The White Bull

The other day I posted a poem by Jane Hirshfield called Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World.  As I read this for the first time, I was struck by the beauty and simplicity- of the poet’s ability to say so much with so little.  It reflects, very much, my personal beliefs about the struggles we face in life.  Each struggle can be looked at as a gift and treated as one we asked for.

We all have moments that are incredibly challenging.  Beyond those struggles we also sometimes face immense storms, filled with a fierce current of electricity that will test not only our strength but our will, our desire, love and passion.  These are the major crossroads of our lives – moments we don’t necessarily control, that we should never want to control, but the very ones that will define, in some way, our future.

Sometimes we are confronted with an event or series of events that overwhelm and change everything as we know it.  Human natures makes it all but impossible not to wish it away because, more often than not, it feels like a curse – so filled with pain and turbulence.  It feels like it robs us of our sanity, of our very center, and sends us reeling.  It leaves us completely confused, out of control and wild. We find ourselves reaching out to grasp for the things we know – for anything that feels normal.  We want our life back, we want our things, our family, our friends and that sense of knowing who we are and where we’re going.  We struggle to regain our routines, the known world that, until a moment ago, was so easily navigated.  We yearn for a sense of control over our lives when, in fact, forcing it is the worst thing we can do when confronted with a powerful creature like a bull.  There is no manipulation, we cannot put boundaries or expectations on a moment like this one –  only accept the risks and hope the gift is worth the price we’ll pay.

The beauty in these moments in is the surrender, in learning to find the gift – of experience, knowledge, growth, understanding, love.  The gift is in the  journey, the time spent in the presence of the white bull, the ability to survive, to find strength in the undertaking and emerge form the experience a changed person.  This transformation can never be taken away from us and is, in fact, part of who we are.  It is stamped on our soul, has blown a new experiential hole wide open and allows us to seek new truths, behold new ideas about the kind of person we long to be, and it allows us to discover, once again, that the human spirit is indestructible.  We have the capacity to overcome the deepest pain, the greatest hurt and to burst across the night sky like a shooting star.

To say that the last year of my life has been one enormous storm is an understatement.  So many things have happened and so much has changed and there have been days where I have wished it all away for a moment of peace, familiarity, for escape from the paralyzing feelings.  There are still times where I want to control what is happening.  I think, perhaps, one of the greatest lessons is that no matter how these moments play out, how great our desire is to steer an experience in one direction or another, it never works out the way we hope and, often, things end up so much more complicated.  The surrender to the moment is, truly, the path to gaining the greatest reward – the acceptance that what happens will happen, life unfolds as it needs to.  We have plenty of situations that we can control, things we can put our stamp on, decisions we can make, but this kind of moment, this white bull that steps shining into the world, is not a moment like that.  You have to let go of the desire, let go of the wanting, let go of the effort to make it, shape it, push it towards where you want it to take you.  No.  As hard as it is, these moments have to be left to unfold, and you will see that there is great beauty not only in the moment itself, but in your ability to relinquish the reins and say…Okay.  Give it to me.  Whatever you’ve got.  I want it.

This has been one of those hard-earned lessons I’ve mentioned lately.  In my desire to control so many things, I’ve only sent myself spinning further and further out of control.  Peace has only come in the instances where I fling my arms wide open and offer that need to bargain, to make deals, to choose directions and direct the course of events and I tell the gods, the universe, the world – take it.  TAKE IT.  I don’t want this anymore.  Let it unfold.  Let the road go where it may.  But this is not easy.  As someone who has spent so much time living in the comfortable bubble of controlling who comes in and out, what happens and what doesn’t, what feelings are allowed in and which are left at the door…it is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.  It certainly is a choice I have to make again and again, as I am prone to forgetting the necessity of surrendering to these momentous experiences.

I believe that in life, in society as we know it, we’re told to make things happen.  We’re often made to feel like we have to set goals and then reach out and grab them.  I think there is validity to that, to achievements and aspirations, to endgames and finding success.  I also believe that beyond that, especially within these profound times of change and challenge, the point isn’t to set a goal and tear after it, rather to set intentions and allow life to do the work, allow it to come to us, because the world has a funny way of making things happen for us so much of the time.  Life happens all around us regardless of our participation and perhaps the point is, so much of the time, to have patience, to be steady and strong as we face the tides of change and endure. Are we to sit quietly and listen for the wind, let it come and carry us away to the mystery that we can only imagine in the deep sea of our unconscious?  Is that what it is to truly live?  To let go of all yearning, all the struggle, the desire to hold on to the familiar and find ourselves standing at the precipice, waiting for the wind to push us over into the dangerous opportunities that lay between the safety of our ledge and the ground far below?  Trust the process, trust the universe, trust your strength and will to survive and let the moment unfold before you – love it.  Love the unknowable, the uncertainty, the tides of change, the unpredictability.  Loosen your grip, let go, open your hand and lat caution fly out so that all the beauty of life’s possibilities can flutter onto your palm.  Resist the urge to grasp it and simply let it be.  Trust life to happen and know that what comes is what is right.


  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the ‘White Bull’ poem. Your reflections are helpful to me at a difficult point in my life. I actually wrote to Roger Housden for some advice on my problem, and he wrote back (!!!) telling me to read this poem. Wonderful, as were your thoughts.

    I work for Mercy Corps in the south Lake Union ‘hood of Seattle. Stop by sometime or give me a shout and I’ll buy you a beer at Paddy Coyne’s.

    Thanks again,

    Steve Nantz

  2. heathen
    February 16, 2011

    Hi Steve! I love this poem – it has become a favorite, for sure. 🙂 Thanks for your thoughts and I’m glad anything I might have had to say could be a help…I hope things are less difficult…:)

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