Friday, January 31, 2020

inside the fog that encloses trees







Inside the fog that encloses trees, they undergo the robbing of their leaves... 
Thrown into confusion by a slow oxidation, and humiliated by the sap's withdrawal
 for the sake of the flowers and fruits, the leaves, following the hot spells of August,
 cling less anyway. 

The up-and-down tunnels inside the bark deepen, and guide the moisture down to earth
 so as to break off with the animated parts of the tree. 

The flowers are scattered, the fruits taken away. 
This giving up of their more animated parts, 
and even of parts of their body, has become, since their earliest days, 
a familiar practice for trees. 





~ Francis Ponge

translation by Robert Bly
from News of the Universe 
- poems of the twofold world



the silence inside the illusion






Everything is ecstasy, inside. We just don’t know it because of our thinking-minds.
 But in our true blissful essence of mind it is known that everything is alright 
forever and forever and forever. Close your eyes, let your hands and nerve-ends drop,
 stop breathing for 3 seconds, listen to the silence inside the illusion of the world,
 and you will remember the lesson you forgot, which was taught in immense 
milky ways of cloudy innumerable worlds long ago and not even at all.
 It is all one vast awakened thing. I call it the golden eternity. It is perfect.
 We were never really born, we will never really die. It has nothing to do
 with the imaginary idea of a personal self, other selves, many selves everywhere,
 or one universal self. Self is only an idea, a mortal idea. That which passes
 through everything, is one thing. It’s a dream already ended. There’s nothing
 to be afraid of and nothing to be glad about. I know this from staring at mountains
 months on end. They never show any expression, they are like empty space. 
Do you think the emptiness of space will ever crumble away? 
Mountains will crumble, but the emptiness of space, which is the one universal
 essence of mind, the one vast awakenerhood, empty and awake, 
will never crumble away because it was never born.


~ Jack Kerouac


the guest is inside





.
The Guest is inside you, and also inside me;
you know the sprout is hidden inside the seed.
We are all struggling; none of us has gone far.
Let your arrogance go, and look around inside.

The blue sky opens out farther and farther,
the daily sense of failure goes away,
the damage I have done to myself fades,
a million suns come forward with light,
when I sit firmly in that world.

I hear bells ringing that no one has shaken,
inside "love" there is more joy than we know of,
rain pours down, although the sky is clear of clouds,
there are whole rivers of light.
The universe is shot through in all parts by a single sort of love.
How hard it is to feel that joy in all our four bodies!

Those who hope to be reasonable about it fail.
The arrogance of reason has separated us from that love.
With the word "reason" you already feel miles away.

How lucky Kabir is, that surrounded by all this joy
he sings inside his own little boat.
His poems amount to one soul meeting another.
These songs are about forgetting dying and loss.
They rise above both coming in and going out.






~ Kabir
version by Robert Bly





Thursday, January 30, 2020

let it shine








Take off your traveling clothes and 
lay down your luggage, 

Pilgrim, shed your nakedness. 
Only the fire is absorbed by the Holy of Holies.
Let it shine.



~ Charles Wright
from Chickamauga


close with us






For too long, we have believed that the divine is outside us. 
This belief has strained our longing disastrously. 
 This is so lonely since it is human longing that makes us holy. 
 The most beautiful thing about us is our longing; 
 this longing is spiritual and has great depth and wisdom. 

 If you focus your longing on a faraway divinity, you put an unfair strain on your longing. 
 Thus it often happens that the longing reaches out towards the distant divine, 
but, because it over-strains itself, it bends back to become cynicism, emptiness or negativity. 
 This can destroy your sensibility. Yet we do not need to put any strain on our longing. 
 If we believe that the body is in the soul and the soul is divine ground, 
then the presence of the divine is completely here, close with us.





~ John O'Donohue
art by Odilon Redon


my fulfillment


.





In the ancient days, when the first quiver of speech came to my lips,
 I ascended the holy mountain and spoke unto God, saying,
 "Master, I am thy slave,  Thy hidden will is my law and 
I shall obey thee for ever more."  

But God made no answer, and like a mighty tempest passed away.

And after a thousand years I ascended the holy mountain 
and again spoke unto God, saying, "Creator, I am thy creation. 
 Out of clay hast thou fashioned me and to thee I owe mine all."

And God made no answer, but like a thousand swift wings passed away.

And after a thousand years I climbed the holy mountain 
and spoke unto God again, saying, "Father, I am thy son. 
 In pity and love thou hast given me birth, and through love 
and worship I shall inherit thy kingdom."

And God made no answer, and like the mist that veils the distant hills he passed away.

And after a thousand years I climbed the sacred mountain
 and again spoke to God, saying, " my God, my aim and my fulfillment;
 I am thy yesterday and thou art my tomorrow,  I am thy root in the earth
 and thou art my flower in the sky, and together we grow before the face of the sun."

Then God leaned over me, and in my ears whispered words of sweetness,
 and even as the sea that enfoldeth a brook that runneth down to her,
 he enfolded me.

And when I descended to the valleys and the plains God was there also.




