Between the Pages of Letters to A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke VII B


The previous commentary in this series on Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, attempted a translation of a perspective which agrees with what Rilke puts as “it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult”(67). Here the focus remains on the same seventh chapter in Letters and still on the subject of difficulty, however, the interest shifts to a specific difficulty: that common, misunderstood, underrated feeling we call love. Love is a difficult subject to write on. In fact, most poets, if not all, agree that a poem on love is the most challenging of all poems. And I am now at a place where I am beginning to believe that love is not even a feeling but the substance we call life. Hence love is life and love is all there is. Hence nothing is done but in the name and in the perimeter of love. Therefore one would be probably right to argue that it is owing to the benevolent nature of love that there exist variety; in which case one can argue for the nature of love as the most flexible substance there is. Love then, though abundant in life is difficult to understand for its flexibility endows its language the most spontaneous. It means that love follows no rules but its own and only that which allows it to remain itself. The rest of this commentary will examine Rilke’s viewpoint on love as that which is difficult but ideal, from the vantage point that love is in actuality easy to the genuine human being, but through the lens of projections, i.e. selves or ego, cast by experiences in life’s shadows, consciousness is blinded to its own nature and adopts the practices of a nature which it falsely considers to be its being thus making love difficult to practice.

In the essay “Satan and the Technique of Degradation,” taken from Paradise Lost and its Critics and  available on page 413 under the “Criticisms” section of the Norton Critical Edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, A.J.A Waldock writes, and I am paraphrasing, Milton’s Satan’s heroic attributes owes much to his relatable makeup. In fact, one could read the epic poem and see within Satan’s attributes characteristics that are easily identifiable in one’s self. What it comes down to is simply that evil is imaginable because we are familiar with it in our own selves. Thus those who are familiar with themselves know themselves to be capable of all kinds of evil because evil in its entirety fits easily within the imagination. But this means that evil is pathetic  and easily falls under the hamster wheel category of difficulties. Thus evil is self-contained with fixed heights and depts. In other words, the evil path is an easier path because its beginning and ending are so easily graspable by the intellect and therefore shallow. Hence evil lacks the ability to give any real pleasure as it lacks the ability to satiate. Another way to look at this is through the landscape of the Divine Comedy where the path to Inferno is easier and graspable but the path to Paradiso is challenging and difficult to imagine and comprehend. This is why it begins to feel incorrect to decipher evil as the opposite of good. For evil, despite its powerful appearance, is not strong enough to be the opposite of good. Evil in its rigidness can only crumble to nothingness, whereas good in its flexibility never stops winding up, down and around life.

Returning to the topic of love, Rilke writes,  “It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation” (68). The remaining paragraphs in this essay will be content in attempting to decipher how love is a difficulty for the human nature along the argument I have so far made for the containable nature of evil in comparison to the unconstrained constitution of the good. First of all, Rilke is right to say “it is also good to love” and perhaps it would even suffice to say, “it is good to love,” because love is the epitome of goodness. Love is difficult to grasp because love is a life of its own which operates in true freedom: it has no desires nor needs, yet as the embodiment of benevolence its nature is to gift. This is, by all means, not a nature that is easily comprehensible to any self because the self adheres mainly to a give and take principle. Thus the nature of love is a puzzle to the intellect of the self. But this is what makes love fantastic; it is that which can only be appreciated by the real and generates confusion for the false. And what is the self if not that which is false? Thandie Newton, the brilliant actress, explains it beautifully in a TED Talk entitled “Embracing Otherness, Embracing Myself.” (See video below.)

Of course, love is difficult! This is first of all because one knows neither one’s being nor one’s self. Hence we think it is logical to care for those who care for us and hurt those who hurt us. After all it is easy to care for those who care for us and even easier to hurt those who hurt us. But then again, this is because we operate and think of our beings as selves––serfs––whose idea of justice is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. While our genuine being, the free and true human, would not withhold care or love from those who loath, nor would it desire to bring pain to those who give pain. The genuine being understands that hate is a denial of the truth which makes one suffer ones own chaotic imaginings, hell.  So yes, to say love is not enough is like saying life is not enough––what more could one possibly want when to know love is to want for nothing? And yet if love were easy for the self it would have been easier for Milton to exhibit the perfection of love and goodness in Paradise Lost just like Dante’s Paradiso would not have been so abstract and difficult to appreciate. Love is a difficulty because to love, one must choose life––be whole––which means presence in the seconds––live infinitively––free from fear, pride and desire. Like air, to be happy to be inhaled and exhaled by everything that breathes and know it to be a blessing and a joy; to be so weightless you can only rise and float.

But instead of freedom in our being, we worship the self which is merely a chimera bred and raised by the conditioning of our environs and experiences. This chimera we call ourselves and believe to be our being is the projection of our experiences of duality and it is not at all our being. Yet the chimera we call self is a thing that works very hard to keep us in the dark about its nonentity. Hence it is that which says in fictitious and ridiculous pride, do you know who I am? Or in deceptive and humorous humility––as Clare beautifully puts it––“I am the self-consumer of my woes— / They rise and vanish in oblivious host, / Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes.” This self who is always campaigning for its existence is the ego. For a better understanding of what I am implying here, refer to Discourses by Meher Baba, in particular, chapter seven of the second volume entitled “The Nature of the Ego and Its Termination.”

