Archive for the ‘Rilke’ Tag

True News, A Birthright   Leave a comment

“Our task”, says Rilke, “is to listen to the news that is always arriving out of silence”.

I usually avoid the political on this blog, and I’ll touch on it here only tangentially, because my purposes aren’t usually aligned with politics anyway. It’s simply not an arena where I work most effectively, having honed other skills for other goals. And by the time you’ve finished this post, you may be annoyed enough that you know as well as I do why I don’t “go political” any more often than I do. I usually irritate people on all sides.

It seems the job of our human ingenuity to rebel against absolutes, and against such tasks as others impose on us, even if they’re poets. Maybe especially if they’re poets. We turn away from our birthright, like a nursing infant fussing and refusing breast or bottle. Even the word “birthright” has gone out of fashion. (“Birthright? What’s that?”) And the cosmos spots us plenty of slack at first to rebel, to defy the augury, to “do it my way”. (After all, they say, “it takes all kinds to make a world”.)

True news a birthright?

So much of what passes for news isn’t even other people’s, but a kind of noise we make to fill up the silence, the same noise that rises up when we try to meditate or discover some silence in ourselves. And while it’s important to keep track of the world, up to a point, I often spin well past that point, leaving it far behind in the dust. When I return, I can’t even see it anymore, just my own footprints. On the trail of everything else but what and where I am, what else can I encounter but fake news?!

But “the news that’s always arriving out of silence” doesn’t originate from a partisan source, unless you feel the cosmos has recently turned partisan. I hear myself in it, my own deepest concerns, as much as anyone else’s. It doesn’t strive to convince me of anything. Like sun and rain, it exists, indifferent to whether I care or pay attention at all.

I don’t know about you, but my ancestors within my living memory talked of “inner resources”, and silence often was chief among them.

I note that Rilke doesn’t say we have to do anything beyond listening. (Did he know from experience that the initial choice and challenge to listen already demanded enough of us? And was it really any easier then, during his lifetime, to listen?) In listening, each person may hear something slightly or very different. But listening’s a place to begin.  It’s a practice. Listen, and we apprentice ourselves to true news.

We also hear a lot about rights these days, with nearly everyone insisting on them, like children squabbling over cookies. We hear much less about responsibilities, about the tasks and practices Rilke and others among the Wise have set before us. As with prayer in the previous post, if we’re all saying “give” and holding out for gifts, who’s doing anything else? Who’s taking up the task of embodying rather than merely asking? There’s a place for petition. But if I first take up my responsibility, I find that rights begin to fall into place more readily. In fact, I submit that’s the only way it can happen. Responsibilities first, rights second. We can’t have one without the other. If I have to wait until “someone else gives me the right to …”, I must also wait until that someone else picks up the responsibility that underlies it.

The sequence of responsibility first and rights second can help sidestep obsessions with privilege and race and identity and all the other noises we’re distracting ourselves with these days. Insofar as Druidry is political, it says that what we need most deeply has always been with us. We don’t need to go looking elsewhere. The Wiccan Charge of the Goddess, subversive still, echoes this:  “… if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without. For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire”. (The wisdom may have originated with Rumi: “If you find me not within you, you will never find me. For I have been with you from the beginning”.)

We may despise such wisdom and call it privilege or some other distracting name, without ever noticing it’s still true, and acting on it to find out how it might transform us.

We also don’t like prophets who tell us “The poor you will always have with you”. It seems an admission of defeat, or an acknowledgement of hopelessness. But it doesn’t mean that we ignore the issue. It can mean rather that we see it as characteristic of a predicament rather than a situation admitting a solution. There’s no “fix”, but there are stances, perspectives, approaches that work better than our present strategies. “There are no lakes till eternity”, Rilke says elsewhere.

We are not permitted to linger, even with what is most intimate. From images that are full, the spirit plunges on to others that suddenly must be filled; there are no lakes till eternity.

