Posts Tagged ‘Rainer Maria Rilke’

Buddha’s Desk

July 3, 2012

What would Buddha’s desk look like? Would it look like mine? Oh my god, would Buddha know how to think about all of these things at once? This scattered, fractured, cacophony of tasks is all one thing. Illusion suggests that it is just too many and too much. Breathe, Buddha, breathe.

“Over Nothingness the universe bends,” says Rilke. “Ah, the ball we dared to throw fills the hands differently on its return: it brings back the reality of its journey.”

Each of these scattered notes and papers represent a ball I have thrown that has come back. Fill my hands differently now, please. Bring back the reality of the journey. I want this to be one real thing.

Word Paintings

March 20, 2012

Sometimes just a few words together compose such a vision of life and universe that I experience them as literally life-saving. I do not mean that they save my physical life, though I don’t know, maybe they do. I mean that when life loses meaning, or luster or power – which can feel like a fate worse than death – these little pieces of something have the ability to give all of that back in an instant. I find it miraculous. I have needed such miracles lately.

This one came into my inbox last night. I was not unfamiliar with it, but its quiet potency felt like a much-needed blood transfusion.

Let yourself be silently drawn
by the strange pull of what you really love.
It will not lead you astray.
~ Rumi ~

I copied it and opened my word document file where I keep such jewels. There that quote was, the first one in that long document that I have been adding to for years. This made me smile. Then I read down the page a little and a few more hit me like jolts, restoring energy and power. I could only handle a few such jolts, so I quit reading after about a half a page. Here are some more. (You can tell that Rilke is a favorite muse.)

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any minute.
~ Marcus Aurelius ~

The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~

The only journey is the one within.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~

The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~

Let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~

Then this morning I turned the page on my Page-a-Day Zen calendar, and this one gave me life again. I hope that sharing these passes along some of the power and blessing I experience from them. I pray that you find such magic when you need it as well.

We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness, which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we must come at last to regard the world.
~ Marcel Proust ~


Holding Each Other

March 1, 2012

I recently experienced a powerful little event that informed my body and psyche about the power of physically holding someone. It was metaphoric, but I got the message keenly.

The joint at the base of my right thumb went out somehow and the pain was unbelievable. All up my arm and straight into my brain pain shot like fire and needles, relentlessly. I gently tried to adjust, rub, push, wait, figure out how to resolve it. Finally after a horrible night and hours of relentless pain, I remembered there was a little hand brace in a bottom drawer, something from years ago. I put it on my hand, holding the thumb in place. The tightness and the pressure instantly soothed and helped the situation. I wondered if I would have to wear the brace for days, or weeks, or months, or forever. A few hours later I needed to remove it to wash dishes. The pain was gone, and has been gone since then. Some initial tenderness remained for awhile, but even that is gone.

It made me think again, as I often do, about the incalculable power of touch and holding. We are phobic in this culture about that, sternly maintaining what I believe is a warped idea of the necessity for personal space and physical distances. I believe that the shadow of this ridiculous idea creates the ubiquitous abuses of intimacy, cravings for it that then become satisfied through perversions. As Rilke says, “A repressed angel becomes a demon.” We need more holding to heal these problems, not more distance – holding in organic and natural ways among humans. I’m not referring to sexuality.

When I visited the villages in Kenya back in the 90’s one of the images that stood out the most to me when I came home was that of watching the people there walk and sit together in little piles, like puppies, touching everywhere. When the women helped me with anything their bodies were all crushed against mine. It felt so right and so good, not invasive in the least. On the contrary, I experienced it as joyful, loving and completely natural.

After returning I was teaching in a classroom situation and asked everyone to sit on the floor. They did, with probably 2-4 feet distance between each body. That really hit me. I thought – in Africa this would never happen! They would be all crushed together. There’s something so right about that! There are healing, healthy chemicals released into our cells and brains from the simple act of touch. The deprivation of those chemicals creates illness at every level, I completely believe this.

Mothers – hold your babies! You can never hold them enough! Forget about the idea of spoiling in such ways, it will all be over soon enough. Continue to hold, hold, hold and touch your children in loving ways as often as possible, all their lives.

Lovers, hold each other. Friends, hug each other. People – touch each other!

One of the sweetest love songs I have ever heard is Paul McCartney’s Calico Skies. It contains these lyrics: “I will hold you, for as long as you like I’ll hold you, for the rest of my, for the rest of my, for the rest of my life.”

When we can’t hold each other physically, we can do so spiritually. This weekend a group of ten people are coming to my house to conduct a sweat lodge for the sole purpose of holding a dear friend who is undergoing aggressive treatment for pancreatic cancer. He won’t be with us physically, but I strongly feel that the energy of our effort together will do something for him like that brace did for my thumb – hold him tightly in our love so that healing energy can flow through.

A dear friend of mine, author and professor of depth psychology Lionel Corbett once said these words to me that I have never forgotten: “Caring, just the act of caring, is very psychotropic.” So often we are too distracted, or too absorbed in other things, or too… whatever… to really care, care, care for each other, and notify each other about that care. Caring is holding, spiritually holding. Aloofness, not caring, has become cool, culturally. Caring makes you vulnerable, and vulnerability surely is not considered cool.