~ Kahlil Gibran
from Poems, Parables and Drawings



Tuesday, January 28, 2020

finding the father





My friend, this body offers to carry us for nothing - as the ocean carries logs.
So on some days the body wails with its great energy;
it smashes up the boulders,
lifting small crabs, that flow around the sides.

Someone knocks on the door.
We do not have time to dress.
He wants us to go with him through the blowing and rainy streets,
to the dark house.

We will go there, the body says,
and there find the father whom we have never met,
who wandered out in a snowstorm the night we were born,
and who then lost his memory,
and has lived since longing for his child,
whom he saw only once...
while he worked as a shoemaker,
as a cattle herder in Australia,
as a restaurant cook who painted at night.

When you light the lamp you will see him.
he sits there behind the door....
the eyebrows so heavy,
the forehead so light....
lonely in his whole body,
waiting for you.





~ Robert Bly
from Reaching Out to the World





finding belonging










~ Jean Vanier


why am I so lonely



.





So I am interested in understanding why I am lonely, for I see it is that which makes me attached. That loneliness has forced me to escape through attachment to this or to that and I see that as long as I am lonely the sequence will always be this. What does it mean to be lonely? How does it come about? Is it instinctual, inherited, or is it brought about by my daily activity? If it is an instinct, if it is inherited, it is part of my lot; I am not to blame. But as I do not accept this, I question it and remain with the question. I am watching and I am not trying to find an intellectual answer. I am not trying to tell the loneliness what it should do, or what it is; I am watching for it to tell me. There is a watchfulness for the loneliness to reveal itself. It will not reveal itself if I run away; if I am frightened; if I resist it. So I watch it. I watch it so that no thought interferes. Watching is much more important than thought coming in. And because my whole energy is concerned with the observation of that loneliness thought does not come in at all. The mind is being challenged and it must answer. Being challenged it is in a crisis. In a crisis you have great energy and that energy remains without being interfered with by thought. This is a challenge which must be answered.

So there is this tremendous energy to answer the question: why is there this loneliness? I have rejected ideas, suppositions and theories that it is inherited, that it is instinctual. All that means nothing to me. Loneliness is `what is'. Why is there this loneliness which every human being, if he is at all aware, goes through, superficially or most profoundly? Why does it come into being? Is it that the mind is doing something which is bringing it about? I have rejected theories as to instinct and inheritance and I am asking: is the mind, the brain itself, bringing about this loneliness, this total isolation? Is the movement of thought doing this? Is the thought in my daily life creating this sense of isolation? In the office I am isolating myself because I want to become the top executive, therefore thought is working all the time isolating itself. I see that thought is all the time operating to make itself superior, the mind is working itself towards this isolation.

So the problem then is: why does thought do this? Is it the nature of thought to work for itself? Is it the nature of thought to create this isolation? Education brings about this isolation; it gives me a certain career, a certain specialization and so, isolation. Thought, being fragmentary, being limited and time binding, is creating this isolation. In that limitation, it has found security saying: "I have a special career in my life; I am a professor; I am perfectly safe." So my concern is then: why does thought do it? Is it in its very nature to do this? Whatever thought does must be limited.

Now the problem is: can thought realize that whatever it does is limited, fragmented and therefore isolating and that whatever it does will be thus? This is a very important point: can thought itself realize its own limitations? Or am I telling it that it is limited? This, I see, is very important to understand; this is the real essence of the matter. If thought realizes itself that it is limited then there is no resistance, no conflict; it says, "I am that". But if I am telling it that it is limited then I become separate from the limitation. Then I struggle to overcome the limitation, therefore there is conflict and violence, not love.

Thought has created this sense of loneliness, this emptiness, because it is limited, fragmentary, divided and when it realizes this, loneliness is not, therefore there is freedom from attachment. I have done nothing; I have watched the attachment, what is implied in it, greed, fear, loneliness, all that and by tracing it, observing it, not analyzing it, but just looking, looking and looking, there is the discovery that thought has done all this. Thought, because it is fragmentary, has created this attachment. When it realizes this, attachment ceases. There is no effort made at all. For the moment there is effort conflict is back again.

In love there is no attachment; if there is attachment there is no love. There has been the removal of the major factor through negation of what it is not, through the negation of attachment. I know what it means in my daily life: no remembrance of anything my wife, my girl friend, or my neighbor did to hurt me; no attachment to any image thought has created about her; how she has bullied me, how she has given me comfort, how I have had pleasure sexually, all the different things of which the movement of thought has created images; attachments to those images has gone.

And there are other factors: must I go through all those step by step, one by one? Or is it all over? Must I go through, must I investigate--as I have investigated attachment--fear, pleasure and the desire for comfort? I see that I do not have to go through all the investigation of all these various factors; I see it at one glance, I have captured it.

So, through negation of what is not love, love is. I do not have to ask what love is? I do not have to run after it. If I run after it, it is not love, it is a reward. So I have negated, I have ended, in that enquiry, slowly, carefully, without distortion, without illusion, everything that it is not--the other is.




~ J. Krishnamurti
taken from A dialogue with oneself
a discussion meeting on August 30, 1977
photo by Shreve Stockton


.

