The Hour of Lead

[Video: “Numb,” by U2. (Lyrics)]

From whiskey river:

A mystical experience would be wasted on me. Ordinary things have always seemed numinous to me. One Calvinist notion deeply implanted in me is that there are two sides to your encounter with the world. You don’t simply perceive something that is statically present, but in fact there is a visionary quality to all experience. It means something because it is addressed to you. This is the individualism that you find in Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. You can draw from perception the same way a mystic would draw from a vision…

It’s not an acquired skill. It’s a skill that we’re born with that we lose. We learn not to do it.

(Marilyn Robinson [source])

and:

Mary’s Argument

To lead the uncommon life is not so bad.
There is an edge we come to count on
when all the normal signs don’t speak,
a startled vigilance that keeps us waking
to watch the moon, the peculiar stars;
the usual, underfoot, no more a solid comfort
than a rock that might move as a turtle moves,
so slowly only the nervous feel the sudden bump
of the familiar giving way to unrequested astonishment.
And for a small time, the sheer cliff of everything
we never knew can rise in front of us
like the warm dark, where starlight
has its constant conception, where the idea of turtle
blinked and was: a wry joke, an intricate affection.

(Marie Howe [source])

and:

Within each of our forms lies the existential mystery of being. Apart from one’s physical appearance, personality, gender, history, occupation, hopes and dreams, comings and goings, there lies an eerie silence, an abyss of stillness charged with an etheric presence. For all of our anxious business and obsession with triviality, we cannot completely deny this phantasmal essence at our core. And yet we do everything we can to avoid its stillness, its silence, its utter emptiness and radiant intimacy.

Being is that which disturbs our insistence on remaining in the life-numbing realm of our secret desperation. It is the itch that cannot be scratched, the whisper that will not be denied. To be, to truly be, is not a given.

Most of us live in a state where our being has long ago been exiled to the shadow realm of our silent anguish. At times being will break through the fabric of our unconsciousness to remind us that we are not living the life we could be living, the life that truly matters. At other times being will recede into the background silently waiting for our devoted attention. But make no mistake: being—your being—is the central issue of life.

(Adyashanti [source])

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The Difference Between “We Are” and “We Are Not”

'It's enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment,' by user hazara (Hadi Zaher) on Flickr

[Image: “‘It’s enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment,'” a quotation from Gabriel Garcia Marquez used as the title of this photo by user ‘hazara’ (Hadi Zaher) on Flickr. (Image used here under a Creative Commons license.) The passage quoted appears in Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.]

From whiskey river:

Celebration… is self restraint, is attentiveness, is questioning, is meditating, is awaiting, is the step over into the more wakeful glimpse of the wonder — the wonder that a world is worlding around us at all, that there are beings rather than nothing, that things are and we ourselves are in their midst, that we ourselves are and yet barely know who we are, and barely know that we do not know all this.

(Martin Heidegger [source])

and:

Music Is In The Piano Only When It Is Played

We are not one with this world. We are not
the complexity our body is, nor the summer air
idling in the big maple without purpose.
We are a shape the wind makes in these leaves
as it passes through. We are not the wood
any more than the fire, but the heat which is a marriage
between the two. We are certainly not the lake
nor the fish in it, but the something that is
pleased by them. We are the stillness when
a mighty Mediterranean noon subtracts even the voices of
insects by the broken farmhouse. We are evident
when the orchestra plays, and yet are not part
of the strings or brass. Like the song that exists
only in the singing, and is not the singer.
God does not live among the church bells
but is briefly resident there. We are occasional
like that. A lifetime of easy happiness mixed
with pain and loss, trying always to name and hold
on to the enterprise under way in our chest.
Reality is not what we marry as a feeling. It is what
walks up the dirt path, through the excessive heat
and giant sky, the sea stretching away.
He continues past the nunnery to the old villa
where he will sit on the terrace with her, their sides
touching. In the quiet that is the music of that place,
which is the difference between silence and windlessness.

