Even in the Heart of the Heart of Darkest Darkness

'Hide & Seek': photo by Marian Hilditch, on Flickr

[Image: “Hide & Seek,” a photo by Marian Hilditch on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license.) The only information provided by the photographer: “I don’t know who those four looking over Dozy Tony are, but I always think of them as The Residents.  A mr clement exhibition at Pyrus/The Basement Gallery, London – 2/12/2010 – 20/1/2011.” I did locate this “mr clement’s” own page about the exhibition.]

From whiskey river:

There is a difficulty with only one person changing. People call that person a great saint or a great mystic or a great leader, and they say, “Well, he’s different from me—I could never do it.” What’s wrong with most people is that they have this block—they feel they could never make a difference, and therefore, they never face the possibility, because it is too disturbing, too frightening.

(David Bohm [source])

and:

The Old Age of Nostalgia

Those hours given over to basking in the glow of an imagined future, of being carried away in streams of promise by a love or a passion so strong that one felt altered forever and convinced that even the smallest particle of the surrounding world was charged with purpose of impossible grandeur; ah, yes, and one would look up into the trees and be thrilled by the wind-loosened river of pale, gold foliage cascading down and by the high, melodious singing of countless birds; those moments, so many and so long ago, still come back, but briefly, like fireflies in the perfumed heat of summer night.

(Mark Strand [source])

and:

It seems that a profound, impartial, and absolutely just opinion of our fellow-creatures is utterly unknown. Either we are men, or we are women. Either we are cold, or we are sentimental. Either we are young, or growing old. In any case life is but a procession of shadows, and God knows why it is that we embrace them so eagerly, and see them depart with such anguish, being shadows. And why, if this — and much more than this is true — why are we yet surprised in the window corner by a sudden vision that the young man in the chair is of all things in the world the most real, the most solid, the best known to us — why indeed? For the moment after we know nothing about him.

Such is the manner of our seeing. Such the conditions of our love.

(Virginia Woolf [source])

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A Taste of Darkness, Seasoned with Light

'Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #1121,' by Adam Koford on Flickr

[Image: “Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #1121,” by Adam Koford on Flickr.com. Used here under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Custom

There is a difference it used to make,
seeing three swans in this versus four in that
quadrant of sky. I am not imagining. It was very large, as its
effects were. Declarations of war, the timing fixed upon for a sea-
departure; or,
about love, a sudden decision not to, to pretend instead to a kind
of choice. It was dramatic, as it should be. Without drama,
what is ritual? I look for omens everywhere, because they are everywhere
to be found. They come to me like strays, like the damaged,
something that could know better, and should, therefore—but does not:
a form of faith, you’ve said. I call it sacrifice—an instinct for it, or a habit
at first, that
becomes required, the way art can become, eventually, all we have
of what was true. You shouldn’t look at me like that. Like one of those
saints
on whom the birds once settled freely

(Carl Phillips [source])

and (italicized portion):

White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down
out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel,
or a buddha with wings,
it was beautiful,
and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings—
five feet apart—and the grabbing thrust
of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys
of the snow—

and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there,
like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows—
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us—

as soft as feathers—
that we are instantly weary
of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes,
not without amazement,

and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river
that is without the least dapple or shadow,

that is nothing but light—scalding, aortal light—
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

(Mary Oliver [source])

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A Sufficiency in the Moment

'King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid,' by Edward Burne-Jones

[Image: “King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid,” by Edward Burne-Jones (1884, oil on panel). For more information about the painting, including a video, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river’s commonplace book:

Praise Song

Praise the light of late November,
the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.
Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;
though they are clothed in night, they do not
despair. Praise what little there’s left:
the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,
shells, the architecture of trees. Praise the meadow
of dried weeds: yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,
the remains of summer. Praise the blue sky
that hasn’t cracked yet. Praise the sun slipping down
behind the beechnuts, praise the quilt of leaves
that covers the grass: Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum,
Sugar Maple. Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy
fallen world; it’s all we have, and it’s never enough.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

…and (from whiskey river itself):

The Book of Hours

There was that one hour sometime
in the middle of the last century.
It was autumn, and I was in my father’s
woods building a house out of branches
and the leaves that were falling like
thousands of letters from the sky.

And there was that hour in Central Park
in the middle of the seventies.
We were sitting on a blanket, listening
to Pete Seeger singing “This land is
your land, this land is my land,” and
the Vietnam War was finally over.

