“The Sparks of Their Soul Come Out and Cling to You”

Image: 'So Many Grains of Sand,' by Rick Schwartz on Flickr

[Image: “Like So Many Grains of Sand,” by Rick Schwartz; it apparently captures a moment on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, this past January. (Found it on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!) In a blog post featuring this photo, the photographer muses, “Just trying to fathom the grains of sand on this one beach is futile to say nothing for the number of stars in the universe… So, for me, the only thing left to do is turn away from the beach and eat a bowl of soup. That’s the one thing I can handle.”]

From whiskey river (in slightly different words):

In the forty minutes I watched [the muskrat], he never saw me, smelled me, or heard me at all. When he was in full view of course I never moved except to breathe. My eyes would move, too, following his, but he never noticed… Only once, when he was feeding from the opposite bank about eight feet away from me, did he suddenly rise upright, all alert—and then he immediately resumed foraging. But he never knew I was there.

I never knew I was there, either. For that forty minutes last night I was as purely sensitive and mute as a photographic plate; I received impressions, but I did not print out captions. My own self-awareness had disappeared; it seems now almost as though, had I been wired to electrodes, my EEG would have been flat. I have done this sort of thing so often that I have lost self-consciousness about moving slowly and halting suddenly; it is second nature to me now. And I have often noticed that even a few minutes of this self-forgetfulness is tremendously invigorating. I wonder if we do not waste most of our energy just by spending every waking minute saying hello to ourselves. Martin Buber quotes an old Hasid master who said, “When you walk across the fields with your mind pure and holy, then from all the stones, and all growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their soul come out and cling to you, and then they are purified and become a holy fire in you.”

(Annie Dillard [source])


The greatest gift of life on the mountain is time. Time to think or not think, read or not read, scribble or not scribble — to sleep and cook and walk in the woods, to sit and stare at the shapes of the hills. I produce nothing but words; I consume nothing but food, a little propane, a little firewood. By being utterly useless in the calculations of the culture at large I become useful, at last, to myself.

(Philip Connors [source])

Not from whiskey river:

A wave on the ocean has a beginning and an end, a birth and a death. But the wave is empty. The wave is full of water, but it is empty of a separate self. A wave is a form which has been made possible thanks to the existence of wind and water. If a wave only sees its form, with its beginning and end, it will be afraid of birth and death. But if the wave sees that it is water, identifies itself with the water, then it will be emancipated from birth and death. Each wave is born and is going to die, but the water is free from birth and death.

When I was a child I used to play with a kaleidoscope. I took a tube and a few pieces of ground glass, turned it a little bit, and saw many wonderful sights. Every time I made a small movement with my fingers, one sight would disappear and another would appear. I did not cry at all when the first spectacle disappeared, because I knew that nothing was lost. Another beautiful sight always followed.

(Thich Nhat Hanh [source])


The Place Where Clouds Are Formed


We sit close in the cab of the truck.
The weather is cold, wet outside.
Too messy to stand in
waiting for a school bus.
My father’s truck is warm inside,
having been at work since four a.m.
The sound of the engine is soothing,
heater working to capacity.
Inside the cab we are silent.
We don’t need language.
We listen to the regular hum of the engine,
rhythm of the windshield wipers,
soft rain on the hood.
Aware of the cold air
surrounding our temporary shelter.
We look out over the fields
where fog clings to the soil.
Every now and then
with the back of his gloved hand
he wipes the windshield.
“Is it coming yet?”
The three of us sit quietly,
breathing clouds.
Clouds condense as
they contact the coolness of the windows.
My father appears to breathe air
with temperature in balance.
He forms no clouds.
He watches us.
We continue to breathe
gray, soft mist, waiting for the school bus.

(Ofelia Zepeda [source])

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  1. I love that Dillard passage, remember it well. I even had my own muskrat on our pond before we moved. This week, my Bill has been away for a college reunion with band members. The first day alone, I felt nearly sick with self-awareness. Slowly, I’ve lost it and grown more comfortable alone each day by applying the trick of non-thinking, of absorption in what I see and do, rather than who I am. I am what I see and do and that’s more than enough to go on with.

    • A favorite book about some of this stuff: Sweeping Changes, by Gary Thorp. Its particular value, for me, lay in its emphasis that “meditation” as often understood by the West — a practice undertaken in total silence, isolation, inactivity — is not (need not be) so.

      The book’s title is very clever: It naturally makes us think of the English-language idiom — sweeping changes being big, broad, profound ones. But a more subtle way of regarding the title is to think of changes as a present-tense, third-person verb, not as a plural noun. This leap is fairly easy to make when you see how much of the book has to do with mundane everyday activities like, yes, sweeping — and their capacity for completely obliterating (or at least suspending) that sense of self-awareness.

      In your art and crafts you’ve shared, I see a great deal of satisfying, mindfulness-sans-self-awareness at work behind the scenes. It’s a state of mind very, very different from what 21st-century culture (via social media in particular) induces; there, an escape from self isn’t even remotely possible. No wonder people talk about things like giving up Facebook for Lent, but never ever in the other direction: no matter how addictive everyone considers FB (etc.) to be, I bet no one has ever decided to give up real life to devote themselves to FB for 40 straight days. We all know where the crazy lies.

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