Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What Tightens Into

What tightens into survival is already inert;
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

* * *

I read Rilke as others do the Bible.

* * *

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.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Good Luck To

Good luck to the farmer! Good luck to the man who owns this place, the man who works it, the faithful, the virtuous! I can love him, I can revere him, I can envy him. But I have wasted half my life trying to live his life. I wanted to be something that I was not. I even wanted to be a poet and a middle class person at the same time. I wanted to be an artist and a man of fantasy, but I also wanted to be a good man, a man at home. It all went on for a long time, till I knew that a man cannot be both and have both, that I am a nomad and not a farmer, a man who searches and not a man who keeps. A long time I castigated myself before gods and laws which were only idols for me. That was what I did wrong, my anguish, my complicity in the world's pain. I increased the world's pain and anguish by doing violence to myself, by not daring to walk towards my own salvation. The way to salvation leads neither to the left nor the right. It leads into your own heart, and there alone is God, and there alone is peace.

- Hermann Hesse, Wandering

* * *

The violence we do to ourselves is always and in all cases made manifest in how we treat others. When we live a half life, when we live according to expectations that are not our own, when we stand with a foot in each world - the world of our our desires and the world of what we're told our desires should be - we lose the ability to give ourselves entirely to any cause: love, work, play, prayer, whatsoever it may be. This bifurcated existence then always and in all cases means we are less than we might be. This soaks into our relationships with those we encounter, with the natural world, with the metaphysics of our dreaming and cannot be turned aside. It limits the possible.

In this day, at this time, with the fears that are stalking the streets, it is impossible to say how vital, how necessary it is for each of us to choose: poet or farmer, searcher or keeper, artist or burgher. No one is better than the other. It is only that one is true for you and the other false. It may change over time, but what is vital now (what is vital at any time) is that we each know who we are and live according to that impulse. By wronging ourselves, we wrong the world we inhabit. This creates the space for others to tell you who you are, how to think, what to say. It is the opening fear rushes into and once there it poisons without volition. The only growth available is in doubt. A life that doubts itself, that doubts its experience, that doubts facts, or is unmoored by facts, that is reactionary, ready to assume others share the same fears and doubts and hatreds, that is not life at all, but an awful half life. It is how so many of us make our way. We want better, but are stymied by the conflict in our heads: searcher or keeper, believer or not, fearful or loving.

Unless and until we choose, we will never fully know the peace of belonging to our time, our place, with the gifts we have to offer this time and this place.  

* * *

To name a thing is to make it real. A name does more than define something; it encompasses the totality of what ever is named, but just as importantly it implies the named thing's relationships to every other thing, its obverse, which, of course, is the universe. Cheetah is not simply a solitary animal or the species, but its prey, its ecosystem, the desolation of that system by forces that have nothing to do with cheetah and it is also the image it conjures to each who hears its name. A name is an organizing principle. So, what name do you give yourself? others? to this time? this place? How's it working out?

We are given names at birth. We are ascribed traits by others as children. We encounter other types at school, in play, in movies, books, song. We try things on trying to fit in. We pretend. Then it gets late and we must choose a job, a career, a spouse, a home, or none of them, but we must choose. How much of who you are today is exactly what you'd hope to be, thought you'd be? How much of it happened by default? by going along? How much was fought for? insisted upon?

These questions are where you can begin to sort it out for yourself.

If all is well and all that can be done, has been done and distant ocean engines hum in your ears, then well played. If not, then why not?

From RL Stevenson:

You cannot run away from a weakness; you must some time fight it out or perish; and if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?

* * *

What name do you give yourself? What is your organizing principle? You may find that you have been living someone else's life. Your life, the one intended only for you, may be waiting for you to name it, to give yourself to it. Listen for it. And if in the din of the chaos that surrounds you, you hear its call, run toward it.

Much is made of the parallels between 2017 and 1930's Germany. For those who ascribe to the nativist call, such allusions are dismissed as overwrought, inaccurate. For the rest of us, it is all to prescient. America is ill-equipped to respond to demagoguery on our own shores. We rely on institutions and comity and the sense that we are a nation of laws, not men. Such faith is easily exploited by agents of destruction, whose own organizing principle is self and the stoking of chaos for the pleasure of watching things burn. 

This is the time we live in. This is our turn at the wheel.

This is also your chance to know your name, to live according to the totality of that name, not just in its specifics, but in its obverse, which is, of course, the universe. Now is the time to choose. Now is the time to know who you are for the world does not need half men and half women. It needs people who have come alive to the life inside of them, the life that is shared with others. Anything less isn't simply you letting yourself down, but it is also keeping from us, the rest of creation, what you might give to this time, this place.

It is easy for me to imagine someone reading this and using this as justification for harm: it is who I am. No such thing is possible. The desire to do harm is a measure of a half life, a thwarted life: lost, bitter, cowardly.

No, knowing your name, choosing wanderer or farmer, poet or businessman, priest or athiest, always and in all cases makes manifest to the rest of us the integration of one life and its effects with the whole: part and whole in agreement, concert, flowing. I can imagine no better response to these times. 

I, too, spent most of my life trying to live a different life, trying to be something I thought I had to be. But it never worked out, because it could not work out. All the tools were wrong for the job. The thing I am, the name I give myself, was always hidden, an embarrassment to say: artist. Who was I to say such a thing? Until, and at last, I found I could run no further. I am I.

* * *

I wish you well.