Nearby is the country they call Life” Rainer Maria Rilke   3 comments

Eighty-one year old Buddhist Joanna Macy, philosopher,
environmentalist, a woman with a most amazing spirit and life tells
us not to run from our grief.  If the pictures of birds and animals
covered with oil from the gulf spill caused you sadness, Macy tells
us not to avoid these feelings or pave over them or be apathetic.
Do not run from your outrage at wrongs to humanity and the earth. 
She states that when we are with our grief and our pain, it turns
to reveal its other face and shows our love for the world, our
connectedness to all beings.
Joanna Macy’s words remind me of a scene from one of my favorite
movies, “Shadowlands” starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.
They portray the true story of writer C.S. Lewis played by Hopkins
with his newly married wife played by Winger who is dying of cancer.
She asks him if it’s been worth it, meaning loving her, because she
knows the pain he will have when she dies. She tells him, “The pain
then (to come) is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.”
Later when C.S. Lewis talks with one of his college students about
why we love if losing hurts so much, Lewis who lost his mother as a
child and his wife as an adult, responds, “I have no answers anymore,
only the life I have lived. Twice in that life...  I've been given
the choice: As a boy... and as a man. The boy chose safety. The man
chooses suffering.The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's
the deal.” Whether we are talking about losing a beloved partner or
the earth, which should be considered our beloved partner, we need
to be present in their suffering, and that is a difficult task, but
not so hard when we gaze at a tree and realize the tree is our lungs
and without the health of those trees, we stop breathing. Without
the health of the animals, insects, birds and sea creatures, our
life is lost. We have nothing to lose by caring for our earth and
everything to gain. We are as guilty for the oil spill as BP. SUVs
line our streets, waste of all kinds fill our dumps, water covers
our lawns when we could be choosing other landscapes, we gauge
success by bank accounts and 80% of people are unhappy in the
If we choose to love, it means wanting to be with a person or place
no matter the shape they are in. Macy states that feeling that one
must always be hopeful can wear a person out, but if we just show
up, and be present, do not pull down the blinds, the possibilities
exist that the world will heal. She believes there is a new paradigm
occurring that is known as “The Great Turning.” The Great Turning
is a concept she helped coin and define. Macy calls The Great
Turning “the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the
industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.” She
says it is a time of transition from a bankrupt political society,
which measures success by growth and profit and is being replaced
by moral strength, courage and creativity. The generations alive
today may not see a drastic change in their lives or environment
but the choices we make for profit today will effect the beings in
the next hundreds and thousands of years and determine whether
they will be born of sound mind and body.Joanna Macy led a most
interesting life from her protestant upbringing, work with the CIA
when she was in her early twenties, life in Germany, joining the
Peace Corp and working with Tibetans and learning how much they
loved life despite all the obstacles they faced. Gratitude, one of
the touchstones of all religions is a most important personal guide
for Joanna Macy. She writes:“Come from Gratitude. To be alive in
this beautiful, self-organizing universe--to participate in the
dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it,
organs that draw nourishment from it--is a wonder beyond words.
Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all
religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art.
Furthermore, it is a privilege to be alive in this time when we can
choose to take part in the self-healing of our world.”
Macy is also well-known for her translations of the work of
German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Below is one of the poems:

Go to the Limits of Your Longing
by Rainer Maria Rilke; translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

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. 

Embody me. 

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.

Posted September 20, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Essays

3 responses to “Nearby is the country they call Life” Rainer Maria Rilke

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  1. Great piece. Ought to be in the NY Times–rather than just wasted on us hicks out here in the boondocks.


  2. Thank you. It’s great to get feedback. NY Times, wouldn’t that be something?


    Mary Strong Jackson
  3. Why seriousness? Who is they? Are we to enter that country or is it too serious to really be life?


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