Rilke said, ‘Being here is so much.’ It is uncanny how social reality can deaden and numb us so that the mystical wonder of our lives goes totally unnoticed. We are here. We are wildly and dangerously free. The more lonely side of being here is our separation in the world. Many of our attempts to pray, to love, and to create are secret attempts at transfiguring that separation in order to build bridges outward so that others can reach us and we can reach them–John O’Donohue from http://makebelieveboutique.com/2013/04/09/5618/
Since being back in Denmark again after the transformative days in Tuscany, I have felt particularly restless and uninspired. I suppose I am experiencing what John O’Donohue calls “the more lonely side of being here, our separation in the world.” None of my attempts to create any kind of belonging to the world seem to work these days. Even the blogging has gone stale in my mind and heart of late, I admit. I haven’t a name for this feeling: entropy, ennui, stagnation, boredom, frustration all come to mind but no one word or phrase really sums it up.
Tonight I took some time to wade through the never-ending list of blog posts in my WordPress reader, in hopes of finding something interesting to inspire me. It was a disappointingly uninspiring blogroll, dear Readers. Most posts seem to fall into a few basic categories; either meant to be uplifting, ‘look how great and wonderful you are now becoming, dear Human being!” or the ones reporting about the ongoing fall of the evil empire which is responsible for the terrible mess that we are collectively now in, or else they might be reporting upon a particular event, problem, or drama of one sort or another. I am looking for meat, and only coming up with boiled potatoes. Perhaps some of you are feeling similarly?
Being in Italy and experiencing the glorious art, architecture and culture of that land for myself has inspired me in way: now I am reading up on the Renaissance and learning again about the time period from the fall of Rome at the end of the fifth century C.E., through the sixteenth century, when the Renaissance hit its peak. There is a lot to learn and I am not the world’s most methodical scholar. Still, it is fascinating reading! I have found a wonderful book called The Renaissance in Europe, by Margaret King, a professor of Renaissance history, in which she does an amazing job of giving a concise sequence of events and highlights some of the most important figures of each century leading up to and through this hugely important and eventful time in western civilization.
What strikes me as I read King’s book is just how similar (in some basic ways) life today is reflected in the centuries leading up to the Renaissance. Our world might seem smaller and more connected now, but the same power struggles, use of domination by force, political intrigues and moral questioning of the leaders of state remain today just as they did a thousand years before. We humans have copious amounts of hubris and ego enough to believe that we are somehow oh-so-modern and new, that we don’t need to remember or learn about our collective past, that for whatever reasons, our history is simply no longer relevant. The more I learn about it, the more blatantly obvious it becomes that this kind of thinking is largely responsible for getting us into the mess we are currently in.
Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most brilliant humans to ever walk the face of the planet, once wrote, “Blinding ignorance does mislead us. Oh wretched mortals, open your eyes!” The times we are living in are times of blinding ignorance. Everywhere one looks there is vast evidence of this. One small example that shocked me recently was when I sat with the Danish kids for a lesson just after returning from Tuscany. I was telling them about the wonderous artworks I experienced in the Uffizi Gallery and how I saw a marvellous painting by Michelangelo. One girl had a strange expression on her face and asked, Michelangelo, wasn’t that a character from the mutant teenage ninja turtles? And that’s not the worst of it.
We in the western world are clearly becoming dumber and dumber. There are more ways than ever to keep people stupid and ignorant, not the least of which has to do with technology. A two-edged sword, computers in their various guises can be wonderful tools to access knowledge and learn entire libraries worth of history right in your very own living room, or can be used to zone out, obliterate the former pastime of reading books for pleasure and knowledge, and effectively put a mental strait jacket on humans (particularly the young) to the exclusion of nearly everything else. What is to be done, dear Readers?
The beginning of this blog tonight began with these words from Rainer Maria Rilke: Being here is so much. Well I will clarify that large understatement to say, Being here CAN be so much if only we recognize its enormity, if we are awake to the wonders of being alive on this planet at this juncture in time and space. If we were truly awake, we could begin yet another renaissance, as the energies are actually ripe for a rebirth and reawakening of the triumph of the human spirit. Perhaps some of you would even argue that humanity is undergoing a kind of new renaissance of the spirit. I would say it seems more like a phoenix rising time, although at the moment the fires are definitely burning, Rome is in the middle of falling, and things will most likely become much more chaotic before the phoenix can rise again.