Caught Unawares

Image: 'Your Reflection May Be You,' by Simon Matzinger on Flickr

[Image: “Your reflection may be you,” by Simon Matzinger. Found on Flickr and used here under a Creative Commons license. (Thank you!)]

From whiskey river:

If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next — if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions — you’d be doomed. You’d be as ruined as God. You’d be a stone. You’d never eat or drink or laugh or get out of bed in the morning. You’d never love anyone, ever again. You’d never dare to.

(Margaret Atwood [source])

and:

Imagine that one day you are out for a walk in the woods. Suddenly you see a small spaceship on the path in front of you. A tiny Martian climbs out the spaceship and stands on the ground looking up at you…

What would you think? Never mind, it’s not important. But have you ever given any thought to the fact that you are a Martian yourself?

It is obviously unlikely that you will ever stumble upon a creature from another planet. We do not even know that there is life on other planets. But you might stumble upon yourself one day. You might suddenly stop short and see yourself in a completely new light. On just such a walk in the woods.

I am an extraordinary being, you think. I am a mysterious creature.

You feel as if you are waking from an enchanted slumber. Who am I? you ask. You know that you are stumbling around on a planet in the universe. But what is the universe?

If you discover yourself in this manner you will have discovered something as mysterious as the Martian we just mentioned. You will not only have seen a being from outer space. You will feel deep down that you are yourself an extraordinary being.

(Jostein Gaarder [source])

and:

Psychologists and psychiatrists are moving from their traditional hostility to ecstasy to an understanding that it’s often good for us. Much of our personality is made up of attitudes that are usually subconscious. We drag around buried trauma, guilt, feelings of low self-worth. In moments of ecstasy, the threshold of consciousness is lowered, people encounter these subconscious attitudes, and are able to step outside of them. They can feel a deep sense of love for themselves and others, which can heal them at a deep level. Maybe this is just an opening to the subconscious, maybe it’s a connection to a higher dimension of spirit — we don’t know… The journey beyond the self is not safe or predictable. On the other hand, staying in the self also has its risks — boredom, staleness, sterility, despair. Ultimately, there’s something in us that calls to us, that pulls us out the door.

(Jules Evans, thrive [source])

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How Comes the Dawn

'The Blue Hour,' by Dave Toussaint on Flickr.com

[Image: “The Blue Hour,” by Dave Toussaint. (Found on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license.) Toussaint reports that this shot of Yosemite Falls was taken roughly 45 minutes before sunrise. If you’re viewing this on a sufficiently large screen, click on the image to see it in the photographer’s preferred original size of 1140 x 754.]

From whiskey river:

Where do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the extremes, and believe that it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight. But the Genius which, according to the old belief, stands at the door by which we enter, and gives us the lethe to drink, that we may tell no tales, mixed the cup too strongly, and we cannot shake off the lethargy now at noonday. Sleep lingers all our lifetime about our eyes, as night hovers all day in the boughs of the fir-tree. All things swim and glitter. Our life is not so much threatened as our perception. Ghostlike we glide through nature, and should not know our place again. Did our birth fall in some fit of indigence and frugality in nature, that she was so sparing of her fire and so liberal of her earth, that it appears to us that we lack the affirmative principle, and though we have health and reason, yet we have no superfluity of spirit for new creation? We have enough to live and bring the year about, but not an ounce to impart or to invest. Ah that our Genius were a little more of a genius!

(Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: Second Series [source])

and:

To the New Year

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

(W. S. Merwin [source])

and:

The Tongue Says Loneliness

The tongue says loneliness, anger, grief,
but does not feel them.

As Monday cannot feel Tuesday,
nor Thursday
reach back to Wednesday
as a mother reaches out for her found child.

As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it.

Not a bell,
but the sound of the bell in the bell-shape,
lashing full strength with the first blow from inside the iron.

(Jane Hirshfield [source])

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Stricken Conscious

[Interactive image: 3D printing, reimagining the Venus de Milo engaged in spinning thread, by Cosmo Wenman (with direction from Virginia Postrel). More info here.]

From whiskey river:

Perhaps the greatest faculty our minds possess is the ability to cope with pain. Classic thinking teaches us of the four doors of the mind, which everyone moves through according to their need.

First is the door of sleep. Sleep offers us a retreat from the world and all its pain. Sleep marks passing time, giving us distance from the things that have hurt us. When a person is wounded they will often fall unconscious. Similarly, someone who hears traumatic news will often swoon or faint. This is the mind’s way of protecting itself from pain by stepping through the first door.

