Before walking through any doorway,
One should look about;
One should peer around keenly:
Because one may never be certain where a foe
Sits within the hall before you.
–Havamal 1, Translation by Connla Freyjason
At face value, this may seem like an extraordinarily paranoid way of living one’s life. It calls to mind those warnings which now run at the beginning of a movie everytime we visit a theater: “Look around you and find the nearest exit; if someone behaves oddly, make your way to the nearest exit and move far, far away.” It’s a sad, scared world that we live in, and apparently, it was also a sad, scared world for our Ancestors.
But there’s far more to this passage than apparent paranoia:
- It is also a reminder to take the time to pause in life, and take a look around.
How often do we rush through life, never taking a moment even to pause to look over the threshold of a doorway before walking through it? I mean, when was the last time you paused, say, before your own front door, and took a moment to look at the door itself, or the wreath or besom you may have hanging upon it? Maybe even took those few extra moments to turn around and look back at your yard, and perhaps notice a blue jay or a squirrel who has likewise taken the time to pause, and look at you?
- It is a reminder to look before we leap.
How often have you gotten yourself in too far over your head because you simply jumped in with both feet before looking at all the angles of a situation? If you’re like me, this happens to you quite often! An important part of mindfulness is actually taking the time to “roll something around” in your mind and “peer at it keenly”. There may be pitfalls ahead that you might otherwise have overlooked.
- And, yes, it is a reminder to always have an exit strategy!
Taking those extra moments to be mindful of the situations in our lives can also help us to “find the exits”, and form valuable strategies for when we need to “bow out gracefully” (or even not-so-gracefully). On occasion, situations arise where we need to disentangle ourselves–maybe even flee–in order to live to fight another day. Such behavior is neither cowardice nor giving up, but instead, saving face and surviving: sometimes, having an exit strategy is the only way to keep our hamingja (our reputation and legacy) intact. It might be what is necessary to prevent you yourself from becoming the enemy.