Yesterday we had a powerful meditation centering on the first two lines of Rilke’s “Still friend….” Sonnet II, 29. We experimented with the three-part breath (inbreath, outbreath, pause), but focused above all on distances.
In our contemporary American spirituality, it is as if we have forgotten how splendid distance, perspective, depth, can be. We are reduced to the Now, the moment. How liberated Scrooge felt when, awakening from his transformative dream, he cried out,
Yes! I will live with Time! I will live with Past, Present and Future!
The sweep of his biography and beyond, backwards and forwards in time, grew charged and alive and heart-opening for him.
In our meditation, we allowed our breath to stretch out into all kinds of extension. “Longing, we say,” says Robert Hass, “because desire is full of endless distances.” And desire itself is not such a bad or narrow business, as perceptive Buddhist interpreters like Mark Epstein have noted. Rather, worthwhile desire reaches us from afar. It is our gift from the stars. We actually do count, we matter to the universe, and our meditation’s aim was to let the reach of our memories and fantasies and desires connect us, rather than alienate us, and become active contributions to that pure space Rilke is always indicating.
Next week, we move on to lines 3 to 6:
becoming the bell;
guessing at the thing (“what consumes you”) that grows through our transformations;
the suggestion that we make this a practice.
Here is the poem again in English and, by popular request, in German too:
Still friend of the many distances, feel
how your breath increases space still more.
In the dark bell tower’s timber,
let yourself chime. What consumes you 4
grows strong on this kind of food.
Go in and out of transformation.
What is your most agonizing experience?
If drinking is bitter to you, become the wine. 8
Be, in this night of excessiveness,
the magic power at the crossroads of your senses:
their rare encounter’s sense. 11
And if what is earthly forgot you,
to the still earth say: I flow.
To the rushing water speak: I am. 14
Stiller Freund der vielen Fernen, fühle,
wie dein Atem noch den Raum vermehrt.
Im Gebälk der finstern Glockenstühle
laß dich läuten. Das, was an dir zehrt,
wird ein Starkes über dieser Nahrung.
Geh in der Verwandlung aus und ein.
Was ist deine leidenste Erfahrung?
Ist dir Trinken bitter, werde Wein.
Sei in dieser Nacht aus Übermaß
Zauberkraft am Kreuzweg deiner Sinne,
ihrer seltsamen Begegnung Sinn.
Und wenn dich das Irdische vergaß,
zu der stillen Erde sag: Ich rinne.
Zu dem raschen Wasser sprich: Ich bin.
We will be making experiments, next Tuesday, with metamorphosis—the key to spiritual adventure from Ovid to Kafka and now to us.
And to ground us in what we care about, we are continuing with our sandwich or bookend meditation. That is, we surround the central exploration with an orientation to those whom we loved, and who loved us, who are no longer involved in physical bodies as they used to be. Our “dead,” in other words.
It is ever more clear to me that while I put a lot of thought and my whole background into these writings and these meetings, nothing comes about without the very personal interaction between us. It is our whole- and light-hearted conversation – both audible and inaudible – that invites the theme of meditation to come alive for a time among us.
And you who only read these messages from far away: I hope you feel, sometimes, as I do, that you are with us too—distance or no.
All blessings to all,