"Your words move mountains."
How did he react?
He remained silent. But his poems kept talking to me...
How did I feel?
I don’t want to start by moving a mountain. I want to start by moving myself. Once I feel alive I will move others. Then we can move a mountain together. That is my path. No one will buy what I say if I don’t feel and believe in it myself. Honesty and authenticity: Big words. They are the keys to doors whose signs say “Making An Impact”, “Painting”, “Playing music”, “Writing” and maybe “Living” as such. Definitely: “Teaching”. Do you remember that one teacher who changed your way of thinking for good?
Was it the one whose classes matched the notes on didactic he had taken back in college? Or the one who created endless hours filled with dreams, ideas, contradictions, framed by her empathy and passion?
Sounds simple. As a teacher you walk into the classroom, find a connection to yourself, act from it. Sometimes it happens like that. And sometimes it does not: There are days when you enter the room with worries riding roller coasters in your mind. When your heart is broken or your body craves sleep. You are not always your best self. And you are not always the best teacher. At least I am not.
I instruct yoga; In theory this is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. I get to hold a space for others, explore, assist lovingly, watch them grow, share my experience, be a therapist. In practice, every now and then, it is quite a challenge. Those hard days don’t occur too often, but when they do they sure hit me. Like last Friday. I was completely sleep deprived and subbed for another teacher. “Who is she and what is she doing here?!”, the students’ faces said. If Friday had been a good day I would have smiled and thought, “Yeah, resistance! There is power in it. Let’s use that in class.” But that night I was too busy catching my breath, telling myself that my exams were going to be fine, that that fight I had had with a friend and the conflict back home was going to resolve itself. I noticed the students' expressions, tried to empathize, failed. Decided to just unroll my mat and got started.
The following sixty minutes were- okay. No fireworks, no genius tricks. I lead them through the sequence, answered their questions, corrected their postures. No more, no less. I was focused with them, but not in love. Until I asked them to put their legs up the wall and rest for five minutes. Before the class some of them had told me they were struggling with emotional issues currently. Suddenly, when they put their legs up the wall, I remembered that- and a quote, which I thought, fit. It was by Rilke and I decided to recite it:
Allow your judgments their own silent, undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Somewhere along those lines, between “I beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart” and “Gradually, without even noticing it”, a frog was born in my throat. In the minutes of silent that followed a handful of tears rolled down my cheeks.
The class went on for another 30 minutes after the poem. 30 minutes in which everything felt different from before. From the Rilke letter on I surrendered into every syllable of mine, every hands on I gave was loving, and every gaze I exchanged with a student was a warm smile. I was back. "Let go", "enjoy", "Be present" were not just formulas anymore. Now I lived them.
Complimenting is praising. Today I want to praise Rainer Maria Rilke. To me he is one of the most outstanding word magicians. His poems are music, wisdom, philosophy. His letters are depth, humanity, aesthetics. He is a genius. Instead of writing a letter to him like I did to Bach I decided to tell you this story. Because it says more than what I could tell him in person. It proves: He moves. Me and, so I know from reports, countless others. With his authentic words he has given me insight, changed my attitudes and opened up new perspectives. Last Friday he turned my okay-yoga class into a true encounter. Because he reminded me: It is fine to be where I am. Unfinished, full of questions, myself. If I meet myself where I am I can start moving. From there, who knows what will happen? Maybe mountains will be moved, or even whole chains of them. With a Rilke book in my pocket I dare declare that my goal- even on a rainy, stressed Friday night. Because I know: His words will rock my world. They will remove the rubble that has piled up in front of me, my personal mountain range, and clear the view for life and love. Thank you, Rilke.
Here are some of my favorite Rilke quotes and poems for you:
"Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage."
--from Letters To A Young Poet
"For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation."
--From Letters To A Young Poet
I AM MUCH TOO ALONE IN THIS WORLD YET NOT ALONE
I am much too alone in this world,
yet not alone enough to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world,
yet not small enough
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.
I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed for a long time,
one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.
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.
-- From Book of Hours, I 59
A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.
--From Letters To A Young Poet