Monday, January 27, 2020

self-isolation








We know loneliness, don’t we?, the fear, the misery, the antagonism, the real fright of a mind that is aware of its own loneliness. We all know that. Don’t we? That state of loneliness is not foreign to any one of us. You may have all the riches, all the pleasures, you may have great capacity and bliss; but within there is always the lurking shadow of loneliness.

The rich man, the poor man who is struggling, the man who is writing, creating, the worshiper – they all know this loneliness. When it is in that state, what does the mind do? The mind turns on the radio, picks up a book, runs away from `what is’ into something which is not. Sirs, do follow what I am saying – not the words but the application, the observation of your own loneliness.

When the mind is aware of its loneliness, it runs away, escapes. The escape, whether into religious contemplation or going to a cinema, is exactly the same; it is still an escape from `what is’. The man who escapes through drinking is no more immoral than the one who escapes by the worship of God; they are both the same, both are escaping.

When you observe the fact that you are lonely, if there is no escape and therefore no struggle into the opposite, then, generally, the mind tends to condemn it according to the frame of its knowledge; but if there is no condemnation, then the whole attitude of the mind towards the thing it has called lonely, has undergone a complete change, has it not?

After all, loneliness is a state of self-isolation, because the mind encloses itself and cuts itself away from every relationship, from everything. In that state, the mind knows loneliness; and if, without condemning it, the mind be aware and not create the escape, then surely that loneliness undergoes a transformation. The transformation might then be called `aloneness’ – it does not matter what word you use. In that aloneness, there is no fear.

The mind that feels lonely because it has isolated itself through various activities, is afraid of that loneliness. But if there is awareness in which there is no choice – which means no condemnation – then the mind is no longer lonely but it is in a state of aloneness in which there is no corruption, in which there is no process of self-enclosure. One must be alone, there must be that aloneness, in that sense. Loneliness is a state of frustration, aloneness is not; and aloneness is not the opposite of loneliness.

Surely, Sirs, we must be alone, alone from all influences, from all compulsions, from all demands, longings, hopes, so that the mind is no longer in the action of frustration. That aloneness is essential, it is a religious thing. But the mind cannot come to it without understanding the whole problem of loneliness. Most of us are lonely, all our activities are the activities of frustration. The happy man is not a lonely man. Happiness is alone, and the action of aloneness is entirely different from the activities of loneliness.

All this requires, does it not?, awareness, a total awareness of one’s whole being, conscious as well as the unconscious. As most of us only live on the superficial consciousness, on the surface level of our mind, the deep underground forces, loneliness, desperations and hopes are always frustrating the superficial activity. So it is important to understand the total being of the mind; and that understanding is denied when there is awareness in which there is choice, condemnation.






~ J. Krishnamurti
from On Love and Loneliness








Sunday, January 26, 2020

an absence of separateness






One says of him that he is "interested" in what he's doing, that he's "involved" in his work. What produces this involvement is, at the cutting edge of consciousness, an absence of any sense of separateness of subject and object. "Being with it," "being a natural," "taking hold"-- there are a lot of idiomatic expressions for what I mean by this absence of subject-object duality, because what I mean is so well understood as folklore, common sense, the everyday understanding of the shop...Zen Buddhists talk about "just sitting," a meditative practice in which the idea of a duality of self and object does not dominate one's consciousness. What I'm talking about here in motorcycle maintenance is "just fixing," in which the idea of a duality of self and object doesn't dominate one's consciousness. When one isn't dominated by feelings of separateness from what he's working on, then one can be said to "care" about what he's doing. That is what caring really is, a feeling of identification with what one's doing. When one has this feeling then he also sees the inverse side of caring, Quality itself.



~ Robert Pirsig
from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

.

Friday, January 24, 2020

without ambition?






Is it not possible to live in this world without ambition, just being what you are?

 If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, 
then what you are undergoes a transformation. 
I think one can live in this world anonymously, 
completely unknown, 
without being famous, ambitious, cruel. 
One can live very happily when no importance is given to the self; 
and this also is part of right education.

The whole world is worshiping success. 
You hear stories of how the poor boy studied at night and eventually became a judge, 
or how he began by selling newspapers and ended up a multi-millionaire. 
You are fed on the glorification of success. 




J. Krishnamurti
from The Book of Life




Thursday, January 23, 2020

window






St. John of the Cross compares man to a window through which the light of God is shining.  
If the windowpane is clean of every stain, it is completely transparent, 
we do not see it at all: it is "empty" and nothing is seen but the light.

But if a man bears in himself the stains of spiritual egotism and 
preoccupation with his illusory and exterior self, 
even in "good things," 
the the windowpane itself is clearly seen by reason of the stains that are on it.
 
Hence if a man can be rid of the stains and dust produced within him 
by his fixation upon what is good and bad in reference to himself,
 he will be transformed in God and will be "one with God."  




