Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Rilke's birthday

I began shrinking years ago. The phenomenon was painful at first, but over time I realized that shrinking pains, like growing pains, subside when you actually get closer to the size of your new self.

Words may be one of the smallest habitations for the self. Yet we keep trying to squeeze ourselves into them.

At some stage of smallness I found Rumi. He taught me about going and arriving and about seemingly opposing forces. When one thing comes, its apparent opposite is arriving close behind. Love and fear, life and death, hope and despair. These circles are the fields where the divine plays.

Give us one clear morning after another,
and the one whose work remains unfinished,

who is our work as we diminish,
idle, though occupied, empty, and open.

(read all of Rumi's poem "Jars of Springwater" here)

Then I found Rilke and grew smaller still while contemplating the vastness he encountered and expressed in his brief life. Poems are small treatises, the smallest forms that words compile. The wind of experience keeps blowing, eroding the outer shell. Words grow less. The ability to say anything about what is felt shrinks.

In honor of Rilke's 137th birthday, I posted his poem "Night" at my "small" blog with a sketch I drew of his strange, small face. Here are the last two stanzas of "Night":

. . . brimming with new stars, who fling
fire from their birth
into the soundless adventure
of galactic spaces:

your sheer existence,
you transcender of all things, makes me so small.
Yet, one with the darkening earth,
I dare to be in you.

(whole poem here)

The world closes in on us in its overtaking vastness. But there is another expanse we can enter in our smallness that in turn shrinks the materially burdened world. It is the infinite, eternal space here inside.

31 comments:

  1. Such thoughtful words about shrinking.
    To pare everything to its essential simplicity.
    Rumi and Rilke both pack enormous power into a very small place.
    You are right about opposites.
    Lush/abundant v austere etc.

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    1. Elizabeth, no doubt in NYC you know about packing things into small spaces, and having to somehow maintain balance in the barrage of the commotion of big city life. I appreciate your observations.

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  2. To find wisdom within our reach!
    Lovely.

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    1. Rosaria, it's all here, isn't it.

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  3. An interesting, thought-provoking post, Ruth. The notion of shrinking into our authentic selves resonates with me, and I am especially struck by your observation that our "ability to say anything about what is felt shrinks." This is something I have experienced deeply during the past year, and, frankly, it's one of the reasons that I have not posted as many new blogs. I seem to be at a point when words, much as I love them, are increasingly inadequate to express what I feel. It's a strange phenomenon. After a lifetime or reading, writing, and thinking, words should flow much easier. We are left the the fact, however, that words are nothing but symbols, and like all symbols, they tend to distort what we are truly feeling—what we hopelessly yearn to express freely.

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    1. Hello, George, and thank you for reflecting with me on this strange phenomenon. Maybe I should be discouraged that I, you, and others, find it more difficult to express the interior journey, but I am not. I sense that you are not frustrated by it either, even though you may wish to post more at Transit Notes. But more than mere acquiescence to this state, I even feel expectant. If things are moving and evolving in us, and we find it hard to express, then could it mean we feel more?

      I think Virginia Woolf gets at this brilliantly in this about writing:

      "As for the mot juste, you are quite wrong. Style is a very simple matter: it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can't use the wrong words. But on the other hand here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can't dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this working (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it. But no doubt I shall think differently next year."

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    2. Thanks so much for the Virginia Woolf quote. It captures precisely what I am talking about, specifically, these unsettled periods in which the mind is "crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on," while "it makes words to fit" what is being experienced. One may find the words and the style, but, as Woolf notes, there is also this problem of finding the right rhythm—and that may be the most difficult part of all.

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  4. I love this Ruth... Your words always speak so deeply and gently to the Truth...

    "squeezing into words" to maintain a sense of self." Oh yes! And I am so wordy! lol... oh well... "i" is slowly shrinking, melting into that inner vastness where no words are needed.

    And I absolutely love this: "But there is another expanse we can enter.....that in turn shrinks the materially burdened world. It is the infinite, eternal space here inside. Absolutely...

    Thank you for sharing from the depths of your inner space...

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    1. Christine, the thing is, if we authentically express what it is we feel and see, more words or fewer words doesn't matter. We go through phases, at least I do. Who's to say I won't explode with more words one day? You are listening, so carefully. It is a true gift, to yourself I think, and definitely to me. Thank you.

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  5. There's never a point when words come easier, is there, George? It doesn't depend on time or experience or usage or practice. Yes, words are symbols and signifiers — they can deceive and distort, but they can also help clarify our true feelings and, miraculously, create truth and beauty out of their 'artificiality'.

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    1. Robert, writing is how I survive this messed up world. It filters the onslaught of information, conflict, all the movement that overwhelms. It really is miraculous. Writing for me is a way to think, and even slow it all. We must choose what we pay attention to. Writing is choosing. And besides this process for myself in writing, I experience it through what others write. It is a delicious partnership!

      Welcome back.

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    2. Well said, Robert. For all of their shortcomings as symbols, words are critical tools through which we clarify and express our feelings and experiences. And I absolutely agree that words have great creative power—that they can reveal truth and beauty that would otherwise be beyond our perception.

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  6. It struck me what you said about shrinking and having shrinking pains. I'm not quite catching the meaning of what you share since I'm in an opposite phase right now of expanding my too little view/self. Your an explorer telling me of yet another world. The part I relished was that these circles (of opposites) are where the divine plays, and your ending which speaks of our infinite, eternal space inside. Yes. We're playing with the divine and we have it all inside, all we need. Aren't we magnificent in our various phases reaching out to share our discoveries? Even in another space I am not alone. Thanks, Ruth.

