Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Feeling Small & Turning Toward

There are so many hard things in the world today: the complete devastation and vast level of human suffering in Haiti; the divisive political landscape in our own country that places the well-being of people behind the doing well of an ideology; the worldwide destruction of our environment through greed and fear; war and rumors of war, coupled with incomprehensibly inhuman acts of violence in so many places; and our own personal struggles with family, relationship, finances, and illness of all kinds.

It is easy to see ourselves as very small and insignificant in the face of these, and countless other things. The tendency to constrict and tighten is strong and compelling, and it is counterintuitive to move any other way. 

Yet, the paradox is that the more we turn toward that which is difficult or unpleasant, the more space we can create within ourselves. When the tight fist is opened, space is revealed. For a moment we can be with all of our sorrows or all of our joys with a kind of equanimity - the ability to move into the difficult or the pleasant in equal measure.

The Man Watching, by Rainer Maria Rilke:
I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can't bear without a friend,
I can't love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it's with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler's sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

(From News of the Universe: Poems of the Twofold Consciounsess, translated by Robert Bly.)

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