~ Thomas Merton
from Zen and the Birds of Appetite



when we say we have answers





For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.
~ Van Gogh


We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on. It is our responsibility to leave the people of the future a free hand. In the impetuous youth of humanity, we can make grave errors that can stunt our growth for a long time. This we will do if we say we have the answers now, so young and ignorant as we are. If we suppress all discussion, all criticism, proclaiming "This is the answer, my friends; man is saved!" we will doom humanity for a long time to the chains of authority, confined to the limits of our present imagination. It has been done so many times before.

It is our responsibility as scientists, knowing the great progress which comes from a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, the great progress which is the fruit of freedom of thought, to proclaim the value of this freedom; to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and discussed; and to demand this freedom as our duty to all coming generations.






- Richard Feynman
from The Pleasure of Finding Things Out
NASA Photograph
with thanks to whiskey river


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

self-will






People say: "O Lord, how much I wish that I stood as well with God, that I had as much devotion and peace in God as others have.  I wish that it were so with me!"  Or "I should like to be poor." or else
Things will never go right for me till I am in this place or that, or till I act one way or another.  I must go and live in a strange land, or in a hermitage, or in a cloister."  

In fact, this is all about yourself, and nothing else at all.  This is just self-will, only you do not know it, or it does not seem so to you.  There is never any trouble that starts in you that does not come from your own will, whether people see this or not.  We can think what we like: that a man ought to shun one thing or pursue another - places and people and ways of life and environments and undertakings.  That is not the trouble; such ways of life or such matters are not what impedes you.  It is what you are in these things that causes the trouble, because in them you do not govern yourself as you should.

Therefore, make a start with yourself, and abandon yourself.  Truly, if you do not begin by getting away from yourself, wherever you run to, you will find obstacles and trouble wherever it may be.  People who seek peace in external things - be it in places or ways of life or people or activities or solitude or poverty or degradation - however great such a thing may be or whatever it may be, still it is all nothing and it gives no peace.  People who seek in that way are doing it all wrong;  the further they wander, the less will they find what they are seeking.  They go around like someone who has lost his way;  the farther he goes, the more lost he is.  Then what ought he to do?  He ought to begin by forsaking himself, because then he has forsaken everything.  Truly, if a man renounced a kingdom or the whole world but held on to himself, he would not have renounced anything.  What is more, if a man renounces himself,  whatever else he retains, riches or honors or whatever it may be, he has forsaken everything.  

About what Saint Peter said: "See, Lord, we have forsaken everything" (Matt. 19:27) - and all that he had forsaken was just a net and his little boat - there is a saint who says: "If anyone willingly gives up something little, that is not all which he has given up, but he has forsaken everything that worldly men can gain and what they can even long for; for whoever has renounced his own will and himself, has renounced everything, as truly as if he had possessed it as his own, to dispose of as he would." For what you choose not to long for, you have wholly forsaken and renounced for the love of God.  That is why our Lord said: "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matt 5:3)  - that is, in the will.  And no one ought to be in doubt about this; if there were a better form of living, our Lord would have said so, as he also said: "Whoever wishes to come after me, let him deny himself" (Matt 16:24); as a beginning; everything depends on that.  Take a look at yourself, and whenever you find yourself, deny yourself.  That is the best of all.




~ Meister Eckhart
from Selections from His Essential Writings,
Counsels on Discernment
art by Scott Dodson


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

love? ... find out






So to go into the question of what love is we must first free it from the encrustation of centuries, put away all ideals and ideologies of what it should or should not be. To divide anything into what should be and what is is the most deceptive way of dealing with life.

Now how am I going to find out what this flame is which we call love—not how to express it to another but what it means in itself? I will first reject what the church, what society, what my parents and friends, what every person and every book, has said about it because I want to find out for myself what it is.

Here is an enormous problem that involves the whole of mankind. There have been a thousand ways of defining it and I myself am caught in some pattern or another according to what I like or enjoy at the moment—so shouldn’t I, in order to understand it, free myself from my own inclinations and prejudices? I am confused, torn by my own desires, so I say to myself, “First clear up your own confusion. Perhaps you may be able to discover what love is through what it is not.”

. . .

The government says go and kill for the love of your country. Is that love? Religion says give up sex for the love of God. Is that love? Is love desire? Don’t say no. For most of us it is desire with pleasure, the pleasure that is derived through the senses, through sexual attachment and fulfillment.

I am not against sex, but see what is involved in it. What sex gives you momentarily is the total abandonment of yourself, then you are back again with your turmoil, so you want a repetition over and over again of that state in which there is no worry, no problem, no self.

You say you love your wife. In that love is involved sexual pleasure, the pleasure of having someone in the house to look after your children, to cook. You depend on her; she has given you her body, her emotions, her encouragement, a certain feeling of security and well-being. Then she turns away from you; she gets bored or goes off with someone else, and your whole emotional balance is destroyed, and this disturbance, which you don’t like, is called jealousy. There is pain in it, anxiety, hate and violence. 

So what you are really saying is, “As long as you belong to me I love you but the moment you don’t I begin to hate you. As long as I can rely on you to satisfy my demands, sexual and otherwise, I love you, but the moment you cease to supply what I want I don’t like you.” So there is antagonism between you, there is separation, and when you feel separate from another there is no love.

