as naturally as the unfolding of a flower’s petals, just as they were intended to open.
Forget the news. Tell me something I don’t know, a word from deep within you, a memory you’d only want to tell me in person, so we both will be present to each other, in a focused, undistracted way.
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
And I don’t know the kind of person you are
A pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
… the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
From “A Ritual To Read To Each Other”