Second is the door of forgetting. Some wounds are too deep to heal, or too deep to heal quickly. In addition, many memories are simply painful, and there is no healing to be done. The saying ‘time heals all wounds’ is false. Time heals most wounds. The rest are hidden behind this door.

Third is the door of madness. There are times when the mind is dealt such a blow it hides itself in insanity. While this may not seem beneficial, it is. There are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.

Last is the door of death. The final resort. Nothing can hurt us after we are dead, or so we have been told.

(Patrick Rothfuss [source])

and:

After

There is one thing certain.
Once you have stood
in the midst of that
searing flame,
been struck down
to earth
like a pilgrim
entered by light at last
and have lain there,
waiting,
not quite certain—

how can you ever know again
what it is
not to be blinded by the light,
never to have gone there
to the top of the snow hung peak
and felt that nameless something
descend onto your shoulders,
your breast,
even as you bent forward
in disbelief.

(Dorothy Walters [source])

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Revelatory Satisfactions

'Open Wide,' by Flickr user 'Alan L'

[Image: This is apparently not — as I’d thought — an observatory in Chile. Any of them. Rather, it’s atop Mauna Kea, in Hawaii. (More info here.) Duh. Photo by user Alan L, on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons License. (Click image to enlarge.)]

From whiskey river (italicized lines):

Such Singing in the Wild Branches

It was spring
and finally I heard him
among the first leaves—
then I saw him clutching the limb

in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still

and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness—
and that’s when it happened,

when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree—
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,

and the sands in the glass
stopped
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing—
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky—all, all of them

were singing.
And, of course, yes, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last

for more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then—open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and:

There are times in your life when, despite the steel weight of your memories and the sadness that seems to lie at your feet like a shadow, you suddenly and strangely feel perfectly okay.

(Kevin Brockmeier [source])

…and:

Magic

We were talking about magic
as we drove along a crowded
Sunday highway

when the whirl of wings
made me turn
and a flock of geese
flew over our car
so low I could see
their feet tucked under them.

For a moment the rustle
of their presence over our heads
obscured everything

and as they disappeared
you said,
“I see what you mean.”

(Jenifer (“Sudie”) Nostrand [source])

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Out of Nowhere

'Coming out of nowhere,' by Michael Holler (rolleh) on Flickr

[Image: by Michael Holler on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

I Wonder

I wonder what would happen if
I treated everyone like I was in love
with them, whether I like them or not
and whether they respond or not and no matter
what they say or do to me and even if I see
things in them which are ugly twisted petty
cruel vain deceitful indifferent, just accept
all that and turn my attention to some small
weak tender hidden part and keep my eyes on
that until it shines like a beam of light
like a bonfire I can warm my hands by and trust
it to burn away all the waste which is not
never was my business to meddle with.

(Derek Tasker [source: see note at the foot of this post])

and:

If your yes sometimes feels heavy and silent and still in your chest that is only because it is still looking for a bell tower in the world. Wait. Be patient. You’ll one day again find a bright and worthy place to hang your heaviness, and when it starts to sway — and the clapper of your joy begins to swing in rhythm with it — your bell will at last be heard, even if initially by only one other. And it will be answered, it will be joined.

Have you ever heard a bell ringing in a little valley town? It’s a lovely sound, but there is something mournful about it as well. But two bells, or all the bells in the valley ringing together at once? That is something else entirely. That is the music the human heart was designed to make. That is the definition of a joyful noise.

Wait for that.

(Brad Zellar [source])

and:

Darling,
You asked me to write you a letter, so I am writing you a letter. I do not know why I am writing you this letter, or what this letter is supposed to be about, but I am writing it nonetheless, because I love you very much and trust that you have some good purpose for having me write this letter. I hope that one day you will have the experience of doing something you do not understand for someone you love.
Your father

(Jonathan Safran Foer [source])

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Surprise, Surprise

[Video: high-speed footage (1000fps) of an “eagle owl” in flight. This film has apparently been around for a while, but I don’t think I’ve seen it before this week. Chief virtue, for me: shows me something I couldn’t have imagined on my own!]

From whiskey river:

I cannot help you understand. In the realm of the ultimate, each person must figure out things for themselves. Remember that. Teachers who offer you the ultimate answers do not possess the ultimate answers, for if they did, they would know that the ultimate answers cannot be given, they can only be received.

