Friday, August 31, 2018

not a refuge





The desire to be secure in things and in relationship only brings about conflict and sorrow, dependence and fear; the search for happiness in relationship without understanding the cause of conflict leads to misery. When thought lays emphasis on sensate value and is dominated by it there can be only strife and pain. Without self-knowledge relationship becomes a source of struggle and antagonism, a device for covering up inward insufficiency, inward poverty.

Does not craving for security in any form indicate inward insufficiency? Does not this inner poverty make us seek, accept and cling to formulations, hopes, dogmas, beliefs, possessions; is not our action then merely imitative and compulsive? So anchored to ideology, belief, our thinking becomes merely a process of enchainment.

Our thought is conditioned by the past; the I, the me and the mine, is the result of stored up experience, ever incomplete. The memory of the past is always absorbing the present; the self which is memory of pleasure and pain is ever gathering and discarding, ever forging anew the chains of its own conditioning. It is building and destroying but always within its own self-created prison. To the pleasant memory it clings and the unpleasant it discards. Thought must transcend this conditioning for the being of the Real.

Is evaluating right thinking? Choice is conditioned thinking; right thinking comes through understanding the chooser, the censor. As long as thought is anchored in belief, in ideology, it can only function within its own limitation; it can only feel-act within the boundaries of its own prejudices; it can only experience according to its own memories which give continuity to the self and its bondage. Conditioned thought prevents right thinking which is non-evaluation, non-identification.

There must be alert self-observation without choice; choice is evaluation and evaluation strengthens the self-identifying memory. If we wish to understand deeply there must be passive and choiceless awareness which allows experience to unfold itself and reveal its own significance. The mind that seeks security through the Real creates only illusion. The Real is not a refuge; it is not the reward for righteous action; it is not an end to be gained.



~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
 from The Observer Is The Observed
 with thanks to No Mind's Land
art by van gogh



Thursday, August 30, 2018

for the sake of others






The story goes that in certain Native American tribes, when a person became psychologically unstable, she or he was placed in the middle of a circle of tribal members – men and women, children and old people – and required to spin around and around until collapsing to the ground. The tribal member toward whom her body faced now became her special charge. She was obligated to care for that person, see to their needs, and be their companion and friend. The understanding was that caring for someone else is what stirs personal healing.

When we ache from the pain of loss or rejection, the pain of depression or loneliness, the pain of feeling unloved, from bodily pain or even the pain of impending death, the ache can feel agonizingly private to us. We feel alone in our pain: it encloses us in an isolation that feels terribly unfair. How is it possible then to offer care for others?

When Robert Kennedy lay dying from an assassin’s bullet, his blood spreading across a kitchen floor, he opened his eyes and asked, “Is everyone all right?” I like to believe that question eased his homecoming. At least it taught me this counter-intuitive calculus: when you are in need, give.

Giving in this way requires a shift in our hearts. In moving from self-concern to other-concern, we enter a deeper belonging.

The Native American ritual is charged by the healing power of belonging, not altruism, for altruistic behavior benefits another at one’s own expense. The circle of tribal members embraces the wounded person, who returns that embrace. Both are healed.

So to say “when you are in need, give,” is not an injunction to be virtuous or to sacrifice your need in favor of another’s. It is to step from the loneliness of separation into the seamlessness of Being where nothing and no one has ever been separate from anything else. Our absolute belonging is not an idea, nor do we need to make it happen, nor make ourselves worthy of it. It’s already and always so.

“Stepping into the seamlessness of Being” doesn’t require us to travel any distance – it may be more accurate to say it steps into us when we allow it to. A generous heart is first of all a receptive heart.

If I feel the need to be seen and loved for what I am, and if I sit in that need waiting for someone to respond with what I need, I might sit for a long time in disappointment. But if I stop waiting and simply give, as best I can, what I’ve been waiting for, my world turns inside out. The connection I longed for is revealed – maybe not in the way I wanted or expected, but in a more fundamental sense of belonging. I am now able to receive.

