If the perception of time is the passage of time, and the passage of time the perception of time, wherefrom the authority of clocks?
(Lewis H. Lapham, Lapham’s Quarterly, Vol VII No 4)
Now back home, I am thinking about time again. Where is the time to take care of all the details I left behind? How do I balance the need for structure and unfettered time? This week I have rediscovered Joanna Macy's work, and her translations of the poet Rilke. Reading and writing this text (below) helps me rediscover my direction.
There is a dream–like quality to being away from home in a place where they speak a different language, eat different food– where history, time and art are woven into the architecture and the way meals are shared. I return home changed by it, and by the wonderful people I have been with. In Solingen, Germany, the cobblestone streets are filled with music– a man playing Sinatra on the violin, and a child, knowing little about time, jumps up and dances–
Being in a strange world brings in that other kind of time, the big circle we all belong to, the recurring pattern of departure and return. I know it is reaching into deep, uninterrupted time that has brought me and my work to such lovely places. Paradoxically, I could not have these opportunities without taking “time apart” from ambition, duty, housework– without the solitude that awakens my inner compass.
Once I get busy, I can forget that linear time is not the only “real time”. The urgency of what needs to be done often overrides the existence of deep time– but I already know how to operate by the clock– how to get to the airport, to work, to class etc., on time. Paradoxically, seizing solitude (which naturally evokes glimmers of timelessness)– especially when I am the busiest and have "no time"–, is what makes everything happen in an easier, more fluid way.
We set the pace.
But this press of time —
take it as a little thing
next to what endures.
All this hurrying
soon will be over.
Only when we tarry
do we touch the holy.
Young ones, don’t waste your courage
racing so fast,
flying so high.
See how all things are at rest —
darkness and morning light,
blossom and book.
Rilke, Sonnet to Orpheus
Only when we tarry do we touch the holy– this is what propels us to be makers– the longing to touch That.
How much time do you spend doing something that is free from the clock, gadgets, screens, clicks and dings that claim us? (We live in a world where we operate as if we need an "excused absence" from Facebook!)
What did you do with abandon as a child? What gave you a sense of timelessness? This is the key to going “to the limits of your longing”, to doing the work you are here to do. You must vanquish, for a time, all excuses, all thoughts of the future or the past, and dive into the moment, into your longing. This is essential for hearing the voice that calls to you: What do you want? What is hailing you?
This is not a once and for all question- it returns again and again, asking to be authenticated and renewed. I ask this question now, in the shadowy interval of arriving back home.
Will I look back and say I wish I had spent more time mopping the floor, going shopping, checking email– or
Why didn't I spend more time becoming myself?
Rilke welcomes everything, opens his heart to longing, and to the idea that each of us has a gift we were given from birth. Here is another poem from Rilke (also in German for my German friends):
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Book of Hours, I 59
RAINER MARIA RILKE, translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows
Have you asked yourself recently what you really want? What you want to look back and see at the end of your life? I'd love to hear from you.
Gott spricht zu jedem nur, eh er ihn macht,
dann geht er schweigend mit ihm aus der Nacht.
Aber die Worte, eh jeder beginnt,
diese wolkigen Worte, sind:
Von deinen Sinnen hinausgesandt,
geh bis an deiner Sehnsucht Rand;
gieb mir Gewand.
Hinter den Dingen wachse als Brand,
dass ihre Schatten, ausgespannt,
immer mich ganz bedecken.
Lass dir Alles geschehn: Schönheit und Schrecken.
Man muss nur gehn: Kein Gefühl ist das fernste.
Lass dich von mir nicht trennen.
Nah ist das Land,
das sie das Leben nennen.
Du wirst es erkennen
an seinem Ernste.
Gieb mir die Hand.
*You can also see some glimpses of the work of the lovely artist who hosted me, Sabine Danielzig (if you plan to go to Germany, her artwork and this shop are unique and spectacular):