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Leaping into the dark

July 18, 2010

My friend Jane from PlaneJaner’s Journey gave us a beautiful quote from Rainer Maria Rilke to ponder today.  It entreats us to assume the possibility of  “the unheard-of” and to have the only courage we need:  the courage to face those things that we just can’t explain.  I’m going to be redundant and place it in here as well.  It’s too good to leave out!

We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it.  That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter.

Rainer Maria Rilke

What a perfect explanation of faith. This is seems to fit my take on St. Paul’s definition of faith:  “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  I’m unable to see the presence of what I hope for, but there is evidence, even though I can’t see, evidence of  my belief in the possibility, if I am open to it and have courage.

The minute I read the RMR quote, I remembered my favorite watchword from Laurens van der Post’s book, The  Heart of the Hunter:

The art of living . . . is nothing if it does not consist of being sensible on completely non-sensible grounds.  It is,  if I dare suggest,  so flagrant a defiance of collective precepts for wisdom, nothing if not a leap into the dark; a finding of alternatives to what common sense holds to be inevitable.  Those who look before they leap, never leap.

Laurens van der Post

When I was at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, for a year, I taught a 3-week midwinter course called “Dreaming, Being, and Becoming.”   It was supposed to be a course in career development.  My “sensible” boss wanted me to help these young folks choose careers.  Well, I believed that no one can choose a path unless they know themselves – at least in a cursory way. So, I, in my “non-sensible” way set out to create a course that would help these students explore themselves.  It was an eye-opening journey for most, and a very tender, raw time for a few.  These wonderful young adults allowed themselves to delve into heavy questions and become vulnerable with me and with each other.  It was the best thing I’ve ever experienced with students.

At the end of the three weeks I presented them each with a mandala that I had drawn along with the van der Post quote with their individual names where the ” . . .” was.

The Art of Living Mandala, 1994

Similarly, a few years earlier, I had coached students at the University of Arizona to be peer mentors for students who were undecided about what they would major in.  These young people like those from Carthage had an uncanny capacity to be open to each other and to me in ways I had never experienced before.  At the end of the year, when I knew I was leaving to move out of state, I gave each peer mentor a card with a mandala drawn on it.  Before drawing each individual mandala I had sat down and thought about student.  Circled around the mandala were the words from the Dan Fogelberg song, “The Higher You Climb:”

The higher you climb,
The more that you see.
The more that you see,
The less that you know.
The less that you know,
The more that you yearn.
The more that you yearn,
The higher you climb.

The farther you reach,
The more that you touch.
The more that you touch,
The fuller you feel.
The fuller you feel,
The less that you need.
The less that you need,
The farther you reach.

Dan Fogelberg

Somehow, in my mind all three of these quotes seem to fit together.  Do they in yours?  This morning in church we had three readings from Scriptures and a Psalm that were supposed to be related.  I’m going to have to think a long while to see their relationship.  Perhaps to you, dear reader, these three quotes are as abstruse as the readings in church were to me.

How can I weave them together?

The more that I search for wisdom, knowledge, information, the less that I realize I know — about anything.  The bar keeps raising for me.  Yet, the more that I touch, the less that I need to know, because in the reaching, touching and yearning, comes the “knowing” – the gut sense that I’ve come across something very significant which  from the “sensible” frame of reference is really not knowing  Yet from my point of reference, the fullness of being in the “knowing” as well as the not knowing is incredible. It does not matter.  It is of no matter.  There is nothing material, or worldly, that can possibly be experienced as completely as the yearning, and the climbing, and the reaching, which by definition here is “other worldly,” “non-sensible,” “unheard-of.”  And nothing is more satisfying and filling (full filling), than the realization that there is nothing — no thing — no Thing (with a capital T) — for which we need to climb, reach, yearn.  What a lovely paradox.

Isn’t this completely non-sensible to the sensible, and completely sensible to the non-sensible?

To “get it” don’t we have to leap into the abyss of not knowing, wondering full well that we may never know for sure, and fearing that perhaps we were silly to jump in the first place and may actually hit rock bottom?

Rollo May, a very inspiring psychologist who wrote The Courage to Create speaks of courage as knowing that you’re afraid of doing something, or saying something, but doing or saying it anyway, knowing at the same time that you might be wrong.  He says

A curious paradox characteristic of every kind of courage here confronts us. It is the seeming contradiction that we must be fully committed, but we must also be aware at the same time that we might possibly be wrong.  This dialectic relationship between conviction and doubt is characteristic of the highest types of courage . . .

Rollo May

Isn’t this what Rilke and van der Post are speaking of?  Not knowing, yet having great conviction (what I call “knowing”).  And following a path that seems to lead into the darkness, the void, the abyss, death, yet doing it anyway because we cannot NOT do it — regardless of the sneering, the judgment, the laughing, the finger pointing of others.

Non-sensible to the sensiblie is non-sensical and worthy of ridicule. Afterall, who in her right mind (write, right brain) would possibily do that?  But that’s the POINT!  The “most strange,” “the most singular,” and “the most inexplicable” MUST be assumed to be possible.  We MUST leap into the dark.  We MUST defy what the world tells us is wise – (because it really isn’t!).  We MUST  find other ways to function in theis world.  What we’re told is true, ineveitable, law, just may not be so.  So we broaden our vision, we listen to hear what others cannot, will not, hear, and see wonders and beauties and miracle and mysteries invisible to our blind companions.  And we leap – without the safety of looking ahead – and in so doing, we soar into the realm of dreams and possibilities.  This is how we build a world that others guarantee is impossible, a world that is clean and pure and whole and loving.  This is how it’s done.  This is how we do it.