The way this happens is a kind of magic that is always available to us. The distressed woman falls to the ground. When she looks up she sees in front of her an old toothless grandmother. She takes her hand. What is it that passes between their hands?



~ Pir Elias Amidon, from Free Medicine


our inner wounds


.


Each of us carries in our hearts the wound of mortality.
We are particularly adept at covering our inner wounds, but no wound is ever silent.  Behind the play of your image and the style you cut in the world, your wounds continue to call out for healing.  These cuts at the core of your identity cannot be healed by the world or medicine, nor by the externals of religion or psychology.  It is only by letting in the divine light to bathe these wounds that healing will come...  Every inner wound has its own particular voice.  It holds the memory of that breakage as pristine as its moment of occurrence.  Deep inner wounds evade time.  Their soreness is utterly pure.  These wounds lose little of their acid with the natural transience of chronological time.   Only the voice of deep prayer can carry the gently poultice inwards to these severe crevices and draw out the toxins of hurt.  To learn what went on at the time of such wounding can help; it will show us the causes, and the structure of the wound becomes clear.  Real healing is, however, another matter.  As with all great arrivals in the soul, it comes from a direction that we often could neither predict nor anticipate.


.
~ John O'Donohue
from Eternal Echoes
art by picasso


a dream






Now I am being buried in the earth. Every one leaves me and I am alone, quite alone. I do not stir… I lay there and — strange to say — I expected nothing, accepting without question that a dead man has nothing to expect. But it was damp. I do not know how long passed — an hour, a few days, or many days. Suddenly, on my left eye which was closed, a drop of water fell, which had leaked through the top of the grave. In a minute fell another, then a third, and so on, every minute. Suddenly, deep indignation kindled in my heart and suddenly in my heart I felt physical pain. ‘It’s my wound,’ I thought. ‘It’s where I shot myself. The bullet is there.’ And all the while the water dripped straight on to my closed eye. Suddenly, I cried out, not with a voice, for I was motionless, but with all my being, to the arbiter of all that was being done to me.

“Whosoever thou art, if thou art, and if there exists a purpose more intelligent than the things which are now taking place, let it be present here also. But if thou dost take vengeance upon me for my foolish suicide, then know, by the indecency and absurdity of further existence, that no torture whatever that may befall me, can ever be compared to the contempt which I will silently feel, even through millions of years of martyrdom.”

Suddenly a familiar yet most overwhelming emotion shook me through. I saw our sun. I knew that it could not be our sun, which had begotten our earth, and that we were an infinite distance away, but somehow all through me I recognized that it was exactly the same sun as ours, its copy and double. A sweet and moving delight echoed rapturously through my soul. The dear power of light, of that same light which had given me birth, touched my heart and revived it, and I felt life, the old life, for the first time since my death.


Oh, now — life, life! I lifted my hands and called upon the eternal truth, not called, but wept. Rapture, ineffable rapture exalted all my being. Yes, to live…

All are tending to one and the same goal, at least all aspire to the same goal, from the wise man to the lowest murderer, but only by different ways. It is an old truth, but there is this new in it: I cannot go far astray. I saw the truth. I saw and know that men could be beautiful and happy, without losing the capacity to live upon the earth. I will not, I cannot believe that evil is the normal condition of men… I saw the truth, I did not invent it with my mind. I saw, saw, and her living image filled my soul for ever. I saw her in such consummate perfection that I cannot possibly believe that she was not among men. How can I then go astray? … The living image of what I saw will be with me always, and will correct and guide me always. Oh, I am strong and fresh, I can go on, go on, even for a thousand years. …


And it is so simple… The one thing is — love thy neighbor as thyself — that is the one thing. That is all, nothing else is needed. You will instantly find how to live.






