Thursday, December 5, 2013
"And God said to me, Paint:
Time is the canvas
stretched by my pain:
the wounding of woman,
the brothers’ betrayal,
the city’s sad bacchanals,
the madness of kings.
And God said to me, Go forth:
For I am king of time.
But to you I am only the shadowy one
who knows with you your loneliness
and sees through your eyes.
My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
Going far ahead of the road I have begun.
(So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance--
and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave.)
Rainer Marie Rilke
René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke (German pronunciation: [ˈʁaɪnɐ maˈʁiːa ˈʁɪlkə]), better known as Rainer Maria Rilke, was a Bohemian-Austrian poet. He is considered one of the most significant poets in the German language. His haunting images focus on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety: themes that tend to position him as a transitional figure between the traditional and the modernist poets. He wrote in both verse and a highly lyrical prose. Among English-language readers, his best-known work is the Duino Elegies; his two most famous prose works are the Letters to a Young Poet and the semi-autobiographical Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. He also wrote more than 400 poems in French, dedicated to his homeland of choice, the canton of Valais in Switzerland.
(Especially for a painter/writer/mystic soul-mate far away
and for a batik-painter soul-mate closer by.)
Image above from Judith Reeve found http://attentiveequations.com/2010/07/09/rilke-and-rodin-contemplating-a-work-of-art/
Posted by CN at 9:16 AM
Thursday, November 21, 2013
This is the way that autumn came to the trees:
it stripped them down to the skin,
left their ebony bodies naked.
It shook out their hearts, the yellow leaves,
scattered them over the ground.
Anyone at all could trample them out of shape
undisturbed by a single moan of protest.
The birds that herald dreams
were exiled from their song,
each voice torn out of its throat.
They dropped into the dust
even before the hunter struck his bow.
Oh, God of May, have mercy.
Bless these withered bodies
with the passion of your resurrection;
make their dead veins flow with blood.
Give some tree the gift of green again.
Let one bird sing.
(Translation by Naomi Lazard whom some have said did brave and lonely work p. 73,
"The True Subject: Writers on Life and Craft" Edited by Kurt Brown)
Easy to see why his poetry is still alive...(both on a personal level as well as an international level.)
Hard to figure him out...
A challenge for ALL the diverse groups whom he represented or groups he was so sure belonged to them body and soul. Yet he seemed to often challenge each and all...even when they awarded him...even in his award speech(es).
I post him here because it is the end of Autumn in America/ the beginning of Winter (in more ways
than one) and this poem has much to say to us who still call ourselves Americans of any party, race or religious affiliation -- especially we who call ourselves writers. Are we up for the challenge? Is it too late? Is it ever too late?
Despite being repeatedly accused of atheism and of being allied to various groups and leaders with feet and feat of clay, his poetry suggests a more nuanced relationship with religion, traditions and politics than may even yet be understood.
For example, he was greatly inspired by both secular poetry and South Asia's Sufi traditions.
He was publicly honored by the Pakistan Government after his literary work was publicly endorsed and posthumously honored him with nation's highest civil award, Nishan-e-Imtiaz, in 1990. Yet, he was sent to prison and also exiled for years by his nation's decisions.
While I claim no strong alliance with this poet -- in fact, I found this poem just yesterday for the first time.
I decided to post this poem of his today -- just before reading that his death anniversary was just commemorated.
Maybe others will see something in this poem which speaks to universal loss? Perhaps another who finds this poem here will also be in some way helped by such beautiful sorrow and vow once more to
help/let one bird to sing?
(Image above is Cezanne's "A Bend in the River" which is in the public domain.)
Below in comments I may attempt to offer a few practical challenges (and possible actions) for our time which in the first case has implications between Americans and Pakistanis.
Posted by CN at 2:09 PM
Friday, October 18, 2013
For the "in charge" people in my life:
At times we are hidden, at times revealed;
We are Muslims, Christians, Jews; of any race.
Our hearts are shaped like any human heart,
But every day we wear a different face.
#1325, from Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi
Edited by Badiozzaman Forouzanfar (Tehran, Amir Kabir, 1988).
Translated by Zara Houshmand
Recently, one of the most important people in my life wept for a second time when I read the poem below to him. "Zero Circle" is found several places and this version I posted was not attributed to any one "translator". (I'd love to find it in the Persian and English by a Persian translator of Rumi if anyone has that?) Some who work with Rumi, The Enneagram (see below) and with the Socio-Psychology growth and harmony of groups have assigned this poem to the number EIGHT of the Enneagram. Yet, I suppose this state of being dumbfounded and not knowing where to turn is likely to most of us some of the time.
Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
To gather us up.
We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty
If we say we can, we’re lying.
If we say No, we don’t see it,
That No will behead us
And shut tight our window onto spirit.
So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Besides ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.
NOTE: I have found The Enneagram to be highly useful for transparency, peace, cooperation and understanding in various types of communities, relationships and even for the individual seeking maturity by self.