But if you live with your wife without thought creating all these contradictory states, these endless quarrels in yourself, then perhaps—perhaps—you will know what love is. Then you are completely free and so is she, whereas is you depend on her for all your pleasure you are a slave to her. So when one loves there must be freedom, not only from the other but from oneself.

This belonging to another, being psychologically nourished by another, depending on another—in all this there must always be anxiety, fear, jealousy, guilt; and so long as there is fear there is no love; a mind ridden with sorrow will never know what love is; sentimentality and emotionalism have nothing whatsoever to do with love. And so love is not to do with pleasure and desire.

Love is not the product of thought, which is the past. Thought cannot possibly cultivate love. Love is not hedged about and caught in jealousy, for jealousy is of the past. Love is always active, present. It is not “I will love” or “I have loved.” If you know love you will not follow anybody. Love does not obey. When you love there is neither respect not disrespect.

Do you know what it really means to love somebody, to love without hate, without jealousy, without anger, without wanting to interfere with what he is doing or thinking, without condemning, without comparing—don’t you know what it means? Where there is love is there comparison? When you love someone with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your body, with your entire being, is there comparison? When you totally abandon yourself to that love there is not the other.






~ J. Krishnamurti
excerpt from Freedom from the Known
art by nancy poucher




become love









~ Coleman Barks
on Rumi



ways to live








1. India

In India in their lives they happen
again and again, being people or
animals. And if you live well
your next time could be even better.

That's why they often look into your eyes
and you know some far-off story
with them and you in it, and some
animal waiting over at the side.

Who would want to happen just once?
It's too abrupt that way, and
when you're wrong, it's too late
to go back - you've done it forever.

And you can't have that soft look when you
pass, the way they do it in India.

2. Having It Be Tomorrow

Day, holding its lantern before it,
moves over the whole earth slowly
to brighten that edge and push it westward.
Shepherds on upland pastures begin fires
for breakfast, beads of light that extend
miles of horizon. Then it's noon and
coasting toward a new tomorrow.

If you're in on that secret, a new land
will come every time the sun goes
climbing over it, and the welcome of children
will remain every day new in your heart.
Those around you don't have it new,
and they shake their heads turning grey every
morning when the sun comes up. And you laugh.

3. Being Nice And Old

After their jobs are done old people
cackle together. They look back and shiver,
all of that was so dizzying when it happened;
and now if there is any light at all it
knows how to rest on the faces of friends.
And any people you don't like, you just turn
the page a little more and wait while they
find out what time is and begin to bend
lower; or you can turn away
and let them drop off the edge of the world.

4. Good Ways To Live

At night outside it all moves or
almost moves - trees, grass,
touches of wind. The room you have
in the world is ready to change.
Clouds parade by, and stars in their
configurations. Birds from far
touch the fabric around them - you can
feel their wings move. Somewhere under
the earth it waits, that emanation
of all things. It breathes. It pulls you
slowly out through doors or windows
and you spread in the thin halo of night mist.
 
 
 
 ~ William Stafford
from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems
 art: Parliament of the Birds. Mantiq Ut'tair, Farahaddin Attar
 
"Ways to Live" was written from July 19 through 21 of 1993,
 just over a month before William Stafford's death in August of that year.
 
 
 
 

The Envoy






One day in that room, a small rat.
Two days later, a snake.
.
Who, seeing me enter,
whipped the long stripe of his
body under the bed,
then curled like a docile house-pet.

I don't know how either came or left.
Later, the flashlight found nothing.

For a year I watched
as something -- terror? happiness? grief? --
entered and then left my body.

Not knowing how it came in.
Not knowing how it went out.

It hung where words could not reach it.
It slept where light could not go.
Its scent was neither snake nor rat,
neither sensualist nor ascetic.

There are openings in our lives
of which we know nothing.

Through them
the belled herds travel at will,
long-legged and thirsty, covered with foreign dust.




~  Jane Hirshfield
from Given Sugar, Given Salt

Monday, January 20, 2020

the great blending








For intervals, then, throughout our lives
we savor a concurrence, the great blending
of our chance selves with what sustains
all chance. We ride the wave and are
the wave. And with renewed belief
inner and outer we find our talk
turned to prayer, our prayer into truth:
for an interval, early, we become at home in the world.



~ William Stafford
with thanks to Love is a Place



the way it is









There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.


~ William Stafford
from The Way it Is, 1998



William Stafford’s journey with words began most mornings before sunrise. This simple poem was written 26 days before he passed.
One of his students, the poet Naomi Shihab Nye, wrote, “In our time there has been no poet who revived human hearts and spirits more convincingly than William Stafford. There has been no one who gave more courage to a journey with words, and silence, and an awakened life.”







Saturday, January 18, 2020

the house I live in








~ Paul Robeson



the spectrum of love









We know that from time to time there arise among human beings people who seem to exude love as naturally as the sun gives out heat. These people, usually of enormous creative power, are the envy of us all, and, by and large, man’s religions are attempts to cultivate that same power in ordinary people. Unfortunately, they often go about this task as one would attempt to make the tail wag the dog. I remember that when I was a small boy in school, I was enormously interested in being able to do my schoolwork properly. Everyone told me that I did not work hard enough, that I ought to work harder, but when I asked, “How do you work?” everybody shut up.