~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky
from The Dream of a Ridiculous Man
with thanks to brainpickings


the discovery of daily experience







It is a whisper. You turn somewhere,
hall, street, some great even: the stars
or the lights hold; your next step waits you
and the firm world waits - but
there is a whisper. You always live so,
a being that receives, or partly receives, or
fails to receive each moment's touch.

You see the people around you - the honors
they bear - a crutch, a cane, eye patch,
or the subtler ones, that fixed look, a turn
aside, or even the brave bearing: all declare
our kind, who serve on the human front and earn
whatever disguise will take them home. (I saw
Frank last week with his crutch de guerre.)

When the world is like this - and it is -
whispers, honors or penalties disguised - no wonder
art thrives like a pulse wherever civilized people,
or any people, live long enough in a place to
build, and remember, and anticipate; for we are
such beings as interact elaborately with what
surrounds us. The limited actual world we successively
overcome by fictions and by the mind's inventions
that cannot be quite arbitrary (and hence do reflect
the actual), but can escape the actual (and hence
may become art).




- William Stafford

from  Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation


what the heart wants






See then 
what the heart wants,
that pliable iron
sprung to the poppy's redness,
the honey's gold, winged
as the heron-lit water is:
by reflecting.
As an aged elephant answers
the slightest, first gesture of hand,
it puts itself at the mercy -
utterly docile, the forces
that brought it there vanished,
fold into fold.
And the old-ice ivory, the unstartlable
black of the eye that has traveled so far 
with the fringed, peripheral howdah
swaying behind, look mildly back
as it swings the whole bulk of the body
close to the ground.  Over and over
it does this, bends to what asks.
Whatever asks, heart kneels and offers to bear.



~ Jane Hirshfield
from The October Palace


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

thirst


.


.
Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. 
I walk out to the pond and all the way 
God has given us such beautiful lessons. 
Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; 
grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. 
Love for the earth and love for you 
are having such a long conversation in my heart. 
Who knows what will finally happen 
or where I will be sent, yet already 
I have given a great many things away, 
expecting to be told to pack nothing, 
except the prayers which, 
with this thirst,
I am slowly learning.



~ Mary Oliver





late have I loved thee


.




Late have I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new;
late have I loved thee! For behold, thou wert within me and I outside;
and I sought thee outside and in my unloveliness
fell upon these lovely things that thou hast made.
Thou wert with me and I was not with thee.
I was kept from thee by those things,
yet had they not been in thee, they would not have been at all.
Thou didst call and cry to me and break open my deafness. . . .
I tasted thee, and now hunger and thirst for thee;
thou didst touch me,
and now I burn for thy peace.



~ Saint Augustine of Hippo
from Confessions

Augustine concludes the text by exploring an allegorical interpretation of Genesis, through which he discovers the Trinity and the significance of God's creation of man. Based on his interpretation, he espouses the significance of rest as well as the divinity of Creation: "For, then shalt Thou rest in us, in the same way that Thou workest in us now [...] So, we see these things which Thou hast made, because they exist, but they exist because Thou seest them. We see, externally, that they exist, but internally, that they are good; Thou hast seen them made, in the same place where Thou didst see them as yet to be made."
 
~ comments from Wikipedia
 
 
 
.

her longing









Before this longing,
I lived serene as a fish
At one with the plants in the pond,
The mare's tail, the floating frogbite,
Among my eight-legged friends,
Open like a pool, a lesser parsnip,
Like a leech, looping myself along,
A bug-eyed edible one,
A mouth like a stickleback,-
A thing quiescent!

But now-
The wild stream, the sea itself cannot contain me:
I dive with the black hag, the cormorant,
Or walk the pebbly shore with the humpbacked heron,
Shaking out my catch in the morning sunlight,
Or rise with the gar-eagle, the great-winged condor,
Floating over the mountains,
Pitting my breast against the rushing air,
A phoenix, sure of my body,
Perpetually rising out of myself,
My wings hovering over the shorebirds,
Or beating against the black clouds of the storm,
Protecting the sea-cliffs.