Below are a few book suggestions:
The Spirituality of the Enneagram by Rizo (a whole package with self-testing)
Anything on the Enneagram by Richard Rohr
The Enneagram in Love and Work by Helen Palmer
( The photo collection above is from: The Nature Conservancy and at my.nature.com )
Posted by CN at 9:59 AM
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Readers & writers alike could be helped by reading this poem when assessing the value and benefit of a work of art:
The world stands out on either side.
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky
No higher than the soul is high.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
So often readers are missing almost anything of value...
The writing is often skilled yet only helpful as an example of a narcissistic voice. In context this could be useful indeed...yet only in the whole of an author's work.
While I appreciated the honing in on the human and the fallible aspects of everyone there often seems to be no room for any sort of mystery, miracle or wonder as a final conclusion to many pieces I read due to as assignment or what's offered by a group.
If we as readers are incentivized by the first of a larger body of an author's work we often must needs find that mystery, wonder is also included. Problem is I am not inspired to spend precious time exploring more if this is the first view I get of a writer's work.
The latest from MAYORS AGAINST ILLEGAL GUNS
From Elvin: Last October, my sister Zina was shot and killed by her abusive estranged husband, even though she had a restraining order against him.
A criminal background check would have stopped her murderer from buying a weapon, but he simply avoided one by going on the internet and finding a private seller at Armslist.com.
Domestic abusers like my sister's murderer tend to become more dangerous after a victim leaves or seeks a protective order against them -- which is why federal law prohibits them from buying guns. But loopholes in our laws make it too easy for them to get their hands on guns -- it's time for Congress to take action to prevent this from ever happening again.
Read the letter to Congress in full and then HELP ask CONGRESS to pass common-sense gun laws that will save women's lives
Posted by CN at 1:24 PM
Saturday, September 21, 2013
We need a boot camp of the heart and of the psyche.
In "Les Miserables", Victor Hugo writes a few striking sentences about profound inner pain and our duty to bear and live through it:
"You want to die, I want that too, I who am speaking to you, but I don't want to feel the ghosts of women wringing their hands around me. Die, so be it, but don't make others die. ...Suicide is restricted...as soon as it touches those next to you, the name of suicide is murder."
While people are at their lowest points they are often isolated by shame about their troubles. We need at least to know that inner pain is common and always has been.
Beginning (with excerpts and link)
Strong, fierce, smart, and talented, Ajax is one of the greatest warrior heroes in classical mythology. He wins every campaign and every battle he enters, earning the name Ajax Unconquered. Yet as Ovid tells it in the Metamorphoses, “Unconquered, he was conquered by his sorrow”: he dies when he chooses to fall on his own sword.
His suicide happens after the greatest warrior of them all, Achilles, is killed, and Ajax and Odysseus defy all common sense in retrieving his body from their enemies, the Trojans. Both show extraordinary valor. Ajax does most of the fighting while Odysseus grabs the body and rides away to safety. Afterward, a council decides that both deserve to inherit the magical armor Achilles had worn. Forged on Mount Olympus, the home of the gods, this armor is both extremely protective and a symbol that its wearer is the greatest warrior alive. To settle the question of who deserves it, the two heroes battle each other, but the result is a tie. At last, they make their claims in words, and because Odysseus speaks with more eloquence, the council awards him the armor. Ovid tells us that Ajax’s disappointment was what caused him to kill himself. In a play about him, Sophocles writes that Ajax is so miserable that he falls into a stupor in which he imagines a flock of sheep to be warriors, and he slays them all. When he awakes and sees what he has done, he is so ashamed that he cannot bear it, and he dies by his own hand.
The terrible irony is that all of this is about armor, yet Ajax succumbs to the foe from which no piece of armor could have protected him: his own envy, rage, shame, and regret.
Throughout history, artists and writers have depicted “the sorrowful Ajax” because the story is so heartbreaking and so very human. At times, we are all—every one of us—our own worst enemy.
Today’s military faces a tremendous crisis. We are losing more soldiers to suicide than to combat. Some of this is attributable to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) but a recent Pentagon study covering the years 2008 through 2011 showed that some 52 percent of those who committed suicide had never been deployed to a combat zone. Last year, military personnel killed themselves at a rate of about one a day. Veterans are killing themselves at a rate of almost one every hour, about 22 a day. Recently the rise in military suicide was so extreme that it made the front page of The New York Times and the cover of Time magazine. The rate is higher this year than it was at this point last year.
The suicide rate is also escalating in the U.S. population at large: 10 years ago it shocked observers by reaching 30,000 a year. Now it is almost 40,000. Around the world and in the United States there are more suicides than murders. For those under 40 years of age, it is one of the top three killers. For older people it is one of the top 10, though their rate of suicide is the highest (other diseases begin to compete for numbers). Women attempt suicide more, but men succeed more often—probably because they have greater access to guns, which is one of the surest methods.