I was extremely puzzled. There were teachers who apparently knew how to work and who had attained considerable heights of scholarship. I thought that maybe I could learn “the secret” by copying their mannerisms. I would affect the same speech and gestures and, insofar as I could get around the school uniform, even clothing. (This was a private school in England, not a public school in America.)

None of this revealed the secret. I was, as it were, copying the outward symptoms and knew nothing of the inner fountain of being able to work. Exactly the same thing is true in the case of people who love. When we study the behavior of people who have the power of love within them, we can catalogue how they behave in various situations, and out of this catalogue formulate certain rules.

One of the peculiar things we notice about people who have this astonishing universal love is that they are often apt to play it rather cool on sexual love. The reason is that for them an erotic relationship with the external world operates between that world and every single nerve ending. Their whole organism---physical, psychological, and spiritual---is an erogenous zone. Their flow of love is not channeled as exclusively in the genital system as is most other people’s. This is especially true in a culture such as ours, where for so many centuries that particular expression of love has been so marvelously repressed as to make it seem the most desirable. We have, as a result of two thousand years of repression, “sex on the brain.” It’s not always the right place for it.

People who exude love are in every way like rivers---they stream. And when they collect possessions and things that they like, they are apt to give them to other people. (Did you ever notice that when you give things away, you keep getting more? That, as you create a vacuum, more flows in?)

Having noticed this, the codifiers of loving behavior write that you should give tax deductible institutions and to the poor, and should be nice to people, that you should act towards your relatives and friends and indeed even enemies as if you loved them (even if you don’t). For Christians and Jews and believers in God, there is a peculiarly difficult task enjoined upon us; namely, that “thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” not only going through the motions externally, but with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And that is, of course, very demanding indeed.

It is as if, for example, we admired the music of a certain composer and, having studied his style very thoroughly, we drew up rules of musical composition based upon the behavior of this composer. We then send our children to music school where they learn these rules in the hope that if they apply them, they will turn into first-class musicians, which they usually fail to do. Because what might be called the technique of music---as the technique of morals, as well as the technique of speech, of language---is very valuable because it gives you something to express. If you don’t have anything to say, not even the greatest mastery of English will long stand you in good stead.

So the question and the puzzle remain: You cannot imitate this thing . . . there is no way of “getting” it, and yet it is absolutely essential that we have it. Obviously, the human race is not going to flourish harmoniously unless we are able to love each other. The question becomes: How do you get it? Is it something that you simply have to contract, like measles? Or, as theologians say, is it “a gift of divine grace” which somehow is dished out to some but not to others? And if there is no way of getting divine grace by anything you do, as the Calvinists aver, then hadn’t we better just sit around and wait until something happens?

Surely, we can’t be left in that sort of hopeless situation. There must be some way of getting “grace” or “divine charity” or “divine love”---some sort of way in which we can, as it were, open ourselves so as to become conduit pipes for the flow. And so the more subtle preachers try to see if we can open ourselves and teach methods of meditation and spiritual discipline in hope that we can contact this power. The less subtle preachers say 'you don't have enough faith, you don't have enough guts, you don't have enough willpower..." If you only put your shoulder to the wheel and shoved you would be of course an exemplar and a saint. Actually, you will only be an extremely clever hypocrite.

The whole history of religion is the history of the failure of preaching. Preaching is moral violence. When you deal with the so-called practical world, and people don’t behave the way you wish they would, you get out the army or police force or “the big stick.” And if those strike you as somewhat crude, you resort to giving lectures---“lectures” in the sense of solemn adjuration and exhortation to “behave better next time.”

Many a parent says to the child, “Nice children love their mothers. And I’m sure you’re a nice child. You ought to love your mother, not because I, your mother, say so, but because you really want to do so.“ One of the difficulties here is that none of us, in our heart of hearts, respects love which is not freely given. For example, you have an ailing parent, and you are a son or daughter who feels dutifully that he should look after his parents because they’ve done so much for him. But somehow, your living with your father or mother prevents you from having a home and a life of your own, and naturally you resent it. Your parents are well aware that you resent this, even if they pretend to ignore it. They therefore feel guilty that they have imposed upon your loyalty. You in turn can’t really admit the fact that you resent them for getting sick, even though they couldn’t help it. And therefore no one enjoys the relationship. It becomes a painful duty to be carried out.

The same thing would naturally happen if, a number of years after having (at the altar) made a solemn and terrible promise that you would love your wife or husband come what may forever and ever “until death do you part,” suddenly you find that you really haven’t the heart to do it any more. Then you feel guilty, that you ought to love your wife and family.

The difficulty is this: You cannot, by any means, teach a selfish person to be unselfish. Whatever a selfish person does, whether it be giving his body to be burned, or giving all that he possesses to the poor, he will still do it in a selfish way of feeling, and with extreme cunning, marvelous self-deception, and deception of others. But the consequences of fake love are almost invariably destructive, because they build up resentment on the part of the person who does the fake loving, as well as on the part of those who are its recipients. (This may be why our foreign-aid program has been such a dismal failure.)