~ Theodore Roethke
from News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness
edited by Robert Bly
 
 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

when the lamp went out






When they plow their fields
and sow seeds in the earth,
when they care for their wives and children, 
young brahmans find riches.

But I've done everything right
and followed the rule of my teacher.
I'm not lazy or proud.
Why haven't I found peace?

Bathing my feet 
I watched the bathwater
spill down the slope.
I concentrated my mind
the way you train a good horse.

The I took the lamp
and went into my cell,
checked the bed,
and sat down on it.
I took a needle
and pushed the wick down.

When the lamp went out
my mind was freed.


~ Patacara, (6th B.C.E.)
from Women in Praise of the Sacred
edited by Jane Hirshfield

.

understanding fails






If one reaches the point where understanding fails, this is not a tragedy: it is simply a reminder to stop thinking and start looking.  Perhaps there is nothing to figure out after all: perhaps we only need to wake up.

A monk said: "I have been with you (Master), for a long time, and yet I am unable to understand your way.  How is this?"

The Master said: "Where you do not understand, there is the point for your understanding."

In the first two chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul distinguishes between two kinds of wisdom: one which consists in the knowledge of words and statements, a rational, dialectical wisdom, and another which is at once a matter of paradox and of experience, and goes beyond the reach of reason.  To attain to this spiritual wisdom, one must first be liberated from servile dependence on the "wisdom, of speech."

St. Paul compares this knowledge of God, in the Spirit, to the subjective knowledge that a man has of himself.  Just as no one can know my inner self except my own "spirit," so no one can know God except God's Spirit; yet this Holy Spirit is given to us, in such a way that God know Himself in us, and this experience is utterly real, though it cannot be communicated in terms understandable to those who do not share it.  Consequently, St. Paul concludes, "we have the mind of Christ."




~ Thomas Merton
excerpts from Zen and the Birds of Appetite
art by Van Gogh
.

Monday, August 27, 2018

an older unity







And the deepest level of communication 
is not communication, 
but communion. It is wordless. 
It is beyond words, 
and it is beyond speech, 
and it is beyond 
concept. 

Not that we discover a new unity. 
We discover an older unity. 
My dear brothers, we are already one. 
But we imagine that we are not. 
And what we have to recover is our original unity. 
What we have to be is what we are.



~ Thomas Merton
from his Asian journal
art by Van Gogh

 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

our children, coming of age







In the great circle, dancing in
and out of time, you move now
toward your partners, answering
the music suddenly audible to you
that only carried you before
and will carry you again.
When you meet the destined ones
now dancing toward you,
out of your awareness for the time,
we whom you know, others we remember
whom you do not remember, others 
forgotten by us all.
When you meet, and hold love 
in your arms, regardless of all,
the unknown will dance away from you 
toward the horizon of light.
Our names will flutter
on these hills like little fires.




~ Wendell Berry




.

nourishing happiness





Some thoughts from Thich Nhat Hanh

If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.

When we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love. That’s why to love means to learn the art of nourishing our happiness.

Sometimes we feel empty; we feel a vacuum, a great lack of something. We don’t know the cause; it’s very vague, but that feeling of being empty inside is very strong. We expect and hope for something much better so we’ll feel less alone, less empty. The desire to understand ourselves and to understand life is a deep thirst. There’s also the deep thirst to be loved and to love. We are ready to love and be loved. It’s very natural. But because we feel empty, we try to find an object of our love. Sometimes we haven’t had the time to understand ourselves, yet we’ve already found the object of our love. When we realize that all our hopes and expectations of course can’t be fulfilled by that person, we continue to feel empty. You want to find something, but you don’t know what to search for. In everyone there’s a continuous desire and expectation; deep inside, you still expect something better to happen. That is why you check your email many times a day!