(Tom Robbins [source])

and:

The Poems of Our Climate

I
Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
pink and white carnations. The light
in the room more like a snowy air,
reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
at the end of winter when afternoons return.
Pink and white carnations — one desires
so much more than that. The day itself
is simplified: a bowl of white,
cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
with nothing more than the carnations there.

II
Say even that this complete simplicity
stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed
the evilly compounded, vital I
and made it fresh in a world of white,
a world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
still one would want more, one would need more,
more than a world of white and snowy scents.

III
There would still remain the never-resting mind,
so that one would want to escape, come back
to what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
since the imperfect is so hot in us,
lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

(Wallace Stevens [source])

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Ready (or Not) for Surprise

[See the note at the foot of this post for information about this video.]

From whiskey river:

I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time. There’s a certain humor in realizing that. I can never figure out the kind of tie to put on in the morning. I don’t have any strategy or plan to get through the day. It is literally a problem for me to decide which side of the bed to get out on. These are staggering problems. I remember talking to this Trappist monk in a monastery. He’s been there twelve years. A pretty severe regime. I expressed my admiration for him and he said “Leonard, I’ve been here twelve years and every morning, I have to decide whether I’m going to stay or not.” I knew exactly what he was talking about.

(Leonard Cohen, 1988 interview with Jon Wilde in Blitz [source])

and:

Solitude (I)

I was nearly killed here, one night in February.
My car shivered, and slewed sideways on the ice,
right across into the other lane. The slur of traffic
came at me with their lights.

My name, my girls, my job, all
slipped free and were left behind, smaller and smaller,
further and further away. I was a nobody:
a boy in a playground, suddenly surrounded.

The headlights of the oncoming cars
bore down on me as I wrestled the wheel through a slick
of terror, clear and slippery as egg-white.
The seconds grew and grew — making more room for me —
stretching huge as hospitals.

I almost felt that I could rest
and take a breath
before the crash.

Then something caught: some helpful sand
or a well-timed gust of wind. The car
snapped out of it, swinging back across the road.
A signpost shot up and cracked, with a sharp clang,
spinning away in the darkness.

And it was still. I sat back in my seat-belt
and watched someone tramp through the whirling snow
to see what was left of me.

(Tomas Tranströmer [source])

and:

There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.

(John Green [source])

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Think You Know What’s Coming?

From whiskey river:

If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next — if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions — you’d be doomed. You’d be as ruined as God. You’d be a stone. You’d never eat or drink or laugh or get out of bed in the morning. You’d never love anyone, ever again. You’d never dare to.

(Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin [source])

…and, from the whiskey river archives (the commonplace book):

How Much Happens in a Day

In the course of a day we shall meet one another.

But, in one day, things spring to life —
they sell grapes in the street,
tomatoes change their skin,
the young girl you wanted
never came back to the office.

They changed the postman suddenly.
The letters now are not the same.
A few golden leaves and it’s different;
this tree is now well off.

Who would have said that the earth
with its ancient skin would change so much?
It has more volcanoes than yesterday,
the sky has brand-new clouds,
the rivers are flowing differently.
Besides, so much has come into being!
I have inaugurated hundreds
of highways and buildings,
delicate, clean bridges
like ships or violins.

And so, when I greet you
and kiss your flowering mouth,
our kisses are other kisses,
our mouths are other mouths.

Joy, my love, joy in all things,
in what falls and what flourishes.

Joy in today and yesterday,
the day before and tomorrow.

Joy in bread and stone,
joy in fire and rain.

In what changes, is born, grows,
consumes itself, and becomes a kiss again.

Joy in the air we have,
and in what we have of earth.

When our life dries up,
only the roots remain to us,
and the wind is cold like hate.

Then let us change our skin,
our nails, our blood, our gazing;
and you kiss me and I go out
to sell light on the roads.

Joy in the night and the day,
and the four stations of the soul.

(Pablo Neruda; translation by Alastair Reid [source])

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Surprises in Store

From whiskey river:

For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid

There is a country to cross you will
find in the corner of your eye, in
the quick slip of your foot — air far
down, a snap that might have caught.
And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing
voice that finds its way by being
afraid. That country is there, for us,
carried as it is crossed. What you fear
will not go away: it will take you into
yourself and bless you and keep you.
That’s the world, and we all live there.

(William Stafford [source])

and:

So strange, life is. Why people do not go around in a continual state of surprise is beyond me.

(William Maxwell)

…and:

Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
KINDNESS in another’s trouble,
COURAGE in your own.

(Adam Lindsay Gordon [source])

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