Rilke’s Letter to a Young Poet (Day 50)

There’s no clarity today. Even that observation feels off because it sounds like an inherently bad thing, but that’s not true. It feels like peace but not full term.

Full disclosure, I suffer from insomnia. The worst part of sober for me by far. It’s the real deal. No sleep. Night after night. And what few minutes I do manage is saturated with sweat, anxiety and nightmare. Going to bed has become a dreaded thing; a trial, a sentence and one I’ll serve alone save a couple of cats and a few walls.

Still, it’s better than alcohol sick.

I don’t even know what normal tired feels like anymore. This is just my existence. My breathing and blinking into the day.

I’m also aware today of how much time I spend alone, which doesn’t necessarily make me unhappy; it’s just I’m aware of it today and usually I’m not. Pieces are shifting inside of me of their own volition. Or maybe I am shifting, shedding chunks of what I’ve always believed to be ME in order to curl more comfortably around the deeper body within.

There is a sadness in this that doesn’t feel sad. Every single thing I’m grateful for today I’ve won at great cost. My divorce. My disease. My daughter. My own private wordless agony.

So I turn to poetry as I always have. It’s the one place that can hold everything without breaking. And Rilke, my God, I’m 100 percent madly in love with this man:

 “You have had many sadnesses, large ones, which passed. And you say that even this passing was difficult and upsetting for you. But please, ask yourself whether these large sadnesses haven’t rather gone right through you…perhaps we would bear our sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, everything in us withdraws, a silence arises, and the new experience, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.

It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing.

That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, it’s already in our bloodstream. And we don’t know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed.

And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside. The quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own.

And (you) will also gradually come to realize that what we call fate does not come into us from the outside, but emerges from us. So you mustn’t be frightened if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.

Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better. In you, so much is happening now; you must be patient like someone who is sick, and confident like some one who is recovering; for perhaps you are both.

And more: you are also the doctor, who has to watch over himself. But in every sickness there are many days when the doctor can do nothing but wait.”

-Excerpts from Letter #8, Letters to a Young Poet-

In the meantime, my inner Dr. has enrolled in some continuing education courses in bedside manner.

It’s far past time to be kinder to ourselves.


Sobriety Poet

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