We face climate change and climate deniers, right and left, public and private, ecological and economic, old and young, male and female. We face fear in equal parts with love. Problems we thought solved haven’t gone away but instead sprout new thorns. We may wish these weren’t our challenges. “So”, says Gandalf, “do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”. Or refuse to. Native peoples in the Americas tried to make choices with the next seven generations in mind. We’re often choosing for just the next election cycle, let alone a single generation. In the end, diagnosis isn’t what we need. Prognosis would help. A course of treatment would help more. “Our task”, says Rilke …

And, peace to the pop Wizards among us, we do keep deciding. And deciding. Those decisions, not some imagined ideal, but what we actually do, are what shape our days. But this isn’t bad news. It can be liberating: we can choose, and do, differently if we will. It lies with us. We make, and break, and some live through it to remake again. Slow learners all. I’ve got snow to shovel.

 /|\ /|\ /|\

Advertisements

Not Doing the Work   Leave a comment

Because sometimes, especially this time of year as we approach the Solstice, an animal lethargy creeps in and “what matters most” means eating and sleeping. You should be hibernating, whispers Oldest Brain. And I long to listen.

Not doing the work is familiar by now. And all around us flash examples too numerous to count. Headlines and posts and memes and Facebook feeds, what’s trending, and even our friends may not offer what we need. Or indeed be working actively against it. Peep at a partner and they’re no help either, most likely because they’re in the thick of their own version. Or will be soon enough. (Sometimes it’s the height of respect simply not to dump my load onto my wife’s.) To lift a few lines from Rilke for my purposes,

Often a star was waiting for you to notice it.
A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past,

or as you walked under an open window, a violin yielded itself to your hearing.
All this was mission. But could you accomplish it?

Look, if we want an easy Bard, then we need to tune to another channel. Rilke isn’t it.

Sometimes it’s not even clear what he’s naming for himself, for us by proxy, though we may feel it in our marrow. Possibility slips by and sleep calls, that easy drowse-and-wait. Sometimes, true enough, sleep is good strategy. Only you and you and I and she and he and they can tell, each by ourselves, if such a strategy fits right now, peering between a dream and a nightmare and the choices seen and unseen that keep tickling our skin and our blood.

For it seems that everything hides us.
Look: trees do exist; the houses that we live in still stand.
We alone fly past all things, as fugitive as the wind.
And all things conspire to keep silent about us, half out of shame perhaps, half as unutterable hope.

If we’re hidden, what luck finding anything else, or anything else finding us?! Especially what we feel we need most — that’s the most fugitive thing of the whole lot. I’m standing here looking and listening for a sign, but it turns out I’m it, tagged by the universe, which runs away — it wants to play — while I’ve got all this serious sh*t to deal with! If there’s a conspiracy, it’s a cosmic one, with shame and hope for fuel, a secret formula we’ve paradoxically always known.

So we take December mindsets like these with us as we go, turning them over to see where the light leaked out of what looked so very promising last week, or a month or year or decade ago.

Have I named it yet, this mood? Pause a moment and toss your own contribution onto the heap. Plenty of room.

Food-scraps-compost-640x360

There’s nothing wrong with composting these things, though we can often feel ashamed of all the brown leaves and earthy smells. It’s the right season for it. Rot and spoilage and scraps, odds and ends of the year all go in, and earth begins its long work over again, and transmutes it. Serious sh*t and funny stuff, dead skin and ideas, fingernails and ashes and brown lettuce leaves and apple-cores and the last squash that never grew once the days turned cold. That deformed pumpkin from the front steps, mummified relic of Halloween, and the remarkable sludge from the back of the vegetable drawer in the fridge. Fling in those irritations and annoyances and petty snarks. Spites and attitudes all go in, rattling as they hit the sides and bounce around against the Cave of Souls and disappear deeper down its gullet. We see that yawning mouth of darkness that terrifies us, even if only a little or for an instant, then realize we were just standing too close to the mirror and caught a glimpse of ourselves up close. So we do the work anyway, just as it does us without our permission. Because to be alive at all, we’re in it.