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    1. Mary, I welcome your response very warmly. I think to understand one another it helps to see the whole life path. What would we look like on a grid that shows attitude toward self? As a child, and well into my 30s, my self did not matter, a result of what I view as the "wrong" message in our home where "only what's done for Christ will last." Embedded in that message is something very right, but my receptors skewed it. How could I understand that what I wanted mattered, when it clearly didn't? When I began to be conscious of this, and pulled away from the religion that seemed to legitimize this [brutal to me] self-view, my self expanded! Multiplied! This is maybe what we share, the legitimizing of the self.

      But of late, how can I say it (!), it's as if there is no separateness between me and the space I am in. I am the empty space. It's not that I am nothing. It is that ... I am everything and nothing. And I have lost interest in any writing that does not do what Virginia Woolf describes in the quote I shared above with George.

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    2. Yes, we share childhood messages from religion about self and the healing as well. I like the quote from Woolf, she speaks of finding our rhythm as the deep source of our writing. It reminded me of Angeles Arien's urging us to slow down to the rhythm of nature to find our own. Good stuff.

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    3. Thank you for the introduction to Angeles Arrien, Mary. I can imagine you using her program in your therapeutic work.

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    4. I treasure her work. Right now I'm reading her "Second Half of Life". She's sound and grounded besides wise- a good combo.

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    5. I just read a few pages at amazon from the book. I like the sound and image of "the Silver Gate" for the second half of life. I am beginning to see myself in a role of elder, though my daughter may not quite be ready for unsolicited advice. :)

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  7. words: we're using brick and mortar in building all the while wanting to dismantle to reveal that which is within. it is a tricky business. it is not a wonder once in a while we get flashes of what we're really doing and are quiet instead, letting the silence fill the form and reveal what is truly here to see.

    and size, i think something contrary happens with size. we whittle the self down and down (oh, always more room for less and less for the self is inextinguishable except in death) and what is it that exists on the other side of the self, in the absence of self, but the infinite itself.

    yes, here we go, ruth. where will we end up? what might we see for a fraction of a second before we die?

    will you tell me?

    xo
    erin

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    1. Erin, I love being the size of a pea, and being in a pod with you. :)

      Yet how different we are, truly, even in our commonality. What is revealed in us, through us, in spite of us, is so profound it is a wonder we ever find words for it. But as others are saying in this conversation, words do build something that allows us to feel and see. Robert Duncan said the goal of composition is “not to reach conclusion but to keep our exposure to what we do not know.” I think this gets at the exploration and openness I want in writing. And you have helped me with this (and how).

      What will we see in that split second before death? Almost everything, I think, and the nothing that is not there and the nothing that is that Stevens "saw."

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  8. I am commenting here on the post you published in Small as I did not see a way to comment there. I like the poem you posted which starts “Sometimes, when the light strikes at odd angles, and pulls you back into childhood…” for me, music pulls me back. I hear a tune of Edith Piaf and I see myself back at home in France, or hear a piece of jazz and remember a young woman intently listening to a 33 LP record. Yesterday was very sad for me – one of my favorite musicians passed away. I recall playing the piece “Time Out” hundreds of time, or singing Rondo a la Turk. Dave Brubeck made cool jazz “in” – he was a jazz giant. I cannot think of what to say better than Robert Browning “Who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once.” Also this one by Victor Hugo: “La vie n’est qu’une longue perte de tout ce qu’on aime.” (Life is only the long (or slow) loss of everything/everyone we love.”

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    1. correction - I meant my record Time Out and the piece was Take Five.

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    2. Hello, dear Vagabonde. Thank you for commenting here for small; comments are not enabled there. I'm glad you share my liking of the Lisel Mueller poem. And oh Dave Brubeck. For you he is an old friend, for me a new one, barely an acquaintance (I'm new to jazz), but I feel his power and importance listening to him. And now to witness the impact he had on so many, like you, shows how extraordinary he was, and still is.

      I love the Robert Browning quote and will think about it today. I do not always listen to music when I'm alone, in fact I rarely do. Silence is my background most of the time.

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    1. Wayne, you being a scientist, I have an image in my mind of that, involving a lab. And then I get to "Honey, I shrunk the kids. " :)

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  10. It intrigues me in your response to Vahgabonde to hear you say you do not always listen to music when you're alone. "Silence is my background most of the time." I didn't know this about you, Sister! It is very true of me, too, and has always been. I get my music when my "others" are home. How that may in fact contribute to the point of this post is now gonna swirl around inside of me for awhile. :)

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  11. Over the past few years I find I have been getting smaller in oh so many ways and yet when I come here my thoughts do expand:) A thought provoking post indeed and it comes when I need it.

    I too spend my alone times in silence for the most part. I need lots of it to shield me from all the "noise" of the everyday.

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  12. i can't help but think of the macro and the micro of our physical world in pondering the macro and micro of your words - at the quantum level we are told that we are but electrons whizzing around, separated by vast amounts of space. we are at once conflated and limitless. i guess in our shrinking is enclosed an inevitable expansion that is beyond our comprehension, so we are protected from recognizing it by our comforting limitations.

    thank you for sharing what rilke taught you about going and arriving and the field of opposites where the divine plays - your poetry echoes his eloquently in this beautiful post.

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  13. I am continually astounded by your brilliance Ruth. Your friends leave me in awe as well.
    I have begun a completely new journey, volunteering in a local hospice, and I was thinking of how I can bring my every expanding sense of everything into knowing that I am indeed very small , into the space of someone living while dying.

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All responses are welcome.