The Place of Storm and Volcano

Image: 'Crow and Tree - Heaven and Earth in Winter,' by H. Kopp Delany (Hartwig HKD)

[Image: “Crow and Tree – Heaven and Earth in Winter,” by H. Kopp-Delaney; found it on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!). The artist’s only comment in English says, “I am a son of the crow… This raven (Kolkrabe) visited me on the 1st of September. Alice Popkorn took a photo when it landed on my head. I made a snip and put it in this picture. Thank you Alice :-)”]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

…when women dream of the natural predator, it is not always or solely a message about the interior life. Sometimes it is a message about the threatening aspects of the culture one lives in, whether it be a small but brutal culture at the office, one within their own family, the lands of their neighborhood, or as wide as their own religious or natural culture. As you can see, each group and culture appears to have its own natural psychic predator, and we see from history that there are eras in cultures during which the predator is identified with and allowed absolute sovereignty until the people who believe otherwise become a tide.

While much psychology emphasizes the familial causes of angst in humans, the cultural component carries as much weight, for culture is the family of family. If the family of the family has various sicknesses, then all families within that culture will have to struggle with the same malaises. In my heritage, there is a saying, cultura cura, culture cures. If culture is a healer, the families learn how to heal; they will struggle less, be more reparative, far less wounding, far more graceful and loving. In a culture where the predator rules, all new life needing to be born, all old life needing to be gone, is unable to move and the soul-lives of its citizenry are frozen with both fear and spiritual famine.

(Clarissa Pinkola Estés [source])

and:

These are pregnant times throughout the world. Just as in geology we have breaking lines between huge blocks of earth, so today we are at the juncture between great blocks of time. This is the place of storm and volcano — and of becoming. In today’s reality, a small act can have far-reaching consequences, beyond imagination, whereas things that will be done five or ten years from today will be so much less effective. This is precisely the meaning of pregnant times: Anything can be born. And this is exactly the time when one must not sleep.

(Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz [source])

and:

The Rider

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,

the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.

What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.

A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

(Naomi Shihab Nye [source])

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Seeing the Waterfall

Image: 'New York Movie,' by Edward Hopper

[Image: “New York Movie,” by Edward Hopper (1939, oil on canvas; in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. (Found this image at WikiArt.)]

From whiskey river’s commonplace book:

What’s Not Here

I start out on this road, call it
love or emptiness. I only know what’s

not here: resentment seeds, back-
scratching greed, worrying about out-

come, fear of people. When a bird gets
free, it doesn’t go back for remnants

left on the bottom of the cage! Close
by, I’m rain. Far off, a cloud of fire.

I seem restless, but I am deeply at ease.
Branches tremble; the roots are still.

I am a universe in a handful of dirt,
whole when totally demolished. Talk

about choices does not apply to me.
While intelligence considers options,

I am somewhere lost in the wind.

(Jalaloddin Rumi [source])

…and:

While we usually think of it as our mind, when we look honestly, we see that the mind follows its own nature, conditions, and laws. Your mind is like a puppy. You put the puppy down and say “Stay.” Does the puppy listen? It gets up and it runs away. You sit the puppy back down again. “Stay.” And the puppy runs away over and over again. Sometimes the puppy runs over and pees in the corner or makes some other mess. This is how our minds behave, only they create even bigger messes. In training the mind, like training a puppy, we have to start over and over again. Frustration comes with the territory. Nothing in our culture or our schooling has taught us how to transcend ordinary consciousness and reach for the dizzying heights of cosmic truths. You simply pick up the puppy again and return to reconnect with the here and now.

(Helen Palmer [source])

…and:

What do we see when we look at the mind? Constant change. In the traditional scriptures the untrained and unconcentrated mind is referred to as a mad monkey. As we look for ourselves, we see that it is like a circus or a zoo in there. The parrot, the sloth, the mouse, the tiger, the bear, and the silent owl are all represented. It is like a flywheel of spinning thoughts, emotions, images, stories, likes, dislikes, and so forth. There is ceaseless movement, filled with plans, ideas, and memories. Seeing this previously unconscious stream of inner dialogue is for many people the first insight in practice. It is called seeing the waterfall. Already we begin to learn about the nature of mind. Its constant changes are like the weather; today it rains, tonight it may snow, earlier the sun was out. Sometimes it’s muddy in the spring, and then the summer comes and the winds come. In the fall the leaves go; in winter the ice forms.

