I’ve become keenly aware over the past few years of what I call knife edge moments, where we are forced willingly or unwillingly to lick the sharp blade of nowness – directly engage with this world.
In a knife-edge moment something happens and we are directly presented with a choice – engage or don’t engage. Speak or don’t speak. Move into or stay put. We might have a split second, a few seconds, minutes or perhaps even as long as a few weeks to engage with this particular moment. And then it passes. There may be another similar moment that arises later where we could convince ourselves we will get the chance to choose again, or there may not. And so right there we have to choose which side of the knife edge to be on, or let it slice where it will, leaving us on one side or the other either way.
One poignant knife-edge moment that always comes powerfully to mind happened a couple of years ago when I was in the forest on a workshop retreat. There were several guides with us who each offered their own set of skills to help us as and when we needed. Each described their particular skills to us at the beginning of the day, and said that if we wanted to engage with them that we should let them know. One of them in particular really caught my attention deeply. He was a lean, muscular compact man, very skilled in body movement – you could see it oozing out of him all over. The way he moved through the world exuded body confidence, fitness, agility – fruits of a life spent in martial arts, dance and body awareness. This was the complete opposite of me – awkwardness, shyness, body shame. He said that he liked to play and wrestle. I had such a deep yearning to see if I could interact with him during the day, to work on some of this body shame with him. Something way outside my comfort zone, something my heart oh so deeply desired, but that I knew I might never be able to ask for.
We spent the day out in the forest, and I interacted with some of the guides throughout the day, and also spent a lot of time alone. Then at one point while I was alone, this particular guide came walking along the forest path, into the grove where I was. He came over to me and asked me how I was doing. Then asked if I needed anything. Inside I felt this incredible yearning and strong desire to interact with him. I stayed tongue tied and eventually stammered out that I was fine. He asked again whether I needed anything, and again I said I was fine. He said “ok”, and started to walk down the path out of the grove. He turned and said one last time – “ok, so you don’t need anything?”
Now I was on fire inside – every cell of my body was calling out to play, to wrestle, to leap around. And yet decades of habitualized shame were preventing me from saying what I wanted. And I knew that here, right here in this very moment was a knife edge. I had about 3 seconds, and reality would go either left or right with or without me. I would say something or I would not. We would engage, or we would not. He would stay and wrestle, or he would continue walking down the path, completely oblivious to the massive feelings roiling inside me.
I encounter these knife edge moments frequently – they happen all the time, indeed every moment in fact is one, but some of them in particular carry much more power to wake us up to them. Most of the time we’re oblivious to them as we go through our humdrum day – reacting more than proacting. Out there in the woods, engaged as I was in deep inner work related to shame, this particular one was giant. All the years of suppressing my voice came to a head and I knew that there would not be a moment like this again.
The thing is though that this is true about every single moment. There will never be one like this again. And if we can wake up to this fact, if we can decide to run our tongues across this knife edge of nowness and engage – make a choice, left or right, a conscious choice rather than a habitual one – then boy does this life light up.
This can happen in a conversation by stopping just reacting, and instead consciously and deliberately respond fully to the actual words being spoken by the beautiful being in front of you, or by actions we take to engage – say the words you want to say instead of holding back, taking the action you’re thinking about taking. The difference between doing and not doing is infinite. Left or right. Lick the blade of now.
Oh – did I speak or not that day out in the forest? Engage or not engage? Aright. Well, he was walking down the forest path, about to exit the grove, and had just asked for the third and final time whether I needed anything, and I had squeaked out my reply – “no, I’m good.”
My insides were churning, knowing that was not true. And so about 2 seconds after I said that, as he exited the grove, I croaked out timidly, but said it: “unless you want to play and wrestle.”
Those two seconds teetering on the knife edge were the longest I’d ever experienced. My mind was trying to work out all the scenarios, and was working faster than it ever had, but also knew that there no was no time left. Choose – left or right. I knew which way my heart was screaming. And so I spoke, right in the cusp of that knife edge moment. He turned and said “what?” I repeated it, a little stronger the second time. He turned back into the grove, came over to me and leapt on top of me! And we had a deeply healing and powerful time rolling around on the ground, something that I’ve denied myself doing my entire life. I went on to be in contact with him, saw him several more times, ended up traveling to his practice in a different state and did some great healing work with him. In that moment I made the choice to engage, to lick the blade of nowness and delight in the taste of blood.