It’s good to take these things out and air them, get them the turning and churning and the even exposure they need, basting them in earth, so they transmute all the more readily. Everyone’s got them. Think of them as the scraps at the end of the craft session, husks and shells and scurf and skin, bone and gristle dropped into the sink after the holiday dinner’s done and guests gone, before the grand cleanup begins. Shards left over after creation’s finished. What gets swept up from the garage and basement floor. What the kids tracked in from outdoors, the carcass the dog dragged around the yard and left near the mailbox, the small furred or feathered corpse that the cat so thoughtfully dropped on the doormat. We’re always putting a foot in it.

So we squawk and shrink and blanch at these things, disowning them if we could, turning away, dismayed the universe sends such awkwardness our way. Among difficult gifts, the mind of winter ranks pretty high, because it’s pretty (not pretty at all) rank. Overripe, expired, corrupt, foul, putrid, excremental, cadaverous in its open decay.

“This too is mission”. And I can achieve it. I grasp the shame by its least offensive corner,  or shove my arm in up to the elbow and shuffle it along, helping it slither and slide into its next moment. And I might catch the eye of someone else doing the same. We nod stiffly at each other, almost imperceptibly. Earth blesses it, blesses us, accepting nothing short of all.

And I sigh and begin again, making room for that second part, unutterable hope. Which, as all Bards do, I keep trying to put into words.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Image: Compost.

 

July Interval   Leave a comment

Holy Ones I know, you grasp
the thread of my life. Sometimes
I feel your fingers drawing
me tight against the soundboard.

IMG_1740

lilies & hydrangeas, NW lawn

Can I sing for all of us, or does the song come for me alone? We don’t always want another to sing for us any more, though it was once a chief pleasure at the gatherings of a people. Once we knew the songs, sought to renew them when they flagged in us, when we lost the tunes from time to time. Pick them up again, friends. Then tell, tell the Tribe.

First stanzas. They can arrive in an echo, a line or two, teasing me to follow. Sometimes the whole thing turns out in an hour of listening and trial. Sometimes I fold the first words away for the next look, when maybe a day has turned and tuned me closer to where the words will go best this time. Always and never the same as last time.

Wake from a dream of speaking to those who don’t wear bodies like this, my wife rousing from a kindred dream, my parents (gone this past decade and more) in a house we have built and furnished together with them.

Sometimes I’m left ahead, not behind. It’s things that need to catch up to where I am, things that will turn round a few more turns before I understand. Then they’ll rush on ahead again.

/|\ /|\ /|\

“Lady of the Land, open the door,
Lord of the Forest, come you in”

–Caitlin Matthews, Celtic Devotional. Gloucester, MA: Fairwinds Press, 2004, pg. 94.

IMG_1742

space of a writer at work and play

Here in New England, you can hear the Land singing a version of this Lunasa greeting. In the distance, a lawn mower, a chainsaw. And just outside my door, for almost the last hour now, swallows sing and chatter practically in my ears. They’ve commandeered for their nest the space on top of the outdoor light above the front steps, less than a meter from where I write, the front entry-way I made into a womb-like office.

A coming weekend program of workshops and talks on the other path I take, titled “How to Survive Spiritually in Our Times”.

It’s an excellent topic to explore, and I invite you, before you read any further, to look aside from the screen you’re on, grab pen and paper (or open a doc on your desktop) and write down some of the strategies you’ve learned. How have you survived spiritually so far? And what have you learned the hard way, perhaps the deepest and wisest and most valuable among your resources?

Did you stop to make at least a few notes? Did you include questions among your strategies?

Taking at least a few minutes for this is worth doing. (You can still do it, right now …)

I list among my own strategies getting my experience(s) down in writing, keeping a record. Both this blog and a bedside notebook help me place the downs and ups and make sense of why? and what next? My computer desktop fills with notes I date obsessively, and gather roughly once a month into another kind of journal. That one often I revisit perhaps just once or twice a year — as valuable as the others for patterns and themes I’d otherwise miss. A hoard of unattached dream fragments, poem notes, quotations, lines from my reading, a song lyric that’s dogged my heels and probably is asking for attention, long-term and refreshed to-do lists, scraps of conlangs, orphaned things that I’ve learned will find their homes and families if only I take them in and find them clothes and beds.