(Jack Gilbert [source])

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Others’ Spirits, Others’ Senses, and Our Own

'Youth Culture - Mods - Late 1950s to Mid 1960s,' by Paul Townsend on Flickr

[Image: “Youth Culture – Mods – Late 1950s to Mid 1960s,” by Paul Townsend on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

I breathe in the soft, saturated exhalations of cedar trees and salmonberry bushes, fireweed and wood fern, marsh hawks and meadow voles, marten and harbor seal and blacktail deer. I breathe in the same particles of air that made songs in the throats of hermit thrushes and gave voices to humpback whales, the same particles of air that lifted the wings of bald eagles and buzzed in the flight of hummingbirds, the same particles of air that rushed over the sea in storms, whirled in high mountain snows, whistled across the poles, and whispered through lush equatorial gardens… air that has passed continually through life on earth. I breathe it in, pass it on, share it in equal measure with billions of other living things, endlessly, infinitely.

(Richard Nelson [source, apparently])

and:

Of all the forms of voice and communication, a song is perhaps the least mediated by the intellect. It ropes its way through the tangle of our cautions, joining singer to listener like a vine between two trees.

It attests to the life of the singer through our skin and through our muscles, through the wind in our lungs and the fact of our own beating heart. The evidence of other spirits becomes that of our own body.

A successful song comes to sing itself inside the listener. It is cellular and seismic, a wave coalescing in the mind and in the flesh. There is a message outside and a message inside, and those messages are the same, like the pat and thud of two heartbeats, one within you, one surrounding. The message of the lullaby is that it’s okay to dim the eyes for a time, to lose sight of yourself as you sleep and as you grow: if you drift, it says, you’ll drift ashore: if you fall, you will fall into place.

(Kevin Brockmeier [source])

and:

Horses at Midnight Without a Moon

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing.
Our spirit persists like a man struggling
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.

(Jack Gilbert [source])

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Early, Late, Later, Too Late

Illustration from 'The Sneetches and Other Stories,' by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel)

[Image: illustration from The Sneetches and Other Stories, by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel).
For the complete tale of “Too Many Daves,” see below.]

From whiskey river (operating in terse mode this week, apparently):

No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just … come out the other side.

Or you don’t.

(Stephen King [source])

and:

Waking at Night

The blue river is gray at morning
and evening. There is twilight
at dawn and dusk. I lie in the dark
wondering if this quiet in me now
is a beginning or an end.

(Jack Gilbert [source])

and (italicized portion):

Try to be reasonable in the way you grow, and don’t ever think it is too late. It is never too late. Even if you are going to die tomorrow, keep yourself straight and clear and be a happy human being today. If you keep your situation happy day by day, you will eventually reach the greatest happiness of enlightenment.

(Lama Thubten Yeshe [source])

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That Could’ve Been Me

'When Thoughts Break'

[Image: “When Thoughts Break” (found at the site of Dharma Consulting)]

From whiskey river (highlighted portion):

Here and Now

for Barbara

There are words
I’ve had to save myself from,
like My Lord and Blessed Mother,
words I said and never meant,
though I admit a part of me misses
the ornamental stateliness
of High Mass, that smell

of incense. Heaven did exist,
I discovered, but was reciprocal
and momentary, like lust
felt at exactly the same time—
two mortals, say, on a resilient bed,
making a small case for themselves.

You and I became the words
I’d say before I’d lay me down to sleep,
and again when I’d wake—wishful
words, no belief in them yet.
It seemed you’d been put on earth
to distract me
from what was doctrinal and dry.
Electricity may start things,
but if they’re to last
I’ve come to understand
a steady, low-voltage hum

of affection
must be arrived at. How else to offset
the occasional slide
into neglect and ill temper?
I learned, in time, to let heaven
go its mythy way, to never again

be a supplicant
of any single idea. For you and me
it’s here and now from here on in.