The essence of loving kindness is being able to offer happiness. You can be the sunshine for another person. You can’t offer happiness until you have it for yourself. So build a home inside by accepting yourself and learning to love and heal yourself. Learn how to practice mindfulness in such a way that you can create moments of happiness and joy for your own nourishment. Then you have something to offer the other person.

If you have enough understanding and love, then every moment — whether it’s spent making breakfast, driving the car, watering the garden, or doing anything else in your day — can be a moment of joy.

In a deep relationship, there’s no longer a boundary between you and the other person. You are her and she is you. Your suffering is her suffering. Your understanding of your own suffering helps your loved one to suffer less. Suffering and happiness are no longer individual matters. What happens to your loved one happens to you. What happens to you happens to your loved one.

In true love, there’s no more separation or discrimination. His happiness is your happiness. Your suffering is his suffering. You can no longer say, “That’s your problem.”

When you love someone, you have to have trust and confidence. Love without trust is not yet love. Of course, first you have to have trust, respect, and confidence in yourself. Trust that you have a good and compassionate nature. You are part of the universe; you are made of stars. When you look at your loved one, you see that he is also made of stars and carries eternity inside. Looking in this way, we naturally feel reverence. True love cannot be without trust and respect for oneself and for the other person.





~ Thich Nhat Hanh,
from his book How to Love 
with thanks to Brain Pickings by Maria Popova

Friday, August 24, 2018

reducing uncertainty




.






…. We do have a deadening desire to reduce the mystery, the uncertainty of our lives…. We bind our lives in solid chains of forced connections that block and fixate us. …. Our sense of uncertainty and our need for security nail our world down. …. Each time we go out, the world is open and free; it offers itself so graciously to our hearts, to create something new and wholesome from it each day. It is a travesty of possibility and freedom to think we have no choice, that things are the way they are and that the one street, the one right way is all that is allotted to us. Certainty is a subtle destroyer.

We confine our mystery within the prison of routine and repetition. One of the most deadening forces of all is repetition. Your response to the invitation and edge of your life becomes reduced to a series of automatic reflexes. For example, you are so used to getting up in the morning and observing the morning rituals of washing and dressing. You are still somewhat sleepy, your mind is thinking of things you have to do in the day that lies ahead. You go through these first gestures of the morning often without even noticing that you are doing them. This is a disturbing little image, because it suggests that you live so much of your one life with the same automatic blindness of adaptation.

… Habit is a strong invisible prison. Habits are styles of feeling, perception, or action that have now become second nature to us. A habit is a sure cell of predictability; it can close you off from the unknown, the new, and the unexpected. You were sent to the earth to become a receiver of the unknown. From ancient times, these gifts were prepared for you; now they come towards you across eternal distances. Their destination is the altar of your heart. 







~ John O’Donohue
from Eternal Echoes


.

ask the horse







There is a story in Zen circles about a man and a horse. 

The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man, standing alongside the road, shouts, 'Where are you going?" and the first man replies, I don't know! Ask the horse!" This is also our story. We are riding a horse, we don't know where we are going, and we can't stop. The horse is our habit energy pulling us along, and we are powerless. 

We are always running, and it has become a habit. 
We struggle all the time, even during our sleep. 
We are at war within ourselves, and we can easily start a war with others.




~ Thich Nhat Hanh
from "The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching"

habit






The shoes put on each time
left first, then right.

The morning potion’s teaspoon
of sweetness stirred always
for seven circlings—no fewer, no more—
into the cracked blue cup.

Touching the pocket for wallet,
for keys,
before closing the door.

How did we come
to believe these small rituals’ promise,
that we are today the selves we yesterday knew,
tomorrow will be?

How intimate and unthinking,
the way the toothbrush is shaken dry after use,
the part we wash first in the bath.

Which habits we learned from others
and which are ours alone we may never know.
Unbearable to acknowledge
how much they are themselves our fated life.

Open the traveling suitcase—

There the beloved red sweater,
bright tangle of necklace, earrings of amber.
Each confirming: I chose these, I.

