Strange illusion, the sense of splitting in two, into actor and watcher – the one who lives and the ghostly double watching as if from beyond the grave. Strange since there’s no separation in nature – no isolated organisms, no ghosts looking on at the living. In nature life and death are inseparable. Animals don’t put the dying in hospices, they die where they lived, open to death. Everywhere out here death mingles with life, as any farmer knows. On the beech tree in the garden, last year’s dead leaves mingle with the new, which push them out and renew the cycle: in the same budding tree, both winter and summer, life and death. The trees across the field communicate and send nutrients to each other through underground webs of fungi that feed on dead plants and animals. ‘Everywhere around us, death is at home’, wrote Rilke. ‘When a tree blossoms, death as well as life blossoms in it, and the field is full of death, which from its reclining face sends forth a rich expression of life.’ It’s only we who attempt the impossible movement of pushing death away from ourselves and so split ourselves in two.
For Rilke, death is deep inside us, inescapable, and therefore can’t be tricked. But it only haunts us when we guard the boundaries of ourselves against it, only seems hostile when we turn our faces away from it.
In the Open, there’s no separation. The Open says yes to both life and death, affirms both presence and absence. And it’s here, Rilke says, that we have the chance to draw death back into us; not in order to turn away from life and seek to die, but to live more truly, to be returned to the world as if in a second grace. We have the chance to draw the ghostly, hostile outside into what he calls the Weltinnenraum, the inner space of the world:
Through all beings stretches the one space:
the world’s inner space. The birds fly quietly
through us. Oh, I who wish to grow,
I look out, and inside me the tree grows.
I care, and the house stands inside me.
I take refuge, and refuge is inside me.
In the Weltinnenraum the outside is in and the inside out, but not as in Beckett’s and Blanchot’s dispersals, and not like the daily distractions that are forced on us and that we willingly subject ourselves to. Here, says Rilke,
it appears that everything
makes us at home. See, the trees are; the houses
that we dwell in are still here.