In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.

The opening lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy

Look how this wilderness
swept in around us—
while we slept,
while we paid the rent,
while we ordered another round.

By the time we looked up
all our paths were gone. The forest
presses in on all sides,
every direction an equal mystery
of tangle and dark.

Breathe now.

Breathe down into 
your wild body, 
into its sudden alertness, 
its burning need to keep you safe.
There are parts of you that know
how to stand still in this place,
parts of you that will know
which step to take.

My friend John featured the poem in this video essay about the pandemic.

A couple weeks ago, as the full weight of this crisis started to settle on me, I organized a meeting of a small contemplative group I’m part of. But with only an hour left before the meeting I couldn’t figure out how to open it. What words or images could possibly meet people where they’re at right now?

Then I remembered a line I’ve heard David Whyte use in various talks. It’s the first line of Dante’s Divine Comedy where he says, “In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.”

I felt my body relax. That was it.

We’ve all suddenly found ourselves in the middle of an uncharted wilderness.

This poem grew out of that recognition. And the further remembering that we are not separate from the wilderness around us. That there are deep, wild parts of ourselves that know how to live with danger and uncertainty.

I hope it helps you feel a little more grounded in this time of swirling uncertainty, as it did for me.