Tag Archives: rainer maria Rilke

The Limbo of The Unknown

The Unknown. It feels so often, especially at certain times in our life, as if it is all around us. Sometimes the Unknown is all we know. It is everything. Nothing is known. Everything that could be known is a fog, a darkness, a shadow. And we are floating in it. Looking for some firm ground to place our foot. Some limb to hold on to. It doesn’t even have to be much, but something. Something to hold onto is better than nothing.

Remember moments in your life, maybe when you were younger, when you would get the wind knocked out of you? Gasping for breath, you wondered if the next breath would come and nothing you experienced before could prepare you for that moment. You were absolutely present in a terrifying limbo of unknown.

How do we live in a life, or even in moments, of absolute unknowing?!? What do we hold on to? What do you hold on to? Some have objects that help them remember times that felt safer. Some pray with all their might, to God, to the universe, to their ancestors who have weathered these storms before them… sometimes there is an answer and sometimes there is nothing. Some breathe, remembering that for everything that is unknown, we at least have this moment, breathing in… and breathing out. We fight for that breath, don’t we? As Reiner Maria Rilke writes, 

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 wrestlers’ 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.

 

David Whyte writes:

To keep despair alive we have to abstract and immobilize our bodies, our faculties of hearing, touch and smell, and keep the surrounding springtime of the world at a distance. Despair needs a certain tending, a reinforcing, and isolation, but the body left to itself will breathe, the ears will hear the first birdsong of morning or catch the leaves being touched by the wind in the trees, and the wind will blow away even the grayest cloud; will move even the most immovable season; the heart will continue to beat and the world, we realize, will never stop or go away… (from ‘DESPAIR’ From the upcoming book of essays CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words)

We face the unknown daily, deeply, and painfully. Each of us have things that give us reason to fight for that next breath. Feeling the unknown, wrestling with it, sometimes even being defeated by it, we find ourselves stronger and we find the way through.

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Protecting the questions and living into the answers

You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
~Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve spent my whole life listening to people giving me the answers. Parents, education… college… grad school, books, television, friends, government, the news, church, Google… the list goes on and on. Answers, answers, answers. Everyone is right and everyone else is wrong. Hmmm… It’s easy. Slick. Comfortable. Quantifiable… to have the answers. We can put everything (God, people, ourselves) in a box and move on. It’s easier for us to have fun, relax, and worry about nothing but our own worlds when we can explain everything away. Ahhh… peace at last.

The only problem, though, is the thought that I am right and everyone else who disagrees must therefore be wrong. We are, from this point on, isolated into communities who think only the same as I do. There is no unity… only a cordial (or not-so-cordial) “agreeing to disagree.” Well, I have quickly tired of this way of being… this divider of community. My sincere hope is to bring people together to truly be in community even while we think differently about things… even while we can honestly say “I don’t know.” To do this, I will hereby be a Protector of the QUESTION.

To protect the questions, we must know that it is here, in the questions, that we can truly and always unite. No matter where our stories have taken us, it is the questions that are universal.

“What does it mean to belong?” “Who is in control and why does it matter? How much control do I have?” “Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life?” “What is the lonely for?” “How much stuff is enough?” “What does it mean to be a man.woman.mother.father.son.daughter?”

These questions, and so many more, are the questions that bring us together. When we begin to “love the questions themselves,” we are able to learn from each other, not fix or correct each other. It is then that life guides us into the answers… something that will not happen if we cannot begin to love the questions. This is why I will continue to protect them for you… and ask you to join me. We need more protectors of the question… then we will be able to live into the answers together.

Rilke – being with the secret things

I am too alone in the world, and not alone enough
to make every moment holy.

I am too tiny in this world, and not tiny enough
just to lie before you like a thing,
shrewd and secretive.    

I want my own will, and I want simply to be with my will
as it goes toward action,

and in the silent, sometimes hardly moving times
when something is coming near,
I want to be with those who know secret things
or else alone.

Rainer Maria Rilke quoted in Iron John – Robert Bly

When questioning becomes trendy

Rainer Maria Rilke, one of the patron saints of The Shepherd and the Knucklehead, writes in Letters to a young Poet:

You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given you becasue you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. (Italics mine)

In my world of shepherds and knuckleheads, emergents, deconstructers, philosophers, writers, and dreamers, the questioning often becomes the most important thing we can do. “Live in the question,” we say. One of my own central purposes in life is to hold space for people to ask the questions. I am not the one with all the answers. I am not the authority. Let’s discover together.

To live in the question… to live into the answer, seems to me to be the wondrous journey itself. But when do we go too far? Questioning is never wrong… and may we never stop asking questions of the absolutes we are given. To stop, though, with the constant deconstruction and questions… this seems to me to be to be settling at a place of answer. We have decided that the answer is to question… to deconstruct. These resolutions tire me… and I am feeling increasingly disconnected with a lack of positive resolution.

It seems to me that we must continue to ask ourselves, “What am I going to do about it? How is this going to effect my life NOW?” Now that I have the question, now that I doubt this, or am skeptical of that… what am I going to do? How am I going to live with this? This is how we live the question. This is how we can continue to question without resolving to stay in the same place. To stay in one place is to live a slow death.

Question can easily become trendy… deconstruction a popular fad. To resolve to always question and never do anything about it disconnects us from reality and relationships. I will hold space for you to question. I will welcome the questions, and no, I will not settle on an easy answer. But know that I am also going to be asking a question of my own: “What are you going to do about this?”

Of the inexpressible realm

Things are not so comprehensible and expressible as one would mostly have us believe; most events are inexpressible, taking place in a realm which no word has ever entered, and more inexpressible than all else are works of art, mysterious existences, the life of which, while ours passes away, endures.

~Rainer Maria Rilke – Letters to a young Poet

The question I am left with in my own life is whether life, legacy, and legend may find themselves in the realm of works of art… Indeed, there are those who see these things as art forms… forms that take as much mastery and craftsmanship as the poem or the painting. To craft our lives, to live for legacy, to grow legends around us… these clearly make their way into the inexpressible.

Truly there are not words for the depth of the human experience. Truly there are not ways of expressing the realities of face to face, life on life, other than in the cryptic and surreal.