March 17 – A Great Battle Raging – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

“There is a great battle raging: for my mouth not to harden and my jaws not to become like heavy doors of an iron safe, so my life may not be called pre-death.” Israeli Poet, Yehudi Amichai

There is an ancient Greek myth that carries within it, like a message in a bottle, one of the most crucial struggles we face as living beings. It is the story of a gifted musician, Orpheus, whose love, Eurydice, is taken by Hades, the god of the underworld. Orpheus is so grief stricken that he travels to the land of the dead to plead with Hades to give Eurydice back. After a cold and deliberate conservation, Hades says.”You can have her. It will take you three days to bring her back to the land of the living. There is one condition. You must carry her and you must not look upon her face until you reach the light. If you do, she will return to me forever.”

Unfortunately, unknown to Orpheus, Hades tells Eurydice the opposite, “He will carry you to the land of the living, and you must look upon him before you reach the light. If you do not, you will return to me forever.”   Their colossal struggle fails and Eurydice is lost forever.

The struggle for each of us, though, is ongoing. For there is an Orpheus in each of us that believes, if I look, I will die.  There is also a Eurydice in each of us that believes, if I don’t look, I will die.  And so, the great spiritual question, after “To be or not to be?” is to look or not to look.  The personal balance we arrive at determines whether we make it out of hell or not.

Though it shifts throughout our lives, according to our devotions, I believe each of us born with a natural leaning towards looking or not looking. Not surprisingly, I am one of those feminine seers: I believe that if I don’t look I will die. This probably has a lot to do with my calling to be a poet. So, I admit my bias. For though, like staring into the sun too long, there are times we mustn’t look to preserve our sight, more often we need to look to stay alive.

Like each of us, I struggle with both: to be the keeper of secrets or the discoverer of truths. Though no one can tell us how, we have to work this great battle again and again: to leave the underworld – not to harden – and to make our way back into the land of the living.

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