Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What We Call

What we call fate does not come to us from outside: it goes forth from within us.

- RM Rilke, Letters To A Young Poet

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More than any other, Rilke is the poet of silences.

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A true story: a hundred years ago, stumbling through a divorce after a long courtship and a brief marriage, I stumbled all the way to the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane in Kentucky. The Abbey is a Trappist monastery and silences are its foundation. Like a sensory deprivation tank, those silences brought every manner of love and loathing to the surface. For a while, I went twice a year for four or five days at a time. It is an ecumenical spot where I met Catholics and Baptists and Buddhists and believers and non-believers of every stripe. We all craved that silence. One morning, cool and grey, it was just at dawn, I was coming back to the monastery's guest house after a walk in the homely hills that surrounded us. My shoes were soaked with dew.  One fellow was just setting out to do the same. We nodded to each other as we passed. No one interrupted another's silence there and after a few steps I could hear his feet crunch to a stop on the gravel drive. I turned and he said in a deep southern drawl, "Mark, forgive me, but I just feel so loud here. Everything I do seems clumsy and loud. I brought work with me to do for my congregation, but I can't touch it. I want to pray, but nothing seems right. All I want to do is walk in the woods. You've been here before. Is this how it always is?" I assured him it was and wished him well on his walk.

Silences have a way of unhinging what we have worked so very hard to hold together. This is why people fear it, why we'll stay in relationships that do not feed us, in jobs that diminish us. The day we are alone with ourselves, the moment silence offers itself to help us know ourselves we run screaming in the other direction and distract ourselves with what is at hand. In the silence you meet yourself and there is no escaping it. We fear what we'll find there: regret, shame, embarrassment, longing, tears, tears, tears, tears...

But love, you've got that ass-backwards: in the silence all of that is made whole.

* * *

We say release, and radiance, and roses,
and echo upon everything that's known;
and yet, behind the world our names enclose is
the nameless: our true archetype and home.

* * *

If you would be free, I would ask you to be silent.
If you would be healed of your sorrow, I would ask you to be silent.
If you would be complete, I would ask you to be silent.

What we call fate does not come to us from outside: it goes forth from within us, and its source is a silent sea. This sea, this vast silence is everpresent, timeless, primordial. From nothing, then something and then back again. It waits and has no sense of time. It is universal and solely yours. Each of us has within us the ability to tap this source, this bloodroot, but mostly we do not. To get there you have to first imagine it and then you must imagine it is of some use to you, but it is impossible to see that with all the distractions of our day to day life, the economics of living which sing to us: it don't count less it sells. We see no utility in silence and so stay busy and loud and clumsy. You can go your whole life and never touch it, but if you are lucky you are driven to your knees, the spell of the cacophony you have lived in broken by loss, or joy - something far beyond the day to day and there you have the chance to meet your silence.

If you are brave enough, or tired enough, you go.

* * *

What fucks us is fear. Mostly it is fear of ourselves, our decisions, our choices, in effect, our past. It isn't the future we fear, but that we don't trust ourselves to know what to do there because our lives are littered with mistakes and regrets. Rather than look at those fears, we push on like arctic explorers trying to find the true north: a mapless, featureless place. Listen, your true north, your true self, your true archetype and home is within, within the silences you carry, the sea you are swimming in right now.

You don't have to go to a Trappist monastery to learn this. It is available to you right where you are as you read this. A hundred years ago I learned the rhythm of the monks: vigils, lauds, terce, sext, none, vespers, compline - awake in the darkness, to rest in the darkness. I still carry remnants of that with me. I wake before dawn to write, to have a silent house, to swim in that sea, to push back against the loudness of my days and see what I can find. You must find your rhythm, your way of creating this silence. Perhaps you can find it on the subway; maybe you'll recognize it at dinner. The way to it is different for each of us, but if you would have your life be unfucked, you must find your way to it.

Silence is where you meet yourself.
If you can't stand your own company, then silence is where you will heal that.
If you can't bear the circumstances you're in, then silence is where you'll discover the strength to change.

What you feed - silence or chaos - becomes your fate.

Now choose.

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