(Jack Kornfield [source])

…and:

riddle:
What is the last thing that a fish would ever discover?

answer:
water

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Stalking the Gaps

Image: 'Mångata,' photo by Louis Vest on Flickr

[Image: “Mångata,” by Louis Vest on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!) The photographer explains: “Mångata is a Scandanavian word for the path that moonlight makes on the water — a word we don’t have in English.” The word captures such a perfect experience that I’m wondering why we don’t have an English-language counterpart.]

From whiskey river:

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

(W. H. Auden [source])

and:

Thomas Merton wrote, “there is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.” There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.

I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Ezekiel excoriates false prophets who have “not gone up into the gaps.” The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once blind man unbound. The gaps are the cliffs in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fjords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock — more than a maple — a universe. This is how you spend the afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”

(Annie Dillard [source])

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Water and Sustenance

Image: 'Living Close to the Water,' by Andrew Smith on Flickr

[Image: “Living Close to the Water,” by Andrew Smith. (Original on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!)]

From whiskey river:

Despite everything, we are good people, who can hardly live in this world that continues almost entirely at our expense.

The best thing is to keep on moving arms and legs, and watch the waves, almost as though moving forward.

In this way, despair turns quickly over to happiness, and back to despair again.

And, if you reach the beach, walk back across it like everything is fine, toward your family who would not like to see the abyss you have just swum over.

(Joanna Walsh [source])

and:

The next morning I shall get up at dawn. I shall let myself out by the kitchen door. I shall walk on the moor. I shall see the swallow skim the grass. I shall throw myself on a bank by the river and watch the fish slip in and out among the reeds. The palms of my hands will be printed with pine-needles. I shall there unfold and take out whatever it is I have made here; something hard. For something has grown in me here, through the winters and summers, on staircases, in bedrooms… Then my freedom will unfurl, and all these restrictions that wrinkle and shrivel — hours and order and discipline, and being here and there exactly at the right moment — will crack asunder.

(Virginia Woolf [source])

and:

At Least

I want to get up early one more morning,
before sunrise. Before the birds, even.
I want to throw cold water on my face
and be at my work table
when the sky lightens and smoke
begins to rise from the chimneys
of the other houses.
I want to see the waves break
on this rocky beach, not just hear them
break as I did all night in my sleep.
I want to see again the ships
that pass through the Strait from every
seafaring country in the world—
old, dirty freighters just barely moving along,
and the swift new cargo vessels
painted every colour under the sun
that cut the water as they pass
I want to keep an eye out for them.
And for the little boat that plies
the water between the ships
and the pilot station near the lighthouse.
I want to see them take a man off the ship
and put another up on board.
I want to spend the day watching this happen
and reach my own conclusions.
I hate to seem greedy—I have so much
to be thankful for already.
But I want to get up early one more morning, at least.
And go to my place with some coffee and wait.
Just wait, to see what’s going to happen.

(Raymond Carver [source])

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There’s Gotta Be a Way…

Image: 'Push-me-Pull-you,' by user 'wiredwitch' on Flickr.com

[Image: “Push-me-Pull-you,” by Flickr user “wiredwitch” (actually a pair of Washington, DC-based photographers named Ketzirah Lesser and Art Drauglis). (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) The description there says, in part: “We came across these two red fox[es] who appeared to be stuck together. Our first thought was that they were mating. But they were facing in opposite directions. Having not read the Kanine Sutra we were unaware if this position was even possible for coitus. The predicament went on for a few minutes and they remained entangled. We wondered if there was some glue or piece of trash or something which was keeping them together. The classic Washington dilemma then popped up: Which Agency Do I Call?” For the rest of the story, see the page on Flickr.]

From whiskey river:

So much of what we dream flickers out before we can
name it. Even the sun has been frozen on the next street.
Every word only reveals a past that never seems real.
Sometimes we just stare at the ground as if it were
a grave we could rent for a while. Sometimes we don’t
understand how all that grief fits beside us on the stoop.
There should be some sort of metaphor that lifts us away.
We should see the sky open up or the stars descend.
There are birds migrating, but we don’t hear them, cars
on their way to futures made of a throw of the dice.
The pigeons here bring no messages. A few flies
stitch the air. Sometimes a poem knows no way out
unless truth becomes just a homeless character in it.

(Richard Jackson [source])

and:

On Parables

Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: “Go over,” he does not mean that we should cross over to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter.

Concerning this a man once said: “Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid yourself of all your daily cares.”

Another said: “I bet that is also a parable.”

The first said: “You have won.”

The second said: “But unfortunately only in parable.”