I would definitely include an hour
spent in one of the galleries of the
Tate Britain, looking up at the
painting of King Cophetua and
the Beggar Maid, and, afterwards
the walk along the Thames, and

I would also include one of those
hours when I woke in the night and
couldn’t get back to sleep thinking
about how nothing I thought was going
to happen happened the way I expected,
and things I never expected to happen did—

just like that hour today, when we saw
the dog running along the busy road,
and we stopped and held on to her
until her owner came along and brought
her home—that was an hour well
spent. Yes, that was a keeper.

(Joyce Sutphen [source])

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Exquisite Creatures, Singular Moments

'Al otro lado del reflejo' (lit., 'To the other side of the reflection'), by Oiluj Samall Zeid on Flickr

[Image: “Al otro lado del reflejo” (lit., “To the other side of the reflection”), by Oiluj Samall Zeid on Flickr. (Used under a Creative Commons license.)]

From whiskey river:

This summer, of all I’ve read and copied out, because I wanted to keep the words close and to feel them come from my own hand, here’s this little passage from Proust: “To reach the end of a day, natures that are slightly nervous, as mine was, make use, like motorcars, of different ‘speeds.’ There are mountainous, uncomfortable days, up which one takes an infinite time to pass, and days downward sloping, through which one can go at full tilt, singing as one goes.”

That’s me in my motorcar dress, windows open, hair flying.

Sometimes I am grateful he knows. (And that he knew me before I was born! And that the words awaited me all these years!)

Sometimes I feel stripped bare and found out.

(Lia Purpura [source])

and:

Recovery

And when at last grief has dried you out, nearly
weightless, like a little bone, one day,
no reason in particular, the world decides to tug:
twinge under the breastbone, the sudden thought
you might stand up, walk to the door and
keep on going… And in the seconds following,
like the silence following the boom under the river ice, it all
seems possible, the egg-smooth clarity of the new-awakened,
rising, to stand, and walk… But already
at the edges of the crack, sorrow
starts to ooze, the brown stain spreading
and you think: there is no end to it.

But in the breaking, something else is given — not
that glittering jumble, shrieking and churning in the blind
centre of the afternoon,
but something else — a scent,
like a door flung open, a sudden downpour
through which you can still see the sun, derelict
in the neighbour’s field, the wren’s bright eye in the thicket.
As though on that day in August, or even July,
when you were first thinking of autumn, you remembered also
the last day of spring, which had passed
without your noticing. Something that easy, let go
without a thought, untroubled by oblivion,
a bird, a smile.

(Jan Zwicky [source])

and (italicized passage):

What do you mean by you? If you are the universe, in the greater context that question is irrelevant. You never were born and you never will die, because what there is, is you. That should be absolutely obvious, but from an egoistic perspective it is not obvious at all. It should be the simplest thing in the world to understand that you, the ‘I’, is what has always been going on and always will go on, coming and going forever and ever…

What I am really saying is that you don’t need to do anything, because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomenon of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all.

(Alan Watts [source])

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Making a World (Over and Over)

'Calvin and Hobbes,' final panels (1995-12-31), by Bill Watterson

[Image: Final panels from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip (December 31, 1995), by Bill Watterson — by my reckoning, still the best remaking of the world ever expressed in pen-and-ink-drawing form]

From whiskey river:

One can only know what occurs within the mind, which is the instrument or tool of conscious experience. There is no such thing as “out there.” There is only our perception as inbound data. Everything is registered, just as it is. It is only via the mind that a selective representation of the data is created. Thoughts are objects in the mind as things are objects in the world. The mind and the world are two separate dimensions, overlapping during the waking state. When you can so readily create a world when you dream, why do you believe the impossibility of your creating another world when you are awake?

(Wu Hsin, translated by Roy Melvyn [source])

…and:

Suzuki Roshi had a stick — and he would hit you — and when Suzuki Roshi hit you, everything disappeared — everything — there was no up or down — there was no forward or back — there were no thoughts — no feelings — you couldn’t even say there was something or nothing. It was really quite remarkable. And then, often times you would think “Well, wait a minute — where’s reality — how was I doing that? Wait a minute! There must be some way to put these things together so that it seems like there’s a world and there’s people and there’s me. Where are they?” Then you would see if you could get some sense of reality back again.

(Edward Espe Brown [source])

…and:

When you fall asleep, your body enters a state of slumber, but it nonetheless keeps ticking, its life continues, ready to resume where it left off. Your consciousness, however, vanishes completely. In no sense does it keep ticking. You, as we say, pass out. And when you emerge again, either in a dream or when you finally resume waking life, you emerge from nothing — but the very same you that you were before.

