Wise mind on walkabout

At times, like the last few weeks, my wise mind goes walkabout, has nothing to say, or throws up incoherent wise cracks, and crumbling clichés, like curved balls with top spin making them hard to catch. On these occasions it helps to beg, borrow and steal the wisdom of others.

When our own wisdom is limp or lost, or seems to have grown dim, tarnished and cracked by life’s hard battering, there is always some wise man or woman standing with arms wide open offering their words, wise and beautiful until we can recover our own, inside the pages of a tattered book lying dusty on a shelf.

Here is some wisdom from two wild and wonderful minds, and a little homegrown rough wisdom of my own.

In my random reading over the past few months of peripatetic wanderings I have written down a few particularly pertinent paragraphs or lovely turn of phrase. Perhaps I’m hoping that the words of wisdom might infiltrate my own distracted and dull mind and make me wise, or open cracks into my wonder to let in the light.

Rainer Maria Rilke is always a favorite in eliciting some new insight or question:

“So you must no be frightened …. if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do….. life has not forgotten you… it holds you in its hands; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any agitation, any pain, any melancholy, since you really do not know what these states are working upon you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question whence all this may be coming and wither it is bound? ….. just remember that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself of foreign matter; so one must just help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and break out with it, for that is progress ……. you must be patient as a sick man ….. there are in every illness many days when the doctor can do nothing but wait. And this it is that you, insofar as you are your own doctor, must now above all do.” – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet.

An adaptation from Natalie Goldberg’s The Wild Mind, offers a similar orientation to experiences that we typically struggle against.

After finishing her book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie visited her Buddhist teacher Katagiri Roshe.

“Roshi, I need a teacher again,” said Natalie.

“Don’t be so greedy,” he replied, shaking his head. “Writing is taking you very deep. Continue to write.”

“But Roshi, it is so lonely.”

“Is there anything wrong with loneliness?” he asked, lifting his eyebrows.

“No I guess not.”

The conversation went on to other things. Suddenly Natalie interrupted him. “But, Roshi, you have sentenced me to such loneliness. Writing is very lonely,” she said again.

Anything you do deeply is very lonely,” he replied.

“Are you lonely?” she asked.

“Of course,” he answered, “but I don’t let it toss me away. It is just loneliness.”

Instead of loneliness or sickness we could insert or add, just grief, just pain, just failure, just rejection, just this.

To feel it fully, and yet not let it toss us away or take us over makes it less savage, less frightening, like learning to tame the beast rather than fight it or even slay it.

When we turn away from nothing, but meet it gently, bowing to it like an old familiar, and then holding its hand and listening, it reveals itself as friend, instead of enemy. We learn that there is nothing in it to fear.

I say this, not as one who knows, but as one who is learning as she goes, learning it again and again and again, and probably again and again.

We each learn this for as long as it takes to be free. And just when we think we know it, along comes something else to knock us off our comfortable little perch and we think, oh no, this is surely too much to bear. And then we turn to face it, bow to it, invite it in. Not because we want it but because it won’t go away, it just is.

And then we lean in close and listen, and slowly we understand that we are listening to that quiet place inside, the secret place that we have forgotten in our rush to meet the world. And we hear it calling and calling, so quietly.

It is calling us home. And we smile our secret smile, remembering who we are. Hello you, we smile and cry.

Oh what funny things we humans are and how easily we forget ourselves. And what a paradox, perhaps a mystery, that it is often pain or sorrow that wakes us and calls us home.

Photo taken at Eagle Hawk Neck Tassie January 2015


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