And what is spiritual survival, anyway? We get physical survival, we learn both fast and slow, throughout our lives, what we need to sustain ourselves, what we need to live. Fast, because if we miss those first lessons, we never live long enough for any others. Stay out of traffic. Respect hot and electrified things. Don’t take into your body absolutely everything (substance, person, idea, spirit) that presents itself.

Not long after these — learning them a little more slowly, but not much — come later lessons. Just as you don’t take into your body everything on offer, take into your heart even less. Give, instead. (Loving others as self-defense!) Cherish good measures. Learn which lines it’s truly wise not to cross. Learn which other lines actually are, in fact negotiable, despite what others tell you. (Study which lines keep moving.)

Learn whose approval and disapproval truly matters. Learn to wield your own approval and disapproval. Sell yourself not short but long. Label idols carefully. Review regularly. Love, four-letter word and practice, not just in spite of anyone or anything that comes at you, but as the idiom goes, “for good”.

Is anything not spiritual survival? How I’m spending today continues to manifest whatever spiritual truths I’m learning.

/|\ /|\ /|\

“You”, said Apollo to the German poet Rilke, “must revise your life”.

Holy Ones we know, you grasp
the threads of our lives. Sometimes
we feel your fingers glide, drawing
us tight against the soundboard.

You pluck from us those first notes
of song. They rise, we rise, and …

/|\ /|\ /|\

“Creating a Goddess Book”: The Rest of the Workshop   Leave a comment

Our bodies already know the Goddess – this is our oldest magic.

I relied on this insight in planning for the workshop at this year’s East Coast Gathering, whose theme was “Connecting with the Goddess.”

/|\ /|\ /|\

Goals and plans I had for the workshop:

The heart of the workshop is a hands-on look at various ways to make a physical book/scroll/altar object that explores/invites/incorporates ritual, ogham/runes, art, prayer, poems, questions, magic and daydreaming into a concrete “link” to the Goddess as we experience Her — or desire to experience Her. Think “book” as “portable paginated/folding/roll-up ongoing altar-in-process.” I’ll talk about inspiration, nudges, hints and ways to listen, inviting and hoping for participant sharing and input! The seed for the workshop comes out of the fact that I’m a prime example of somebody who doesn’t have a consistent Goddess practice (though She’s seeing to it that’s shifting, too), but when She wants my attention, She gets it, like with this book, and workshop.

It’s probably a good thing we don’t always hear how ambitious we sound. Young or old, you eventually learn to deal with the inevitable gap between vision and manifestation. If you’ve managed to hold on to any of that original and wonderful idealism of youth, you also realize that the gap isn’t a reason to despair, or to dispense with vision, but rather a sign of just how important vision is.

The physical world, so important for manifestation, by its nature tends to lag behind the swiftness with which vision can appear. But that lag is precisely part of this world’s immense value: its inertia and density allow for greater permanency and resistance to change, so that we can experience the results of vision over time — and fine-tune it if we choose. Unlike in dream, where the subtle stuff of vision or imagination can wisp away so quickly, physical manifestation tries to linger.

/|\ /|\ /|\

The Goddess is generous. Or alternatively, if you prefer the cynical version, I belong to the OCD Order of Druids. Creativity, as the saying goes, is messy. I over-planned for the workshop, ending up with far more material than any mortal could begin to do justice to in a mere hour, and this post is my penance, or confession. Or further indulgence. And maybe — in the way it often arrives when we’re not paying attention, even in spite of ourselves — a spark of awen.

/|\ /|\ /|\

ogham“Creating A Goddess Book,” with focus on “book” in order to free it from the psychological shrine many Druids, and Pagans generally, tend to put books in. Instead of paper, a book of leather, or metal, or cloth — individual sheets, or a single longer scroll. A nudge to try out the qualities of other substances than paper, than the admittedly inviting blank books on sale in chain bookstores, or even Ye Friendlie Lokal Paygan Shoppe.