The first said: “No, in reality: in parable you have lost.”

(Franz Kafka [source])

and:

Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.

(Anne Lamott [source])

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“The Days of Great Usefulness”

Image: 'The Great Bear and the Live Oak,' by Justin Kern

[Image: “The Great Bear and the Live Oak,” by Justin Kern. (Found it on Flickr, and using it here via a Creative Commons license — thank you!) The photographer says that the image puts him in mind of Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble“:  “These are the days of miracle and wonder / This is the long distance call / The way the camera follows us in slo-mo / The way we look to us all…”]

From whiskey river:

In winter you wake up in this city, especially on Sundays, to the chiming of its innumerable bells, as though behind your gauze curtains a gigantic china tea set were vibrating on a silver tray in the pearl-gray sky. You fling the window open and the room is instantly flooded with this outer, pearl-laden haze, which is part damp oxygen, part coffee and prayers. No matter what sort of pills, and how many, you’ve got to swallow this morning, you feel it’s not over for you yet. No matter, by the same token, how autonomous you are, how much you’ve been betrayed, how thorough and dispiriting in your self-knowledge, you assume there is still hope for you, or at least a future. (Hope, said Francis Bacon, is a good breakfast but bad supper.) This optimism derives from the haze, from the prayer part of it, especially if it’s time for breakfast. On days like this, the city indeed acquires a porcelain aspect, what with all its zinc-covered cupolas resembling teapots or upturned cups, and the tilted profile of campaniles clinking like abandoned spoons and melting in the sky. Not to mention the seagulls and pigeons, now sharpening into focus, now melting into air. I should say that, good though this place is for honeymoons, I’ve often thought it should be tried for divorces also – both in progress and already accomplished. There is no better backdrop for rapture to fade into; whether right or wrong, no egoist can star for long in this porcelain setting by crystal water, for it steals the show. I am aware, of course, of the disastrous consequence the above suggestion may have for hotel rates here, even in winter. Still, people love their melodrama more than architecture, and I don’t feel threatened. It is surprising that beauty is valued less than psychology, but so long as such is the case, I’ll be able to afford this city – which means till the end of my days, and which ushers in the generous notion of the future.

(Joseph Brodsky [source])

and (italicized portion):

I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.

(Joan Didion [source])

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Beginnings, Endings, All the Stuff in Between

Image: caterpillar on grape vine, stock photo via pexels.com

[Image: Stock photo from Pixabay/pexels.com, used here under a Creative Commons license. (Thanks!)]

From whiskey river:

A very sweet light is spreading over the Earth like a perfume. The moon is slowly dissolving and a boy-sun languidly stretches his translucent arms… Cool murmurings of pure waters that surrender themselves to the hillsides. A pair of wings dances in the rosy atmosphere. Silence, my friends. The day is about to begin.

(Clarice Lispector [source])

and:

Broom

To remember you’re alive
visit the cemetery of your father
at noon after you’ve made love
and are still wrapped in a mammalian
odor that you are forced to cherish.
Under each stone is someone’s inevitable
surprise, the unexpected death
of their biology that struggled hard, as it must.
Now to home without looking back,
enough is enough.
En route buy the best wine
you can afford and a dozen stiff brooms.
Have a few swallows then throw the furniture
out the window and begin sweeping.
Sweep until the walls are
bare of paint and at your feet sweep
until the floor disappears. Finish the wine
in this field of air, return to the cemetery
in evening and wind through the stones
a slow dance of your name visible only to birds.

(Jim Harrison [source])

and (italicized stanzas):

Year’s End

Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.

I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.

(Richard Wilbur [source])

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All the Mysterious Comforts of Winter

Image: 'Black Boulangerie Alsacienne Food Truck,' by Tuur Tisseghem (large)

[Image: “Black Boulangerie Alsacienne Food Truck,” by Tuur Tisseghem. (Found it at Pexels; thanks!)]

From whiskey river (italicized lines):

Skating in Harlem, Christmas Day

To Mary Jo Salter

Beyond the ice-bound stones and bucking trees,
past bewildered Mary, the Meer in snow,
two skating rinks and two black crooked paths

are a battered pair of reading glasses
scratched by the skater’s multiplying math.
Beset, I play this game of tic-tac-toe.

Divide, subtract. Who can tell if love surpasses?
Two naughts we’ve learned make one astonished 0—
a hectic night of goats and compasses.

Folly tells the truth by what it’s not—
one X equals a fall I’d not forgo.
Are ice and fire the integers we’ve got?

