PART ONE, SONNET IV
You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing
that is more than your own.
Let it brush your cheeks
as it divides and rejoins behind you.
Blessed ones, whole ones,
you where the heart begins:
You are the bow that shoots the arrows
and you are the target.
Fear not the pain. Let its weight fall back
into the earth;
for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.
The trees you planted in childhood have grown
too heavy. You cannot bring them along.
Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.
Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
This poem, by Austrian poet Rilke, gives us guidance for using breath as a support in the way only a poem could. The words don’t make easy sense in common parlance. But if we let our usual assumptions of sense-making loosen, if we let the words resonate within an open awareness, perhaps then they’ll make a kind of visceral, heart-felt, intuitive sense.
How do you feel in your body when you imagine that your breath ‘divides and rejoins behind you’?
The poem elevates meditation with the breath towards a mystical practice. It invites us to experience our breath not as ‘our own’, but as a way to ‘give yourselves to air’; breath coming from a greater expanse of movement and being, which we can’t hold on to, but can ease back into.
Then there’s the invitation to ‘Fear not the pain. Let its weight fall back into the earth’. The word ‘back’ here is an important reminder to similarly not ‘own’ our pain in the way we may often do. Our pain is the pain of the earth, because we are born of Earth. All human beings have their own stories of suffering. These define us as human, and they also gradually season us towards the beauty of deep humanity.
What wisdom poems have for us, if we take the time to really let their gifts in!
Ps. Join me for the upcoming Mystical Poetry meets Mindfulness course which begins soon.