The ego is that which needs to feel superior to an other because it knows itself, in truth to be of no significance. This self is that which dwells happily in pain and only delights in giving pain whether in its imagined selflessness or righteous selfishness. This self is extremely defensive and always sees itself as a victim of every circumstance, yet its motto, in every form it takes is the survival of the fittest. To the ego which lacks agency but needs it to thrive, power is everything: specifically rigid ruthless power that births agony. Hence this self is heavily dependent on its own worship and that of others. Its nature is that of the taker since it has nothing of its own to give. It dramatizes everything because it flourishes in chaos; it inflicts pain because it is through this means that it is most powerful and thus most alive; it decides for itself how others judge it and utilizes its assumptions to consume itself and ascertains that it is always the center of our consciousness and intellect. Our ego, which is really what we refer to when we say our selves, prefers lies and abhors anything that threatens to terminate it. It is for this reason that solitude is also difficult for in solitude we are able to see that which we call ourselves from a distance. Solitude exposes to us our ego, a very ugly and horrific thing that frightens us. But because we think of it as our selves and do not know that this self is not our true being, we flee from solitude and find distractions that will prevent us from ever getting to know more of this feigned self and thus discovering it to be a falsehood. It is for the sake of its survival that the ego sticks to the shadowy corners of our being; it is also for this purpose that it convinces our intellect that love is not enough; that love is weakness; that goodness is for fools and that what is useful is power––for it is that which is useful to it.

To love, then, is to rid one's being of self or ego. For to love is to let barriers fall and to be free of the blindness of fear and the chains of desire. To love is to empty out so our center is the source of life, so that there is no need to be consumed by any one thing but remain always in awe and gratitude for the incomprehensible absolute which is in us, and connects us with everything. In its selfishness, the ego tries to bar us from the practice of love by making it undesirable and making its beauty arduous to imagine. It provides, instead, seemingly vivid images, which are nevertheless blurred through its lens of lies, of how all who love are rewarded in evil. Look what happened to Jesus, his own disciple got him nicely nailed to the cross. The truth, which frightens the ego and which makes it work tireless in keeping us away from love is the fact that love brings our conscience back to our genuine being which is selfless; we start to learn that we are neither our ego nor are we its illusive insatiable self. But when the ego has us convinced that it is our true state of being and most of us go through life never suspecting that what we think we are is actually an illusion, how do we even begin to distinguish its chaotic voice from our harmonious one? How do we silence it and quit serving it in order to unite consciousness with our being whose nature is love? Clearly to know our being is to know there is no division between beings––we are all one. Thus love is when you know your neighbor as yourself: it is when to love yourself is to love your neighbor and to love your neighbor is to love yourself. It is in this sense that love is, as Rilke puts it, “the ultimate task, the final test and the proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.”

There is not enough room to love our being and its union with all beings and be content in the bliss of life and the ecstatic praise of the source of life and also be on our knees keeping up the falsehood of our ego and going about its clownish enterprise of pain in efforts to keep itself entertained. Nothing, after all, can be enough for the ego as it is an illusion whose happiness lies in its insatiability. The ego cannot be content for it is not alive and has no need of tranquility. Its happiness is tired to turmoil and it exercises this by always wanting what it does not have––for it must always want since this is its nature. Since the ego wants nothing that has the ability to destroy it, and learning to be content is a way in which the ego comes to harm, the ego works hard to keep the human conscience from contentment. For this reason the skewed lens of the ego render self-love as selfishness, because it is not a love for the being but a servicing of the ego. Through the lens of the ego, the self, which is the ego, is the center and everything else is secondary. It is impossible to love one's neighbor when the ego creates division between beings and creates competition amongst egos while every self thinks itself superior to all and must therefore be worshipped by all. This transforms the self's attempts of love into forms of possessiveness and exploitation and its practices of humility as ways to hoist up its grandeur. Furthermore, the ego does not love itself, for to love is to have no self. The ego loathes and the eminence of its loathing is the false self, an insatiable hellish state of misery.

The difficulty of love is that to be able to practice it one must identify the false self, and separate it from one’s genuine being. It means one must become interested in seeking truth and become conscious of the  manipulative ego. It means one must aim for contentment rather than dissatisfaction. It means one must give up being the victim of one’s illusions and that of others. To love is to make things unbearable for the ego. Thus to practice love, though seemingly easy and foolish to the blind eye, is the most wise and difficult thing a human being can do. But love welcomes those who seek it. Thus one starts to understand that to practice love is to embrace life which is good and measureless and thus magnificent and beyond imagination. To love is to know joy in being and living in praise of the source of being. To love is to turn the other cheek without pride or as performance of saintliness but to profess an understanding of the ego’s falsehood and your practice in its silencing. To love is to nourish no quandary about forgiveness and to be always opened to the immense peace of forgetting which eliminates desires for revenge, i.e. a tantalizing feud for the ego. Thus to love is to maintain the ego in such misery that it is easily identifiable in its fraud and more easily separated from our genuine being. Love is difficult because it is a harmonious flow that is always content in itself and this is hellish to the ego––which has us convinced that it is us––whose preference is a dramatic stagnant circumference of insatiable misery.

Happy Valentine's Day in advance,
JAO

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