This last Tuesday, we considered Rilke’s poem about silence. We tried to sense, in our meditation, a silence that no sounds (inner or outer) can disturb. This silence, audible light, is the very possibility for speech, meaning, sound, and all else. It can be thought of as your life’s own expectant silence, or as a kind of infinitely patient invitation.
If there is one key to the kingdom of the spiritual worlds and adult development, it is concentration. Practicing concentration of various kinds, we find that we can direct it; that concentration (or attention, or devotion, or immersion) can deepen; that through this deepening, categories like subject and object tend to soften, merge, switch places, or even get replaced by a completely different set-up. At the same time, significance, meaning, beauty, and connection, grow more eloquent.
The form of concentration Rilke privileged over all others was what he called feeling. He directed this feeling- attention to inner states, to nature, to supernatural forces or beings, and to literature, and he practiced it so deeply that these aspects of the universe became revelatory.
Here is the little poem, “Progress,” that he wrote at the age of25:
And again my deep life rustles louder,
as if it now flowed between wider banks.
Things grow ever more related to me,
and all images more beheld.
I feel more intimate with the nameless.
With my senses, as with birds, I reach
into the windy heavens out of the oak.
And into the broken-off day of the pond
my feeling sinks as if riding on fishes.
The “deep life” is not the life of outer events, not the life that finds its way into a curriculum vitae.
“louder,” “wider,” “more related,” “more beheld,” “more intimate”: these comparatives are typical of Rilke, as he tries to tease us into a certain direction of awareness.
“Nameless”: We normally name what fits into normal consciousness. The task of poetry and prophetic speech is to name what doesn’t fit into normal consciousness – what normally remains nameless.
“I reach into the windy heavens out of the oak”: Not out of his body, not out of his eyes or ears, but his senses reach out of the tree. The world that we normally think of as other is included in the wider banks of his deep life.
“broken-off day,” “feeling”: The pond’s surface stops the daylight, stops his physical senses, but not his feeling-sense. Feeling can perceive right into the unseen, the invisible – and it’s as at home there as the natural denizens of the realm (fish).
The poem represents progress, for the young Rilke, because his capacity to feel the inside of the world has increased. It is this capacity for a more intimate sensing that takes him further than verbal or rational thinking, and that will eventually link him with the so-called dead.
We are using Rilke and his preoccupations to help us in our own exploration of the Great Life. We will spend next Tuesday’s session in practices that invite the feeling-sense that precedes and accompanies and exceeds our deepest thoughts.
And once more: why do we care about the dead?
Well, why care about the living?
We are stronger together. That’s one reason.
All blessings to all,