Rilke’s The Swan, introduced by David Whyte
I often think that one of the great qualities that’s necessary for every human being — besides a generous and attentive heart and mind — is a sense of self-compassion for the way that you’re made in particular. That you wouldn’t lose faith, no matter what, in your own difficulties and awkwardness. And that some of your own awkward ways of being in the world are actually necessary to your final confrontation with existence. And that you couldn’t get there without somehow being bereft in certain ways — by having certain failings and that those failings are actually a core part of our experience of the numinous.
I do think that we diminish ourselves with many of the images that we hold for success in life so that we feel as if in order to get to any extraordinary experience in life we have to cross the finish line like some Olympic athlete. But I do believe there are many experiences in life, many extraordinary edges that you can only actually crawl into on your hands and knees. That part of the experience of the final meeting would be missing if you did not actually follow the whole vulnerable contour of your own imperfect belonging into the fullness of the experience.
There’s a beautiful poem by Rainer Maria Rilke who describes this wonderfully using the image of a swan entering the water. …
But the moment of transformation occurs when the swan touches the water — and here’s Rilke’s description of that numinous edge — that moment when the transformation occurs. But he doesn’t ignore the awkwardness, it’s part of the swan’s being, and he says…
This clumsy living that moves lumbering,
as if in ropes, through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way
the swan walks.
And to die, and to die — which is the letting go of
the ground we stand on
and cling to every day, is like the swan
when he nervously lets himself down into the water
which receives him gaily and which flows under
and after him wave after wave
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm
is pleased to be carried
each moment more fully grown
more like a king farther and farther on.
(translated by Robert Bly)