Now, of course, you may say that I am being impractical and might ask, “Well, do we just have to sit around and wait until we become inwardly converted to learn, through the grace of God or some other magic, how to love? In the meantime, do we do nothing about it, and conduct ourselves as selfishly as we feel?”

The first problem raised here is honesty. The Lord God says, at the beginning of things, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” What appears to be a commandment is actually a challenge, or what in Zen Buddhism is called a koan, a spiritual problem. If you exercise yourself resolutely, and try to love God or your neighbor, you will find that you get more tangled up. You will realize increasingly that the reason you are attempting to obey this as a commandment is that you want to be the right kind of person.

But love is not a sort of rare commodity---everybody has it. Existence is love. Everybody has the force running. Perhaps the way in which you find the force of love operating in you is as a passionate like for booze or ice cream or automobiles or good-looking members of the opposite sex, or even of the same sex. But love is operating there. People, of course, tend to distinguish between various kinds of love. There are “good” kinds, such as divine charity, and there are allegedly “bad” kinds, such as “animal lust.” But they are all forms of the same thing. They relate in much the same way as the colors of the spectrum produced by the passing light through a prism. We might say that the red end of the spectrum of love is Dr. Freud’s libido, and the violet end of the spectrum of love is agape, the divine love or divine charity. In the middle, the various yellows, blues, and greens are as friendship, human endearment, and consideration.

Now it’s said that selfish people “love themselves.” I would say that that belies a misunderstanding of the whole thing: “yourself” is really something that is impossible to love. One obvious reason for this is that one’s self, when you try to focus on it to love it or to know it, it is oddly elusive.

Let me illustrate why. Once there was a fish who lived in the great ocean, and because the water was transparent, and always conveniently got out of the way of his nose when he moved along, he didn’t know he was in the ocean. Well, one day the fish did a very dangerous thing, he began to think: “Surely I am a most remarkable being, since I can move around like this in the middle of empty space.” Then the fish became confused because of thinking about moving and swimming, and he suddenly had an anxiety paroxysm and thought he had forgotten how. At that moment he looked down and saw the yawning chasm of the ocean depths, and he was terrified that he would drop. Then he thought: “If I could catch hold of my tail in my mouth, I could hold myself up.” And so he curled himself up and snapped at his tail. Unfortunately, his spine wasn’t quite supple enough, so he missed. As he went on trying to catch hold of his tail, the yawning black abyss below became ever more terrible, and he was brought to the edge of total nervous breakdown.

The fish was about to give up, when the ocean, who had been watching with mixed feelings of pity and amusement, said, “What are you doing?” “Oh,” said the fish, “I’m terrified of falling into the deep dark abyss, and I’m trying to catch hold of my tail in my mouth to hold myself up.” So the ocean said, “Well, you’ve been trying that for a long time now, and still you haven’t fallen down. How come?” “Oh, of course, I haven’t fallen down yet,” said the fish, “because, because--I’m swimming!” “Well,” came the reply, “I am the Great Ocean, in which you live and move and are able to be a fish, and I have given all of myself to you in which to swim, and I support you all the time you swim. Instead of exploring the length, breadth, depth, and height of my expanse, you are wasting your time pursuing your own end.” From then on, the fish put his own end behind him (where it belonged) and set out to explore the ocean.

Well, that shows one of the reasons it’s difficult to love yourself: Your “spine isn’t quite supple enough.”

Another reason is that “oneself,” in the ordinary sense of one’s ego, doesn’t exist. It seems to exist, in a way, in the sense that the equator exists as an abstraction. The ego is not a psychological or physical organ; it’s a social convention, like the equator, like the clock or the calendar, or like the dollar bill. These social conventions are abstractions which we agree to treat as if they did exist. We live in relation to the external world in just exactly the same way that one end of the stick exists in relation to the other end. The ends are indeed different, but they’re of the same stick.

Likewise, there is a polar relationship between what you call your “self” and what you call “other.” You couldn’t experience “other” unless you also had the experience of “self.” We might say that we feel that one’s “self” and the “other” are poles apart. Oddly, we use that phrase, “poles apart,” to express extreme difference. But things that are “poles apart” are poles of something, as of a magnet, or a globe, and so are actually inseparable. What happens if you saw the south pole off a magnet with a hacksaw? The new end, opposite the original north pole, becomes the south pole, and the piece that was chopped off develops its own north pole. The poles are inseparable and generate each other.

So it is in the relationship between the “self” and the “other.” Now if you explore what you mean when you say you “love yourself,” you will make the startling discovery that everything that you love is something that you thought was other than yourself, even if it be very ordinary things such as ice cream or booze. In the conventional sense, booze is not you. Nor is ice cream. It becomes “you,” in a manner of speaking, when you consume it, but then you don’t “have it” anymore, so you look around for more in order to love it once again. But so long as you love it, it’s never you. When you love people, however selfishly you love them (because of the pleasant sensations they give you), still, it is somebody else that you love. And as you inquire into this and follow honestly your own selfishness, many interesting transformations begin to occur in you.

