how safe is it really in its inconspicuous grey?
From far off a far greater hardness warns what is hard,
and the absent hammer is lifted high!
- RM Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus, XII
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I read Rilke as others do the Bible.
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There is a hope that being able to bear one's plight will bring an end to that plight. There is a hope that bearing it in silence will speed its end. There is a hope that putting one's head down will stave off any unwanted attention. There is a hope that to survive without notice, to endure by withdrawing will produce relief from whatever trials beset you. That is the hope. It is an alluring one for by contracting you are made smaller than you otherwise were, less of a target, inconspicuous. And, yes, it works. It works exactly as imagined: you survive, you endure. But no further. That is the extent of its promise and reward.
But time is patient and invariably your survival vanishes in the distant ocean engines of tides endlessly pulling you out to sea.
We make this deal because whatever hurt or pain, or trial or difficulty or fear that stalks us looms larger in our minds than the maw of time. We hold at bay these trials as best we can not noticing that we are holding life at bay as well. We harden into shell, our movements become stiff, our range a fraction of its possibility.
To tighten into survival is, without question, sometimes necessary in order to see a new day. Yet, the habit of this tightening can linger long after its utility has played out. We forget to release it because we no longer trust the life we are living.
* * *
The anger, vitriol and fear that is sewn into every pocket of the moment we are all living are all signs pointing to other signs: justice, equity, freedom. We take to the streets and the phone lines and social media to express our anger and fear. We tremble with sputtering rage at outrages inflicted upon our ideas of justice, equity and freedom. Some cower. Some bloviate. Some seek to be calmer heads. Some hold purity tests. Some have quit altogether. It seems a good time to circle wagons, to play defense, to risk less because the future is uncertain.
The future is always uncertain, but now it is uncertain in ways that we could not have imagined a year ago. And this scares us (as it should0. Yet, being frightened isn't enough, nor is rage. These are incomplete responses, inadequate responses to the task set before us. Alone they amount to nothing and change nothing. All either succeeds in doing is making your life smaller, more isolated. To survive on fear, or anger is to compound misery and dislocation.
No, at exactly the moment you wish to withdraw into yourself in order to survive this moment, you lose the thread of what is possible in this moment.
The stanza I quoted above from Rilke is the second stanza in the poem. Here is the first:
Will transformation. Oh be inspired for the flame
in which a Thing disappears and bursts into something else;
the spirit of re-creation which masters this earthly form
loves most the pivoting point where you are no longer yourself.
This, today, right here, at this moment, is the pivoting point. What will you do?
* * *
There is no safety in surviving. It is an absolute keeper on what is possible for your life, for any life. If circumstances are such that that is the only option, then, please do so, but don't forget to let it go when it is no longer needed. Pride makes us cling to it.
There is no safety in being inconspicuous, of keeping one's head down. You need to see the world as it is, regardless of awful it may be. Left unchecked, what is awful becomes toxic and the only way to check the advance of that toxicity, is to transform yourself from what you've been into what you can yet be. If needs be, will that transformation, dare it into being. Each moment of your life is the pivot point you've been waiting for. Wait no longer. Pivot. Burst into something else. Become.
If you think of time as broken into three sections, past, present and future, it seems to account for how our lives are lived. Those who live in the past are sentimentalists. Those who project themselves into the future miss what is present and those who live in the present, as we are always exhorted to, are promised an equilibrium that no one ever admits to not having. I think there is a fourth element of time. It occupies the space (I see it as a field, as if approaching a cliff) between the present and the future. It is the space where the future is created, brought into being by running towards it. It is the leading edge of an expanding universe, the cliff's drop that ceaselessly extends itself because you run toward it.
This is creation. It is the pivot point between what has been and what can be. It is where the future is written, shaped, brought into being. Inconspicuous souls need not apply. Raging souls will never see it. Only transformation will reveal it for transformation is what brings it into being.
And to transform is to create.
* * *
To endure is to stop creating. It makes small what could have been large enough to hold a life. Life is always seeking more of itself. To live small, pinched in anger or fear, is no way to use the chance, the one chance you have to see what can be made with your life.
The world of politics and religion and economics is an unsteady place filled with ego and pride and cruelty. The response to it is not to mirror it, but transform it because those worlds are the makeshifts and tantrums of the past. You, my brother, you, my sister, know there is a place where the mastery of your hand can transform what has been into what might yet be. To get there you must let go of safety and trade it for the exhilaration of being transformed. You can use this very moment to run into the field and dare the cliff. I promise you it will respond in kind and dare you to keep at it, for it is nothing without you.
* * *
I wish you well.