It has been over twenty years since I wrote the poem Stand Undiminished. It started out as a dream, was shared with the community where I lived, and is a poem I learn from every day of my life. Its words are powerful and its intention felt. The poem blames no one but some feel blame when I read it. The poem speaks truth yet some deny its words are fact. I merely wrote down what came to me.
I was living at Esalen, a small community and retreat center on the Big Sur coast of California. It was late fall, 1998. A friend, Diana, pulled me aside in the dinning hall and began to tell me a dream she had in which an angel came to her side. Diana was standing upon a bluff overlooking the ocean and the angel told her to “stand undiminished”.
“What do you think that means?” she asked.
“I do not know,” I replied, “but it would be a great title for a poem.”
That night I wrote the words “stand undiminished” on a post-it note and stuck in on my computer. Those words greeted me each morning as I sat at my desk but no words or thoughts for a poem ever came to me. I drew a blank every time I thought about the words “stand undiminished”.
In desperation for some insight I turned to my dictionary and looked up undiminished. The word was not in my dictionary. So I looked up diminished and it read, “to lessen, reduce; to make smaller.”
No wonder I couldn’t write a poem about standing undiminished. I never had. For much of my life I made myself smaller. I reduced my brightness so that others would feel safe or comfortable around me. I played whatever role I was expected to play. I had not allowed me to be me. This insight was a gift from which I set about to learn.
Marianne Williamson said,
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us.
I started to be the light I am, without fear. A friend remarked that I looked as if I were walking three inches off the ground. Were the affects of this insight so visible?
A short time latter I sat down at my desk and the poem flowed through me. I didn’t think it. I didn’t plan it. I didn’t make notes. It just came. It is what poets call an ancestral poem because the poem embraces the primal me but the experiences are not directly my own. It is a historical experience of my race but it is not a poem about race. It is a poem about finding wholeness using the example of race.
I looked up at the calendar. It was January 15, 1999. More than three months from the day I placed the post-it note on the computer. It was Martin Luther King’s birthday. Maybe the poem is about him. He certainly did “stand undiminished”. So I typed out a banner that said “Happy Birthday Martin,” attached the poem, and posted it on the bulletin board outside the dining hall before breakfast. At dinner that evening a coworker came by my table.
“Hey, nice poem. I’ve been wondering why everyone’s wishing me ‘Happy Birthday.’ It’s not my birthday for another three months.”
His name was Martin.
Although the poem could have been written for Martin or for Martin Luther King, it was written also for me and for you. It is not about black or white. It is written for everyone. It is one of my best poems but I’m really just its messenger. The poem speaks for itself.
“What do you think “stand undiminished” means?” Diana might ask today.
“It means every element of your being has the power, the permission, the blessings of the blessed, to seek and befriend on every path, road, mountain passage, or astral plane the limitless aspects of you. It means to be and to accept all that you are and are not with grace not shame, with love, and not distain. It means to overcome the power of your own fear, to be the light you are, and to stand in full sail to the wind at every juncture of your life. It means not to be contained by any system, especially your own. It means to live knowing this life is a gift to you, to me, and to all kind.” I would answer.
“How long do you think this will take?” she might also ask.
How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.