I have Flannery O'Connor with me for my travels in Europe. I haven't read her before. I resonate with her fierce earnestness in wanting to clear her mind, to find her place in the world, to be able to do her work. But not just any work– the work that belongs to her, and connects her with spirit.
One of the paradoxes is that to find your place in the world, you have to set down your fears and ambitions, at least for the moment. She writes in A Prayer Journal:
Please help me to push myself aside.
I have the opportunity in teaching, at moments, to forget about myself and find the presence in the room. This would not be possible without the students who show up– willing to give full attention a try, to see what arises in an atmosphere of creativity, friendliness and silence.
Our focus in class was the poetry of Rilke in The Book of Hours. All but one of the students were German, so this gave us a poetic bridge between the languages. There is some kind of lovely cross-pollination in hearing the poem in German, then English. There is a deeper sense of listening that comes naturally with more than one language in the room.
The first poem we chose echoes the fierce longing of Flannery O'Connor, and the fearlessness of Rilke to ask for what he wants– and remind us that it is never too late, and you are not ever too old:
You see I want a lot
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shimmering blaze of every step up.
So many live on and want nothing,
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.
But what you love to see are faces
that do work and feel thirst.
You love most of all those who need you
as they need a crowbar or a hoe.
You have not grown old, and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.
Rainer Maria Rilke / The Book of the Hours
Attention being fugitive is not a new problem– perhaps we just have many more ways to stay entertained, to keep our movements lateral, from link to link and screen to screen, rather than what is required for the vertical movement of reaching down in. I so admire Rilke's apparent willingness to sacrifice everything, to not be afraid to reach, to fall, to fly.
What do you do to "push yourself aside", to find your thread that connects you with your work? I'd love to hear from you.
PS: Next I will be teaching in Italy, and post some photos of work from students. I have invited Sabine to teach with me in Taos in 2019! We had sparks flying working together.