Leaving the World: Rilke

*

Only in our doing can we grasp you.

Only with our hands can we illumine you.

The mind is but a visitor:

it thinks us out of our world.

*

Each mind fabricates itself.

We sense its limits, for we have made them.

And just when we would flee them, you come

and make of yourself an offering.

*

I don’t want to think a place for you.

Speak to me from everywhere.

Your Gospel can be comprehended

without looking for its source.

*

When I go toward you

it is with my whole life. 

~~Rilke

Let’s take the first stanza:

Only in our doing can we grasp you.

Only with our hands can we illumine you.

The mind is but a visitor:

it thinks us out of our world.

*

How does the mind think us out of our world?

Well, it thinks us out of the world of our doing. In the moment of thinking we set aside doing. Or better, the more deeply we think, the more liable we are to enter a kind of trance that will suspend action.

Of course, not all thinking is deep.  I can drive my car and wonder if I’m on the right road.

Perhaps Rilke is saying that the more profound our thinking, the less likely it is compatible with simultaneous doing. After all, we sometimes advise kids, “Stop and think.”

*

What can we illuminate with our hands, with our doing?

I have a friend, a retired M.D., who makes wonderful things in his workshop.

Rilke suggests “Each mind fabricates itself.” My mind sometimes seems to draw its thoughts from a mysterious source within itself. Of course, there may be outside triggers. My friend looks at his carpentry project and wonders, “What comes next?”

But what triggers the stepping-back-to-wonder-and-ask? Perhaps the stepping-back-to-wonder-and-ask has no source outside itself. After all, as an outsider I could look at his project and fail to ask, “What comes next?”

Only in our doing can we grasp you.

Only with our hands can we illumine you.

The mind is but a visitor:

it thinks us out of our world.

Only in my friend’s doing can I grasp his inspiration, and that inspiration itself seems to come from out of the world I share with my friend.

And for the moments my friend thinks, he departs the world of his doing.

*

3 comments on “Leaving the World: Rilke

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