One of the most interesting of these transformations is being directly and honestly “selfish.” You stop deceiving people. A great deal of damage is done in practical human relations by saying that you love people, when what you mean is that you ought to (and don’t). You give the impression, and people begin to expect things of you which you are never going to come though with.

You know of people to whom you say, “I like so-and-so, because with him or her, you always know where you are.” It’s impossible to impose on people like that. On the other hand, if you say, “Can I come and stay over night with you?” and they don’t want you, they’ll reply, “I’m, sorry, but I’m tired this weekend, and I’d rather not have you.” Or “Some other time.” Well, that’s very refreshing. If I feel the person hasn’t been quite honest with me, and I accept their hospitality, I’m always wondering if they would really prefer that I wasn’t there.

But one doesn’t always listen to one’s inner voice: we often pretend that it’s not there. That’s unfortunate, because if you don’t listen to your inner voice, you are not listening to your own wisdom and to your own love. You are becoming insensitive to it just as your hosts are trying to suppress the fact that, for the time being, they don’t want your presence. Likewise, let’s suppose that you are married and have an unwanted baby. It is profoundly disturbing to a child to have false love pretended to it. To begin with, the milk tastes wrong. The smell isn’t’ right. The outward gesture is “Darling, I love you,” but the smell is “You’re a little bastard and a nuisance.”

Very few of us can accept the idea that we don’t love our children, because it seems to be unnatural. We say that mother-love is the most beautiful an natural thing in the world. But it isn’t. It’s relatively rare, and if you don’t love your child, you confuse him or her. The child will respect you much more if you say, “Darling, you’re a perfect nuisance, but I will look after you because I have to.” Well, at least then everything is quite clear!

I found in personal relations of this kind a very wonderful rule: that you never, never show false emotions. You don’t have to tell people exactly what you think “in no uncertain terms,” as they say. But to fake emotions is destructive, especially in family matters and between husbands and wives or between lovers.

It always comes to a bad end. This, on the occasions when, for personal friends, I perform marriage ceremonies, instead of saying, “I require and charge you both that you shall answer in the dreadful Day of Judgment, etc., “I say, “I require and charge you both that you shall never pretend to love one another when you don’t.” This is a gamble. It is likewise a gamble to trust yourself to come though with love.

But there is really no alternative.

Now to trust oneself to be capable of love or to bring up love---in other words, to function in a sociable way and in a creative way---is to take a risk, a gamble. You may not come though with it. In the same way, when you fall in love with somebody else, or form an association with someone else, and you trust them, they may as a matter of fact not fulfill your expectations. But that risk has to be taken. The alternative to taking that risk is much worse than trusting and being deceived.

When you say, “I will not trust other people, and I will not trust myself,” what course remains? You have to resort to force. You have to employ stacks of policemen to protect you, and have to hold a club over yourself all the time, and say, “No, no. My nature is wayward, animal, perverse, fallen, grounded in sin.” What then happens? When you refuse to take the gamble of trusting yourself to be capable of love, you become, if you will excuse this extremely graphic but nevertheless relevant simile, like a person who cannot trust himself to have bowel movements. Many children learn this from parents who do not trust them, and think they ought to have these movements in rhythm with the clock, which is a different kind of rhythm from that of the organism. People who cannot trust themselves to do even this take laxatives endlessly, as a result of which their whole system gets fouled up.

Exactly the same thing happens with people who can’t trust themselves to go to sleep. They have to take all kinds of pills. And so also with people who can’t trust themselves to love, and have to take all sorts of artificial and surgical measures to produce the effect of love for saving face. They become progressively more incapable of loving at all, and they create turmoil and misunderstanding and chaos in themselves and others and society.

In other words, to live, and to love, you have to take risks. There will be disappointments and failures and disasters as a result of taking these risks. But in the long run it will work out.

My point is that if you don’t take these risks the results will be much worse than any imaginable kind of anarchy.

In tying up love in knots or in becoming incapable of it, you can’t destroy this energy. When you won’t love, or won’t let it out, it emerges anyway in the form of self-destruction. The alternative to self-love, in other words, is self-destruction. Because you won’t take the risk of loving yourself properly, you will be compelled instead to destroy yourself.

So, which would you rather have? Would you rather have a human race which isn’t always very well controlled, and sometimes runs amok a little bit, but on the whole continues to exist, with a good deal of honesty and delight, when delight is available? Or would you rather have the whole human race blown to pieces and cleaned off the planet, reducing the whole thing to a nice, sterile rock with no dirty disease on it called life?

The essential point is to consider love as a spectrum. There is not, as it were just nice love and nasty love, spiritual love and material love, mature affection on the one hand and infatuation on the other. These are all forms of the same energy. And you have to take it and let it grow where you find it. When you find only one of these forms existing, if at least you will water it, the rest will blossom as well. But the effectual prerequisite from the beginning is to let it have its own way. 




~  Alan Watts
Transcript of an improvised talk given in the 1960s