Saturday, March 10, 2012

To deliver oneself up to silence

Photo, Untitled, by Thomas Merton
"To deliver oneself up, hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hill, or sea, or desert: to sit still while the sun comes up over the land and fills its silences with light. To pray and work in the morning and to labor in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars. This is a true and special vocation. There are few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence."
      ~Thomas Merton 

For many days we have had the words “Slow down . . . to the pace of the soul” hoisted up on the mast of this blog. Could it be that we have heeded our own advice, and not been tempted into a sense of obligation to post something? Silence here comes mostly from the constraints of our otherwise selves, apart from blogs: the stuff of life. But there is also something promising in this quiet, if it points to the “living and vigilant silence” Merton attended to, and Martha Graham demonstrated with her hands and countenance (see last post).

Silence in this quoted passage is something to be entered, and filled. Note the verbs Merton writes: deliver oneself up, hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely . . . fills, belong to, soak, breathe, feed on, and then turn into. For him silence sustains and nourishes. You might even feel that if it weren't for silence, he might not survive, with his soul intact.

If silence is to be submitted to, then it has authority. If it is to be entered, the way light enters it when the sun rises, then it is a space. If you can belong to it, then it is a proprietor. If it is air, and food, then it becomes a habit, necessary to life itself. And then, as if to say "you are what you eat" because what you invite into your bones, you become, Merton says we can turn the stuff of life into silence, to be the silence in the end!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Slow down . . .

Martha Graham
. . . to the pace of the soul...

. . . said my friend Inge recently, and it feels so familiar that she and I keep wondering if someone else famously spoke this gentle admonition first. But Web searches have found no such quote. 

I suppose there are people out there who might have to speed up to the pace of the soul. But for me, I often feel out of sync because my mind is ahead of me, leaning too anxiously into the next minute or hour, as if all the waking moments of my life are an emergency. Nothing new conceptually that “the tyrrany of the urgent” and The Power of Now (and the ancient wise ones) haven’t previously addressed, yet still I succumb to it. (Note to self: Contemplate the differences between emergency and emergent.)

Don’t my tense aching shoulders tell me something is amiss? This week I folded towels, as a break from university work on the laptop at home. The word grace filled me. My awkward hands felt graceful, not because they danced the way Martha Graham’s hands dance in the photograph here, but because I was doing what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. Another way of saying it is that I wanted to do what I was doing, what needed doing; and I enjoyed it. Even the towels themselves seemed to flow, in free, delicate motion, as if in a breeze.

Slow down to the pace of the soul. It's a matter of syncing what must be done in a limited amount of time, with the consciousness of staying present with what my soul wants, an abiding challenge.

We press forward. 
But this march of time— 
consider it a glimpse 
of what endures. 

All that hurries will 
soon enough be over, 
because what lingers 
is what consecrates us. 

O, young ones, don’t waste 
your courage on speed 
or squander it in flight. 

Everything is at rest: 
darkness and light, 
blossom and book. 

~ Rainer Maria Rilke 
“Sonette an Orpheus, I, XXII” 
Translated by Mark S. Burrows, 2009 

NOTE about the photo of Martha Graham, taken by Yousuf Karsh: When he arrived in her apartment for the photo session, Karsh was amazed, and impressed, that her lodgings were simple and small. The ceiling seemed to be touchable, so close. He wondered how he would be able to photograph her in dance poses. He placed her on a low stool and asked her to assume positions of dance. This photo was one result. 

~ Ruth

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Divine Play

Carl Jung mandala

One does not become enlightened
by imagining figures of light,
but by making the darkness conscious.

On New Year's Day our friend George of Transit Notes posted “Measures of Happiness” in which he brightly contemplates happiness, defined as “a wet dog, bathed in the golden light of a late December sun, breaking through the surf and calling upon me to forget myself and return to the world of divine play. . . .” (my bold) The post is full of poetic delight, as lively as waves crashing and spraying on a sunny beach. I hope that you, too, will read it and begin your year with that happiness.

It just so happened that within hours of relishing George's post, I returned to my shelved copy of Memories, Dreams, Reflections, to a chapter called "Confrontation with the Unconscious." I had read the quote at top recently and wanted to go back to Jung's memoir.

