Light in Dark Times
Yesterday we worked with the line in Rilke’s “Experience” about his body being treated like a soul. After some discussion in pairs about what our souls need, we centered on the meditation phrase,
My body is being treated like a soul.
The aim was, as always, to make the sentence true and real in the moment of meditating it – to take responsibility for it.
At the end of the meditation, when I rang the bell, many participants noticed that the sound was louder than ever before, even alarmingly so. Rather than leaving the body for a soul/spiritual experience, we allowed the body itself to become more soul-like, or the soul to become the body.
And the room changed through our shared activity. The space between, within and around us changed in quality, turning into something that can't quite be delimited as physical or non-physical. Let's say that the space itself, and not only the things in it, became inhabited and alive.
We closed with “When kingfishers catch fire,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
For Rilke, the faculty that could sense the Great Life always involved an intimation of something more, something greater, something looming and growing within us even through our most difficult times.
He advises the young Kappus, his correspondent in Letters to a Young Poet, not to shrink from an all-enveloping sadness:
“You must think that something is happening within you….Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don’t know what work they are accomplishing within you?”
The unobserved inner work looms like something personal, like an observing presence or enormity—not a normal person. A someone, then, or a whole field of being, develops within you. It is utterly unfamiliar and nevertheless turns out to be something like your most ancient home and friend.
In his poem, “The Seer,” Rilke contrasts our paltry victories in daily life to the encounter with the “eternal, the uncommon,” which cannot be bent by our will. For him, the seer is the person who can enter into a kind of combat, like Jacob wrestling with the angel, with the aim, not of victory, but precisely of “being deeply vanquished by an ever greater” vastness.
Here’s another characterization of how the great opening and the great meeting are one and the same:
Everywhere appearance and vision came, as it were, together in the object, in every one of them [physical objects around him] a whole inner world was exhibited, as though an angel, in whom space was included, were blind and looking into himself. This world, regarded no longer from the human point of view, but as it is within the angel, is perhaps my real task, one, at any rate, in which all my previous attempts would converge.
Briefe aus den Jahren 1914-1921, 80.
The angel includes space. Its interiority is Rilke’s way of perceiving this very world.
He asks, piercingly, in the third Sonnet to Orpheus,
“When are we, and when does he turn the earth and the stars toward our existence?”
Again, in the last of the Sonnets, Rilke finds that,
“What feeds on you [when you transform yourself into and out of the things around you] becomes something vast through this nourishment.”
Again and again, the life of feeling is invoked as the way to open and mingle, so that the universe both increases through your efforts and you are increased by its attentions. He might have appreciated the Tibetan slogan, “Mix your mind with the sky.”
Here is a late poem that guesses in still another way at the interconnectivity of minds and worlds:
Whatever our spirit wrests from confusion
benefits life sometime.
Even if it’s sometimes only thoughts,
they dissolve into that greater blood
that circulates further…..
And if it’s feeling? Who knows how far it reaches,
and what it accomplishes in that pure space
in which a little more of heavy and of light
moves worlds and shifts a star.
Next Tuesday, we’ll take the first two lines of this poem as our central meditative theme. [Was unser Geist dem Wirrnis abgewinnt, /kommt irgendwann Lebendigem zugute.] Can we know directly that our understandings benefit life?
As usual these days, we’ll be thinking of a specific “dead” person before the meditation. You pick someone who loved you, and whom you loved, who has passed through the gates of death. Think of them any way you like: in images, words, memories, reflections on their virtues or problems. Just don’t try to do anything to them or for them and don’t try to get anything from them. You are simply bringing them to mind.
Then we turn to the central meditation (those first two lines of the poem) and let the person alone during our immersion in it.
At the end of the central meditation, when the bell rings, we each turn again inwardly and briefly toward the person we had focused on at the start.
We will probably close with a brief metta, in which we wish four things -- happiness, health, freedom from fear, freedom from unhelpful obstructions -- for each of four different people: first for ourselves, then for someone we easily love, then for someone indifferent to us, then for someone whom we find hard to love.
All blessings to all,
(For more from Sharon Salzberg, our American apostle of metta, visit her site http://www.sharonsalzberg.com )