Writing Through to the Other Side
By far and away, my absolute favorite poet is Rainer Maria Rilke, whose life’s work is a dedication to the voice of the soul. His laborious, sometimes tormented progression through maturation mirrors The Lady and the Unicorn perfectly. We look to him this week to better understand our 5th image, “The Soul in Reflection.” Rilke begins with wondrous praise to the images of the Christian God, relics of power, an outside source and image of the divine spark. He turns his soulful writing toward love and landscape, new adventures, and the potent possibilities. Love, lust, and suffering become the god-image for a time in his life. He then, through heartbreak and failures, begins to write in despair, seeing the darkness as the truest thing. He writes through his dark night of the soul until, after much turmoil, Rilke finds his way through to the other side.
Seeing Without Agenda
I want to suggest as a reminder that it is important to see these stages not simply as a single, linear progression. We like to see clients set goals and meet them, standing on their commitments and progressing beyond the sunset to new territories of life and fulfillment. Sometimes, however, these linear directions are not an adequate reflection of the wholeness of a person nor the wholeness of the psyche’s revelation. We may never fully understand the movement of the soul. Are we to abandon the unconscious in the name of deadlines? What if the “plan” is not the “plan” after all? Tangible goals are always grounding stones in the basket of the hot air balloon. We need them to remain closer to the earth. But we can do more than this. We can learn to see without agenda. Learn to love without condition, learn to unfold without so much expectation.
No Ideas but in Things
Let’s turn once more to Rilke. Here, after his despair and the arrival at a kind of stillness with nowhere to go and nothing new to say. At this important time in his life, he finds himself under the mentorship of a famous sculptor. The artist has the space for the mystery unfolding in Rilke. Rilke asks of the sculptor, “What is left? Is there nothing more to write of? Why doesn’t the voice of inspiration come through me as it once did? The skills are there, the experiences exhausted, now what?” The sculptor knew this place. He smiled and offered to Rilke nothing more than the opportunity to imagine. The sculptor tasked Rilke with spending time with objects and writing of what within them were most alive to his imagination, most personal, closest to the gods within his soul (see “The Panther” at the end of this blog.)
Holding Up the Mirror
James Hillman, founder of Archetypal Psychology reminds us that it is not the psyche that is in me, but me that is in the psyche. To be in the reflective soul is to hold a mirror up to the spirit that lives in what is. We can, through the creative deepening of our hearts, learn to see the beauty and horror in all things. Parts of us sometimes appear as the innocent, the virginal, on the threshold of maturity and so on, while other parts may have moved altogether through to new phases. In “The Soul in Reflection,” we can see that the Lady (soul) sits tenderly as a mother with the Unicorn (spirit). She holds a mirror to the unicorn to witness itself. Can we practice the space, the reflection with interest and a willingness to look to the object of another both to see what my soul can see and to support them to find the voice within themselves.
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.
Rainer Maria Rilke