Anyone crazy enough to join me?  Are you non-sensible enough to leap?  I am.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 21, 2010 12:50 pm

    Nancy, you are so special. First off, thank you for your kind remarks regarding Sam’s wisdom. I am always so touched to receive the praise we do. He is my furry guru and I invite so many other people to learn from their own dogs/cats/animals as well.

    Now in reference to your post above, I am so thankful that there are people like you out there in the teaching field doing such wonderful work. Your mid-winter class that you taught about “Dreaming, Being and Becoming” is something I wish I had the opportunity to experience myself back in college. I took some wonderful “Love & Spirituality” classes at UofA but I know I would have thoroughly enjoyed your class as well. How wonderful for your students back then. That is exactly what we need in the classroom setting these days to prepare these children for their future post school. It takes non-sensible people like you, me and so many others to “leap into the dark” as you say. I applaud your courage. Expansion is certainly really about “knowing.” I sure loved this post of yours. I love what pours through you and will now enjoy reading everything else you have written down in this wonderful blog of yours. Blessings to you and thank you for shining your light so bright.



    • July 21, 2010 4:45 pm

      Thank you, David, for your loving response to my blog.

      I got a catch in my stomach when you said UofA. I loved the students there so much. I was an academic advisor in Arts & Sciences and started the ACES program for undecided students. The “Love & Spirituality” classes must have come after my time there. I left in 1989. I imagine you’re much younger than my “babies” there who are all in their 40s. I’m still in touch with some.

      I’m so glad you’re encouraging people to learn from their pets. I’m an inveterate pet collector, to my husbands dismay. Last time he said, “No more!” and I brought home a little dog, he almost . . . well, it wasn’t very pretty. (I did get to keep the pup, though.) With your inspiration, I think I’ll gather up my pictures and introduce all my furry children in a post. Unfortunately, some are gone that were very dear friends. But I might introduce them anyway. You’ll meet a few in my earlier posts.

      Again, David, thanks for your encouragement. Please give Sam a big hug for me. Maybe some day I can meet him face to face. I come to Phoenix a couple of times a year to visit my Grandboys.


      • August 16, 2010 10:33 pm

        Hi Nancy, yep, I am a Wildcat through and through:) One of my sisters as well. Thank you for the kind words. I look forward to seeing these pics of your beloved companions. Sam loves to give and receive hugs so I will be sure to give him one for you. I’d love to meet you in person one day soon so keep me posted about your travels up here.



      • August 18, 2010 5:06 am

        I’ll keep you posted. I’d love to meet you face to face, too. I don’t live in AZ now, but come to Phoenix at least twice a year to visit my Grandboys. Haven’t had time to post again as my ranch manager is at our state fair and I’m doing all the animal work for 2 weeks. Lots of it and very hot. Will post when she’s back. Nancy

  2. Stephen permalink
    July 28, 2010 9:09 am

    Love this article, especially the Fogelberg (?) quote. The divine hunger and unrest
    that keeps us on the quest, and for me spirituality is just that, a quest that keeps our feet moving, is important. I was thinking about working with horses. They generally get into trouble for one of two reasons. Fear, or a lack of respect for those (including their owner/rider) around them. When they are afraid you teach them there is nothing to fear. When they don’t have respect, your teach them, again, they can trust and can listen to you. The main tool you use in both cases is moving their feet. Giving them something to think about. Keeping them moving. That is how the sacred works with us. When we are afraid, or when we have lost awareness and yes, respect for the world around us, the sacred moves our feet. Gives us something to think about , a task to do – and we go higher and farther. I have a new post on my blog BTW

  3. July 30, 2010 9:38 am

    Excellent wisdom, Nancy! We must leap into the dark! If we don’t, life pushes us anyways.. and better to leap prepared than to expect light and face darkness.. I am crazy enough and non-sensible enough to join you.. for I am looking for something that no one ‘has’ and something that none ‘can give’.. it has to be discovered inside our own souls.. and it’s a different journey for every person. Yet the destination is the same – of divine bliss.

  4. August 16, 2010 10:37 pm


    I was just made aware of this by a dear FB friend who passes along gems…

    I thought of you immediately. You will understand this based on your posts regarding your former students and the divine approach you took with them. I thought this was quite powerful and intriguing that someone so young would have the awareness she does. But I am aware how wise and insightful the youth that are coming in during this time truly are. What a blessing for the future of humanity…

  5. August 16, 2010 10:41 pm

    that graduation speech by the valedictorian is on youtube as well

    • August 17, 2010 12:09 pm

      What an excellent commentary on today’s education! What a lovely young woman. Thanks for sharing this with me.

  6. Peter Hancock permalink
    June 22, 2013 4:04 am

    Dear Nancy, your “Art of living…” quote from Laurens van der Post is not from The Heart of the Hunter but from A Story like the Wind, p.297 in the hardback edition. And you have totally changed the meaning by putting a comma after “if I dare suggest”. Best regards, Peter Hancock

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