Each workshop participant received a packet to practice with, consisting of a rectangle  (approx. 3″ x 4″) of vegetable-cured leather and a similar-sized rectangle of .019″ aluminum, wrapped in a larger swath of canvas cut from a shop drop-cloth from Home Depot. A wood- and leather-burning tool, a few screwdrivers, some markers of various kinds, a few words about inspiration and the importance of working to manifest things on the physical plane as one powerful way to connect with the Goddess. Suggestions for inscribing/writing/ incising a short prayer, vow, magical name, etc. Reference tables of Ogham and runes for those who wanted to inscribe words with some privacy, as a personal meditation. I pointed out that you could cut all three materials with kitchen scissors. Besides the wood-burner, no fancy tools required. Then I shut up and let participants have at the materials. Done!

Hex Nottingham's leather and metal "pages" -- photo courtesy Hex Nottingham

Hex Nottingham’s leather and metal “pages” — photo courtesy Hex Nottingham

Except for the next flash of inspiration in the planning process, which would not let go: a “Nine-Fold Star of the Goddess” you can try out here at one of several websites that illustrate the steps.

/|\ /|\ /|\

A sampling, with some commentary and additions, from the workshop handout:

“Spirit must express itself in the world of matter or it accomplishes nothing.  Insights of meditation and ceremony gain their full power and meaning when reflected in the details of everyday life.” — J. M. Greer, The Druidry Handbook, p. 138.

This world, here, is the realm of mystery. Spirit is simple — it’s this world that’s so surprising and complex in its changes and ripples, its folds and spirals and timings. Make something, I tell myself, labor with the body, and then I can often approach the Goddess more easily, dirt under my fingernails, sweat on my face. She likes bodies. I’m the one who keeps forgetting this, not her.

“Work with a Goddess long enough and you learn to hear Her call. You learn to pick her voice out above the noise of contemporary society, above the words of teachers and friends, and even above your own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes what you hear is not what you expect.” — John Beckett, “A Rite of Sacrifice,” Mar. 4, 2014.

“Shaper, you have made and shaped me. Honor and serenity are yours. I am your garment, you the indwelling spirit. Work with me in everything I do, that all may know you. Energizer, quicken me. Measurer, clear my path. Protector, guard me safely. Initiator, take my hand. Challenger, transform me. Savior, be my help. Weaver, make my pattern bright. Preserver, heal me. Empowerer, make me wise.” — adapted from Caitlin Matthews, Elements of the Goddess, p. 118.

Rilke’s fragment, a whole meditation in itself, or a daily morning prayer.

Oh, I who long to grow,
I look outside myself, and the tree
inside me grows.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

And Larkin’s poem “Water”:

Water

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

— Philip Larkin

After delighting in this poem, make an exercise of it. Choose one of the elements.  It can be water, as in the poem, or one of the others. Finish the sentence: “If I were called in to construct a _____, I should make use of [element].” Keep going: a series of statements, a meditation on the one you just wrote, a free association.  Whatever gets you putting words down.  You can try this over several days with all the elements, or at a different pace, if you’re working with the elements on your own.

The ECG schedule this year put the Goddess Book workshop immediately after Thursday’s Opening Ritual, so people arrived still bubbling from the ceremonial jump-start for the weekend.

“In every world, in every form, in every way, I am near you, I uphold you, I comfort you, I guide you, I deliver you from each limitation until my freedom is yours. Your body is my chalice, your heart my echo, your form my shadow, your pulse my footstep, your breath my passing.” — from my own Goddess book.

/|\ /|\ /|\

pattern-star

1. Once you hold the Star of the Goddess in your hand, write the names of the four elements and Spirit, one near each of the points. Complete this step before reading further.

2. Which elements sit on either side of Spirit? Contemplate on their positions there.  Are they elements that help support your spiritual life?  Are they especially active?  Are these the elements that need extra attention and balance?

