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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Writing A Path From The Center

"...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, giving them the guidance that comes through shining light on the present moment, often illuminating the next step on the journey as well. In spite of his difficulties with interpersonal relationships, it is a mistake to conclude that Rilke lacked the capacity for intimacy as his poetry goes straight to the interior of the heart in ways that can only be accessed by an innate capacity for empathy towards the human condition.  Rilke's long familiarity with solitude and silence encouraged him to cultivate a generous wisdom combined with the humility to offer not answers to our questions, but an invitation to "love the questions themselves" and to wait patiently for our lives to speak. We have to write our own path from the still, quiet center of our lives if we are to find our answers.

We're a long distance, now, from Rilke's 19th century world, and it's more than evident that the internet and social networking culture has seduced us into believing that information and knowledge are synonymous. Its fluidity and speed suggest that answers to our most profound and nuanced questions can be found quickly-- all done and dusted by this afternoon--at the latest. We too frequently spend precious, unrepeatable hours scouring forums, anxiously polling online friends for answers to the difficulties of life and those who spend the most time searching seem only to increase their sense of unhappy desperation in the exhausting pursuit of finding someone else to tell them what to do, how to be and where to go for more quick answers. A society that endorses ever increasing speed and almost instantaneous gratification with little thought devoted to differentiating between wants and needs enables and encourages a blinding anxiety and to a purpose: planting seeds of self-doubt and fear creates a market for the unscrupulous and greedy in those who are afraid that there is no remedy for the perceived lack of meaning in their lives and of the corollary that something or someone "out there" has the answers to questions that can only be found "in here". Those who are willing to live out the questions of their lives by patiently accepting that the answers will unfold organically, in their own way, fail the "market test" every time. To live slowly, with purpose, allowing the steady, daily rhythms of life to move us along is a hard sell in a world of 24 hour news cycles where everything from a traffic snarl to an earthquake is "breaking news" and discerning meaning and truth are viewed as almost frivolous endeavors rather than taking their proper role as genuinely pressing and central concerns of human existence.

When I first began writing here, in 2007, 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 challenging 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 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.  And yes, dear Rilke, some answers have come through living out those questions but they can, of course, only be answered in part--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" and 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 55.  My life has sorted itself out pretty well 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 a number of people in my life over this time, knowing that I was simply unable, 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" and with that, 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 from a generous spirit if 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 one's peace become very apparent indeed. I've cultivated some new and already treasured friendships, blending them with deepened and rejuvenated long-term relationships.  My long and cherished marriage is thriving and our children are now well launched or close to it and with the recent marriage of our oldest daughter, our family configuration has changed in delightful ways as we've welcomed her lovely husband into the fold. Through all of this,  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 soul-mates 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 daily life and work and have trust and faith that the answers will come when they, and you, are ready to welcome them. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Coming To Our Senses: Savoring as Spiritual Practice

Hello friends:  I've been away from Close to the Root for a long while; it has been a bit of a struggle to sort out the direction for this blog--my life changes--all so lovely and life affirming--have meant a decision to wait, maintaining a position of patient abiding while the inner compass turned true north.  I think we're there.
I am writing for Close to the Root and those essays will be showing up here very soon.  In the meantime, this is an essay I was invited to write for Patheos and it might give you some idea of the tone and upcoming themes; I hope you enjoy it.
~ Michelle

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"May I walk you home?"

"We're all just walking each other home." "
~ Ram Dass

Our relationships with one another are part of the quotidian landscape of our lives; we live, and thrive, only in the shelter of each other.  To cultivate a community, a tribe, of compassionate healers comprised of people who accept and live into the responsibility of relationship is an enormous challenge--none of us can go it alone, we need each other, but this no light burden we take up when we enter into all the risks of connection and intimacy.  No matter what the nature of the relationship, whether that of mate or life partner, parent and child, intimate friendship--the responsibilities are the same.  We share not only in the daily joys and pleasures, work and play, but we stand, then, prepared for that last, long walk home whenever and however it may come.  We agree to be witnesses and companions to death, whether death comes, as it does to us all, at the end of our earthside sojourn, or the relationship itself dies--when we enter in to relationship with another person, we agree to walk each other home and that is a skill set, an endeavor of the heart and soul that we are not prepared for in a culture that fails not only to value and teach the skills we all need to sustain the relationships we create over a lifetime, but which fails even more profoundly to show us how to lay each other, and our relationships, to rest.  
A proper "good bye" is not only appropriate, but healing to everyone concerned. Whether at the bedside of a beloved companion when they are dying, or over a final cup of coffee with someone with whom we've realized we no longer feel able to remain in relationship; everyone deserves the dignity of an honest and heartfelt farewell.  We need to respect the magnitude of what it has meant, to both people, to have walked part of the journey together, realizing and standing in appropriate awe and wonder at the unique and unrepeatable beauty of that particular pairing for that stretch of precious time.  No matter what differences and contentions have arisen between two people, something essential, true and loving once passed between them, and it deserves to be held in proper esteem and gratitude; we can walk each other home without rancor, without pain, only when we've fully embraced what it means to give part of ourselves to another.   We live in a peopled place and our companions on the way shape us for everything else that is to come.  
Love is the end for which we are created and how we offer and invest ourselves in others, and they in us,  the truest measure of our worth. 
When we connect deeply with another human soul, recognizing in them yet another of our healing partners, our kindred spirits on our life journey, let us remember, then, that held in the heart of  each "hello" is always the question, "May I walk you home?"