Lightly Child, Lightly

Even now,
decades after,
I wash my face with cold water –

Not for discipline,
nor memory,
nor the icy, awakening slap,

but to practice
to make the unwanted wanted.

—  Jane Hirshfield, “A Cedary Fragrance

I’ve written many, many poems out of the need to find a way to say yes to what I would, at first, rather say no to. Because our whole lives consist of such moments. Many things will happen to us that we would prefer not. We would prefer our loved ones don’t die. I would prefer the world were more sensible and kind and compassionate. I would prefer there not to be forest fires of such extraordinary devastation as we’ve been having, or fill in the blank.

But a human life requires all of these things. And so to every day begin the day with this simple affirmation of “I will make the unwanted wanted” has been a practice of decades for me now.

Jane Hirshfield, from an Interview with Ezra Klein in The New York Times, March 3, 2023


  • Portrait of Jane Hirshfield by Nick Rozsa in The Marginalian
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.


  1. typo: make the unwanted WANTED… (text)

    I’ve never looked at it this way; but why not? She sounds very sensible, a word, I find terribly difficult to use in different languages. It is another thing in French and I think (now) that I was thinking of sensitive….
    She feels things… that’s a great start. She describes her feelings and thoughts. That’s even better. I think I like her 🙂
    But I do prefer to wash my face and body with warm water; little luxury. I have enough things I don’t want to happen / endure / observe w/o hardening myself up with ‘making the unwanted wanted’.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The first time I read it, it didn’t make sense, the second time it did. In fact, it makes a lot of sense. It’s all about acceptance, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with Kiki…making the unwanted wanted is a challenge I can’t consider without coffee first. I think the gauntlet she tosses is interesting – and my first reaction challenges her challenge. Perhaps for me it’s more a question of accepting that both the unwanted and wanted exist simultaneously – and perhaps, are even situational. Clearly, this is tickling my brain cells this morning.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. <

    div dir=”ltr”>This is why I don’t swim/swim

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is an important part of many spiritual paths and is at the core of Eckhart Tolle’s teaching. Say YES to all of life, and not just the bits we like!
    Good one Dave💐

    Liked by 1 person

  6. An interesting premise. Brings to mind something I read the other day that suggested that, rather than look at a situation and say, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’ Say ‘What’s the best thing that can happen?’ Simple, but I liked the way it turned a common mantra on its head.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Jane Hirshfield is so dreamy, so beautiful. The way she feels.

    Is it a typo? I think she meant to say the unwanted unwanted the second time.

    I started by listening to this podcast. Then, I kept getting interrupted. I printed all 22 pages, and I can’t put it down.
    This interview is fascinating. I don’t think I knew enough about her, until now.
    Thank you so much for sharing. This restored my being.


  8. I get her point (a great one!), but this reminded me of husband saying he loved ice-skating because it felt so good to STOP! One evening while dating when there was no way for him to further help with kitchen things (after insisting I give him any bread heels or wilted lettuce), I suggested he go into the front room and make himself uncomfortable!


  9. Acceptance is one thing, actually wanting unpleasant things is another. She can have it all, as far as I’m concerned!


  10. This is such a powerful and insightful post. I am truly inspired by Jane Hirshfield’s practice of choosing to make the unwanted wanted, and the way she has incorporated this affirmation into her daily life. It reminds me of the importance of cultivating resilience and finding ways to say yes to the difficult aspects of life. I am curious, what are some other practices or strategies you have found helpful in coping with challenging situations? Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece.


    • Hi Brent. Thank you. I wish I had coping strategies that consistently worked for me. I have been taking morning walks at Cove Island Park since COVID hit. I find more peace and calm in these walks than any other “strategy” that I have attempted. I keep at it.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Christie says:

    Jane Hirshfield, you have shared her work, in the past… such inspiring words…I’ve not, not taken the time to explore her published works…something I must do! /// She looks so gentle & caring…and behind her beautiful face lives a soul of depth and a brain of knowledge…///this share is thought provoking…


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