3. Consider a section in your Goddess book for vows: experiment with them, not as harsh, unyielding obligations, but as tools for studying resolve, testing experience, practicing manifestation of your intent, and so on. They need not be “public” – write them in ogham, runes, etc. Start small and easily achievable.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Dedicating a Goddess Book: Blood, sweat, tears, spit, etc. can mark our books with our earthiness: a commitment to be honest with the Goddess about our path, its ups and downs, to remember her presence with us, and to acknowledge what we need, what we doubt, what we’re willing to work for – whatever feels right to include. Make a ritual of it. Do it quietly, simply, without fanfare, with silence making its own ritual. Or call out all the stops, bells and whistles. Then dance, feast and celebrate.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Allow a Goddess book — it could be a single sheet or “page” specifically intended for this purpose — to return slowly to the elements on an outdoor altar. Or bury it in the Mother’s good earth. Thus is the vow fulfilled that the Mother takes into Herself, as She will take all things back in time, and return them again.

“All things are holy to you.  This book like all things lies among the faces you show to me; may I learn from you daily, drink deep from your well, and body you forth as your child.” — from my Goddess book.

/|\ /|\ /|\

A small ritual. Take a few deep breaths. Sing the awen, or other name or word that grounds and focuses you. Holding your cupped hands in front of you, say: “I make this altar for the Goddess, a space where she may act in my life.”

Holding the Star, or your journal, or other ritual object meaningful to you, or nothing else at all, ask yourself: What specific space or doorway exists in my life for the Goddess to manifest or to act in? Pay attention to hints, images and answers as they come.

/|\ /|\ /|\

And again: Our bodies already know the Goddess – this is our oldest magic.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: ogham; star.

Earth Mysteries — 7 of 7 — The Law of Evolution   Leave a comment

[Earth Mysteries 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7]

So here we are at the last installment of this seven-parter.  Indigestion and too much caffeine.  No, not the series, though you may be thinking or feeling that, too.  Looking back over earlier ones I realize each post has gotten more random than the preceding one.  Not sure if I’ve done Greer a favor, writing about his seven keys — keys belonging to all of us — but doing it in such a way that they’re more “notes for a revolution” than anything like a review.  You can’t just dump a bunch of principles by themselves on people and expect them to see how they fit, exactly. Which is what I’ve sorta done anyway.  Inoculation by reading.

Like I said, they’re more notes for a revolution, so that when it comes, you’ll recognize the advance guard and maybe the sound of the explosions and know you’ve seen and heard something like this before, and maybe deal with it better or more inventively than your brother or neighbor out here panhandling and prospecting with the rest of us.  “Look what I found!  It’s a … well, I don’t have a name for it, but it might be useful at the weekly swap-and-steal.”  Heaven consists of the spare parts of creation that didn’t get used elsewhere.  We’re destined to mine the scrap heaps for the gold everyone’s tossed there by mistake.

Here goes with the last Law.  (Of course it’s never the last law.  There’s always another one, like yet another stray that won’t leave, moping around for scraps.  Throw it a bone, or a filet. Watch what it does with it.)

“Everything that exists comes into being by a process of evolution.  That process starts with adaptation to changing conditions and ends with the establishment of a steady state of balance with its surroundings, following a threefold rhythm of challenge, response and reintegration.  Evolution is gradual rather than sudden, and it works by increasing diversity and accumulating possibilities, rather than following a predetermined line of development.”*

A shiver of awe and delight coursed through me when I first read this one.  Maybe nobody knows where humanity is headed — it’s not something mapped out beforehand.  “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit,” says the Beloved Disciple in the eighth verse of his third chapter.  (What, you didn’t know portions of the Bible are a Druid stealth device?  Look twice before crossing.)

