Growing older

L’exil n’est pas un acte anodin, et nécessite une réflexion et une maturation, souvent problématiques. Pour le poète, partir, signifie avant tout quitter un sol, une terre maternelle, et donc, physiquement se déraciner. Il faut rompre en un sens avec le passé proche ou lointain, mais aussi avec une forme de pensée qui appartient à ce sol désormais obsolète…

[Sylvène Guery, Rilke, la poésie comme seul bagage]

Growing older is like a slow journey into exile. Gradually, and one by one, the roots which bound one so closely to the terre maternelle of one’s physical self relax, loosen and let go. The mind lags behind, still irresistibly attached to younger dreams and emotions. The face in the morning mirror evokes a disbelieving, “Is that how I am?” But no, that is the aging exterior. There is more, much more, than what appears on the surface. It is time now to let go and focus on what Rilke called Weltinnenraum. The uprooting caused by the ageing process has freed you to seek that inner space which n’est ni celui du monde, ni celui de l’âme, ni non plus l’espace en trompe-l’œil d’un miroir que le monde tendrait à l’âme, mais un lieu d’échange.

The last expression is the key. That ‘inner space’ is not solitary space.  Weltinnenraum is not synonymous with sunyata. It is not the néant, or the void of Buddhist contemplation. Neither is it a solipsist retreat into some inner world detached from reality. It is that state where the distinctions me-and-not-me, this-and-not-that, disappear and everything is simply itself, completely open. This is how Rilke puts it:

‘Through all beings spreads the one space:

the world’s inner space. Silently fly the birds

all through us. O I who want to grow,

I look outside, and it is in me that the tree grows!’

I came across this story in Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. His experience in the concentration camp focused his mind on the fundamental existential questions to do with life as nothing else could have.

This young woman knew she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. “I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,” she told me. “In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.” Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.” Through the window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. “I often talk to this tree,: she said to me. I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. “Yes,” What did it say to her? She answered, “It said to me, ‘I am here – I am here – I am life, eternal life’”

Weltinnenraum is the experience that all life springs from the same source and is one. It is the experience of the connectedness, not only of life, but of the sky and the sea shore, the wind in the trees and the flowers in spring.

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