The Unbearable Lightness of Metaphor

'Light - Day Two,' by Lucy Maude Ellis on Flickr

[Image: “light – day two,” by Lucy Maude Ellis. (Found it on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!) I came across this image while searching for images having to do with weightlessness and such; the photographer’s Flickr photostream seems to exhibit a particular fondness for “levitation pictures.” In such pictures, the human subject is posed in such a way that s/he appears to be floating in air — the photographer then edits the photo to remove all traces of whatever device(s) are used to support the model. This image, though, “felt” better to me as accompaniment to today’s theme.]

From whiskey river:

The Mountain

My students look at me expectantly.
I explain to them that the life of art is a life
of endless labor. Their expressions
hardly change; they need to know
a little more about endless labor.
So I tell them the story of Sisyphus,
how he was doomed to push
a rock up a mountain, knowing nothing
would come of this effort
but that he would repeat it
indefinitely. I tell them
there is joy in this, in the artist’s life,
that one eludes
judgment, and as I speak
I am secretly pushing a rock myself,
slyly pushing it up the steep
face of a mountain. Why do I lie
to these children? They aren’t listening,
they aren’t deceived, their fingers
tapping at the wooden desks—
So I retract
the myth; I tell them it occurs
in hell, and that the artist lies
because he is obsessed with attainment,
that he perceives the summit
as that place where he will live forever,
a place about to be
transformed by his burden: with every breath,
I am standing at the top of the mountain.
Both my hands are free. And the rock has added
height to the mountain.

(Louise Glück [source])


What Light Does

Today, I did nothing.
Light went on as usual,

throwing leaves against the white wall,
as if no one were watching, as if

there’s no meaning in the trembling
of the leaves. Later, light moves

the leaves onto the tile floor,
and once I might have thought them

dancing, or that the shadow
of a thing is more beautiful

than the thing itself, but it’s not,
it’s just ordinary light, going about

its ordinary business. Now, evening is here,
and I’ve made it through another day

of shadows. This is not metaphor, or poetry,
it’s how the unbearable is

a blade that gleams and remains
visible, long after light has gone.

(Patty Paine, Blackbird [source])

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What Comes First

'What a Chick Feels Before Hatching,' by Becca Peterson on Flickr

[Image: “What a Chick Feels Before Hatching,” by Becca Peterson. Found it on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river (but just excerpted here):

Your original, fundamental position is prior to consciousness. This “prior to consciousness” identity that you are cannot be named at all. From this unnameable, non-conceptual source, which is your original, innate nature, arises the sense of conscious presence. This is also the sense of being, the experience that “I am,” or the bare fact of knowing that you are. This is the first appearance or experience upon your original state. Within this consciousness state emerges the mind, the body and the entire world of appearances. Little can be said about your original state because it is clearly beyond all concepts and even prior to consciousness. Some pointers that have been used are: non-conceptual awareness, awareness unaware of itself, pure being (beyond being and non-being), the absolute, the unmanifest, noumenon, cognizing emptiness, no thing — to name only a few.

This non-conceptual awareness or being is what you are. It is pure non-duality or unicity in which both subject and object are merged. Just as the sun does not know light because it is light, so you do not know your original nature (as an object) because you are that. It is forever beyond the grasp of concepts and subject-object knowledge. Yet it is entirely evident and inescapable as that in you (which is you) that allows you to say with utter certitude “I am” and “I know that I am.” Even when those words subside, you are. Even when the consciousness that knows those words subsides, you are. Consciousness is the light of creation. But you, as the unnameable source, are the primordial awareness, being or no thing (call it what you will) in which consciousness comes and goes.

(John Wheeler [source (in somewhat different words)])


The present rearranges the past. We never tell the story whole because a life isn’t a story; it’s a whole Milky Way of events and we are forever picking out constellations from it to fit who and where we are.

(Rebecca Solnit [source])

Like the quotations above? All credit, then, to the anonymous (and unknown to me) whiskey river blogger — who shared them this past week, and who has been inspiring me for over ten years. Below, some relevant (?) discoveries of my own, along the same lines. (More info here.)

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Groping at (but Never Grasping) Mystery

[Video: “Who Done It?” by Harry Nilsson (on 1977’s Knnillssonn album). The string opening is reportedly the only so-called “Nilsson” recording not actually written by Nilsson himself; it’s the Allegro movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 12 in E Flat, Opus 127. (The Adagio movement is referenced in Jan Zwicky’s poem, below.)]

From whiskey river:

Nirvana is this moment seen directly. There is no where else than here. The only gate is now. The only doorway is your own body and mind. There’s nowhere to go. There’s nothing else to be. There’s no destination. It’s not something to aim for in the afterlife. It’s simply the quality of this moment.

(Jane Hirshfield [quoted many places around the Web, apparently sourced from a PBS documentary on the Buddha])


There is the moment when the silence of the countryside gathers in the ear and breaks into a myriad of sounds: a croaking and squeaking, a swift rustle in the grass, a plop in the water, a pattering on earth and pebbles, and high above all, the call of the cicada. The sounds follow one another, and the ear eventually discerns more and more of them—just as fingers unwinding a ball of wool feel each fiber interwoven with progressively thinner and less palpable threads, The frogs continue croaking in the background without changing the flow of sounds, just as light does not vary from the continuous winking of stars. But at every rise or fall of the wind every sound changes and is renewed. All that remains in the inner recess of the ear is a vague murmur: the sea.

(Italo Calvino [source])


Beethoven: Op 127, Adagio


Here at the end of summer
the heart talks to itself,
a thin stream braiding
over a lip of rock.

To go through a wall, then another—
galleries of silent, stone-ground light.
To go through, to that third room on the other side,
to empty the forest of your thoughts, the forest of your lungs,
this is where the heart goes in late summer,
the empty forest. Even the sunlight is alone.

In the third room, the heart sits on the floor
talking to itself. A little stream,
braiding over a lip of rock.
It is saying what it has said
from the beginning, no doors, no windows,
if anyone could hear.

(Jan Zwicky [source])

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“I See,” Said the Blind Man (As He Picked Up His Hammer and Saw)

'Eudoxia,' by 'Marcus Inkpen'

[Image: Eudoxia, by “Zike Questi.” For more information, see the note at the foot of this post. To enlarge, click the image; to see the thing in its full-size glory, right-click here and select “Open in a New Tab/Window” (or your browser’s counterpart). Used under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river’s commonplace book:

For everything that is understood and sensed is nothing other than the apparition of the non-apparent, the manifestation of the hidden, the affirmation of the negated, the comprehension of the incomprehensible, the utterance of the unutterable, the access to the inaccessible, the intellection of the unintelligible, the body of the bodiless, the essence of the beyond-essence, the form of the formless, the measure of the immeasurable, the number of the unnumbered, the weight of the weightless, the materialization of the spiritual, the visibility of the invisible, the place of the placeless, the time of the timeless, the definition of the infinite, the circumscription of the uncircumscribed, and the other things which are both conceived and perceived by the intellect alone and cannot be retained within the recesses of memory and which escape the blade of the mind.

(John Scotus Eriugen [source (among others)])


The Now is as it is because it cannot be otherwise. What Buddhists have always known, physicists now confirm: there are no isolated things or events. Underneath the surface appearance, all things are interconnected, are part of the totality of the cosmos that has brought about the form that this moment takes.

(Eckhart Tolle [source])

…and (from whiskey river):

There are moments when a kind of clarity comes over you, and suddenly you can see through walls to another dimension that you’d forgotten or chosen to ignore in order to continue living with the various illusions that make life, particularly life with other people, possible.

(Nicole Krauss [source])

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