But habit is different: it chooses.
And we, its good horse,
opening our mouths at even the sight of the bit.



~ Jane Hirshfield
from Given Sugar, Given Salt

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Is that so?

.




The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life.
A beautiful Japanese girl whose parent owned a food store lived near him.  Suddenly,  without any warning,  her parents discovered she was with child.
This mad her parents angry.  She would not confess who the man was,  but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.
In great anger the parents went to the master.   "Is that so?"  was all he would say.
After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin.  By this time he had lost his reputation,  which did not trouble him,  but he took very good care of the child.  He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else the little one needed.
A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer.   She told her parents the truth - that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.
The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness,  to apologize at length,  and to get the child back again.
Hakuin was willing.  In yielding the child,  all he said was: "Is that so?"




.
~ from 'Zen Flesh Zen Bones',
 compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

waiting for you




.

It's very important to experience the complete negation of yourself
which brings you to the other side of nothing.
You go to the other side of nothing
and you are held by the hand of the absolute.
You see yourself as the absolute
so you have no more insistence of self.
You can speak of the self as no self
when you sit in the absolute.

Your sitting still is like a person who just shot an arrow.
A moment later the result is there.
What you know, the only thing you know
is the sense that the arrow is moving all right.
It has left your realm but you sense it is running well.
The stillness in sitting is like that.
You flip to the other side of nothing,
where you discover everyone is waiting for you already




. ~ Kobun Chino

hymn to time









Time says “Let there be”
every moment and instantly
there is space and the radiance
of each bright galaxy.

And eyes beholding radiance.
And the gnats’ flickering dance.
And the seas’ expanse.
And death, and chance.

Time makes room
for going and coming home
and in time’s womb
begins all ending.

Time is being and being
time, it is all one thing,
the shining, the seeing,
the dark abounding.




~   Ursula K. Le Guin

Saturday, August 18, 2018

"Sonata at Payne Hollow," by Wendell Berry


Harlan and Anna Hubbard


The Kentucky shore of the Ohio at evening.  Some time in the future, perhaps a saner time than now.  It is the season when the toads mate and sing from the stones along the water’s edge at night.  Here the river has curved in close to the foot of a steep hillside.  The slope is wooded with tall trees.  A fringe of willows along the shoreline opens to give a view up among the larger trunks.  During the play, the light slowly changes from twilight to dusk.
          Two boatmen, a man past middle age and a boy of about fifteen, come ashore.  They may be small-time traders who row of drift from one river town to another.  Their johnboat, the bow of which is visible to our right, is of the traditional make, built of wood.  A rope is attached to a ring in the bow.
          The boy carries the end of the rope up the shore and makes it fast to a willow.  He then stands and looks around.
.
The Boy:  We never stopped here before.

The Man:  Night never caught us here before.  But look.  There is the notch is the hill, and there is the creek coming down, and here are the rocks it has brought and shaped in a little bar fanned out on the river’s edge.  You’ve heard of this place.  Up yonder on the slope is where they lived and made their music, in a house built of rocks and poles and rough planks and pieces of drift from the river.

The Boy:  Who were they?  Tell me again.

The Man:   Their names were Harlan and Anna.  A long time ago they came here, past the middle of their lives, to love until they were old.  They were refugees from that violent world of our ancestors that nearly destroyed itself.  They wanted a quiet place that was dark at night, unwanted by other people, where they could grow their food or catch or find it, and be warmed by firewood burning on a hearth they made of rocks carried up from the river or the creek.   Harlan, they say, made pictures of the river and the trees and little farms that stood along the valley sides.  And he and Anna made fine music in the evenings with his fiddle and her piano.  Up there is where their house was, and there the little shop where he made the pictures, and there the shed where they kept their goats.

The Boy:  And that was long ago?

The Man:   Long ago.  The boards of their building now are gone to dust, and trees are standing where they played and ate and slept.

The Boy:  What became of them?