Just before WWI, Jung began deep work to make darkness within himself conscious. He had encountered childhood memories, with intense emotion. He realized this meant that the things in his memory were still alive, and that to harvest what was in them, he needed to play. And so he did. As he played each day, as if he were a boy again with building blocks, or constructing walls with stones and mud, memories and feelings surfaced, and he began to develop his personal myth, which had a profound impact on his entire life's work.

The first thing that came to the surface was a childhood memory from perhaps my tenth or eleventh year. At that time I had had a spell of playing passionately with building blocks. I distinctly recalled how I had built little houses and castles, using bottles to form the sides of gates and vaults. Somewhat later I had used ordinary stones, with mud for mortar. These structures had fascinated me for a long time. To my astonishment, this memory was accompanied by a good deal of emotion. “Aha,” I said to myself, “there is still life in these things. The small boy is still around, and possesses a creative life which I lack. But how can I make my way to it?" For as a grown man it seemed impossible to me that I should be able to bridge the distance from the present back to my eleventh year. Yet if I wanted to re-establish contact with that period, I had no choice but to return to it and take up once more that child’s life with his childish games. This moment was a turning point in my fate, but I gave in only after endless resistances and with a sense of resignation. For it was a painfully humiliating experience to realize that there was nothing to be done except play childish games.

Why play our childhood games? Why seek to discover our personal myths?

To find the elements that assist a writer as she writes poems or stories. To inform a painter of what connects him with the world. To enrich every aspect of life, as we meet loved ones and give them our best selves. To find inner strength. To go deeper into what is most alive in us.

"Perhaps creating something is nothing but an act of profound remembrance." (Rilke)

Maybe next snow I'll build a snow house like I did with my brothers when I was five, and discover something sacred worth remembering.

~ Ruth

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Pollen Path

Navajo sand painting of the Pollen Path

Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.

We have chosen this Navajo sand painting of the pollen path and quote from comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell as a fitting visual-verbal segue from the A Year With Rilke (AYWR) blog that just ended with the pollen endlessly released by Rilke's flower of farewell and this new venture, sparks and mirrors.

We, Ruth and Lorenzo, view this new blog as part of a continuum with its ‘spiritual’ predecessor blogs, A Year With Rilke and Rumi Days. To tell the truth, we are not sure exactly where this new blog will take us, but are eager to find out, in the company of all of you who care to come along and, hopefully, participate, much as you did over the course of last year on AYWR. We do view it, to intone today’s opening quote, as a space to share our personal and collective mythologies, our public and personal dreams, maybe even to create some new ones. Who knows?

As many of you are aware, Joseph Campbell wrote extensively, knowledgeably and passionately on myth, religion, poetry and metaphor and, most compellingly of all, on the interplay between them. A fine introduction and portal to his thinking can be found at the Joseph Campbell Foundation websiteWe’ll close this opening foray into sparks and mirrors with a longer quote from Joseph Campbell for your consideration, contemplation and comment. It is taken from his book length interview with Bill Moyers, later published as The Power of Myth:

Schopenhauer, in his splendid essay called "On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual," points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. So who composed that plot? Schopenhauer suggests that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, your whole life is composed by the will within you. And just as people whom you will have met apparently by mere chance became leading agents in the structuring of your life, so, too, will you have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others. The whole thing gears together like one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else. And Schopenhauer concludes that it is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature.

It’s a magnificent idea – an idea that appears in India in the mythic image of the Net of Indra, which is a net of gems, where at every crossing of one thread over another there is a gem reflecting all the other reflective gems. Everything arises in mutual relation to everything else, so you can’t blame anybody for anything. It is even as though there were a single intention behind it all, which always makes some kind of sense, though none of us knows what the sense might be, or has lived the life that he quite intended.

In our individual and team blogging experience, we both feel that we have ‘apparently by mere chance’ met people who then became ‘leading agents in the structuring’ of our blog personas and lives, friends and fellow bloggers with whom we truly feel meshed together in ‘one big symphony’.

And it is in that spirit that we, Ruth and Lorenzo, want to wish all of you, on this first day of this new year, a warm welcome to sparks and mirrors.