Sure, our DNA has something to say about it, and so do the causes we’re always setting in motion.  These will shape our experience and our future.  But they’re our causes.  We can change.  And we want to “accumulate possibilities” because these mean freedom.  The dead-end singleness of conformity and bland homogeneity leave us hankering for the quaint, the queer, the mysterious, the odd, the doesn’t-fit, the original, the new, the surprising, the fresh.   After all, we left Eden (some versions have us kicked out, but the result’s the same) and we’ve been on quest ever since.  But “pave paradise and put up a parking lot”? Not what we really want, is it?

In  “To Holderin,” the German poet Rilke writes to a compatriot:

Lingering, even among what’s most intimate,
is not our option.  From fulfilled images
the spirit abruptly plunges towards ones to be filled:
there are no lakes until eternity. Here falling
is our best.  From the mastered emotion we fall over
into the half-sensed, onward and onward …

We suspect so much more of reality than we let on.  Or than it does.  It’s not safe to do so, but it’s right, in the best senses of the word.  Who ever wanted what is merely safe, when fuller life offers itself to us?  Well, some people do, and often enough they get what they desire, and before long beg to be freed of it.  Poetry means “making” in Greek, and we all make, we’re all makers, poets of our lives.  Song is our native tongue, or could be.  It’s that melody playing just beyond hearing that we’re always trying to capture, to get back to.  That crashing sound?  That’s just another person banging around the music room in the dark, trying to pound out a melody.

While we’re listening to Germans, here’s Martin Heidegger:  “To be a poet in a destitute time means to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods.  This is why the poet in the time of the world’s night utters the holy.”  Cool, just so long as we know the holy really isn’t safe at all.  No place to hide.  Here’s Rilke again:

Here is the time for the sayable, here is its homeland.
Speak and bear witness.  More than ever
the Things that we might experience are vanishing, for
what crowds them out and replaces them is an imageless act.
An act under a shell, which easily cracks open as soon as
the business inside outgrows it and seeks new limits.
Between the hammers our heart
endures, just as the tongue does
between the teeth and, despite that,
still is able to praise …

Sometimes you get the sense from Rilke, like from other madmen and seers, that you’ve always known what he means, that in fact you’ve done what he’s saying, even though you may not be able to say it yourself.  But he manages to.  We leave saying to the poets as if they’re somebody, but not us, who forgets you aren’t supposed to say these things, or that nobody expected you could say them.  But you say them anyway.  And get inconveniently booted to the curb by your neighbors, who  take over “for your own good,” and after you comes flying what you thought was your life.

So you pick yourself up, brush off the worst of the dust, and keep going, without a life if you have to.  Not as if nothing has happened, but as if everything has, and it keeps on happening.  Who else do things happen to, but us?  We’re mistaken if we think that disconcerting little factoid that reaches the news but which happens in “some other part of the world” — outer Don’t-bug-me, central I-don’t-care-yo! — isn’t our concern.  Next week I’ll find refugees from there in my basement, peering up at me.  My new psychic friends, walking my dreams, if I don’t see them actually fishing through my garbage, desperate for food or love or those pieces of my life I decided weren’t worth my time.

Oh, Druids are a little bit crazy, more so on certain days of the week than others, and most of all under certain phases of the moon.  We’d cry if we weren’t laughing so hard, and sometime it sounds much the same.  But the spirit lightens a little, and we see the outlines of a Friend where before was only a little mannikin of sadness or despair.  We keep doing this for each other just often enough to go on, suspecting ourselves of the worse motives, and probably right to do so.  But there’s a fire over the horizon, and singing, and the party’s going on without us. It’s the same fire in our heads.

Shapes move and stumble around the fire, vaguely familiar, so that after joining them it seems we know them, we left them years ago, but this is a reunion where we see everyone’s suffered and grown, though some have become knotty and twisted, like old trees.  But there’s a few among us brave enough to hug them anyway, and bring them into the Dance. And so we dance, all night, the last stars twinkling when we finally stumble home to bed and a delicious, bone-weary sleep.  And later, who knows what waking?

/|\ /|\ /|\

*Greer, John Michael.  Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. Weiser, 2012.

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.

