L.R. Heartsong, author of THE BONES AND BREATH: A Man’s Guide to Eros, the Sacred Masculine, and the Wild Soul, recounts his experience of the 2014 Men’s Conference deep within the Northern California redwoods:
Standing in [...]
Men in community, restoring wholeness to ourselves and Soul to the world.
April 17, 2012
It has been some time since I have taken time to sit down and visit with you.
This morning much is on my mind but I am especially aware of how quickly our annual conference is approaching–Memorial Day weekend, May 25th to 28th — Friday afternoon/evening through Monday morning, beneath the towering redwoods in Camp 3, nestled in the valley of the North Fork of the Little River — more like a stream than a river — between Camp 1 and Camp 2 at the Mendocino Woodlands, a twenty or thirty minute drive inland and down from the South end of the town of Mendocino — certainly we arrive at a sacred space at the end of that descent.
As I write to you I am sitting with my laptop in Portland, Oregon, in the home of my one time high school classmate, June Quackenbush, where I have come to visit each April for the last three years and where I will move in early 2013. Obviously, the land of the open heart is not limited by geography but geographic distance does have a profound impact on how we experience connection with each other. Relocating to Portland will allow the intimate daily partnership that June and I have, by some miracle, been graced to discover with each other. At the same time the profound, certainly life changing connections and even the more casual ones that I have been blessed to make and develop in the Bay Area over the last twenty years will be wrenched and stretched by this new distance — challenged to be redefined, cared for and developed in new ways.
Even as I embrace the gain, the joy of my new life, I embrace the the loss, the sorrow that is there. In fact, it is only by the constant acknowledgment of and holding of and the grieving of this loss, that I am free to love the new life I am already living.
The Jimenez poem on the front of this year’s conference brochure represents that moment of profound awareness, that, in turn, raises the question for us, “Are we already standing in the new life?”
My answer is, “Yes, we always are!” Embedded in and central to this affirmation is an acknowledgment of our loss that must be grieved as surely as our new life must be embraced, if we choose to be alive at all. As in the Jimenez poem, moments of insight are passive but they always allow a way forward, allow for action, even call us to action. So my question is always, “What is mine to do in this new life that is constantly becoming old and then new again and old and new again?”
There are many ways to go at this point but what comes to mind as a kind of companion piece to Jimenez — and I’m not entirely sure I could explain why it comes to mind — is Rilke’s poem:
The Man Watching
I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.
The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.
What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.
When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers’ sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.
Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
What I do know, my brothers, is ours is not a passive “standing” in that realization but an active wrestling with the large angles in our lives as we try to figure out how to engage and manifest personally, among our friends, in this community and in the broader world which teeters always on the brink . . . what is mine to do? What is ours to do?
Looking forward to joining you and wrestling together under the redwoods. Until next time, I hold you in my heart,