To be vulnerable is to be human, and to live in the dignity of our humanity. We, as individuals and as a culture, have some re-thinking to do, some serious adjustments to make in these ways.

I feel an urgency to say this now, not exactly sure why. Want to scream it. Care. Hold. Care. Hold. Care. Hold. Hold each other. Care about each other. Hold. Care.

Now Go and Do Heartwork

December 27, 2011

Work of the eyes is done, now
go and do heart work
on all the images imprisoned within you; for you
overpowered them: but even now you don’t know them.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

The morning after Christmas I awakened with the words in this title. The holiday with my daughters and their significant others had been perfect, completely delightful, just divine. I feel so fortunate. After that blessing was completed, the words “Now go and do heart work” were strongly imprinted as I awakened.

On January 1st, 2012, I leave on my journey to Kenya. It is clearly the work of the heart that moved me to commit to this trip, details of which I wrote about in my blog entitled Africa: A Promise on November 19th, 2011. Telling the story of why I need to go, the promise I need to keep, I suggested that anyone who might be interested to support the journey could help me with it by contributing donations of any amount. Conversations with my friend, Carter Via, and my daughter, Josi Ward inspired me to make this suggestion.

I had no idea whether the notion would speak to anyone or not; there were no expectations. The response has been truly overwhelming. There has been an outpouring of feeling, love, interest, care, concern and support. With this outcome, I now make the journey not as a private matter but also as a carrier of the love and intentions of many who have involved their hearts and energy in the trip as well. I feel, differently than I ever have, like an ambassador. I want to represent well each one who has entrusted me with such support.

The heart is a fierce organ; mind is weak by comparison. In a recent dream I was doing things with my tiger, an animal who in the dream is bonded to me and goes everywhere with me. I know from some of my most important life dreams that tiger for me is an image of the heart. Now it is time to do work with the tiger.

I can’t say I know yet just what this means. The dream is laying some groundwork, I suppose, readying me. With all my heart, and with the hearts of all who are now coming with me in this energetic way, here I go.


July 18, 2011

After living like a hermit for nearly 7 years, now having a room in town and an increasingly busy life because of it, I am finding the thirst for solitude to be an issue. Previously I did not thirst, I was nearly drowning in it. A new balance demands to be struck.

Looking into a couple of books recently for different reasons, I rediscovered long-time favorite passages on Solitude that hit me between the eyes as I found them, their impact notifying me of a need to reorient. Protecting solitude is a little valued concern in this busy, twittery, facebooky, achievement driven, masculine value oriented culture. I had almost forgotten.

Robert Johnson’s genius little book The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden discusses the difference between masculine and feminine responses to addressing the wrongs of life. The masculine aspect of the psyche (in men and in women) goes out on his white steed, sword in hand, to protect and conquer through heroic action. The feminine aspect, on the other hand, goes into the forest and drops down into her own nature knowing instinctively that all healing comes from within. He writes: “Solitude is the feminine equivalent of masculine heroic action.”

My masculine side, even when I am on the mountain, can maintain a heroic stance of outward focus, tirelessly working to achieve whatever my perceived goals are – developing business, maintaining the property, trying to grow “it”, whatever “it” is so that I can survive and thrive in the world, much to the detriment of my feminine nature. Spinning wheels in this way while alone is not the same as solitude. Solitude is about focus upon and permission for deep interiority. About stopping. Stillness. Listening. Attention. Intention.

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke speaks emphatically and eloquently of the necessity for solitude. Holding to it, he says, is difficult work – we would rather any distraction, no matter how banal or cheap,  than stay with the challenges of solitude. He advises the young poet to drop his attention to the humdrum, paltry, status-oriented vocations that enslave him and to “only be attentive to that which rises up in you and set it above everything that you observe about you. What goes on in you your innermost being is worthy of your whole love.” Cherishing solitude “is itself work, and status, and vocation.”

My body arrests me at times and demands that I attend to solitude, but I learn more every year how to be in content and happy occupation with it. Holding to it, even in the face of screaming demands from my own torturous, though well-intended, masculine side, is, as Rilke stated, difficult work. It is a vocation. Muscle for it has to be trained and developed.

Which thought brings me to a moment in which to share sheer, unapologetic maternal pride. This will seem like an aside, but I will bring it back to the theme of this writing.

My daughter, Arlene Ward, came in 4th in the nation in her category for weightlifting in the National Championships held in Council Bluffs Iowa held two days ago. Her drive,  joy, will, purpose and integrity in developing such extraordinary balance and strength inspire me beyond my capacity to declare. She is a Teacher to me, in the highest sense of the word, because of who she is. If you knew her you would know whereof I speak. This woman… the carefully developed power of her body is the tiniest glimpse of the internal forces of will and beauty that drive her.