/|\ /|\ /|\

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

/|\ /|\ /|\

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

A Religious Operating System: ROS beta (Part 1)   Leave a comment

“Whenever I get bored or depressed, I do laundry,” said an acquaintance.  “Afterwards I may still be bored or depressed, but at least I’ve done something that needed doing.  And often enough I feel better.”  As a treatment, the success rate of this strategy may or may not equal that of therapy or medication, but as far as clean clothes production goes, it’s got the other two beat hands down.  At least I can be depressed and dressed.

How different the quiet of depression and the quiet of peace! (I’m writing about peace and using exclamation points.  Hm.)  One deadens and stifles, the other ripples outward and invites attention, a kind of relaxed wakefulness.  We say we want peace, and the holiday season bombards us with prayers and songs and sermons and wishes for it.  There are prayers for peace in the ceremonies of many religious teachings and spiritual practices, Druidry included.  But rather than asking somebody else for it, I can begin differently.  Peace starts in the center, and that’s where I am — or where I can put myself, with the help of recollection and intent.  “Come back to yourself,” my life keeps saying, “and remember who you are and what it is you want.”  If I start peace (or anything else) within myself, however small, however tentative, it spreads from there outward.  After all, it works for every other state I create, whether positive or negative — and I know this from sometimes painful experience!  “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is still some of the best advice ever given.  If I want change, who else do I expect to bring it about?  And if someone else did, how in the world would such changes be right for me?  Gandhi knew the secret lies in the approach.

In my early twenties, Lou Gramm and Foreigner were singing “I want to know what love is.  I want you to show me.”  It’s a lovely ballad — I’ve got it playing on Youtube the second time through as I write this paragraph, nostalgia back in full force — but it’s precisely backward in the end.  As loveless as I can sometimes feel, if I start the flow, jumpstart it if necessary, I prime the pump, and it will launch within me from that point.  Do that, and I become more loveable in a human sense, because in the divine sense I’ve made myself another center for love to happen in, and from which it can spread.

But neither love nor peace are things I can hold on to as things.  “We are not permitted to linger, even with what is most intimate,” says the German poet Rilke in his poem “To Holderin” (Stephen Mitchell, trans.)  “From images that are full, the spirit plunges on to others that suddenly must be filled; there are no lakes till eternity.  Here, falling is best.  To fall from the mastered emotion into the guessed-at, and onward.”  Whatever I long for in a world of time and space needs to be re-won every day, though in that process of re-winning, not always successful, it begins to gather around me like a fragrance, a habit.  Both the customary behavior, and the clothing a monk or nun wears, have the same name.  The connection’s not accidental.

The American “farmer-poet” Wendell Berry captures it in these lines:

Geese appear high over us
pass, and the sky closes.  Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith:  what we need
is here.  And we pray, not
for a new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear.  What we need is here.

So if we’re looking for a “religious operating system,” a ROS, we’ve got some design parameters that poets and others tell us are already in place.  “What we need is here.”  But try telling that to an unemployed person, or someone dying of a particularly nasty disease.  And of course, if I tell someone else these things, I’ve missed the point.  What they need is indeed here, but my  work is to find out this truth for myself.  I can’t do others’ work for them, and it wouldn’t be a good world if I could (though that doesn’t stop me sometimes from trying).  I don’t know how their discoveries will change their lives.  I only know, after I do the work, how my discoveries will change mine.

A recent article in the New York Times about the rise of the Nones, people who aren’t affiliated with any religion, but who aren’t necessarily atheists, offers this observation, from which I drew the title for this blog entry:

“We need a Steve Jobs of religion. Someone (or ones) who can invent not a new religion but, rather, a new way of being religious. Like Mr. Jobs’s creations, this new way would be straightforward and unencumbered and absolutely intuitive. Most important, it would be highly interactive. I imagine a religious space that celebrates doubt, encourages experimentation and allows one to utter the word God without embarrassment. A religious operating system…

I’ll be examining this further in upcoming posts.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Laundry, Foreigner album cover, and Rilke.

%d bloggers like this: