Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
“Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower” by Rainer Maria Rilke, from Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows.
Oh speak, poet, what do you do?
– I praise.
But the monstrosities and the murderous days,
how do you endure them, how do you take them?
– I praise.
But the anonymous, the nameless grays,
how, poet, do you still invoke them?
– I praise.
What right have you, in all displays,
in very mask, to be genuine?
– I praise.
And that the stillness and the turbulent sprays
know you like star and storm?
– because I praise.
“The Poet Speaks of Praising” by Rainer Maria Rilke, from Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties, edited and translated by John J. L. Mood.
We Praise Thee
We worship You in all
We adore each other in You
We connect to where we are Eternally One
Εν εκκλησίαις ευλογείτε τον Θεόν
“Praise God in churches”.
Εκκλησία, the noun of verb εκκαλώ: prefix εκ- “from” and καλώ “call”.
Ευλογώ: ευ- “good” and λόγος “that which is said, that which is thought”.
“You are called forth from the illusion of separation
to let all you say and think of our Oneness be good.”
In winter’s house there’s a room
that’s pale and still as mist in a field
while outside in the street every gate’s shut firm,
every face as cold as steel.
In winter’s house there’s a bed
that is spread with frost and feathers, that gleams
in the half-light like rain in a disused yard
or a pearl in a choked-up stream.
In winter’s house there’s a child
asleep in a dream of light that grows out
of the dark, a flame you can hold in your hand
like a flower or a torch on the street.
In winter’s house there’s a tale
that’s told of a great chandelier in a garden,
of fire that catches and travels for miles,
of all gates and windows wide open.
In winter’s house there’s a flame
being dreamt by a child in the night,
in the small quiet house at the turn in the lane
where the darkness gives way to light.
Ahm… I am in New York City, in lockdown, and I am comfortable in my awareness with my… my self, my soul, my… Infinite… whatever we want to describe it as. But when you mentioned the tantric thing… ahm… it made me wonder if… I was sort of feeling this energy, like a kind of pull. I wouldn’t say it was like an anxiety or stress energy, I would say it felt more empathic… like an empath… ahm… where… and obviously right now in this current environment that we are in, you sort of feel this –or I feel this– powerful energy that… like… that… maybe like the madness of what’s going on in… just the energy of everywhere right now… Ahm… And it made me think, you know, if you’re like a monk sitting in a cave, meditating, but there’s all the craziness of the world outside… How do you… You… I think you would say, “Well, don’t worry about that, just focus on your own… inner… you know, awareness / happiness / peace”. But, how can you do that? Because also the lady from England with the pictures behind her, she was talking about unity, and, even though it’s about finding your awareness in yourself, don’t you feel the collective energy right now, that is so… such a shift…
Well, of course…
… massive shift right now; I mean, the world is going through such an amazing moment, that I sort of virtually feel selfish, just sitting with my own awareness! Is that… Does that make sense, what I’m saying?
Yes, it makes sense, what you’re saying.
But why do you feel that this is selfish?
What is the one thing…
I agree that the anxiety, the fear, the distress that people are feeling, are palpable on the streets, if you go out now.
And if you read the news, or… It’s palpable. I agree with you.
What is the one thing that everybody wants at this time?
Relief from anxiety, fear, uncertainty.
And so, to discover this peace,
where it lies, and the means to it,
is not selfish. It is the least selfish
of all activities. It’s not a personal activity!
It is discovering that, which everybody longs for,
and not only discovering it, but discovering the pathway
by which or through which it may be accessed,
which will enable you then to share it with others
with whom you come in contact,
in whatever form you share it.
And I do share it, I mean as well as I can…
Everyone here shares in their own way.
Nor do I mean to imply that… You said… earlier on you said,
“I’m sure you would just say, ‘Turn away from all of this, and go to…’”
Well, actually no, I wouldn’t just say that.
I would say that the most important thing in life,
either in this crisis situation, or indeed in any situation,
is to find access to peace and happiness.
Why? Because it is the one thing that we want, above all else.
But I would not suggest that we do this to the exclusion of paying attention to our… not only looking after our own body, but looking after those with whom we come in contact, whether they are family members, friends, neighbours, community…
And particularly in this time of crisis,
I would recommend, that each of us
does whatever we feel we can do
to attend to the situation,
and to help people,
not just in the ultimate way,
not just to find peace and happiness,
but in alternative ways, as well.
But in a way, Rupert, it appears as an inside job, though, because… I mean, random example: Just walking outside in Manhattan, to the bank, to line up to, you know, go into the bank, five people at a time, you could feel like –palpable was the perfect description– you can feel just this… sort of energy that is very different to the usual streets of Manhattan, and… you virtually feel… you know, it just feels like all these lone people, walking along the street, lining up… There’s sort of a d… there’s a… it feels like such a… everyone’s kinda in it on their own, in a way… It… You know, when you see them – you can chat to someone, say hello, obviously, all of that, but… but it just feels like… ahm, this shift that is so… internal, for every one. Does that make sense?