Skating backwards tells another story—
the risky star above the freezing town,
a way to walk on water and not drown.

(Cynthia Zarin [source])

and:

You wake up on a winter morning and pull up the shade, and what lay there the evening before is no longer there — the sodden gray yard, the dog droppings, the tire tracks in the frozen mud, the broken lawn chair you forgot to take in last fall. All this has disappeared overnight, and what you look out on is not the snow of Narnia but the snow of home, which is no less shimmering and white as it falls. The earth is covered with it, and it is falling still in silence so deep that you can hear its silence. It is snow to be shoveled, to make driving even worse than usual, snow to be joked about and cursed at, but unless the child in you is entirely dead, it is snow, too, that can make the heart beat faster when it catches you by surprise that way, before your defenses are up. It is snow that can awaken memories of things more wonderful than anything you ever knew or dreamed.

(Frederick Buechner [source])

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Adrift in Oceans of Time

Image: Illustration by W. Heath Robinson from Rudyard Kipling's 'A Song of the English' (1909)

[Image: Illustration by W. Heath Robinson, from Rudyard Kipling’s A Song of the English (1909). (Found it at the Internet Archive.)]

From whiskey river:

Afterlife

There is no life after death. Why
should there be. What on

earth would have us believe this.
Heaven is not the American

highway, blackened chicken alfredo
from Applebee’s nor the

clown sundae from Friendly’s. Our
life, this is the afterdeath,

when we blink open, peeled and
ready to ache. Years ago

my aunt banged on the steering, she
insisted there had to be a

God, a heaven. We were on our
way to a wedding. I would

have to sit at the same table as the
man who saw no heaven

in me. Today I am thinking about
Mozart, of all people, who

died at 35 mysteriously, perhaps of
strep. What a strange cloth

it is to live. But that we came from
death and return to it, made

different by form, shaped again back
into anti-, anti-. On my run,

I think of Jack Gilbert, who said we
must insist while there is still

time, but insist toward what. Why we
must fill the void with light—

isn’t that our human insistence? But
we drift into a distance of

distance until proximity fails, our
name lifts away with any

future concerns, the past a flattened
coin that cannot spin. I am

matter spun from death’s wool—and
I bewilder the itch, I who am

I am just so happy to go.

(Natalie Eilbert [source])

and:

Often we feel time to be linear, inexorable, suffocating. At other moments we find it oceanic. We kind of swim in it. We expect physicists to come up with an explanation, but we don’t find one, and come back to our intuitive use of the concept. But there are also moments when time appears to be, to say it in one way, both vertical and horizontal, both “single-minded,” monotonous, unalterable, and multi-dimensional, infinite. When a few people come together, I often have wondered if each person’s amount of years was not being added to the amount of years of all the others, so that we were representing together much more than our single self. And if you add up the simultaneous ages of people, animals, plants, objects, the age of celestial bodies and so on, you realize that we are living in the unfolding of the infinite. But why bother? I think because we need to keep in mind the immensity of being, in spite of our fragility and mortality.

(Etel Adnan [no canonical source])

…and:

Apologia Pro Vita Sua
III
(excerpt)

It’s good to know certain things:
What’s departed, in order to know what’s left to come;
That water’s immeasurable and incomprehensible

And blows in the air
Where all that’s fallen and silent becomes invisible;
That fire’s the light our names are carved in.

That shame is a garment of sorrow;
That time is the Adversary, and stays sleepless and wants for nothing;
That clouds are unequal and words are.

(Charles Wright [source])

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Sated, Still Hungry

Image: 'Insatiable,' by Thomas Hawk on Flickr

[Image: “Insatiable,” by Thomas Hawk; found on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license. (Thank you!)]

From whiskey river:

My God, It’s Full of Stars
(excerpt)

3.

Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone,
That the others have come and gone—a momentary blip—
When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,
Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel
Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,
Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,
Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones
At whatever are their moons. They live wondering
If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know,
And the great black distance they—we—flicker in.

Maybe the dead know, their eyes widening at last,
Seeing the high beams of a million galaxies flick on
At twilight. Hearing the engines flare, the horns
Not letting up, the frenzy of being. I want to be
One notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial.
Wide open, so everything floods in at once.
And sealed tight, so nothing escapes. Not even time,
Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.
So that I might be sitting now beside my father
As he raises a lit match to the bowl of his pipe
For the first time in the winter of 1959.

(Tracy K. Smith [source])

and:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

(C. S. Lewis [source])

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