The title of the painting above– speak to me from everywhere– comes from a Rilke poem. It awakens the part of me, when I listen with my heart, that knows the "slender threads". Robert Johnson (the Jungian writer and storyteller) says the slender threads are always present:
(Slender threads) are the numinous forces that exist outside our conscious control– sometimes called fate, destiny, god, guardian angel, guiding hand or patron saint.
The slender threads are drowned out in the daily doing, but can be felt when you take the time to be with the inner world, the natural world, and stillness. He pointed out long ago (he's about 95!)– that loneliness is often the result of too much doing. When you feel lonely, it is often a sign to take time out and tend to the inner world of dreams, imagination, and listening to the voice of those slender threads.
I have just returned from my last teaching trip of the year, and felt the slender threads everywhere. This would not happen without each student that shows up, and the listening– the communal inward gaze– of us together. After a dinner with a group one night, most of whom I did not know, I wrote this in my journal: I have been changed. All this room inside. Happy just to listen to strangers talk. It was a delight to hear their stories.
The next evening I was walking down the narrow mountain path to my exhibition opening, and a young woman was coming up. She moved aside, and as I came closer I could see that she was noticeably distraught. She had a sheet of paper in one hand, and a bottle of glue in the other. "You look like an artist," she said. She poured out her story, telling me of her aunt who has just been diagnosed with brain cancer, and does not have long to live. She held up the paper she was carrying with her– diagrams in ball point pen of the things her aunt made for dinner, and her favorite tree, the aspen. She burst out– "I have to find an aspen tree! She needs to see some leaves before she dies, and my brother is leaving soon– where are all the aspen trees?!"
I looked around and could not see a single one, which seemed odd. She was in a panic, so I said, let's walk this way down the path. Soon we came upon a beautiful aspen (which she had passed on the way up) that carpeted the ground with golden leaves. She hurriedly began scooping them up, and ran back down the hill.
I went on to my opening. While at the exhibit, I was distracted by a commotion. I turned, and through the door bursts the young woman. She scans the room, and seeing me, she rushes over, holding something up. Her sheet of paper is now covered with aspen leaves– stems hanging off the edges, glued in piles to the back of it, covering the entire sheet. She took the forest floor and re-created it for her aunt. "Do you have an envelope?¡" she demanded. Then she read out loud the poem she wrote for her aunt, and off she went, with her sealed envelope in hand.
The only line I remember from her poem is:
The leaves are falling, what do I have to offer?
I am pondering what Robert Johnson said regarding the slender threads:
There is one, and only one, appropriate action in any given moment in time. If you are in that action, you are happy and peaceful. (Robert Johnson, Balancing Heaven and Earth)
I am trying out this idea by pausing and listening regarding decisions. It is not about an external idea of good and bad– rather, it has to do with asking the question: What is needed for wholeness? When I remember to do this (which is only part of the time!), anxiety is replaced with calmness.
I will end with this poem, Autumn, from Rilke (and in German for my friends across the sea):
Leaves are falling, falling as if from afar,
as if, far off in the heavens, gardens were wilting.
And as they fall, their gestures say "it's over."
In the night the heavy earth is falling
from out of the stars into the loneliness.
We are all falling. This hand here is falling.
Just look: it is in all of us.
Yet there is one who holds this falling
with infinite tenderness in her hands.
Die Blätter fallen, fallen wie von weit,
als welkten in den Himmeln ferne Gärten;
sie fallen mit verneinender Gebärde.
Und in den Nächten fällt die schwere
Erdeaus allen Sternen in die Einsamkeit.
Wir allen fallen.
Diese Hand da fällt.
Und sieh dir andre an: es ist in allen.
Und doch ist einer, welcher dieses
in seinen Händen hält.
We are all being held by slender threads.
What is your experience with "slender threads"? I'd love to hear from you.