“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 my life and how is it that I interpret the various challenges, hick-ups, or detours that present themselves? The pain that Dante reported from having to relive challenging parts of one’s life, may have been sparked more from the awareness of the discrepancy between one’s ideals and reality. Or the pain could have been caused by continuing to cling so tenaciously to something that was never really there to begin with.
The questions I have for you, the questions I am working to answer for myself, are: How do you interpret the unexpected parts of the journey and how can you begin to soften your expectations of what “should be” versus what is? Likewise, what ideals 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 have to do with 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 it is, 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 and instead whatever is going on right now is part of the landscape and an integral part of the story that you later retell triumphantly.