“Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself in dark woods, the right road lost. To tell about those woods is hard, so tangled and rough and savage that thinking of it now, I feel the old fear stirring. Death is hardly more bitter.”
For the past few days I have been reciting the above passage from Dante’s Inferno in preparation for a workshop I am taking this weekend with Members of the SITI Company. As I have attempted to commit this passage to memory, to learn its cadences, its patterns, its breath cues, I have found it interesting to examine what Dante may have meant by this passage.
The first thing that comes up is the idea of recounting or retelling a particular part of one’s life and the impact that repetition has on a person’s psyche. For Dante, revisiting the darkest part of his life was more painful than death. For whatever reasons, the twists, turns, and inherent uncertainty of which way to go, seemed more challenging, more frightening, than coming to the end of one’s road – literally and figuratively.
The second thing to come up, was this notion that there is a “right path” and a “wrong path.” For Dante, the presence of twists, turns, the unexpected, was an indication that he clearly was on the “wrong” path. But might he have had another relationship to his journey if he expected – believed – that hills and valleys were simply part of the landscape instead of indicators that he’d gone off course?
In thinking about both these ideas, I have been drawn to asking myself: how is it that I respond to the instances in life in which I feel that I must relive a somewhat unpleasant part of life? How do I interpret the various challenges, hick-ups, or detours that present themselves and have presented themselves along the way? Do I see them as part of the landscape or are they omens indicating that I took a “wrong” turn some where? And then of course, what about Dante? Could the pain that Dante reported in having to relieve a challenging part of life been sparked by the awareness of the discrepancy between one’s ideals and one’s reality? Or was it caused by something else? Perhaps the tendency to continue to cling so tenaciously to something that was never really there to begin with?
As I have been sitting with all these thoughts, and musing, another series of thoughts and musings came to mind that I wanted to share with you as contemplation points:
- And then of course, in what ways might you begin to soften your expectations of what “should be” versus what is? What ideals or ambitions might you need to surrender in order to not experience the present moment as being worse than a proverbial or literal death?
For me, these questions relate very strongly to the identities I hold of myself as a dancer and an artist. For you, such questions could be applied to your intimate relationships, your chosen profession, your living situation, or even your quest for better health. Whatever they apply, I would like to invite you to consider how you might soften your approach just a little so that life doesn’t become some dark woods to be gotten through, over, or past as quickly as possible. By doing so, we might begin to make space for the possibility that whatever is going on right now might be part of the landscape, and as such, may be an integral part of the story that we later retell triumphantly.