I started listening to a podcast recently. The Daily Poem, as the name suggests, offers poetry every weekday morning. Episodes begin with a recitation. This is followed by a short commentary from the show’s host, David Kern. A second reading then concludes each broadcast. The last few weeks have featured Wendell Berry’s ‘A Purification’, Sally Thomas’ ‘Obscure Constellation in Winter’, and Lisel Mueller’s ‘Monet Refuses the Operation’, among others.
What’s curious about this development is not the fact I’ve subscribed to this production, nor that I tune in more often than not. I’m not surprised I am listening to poetry of all things – a form that often befuddles me – nor that I really enjoy what I hear. What has been curious and surprising is how much I resist all this.
‘I never imagined I’d become a podcast listener.’ This is a common thought of late. It’s something I’ve come to repeat like a chant or mantra. ‘I never imagined I would…’ I complain to myself. As I think my way through this liturgy, a surge of tension fills my chest, my shoulders, my throat. Sometimes the words have barely enough room to take shape amidst the holding. ‘I never imagined I would…’
What I am experiencing here is the presence of ego. The presence, to be more precise, of a relatively fixed and rigid sense of ‘I’ – ‘I’ am not a podcast listener – that will fight tooth and nail to maintain itself. That will riddle the body with tension in order to brace against the truth of a particular moment. In this case, against the truth that I am a podcast listener.
Admittedly, this does not seem a big deal – which is why moments like this are so rich with possibility. When stakes get higher, I find myself way too enmeshed with ego’s defensiveness to have much conscious awareness of what’s going on. When discussing differing political orientations, for instance, ‘I’ often becomes so activated that I do not notice its symptomatic tension and discursiveness.
My listening to a poetry podcast, while activating in the ways noted above, brings nothing near this degree of protectiveness. As a result, there’s an opportunity to see some pervasive dynamics at work. How I dismiss something I find pleasurable in order to preserve my notion of ‘I’, for instance. How this action brings a fair amount of physical rigidity and ill-ease.
There’s also an opportunity for this: to guide my attention into this tension-filled body for a moment. To let awareness open within the struggle and allow the warmth of this soften everything it touches. There is an opportunity to glimpse, in other words, an instant of ‘ego less-ness’. An instant in which solidity perforates and that rigid sense of ‘I’ – ‘I never imagined I’d become a podcast listener’ – becomes a little less so.