Now Give Me Your Hand

A Reflection On The Notion of Soul & Our Origins 

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 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.

–  Rilke

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This essay is anchored by an inspired poem from the lyrically intense Austrian poet from the early 20th century, Rainer Maria Rilke. His writing style ever widens my eyes, and his verse continues to deepen my understanding of what it means to truly awaken – so reading this particular poem always sends a shudder of recognition through me.  This poem also serves as a sentinel, stopping me from my half-hearted ways, interrupting any tendencies to pursue lifeless endeavors.

How did the ‘I’ that I am come to be? From where is the precise nature of my origins? I realize I will never know for sure where I have come from, at least while I am here in this world. But when I think about my own present incarnation having come forth like this poem suggests, it changes the lens that I look through, and gives me new reflections on my life. Now – how can this prayer of a poem help reshape the narrative that I live by?

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

Read these first lines slowly. What if the Divine spark of creation whispers certain truths deep into the heart of our soul, before our first biological cells ever come into tangible existence?   What if we are indelibly imprinted with a certain purpose for becoming incarnate, before we are literally born into this life?

I think we are both fated and destined to pursue these types of questions throughout our lifetime. How might we learn to walk with these questions, as if they were lanterns illuminating the way to live along the path of our trials and tribulations?

Is there a call or message spoken intimately into the depths of our being from our very beginning? It there a singular call meant only for us to hear?  And how might it be buried deep within our unconscious mind, lying in wait, for us to awaken to?

How might we learn about this calling from the ways it already echoes forth from us, through our own conscious and unconscious actions and ways of living?

Is a message or image from beyond always calling us into being in any given moment, pointing us towards a journey of awakening, so we might more clearly and fully hear “this speaking to us”?

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I remember the one of the first times I experienced this kind of awakening – when I was nine years old. I went away to summer camp, leaving home on my own for the first time. I recall being excited and apprehensive about going to somewhere foreign that seemed far away, with people I wouldn’t know, and being left there to stay.

What stands out most about that time was how dumbstruck I felt by the vital beauty of nature. I was taken by the smell of wet grass in the morning, by all of the brilliant colors of green shimmering from the many surrounding trees and the large grass fields, and by how vast the forests and sky felt to me.

I remember feeling captured and kind of swallowed by the scenery in ways that my mind couldn’t really comprehend, but my sensate body could feel and awaken to. It is only looking back on this experience many decades later that I could say that I felt both very strange and very much at home, while being so far away from the place and people I was born into.

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What if this same “God-presence” is also a close companion to us, which walks with us as a tangible silence, as subtle beingness that can be felt and experienced deep within where words turn back?  The Spanish poet Juan Ramon Jimenez portrays this presence beautifully:

I am not I.
I am this one
walking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and at other times I forget.
The one who remains silent when I speak,
the one who forgives, sweet, when I hate,
the one who takes a walk
when I am indoors,
the one who will remain standing
when I die.

For many of us, it takes a sustained and ongoing practice to cultivate deep listening. We need an open and receptive attention to sense into being accompanied by something larger and other than us, something ineffably loving and indescribable, as we make our way throughout life.  It seems to require a sustained, lifelong practice of listening deeply to realize this kind of intimate companioning of soul, both comforts us and yet is distinctly other than us. When we have the feeling of being joined with by an ineffable presence, we are awakened to a timeless mystery that points towards our original beginning. Perhaps this is what ‘coming out of the night’ means, according to Rilke.

These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

James Hillman speaks of the metaphor of the acorn, the kernel or nutshell of a divinely given image or message, something imprinted and encoded within the core of our being. Again, this acorn mostly becomes accessible only through a deep and cultivated listening.  The call of the soul, whether through an image or a word, almost always feels wispy and almost imperceptible at first. It might feel fleeting, yet it is undeniably there, nonetheless.