It makes sense. I went, first thing this morning… I got on my bicycle and just bicycled down to our local deli, and –just as you described, on a slightly smaller scale in Oxford– there was a queue of people… Only two people, the shop is tiny, and they sell organic produce, and… and… only two people allowed in the shop, and everyone… there was a queue down the road, and everyone was six feet apart, so I joined the queue… [sweetly smiling] And we were all… chatting with each other… In fact, I chatted… In the time when I waited –normally I would have gone into the shop with three of four other people and all my groceries and left– I found myself in a queue for twenty minutes talking to people that I had never seen in my life, whom I may well… – some of them I might have seen because we’re local, but other I hadn’t…
And it was such a feeling of community and friendliness… We were no longer strangers to each other; we were joined together in our common humanity.
What was… Not only was… is there fear palpable on the streets, but also our common humanity is palpable on the streets, and I experience people’s openness, people’s friendliness… Ehm… I tend to be a rather quiet… I don’t often get… if I… in a situation like that, I might just go into the shop and get my groceries and leave. I found myself chatting, with all the people in the queue, and it was so… There was so much love, and warmth, and community, and… irrespective of… of who the people were, or where we came from… There was a… All we were feeling was our shared humanity, and… it was very lovely.
So, even in times like… I’m sure there are many people on this meeting this evening, who have experienced this, and… So, it doesn’t take much. You find yourself standing in a queue, or be at six feet away from your next… but just to start up a conversation with them and, irrespective of the content of the conversation, to just communicate this warmth, and love, and affection, and peace to them.
And they will come away from the conversation feeling that they have been blessed by you. When I say “blessed by you”, I don’t mean anything extraordinary, or religious, or… I just mean that they have been blessed by your peace; they felt that you were not afraid; you were just one with the moment; no problem. They will have felt that their being, which they may not have previously had access to –because of their fear, and their anxiety– will have been magnified, by your presence, and they will feel the peace of their own being. And they will feel that you have blessed them. They will not formulate it like that, probably, but you have blessed them. You blessed them with your peace… That’s beautiful…
Aw… Thank you. I’ll try… Haha.
You don’t even need to try, Joanna.
If you’re in touch with your peace…
Peace is contagious…
If you’re in touch with it,
it just communicates itself,
through a smile…
You don’t even need to try, Joanna.
Just be in touch with your innate peace
and it will just share itself naturally,
in your own unique way,
with whoever you come in contact with.
That is the greatest thing you could offer your fellow New Yorkers at this time.
Just smiling at a stranger as you walk down the street is a communication of this peace.
There could never have been a time, at least in our generation, when this was more needed than now.
Thank you, Joanna.
Rupert Spira transcribed by Leon Hieros
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
She Walks in Beauty, by Lord Byron
Music by Paul Mealor
Performed by the Tenebrae Choir
Excerpts from The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, by Francis Weller.
✨ In that moment, I understood powerfully the cost to a child who had to be the one to make the overture of repair. If I hadn’t gone in there, my son would have had to ingest his fear that I did not want to be his father any longer. The worst part of it, however, is that he would have felt it was his fault – if he hadn’t been so exuberant, so needy for my attention, I might still hold him in my heart. He would feel he had to restrain these parts of himself in the future if he was to receive my love once again.
✨ Shame ruptures our connection with life and with our soul. It is, indeed, a sickness of the soul. When feelings of shame arise, we pull back from the world, avoiding contact that could cause or risk exposure. The last thing we want in times of excruciating self-consciousness is to be seen. We find ourselves avoiding the gaze of others, we become silent and withdrawn, all in hopes of slipping under the radar. I remember sharing with the audience that the goal of the shame-bound person was to get from birth to death without ever being an echo on the radar of life. My tombstone was going to read “Safe at Last.” Gershon Kaufman, one of the most important writers on shame, has said that shame leaves us feeling “unspeakably and irreparably defective.” It is unspeakable because we do not want anyone to know how we feel inside. We fear it is irreparable because we think it is not something we have done wrong – it is simply who we are. We cannot remove the stain from our core. We search and search for the defect, hoping that that, once found, it can be exorcised like some grotesque demon. But it lingers, remaining there our entire lives, anxious that it will be seen and simultaneously longing to be seen and touched with compassion.
✨ Grief rises and falls with every breath, clings to the chambers of the heart and makes each step we take a challenge. It is a dense space, filled with sensations that carry our tears and our palpable aching. We cannot escape these times; we cannot outrun what is intimately entangled in our moment-to-moment world. It is now that our apprenticeship is most called upon. We are asked to stand alongside these difficult and painful visitations, these epiphanies of lamentation.
✨ At the core of this grief is our longing to belong. This longing is wired into us by necessity. It assures our safety and our ability to extend out into the world with confidence. This feeling of belonging is rooted in the village and, at times, in extended families. It was in this setting that we emerged as a species. It was in this setting that what we require to become fully human was established. Jean Liedloff writes, “the design of each individual was a reflection of the experience it expected to encounter.” We are designed to receive touch, to hear sounds and words entering our ears that soothe and comfort. We are shaped for closeness and for intimacy with our surroundings. Our profound feelings of lacking something are not the reflection of personal failure, but the reflection of a society that has failed to offer us what we were designed to expect. Liedloff concludes, “what was once man’s confident expectations for suitable treatment and surroundings is now so frustrated that a person often thinks himself lucky if he is not actually homeless or in pain. But even as he is saying, ‘I am all right,’ there is in him a sense of loss, a longing for something he cannot name, a feeling of being off-center, of missing something. Asked point blank, he will seldom deny it.”
