"He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living hand to mouth."
~ Goethe

Monday, May 2, 2011

Writing A Path From The Center by "Living the Questions"

"...have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answers. "
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903, in "Letters to a Young Poet"

We are all familiar with this quote from the poet, Rilke, from a collection of letters he wrote to a young friend of his, an aspiring poet, who had gotten it into his head that he had to know what he was about in life, know what he was doing and who he was, before anything of value could be accomplished with his writing. Rilke was a loner, a social misfit and a wanderer; he found it difficult to stay in one place, to hold a job, to maintain a home, or a relationship. He lacked the ability to read social cues and had minimal tolerance for interpersonal machinations, yet his observations and insight on the human condition are precise, clear and evoke a sense of intense focus and devotion--he could read people and society, and his intellectual prowess made it imperative that he set his soul-readings to poetry. He offered, through his writing, a path from the Center of his being towards that of the reader and within the context of his art, crafted a profound "word medicine" that could heal people, give them guidance and shine light on the next step of their journey. It is a mistake to conclude that Rilke, who today probably would have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, or placed somewhere on the ubiquitous "Autism Spectrum" lacked the capacity for intimacy when his poetry goes straight to the interior of the heart in ways that can only be accessed by intimacy. Rilke's long familiarity with solitude and silence conferred upon him a deep wisdom about the nature and needs of the human person; his self-awareness, consciousness and intimacy with his own interior world enabled him to write poetry stunning in its ability to speak to our various conditions and to offer healing and peace, but not by providing answers to our questions; he encourages us, instead, to "love the questions themselves" and to wait patiently for our lives to speak. We have to write a path from the Center of our lives if we are to find our answers.

The internet and social networking culture seduces us with the idea that information and answers are synonymous. It further persuades us that asking questions, seeking answers, can be accomplished in whole, or at least in very large part, this afternoon...at the latest.
So many people spend hours and hours of precious, unrepeatable time scouring forums and polling their online friends for answers to the difficulties of life and those who spend the most time doing this seem to be the most unhappy and desperate in their desire for someone else to tell them what to do...how to be...where to go for more...answers. Our culture enables and encourages this kind of anxiety-provoking and superficial social discourse because planting seeds of doubt, fear and anxiety creates a market. People who are afraid that their lives won't hold up under the scrutiny of others, are easy prey to be marketed to in all kinds of ways. Those who live, not from their own Center, but through the eyes of others, become victims of their own projection that somewhere, someone "out there" has the answers to questions that can only be found "in here". Happy, satisfied people who are willing to live out the questions of their lives by seeing, in the quotidian mysteries, our daily life and work, that the answers unfold organically, in their own way, fail the "market test" every time.
When I first began writing here, I was in the midst of transition--I had lost two of my children in the previous 7 years and had another born with a serious disability. I was leaving my childbearing years, being then in my late 40's, had three teenage and young adult children going through their own growing pains, and I was leaving a way of working and being in the world that had defined and informed my life for many years. I was responding to a deep calling, a leading towards a very different life that was, at the same time, beckoning to me like a homecoming; I was being called inward and towards more depth and focus. I was intensely craving solitude, silence and contemplative action in the world, through my writing and new work involving sacred listening to others, giving them the space to tell their own stories and find their own path within the 'true self' that was intended for every person. And yes, dear Rilke, some answers have come through living out those questions but they can, of course, only be partial answers...I am still living, and loving, the questions. As another favorite writer, Isak Dineson, once said, "God made the world round so that we could not see too far down the road" in this, she echoes and reinforces Rilke--we can only live the questions, embrace them, love them, and with humility accept and live with the partial answers as they present themselves.
And now I am 51. My life has sorted itself out and I am living, imperfectly of course, the quiet, simple and creative life I had been trying to give an affirmative answer to for several years. I have lovingly let go of many people in my life over this time, knowing that I was simply not able, or no longer willing, to give them the time and energy they needed from me. I embraced fully a simple truth given me long ago by a very wise woman friend and mentor--"Compassion is mandatory, personal involvement isn't"-- I finally accepted the truth that being loving isn't measured by how willing I am to allow others personal dramas to invade my life and disturb my peace. I cannot give to others with the kind of spacious love I need to offer when I am being drained by relationships with people whose lives are chaotic and who are living out what Psychologist Carl Jung called "Shadow" in unconscious ways. These patterns are not always easy to see when they are taking up space in your life, but one of the many gifts of embracing solitude, quiet and simplicity is that those people and situations that are noisy and disruptive to our peace become very apparent indeed. I've cultivated some new friendships, blending them with deepened and rejuvenated long-term relationships into a community of loving, "learning partners" who are supportive, authentic, genuine and life-giving. I, like Rilke, am a solitary social misfit who prefers quiet and the "Peace of Wild Things" as in the poem by Farmer and Writer, Wendell Berry. I have more of myself to offer to the world; more love to give, more work to do, and a great and driving energy to do my part to leave a legacy of healing and wholeness behind when I take my leave of this world.
So, my writing going forward will not offer you any answers...but I will accompany you on the road of living the questions. My intention now is to "write a path from the Center" of my own life as I respond to the challenges and questions presented by a complex world mired in painful dilemmas and difficulties. I have also come to know other thinkers and writers who are my kin; those I've come to recognize as members of my extended "Tribe" and and as my soulmates and fellow sojourners and I will be introducing you to many of them.

Love and live the questions themselves. Pay attention to the "quotidian mysteries" of your own life. Trust and have faith that the answers will come and know that there will always be enough light shown to illuminate the next step. "God made the world round, so that we could not see too far down the road."

~ Peace and Courage.


steve said...

Very good...I stumbled here randomly and read this post, and thought, "oh, no...another blog I must read." If you like Rilke and Mary Oliver, and write intelligently about your living out your questions and seeking that place of authenticity... well, it's an honor to read along. Thanks for sharing your journey. You obviously put much thought into your writing, and I am appreciative of your reflections.

Michelle said...

Thank you Steve; I hope you'll come on back and continue reading here. Welcome!