The fact of your self bootstrapping itself back into existence is such a familiar happening that you may not be as astonished by it as you should be. Nonetheless, you can scarcely fail to notice what goes on. And it could well provide an essential plank in your reasoning about immortality. Such a proven capacity for endless resurrection out of nothing is the one thing that proves everlasting existence — or at any rate re-existence — for your individual Ego.

(Nicholas Humphrey [source])

…and:

There are ways in, journeys to the center of life, through time, through air, matter, dream, and thought. The ways are not always mapped or charted, but sometimes being lost, if there is such a thing, is the sweetest place to be. And always, in this search, a person might find that she is already there, at the center of the world. It may be a broken world, but it is glorious nonetheless.

(Linda Hogan [source])

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Far, Near — No Matter

'november twenty two,' by user farrahsanjari on Flickr

[Image: “november twenty two,” by farrahsanjari on Flickr. (Used under a Creative Commons License.)]

From whiskey river:

If you think of this idea of nothingness as mere blankness, and you hold onto this idea of blankness, you haven’t understood it. Nothingness is really like the nothingness of space, which contains the whole universe. All the suns, moons and stars, and the mountains and rivers, and the good men and bad men, and the animals and the insects, the whole bit — all are contained in the void. So out of this void comes everything and you are it. What else could you be?

(Alan Watts [source])

and (also used previously at RAMH, here):

The search of reason ends at the known; on the immense expanse beyond it only the sense of the ineffable can glide. It alone knows the route to that which is remote from experience and understanding. Neither of them is amphibious: reason cannot go beyond the shore, and the sense of the ineffable is out of place where we measure, where we weigh.

We do not leave the shore of the known in search of adventure or suspense or because of the failure of reason to answer our questions. We sail because our mind is like a fantastic seashell, and when applying our ear to its lips we hear a perpetual murmur from the waves beyond the shore.

Citizens of two realms, we all must sustain a dual allegiance: we sense the ineffable in one realm, we name and exploit reality in another. Between the two we set up a system of references, but we can never fill the gap. They are as far and as close to each other as time and calendar, as violin and melody, as life and what lies beyond the last breath.

(Abraham Joshua Heschel [source])

and (from whiskey river’s commonplace book):

In This Season of Waiting

Under certain conditions,
when the moon in the western sky
seems frozen there, for instance

even as the sun is rising in the east,
so that soon two sides of the coin
will be facing each other;

or when the snow
which is a stranger here
fills our trees with its cold flowers;

when the single
bluejay at the feeder
is so still

it could be enameled there,
then the earth becomes an emblem
for whatever we believe.

(Linda Pastan [source])

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Unseen in September

'Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) :: 1950 :: Jackson Pollock'

[Image: Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) :: 1950 :: Jackson Pollock, by Chris Van Pelt on Flickr]

From whiskey river (excerpted there; this is the whole poem):

Three Songs at the End of Summer

A second crop of hay lies cut
and turned. Five gleaming crows
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,
and like midwives and undertakers
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,
parting before me like the Red Sea.
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.

*

The cicada’s dry monotony breaks
over me. The days are bright
and free, bright and free.

Then why did I cry today
for an hour, with my whole
body, the way babies cry?

*

A white, indifferent morning sky,
and a crow, hectoring from its nest
high in the hemlock, a nest as big
as a laundry basket…
In my childhood
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off
this same complex organic scent.

I had the new books — words, numbers,
and operations with numbers I did not
comprehend — and crayons, unspoiled
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien
I stood at the side of the road.
It was the only life I had.

(Jane Kenyon [source])

and:

We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is.

(Alan Watts [quoted various places (e.g. here), apparently from a book called The Way of Liberation])

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When Words Would Just Get in the Way

[Video: a little about the Silbo Gomero whistled language of the Canary Islands *.]

From whiskey river (somewhat continuing last week’s theme):

When you stop talking to yourself and you are simply aware of what is — that is to say, of what you feel and what you sense — even that is saying too much. You suddenly find that the past and the future have completely disappeared. So also has disappeared the so-called differentiation between the knower and the known, the subject and the object, the feeler and the feeling, the thinker and the thought. They just aren’t there because you have to talk to yourself to maintain those things. They are purely conceptual. They are ideas, phantoms, and ghosts. So, when you allow thinking to stop, all that goes away, and you find you’re in an eternal here and now. There is no way you are supposed to be, and there is nothing you are supposed to do. There is no where you are supposed to go, because in order to think that you’re supposed to do something you have to think.