These words of Rilke’s also speak right to us: “You” – the one listening, the only one who could and would hear these words – sent out beyond your recall – born into this life without any clear remembrance of your origin, or of what your purpose may be for coming into this incarnate world in the first place.

Rilke speaks on behalf of this call of our companioning soul, and he gives us a directive, a task – go to the limits of your longing – a heroic journey if ever there was one.  Search for and find what we long for most, then let that longing live, and be a guide for us. Let this realization of deep longing awaken, disturb and move us forward. We have to breathe into our heart’s longings, let our breath move, in order to feel inspiration happen, and be awakened by it.  Another task for our soul is to become ignited by our longing, to let it activate our desire for life, love and purpose.

What allows us to open ourselves to the experience of our heart’s deepest longing, to an encounter with our soul’s desire for a living incarnation through us?

This kind of longing does not desire the possession of any external object, but seeks to posses, through our embodiment, our experience of longing itself. This transformational shift begins the process of entering a mystery we must ultimately encounter, embody and explore. My own earliest conscious awareness of this entry into mystery took place at as a boy at summer camp, standing in a large field surrounded by dense forest and large sky, filled with wonder and not knowing why.

I have come to the conclusion that we are all here to take up the task of maturation by embodying our own sense of desire without having to possess another, or to be guaranteed any external outcome or reward.  To feel our longing, to be able to express it out loud, and feel how we come alive from this expression – this is the reward, in and of itself. Jellaladhin Rumi speaks of this very well in his Love Dogs poem.

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Now we receive from Rilke the next potent, awe-inspired directive.  Embody me. Embody the call of the soul, become a companion vessel for intangible essence.  This is an intimate, daring, and wonder-filled call to courageous aliveness.  I suppose this is what all true artists learn to do. What could be more significant, more mysterious, more daunting, more meaningful, and inevitably more elusive than to attempt becoming a life-giving reflection of infinity?

Joseph Campbell spoke of this as well. He said that as human beings, we are to become our own unique expression of “the zeal of eternity for incarnation in time”. I love the peculiar phrasing of those words. It speaks directly to the life affirming nature of a worthwhile task. I first have to face the possibility that I am wanted or needed by the eternal world for a worthy task to fulfill in this world.

Laying claim to this awareness for ourselves is a daring task, yet it is also the very thing which infuses our life with meaning, vitality and adventure. Finding an authentic way to embody enthusiasm, a certain ‘God-filled-ness’, helps me to feel present to a life worth living into, a game worth playing, and a future worth having.

This essential awareness – becoming the zeal of eternity – helps me to embody my longing fully, without needing anything from anyone else – only that fundamental connection to the companioning of my own soul. In this way, we become living signposts, pointing towards the mystery which is the source of all life, that mystery which pulls us all the way back to our very origins, while at the same time propelling us forward towards an unknowable future, taking us even beyond our best ability to imagine.

When we surrender over fully to become ‘embodiment of the zeal of eternity’ can make us luminous, reflections of something that began somewhere else – in the same way that moonlight is the indirect reflection of sunshine that is currently obscured from our direct view.

So how do I realize that something is calling me, and how do I let that calling come alive through me, and how do I dare to pour it out onto and into the world?   For me, that is a purpose worth pursuing, a call worth answering. Campbell said this is how a vitalized person can vitalize the world.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Flaring up like flame means to me that we must fill our selves up with both the awareness and feeling of our heart’s desire awakened within us. This is what then allows us to flare into action. We become an embodied presence that has passion, heat, flame – capable of demonstrating our inspiration through our gestures, our words and our deeds – all reflections of our aliveness as well as its source. This is our gift of life, and our gift to life.

This kind of flame can cast shadows all around it, showing us dark places of unconsciousness, from which energy consciousness can begin to awaken, and can begin to move.  This is where mystery and wonder come alive.  Big shadows of unsuspecting and unexpected moments that can unfold, imbued with synchronicity, serendipity, humility, playfulness, surprise.  When this happens, we feel moved deeply within our bodies, without our minds ever really knowing exactly the source of what moves us.  This is shadow movement.

