“Dear Darkening Ground”
A poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, read by Vandana Shiva, collectively animated by @the.impossible.future & presented by Daniel Wahl
The first time I heard Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem ‘Du Dunkelnder Grund’ was when I co-facilitated a training for educators in ‘The Work That Reconnects’ with Joanna Macy in the mountains North of Madrid in 2003.
In her early career, Joanna had translated Rilke’s ‘Book of Hours’ into English. During the training Joanna shared this remarkable poem in her own voice which has the resonant vibrational quality of a true Dharma teacher. I still remember how Rilke’s lines struck me.
Ever since, this poem has been with me, like a prayer. I have sat in many council circles and participated in many ceremonies, during which — out of silence and as if requested by the Earth herself — I felt moved to share this poem.
Dear darkening ground,
you’ve endured so patiently the walls we’ve built,
please give the cities one more hour
and grant the churches and cloisters two,
And those that labor — maybe you’ll let their work
grip them for another five hours, or seven
before you become forest again, and water,
and widening wilderness,
in that hour of inconceivable terror
when you take back your name from all things.
Just give me a little more time.
I just need a little more time,
because I am going to Love the things
as no one has thought to love them,
until they’re real and worthy of you.
-Reiner Maria Rilke (Translation Joanna Macy)
The powerful lines “before you become forest again, and water and widening wilderness, in that hour of inconceivable terror when you take back your names from all things”.
Rather than filling me with fear, this image leaves me with a sense of trust in life’s inherent capacity and potential for regeneration.
Life — as a planetary process — is a regenerative community and we are called back home into its midst! For too long have our cultural narratives enclosed us in the self mutilating story of our alienation from (more than human) nature. We are nature. We are life. We are coming home! As life, we have the capacity to do what life does best: “creating conditions conducive to life.”
To me Rilke’s pleaing request in a poem written 120 years ago is prophetic and revelatory in two ways. Revelatory in as much as it reminds me that sensitive souls and holistic visionaries even a century ago already saw the trajectory of humanity’s growing exploitative and degenerative impact. We have been in this collapse for a long time! Ninety years ago D.H. Lawrence wrote:
“Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made personal, merely personal feeling. This is what is the matter with us: we are bleeding at the roots because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars. Love has become a grinning mockery because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the Tree of Life and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table.”
- D. H. Lawrence
I believe that Rilke’s poem is prophetic with regard to why he is asking for “a little more time. Just give me a little more time.” He is asking for more time to enter into a deep relationship of care “so I may love the things until they are real, and ripe and worthy of you.” To me this speaks of the story of interbeing, of — as the great poet Mary Oliver called it: “coming home into the family of things” — the family of life.
During the above mentioned training with Joanna Macy she also told me: “Daniel, always remember when you are teaching or you are stepping on a stage to give a talk, as an expression of life, you have the authority of 3.8 billion years of life’s evolution from which to speak. Speak for the voiceless and for all of life!” The strength of Rilke’s poetry is that he understood himself as a vessel through which life herself could do the writing.
‘Dear Darkening Ground’ is prophetic in many ways. It was written at the beginning of the most destructive Century — the age of fossil fuels — during which humanity (some much more than others!) drove so much of life to the brink of extinction and beyond.
The poem speaks of the one sentiment and state of being that will help us be of service in the profound transformations that now lie ahead of all of us during this — humanity’s — most turbulent century when we are called to undo the damage we have done for so long. To co-create the possible future of diverse regenerative cultures everywhere we have to come from love and root our being in love.
Falling in love with all life will help us remember our own intimacy and kinship with all of its magnificence. Love for life can help us bear the pain of sitting with the trauma and the grief of being complicit in a major extinction event on this living planet. Wise pathways into an uncertain future can only be charted from a deeper understanding of our own fragile interdependence with the health regenerating patterns of the biosphere.
For the people of the Navajo ‘living in right relationship’ with the Earth is to ‘walk in beauty’ (Hózhóogo Naasháa Doo) and their advice is: ‘if you walk into the future, walk in beauty’. We are now all called to redesign the human impact on Earth within the lifetime of the generations alive today. To do so we will have to walk in beauty with deep love for all of life, including ourselves and each other.
To fullys step into the individual and collective potential for what we could become on our evolutionary journey as expressions of life, we will — at every step — have to be willing to give up what we are for what we could become. Our trust in life and our conviction that future is possible will have to be sourced from our love for life. Life as a planetary and a cosmic evolutionary process is the ongoing story. In this story we are but words in a verse.
A regenerative future that includes humanity will have to be grounded in our understanding that all the promises of eternal life where never speaking of ‘living forever’ (as “skin encapsulated egos” or as a species) — rather — they were reminders that life is a regenerative community and that — as Goethe reminded us nearly two hundred years ago “death is life’s ingenious invention to create plenty of life.”
Enjoy the time you are given and use the privilege of every moment. In the fullness between inhalation and exhalation and the stillness between exhalation and inhalation — lies “our moment of choice”. We can choose life, love and healing, and serve our immortal larger self as we serve life. We can “love the things, until they are real and worthy”. If we relearn how to do that in every moment we can turn the impossible into a possible future. The ReGeneration is rising. We are “coming back to life.”
A note of gratitude to Martín Haas and the amazing team of The Future Im/Possible:
I first met Martín in 2011 when he participated in the Ecovillage Design Education programme I helped to organize and teach in a magical place in the mountains of Mallorca. The holistic analysis of the root causes of the problem and the whole systems design approach to creating community based solutions to the mess we got ourselves in that this course offers were part of the early inspiration for Martín and friends to create a documentary.
Years later, after Martín had returned back to his native Argentina, he contacted me to tell me about The Future Im/Possible documentary project. He shared an early soundtrack of the narrator’s voice for the whole film and we talked about how to evolve it from there and I helped with some introductions to people who’s message Martín and the team wanted to feature in the documentary. With the pandemic the project has morphed again into a network of collaborators evolving this amazing documentary together. Rather than raising funds and waiting for them in order to finish the project the team has started to share their work so far and the documentary will be only part of a wider impulse that will also include a book and an education programme.
This is going to be a powerful catalytic impulse in support of the ReGeneration rising all over the world now. In 2018, gave a talk at Findhorn on ‘Human and Planetary Health: Ecosystems Restoration at the Dawn of the Century of Regeneration’ (see video below). I ended the talk with Rilke’s poem ‘Dear Darkening Ground’. I was delighted when Martín shared with me the other day that The Future Im/Possible’ team had decided to create a short animation to accompany the voice of Vandana Shiva reading this powerful poem. I feel grateful to have been asked to share this reflection. ¡Gracias Martín! ¡Viva la vida!
- Daniel Wahl
Daniel Wahl, author of “Designing Regenerative Culturess“, of the Medium blog “Design for Sustainability” and coordinator of the Gaia Education ‘s EDE program that greatly inspired The Impossible Future, tells us how the poem resonates in present times and what it says about our future.
Oringinally published by The Future Impossible
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Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration.
Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures
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