Variation On A Theme By Rilke
by Denise Levertov
(The Book of Hours, Book I, Poem 1, Stanza 1)
A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me — a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day’s blow
rang out, metallic — or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.
For weeks, this poem has been nagging me, tugging at the corners of my memory. There was something about a bell, a sharp awakening, but the poet would not come, nor would the actual words. I stood in front on my poetry collection once or twice, hoping that the right book would beckon, would, like the poem itself says, strike my shoulder and say, here am I.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, I worried it, gnawed Google with different versions of the bell and got some interesting sidelines, but no poem. Until today, until the moment the possession was broken and suddenly I remembered, it was Denise Levertov and within seconds, I had it. I had been struck on the shoulder, awakened from the sleep of unconscious possessions, from the voices that clouded my seeing and hearing and being. The demon had been named and the cloud lifted.
I had fallen into a complex, a quanta of energy organized around the particular theme of how I function in the world. Or don’t. We all are susceptible to complexes, unconscious and autonomous thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that take over our conscious mind. We are no longer in control of reality, we see the world and ourselves through the lens of the complex and it usually isn’t pretty.
It is our nature to form complexes; the evolution of human development exists to become aware and related to the unconscious forces that would rule us as the first peoples were ruled by Nature itself. We no longer live in the world populated by tree, thunder and rain spirits, benevolent or malevolent. We inhabit instead, a world that is explainable through physics, chemistry, biology, or so we think.
In reality, there is much we do not know, see or understand that exists without our awareness. The gift of being human is that we can, with hard work and perseverance, come into contact with that source of being and find there the energy that fuels our creativity. There are many words for this work: psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, therapy, counseling, mentoring, and spiritual direction, to name a few. Each one understands that another is required to help us see what we cannot see, simply because we are embedded in the woods of the complex. Awareness comes surely when we have grappled with the demons ourselves of course, but we cannot wrestle with what we do not know.
And that, of course, is the point of all the work, energy and training that those of us who engage in the above professions seek to illuminate. We are called to name the monsters under the bed, the illusions of knights in shining armor, the whispers of failure or inflation that beset all of us. It is a delicate task to name the fears and desires and denials. Yet, when we are able to name what assails a soul, there is an opportunity for hearing that fulsome and authentic ringing of a whole self singing: I can.
Dr. Silvia Behrend is a Certified Pattern Analyst, educator and mentor