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Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Rilke’s next directive to us – Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. He invites us to let life happen to us, on life’s terms, and not ours.  This is another daunting call to surrender our personal ego over to the purpose of the soul, and to the sacredness of a life beyond our ability to manipulate and control outcomes.  Let everything happen. Stop the ego’s endless moaning and complaining about life as it is. The ancient mystics and the modern physicists both tell us that in the reality of our physical universe, ‘everything is in everything’.

We are all connected. Everything is connected to everything. The sea is made of water drops, and what is in the sea is also in every water drop. Human beings have the same molecular structure as the stars lighting the night sky. We are in the heavens, and the heavens are in us. The light is in the dark. The dark is in the light.

The same is true of our own humanity; it must be this way. There must always be pleasure and the pain; one eventually leads to another.  There must be peace and there must be disturbance.  There must be what is sacred and also what is mundane. There are ways of energy and there are ways of matter. Invisible energy is within physical matter; un-manifest physical matter is within energy. This is the mystery and the paradox of oneness that transcends all duality here on our planet.

“You and I, we must learn to say yes to all”, Krishnamurti once said to Joseph Campbell.  Let everything happen. Let life be as it is, and respond to life by changing yourself – heroic action! If we say yes to what we prefer, then we do not actually grow. Eventually, we must also yes to what we would not prefer. By doing so, we evolve and grow into new potential.

Just keep going.

Another straightforward, essential directive. Just keep going. Our human nature gives up quickly. Our ego gets hurt; we want to quit when things do not go our way. We become easily defeated, we are prone to feelings of helplessness.  Just keep going anyway.  Learn to be resilient, the way children naturally are. As we get older, we become more fixed, and lose the ability to simply start anew once more. As we get older, we start to feel like we are running out of time, or that we have failed too many times. But to begin again from the same place, and to be sustained on our path, this is an essential skill to learn, because of the verse that comes next.

No feeling is final.

We cannot underestimate this universal truth. This is both the beauty and the terror of our impermanent existence. We are not here on earth everlastingly, only temporarily. This is the same for all our human experiences, as all things will pass. We know the beauty of realizing that our moment of suffering has begun to end; we fear our knowledge of the coming future, knowing that eventually what we have, we will lose – the beautiful companionship of loving people and the happiness and joy of our fortunate circumstances. This is the burden that comes along with the gift of forethought, which we all possess as human beings.

Yet it is exactly this awareness of impermanence that also makes the accompaniment of that which does not cease to exist so essential and so meaningful to us. Thus, the next directive:

Don’t let yourself lose me.

If we keep connected to the intangible and intimate presence of the soul, that non-human intermediary which ever points us towards that which is mysterious and eternal, we will be better able to stay grounded in the joyful expansions and the painful contractions of being human.

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Our happiness and our sorrow is a result of our connectedness to this world. We bear this life, this being in this world, better when we remember that we come from, and will return to, the eternal world. Everything here is temporary. Therefore, it is a low aim to continually seek escape from the realities of this life; that time will come, soon enough.

When we stay can connected to the subtle presence that points us towards mystery and eternity, we are to better able to bear our losses in this world; we accept more of life on life’s term; we can learn to let go of fixations and attachments that do not serve life.  Yet how do we actually learn to take hold of a connection to that which is intangible, and perhaps fleeting?

This is a good question, and good questions are those that take us on a worthwhile quest. We need ordinary rituals and do-able deeds that help us to find our way back to what is sacred and whole. We find this through sustainable, consistent practices that we establish in our lives: contemplative prayer, devotional reading, slow walks in the outdoors, mindfulness meditation, yoga, conscious acts of loving kindness, sitting quiet and still.

Or we come back to wholeness through simple acts, such as watering the plants, taking care of our pet, listening to a song we love, or just feeling deeply the sun on our face – by really being there when life happens.