It is incredibly important to un-think at least once a day for the very preservation of the intellectual life, because if you do nothing but think, as you’re advised by IBM and by most of the academic teachers and gurus, you have nothing to think about except thoughts. You become like a university library that grows by itself through a process that in biology is called mitosis. Mitosis is the progressive division of cells into sub-cells, into sub-cells; so a great university library is very often a place where people bury themselves and write books about the books that are in there. They write books about books about books and the library swells, and it is like an enormous mass of yeast rising and rising, and that is all that is going on. It is a very amusing game. I love to bury my nose in ancient Oriental texts — it is fun, like playing poker or chess or doing pure mathematics. The trouble is that it gets increasingly unrelated to life, because the thinking is all words about words.

(Alan Watts [source])

and:

Naming the Stars

This present tragedy will eventually
turn into myth, and in the mist
of that later telling the bell tolling
now will be a symbol, or, at least,
a sign of something long since lost.

This will be another one of those
loose changes, the rearrangement of
hearts, just parts of old lives
patched together, gathered into
a dim constellation, small consolation.

Look, we will say, you can almost see
the outline there: her fingertips
touching his, the faint fusion
of two bodies breaking into light.

(Joyce Sutphen [source])

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So Little to Say, So Many Ways to Say It

'IM,' by L.e.e. on Flickr

[Image: “IM,” graphic by user “L.e.e.” on Flickr. The descriptive text below the work there says, FYI, I actually know 3 languages. This is the 3rd one =).]

From whiskey river:

We can set up a certain environment in which we have an agreement to suspend the rules — that is to say to meditate, to stop thinking for a while, to stop making formulations.

This means, essentially, to stop talking to yourself. That is the meaning of the word in Japanese — munen — that is ordinarily translated as “no thought.” To meditate is to stop talking to yourself!

We say, “Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness,” but we don’t follow our own advice. We’re talking to ourselves most of the time — and if you talk all the time you’ve got nothing else to talk about but your own talking! You never listen to what anybody else has to say, without a running commentary of your own talking. And if all you ever listen to is talking — be it your own or other people’s — you have nothing to talk about but talk.

You have to stop talking in order to have something to talk about!

(Alan Watts, What Is Zen? [source])

and:

The average human, on the other hand, thinks about all sorts of things around the clock, on all sorts of levels, with interruptions from dozens of biological calendars and timepieces. There’s thoughts about to be said, and private thoughts, and real thoughts, and thoughts about thoughts, and a whole gamut of subconscious thoughts. To a telepath the human head is a din. It is a railway terminus with all the Tannoys talking at once. It is a complete FM waveband — and some of those stations aren’t reputable, they’re outlawed pirates on forbidden seas who play late-night records with limbic lyrics.

(Terry Pratchett [source])

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Getting There, Happily

[Image: A-Maze-ing Laughter, by Yue Minjun. More info in the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

If someone gave you a device with which you could see entire worlds just by holding it in front of your eyes, worlds of such beauty and complexity that they took your breath away, wouldn’t you want to show this device to everyone you knew?

(Ann Patchett [source])

and:

Late August

This is the plum season, the nights
blue and distended, the moon
hazed, this is the season of peaches

with their lush lobed bulbs
that glow in the dusk, apples
that drop and rot
sweetly, their brown skins veined as glands

No more the shrill voices
that cried Need Need
from the cold pond, bladed
and urgent as new grass

Now it is the crickets
that say Ripe Ripe
slurred in the darkness, while the plums

dripping on the lawn outside
our window, burst
with a sound like thick syrup
muffled and slow

The air is still
warm, flesh moves over
flesh, there is no

hurry

(Margaret Atwood [source])

and:

A great many people don’t know how to laugh at all. A man can give himself away completely by his laughter, so that you suddenly learn all of his innermost secrets. Laughter calls first of all for sincerity, and where does one find sincerity? Sincere and unspiteful laughter is mirth. A man’s mirth is a feature that gives away the whole man, from head to foot. Someone’s character won’t be cracked for a long time, then the man bursts out laughing somehow quite sincerely, and his whole character suddenly opens up as if on the flat of your hand. Only a man of the loftiest and happiest development knows how to be mirthful infectiously, that is, irresistibly and goodheartedly. I’m not speaking of his mental development, but of his character, of the whole man. And so, if you want to discern a man and know his soul, you must look, not at how he keeps silent, or how he speaks, or how he weeps, or even how he is stirred by the noblest ideas, but you had better look at him when he laughs. If a man has a good laugh, it means he’s a good man.

(Fyodor Dostoyevsky [source (slightly different wording)]

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