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Posted: October 21, 2005

Spiritual Caregiving

The Radish of Immortality

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote a young artist, "Dear Sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows."

For myself, I have followed the tradition that calls this deep source of life the soul, and for many years I have tried, both professionally and personally, to be more loyal to that deep place than to the rules and expectations of the surface.

C. G. Jung, too, noted the deep ground in which our lives are rooted. We are "the passing blossom and fruit of the rhizome underground." A rhizome is the mass of roots or core root of a plant and, in Jung’s imagination, the base of our lives.

In other words, at our best we are like a radish, which really means "rootish." When our succulent, somewhat bitter, red, delicious underground soul is manifest, we are most ourselves and most creative.

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke has many moving things to say about how to live from the root and still enjoy the blossom.

I would like to add to his list. For example, you have to understand that the roots of life are located in a thick, mucky area where reason, analysis, and resolution don’t have much effect. It’s a place fundamentally irrational, enchanted, and bewitched -- sometimes the source of inspiration, but often the root of confusion.

You have to be a rational and feeling person to get along in the surface world, but if you wish to connect with the deeper interior, you need to be a magus, a person who looks at the literal façade of life and sees through to its inner poetry. The magus lives in a whirlwind of symbols, rituals, and myths, and gains practical power from his or her knowledge.

Living from the ground of your being, you read the signs around you for hints as to what to do. You live close to the mysterious and resist the temptation to explain everything. You employ means of divination that appeal to you. You take your intuitions seriously. You are attentive to your night dreams and mysterious things that happen around you. You read your world and act from the fog of insight you draw from it.

Voices of guidance often speak to us from underground, where the chthonic spirits dwell. It’s not a bad idea to explore caves and ravines and meditate on springs. Study the many paintings by Lucas Cranach, such as The Nymph of the Spring. Like Siddhartha, sit by a river and find yourself. Less literally, speak for your deep, dark self in your daily life and let your earthiness show in your personality and behavior.

When you live from the deep source of your life, you may find yourself withdrawing naturally, not intentionally, from the busyness of the world, discovering new riches and new sources of meaning. Eventually, you may become like a radish -- more valuable as a root than as a blossom.

In one of the earliest of myths, the hero Gilgamesh goes out in search of a plant that promises to give him immortality. You are all always Gilgamesh in search of that plant, not only for eternal life but for knowledge of and intimacy with the eternal things that are the basis of your life.

This mystery also appears in the lotus that is the revered symbol of the teachings of the Buddha. It may be found in the mythic tree Yggdrasil of Norse mythology, the roots of which are as deep as the branches are high. It is the feeling you have when you are inspired from some deep within to make a move in life or to create an object of beauty. You may sense it profoundly at the birth of a child.

I can’t mention the spirituality of the radish without acknowledging Ed Brown, Zen chef and seer, who in his wonderful book, Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings, offers a heartfelt paean to the radish. "Delight moves through radishes and people alike," he writes, "letting things speak, perhaps even sing for themselves."

The meaning of life lies hidden in a grocer’s shop, in the vegetable section. There, you will find little heart-shaped, reddish roots that will fire up your salad and, with a little sacred imagination, display the secret of being both a poet and a human being.

_____

Thomas Moore’s latest book is Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals. He is the best-selling author of Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life and Soul Mates: Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship (careofthesoul.net).


This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, www.SpiritualityHealth.com. For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see www.SpiritualityHealth.com/subs. Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at www.caregivershome.com. Contact staff directly via email at ASKspirituality@spiritualityhealth.com.

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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