The Man:  They got old, and died.  And yonder, below the chimney stones is where they were laid to rest – or not, maybe, to rest.  For there’s them that tells of being here at night, and hearing that old music strike up sudden in the woods, and seeing those two ancient lovers walking about, talking.

The Boy:  Oh, Lord! Talking! What do they say?

The Man:  They talk of what they could not talk about enough while they were here, like all ghosts do.

The Boy:  If it was up to me to choose, I’d just as soon be someplace else.  Your talk is talk enough for me.

The Man:  It’s them.  You needn’t be afraid.  We’re not where they are.

The Boy:  But they’re where we are.

The Man:  Be still!
.
Now, as from far off among the trees, we hear a piano and violin – perhaps it is Mozart’s Sonata in E-flat Major.  The piano is played with elegance and technical precision.  The quality of the violin, by contrast, is “honest and handmade” but “strikes deep.”  The sound of the toads has ceased.  The music, at first only faintly audible, becomes louder.  Now there can be no doubt what it is.  The man and boy stand still, listening, the boy looking a little anxiously at the man.
Now, slowly, candlelight defines a large window among the trees well up the slope.
And now, with the light fading off the boatman and his boy, the figure of a slender, white-haired old man is revealed, standing by the river’s edge upstream.  We have not seen him come; he is just there, perhaps having been there for some time.  He stands, facing upstream, his left side to the river and to us, looking out across the slowly darkening water.  The knuckles of his half-open left hand rest against his hip.
And now the light defines the shape of an old woman walking among the trees.  She crosses above the old man and comes slowly down to the water’s edge, where she too stands still, looking out, her left hand holding to a small willow.  She faces downstream, her right side to us.  Except for the music, the scene becomes completely still.  The stillness is allowed to establish itself before Anna speaks.
In the dialogue that follows, the differences are expressed with feeling, but not with antipathy or anger.  What we are witnessing is a ritual of courtship, discord reenacted as for pleasure, the outcome foreknown.  Perhaps it has been repeated countless times before.
.
Anna: There you are, Harlan.  I've called and called.  What are you doing?

Harlan: Looking.


Anna: At what?


Harlan: The river.


Anna: You've never seen enough, have you, of that river you looked at all your life?


Harlan: It never does anything twice.   It needs forever to be in all its times and aspects and acts.  To know it in time is only to begin to know it.  To paint it, you must show it as less than it is.  That is why as a painter I never was at rest.  Now I look and do not paint.  This is the heaven of a painter - only to look, to see without limit.  It's as if a poet finally were free to say only the simplest things.
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For a moment they are still again, both continuing to look, in opposite directions, at the river.
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Anna: That is our music, Harlan.  Do you hear it?


Harlan: Yes, I hear.


Anna: I think it will always be here.  It draws us back out of eternity as once it drew us together in time.  Do you remember, Harlan, how we played?  And how, in playing, we no longer needed to say what we needed to say?


Harlan: I'm listening.


But I heard here too, remember, another music, farther off, more solitary,  closer -


Anna: To what, Harlan?


Harlan: I'm not so sure I ever know.  Closer to the edge of modern life, I suppose - to where the life of living things actually is lived; closer to the beauty that saves and consoles this earth.  I wanted to spend whole days watching the little fish that flicker along the shore.


Anna: Yes.  I know you did.


Harlan: I wanted
to watch, every morning forever, the world shape itself again out of the drifting fog.


Anna: Your music, then, was it in those things?


Harlan: It was in them and beyond them, always almost out of hearing.


Anna: Because of it you made the beautiful things you made, for yourself alone, and yet, I think, for us both.  You made them for us both, as for yourself, for what we were together required those things of you alone.


Harlan: To hear that music, I needed to be alone and free.


Anna: Free, Harlan?


Harlan: I longed for the perfection of the single one.  When the river rose and the current fled by, I longed to cast myself adrift, to take that long, free downward-flowing as my own.  I know the longing of an old rooted tree to lean down upon the water.