In my solitude I hope to allow for her influence to help me develop muscle I need for what I do. The value of drawing on figures that truly inspire us as we go into the well of our own being can never be underestimated. These mirrors help us to see and identify ourselves. Of the many great persons that inspire me and move me to want become all that I can be, my two offspring, Josi and Arlene Ward, are at the top of the list. This is because of who they are.

What a nice metaphor for the value of what come out of one’s deep inner being. The womb of the Self for both male and female is a gestation and birthing place for all manner of surprises and miracles that inevitably, by nature, will be delivered to the world.

The Way it is with Children

November 19, 2010

Recently a friend made an observation to me about our friendship, remarking that it feels like what it was like when we were 4 or 5 years old – just so free, unfettered, unworried. It was a great way to describe the ease of our connection. I have thought about this often since then. It strikes me as a worthy goal to strive to live with such honesty and freedom whenever and however possible. One of my favorites of Rilke’s poems keeps coming to mind in this regard, so I want to share it here.

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,

streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.



August 26, 2010

I sleep outside each night, listen to the owls, watch the moon and hear changes in the wind. Rain comes through. Birds awake me, and bees too, so industrious in their buzzing I have to put a pillow over my head. I live on the mountain, yet attempt in the day to connect to time in the consensual reality that dominates the larger, cultural world. Time is a man-created thing. I keep trying to catch up with the “real” world man created, yet the real world doesn’t involve time as we have conceived of it.

From my favorite poet Rainer Maria Rilke in Sonnets to Orpheus I, 22:

We set the pace.
But this press of time —
take it as the little thing
next to what endures.

All this hurrying
soon will be over.
Only when we tarry
do we touch the holy.

Young ones, don’t waste your courage
racing so fast,
flying so high.

See how all things are at rest —
darkness and morning light,
blossom and book.

Heart Work

July 25, 2010

Work of the eyes is done, now
go and do heart work
on all the images imprisoned within you; for you
overpowered them: but even now you don’t know them.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

I’m sorting myself out these last few days after travels in Africa and stops on the way home, slowing reintegrating myself back into the realities of life here in North Carolina. Am catching my breath and musing about where all of this energy is going. There seem to be thousands of things that I should attend to now. My A.D.D. kicks in. How to take steps and prioritize? I have long considered myself a heart person, but right now, more clearly than ever that I can remember, I feel clarity and confidence in the brain in my heart. I don’t feel confused in the same ways that I have in the past at such moments. The heart directs what to do next. I go where its energy directs, and trust it. The mind feels calmer, willing to follow rather than kick up anxieties and doubts.

I once had a vision that, quoted from my dissertation,  “The heart is our Africa. It is our misunderstood, uncomprehended, big land of rich mysteries that are inconceivable and perplexing to the Western mind and modes of perception. We treat the terrain of the heart as we have treated Africa. We unapologetically colonize, brutalize, infantilize, exploit, and enslave it, and are utterly dismissive of its messages.”

Something in my heart has been enlivened and reactivated after this trip to Kenya. I am intrigued to see where it leads.mMy heart feels more in charge than ever. It is a good sign, I’m sure of it. Must go and do heart work. As Rilke explains, I’ve overpowered its images, and know that as yet I don’t know them. Uncovering them is my next quest.

Re-entering Solitude

June 2, 2010

I have been travelling recently, and will be again soon. But home life in the last years for me has been about adapting to a large degree of solitude, so that when I come home again the life of the world quickly disappears and the solitude takes over in its immensity very quickly. I remember a line of Rilke’s in Letters to a Young Poet in which he asks the poet to imagine what it would be like to suddenly be taken out of one’s room in the world and placed upon a mountaintop; that he might then feel the most “annihilating sense of abandonment.” He says that it is a similar experience to one who realizes his solitude. My little doggie is dying in his bed right now, not much longer for the world, and I am going outside to sleep in my cocoon under the stars and to listen to the forest. The gravity and enormity of this solitude engulfs us, its reality at this point larger than the populated world that we also inhabit. We are at home in it.

The Future Enters Us

April 11, 2010

My daily reading from A Year with Rilke was given the above title. It is a passage from Letters to a Young Poet which is one of my favorite volumes of all time. I first read it when I was very young, and it was as if this fellow from some other place and time had just given me to myself for the first time. And his writings continue to do this for me.

In this little piece Rilke mentions the way a house changes when a guest enters, saying that is how we change when the future enters us. The new presence –

…has entered our heart, has found its way to its innermost chamber, and is no longer even there — it is already in our blood. And we don’t know what it was. We could easily be persuaded that nothing happened, and yet something has changed inside us.

This was the perfect reminder for me today. Something has entered me in the last months during a harsh and challenging winter and then with the almost violent vibrancy of spring. I don’t know what it was, could easily be persuaded that nothing happened, yet know something has changed inside of me. Rilke named it exactly for me. How am I so connected to this man? I doubt I would have even liked him had I met him, he was I believe arrogant, was solitary and dependent upon benefactors. Yet he continues to give me back to myself. Such is the mystery of art and poetry, separate from the artists and poets.

And now we, like the still barren forests, are pregnant with the future. The new presence is here in our innermost chamber and bloodstream, and will show itself imminently.