Hearts at Work
A Column by James Tipton
"To the time left she will show no mercy."
While reading the latest issue of Iron Horse Literary Review—published at Texas Tech University in Lubbock—I discovered “Heliotrope,” a fine poem about aging. The poet Leigh Anne Couch (who, incidentally, is managing editor of the venerable The Sewanee Review) writes that “I wanted to turn the cruelty women often apply to themselves and their aging bodies inside out, transforming that anger and fear into motivation for a more attentive life.”
In “Heliotrope,” a woman stands before a mirror which “strikes like a water snake…on the only face she’d been given to live in or out of.” A “small pamphlet” sighs that “even on a good day you look old.”
But facing herself, she realizes that, after all, she is in “this day,” a day in November, where falling leaves seem to announce “this is bird” and “this is dirt.” The immediacy of everything that surrounds her begins to draw her out of her body-bound and mind-bound self; and as she begins actually to feel “her feet on the old tile,” she begins to “forgive the face its indiscretions, its hackneyed lines….” Toward the end, we understand it is not yet joy that the woman feels, but at least it is acceptance; she is beginning to love what is…and again we see that word “forgive”: “Her squandered face she can forgive.”
With that forgiveness comes a re-commitment to the Present, to the Now, to living wisely and fully in the Now where she might no longer be bound by the definitions of herself that relentless time has so mercilessly beaten into her mind and her body. Indeed, she is ready now to turn the table on time. She announces in the final line, “To the time left she will show no mercy.”
In “Heliotrope,” the poet makes the rewarding decision to show time “no mercy,” to become attentive, and thus she moves beyond the woman in the mirror and takes her first steps toward a new and powerful sense of presence.
Eckhart Tolle, in The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightment, taught me most clearly how the ego exists only in time and how the present moment is the biggest threat to the existence of the ego because only past and future are important to the ego. The ego “is always concerned with keeping the past alive, because without it”—it wants to convince us—“who are you?” But, in fact, when you are present, the ego no longer exists. The domain of the ego is the past and also the future. Only the “present moment holds the key to liberation.”
However, when you are present, Tolle tells us, “You no longer are the emotion; you are the watcher, the observing presence. If you practice this, all that is unconscious in you will be brought into the light of consciousness.” Remember that when you are time-bound and mind-bound, emotions always want to take over and they will almost always succeed…“unless there is enough presence in you.”
Much of this is summed up with: “If you no longer want to create pain for yourself and others, if you no longer want to add to the residue of past pain that still lives on in you, then don’t create any more time, or at least no more than is necessary to deal with the practical aspects of your life. Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life. Whereas before you dwelt in time and paid brief visits to the Now, have your dwelling place in the Now and pay brief visits to past and future when required to deal with the practical aspects of your life situation. Always say ‘yes’ to the present moment.”