About Initiation, Part 2   2 comments

Go to Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

I speak for myself, of course.  It’s all that any of us can do.  But as I approach what is most deeply true for me, I find I can begin to speak true for others, too.  Most of us have had such an experience, and it’s an instance of the deep connections between us that we often forget or discount.  I’m adding this Part Two because the site stats say the earlier post on initiation continues to be popular.

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Within us are secrets.  Not because anyone hides some truths from us, but because we have not yet realized them.  The truest initiations we experience seem ultimately to issue from this inner realm of consciousness where the secrets arise.  Deeper than any ocean, our inner worlds are often completely unknown to us.  “Man is ‘only’ an animal,” we hear.  Sometimes that seems the deepest truth we can know.  But animals also share in profound connections we have only begun to discover.  We can’t escape quite so easily.

Our truest initiations issue from inside us.  Sometimes these initiations come unsought.   Or so we think. Maybe you go in to work on a day like any other, and yet you come home somehow different.  Or you’re doing something physical that does not demand intellect and in that moment you realize a freedom or opening of consciousness.  Sometimes it can arrive with a punch of dismay, particularly if you have closed yourself off from the changes on the move in your life. In its more dramatic forms initiation can bring with it a curious sense of vulnerability, or even brokenness — the brokenness of an egg that cracks as this new thing emerges, glistening, trembling.  You are not the same, can never be the same again.

The German poet Rilke tries to catch something of this in his poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo.”  He’d been blocking at writing the poems he desired,  poems of greater depth and substance, instead of the often abstract work he’d composed until then, and his friend the sculptor Rodin sets him to studying animals.  Rilke admires Rodin’s intensely physical forms and figures, and Rilke ends up writing about a classic figure of Apollo that is missing the head.  Yet this headless torso still somehow looks at him, holds him with eyes that are not there.  Initiation is both encounter, and its after-effects.

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit.  And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power.  Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

I may witness something that is simply not there for others, but nonetheless it is profoundly present for me.  Or I see something that is not for the head to decipher, interpret, judge and comment on.  There’s nothing there for the intellect to grasp.  In the poem, the head of the sculpture of Apollo is missing, and yet it sees me, and I see or know things not available to my head.  I feel the gaze of the sculpture.  I encounter a god.  Or just a piece of stone someone shaped long ago into a human figure, that somehow crystallizes everything in my life for me right now.  Or both.

The sensation of initiation can be as intensely felt and as physical as sexuality, “that dark center where procreation flared.”  It hits you in your center, where you attach to your flesh, a mortal blow from a sword or a gesture that never reaches you, but which still leaves you dizzy, bleeding or gasping for breath.  Or it comes nothing like this, but like an echo of all these things which have somehow already happened to you, and you didn’t know it at the time — it somehow skipped right past you.  But now you’re left to pick up the pieces of this thing that used to be your life.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

You feel Rilke’s discovery in those last lines*, the urgency, the knowledge arriving from nowhere we can track.  I have to change, and I’ve already changed.  I know something with my body, in my gut, that my head may have a thousand opinions about.  I may try to talk myself out of it, but I must change.  Or die in some way.  A little death of something I can’t afford to have die.  There is no place in my life that does not see me, that feeling rises that I can’t escape, and yet I must escape.  It’s part of what drives some people to therapy.  Sometimes we fight change until our last breath, and it takes everything from us.  Or we change without knowing it, until someone who knows us says, “You’ve changed.  There’s something different about you.  I can’t put my finger on it,” or they freak at the changes and accuse us, as if we did it specifically to spite them.  “You’re not the person you used to be,” meaning you’re no longer part of the old energy dynamic that helps them be who they are, and now they must change too.  Initiation ripples outward.  John Donne says, “No man is an island, entire of itself.  Each man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”  Sometimes it’s my own initiation, sometime I’m feeling the ripples from somebody else’s.  The earthquake is in the neighborhood, right down the street, in the next room, here — or across the ocean.  But ripples in each case.

Sometimes we “catch” initiation from others, like a fire igniting.  We encounter a shift in our awareness, and now we see something that was formerly obscure.  It was there all along, nothing has changed, and yet … now we know something we didn’t before.  This happens often enough in matters of love.  The other person may have been with us all along, nothing has changed … and yet now we feel today something we didn’t feel yesterday.  We know it as surely as we know our bones.  We can feel the shift under our skin.  The inner door is open.  Do we walk through?

Go to Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

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*Mitchell, Stephen, trans. The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (English and German edition).  Vintage, 1989.

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2 responses to “About Initiation, Part 2

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  1. Ah yes, Initiation is Endless. I like how in the movie V, when the character Evie is at her moment of revelation and all the walls of illusion tumble, there’s simultaneaously a tremendous thunderstorm occuring. The poet in us feels that there should always be a thunderstorm breaking at such moments, but quite oftyen there is only the ticking of a clock.
    Thankx for an innaresting piece of writing.

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