The last few days I keep coming back to a poem and a song lyric:
Variation On a Theme By Rilke
by Denise Levertov (Breathing the Water)
(from Rilke’s The Book of Hours, Book 1, 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.
from “The River”
by Garth Brooks
So don’t you sit upon the shoreline
And say you’re satisfied
Choose to chance the rapids
And dare to dance the tide
Rainer Maria Rilke, early 20th-century Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist. Denise Levertov, late 20th-century British-born American poet. Garth Brooks, contemporary American country music artist. Three creative spirits, different cultures, different centuries, all, in essence, saying go for it!
Yet for me, there is a deeper message. Garth Brooks challenges us to “chance the rapids and dare to dance the tide,” while Levertov, inspired by Rilke, writes, “I heard…my whole self saying and singing what it knew: I can.” Sounds easy and inspiring in a poem or a song; not always so easy to live.
Those of us who follow our callings to do transformational work face many “edges” – situations that make us squirm, that make us doubt, that give us pause, that challenge our confidence – situations that sometimes prompt us to ask “why do I keep doing this? Am I crazy?”
Transformational work can require at different times being a pioneer, an explorer, a risk-taker, a truth-teller, a pot-stirrer. It can ask us to go places we’ve never gone before, both inside and out, literally and figuratively. And when we come up to those edges, sometimes we wonder if we can do it. It would be so much easier to “sit upon the shoreline” and be satisfied – or not.
Yet somewhere deep down in the core of our being, there is a calling that won’t let go of us. It won’t let us sit on the shoreline. We get fidgety, we get frustrated when we see things not getting done. Soon we can’t stand to sit still any longer when potential is waiting for a steward, for a partner. Sometimes without even thinking, we rush in and “chance the rapids and dare to dance the tide” just because we can’t not do it. And then we get in the middle of it and get overwhelmed.
In those moments, we have a choice. We can get lost in “overwhelm,” or we can pause. We can step back. We can find a quiet place to reflect and center. And when we are able to be still and remember who we are at our essence, we come into alignment again with that purpose that is greater than ourselves – that purpose that won’t let go of us. And somehow a miracle happens. The moment becomes “a presence” that “confronts” us, to come back to Levertov’s words. And that alignment awakens us to our whole self “saying and singing what it knows: I can.”
P.S. If you would like to learn more about how to find your still core and align with a purpose greater than you, you will find great tools and support in my latest book, Create A World That Works. It’s available through our website store, as well as in bookstores everywhere, on amazon.com, and as a digital book for Kindle, iBooks, or other e-readers.
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