Monday, December 14, 2009

Sometimes A Man

DHS 33/100

Sometimes A Man Stands Up During Supper

Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.

And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

And another man, who remains inside his own house,
dies there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Robert Bly

I'm still plagued by this thing. It just won't let go.

For the longest time, i assumed that this was about the man, that it was a lesson in what the man is doing with his life. Today i wondered if i have it backwards and it is really all about the kids.

Sometimes a man sees something, something about reality, or reality itself. Sees something so clearly and so intimately that questions that had never before occurred to him now are so compellingly important that he stops what he is doing, gets up, and goes out to find someone who can help him find the answers.

The great doubt has taken over his life. There is no longer any time to waste, and that's exactly what he would be doing with his life if he didn't stop mid-stride, change directions, and go out. There is a fire burning in his belly. A roaring fire. One that can't be put out with another book, another CD, or another hour on his zafu. His life is on fire. His entire being is burning to the ground.

So he sets off, asks a question here and there, keeps walking, asks again, keeps walking, asks again, keeps walking, asks again, and keeps this up, single-mindedly searching for that one teacher who can give him the answer that will quench the fire.

For all intents and purposes, his children no longer exist. His life has been consumed by his question and his search for an answer. For all intents and purposes, his children can consider that he has died as he seems to have gone forever.

Yet, as good as this situation sounds for one side, and as bad as it sounds for the other, no one has gained anything with this charade. The man is looking for someone to give him the answer, he's not looking for the answer itself. The man is still there, separate from the question and separate from the answer. And the kids have blindly let him go, not ever sitting down and wondering what could be so important to the man that he was willing to sacrifice everything, even his most precious children. Instead of wondering about the question themselves, they simply wrote the man off, let him go, let his question go, and considered him dead.

On the other side of town, another man had the same realization. Had the same glimpse of reality. But his went just a little deeper. Just a little further into that silence. Just a little more into that reality that exists in that space you can crawl into when you crawl through a gap between your thoughts and into eternity.

And because he crawled there under his own power, he saw that the answer to his question was there, in that eternity. In himself. In everything. In that place where everything was himself. In that place where he was everything. In that place where there is no "he" or "everything." In that place between two thoughts.

He knew he didn't need another teacher. He knew that no teacher could provide the answer. No teacher could provide anything. He had the innate ability himself to find it. To see it. To be it. So he stayed at home. With his kids. Doing what he always did, but with a new focus.

The old "him" died right there in the house. The old "him" was no longer to be found. The beliefs, biases, ideologies, religions, etc. that had defined him up to this point were let go. He was no longer becoming something, he had simply settled for being something. Being himself. Being alive. Being here. Being here, while continuing to live what appeared to be a normal life — including washing the dishes. But unlike before, it was no longer "he" who washed the dishes; now, the dishes were simply being washed. No more, no less. The laundry was simply being done. No more, no less. The yard was simply being mowed. No more, no less.

There was no longer someone in the East who had the answers. There was no longer someone in the East who shared the question. There was no longer a question. Or answer. There was just this place, easy to find, just inside that gap between two thoughts, where the questions and answers didn't matter. Where the questions and answers didn't even exist. And over time this space started to spill out from the gap and appear in his daily life.

This didn't go unnoticed by the kids. They began to wonder what was going on. He was the same as always, yet he was different. He filled his days with the same routines as he always had, yet he was different. He still talked the same, still interacted with everyone the same, still had the same hobbies, yet he was different.

But he wouldn't give them answers when they asked him about the question. He knew that no one can give you the answer to the question. He knew that they would have to find it themselves; in themselves. In fact, to the kids, he seemed to have forgotten all about the masters in the East that he had so often talked about as he read his books previously. How? Why? What's going on? They wondered. And this lead them to look for those masters themselves, simply so they could find that question that had led the man to where he was now. If it was that effective a question, maybe it would serve them well if they knew what it was too.

And the man patiently waited for them....


Paul Tierney said...

Many interpretations are possible. Rilke suggested we should “love the questions.”
I heard Bly read and talk about this poem. What I got was that because the man’s father had not found his spiritual way, the man could do one of two things: stay in the domestic life, turning the crank but without purpose or meaning, or to go forth and do what his father didn’t. The “church in the east” Bly said represented to Rilke, who was German, spirituality, not a physical direction. So this man is doing for his children what his father did not do. Because he IS searching for spirit, his children will not be left directionless. His family “say blessings on him as though he was dead” - honoring his quest and the recognizing that he IS dead in that he is no longer the person he was.
To me the poem hints at the man’s “resurrection” and eventual return, bringing back the wisdom/direction that he has found. When I say “return” I don’t mean to imply a physical journey necessarily or primarily.

Anonymous said...

Yes! I like Blys take. Reminds me in a way of a Hero’s Journey.