✨ When we are born, and as we pass through childhood, adolescence, and the stages of adulthood, we are designed to anticipate a certain quality of welcome, engagement, touch, and reflection. In short, we expect what our deep-time ancestors experienced as their birthright, namely, the container of the village. We are born expecting a rich and sensuous relationship with the earth and communal rituals of celebration, grief, and healing that keep us in connection with the sacred. As T. S. Eliot wrote in The Waste Land “Once upon a time, we knew the world from birth.” This is our inheritance, our birthright, which has been lost and abandoned. The absence of these requirements haunts us, even if we can’t give them a name, and we feel their loss as an ache, a vague sadness that settles over us like a fog. This lack is simultaneously one of the primary sources of our grief and one of the reasons we find it difficult to grieve. On some level, we are waiting for the village to appear so we can fully acknowledge our sorrows.
✨ It is challenging to honor the descent in a culture that primary values the ascent. We like things rising – stock markets, the GDP, profit margins. We get anxious when things go down. Even within psychology, there is a premise that is biased toward improvement, always getting better, rising above our troubles. We hold dear concepts like progress and integration. These are fine in and of themselves, but it is not the way psyche works. Psyche, we must remember, was shaped by and is rooted in the foundations of nature. As such, psyche also experiences times of decay and death, of stopping, regression, and being still. Much happens in these times that deepen the soul. When all we are shown is the imagery of ascent, we are left to interpret the times of descent as pathological; we feel that we are somehow failing. As poet and author Robert Bly wryly noted, “How can we get a look at the cinders side of things when the society is determined to create a world of shopping malls and entertainment complexes in which we are made to believe that there is no death, disfigurement, illness, insanity, lethargy, or misery? Disneyland means ‘no ashes’.”
✨ Silence and solitude allow us to move beyond thought and into our embodied experience. Grief is felt, sensed in the viscera of our bellies, the inner walls of our chests, the curve of our shoulders, the heaviness in our thighs. Grief is registered in our sinews and muscles. It feels laboured, as though a great weight has settled on our chest or a heaviness has entered our bones. We know grief by its felt experience; it is tangible. It is here, in our sighing and sensing body, that we encounter the terrain of sorrow.
✨ Hundreds of times in my practice as a therapist, I have heard how fearful people are of dropping into the well of grief. The most frequent comment is “If I go there, I’ll never return.” What I found myself saying one day was rather surprising: “If you don’t go there, you’ll never return.” It seems that our wholesale abandonment of this core emotion has cost us dearly, pressed us toward the surface of our lives. We live superficial lives and feel the gnawing ache of something missing. If we are to return to the richly textured life of soul and to participation with the soul of the world, we must pass through the intense region of grief and sorrow.
✨ It is important to look into the shadows of our lives and to see who lives there, tattered, withered, hungry, and alone. Bringing these parts of soul back to the table is a central element of our work. Ending their exile means releasing the contempt we hold for these parts of who we are. It means welcoming the full range of our being and restoring our wholeness. Until then, we will continue to carry a feeling of worthlessness and brokenness.
✨ We will, in truth, spend many of our hours alone with our grief. In the cover of our solitude, we encounter another layer in our apprenticeship with sorrow. Here we are asked to hold an extended vigil with loss in the well of silence, slowly ripening our sorrow into something dense and gifting to the world. Our ability to drop into this interior world and do the difficult work of metabolizing sorrow is dependent on the community that surrounds us. Even when we are alone, it is necessary to feel the tethers of concern and kindness holding us as we step off into the unknown and encounter the wild edge of sorrow.
✨ Grief keeps the heart flexible, fluid, and open to others.
✨ This beautiful poem by Rashani Réa, “The Unbroken,” offers us a glimpse into what we may find nestled inside our deepest sorrows.
There is a brokenness out of which comes the unbroken,
a shatteredness out of which blooms the unshatterable.
There is a sorrow beyond all grief which leads to joy
and a fragility out of whose depths emerges strength.
There is a hollow space too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness
we are sanctified into being.
There is a cry deeper than all sound
whose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole,
while learning to sing.
Make me a channel of Your peace
Where there is hatred let me bring Your love
Where there is injury, Your pardon Lord
And where there’s doubt, true faith in You
Make me a channel of Your peace
Where there’s despair in life let me bring hope
Where there is darkness, only light
And where there’s sadness, ever joy
Oh, Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled, as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love with all my soul
Make me a channel of Your peace
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
In giving to all men that we receive
And in dying that we’re born to eternal life
Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Music by Sebastian Temple
Adapted by Paul Mealor
Sung by Tenebrae choir