Nothing can save us, nor do we wish
to be saved.

Let night come
with its austere grandeur,
ancient superstitions and fears.
It can do us no harm.
We’ll put some music on,
open the curtains, let things darken
as they will.

(Stephen Dunn [source])

and:

The whole creation is one lunatic fringe. If creation had been left up to me, I’m sure I wouldn’t have had the imagination or courage to do more than shape a single, reasonably sized atom, smooth as a snowball, and let it go at that.

(Annie Dillard [source])

and (highlighted portion; these are excerpts from the full piece, from which is hard not to excerpt a lot more):

…I remember—I must have been eight or nine—wandering out to the ungrassed backyard of our newly constructed suburban house and seeing that the earth was dry and cracked in irregular squares and other shapes, and I felt I was looking at a map and I was completely overcome by this description, my first experience of making a metaphor, and I felt weird and shaky and went inside and wrote it down: the cracked earth is a map. Although it only takes a little time to tell it, and it is hardly interesting, it filled a big moment at the time, it was an enormous ever-expanding room of a moment, a chunk of time that has expanded ever since and that my whole life keeps fitting into.

I remember John Moore, another teacher, who did the damnedest thing. We were studying Yeats, and at the beginning of one class Mr. Moore asked us if we would like to see a picture of Yeats. We nodded, and he held up a photograph of Yeats taken when he was six months old, a baby dressed in a long white gown. Maybe he was even younger, maybe he was an infant. I thought it was the funniest thing anyone had ever done, the strangest, most ridiculous, absurd thing to have done. But nobody laughed and if Mr. Moore thought it was funny, you couldn’t tell by his face. I always liked him for that. The poems we were reading in class were not written by a baby. And yet whenever I think of Yeats, I see him as a tiny baby wearing a dress—that photograph is part of my conception of the great Irish poet. And I love that it is so. We are all so small.

[…]

I remember the day I stood in front of a great, famous sculpture by a great, famous sculptor and didn’t like it. Such a moment is a landmark in the life of any young artist. It begins in confusion and guilt and self-doubt and ends in a triumphant breakthrough: I see the world and I see that I am free before it, I am not at the mercy of historical opinion and what I want to turn away from, I turn away from, what I want to approach, I approach. Twenty-five years later I read an essay by John Berger on Rodin and in it Berger was able to articulate all that I felt on that afternoon, standing in front of a great Rodin. But by then I was old and vain and the pride of being vindicated was, I admit, just as exciting as Berger’s intellectual condemnation of Rodin’s desire toward dominance.

I remember thinking my feelings implicated me with Rodin and though now I liked him less than ever, my repulsion was braided with a profound sympathy inseparable from my feelings for myself. And that is a landmark in the life of an old artist looking at art: the realization that none of us can ever be free from ourselves.

I remember the first time I realized the world we are born into is not the one we leave.

(Mary Ruefle [source])

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Caught by Surprise

[Image: a key (and classic) moment in Fritz Lang’s 1931 thriller, M: the murderer, played by Peter Lorre, learns he’s a (literally) marked man.]

From whiskey river:

We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.

(Milan Kundera [source])

and:

When It Comes

Any time. Now. The next minute.
Years from today. You lean forward
and wait. You relax, but you don’t forget.

Someone plans an elaborate party
with a banquet, dancing, even fireworks
when feasting is over. You look at them:

All those years when you searched the world
like a ferret, these never happened — your marriage,
your family, prayers, curses. Only dreams.

A vacuum has opened everywhere. Cities,
armies, those chairs ranked in the great
hall for the audience — there isn’t anyone.

Like a shutter the sky opens and closes
and the show is over. The next act
will deny that anything ever happened.

Your hand falls open. It is empty. It never
held a knife, a flower, gold,
or love, or now. Lean closer—

Listen to me: there isn’t any hand.

(William Stafford [source])

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