In the civilian population matching the demographics of the military (considering age, sex, and race), between 2002 and 2009 (the latest year for which we have reliable numbers) the suicide rate increased by 15 percent. According to Pentagon numbers, the military suicide rate in the same period increased by 80 percent. Even this disparity may understate the problem, since the Pentagon counts as active duty people who were active for only a few days in a given year, making the rate far lower than it would be if officials counted people who were active for at least six months, for instance.
The problem is not only very real, but in some ways it is also new. Ever since we started keeping track in the late 19th century, the military has shown higher suicide rates than the rest of society as a whole, but when you compare the same part of the population—considering age and sex, for instance—the military has usually had far fewer suicides than civilians. Commentators have sometimes attributed that to the screening process required to get into the military, but it persists across periods when the military is willing to accept a much broader swath of citizens. A better explanation may be that camaraderie and a sense of purpose insulate soldiers from some of the anguish of life. Across the military and the wider population, suicide usually declines during wartime. People feel united and purposeful when under a terrible outside threat.
Why haven’t our recent wars provided that protection? Some groups analyzing military suicide, such as the National Center for Veterans Studies, have suggested that military life is more isolating than it used to be: more soldiers live off base than in the past, and those on base may have their own rooms and their own televisions, instead of residing in traditional group barracks and communal rooms. It is also worth considering that the kinds of wartime consequences so common today—brain trauma and PTSD—are especially threatening to people who are already prone to depression or volatile mood swings.
But clinically depressed people are not the only ones who kill themselves. Many soldier suicides come in response to a bad situation: a broken marriage, a financial crisis, legal trouble, or some other reversal. A recent Pentagon study showed that about half of military suicides had experienced a failed marriage, frequently just months before the victims killed themselves. Another report showed that most suicides occurred in people under the age of 25. Family and friends who have lost someone to suicide often report that the person had legal or financial troubles, or both; that they were struggling with drugs or alcohol; that they came back from the war deeply changed; or that they were frustrated at not being deployed.
By and large, people kill themselves today for the same reasons Ajax does: because life can be disappointing, unfair, and painful, and we often respond by doing things that make us feel ashamed in the morning. The extent of the misery Ajax experiences is in large part because, as a great hero, he expects so much of himself. These days we expect a lot. We live in a culture that makes us all want to be special, and the math on that will never add up. We all feel terribly let down sometimes.
If someone is besieged by suicidal thoughts, it is important that he get help from a mental health professional. Talk therapy can work, bringing real insight. Antidepressants can take the edge off the pain as a person figures out her life. But we can also draw on the inner resolve of the individual, and on the history of ideas.
To save our future selves from suicide, we have to do some work now. Boot camp and additional training get a soldier ready for war. In situations where most people would freeze and give up or run away, soldiers are trained to fight the fight and try to get out alive. People do not often speak of it, but the inner life of soldiers and civilians alike can be so brutal that it too requires training in advance of a crisis. We need a boot camp of the heart and of the psyche.
Characters in literature often tell each other not just that suicide is wrong but also that we must set our minds to struggling against it. The narrator of Herman Hesse's novel "Steppenwolf" says that some people must struggle against suicide the way a kleptomaniac must struggle against theft.
From G. K. Chesterton, the English author of the novel "The Man Who Was Thursday", wrote in "Orthodoxy", a book of Christian apologetics, that he categorically rejected suicide on moral grounds:
"In all this I found myself utterly hostile to many who called themselves liberal and humane. Not only is suicide a sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life."
(On the Snowball Effect)...Suicide is so prevalent that most people know someone who has done it, and this normalizes the act as a valid way of dealing with pain. One death causes more deaths, and eventually we have a culture of death.
Staying alive is INARGUABLY a kind of heroism. To train for this future heroic act, choose now that you will not let a moment's misery murder you. Spend some time thinking about this oath of loyalty to life. If ever a thought of wanting to die flickers through your mind, do not suppress it in horror, but rather let yourself look right at it and know that it is not an option. Then if suicide is ever dangerously on your mind, you will be used to rejecting the idea. Remember that you owe it to the community to be strong, to wait it out. You also owe it to your future self.
Posted by CN at 2:54 PM
By Jennifer Michael Hecht
We are tender and our lives are sweet
And they are already over and we are
visiting them in some kind of endless
reprieve from oblivion, we are walking
around in them and after we shatter
with love for everything we settle in.
Thou tiger on television chowing,
thou very fact of dreams, thou majestical
roof fretted with golden fire. Thou wisdom
of the inner parts. Thou tintinnabulation.
Is it not sweet to hand over the ocean's
harvest in a single wave of fish? To bounce
a vineyard of grapes from one's apron
and into the mouth of the crowd? To scoop up
bread and offer up one's armful to the throng?
Let us live as if we were still among
the living, let our days be patterned after
Is it not marvelous to be forgetful?
(This poem originally appeared in the October 2003 issue of Poetry magazine. And read an older BIO at
poetryfoundation.org/bio/jennifer-michael-hecht . You may want to go to the post
just below to see what historical (yet up-to-the-moment) challenge Jennifer Michael Hecht is writing today...)