Seek out anything that quiets your mind, opens your heart, and brings you more fully into your body, and then into relationship with something beyond the self, into an energetic exchange with what is happening in the immediacy of the moment, here and now.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Vitality, meaning, connection, and renewal is never far from where we are in any given moment, regardless of how little we believe in or are aware of this possibility.  Nearby is the country they call life. Physical life on earth holds an intangible but undeniable field of life force energy which is all around us, even when we are lost in confusion, or when we are preoccupied and ruminating on petty self-concerns; or trapped in an eddy of recycled thinking.

Life is always nearby, waiting to unfold in our midst, ready to include us in its happening, wanting to exchange itself with us. If we can just simply follow our in-breath and our out-breath in any given moment, we can feel directly with our bodies how this is always the case.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Here, Rilke is referring to a sense of something substantial that gives weighted-ness to our existence, in the way gravity does.  The kinesthetic sense of a gravitational pull reflects to us the solidity and substance of a meaningful and vital interior existence as well.  It pulls us inward, gathering us down and into ourselves with a certain magnetic bearing, and this can both ground us and wake us up. Psychological insight feels like this; we awaken to the recognition of who we are or what matters most to us.

In these moments, we ‘come to’. We come alive from knowing ourselves a little better; we have the feeling of becoming ourselves a little more. We glimpse more clearly and distinctly – no matter how briefly – into our own indelible nature; into the immensity of love; into our true sense of place in the universe. The wordless expression of awe – or just the word ‘aha’! – flares up like flame from inside when we drop down into being more substantial. Our own depths then seem to rise up to the surface of our awareness, when we sink down into them.

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When we enter fully into our memories, we step out of time and fall away into the eternal world of ‘only now’, and then insight and realization can flare up like flame. I am struck by how, some 45 years later, I can relive a moment as if it is happening again right now. I am moved by an anchoring realization that the boy in me knew he was a part of everything, yet he had no conscious comprehension of oneness at the time. I wonder if a conscious awakening such as this could have saved him from some of the suffering he endured during his childhood years.

So I let myself have the understanding, the awakening, now. And I have just kept going, through all these years. The sorrow and loneliness of the boy who felt at times like a fish out of water dissolves, my early years do not seem so sad or heavy to recall, in this arriving moment.   I relish both the mystery and the knowing that what is with me now (as I remember him then) was also somehow with him then, in a way was watching over him, in the background of his life.

Maybe the compassion in me now is singing to him back then, resounding through the flickering greens of the trees; through the fresh smell of the grasses; through the bright, blue brilliance of the big afternoon skies; and through the penetrating warmth of the summer sun. Even the awakening that was in Rilke then, feels like it is in me now, through his written words. We are all connected.

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The final line of Rilke’s poem both reflects and summarizes the call of the soul to enter our total being, one more time.  Embodying our heart’s desire, becoming expressions of the zeal of eternity for incarnation in space and time, we are now petitioned by this intangible presence to reach out once again towards the ultimate Source. By doing so, we are pulled towards life itself.

Reach out. Open more. Be taken. Move towards.  Extending our hand out towards life, love, and connection yet again. Being pulled forward by what is infinite – into the next breath, the next encounter, the next day, the new start – embracing what is impermanent.

We just keep going, now with more of ourselves, yet also transcending ourselves, more than before.

This is what a true sense of purpose does. This is how a myth comes alive, how an inspiring narrative works. They teach us not only what life is all about, but also how to live with it.  This mystery moves us forward. Something opens us, makes us vulnerable to more life, more love. We learn to let everything happen.

This type of longing has inspired to go further than I would ever typically go. It often still fills me with wonder as I go towards my unknown future. This living myth carries me forth, again and again, throughout a lifetime – less and less certain of anything, more and more willing to embody wholeheartedly that one particular thing that is ever calling to us, from beyond.

Now give me your hand.

– Michael Mervosh