Anna: I know that.  I knew that all along.  And then was when I loved you most.  What brought me to you was knowing the long, solitary journey that was you, yourself - the thought of you in a little boat, adrift and free.  But, Harlan, why did you never go?  Why did you not just drift away, solitary and free, living on the free charity of the seasons, wintering in caves as sometimes you said you'd like to do?


Harlan: Oh, Anna, because I was lonely!  The perfection of the single one is not perfection, for it is lonely.


Anna: From longing for the perfection of the single one, I called you into longing for the perfection of the union of two.


Harlan: which also was imperfect, for we were not always at one, and I never ceased, quite, too long for solitude.


Anna: And yet, of the two imperfections, the imperfection of the union of two is by far the greater and finer - as we understood.


Harlan: Yes, my dear, Anna, that I too understood.  It is better, granting imperfection in both ways, to be imperfect and together than to be imperfect and alone.


Anna: And so this is the heaven of lovers that we have come to - to live again in our separateness, so that we may live again together, my Harlan.


Harlan:  And so we named a day - remember? - and a certain train that you would be on if you wanted to marry me.

Anna:  and that you would be on if you wanted to marry me.


Both:  and both of us were on that train!


Anna:  And then, Harlan, we did drift away


Harlan:  on a little boat we built ourselves, that contained hardly more than our music, our stove, our table, and our bed


Anna:  in which we slept - and did not sleep -


Harlan:  my birthplace into our new life!


Anna: For a long time we had no home but that little boat and one another


Harlan:  and the music that we sent forth over the water and into the woods.


Anna:  And then we came here to this hollow and built a house and made a garden


Harlan:  and gave our life a standing place and worked and played and lived and died


Anna:  and were alone and were not alone.


Harlan:  Alone and not alone, we lived and died, and after your death I lived on alone, yet not alone, for in my thoughts I never ceased to speak with you.  I knew then that half my music was hidden away in another world.  The music I had heard, so distant, had been the music you and I had played - the music of something almost whole that you and I had made; it made one thing of food and hunger, work and rest, day and night.  It made one thing of loneliness and love.  That music seemed another world to me, and far away, because I could play only half, not all.


Anna:  And half the life that you so longed to live - was mine?


Harlan:  Was yours.  Without you, I could not live the life we lived, which I then missed and longed for, even in my perfect solitude.


Anna:  You will forgive, I hope, my pleasure in the thought of you alone, playing half a duet - for also it saddens me.


Harlan:  You would have laughed, Anna, to hear how badly I played alone, without your strong art to carry me.  My perfect music then was made by crickets and katydids and frogs.  I heard too the creek always coming down,  allegro furioso after storms,  and of course the birds - the wood thrush, whose song in summer twilight renews the world, and in all seasons the wren.  But those unceasing voices in the dark were the ones that sang for me, and I was thankful for the loneliness that had brought us two together out of all the time we were apart.
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And now, as both have known they would, they turn toward one another, and thus are changed, revealing themselves now as neither young not old, but timeless and clear, as each appears within the long affection of the other.
With this (their only movement since their conversation began), the light no them brightens and changes; it becomes, for only a moment, the brilliance of a spring morning, and on the slope, where before only the candlelit window showed among the trees, now appears the house as it was, with a garden on the terrace below, Harlan and Anna smile and lift their arms toward one another.  And then they and the light abruptly disappear.  The music stops. The trilling of the toads is audible again, and we see the boatman and his boy looking up the darkening hillside.  The boy turns toward the man and is preparing to speak when the stage goes entirely dark.  The toads sing on another moment, and then are silenced.
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Production note: The left side of Harlan’s face and the right side of Anna’s are made up to appear old.  The opposite sides of their faces should denote, not youth, but the youthful maturity of a couple in their forties - faces lovely because they are lovely to one another.




~ Wendell Berry