Reflection for Womens Day March 2017

August 8, 2017

Etty Hillesum

On women’s day I’ve been thinking, apart from all the wonderful women I’m fortunate to know, which women have inspired me. Then, perhaps because of the tipping-shifting state of the world, I thought of Etty. The author of An Interrupted Life, Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jew, a meditator and peace activist who had her spiritual awakening whilst imprisoned (after which she was eventually gassed) in the Westerbork concentration camp in 1943. It was her amazing and strange affair with Julius Spier (who taught her palmistry and how to wrestle) that gave Etty the emotional toll and language that began her journey into mysticism. The book is a collection of her profound diaries, which only exist because she threw them out of the train window en route to the gas chamber. I just found out today she was hugely inspired by the poetry of Rilke. As well as Dostoevsky and Jung. Here some quotes from her letters:

“I now listen all day long to what is within me, and am able to draw strength from the most deeply hidden sources in myself. I keep following my own inner voice even in the madhouse…I know what may lie in wait for us… I know about everything and am no longer appalled by the latest reports. In one way or another I know it all. And yet I find life beautiful and meaningful… It still all comes down to the same thing: life is beautiful. And I believe in God. And I want to be there right in the thick of what people call ‘horror’ and still be able to say: life is beautiful.”

“Ought we not, from time to time, open ourselves up to cosmic sadness? … Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears his grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate. But if you do not clear a decent shelter for your sorrow, and instead reserve most of the space inside you for hatred and thoughts of revenge-from which new sorrows will be born for others-then sorrow will never cease in this world and will multiply.”

“Slowly but surely I have been soaking Rilke up these last few months: the man, his work and his life. And that is probably the only right way with literature, with study, with people or with anything else: to let it all soak in, to let it all mature slowly inside you until it has become a part of yourself. That, too, is a growing process. Everything is a growing process. And in between, emotions and sensations that strike you like lightning. But still the most important thing is the organic process of growing.”…


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